Eagles’ Wings

From time to time we are all affected by ‘Elijah sickness’ — the temptation to lie down and give up. We become tired, scratchy, fed up. It is no good trying to hector ourselves, still less hector others, into going on. We have instead to resort to a little trickery, stepping to one side rather than meeting a difficulty head on, even retreating in order to advance. Better still, we can rely on another to give us the necessary oomph. I love the imagery of eagles’ wings used in today’s reading from Isaiah (Is. 40.25–31) and elsewhere in scripture to convey the idea of being supported, lifted up, by God when we are wont to droop. It is especially powerful at this time of year when even the most equable can feel torn in many different directions.

I don’t think, however, that we should ignore the fact that the image is not an entirely comfortable one. The eagle is not a tame bird. To be close to one is unsettling (at least, for me it has been). The power, the unpredictability, the amazing beauty and sheen of the bird are a  little frightening — in a good sense. We can also see eagles’ wings as a metaphor of God’s otherness. Throughout Advent we are called to explore this otherness and resist the temptation to domesticate God. Babies in cribs are easy to coo over, but the desert imagery of Isaiah and the other prophets confronts us with something stranger and more terrible: a God who is beyond human understanding, whose love is searing. We have a bad tendency to project onto him our own ideas, as though God should conform to our version of perfection, conservative, liberal or whatever it may be. In our foolishness, we ignore the question Isaiah poses.

Today’s gospel (Matt 11.28–30) invites us to yoke ourselves with Jesus, to walk with him, work with him and, ultimately, die with him. It is not something we can do by our own efforts. Sometimes we need to be reminded that we are but mortal — but with what a destiny!

At your bidding, Lord,
we are preparing the way for Christ, your Son.
May we not grow faint on the journey
as we wait for his healing presence.
Through our Lord Jesus Christ, your Son,
who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit,
one God, for ever and ever.

Note
This Advent I am deliberately using the daily Mass readings as the basis for my blog posts. If you would like to know more about Advent itself, see our main website here.

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Overdoing Things

Lots of people are prone to overdoing things, but those in the so-called caring professions are probably more prone than many. For clergy and religious overdoing things seems to be a given. People have very high expectations of us and in an attempt to meet those expectations, we can sometimes exhaust ourselves and those closest to us. Often we feel we have no choice. We know we should rest, but someone comes along and asks us to do something and we feel obliged to respond. It does not help when a well-wisher says, ‘Vicar, you should rest,’ or ‘Father, take things easy for a bit.’ Experience shows that if the tired vicar or parish priest does take a rest, there are very soon some disgruntled comments being made about selfishness and other undesirable qualities.

I was pondering this mini-problem when I came across an interesting blog post entitled 15 Things You Should Give Up To Be Happy. Although apparently written from a secular/New Age standpoint, it has some reminders about the need for forgiveness, humility and so on with which no Christian would disagree. At the end comes a reminder about freeing ourselves from the expectations others have of us. That was the point where I realised how different the Christian perspective is. We do not seek to be ‘in control’ but to surrender to whatever the Lord is asking of us in any and every situation. Our problem is that when we overdo things, we are doing the wrong thing for the right reason, which is why it is so hard to break ourselves of the habit.

It could be a useful exercise to scrutinize one’s own motivation, particularly if one knows one has a tendency to overdo things. I cheerfully admit to trying to do too much and getting cross with myself whenever I fail (which is often) or feeling a bit crushed when others get cross with me for not doing what they have asked or expect of me. I don’t think there is any ‘solution’ this side of heaven except practising humility and patience. Perhaps it is because they are such quintessentially Benedictine qualities that I am still struggling!

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Making Sunday Special

An old rabbi used to say that if he came across any particularly delightful fruit, he would save it for the sabbath. It was a reminder to him of the joy and blessing that the sabbath is. For Christians Sunday can all too easily become a day like any other with a little bit of church on top. I exaggerate, but I’m sure you know what I mean. Perhaps if this morning you are preparing to go into overdrive, with a million things to do, you could pause for a moment and ask yourself just how many are really necessary, you might have time to taste and see how good Sunday can be. Rest isn’t the same as idleness, any more than peace is the mere absence of war or joy the absence of sorrow. Sunday is a day for allowing the Lord more scope than we usually do, letting him show us the true value of what we are and do and rejoicing in his presence and action in our lives. We each have to find our own way of making Sunday special.

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Preparing for Sunday

Trinity Sunday is our patronal feast, so there will be special preparations in the monastery today: mainly, I suspect, additional polishing in the oratory and some baking in the kitchen! Life, as we often remind ourselves, is not all liturgy and loveliness, but we need our highs as well as our lows and Sunday is the great feast of every week. It is our sabbath, and everything about it should have a sabbath quality of joy and blessedness. That doesn’t happen without preparation. So, if you would enjoy your Sunday and make of it a true sabbath, you need to do a little preparation today, especially since rest is an essential part of sabbath blessedness.

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