Sunbeams

It has not been the summer most of us would have wished. The weather has been uncertain; the COVID-19 pandemic has continued to disrupt lives and cause grief; while natural disasters — floods, fires, hurricanes — and political convulsions —most strikingly, the agony being undergone by the people of Afghanistan — have contributed to a sense of weariness, amounting at times to hopelessness. Wherever we look we see corruption and failed leadership from which the Church herself is far from exempt.

When everything seems so gloomy, it is time to look for the sunbeams: for the kindness we encounter, the unexpected help given us, the beauty of the world, the hint of God’s presence. That doesn’t mean pretending everything is marvellous when clearly it isn’t. Here at the monastery the last few weeks have been quite trying but it would be churlish to concentrate on the negative. Those little flashes of insight, that moment of luminous silence, the baby’s smile or the peaceful sleep of the very old may not amount to very much, considered individually, but together they remind us that the world is a good place to be. It is not being experienced as such by everyone, but we can help make it so for some.

Even if only one person is affected by what we are or do, we shall have played a part in cherishing the world — a world God loved so much he sent his only Son to redeem it. If talk of sunbeams seems embarrassingly twee, there is the awesome figure of the Sun of Justice to contemplate. It just depends how we see things. As Joseph Plunkett wrote:

I see his blood upon the rose
And in the stars the glory of his eyes,
His body gleams amid eternal snows,
His tears fall from the skies.

I see his face in every flower;
The thunder and the singing of the birds
Are but his voice — and carven by his power
Rocks are his written words.

All pathways by his feet are worn,
His strong heart stirs the ever-beating sea,
His crown of thorns is twined with every thorn,
His cross is every tree.

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Wind and Flame: Pentecost 2018

Pentecost
Pentecost: from the Chapter House paintings of D. Werburg Welch © Stanbrook Abbey, Used by permission.

Of all the images of the Holy Spirit, the one I like best is that of wind, breath, pneuma, ruach. We see its effects, we feel it, but we do not see the wind itself. With every breath we take, we draw it into ourselves; with every word we speak, we exhale it again. For those of us in the Western tradition, that connection between Word and Spirit is already a given, but how rarely do we take in its full implications! And fire, how often do we think about that? From the cosy crackling of logs in winter to the amazing spurts of flame and blazing lava-flows we see in Hawaii, fire and flame are still part of our world, still a challenge to our ideas of safety and control.

D. Werburg Welch’s chapter-house painting of the descent of the Holy Spirit has always fascinated me. Mary, the Mother of God, is wrapped in a flame-coloured garment and sits, as the hesychast sits, among the other disciples and is filled again with the indwelling Spirit. The rushing wind cannot be depicted, but we know it is there; and we know it will transform these anxious, frightened people. It will catapult Peter and the others out into the streets to proclaim the mirabilia Dei. It will transform the world. This morning may that same Spirit transform us, too.Facebooktwitterredditpinterestlinkedintumblrmail