Saturday, 29 August 2020

Something more nuanced

 Up betimes, as Mr. Pepys has it, on Tuesday, to to wash, core, peel and stew the apples I had gathered last weekend.  They were windfalls, carefully picked over to ensure that they were worth harvesting; but even so, when the bruising, the ravages if the codling moth, the peel and the cores were discarded, stewed apple, packed into containers for the freezer, didn't amount to much. But 3 1/2 pounds of apple will be put to good use in desserts, or in jam, later in the year. 

It brought to mind words of Jesus about harvests, wheat and chaff; words which the smug amongst us might take pride in, as 'the elect'- the good,  the wheat, the saved, even, as it were , the saved apple, going on to a new life in jam or dessert, to carry Jesus' words into my apple preparation. I would have been among these self-satisfied at one time. 

But then, what about the rest- the cores, the peel, the  bruised and codling moth-damaged? It has its place; in the compost bin, to be turned in time into a new life as it enriches the garden with the goodness of compost. Nothing is wasted. And surely this is so in Jesus' parables too? The ash remaining after the chaff is burned would be used on the fields as something to enrich the soil. 

Jesus' parables repay close thought and interrogation. 'The kingdom of God is like....' is not an invitation to view a simple, black-and-white picture. We live in a compromised world, yet looking for the signs of the kingdom in it and beyond it.There is undiscovered treasure among the unregarded, the thrown away, the discarded; there is always the call to explore 'the beyond' in these stories, and 'the beyond' in our our prejudices too .


Saturday, 22 August 2020

The grand delusion

 My mind is still exercised, as it has been over the last two blogs, by Julian Barnes' Nothing to be frightened of . Yes, I've finished it, and moved on to other reading- George Orwell's Homage to Catalonia since you ask- but I go back to his metropolitan assertions of a purposeless existence in a purposeless universe. Well, why not immediately commit suicide, or  instigate and commit the most heinous mayhem, in that case; at best, why write novels at all. It matters not in the grand scheme of things- except, of course, there is no grand scheme of things, if one believes in this despairing 'rule of life'. 

I cannot hold that the judeo-christian grand narrative-a narrative so bold as to be cosmic in its view, its implications, its assertions- can be a delusion. And if it were, I would rather hold to a 'delusion of hope' which has given me so much as it has unfolded and developed in my heart and mind, than embrace the emptiness and despair- elegantly phrased, wryly presented, knowledgeably written, I grant- which his view boils down to. 

This grand narrative of salvation history has ways to go yet, and I look forward to being part of this stream,this river, of purpose and hope and above all constant reality for me- yes- but more importantly for the whole of the created order.  

Sunday, 16 August 2020

With joy

Yes; with joy, you will draw water from the wells of salvation, says Isaiah; an affirmation of enhanced living, drawing refreshment from an unfading source. I contrast this with my continued reading in Julian Barnes' Nothing to be frightened of''. ( I'm furthering last Sunday's blog theme here).  To be honest, this book has become something of a chore, given that the author, distinguished though he is,  has completely dissed the idea, the reality of God; this is not a book in which I could find wisdom to help me through life, let alone face death. 

If he thinks I am deluded, and pities me as a believer, then those feelings of delusion and pity are mine also for him. The book is not a source of wisdom for me, but more a series of interesting, yes, but dusty apercus; a measured, sometimes wry family memoir; witty, knowing, vignettes on how death and dying might be approached from the views of those who have committed their thoughts to paper. Two hundred and fifty pages of carefully collated, meticulously researched and stylishly-written (as far as the chunks about death and dying are concerned) junk.  

The book leaves me weary; I shall finish it, but not count it as as one of the great reads of the century. I come back to the reality of  a present experience, indeed a continuing experience of joy, refreshment, and hope. This has sustained me a person of faith since my teenage years, and I see no reason, can imagine no experience, why it will not continue to sustain through dying and death. Deluded I may be in the eyes of the London literati , but I continue with joy, to draw water from the inexhaustible and real wells of salvation.  

Saturday, 8 August 2020

A fuchsia in its glory

Mary and I are rejoicing at the moment in the beauty of a fuchsia, set on the patio table so that we can enjoy it the more through the windows of the dining area. It overwintered in the garage, where I feared it had died; it did not get the regular monthly watering it needed, but was offered that sustenance only when I remembered. I brought it out again this spring, more in hope than expectation, pruned it, watered it, and watched it thrive, to the point where it has hundreds of white pink and purple flowers, and masses of green foliage. 
These thoughts are prompted by my reading this week; Julian Barnes' 2008 family memoir cum discourse on the fear of dying- 'Nothing to be afraid of''. Death and dying without benefit of faith. It has set many hares running in my head, but it makes a number of unchallenged assumptions about the faith which. for a man of such intelligence and perception (his novels are finely judged and shaded) are tired and illogical. The death of the church and the Christian faith is confidently assumed- hence my reference to the fuchsia. 
It displays a metropolitan mind-set which I fear is widely accepted. The plaudits from the reviews, splashed across the inside covers, all seem to inhabit that world where faith, where Christianity as a living breathing entity, cannot be taken seriously. Where, if I asserted that within this living, breathing life of Christ I have experienced something of 'life in all its fullness' (Jesus' own words), I would be met by a blank, uncomprehending stare, possibly a response that I was sadly deluded. 

Nevertheless, life in all its fullness is what is on offer; 'the glory of God is a man fully alive' as Irenaus has it. And enjoy the glory of the fuchsia, fully alive. I shall continue to read Barnes, but continue also to want more of the abundant life, the torrents of pleasure (St Bonaventure)  which my life in Christ has brought me thus far.    

Saturday, 1 August 2020

Re focusing

For the past months, the house and garden have been our world. the routine of household tasks and the addition of some decorating; the usual garden tasks of weeding and mowing supplemented by springtime sowing and planting. This small world only interrupted by the need to buy food- so off we go to the supermarket before seven in the morning, keeping clear of crowds. 

Yes, I admit this has not been the whole picture; we have had small projects indoors- searching our ancestry, a bit of carpentry for me, some sewing for Mary;  and some short walks in the local area, but the focus has been very largely domestic. And there are increasing times now when it feels as though this is not enough. 

I think of the advantages we have in today's world over those whose enclosed world- a nunnery, a hermitage- was far more limited than mine. Books, tv, access via the phone and social media to friends around the world. My world is far larger than I sometimes care to think. And its domesticity and confinement can be a heaven; the pleasure of a newly painted room, the joy of the scent of sweet peas. 

Not all of us can do great deeds, but we can all do small things with great love, as Mother Teresa said. She echoes St.Paul; do everything for the love of Christ. .