Saturday, 19 April 2014

Begin again...

"It is not complicated to lead the spiritual life. But it is difficult. We are blind, and subject to a thousand illusions. We must expect to be making mistakes almost all the time. We must be content to fail repeatedly and to begin again..
"The thing to do when you have made a mistake is not to give up doing what you were doing and start something altogether new, but to start over again with the thing you began badly and try, for the love of God, to do it well."
Thomas Merton, Journals ii.372

Thursday, 17 April 2014

What does it mean to watch and pray?

The night of that first Maundy Thursday in the Garden of Gethsemane. Jesus tells Peter, James and John: "Remain here and watch with me... Watch and pray." (Matthew 26.38,41)

But what did he mean by "watching"? Of course, they'd have been familiar with soldiers keeping watch, looking out vigilantly for the approach of the enemy. Were they supposed to be keeping an eye out for Judas and the mob?

I don't think so. The Psalmist writes about a different kind of watchkeeping. "As the eyes of servants / look to the hand of their master, / as the eyes of a maidservant / to the hand of her mistress, / so our eyes look to the Lord our God / till he has mercy upon us." (Psalm 123.2)

Jesus was keeping a contemplative watch on the night before Calvary. Facing the pain of the cross he sought one again the assurance that this was his Father's will. And then he waited, kept silence, listened for the gentle voice, watched.

For us, too, these days leading up to Easter are a good time for stillness. For quiet wonder. For receptive beholding of the mystery at the heart of all life and creation. A good weekend for contemplation.

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Saturday, 12 April 2014

How to be obedient right to the brim

"His mother said to the servant, 'Do whatever he tells you' ... Jesus said to the servants, 'Fill the jars with water.' And they filled them to the brim." (John 2.5,7)

There's something quietly beautiful about the fullness with which these servants obey Christ's command here. There was no need to fill these jars to the very top; in fact, if they were going to be used for washing, you'd think that would likely create even more mess as the water spilled everywhere. But they've been told to do "whatever he tells you," and they throw themselves into doing just that.

The result?

Wine flowing even more fully than would have otherwise been the case. A miracle stretched to its fullest extent. And interestingly, John stops to note later in the story that, although no-one at the feast knew where the good wine had come from, "the servants who had drawn the water knew." In John's Gospel, knowing is an extremely rare gift. Most folk are portrayed as being unknowing, uncomprehending, hence the fun with word-plays, double meanings, misunderstandings and confusions ("How can a man be born again?" "Where will you find this living water?" etc) To know what Jesus is doing is extraordinary in this Gospel - perhaps, then, it's Christ's gift to the servants in gratitude for their whole-hearted obedience. After all, it's precisely that obedience that demonstrates friendship with Christ (John 15.14), and it's those friends who come to understand what the Father is doing through Jesus (15.15).

For my part, I want to learn to be this whole-heartedly, simply, and quietly obedient too.

Image: Walter J. Pilsak via Wikimedia
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