Saturday, 27 June 2020

A recurring theme

I can't quite capture the quote from Bernard Levin- 'the most famous journalist of his day' as I think 'The Times' had it- but it was something like ' For the fourteenth time, I am not a Christian' before he went on to describe how compelling he found the person of Jesus. He returned to the theme again and again. 
In like manner, I come back, though probably not for the fourteenth time, to 'the graced ordinary', a lovely phrase describing a lovely concept- the ordinary stuff of life, done with grace. 

I don't know where I first came across it, but it was about the time I discovered Kent Haruf's novels, and in a slightly different, sharper key, Marilynne Robinson's also. Both have characters- they would hardly call them heroes- who act out the ordinary stuff of life with grace. Tim Winton has it too, more peripherally, in an edgy way. It's not something which- in my limited knowledge- English writers seem to deal with. 

And yet as it seems much of the world is determined, for good or ill, to come out of lockdown in the near future, wouldn't it be the grandest of themes if we were all to make it our business to act with grace in all the ordinary stuff our lives are made of? We are not characters in books, probably not heroes at any time,  and have to cope with what can be an edgy reality at times. But grace in the ordinary stuff of life could make the new normal sweet, transformative, and that's worth working for. 

Saturday, 20 June 2020

Where I come from

I'm solidly English.Let me explain.  One of the goals Mary and I have set ourselves in this strange and confined time is to research our family history. My antecedents- as far back as we can research on the internet- contain no surprises; no exotic blood anywhere, no murderers, no royalty. In spite of jokes whilst in Scotland that 'the far Cuillins are calling out to me' and that Shaw is a Scottish name with its own tartan; and whilst in Wales that it's the 'Land of my Fathers', my family history is  just solid working-class folk from the southern Lakes, central Lancashire, Leicestershire and London. Mary's story is similar; agricultural workers from Northamptonshire, Huntingdonshire, Lincolnshire. 

It's fun, it's interesting, it answers some questions ( ah! that's where she fits in!) but raises many more, and it will always be incomplete. In the end, although it gives a sense of perspective, it doesn't change who I am. I come from God in the first place, and will be going eventually to God. In the now, today, I hope to journey in heart and mind a little nearer to him. 

A sense of journey and perspective is necessary to give meaning to the present. A sense of purpose pushing us forward gives that same meaning to the present also. Otherwise the present is merely a series of disconnected events. I'm not searching for meaning in my antecedents. I have that at the core of my being, in God. But it makes me wonder about the meaning, of lack of it, the locus of it and of identity, in the lives of others. I hope it is solid, stands the test of time, carries them forward, and is more than simply fun. 

Saturday, 13 June 2020

Diving in

I've been thinking a lot recently about the connection between water and the faith- partly encouraged by my reading, and partly by recent weather- we seemed to be heading for a drought, with the driest May recorded for one hundred and fifty years, followed by the usual British downpours which have more than soaked the ground, and certainly filled the rain barrel and the six other tubs and buckets I put out to capture the rain. This last amply illustrated a phrase  of St. Bonaventure which struck me sometime during the Easter season, of  'the torrents, the torrents, I say' of pleasure God takes in his children.
 Equally, the dry weather of May, when the rain barrel ran dry, and I was watering the garden each night ( May being the month when everything runs riot in uncontrolled growth- forget 'June is busting out all over') turned my thought to de-hydration, dryness, and the effects of this on body and soul. I remember well working alongside community psychiatric nurses in the community, when a joint visit to a patient always included the question 'How much water are you drinking?' There were follow-up questions, if needed, or a gentle pinch on the back of the hand- having explained what was going to happen- to see if the skin stayed in a peak for an undue time; this was a sure sign, I was told, of dehydration.
On the last great day of the feast, St John tells us in his gospel, Jesus called out in the Temple 'if any one is thirsty, let him come to me and drink, and living waters will flow out of him'. The output we hope for- to be refreshment, cleansing agents, sources of life for our communities- demands an input commensurate with the output. It's a challenge; torrents may be more than we can take, but sips will hardly sustain us, and do even less for the world around us. 

Saturday, 6 June 2020

Back in 'Ordinary Time'

There's one job I've resisted doing since we made a list, way back at the beginning of lock-down; painting the utility room. It's small, it's got awkward and inaccessible spaces, there's less than one square metre where paint can be put on with the same speed and efficiency as if I were painting a wall in (say) a bedroom. And... And.... the excuses go on. We chose the colour last weekend, set aside Thursday and Friday to begin the task, and I still found reason to put off Thursday.

But as I write, a start has been made. And since you ask, the colour is 'coffee liqueur'. By midweek, with a second coat of the said emulsion paint on the walls, and an application of white gloss on the woodwork, it should be finished. And it will take a good deal of persuasion to think about doing it again for another decade, at least (by which time we'll need to pay someone to do it, I should imagine), given the awkwardness, lack of accessibility, and all the rest.

There's always a tension between the 'now' and the 'not yet'. I thought I had successfully managed to put The Painting Of The Utility Room into the 'not yet', but it crept into the 'now'. For those who adhere to the faith, this tension is a reality we know in daily experience. We rejoice in the daily reality of God-with-us, and yet have set seasons- Advent, Pentecost- where we pray for God to come to us, as if he were not here already. We know the 'now' of God's presence with us and in the world, and yet see God as the One who is always 'coming to us'. Time and experience somehow collapse into eternity. Or maybe eternity expresses itself in time and our experience. We divide the church year into special seasons, punctuated by those wonderful weeks of  'Ordinary Time'. Like now, where we can just get on with soul-stuff without having to focus on Easter stuff, Advent stuff, Lent stuff, et al. 

I rejoice that in the ordinary as well as the special, we can find God, God with us, God coming to us. Telling me, that like the utility room, whatever my excuses, I can be made new.