Archive for July, 2003

Saturday Week 15 Year I

Four hundred and thirty years. Four hundred and thirty years to the day. That’s a big anniversary. Something worth celebrating. The day Israel’s God brings the people out of bondage, liberates them from oppression, and sets them free from all that has diminished them and diminished their hopes. It’s a new beginning. But it’s a beginning made in haste, with no time for looking back, no time for dallying, no time even for bread to rise.
Not even time to realise what had happened. Certainly no time to sing. The song we heard, we sang, is the canticle Moses and the people sing later, when their freedom is sealed at the Red Sea. But right now they are too busy leaving, to sing. Singing is for later when they look back and follow their freedom to a particular time and place.
And I dare say that many of them would have turned right round and headed back for the comfort of their chains if they’d guessed the road that freedom was opening up for them as they hurried that day from Rameses.
Because isn’t that the reality of all our lives? Looking back we can mark the day, the hour, when the gift of freedom was laid like a yoke on our shoulders. “That’s when it happened”, we can say. But even at the same time we know that the giving and the receiving of our liberation was in some ways the least of it. Accepting freedom is a life long labour. Living it daily. Living free. Not choosing chains again when every day they are offered. Like the woman in the gospel healed after 18 years of being bent double—every morning after she faced the choice to stand up straight or bow down again.
Our freedom is a life-long labour. A choice repeated each morning, each hour, each breath. When it first steals upon us, our freedom can feel a fragile thing—a reed already broken, a flame on the verge of going out. It needs to be nurtured, nourished, sheltered.
That’s what God is always doing—nurturing and sheltering the flickering flame of your freedom. I think it is all God does. God doesn’t brawl or rage or shout. You won’t hear God shouting in the street about your shortcomings—or even whispering them in your ear. God’s one activity is to lead the truth to victory within you. And the hallmark of that is a gentleness of touch. God never breaks the crushed reed. God never puts out the smoldering wick.

July 19th, 2003

St Thomas the Apostle

I’ve long believed that doubt is a virtue and that certainty, when it offers itself, is almost certainly an illusion.
Our great glory as human beings is that we are fallible and we know it; we make mistakes about as often as we draw breath, and that’s no bad thing so long as we remember to celebrate the fact. The one bad thing is to deny doubt, to forget fallibility.
Consider the certain of this world, the despots, dictators, and demagogues untroubled by doubt. They turn their back on doubt’s blessings because, above all, they seek doubt’s enemy and opposite: power, the power to control, the power to hide their fear, the power not to change.
Thomas stands at the very opposite pole as the patron saint of humility. He knows how easily we get it wrong and he knows how important it is to get this one thing right. ‘I will not believe until I see, until I touch.’
And God honours his humility with his own body. ‘Come and touch me’ says Jesus. ‘Feel these wounds, recognise me, trust me.’ And Thomas, blessed by doubt, is the one among them to grasp what all the others, in their certainty, have not seen: ‘My God’, he says, ‘My God’.
If we are lucky we bring all kinds of doubt with us on retreat: uncertainties, humilities, little wounds in our belief. Yet when we touch them with gentle honesty, God’s own body draws near and becomes really real to us. There is a wounded hand to hold, a living face to explore, and a body of knowledge to discover inch by inch. God can claim us and change us and bring us back, with him, to life.

July 3rd, 2003


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