Both ways of viewing things matter

Perhaps you know this poem?

What is this life if full of care,                                                                                                                                                                        We have no time to stand and stare. (W.H.Davies)

 This, of course, is what the best kind of prayer is. Not rattling onto God about our problems and concerns, although of course God does care about them and is happy to listen. No, the best prayer is when we stop, and in the silence, in the space between words, listen to God.  Now I say the space between words because silence doesn’t have to be empty of sound. Many people find complete silence over a long period pretty difficult which. We have special services here at St Peter’s called Adoration where we sit or kneel in silence for half an hour but few people come. Others however do pop into the Church through the side door which is always open in daylight hours, just for the silence and clearly find it some kind of help.

 This Christmas I want to encourage you to find silence in the midst of your busy noisy life. We often sing at Christmas of the silence of Bethlehem – “Silent Night” or “How silently, how silently the wondrous gift is given.” – but actually, outside that stable, all would have been bustle and noise, wouldn’t it? That’s why there was no room in the Inn! Even inside the stable, Mary and Joseph would have been talking to one another, and later to those visiting shepherds. The silence then was the silence within the words, a silence that we can only be part of if we are prepared to open our hearts to God.

But where do we find this God that we religious people talk about. Actually we need to realise that to find God, we need to look at ordinary things in more than one way. Let me explain. We might look at a beautiful sunset and explain it in terms of the rays of the setting sun being changed as we see them through the earth’s atmosphere. Meteorologist would do a better job than I can. Or we can look at the same sunset and be simply moved by its beauty. Or we might look at a man or a woman and see only just another human being. But if that person is someone we know or love, we see them completely differently. In the same way we can hear noise the sound of children playing for example, as either something to disturb and annoy us, or something that makes us happy.

The Christmas story then can be seen just as an incident in history, perhaps slightly exaggerated by those who wrote it up. It certainly would have been that way for most people around at the time – just another baby born in difficult circumstances – as many are being born today in many parts of the world. Or it can be seen as an event that changed the world, an event where God was present in a special way. It is the same for the whole of the life of Jesus – either a strange history of just one 1st Century holy man who got himself killed, or as the eternal power that is God present in a special and unique way in the life of one man, and then present thereafter in the group of friends he left behind who were soon called “Christians” – or “The Gathering” Ekklesia in Greek. The Church in English.

 Yes. God is eternal. God is the power outside time and space, and yet this God, we proclaim at Christmas, chooses to meet us in time and space in ordinary things that have extraordinary significance. We can just look and listen to ordinary things and see and hear nothing extraordinary at all, but if we do we have missed out on a big meaningful chunk of life. Here in the Church of Jesus Christ we do what he taught us to do, to look and to understand, to listen and to hear. Find God in the beauty underlying all that we see, and in the silence underlying all noise We have to do both to sense the presence of God, and thus to be fully human.

 

 

Advertisements

God is between the words

One of the essential things about this season of Advent is its emphasis on the need for us to become more awake to the presence of God. God is always with us whether we realise it or not. That is the great Christmas message. Learning to realise that presence and thus to hear what God is saying is our Advent task, which is why so often we use the words in Advent “Come Lord Jesus” Our 1st reading today (Isaiah 7:10-14) tells us of Ahaz who did not want to listen to God. Offered a sign, he said “No” and made the excuse that it would put God to the test. In contrast, in our Gospel today (Matt 1:18-24) Joseph is prepared to listen, even through his dreams, and so is ready to play his part in the great mystery that is God coming to us, God with us, “Emmanuel”.

Ahaz didn’t want to listen to God because he was actually too busy doing his own thing, which included killing his son as a sacrifice – read 1 Kings 16 if you don’t believe me – so no wonder he didn’t want to hear what God might be saying to him! I guess none of us are evil as Ahaz, but we are certainly often so busy with our lives that we hardly ever find time to stop and look and listen for what God might be saying to us, and asking us to do. Perhaps you know that poem?

What is this life if full of care,                                                                                                                                                                       We have no time to stand and stare. (W.H.Davies)

 This, of course, is what the best kind of prayer is. Not rattling onto God about our problems and concerns, although of course God does care about them and is happy to listen. No, the best prayer is when we stop, and in the silence, in the space between words, listen to God.  Now I say the space between words because silence doesn’t have to be empty of sound. Many people find complete silence over a long period pretty difficult which, I suppose, is why so few people come to Holy Hour on Saturday night, or to our Annual Day of Prayer.

 So today I want to encourage you to find those small moments of silence in the midst of life. We often sing of the silence of Bethlehem – “Silent Night” or “How silently, how silently the wondrous gift is given.” – but actually, outside that stable, all would have been bustle and noise, wouldn’t it? That’s why there was no room in the Inn! Even inside the stable, Mary and Joseph would have been talking to one another, and later to those visiting shepherds. The silence then was the silence within the words.

 This is something that we should be practising every time we come to Mass. The words, the prayers we know well, and those that are new each week, are not meant to be simply listened to on the surface. That’s why the Church has been encouraging us priests recently to provide more silent pauses to help us with this. So you will notice that I say “Let us pray” and then stop for a moment before I say the prayer. It is also why we priests are not meant to gabble the Mass at high speed, (and neither are you), but to go at a steady pace that allows us more easily to absorb the words and pray beneath and within them. We priests are also supposed to slow down even more when we say the words of Jesus, “This is my Body”.. “This is my Blood”, again to allow the significance of what is happening to sink beneath the surface of our minds.

 This is also why our readers are meant to mark properly the full stops and commas in the texts they read to us, to really pause before they go on, and also to stop at the end of the reading and pause for a moment before saying “The Word of the Lord.” Yes, readers, please try to do this, because the silence between the words you read is as important, if not more important, than the words themselves.

 I thought I would leave you today with one of my favourite poems, “The Bright Field” by R.S. Thomas.

 I have seen the sun break through
to illuminate a small field
for a while, and gone my way
and forgotten it. But that was the pearl
of great price, the one field that had
treasure in it. I realize now
that I must give all that I have
to possess it. Life is not hurrying

                                                                              on to a receding future, nor hankering after

an imagined past. It is the turning

aside like Moses to the miracle
of the lit bush, to a brightness
that seemed as transitory as your youth
once, but is the eternity that awaits you.