Held by the Right Hand of God

For some of us the present turmoil in British politics is disconcerting. We are not fazed by blatent personal ambition or the curious kind of ‘political-speak’ many adopt when they wish to avoid committing themselves to anything, but we are wondering whether the concepts of public service and the common good mean anything any more. Amid all the insults being traded in Parliament and on the internet, it can be hard to discern the voice of mature reflection. At times, the apparent lack of political vision is extremely worrying. Whatever we think about Brexit, the present shambles helps no-one, and any attempt to look into the future is discouraging.

Today’s first Mass reading (Isaiah 41. 13–20), therefore,  could not be more timely. We may feel as helpless as a worm, one whose fate is entirely decided by others, but we’re not. God is holding us by the right hand. That doesn’t mean we can just sit back and make no effort of our own. On the contrary, it is because God is involved in every aspect of our lives that we  can find the courage to go on, however adverse the circumstances in which we  find ourselves. Hope is the great message of Advent, but it is one we have to live in practice, not just theory. That includes being hopeful about the present chaos — not in a silly, ostrich-like refusal to look facts in the face, but in genuine openness to what may come about. It means going on praying, going on searching and working, refusing to give way to the rancour and self-seeking of some or the bitterness and hostility of others. In other words, it means allowing God to lead us,

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Poor Worm, Puny Mite

Few of us would be flattered to be called a ‘poor worm’ or ‘puny mite’ by a stranger, but that is exactly how the Lord addresses Israel in Isaiah 41. 13–20. Context is everything, of course, and in Isaiah it is the language of tenderness and intimacy. We can identify with Israel, shivering with fear, shrinking from the violence on every side, but held fast by God’s right hand. The trouble is, although we know it is so, we don’t often feel it is so — or if we do, doubts about our sanity may arise. We have to  live a strange paradox, knowing how weak and vulnerable we are yet at the same time knowing that the victory has been won; and the God we can’t see or hear or touch is closer to us than we are to ourselves because his Spirit dwells within us.

Today’s gospel introduces the figure of John the Baptist to our Advent liturgy (Matthew 11. 11–15). John did not speak of poor worms or tiny mites but broods of vipers, yet there is a tender eagerness about all the Baptist’s doings that is arresting. He, too, lived a strange paradox, as ‘the greatest yet born of woman, though the least in the kingdom of heaven is greater than he.’

How we are to reconcile these paradoxes, I don’t know, but they provide ample food for thought. My own private accommodation of these texts may strike you as fanciful, but whenever I think of Isaiah’s poor worm, I think of the glow-worm — not a true worm, at all,  but an insect, destined to have wings and soar to the heights with a beautiful luminescence. There is in all of us, in the black carbon of our being, something of Hopkins’s ‘immortal diamond’ which God has created, treasures and keeps safe. John saw that and spent his whole life trying to get others to see it, too.Facebooktwitterredditpinterestlinkedintumblrmail