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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Exhaustion Point

Yesterday we finally admitted what had been staring us in the face for the past few weeks: we had reached, not exhaustion point exactly, but somewhere on the road to exhaustion where the warning signs were plain to see. So, instead of doing all the things we thought we should (unpacking, answering correspondence, getting the monastery accounts up to date, scything down the savannah that has sprung up overnight in the garden, sorting out the 1001 things that have to be sorted), still less all the things other people thought we should do (complete as appropriate), we decided to do very little.

The monastic version of very little takes quite a lot of time: prayer and reading, Mass at Belmont, which was beautifully celebrated, with some fine singing from the boys and girls of St Richard’s School, and a community meal (the first properly cooked one for a few days), but it was not taxing in the way that working against the clock is taxing; nor was the tiredness beyond our control. We had not, in fact, reached exhaustion point.

There are many people who have reached, or even gone beyond, exhaustion point. Work, the pressure of caring for others — children, elderly parents, perhaps a husband or wife with severe disabilities — trying to struggle by on too little money or in the face of hostility and bullying: all these can bring people to the point of physical and emotional exhaustion. For us, the solution to our temporary exhaustion was easy: we just switched off for the day. For others, it is not so easy; and sadly, it is often the people who most need help who are least able to ask for it or least likely to receive help if they do.

One of the most sobering statistics I have read for a long while concerns the number of children in the U.K. who are the principal carers for their parents. At an age when most of us were probably leaving our bedrooms in a mess and flouncing out of the house ‘at all hours’, these young people are cooking, cleaning, tending to their parents in ways that properly belong to adults. There are systems in place that are supposed to pinpoint children at risk, but we all know that much goes on behind the walls of our houses that is hidden from view. And in countries not so blessed with security and material wealth as our own, children face even worse problems.

Perhaps today, if we are beginning the working week feeling a little tired and jaded, we could spare a thought and a prayer for those who are truly exhausted; for the children coping with adult challenges; for all who are weary and see no hope of an end to their weariness.

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