Saturday 13 June 2020
Another Saturday afternoon and I am looking out into the garden. There is a magpie walking across our neighbour’s roof, checking out the holes in the eaves above the gable wall where the resident house sparrows nest. There has been a lot of activity from the sparrows, flying in and out, but I don’t know at what stage any of the chicks or fledglings are. Whatever the case I imagine the magpie wasn’t just calling by to say ‘hello’. What’s the phrase? ‘Nature red in tooth and claw’ and as it seems in beak too. Beside the fading peony flowers below the garden fence, sits another neighbour’s long-haired cat. It’s a sort of ginger-tabby, fairly large with big paws and a slow and confident air as he moves around the garden. Now, amid foliage and shade I barely noticed he was there, only when an antenna-like ear moved suddenly was I alerted to his presence. If I was a young sparrow I’d try and sit tight for a while longer, as ‘Mr Tufty’ probably isn’t waiting to say ‘hello’ either, or to give a cheer (or meow) of support to any maiden flight. And yet in magpie and moggy there is an openness and honesty in both their behaviour and intentions.
The sparrows have just kicked off in a mighty chatter. Mr Tufty is sitting up now with both ears jolting and rotating in every direction with each utterance from the bushes above. His cover may be blown, but he plays the long game and can wait. The opportunistic avian and the patient puss are just what they are and they can be no other. With us humans, even ‘good people’, it’s altogether much harder to understand where we are coming from and what we will say or how we will behave.
I managed to watch the Trooping the Colour that was staged today, as Her Majesty the Queen celebrated her official 94th birthday. Just a few weeks ago I think we exchanged our comments on events surrounding VE Day. On that occasion the 1945 broadcast to the nation and the world by Winston Churchill as Prime Minister was shown once more; and how on the balcony he received the acclaim of the celebrating crowds as he stood beside monarch and royalty. How quickly things change and how the hurt felt is sometimes expressed in anger.
With all of the injustices and horrors that have happened down through the millennia, how far back do we have to go to redress the balance and correct the errors and evils of the past? I must admit I’m struggling with it all, but I feel that to be really sure we remove all offence and wrong action, I think we need to go right back to a garden. We need to go back to a garden in the spring or summer and certainly before the Fall! Everyone seemed happy then, although the bliss of that perfect Garden of Eden didn’t last.
Your reference to the Good Samaritan, once again makes it plain how we are called to behave towards one another. Being gentle and kind would be a good start too. Under lockdown we have acted contrary to our usual inclinations and have had to literally walk by on the other side. The recent exception to this rule has been those caring for us in our abject need through Coronavirus. Doctors, nurses and carers who have sacrificially thrown their arms around us to care for us and to be the person to take that moment to say goodbye on behalf of separated families and friends.
Still the hope remains that the giant slabs of despair will be replaced with something far more palatable and with all that is good. Then, as far as we are able to define and recognise it, life can again flourish. A return to Eden will only be possible on Jesus’ return and He establishes a new heaven and a new earth.
The account you mention from chapter 8 in John’s Gospel of Jesus’ dealings with the woman caught in adultery is so powerful. In this story we are shown the grace and gentleness of God in Jesus Christ the Son. There is so much that can be said about this story, not least the fact that if the woman was caught in the act of adultery, then where on earth was the man? For me perhaps most importantly it presents both the judgment and the mercy of God. With our holy God there cannot be one without the other. All the stones of the accusers were put down, everyone went away and to the terrified woman Jesus speaks carefully, compassionately and graciously, ‘neither do I condemn you; go, and from now on sin no more.’
This passage may be one of those that feature in a quiz question about how often God wrote in the Bible. We may quickly think of the Ten Commandments being written and given to Moses; we may even recall the writing on the wall at king Belshazzar’s feast in Babylon, which Daniel interpreted; but here is an indication of who Jesus truly is, as we see Him writing on the ground. God is here, in Jesus, pouring compassion and forgiveness into this situation.
You ask the question ‘has forgiveness been lost?’ I don’t think so, it has just been misplaced! I believe losing sight of the grace, power and holiness of God is what causes the Church to fade. We fail to look to God and receive His offer of forgiveness. Forgiveness is needed. Our daily prayer, the Lord’s Prayer, makes it clear, ‘Give us this day our daily bread, and forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors.’ It is very important to seek forgiveness and apologise by saying sorry as soon as you are aware you have messed up. A statement like ‘I’m sorry you feel this way on account of my actions or inactions’ is not the same thing! You mention the carpenter’s rule and I think this is right. It’s something akin to the balance of apertures in our heads. We’ve got two ears and only one mouth, and they should be used proportionately. I share your concern though that it is also possible that we may only listen and then fear to speak at all.
I actually do consider that gentleness, as the foundation to our behaviour and actions, is a strength at all times. Whatever the opposite of gentleness is, it too can have its place, but my experience tells me there is a real danger of appearing harsh, dismissive, aggressive or just plain angry. And this has nothing to do with the righteous anger we may justifiably feel at times and which Jesus Himself demonstrated.
It is a few years since we watched the Life of Pi and I remember exactly where we were when we saw it. There was popcorn of course, but it wasn’t in the cinema. As you say it would be worth watching again, though I did feel sorry for the zebra. I’m not quite sure why, after all the tiger was simply being a tiger, as Mr Tufty would comment to me if he could. I do like the quotes you’ve written. The one ‘to know God, you have to be introduced’ could no doubt be the testimony of the woman in John chapter 8. In Jesus she had met God, and when we have met God, life can never be the same again, however thick the slabs of bread or despair may be. Thankfully a little mustard or mayo can have a big effect. Just to close on a note of hope, Paul had a different sort of sandwich in mind when he wrote ‘So now faith, hope, and love abide, these three; but the greatest of these is love.’
May the God of peace be with you and those you love.