Beyond Our Strength?

For a couple of days now I have been trying to put up a blind in my room. I have a powerful electric drill and enough screws and rawlplugs to last the community many years to come. What I don’t have is enough puff or breath to hold the drill for more than a a minute or two at a time. The obvious solution, to ask someone else to do the job, isn’t actually a solution at all. I wouldn’t have begun the task if anyone else had been available — and that, I suspect, is a situation familiar to lots of people. We find ourselves trying to do something that exceeds our ability or strength and end up feeling foolish or cross when we fail. Worse still, we sometimes berate ourselves for our pride or silliness (as we see it) and forget something rather important. We tried. We had a go. We didn’t allow our all-too-obvious limitations to define what we would attempt, and we recognized that if we didn’t try, no one else would.

We shall soon be beginning the Octave of Prayer for Christian Unity.* At times, Christian unity seems impossible of attainment. Our differences cannot be minimised, unless we are prepared to be dishonest with ourselves and others; nor can we kid ourselves that holding a few services together or joining in some action plan to improve the lot of the poor or disadvantaged is enough to satisfy the longing Christ has for his Church, that we may all be one. St Benedict urges us to pray that grace will supply what is impossible to us by nature, and that is as true of our quest for unity as anything else. Ultimately, our unity depends on fidelity to grace. It is the work of the Holy Spirit and, as such, must be led by the Spirit. ‘Led’ you notice, not, ‘don’t think of doing anything because God will do everything’. We have to begin somewhere. We are involved. The praying and working together is essential, but it must be prayer that goes beyond the joint services, work that exceeds the token gesture. What lies before us is indeed beyond our strength, but we do not rely on ourselves alone. It is grace, and grace only, that allows us to see the humility of God in inviting us to co-operate with him and gives us courage for the task.

*The Octave of Prayer for Christian Unity is traditionally held from 18 to 25 January. You can download resources for this year from Churches Together in Britain and Ireland: https://ctbi.org.uk/resources-for-week-of-prayer-for-christian-unity-2020/

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13 thoughts on “Beyond Our Strength?”

  1. This was the perfect post for me today. My daughter’s ex-boyfriend committed suicide last night while on the phone with her. I don’t know what to do. But I am traveling to be with her. I am feeling overwhelmed. This is beyond my knowledge and experience. But I am praying for God’s grace and I will try to help her through this.

    • She and you are in my prayers as well and will be for sometime. I’ve had similar experiences myself.

      She will need to seek some support eventually. So on that basis I can recommend https://uksobs.org – they run support groups around the country along with a helpline and can help her through this as can CRUSE https://www.cruse.org.uk

      It feels the loneliest place as people will shy away from talking about him; that’s due to others discomfort and misunderstandings. I’ve found support from faith and churches despite others saying to me not to.

    • That is a dreadful and incomprehensible experience, but your presence will be just what your daughter needs right now and the Holy Spirit will guide you.
      I am sure l speak for all the other readers of Dame Catherine’s blog in assuring you that we will hold you all in our prayers.
      God bless you and give you strength to do that which seems beyond you.

    • I’m impressed sister in how you have wielded and controlled that drill! I ‘m moving house at the moment and found myself last night wrestling with a curtain rail that had popped out of the runner it was on. For the life of me I couldn’t get it back on the runner so frustrating as the weight on the curtain on it was heavy! I had to tell myself to leave it a while and reappoach. Yes! sister thanks, with a sence of grace.. somehow, I managed to get it in the runner while I wasn’t looking… miracles come into our lives in the most ordinary way, I believe.I felt so proud I had achieved this! Humbled in gods grace.

      • Yesterday afternoon, I was travelling down the main road in my car and the car in front suddenly braked! This road is busy. It then pulled out to the right and moved around something. My turn to proceed, I could see in the middle of the road in front of me an object that was square and metal. I stopped, put my hazard lights on and jumped out on my car, feeling like a super hero! I removed the object to the footpath, run back to my car, feeling like I had saved the world… and proceeded!! Wow.. Thank-you father for giving me the insight and opportunity to be of service in the community! So ordinary privileged!!

    • May the Lord bless and care for your daughter’s former boyfriend in Heaven and for you and your daughter. Be with her as she grieves, hug her as she weeps and listen to her even when she is silent. If you can, stay with her for as long as she needs you.
      Not only Dame Catherine and her community but all of her followers, who have seen this blog and your comments, will be praying for you, your daughter and her former boyfriend. Peace and love be with you all.

  2. This is timely for me as well. I have published the details of the week in our February Magazine and it appears that some people will be taking the opportunity to attend a prayer meeting to be held at our local Large Baptist Church, whose Pastor suffered two major strokes several months ago, (age 47) and who is now totally incapacitated, whether permanent or temporarily, we don’t yet know. We have been praying for him in our Church, as have other local churches. We also pray for unity in our Daily Prayer sessions in Church or through intercessions at main services.

    Action is something we do every day, from our Vicar through the 28-30 individuals who volunteer in different ways to serve others in our parish and the wider community.

    Prayer together with other Christians is something we do regularly, and the week will be celebrated locally by churches with people attending each others services.

    I am not sure what more we can do other than as your describe hope for God’s Grace to be with and in us as we join together each time in unity of purpose and hope, with the Holy Spirit leading us towards God’s Kingdom in the place, where we jointly, with other Christian Churches minister and serve.

  3. I once went to a talk by the Dalai Lama on ‘The Buddhist View of Reality’. He spoke for about an hour through a translator and, to be honest, I remember almost nothing of that (well it was 40 years ago!). However, he then stopped, had a quiet word with his translator and spoke for about 5 minutes in English on the importance of kindness, and I do remember that. It’s a theme he has come back to many times. So, as far as I personally am concerned (and it is just a personal view), if someone is kind and thinks of themselves as a Buddhist then they are a Buddhist.
    You’ll gather that I’m not a Christian but I hope I am a friend. Is there any such simple thing that you think unites Christians?

    • I think of you as a friend! Baptism unites all Trinitarian Christians. Unfortunately, what I call ‘Christian tribalism’ sometimes divides us; so do different understandings of Christian teaching. Many years ago two Tibetan monks lived with our then community for a year at the Dalai Lama’s request. One of the things I gained from that experience was the realisation that the practice of monasticism united us, but the western philosophy so important to us for articulation of our theological understanding made no sense at all to our Buddhist brothers.

  4. This may be a naive question, because I have not been involved in those differences in understanding Christian teaching, but do the differences matter? I may have mentioned that my background is in psychology and, as part of that, I accept that we are all unique in terms of culture, personality, upbringing, education etc., so I see it as inevitable that we all have different understandings of every topic I can think of!

    I would even add that the differences could be a real strength when discussing theories and ideas with other psychologists. Those of us who knew how to debate could develop our ideas by discussing them with someone who saw things differently – both could end up with a better view than we began with. When it goes well and a colleague got stuck, a skilled debater would even say, “You could develop your argument in this way…”

    Of course not everyone is skilled and some people defend their ideas as though their lives depend on it, but at least in some areas of life, differences and divisions can be used as development tools.

    I do accept that I may be being naive here, given the strength of some people’s ego needs and defences, but with a bit of skill and inner peace (!), much is possible. Anyway, I wish you and the church well with your prayers for unity.

    • You are not being naive. As a Catholic, I think the differences do matter — I would not be a Catholic if I did not believe that because being a Catholic is not the easiest way of being a Christian — and are very much linked to a quest for truth. However, theology has developed its own jargon, and I think that can often create barriers for some. Where there is goodwill and a desire to understand another’s position, I believe dialogue will always lead to mutual enrichment. We have seen that in some of the statements issued in the past by various Churches, but cherry-piking such statements can have some unintended consequences. I think monasticism has a useful role to play in trying to attain unity because it is not aligned with any power structures in the Churches.

  5. Thank you for your thoughts sister. I wasn’t aware of the independence of monastics – good to know that you have a unique contribution to make to Church unity. Prayers (and blogs) can also extend your reach beyond the cloister walls so there is much that you can do!

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