Earlier this year I bought myself a pack of the Northumbria Community’s ‘rule cards’. They are about the size of a credit card, and have a simple invocative statement on each one, designed to think about for a week or so at a time. I have found in the past that small sayings like this really work well for me and that they enable me to reflect deeper and deeper in a very lateral way. And so I was looking forward to their arrival and was not disappointed when they arrived. The internet is such a wonderful thing sometimes!
Prayers and short reflections remind me of a good cheese that ripens with age and it does seem that the repetition serves to open us like flowers and embed within us the ripest fruit of our endeavors. So the first card was this:
I say ‘Yes, my Lord’ in all the good times through all the bad times.
And what follows are some of my reflections. I may post these in a couple of parts as they are quite long!
I say ‘Yes my Lord’. This reminds me firstly of Jesus’s question of Peter; before he was taken away to be questioned and charged to be crucified on the cross. And within this question lies two other rules of the community; availability to God and intentional vulnerability.
‘When they had finished breakfast, Jesus said to Simon Peter, “Simon, son of John, do you love me more than these?” He said to him, “Yes, Lord you know that I love you.” He said to him, “Feed my lambs.” He then said to him a second time, “Simon, son of John, do you love me?” He said to him, “Yes, Lord, you know that I love you.” He said to him, “Tend my sheep.” He said to him the third time, “Simon, son of John do you love me?” Peter was distressed that he had said to him a third time, “Do you love me?” and he said to him, “Lord, you know everything; you know that I love you.” Jesus said to him, “Feed my sheep.”
John: 21: 15-18
Jesus then goes on to speak in a way that in hindsight can be seen as him knowing the death that Peter would ultimately experience in his service to him. When we follow the Lord, when we say “Yes, my Lord” we do indeed willingly bind ourselves to following him through the good and the bad times. We are called upon to realise that his loving grace accompanies us in our good times and stands beside us in our bad times too.
Bad times may not just come upon us in problems or challenges in life, such as death of a loved one, unemployment, and repossession of a home, breakdown of a marriage, ill-health, accidents and fearful events. They may also challenge us in other more hidden ways; a crisis of faith for example, the special trials in the Night of Sense spoken of by John of the Cross, which indicate movement and progression but feel to all intents and purpose like abandonment and regression. It may be that we find it hard to see the Lord present in our lives at such times. A very human howl of pain asks how if there were a God, how and why would he let people suffer so. Recently as people watched the tragic shooting of so many small innocent children in America at Sandy Hook; many would have howled this question from the depth of their being to their notion/understanding/concept of God.
When we see suffering in others, we react with their pain ourselves too. It is possible to lose sight of who Jesus was and what God did at these points. We are not asked to simply have faith in an unknown intangible or love a remote God however. Jesus entered our world as fully human. Clothed in a human body, growing up in a human family, experiencing physical and emotional pain he lived his life alongside us. He died a cruel and lingering death, nailed to a cross, whilst also innocent, as innocent as the children massacred in Sandy Hook. He was not guilty as charged. He said “Yes” to us before He asked us to say “Yes” to him. He said yes to incarnating, yes to living with us and experiencing all that we experience in order to really feel and know intimately what it is to be fully human. He said yes to what was intended to be an ignoble death, and said yes to following his Fathers will to the grave and beyond in his blessed resurrection. He said yes in good times and through all the bad times. I believe that with his power, he could have saved himself, said no to death. He could have chosen to justify that by being able to spend more time here on earth, teaching, healing, and sharing with us. Yet he said yes, quite simply because he was in full union with his Father in Heaven and wanted us to know him too, to draw us closer to the Father through his own example in his life, his death and his resurrection. In this sacrificial act, and subsequent resurrection we are no longer asked to worship a remote God, but to walk confidently knowing our Father loves us and all creation. We are promised that we will meet him, and that he knows every hair on our heads, as well as our cares and concerns before we have even voiced them. This being so, it indicates that our Father is intimately connected with even the smallest detail of our lives and that they matter to him. Jesus brings us a loving Father, who knows his creation and yearns for it to know him. Jesus showed us in his actions both his availability to God and his intentional vulnerability. We too are invited to do accept that invitation.
It is easier to say “Yes, my Lord” in the good times. But there is also a hidden trap here to watch out for. As humans, we are prone to accrediting all successes to ourselves whilst dumping all bad events onto God’s doorstep accusingly. When life runs smoothly, we can become complacent. We may forget and often do, to give thanks for all things to our Father. We may forget simple appreciation also acts as praise and forget that ‘gratitude is attitude’. We may forget that the very air we breathe, the fact that our bodies still house and support us in physical life; lies with God. An early understanding of the meaning of the word sin was in fact forgetfulness. Error was something else, to err was human, but to sin was a forgetfulness that led to all manner of evil entering the human framework of life due to our own neglect of mindful awareness; of keeping ourselves bound with God; something we can do something about when we remember to put God above us, below us to the front of us and behind us and keep saying “Yes, my Lord”. The opposite of forgetting is remembering; literally when we pull back together all parts that has separated. The original sin if seen in this light becomes just that; the separation of man from God. With Jesus we were all pulled back into the One Body. The Body of the Son reunited, is once again able to stand before the Father to receive His gifts and His forgiveness and blessing. Some of the most mystical writings in the Bible are contained in Jesus’s descriptions, preceding his own death to his disciples, of what will happen when he dies, and also in Acts and the Letters by the Apostle Paul, who shows detailed visionary understanding of the mystical body of Christ, and the bestowal of the Holy Spirit upon us. Paul really understands that Jesus Christ came for us all, not just for the Jews, but also for the Gentiles. He came for all his Father’s children. The full impact of the result of these gifts of bestowal through the Father and Son’s infinite love in the outpouring of their Holy Spirit, which abides with us still; and the Trinity’s tender embracing care of humanity and all creation, are not always portrayed in the Church today, although within this bestowal actually lies the full Glory of the Risen Lord witnessing to His Father, bringing us home with him, beside him and the true power of his glorious purpose in saying “Yes” to his Father in heaven. We are jointly the prodigal son whose return is rejoiced and feasted. A far better understanding of this joy is understood and expressed within the Evangelical tradition and I wonder why this is one of the reasons that numbers steadily increase in this part of the Christian body, and continue to decline steadily in others. [To Be Continued In Part 2…]
(C) Stephanie Rudd 2013
For those interested, here is a link to the Northumbria Community.