Thursday, 25 February 2010

Not enough, but not nothing

As I write these notes, my wife is lying on the settee at the other end of the room, to safeguard against her getting pressure sores. She has multiple sclerosis. Twenty years ago, she worked as a psychiatrist. Just last week we had a Christmas card from one of her psychotherapy patients, who remembers the sessions she had with Ann and looks back on them as a decisive shaping influence on her life. Today Ann cannot remember what country she lives in, nor what day it is, nor what are the names of the two carers who have shared in looking after her for over two years, nor what is the name of the grandson who brought her such joy when he was here a few weeks ago. She is virtually unable to swallow (she eats via a feeding tube) or to speak. She is watching the television news, though I am not sure how much she takes in. On that news we have been hearing of the terrible cost of the Russian invasion of Chechnya, of the suffering of the local people and of the Russian bodies surrounding their tanks. The pictures were too grim to show us. In a moment I will take her out for a walk in her wheelchair in the warm January sun, and we will have an ice-cream, and if we are lucky she will be able to eat a little of it, and as I push her back up the hill to our apartment I will sing silly songs and pretend I am not going to make it to the top, and she will laugh. It is not enough, but it is not nothing, and it is certainly not to be despised. It is a gift from God. That is what Ecclesiastes says. It is also a wonderful gift from God that this book should be in the canon of scripture. I cannot imagine how it got through some community screening procedure. Actually I can. I do not think they were fooled by the reference to Solomon. I think they were overcome by the truth it speaks.

John Goldingay, David Allan Hubbard Professor of Old Testament
at Fuller Theological Seminary, Pasadena, in BRF Guidelines Jan-Apr 2001, Ecclesiastes

Wednesday, 24 February 2010

One accompanying

Who is the third who walks always beside you?
When I count, there are only you and I together 360
But when I look ahead up the white road
There is always another one walking beside you
Gliding wrapt in a brown mantle, hooded
I do not know whether a man or a woman
- But who is that on the other side of you?

T S Eliot, The Waste Land, V. What the Thunder Said , lines 359-365

Wednesday, 17 February 2010

Wisdom lost

O perpetual revolution of configured stars,
O perpetual recurrence of determined seasons,
O world of spring and autumn, birth and dying!
The endless cycle of idea and action,
Endless invention, endless experiment,
Brings knowledge of motion, but not of stillness;
Knowledge of speech, but not of silence;
Knowledge of words, and ignorance of The Word.
All our knowledge brings us nearer to our ignorance,
All our ignorance brings us nearer to death,
But nearness to death no nearer to God.
Where is the Life we have lost in living?
Where is the wisdom we have lost in knowledge?
Where is the knowledge we have lost in information?
The cycles of Heaven in twenty centuries
Brings us farther from God and nearer to the Dust.

T S Eliot, Choruses from The Rock (1934)

Thursday, 11 February 2010

The Unbusy Pastor

Hilary of Tours diagnosed our pastoral busyness as irreligiosa sollicitudo pro Deo, a blasphemous anxiety to do God's work for him.

I (and most pastors, I believe) become busy for two reasons; both are ignoble.

I am busy because I am vain. I want to appear important. Significant. What better way than to be busy? The incredible hours, the crowded schedule, and the heavy demands on my time are proof to myself — and to all who will notice — that I am important. If I go into a doctor's office and find there's no one waiting, and I see through a half-open door the doctor reading a book, I wonder if he's any good. A good doctor will have people lined up waiting to see him; a good doctor will not have time to read a book. Although I grumble about waiting my turn in a busy doctor's office, I am also impressed with his importance.

Such experiences affect me. I live in a society in which crowded schedules and harassed conditions are evidence of importance, so I develop a crowded schedule and harassed conditions. When others notice, they acknowledge my significance, and my vanity is fed.

I am busy because I am lazy. I indolently let others decide what I will do instead of resolutely deciding myself. I let people who do not understand the work of the pastor write the agenda for my day's work because I am too slipshod to write it myself. The pastor is a shadow figure in these people's minds, a marginal person vaguely connected with matters of God and good will. Anything remotely religious or somehow well-intentioned can be properly assigned to the pastor.

Because these assignments to pastoral service are made sincerely, I go along with them. It takes effort to refuse, and besides, there's always the danger that the refusal will be interpreted as a rebuff, a betrayal of religion, and a calloused disregard for people in need.

It was a favourite theme of C. S. Lewis that only lazy people work hard. By lazily abdicating the essential work of deciding and directing, establishing values and setting goals, other people do it for us; then we find ourselves frantically, at the last minute, trying to satisfy a half dozen different demands on our time, none of which is essential to our vocation, to stave off the disaster of disappointing someone.

But if I vainly crowd my day with conspicuous activity or let others fill my day with imperious demands, I don't have time to do my proper work, the work to which I have been called. How can I lead people into the quiet place beside the still waters if I am in perpetual motion? How can I persuade a person to live by faith and not by works if I have to juggle my schedule constantly to make everything fit into place?

Eugene H Peterson, The Contemplative Pastor (Eerdmans, 1989) pp18-19

Wednesday, 10 February 2010


Honour to those who in their lives
have defined and guard their Thermopylae.
Never stirring from duty;
just and upright in all their deeds,
yet with pity and compassion too;
generous when they are rich, and when
they are poor, again a little generous,
again helping as much as they can;
always speaking the truth,
yet without hatred for those who lie.

And more honour is due to them
when they foresee (and many do foresee)
that Ephialtes will finally appear,
and that the Medes in the end will go through.

Constantine P Cavafy (1903)

Tuesday, 9 February 2010

For those I have hurt …

I offer up to you my prayers
    and intercessions,
for those especially who have
    in any matter
hurt, grieved, or found fault
    with me,
or who have done me any damage
    or displeasure.
For all those also whom,
    at any time,
I have vexed, troubled, burdened,
    and scandalised,
by words or deed, knowingly
    or in ignorance;
that you would grant us all equally
    pardon for our sins,
and for our offences against each other.
Take away from our hearts, O Lord,
all suspiciousness, indignation,
wrath, and contention,
and whatsoever may hurt charity,
and lessen brotherly love.

Thomas à Kempis (c.1380-1471)

The glory of God is a human being fully alive

Gloria enim Dei vivens homo: vita autem hominis visio Dei. Si enim quae est per conditionem ostensio Dei vitam praestat omnibus in terra viventibus, multo magis ea quae est per Verbum manifestatio Patris, vitam praestat his qui vident Deum.

For the glory of God is a living man; and the life of man consists in beholding God. For if the manifestation of God which is made by means of the creation, affords life to all living in the earth, much more does that revelation of the Father which comes through the Word give life to those who see God.

"Life in man is the glory of God; the life of man is the vision of God."

Another translation says: "The glory of God is a living man; and the life of man consists in beholding God"

Irenaeus (c125- ) Adversus Haereses Book 4, 7:28

Poetry Snips

Let him easter in us, be a dayspring to the dimness of us, be a crimson-cresseted east …

Gerard Manley Hopkins (1844–89).  Poems  1918.   The Wreck of the Deutschland, line 277

What a piece of worke is a man! how Noble in Reason? how infinite in faculty? in forme and mouing how expresse and admirable? in Action, how like an Angel? in apprehension, how like a God? the beauty of the world, the Parragon of Animals; and yet to me, what is this Quintessence of Dust?

William Shakespeare, The Tragedy of Hamlet, Prince of Denmark (Act II, Scene ii, 293-8)

Monday, 8 February 2010


"What I am and how I am, in nature and by grace, I have it all from you, Lord, and it is you. And I offer it all to you, above all for your praise, and for the help of my fellow Christians and my self."
      Book of Privy Counsel, p109

Grant me to recognise in other men, Lord God,
The radiance of your own face.
     Pierre Teilhard de Chardin (1881-1955)

Hold our minds still,
Keep us from running off into the past or the future,
So that we can meet you where we are –
In happiness or in grief,
In confidence or in anxiety,
In life and in death. Amen.

Grant me, O Lord, throughout this day
    Faith to love,
    Love enough to forgive,
    Forgiveness enough to value those I find difficult;
Even as I am valued, forgiven, loved and trusted,
    By your Son Jesus Christ.

Activism redefined

The fuller version of the quotation by Timothy Radcliffe below:-

"There is a pervasive form of contemporary violence to which the idealist … most easily succumbs: activism and overwork. The rush and pressure of modern life are a form, perhaps the most common form, of its innate violence. To allow oneself to be carried away by a multitude of conflicting concerns, to surrender to too many demands, to commit oneself to too many projects, to want to help everyone in everything, is to succumb to violence. The frenzy of our activism neutralizes our work for peace. It destroys our own inner capacity for peace. It destroys the fruitfulness of our own work, because it kills the root of inner wisdom which makes work fruitful."

Thomas Merton, Conjectures of a Guilty Bystander (1966, Doubleday, p. 73)