A Saint, A Wolf & Covid-19

What follows is my extended script for a BBC Radio Devon Pause for Thought planned for Sunday 19th April 2020.  It is a fascinating truth-containing fable of the 13th century involving a famous Saint and an infamous Wolf:

St Francis of Assisi and the Wolf

During the early 13th century, we meet an extraordinary figure:  

A determined pleasure seeker in his youth, loving the good and fast life of high society.  

 

But he had an experience of Jesus Christ 

that transformed this classic sinner into a most radical saint.

 

His name is Giovanni di Pietro di Bernardone, but we know him as St. Francis of Assisi. 

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Invited Into Christ’s Life

41FeXMjiYYL._SX321_BO1,204,203,200_“Although it is commonplace in some circles to talk about “inviting Jesus into your life”, it is more appropriate to turn the invitation around the other way because, in fact, it is Jesus who invites us into his life.

The essence of the Incarnation is that Jesus has entered into solidarity with humankind in ways which may be ontologically mysterious but which are existentially compelling.  As our brother, He has entered fully into our humanity – He needs no invitation into our lives because He is already in intimate solidarity with us.

But it is a solidarity which is not invasive or imposed.  Rather, it invites us to respond in the same way a guest responds to an invitation with a clear sense that what is being accepted or rerjected is a gift which is simply waiting to be claimed.

It is rather like the gift which we are told simply awaits our collection in the latest Reader’s Digest draw – but in relation to God’s grace the gift is real, really worth having and waiting to be claimed by everyone and not just the lucky few!”

 

John Saxbee, No Faith in religion, p.91

Distraction

0055 RST Distracted Brains - Mobile DPS 4nh.inddDistracted!

Not attracted, distracted!!

Ah!  These modern days, we’re so busy.

We distract ourselves with microchip and 4G;

We always think it’s all about me.

I’m multi-tasking; I’m so modern.

That flicker of light, our mobile we delight!

 

We pick up up everything,

Before us, and in us.

We reach, we pick up, we….distract ourselves.

Did someone just text me?

Check my phone!

Did someone just Facebook me?

Check my phone.

Are my kids talking to me…..check my phone!

 

We are a distracted people.

A picking up people.

Let us pick up our phone, our facebook, our TV guide;

But let us not be Christian inside.

We think we’re free, but really we hide;

From the terror inside, the distraction we hide.

 

What do they think?

What did he say?

Who gives a damn, anyway?

 

Jesus said, “Pick up your cross.”

Not the dross, that is your boss;

Not the phone you think you own;

Nor the life that you’ve blown.

But the cross, from new life grown.

 

You don’t have to pick up the shit; take the hit.

Pick up the Cross;

It’s not your loss.

You lose your life, in His strife;

Come to Me, said He; Be free.

 

Distracted! Attracted!

What are you picking up anyway?

Your phone, the TV guide, the Facebook like?

Your own little ego, fed every day….

…on the things that don’t fill;  anesthetized will.

 

Pick up your Cross and follow Me!

That means putting everything else down;

It means no longer following self.

Check yourself now,

Do you have the courage?

 

Do you?

Really?

I think I can hear your phone ringing……….

 

Choosing Life in Suffering

cryingfaceOne of life’s great questions centres not on what happens to us, but how we will live in and through whatever happens.  We cannot change most circumstances in our lives.  I am white, middle class, and I have a good education.  I have not always made conscious decisions about these things.

Very little of what I have lived, in fact, has to do with what I have decided – whom I have known, where I came into the world, what personality tendencies have taken hold.

Our choice, then, often revolves around not what has happened or will happen to us, but how we will relate to life’s turns and circumstances.  Put another way:  Will I relate to my life resentfully or gratefully?

Think of this example:  You and I have crashed into one another on the road.  For me it might create not only serious injury, but also bitter resentfulness.  I may drag through life, saying, “The accident changed everything.  Now I am broken and life is hard.”  You may suffer the same hardship, but say, “Might this moment serve as a call to another way of life?  Might it be an opportunity to master something new, a chance to make my brokenness serve as a witness to others?”

The losses may be non-negotiable.  But we have a choice:  How do we live these losses?  We are called time and again to discover God’s Spirit at work within our lives, within us, amid even the dark moments.  We are invited to choose life.  A key in understanding suffering has to do with our not rebelling at the inconveniences and pains life presents to us.

 

Henri Nouwen, Turn My Mourning Into Dancing, p.12-13

Death: You Will Die

skull

Death is really important to think about, affecting approximately 100% of humanity.  In the Western world especially, it remains a stunning source of perplexity why so many people in their old age, 70’s+ often seem less to contemplate the inevitability of death.  Just recently whilst visiting an elderly sick man in the church, it seemed a thought unthought that he should be preparing himself to die, something I stuttered to his wife even as they used language of ‘healing’ and ‘planning for a great future of good health’.  It struck me as very unreasonable to think of both life and death in this way!

The wonderful Jurgen Moltmann tackles this head-on.  He says that many people live as though death didn’t exist, adding that this is not the way to live a life ‘to the full’.  He continues, “To push away every thought of death, and to live as if we had an infinite amount of time ahead of us, makes us superficial and indifferent…To live as if there were no death is to live an illusion” (The Coming of God, p.50.)

The fact is, we need a ready if not brutal honesty about death, which in itself can be liberating and even life enhancing.  Surviving a serious illness or accident or whatever can actually serve to give our lives more depth.   Surely it is those who repress the thought of death who turn life into an idol – maybe these people are the ones who have deep repression anxieties about death!

Our Western culture doesn’t really help.  Observe a cultural trend.  People used to die at home and be laid out at home for all to see, to mourn, to say “Goodbye.”  Children were present, death was seen in all its glory.  Church graveyards were the centre of village or town life, people went to mourn in the centre of their everyday lives with everyone else.  But now, hospitals have taken the place of the home and the graveyard at the centre is now the crematorium on the margins of our towns.  As a result, death is privatised, even children are sometimes (often?) kept away (as I was at my own grandfather’s funeral in 1985, which left deep scars and a trashed bedroom)!

It is quite likely that that one event, coupled with Christian conversion to Christ as a young man, has made me determined to face death and “be real” about it, and being a Christian means many things, but here, it means facing death with courage knowing what God says about it and what Jesus has done to it.  No wonder the Apostle Paul can burst into song in one of his letters in the New Testament, “Where, O death, is your victory?  Where, O death, is your sting?” (1 Cor 15:55).

This is not to say death is easy.  It isn’t!  Mourning is costly and painful.  Moltmann is right to say that the greater the love, the deeper the grief, “the person who cannot mourn has never loved.”  Christian mourning is not the denial that something has happened, a loss unimaginable; rather, it is the acceptance of that painful loss, and further, a trust into the merciful hands of a loving God, the One who’s promises supply the faith to believe what He has promised – in Christ, a new Resurrection future with Him.  This is not soppy wishful thinking or earth-denying escapism.  In fact it is as real as reality gets, it forces us to face death as creatures made in the image of God, creatures who will one day die, and be accountable to Him.  For many, the ignoring of death and the triumph of the idolatry of life is more absurd than anything even in Alice in Wonderland!

There is a wonderful native American proverb that I’ve used in funeral sermons, “When you were born, you cried and the world rejoiced.  Live your life so that when you die the world cries and you rejoice.”

That is why on my gravestone I want the words, “To live is Christ; to die is gain!”  Because in death I will die, but in Christ, I will live!