Thursday, January 21, 2021

Jonathan Sacks reflects on Prayer

 


Nerine found this passage on prayer and the news by Rabbi Jonathan Sacks

Once I tried an experiment by showing an audience a sheet of white paper, with a black dot at the centre, and asked them what they saw. With only one exception they replied, ‘A black dot’. I then pointed out that the dot took up less that one percent of what they were looking at. They had missed, discounted, or ignored the white sheet of paper that gave the black dot its place. As soon as they realised this, we began to understand why the media so often present a distorted view of the world – why bad news is news, while good news rarely is.

 

The information that surrounds us is all too often a litany of disasters – wars, famines, crashes, crimes, the clash of politicians and fear for the future. Those who argue for more good news are often accused of being na├»ve, or sentimental, of wanting to whitewash over pain and suffering and corruption that exists in so many parts of the world.

 

The simple explanation is that news is like the black spot on white paper. If the paper were black, we would not even see it. Bad news is news precisely because so much of life is good. Lawbreaking is noteworthy only because the vast majority of people are law-abiding. Corruption hits the headlines only in countries where honesty is the norm. The very fact that bad things are noteworthy is the most telling evidence of the fundamental goodness of our world.

 


This, for me, is the power and necessity of prayer. Prayers of thanksgiving bring to the foreground what is usually in the background. They are acts of focussed attention on the white paper without which we would not notice the black dot. They remind us that without the dominance of kindness, we would be indifferent to cruelty. Without faithfulness, we would be unmoved by betrayal.

Around us everywhere, flooding us with its light, is the dazzling goodness of most of creation. Order instead of chaos, diversity not monotony, the brilliant colours and intricacy of the natural world and the hundred acts of human grace for every one of gracelessness. The majesty of faith is that it teaches us to see what exists, not merely what catches our attention.

 

What makes us human is that we are capable of seeing existence whole, the landscape of beauty that forms the backdrop against which we notice the ugly, the cruel, and the unjust. Prayer, not the press, is what makes good news.

 (Extract from ‘Celebrating Life: Finding Happiness in unexpected places’ by Rabbi Jonathan Sacks)




Wednesday, January 20, 2021

Outrageous Forgiveness.

 



The Americans have a strange tradition that an outgoing President can forgive anyone he chooses as he leaves office (they have always been “he”s – so far). Donald Trump appears likely to issue a lot of pardons in his last hours. There is even talk of him pardoning himself, although that must be difficult for a person whose attitude is that he is always right.

I remain amazed that many of his followers appear to identify as Christians, but perhaps there is one respect in which I can see a lesson for us all. God pardons, God forgives. The Gospel which we believe is that we are forgiven. That is an issue which outrages Jesus’ critics. When he heals a paralysed person who, in desperation, is lowered through the roof for healing Jesus’s first words are forgiveness – without even asking what the sins are. When the prodigal son returns after wasting the family’s money on a massive bender, his brother is shocked that their father welcomes him back.




Our faith tells us clearly that we are loved, accepted, forgiven. When we turn to God and repent we are welcomed into glorious fellowship with the divine. It is the Amazing Grace of which the great hymn speaks, where John Newton comes to repent of trading human lives in slavery. Grace is about underserved forgiveness, not about justice. It is outrageous – forgiveness is so available: do we value that? Are we even conscious of needing forgiveness?

As life changes across the pond, I hope and pray that the undermining of truth, incitement of hatred and violence, and nationalistic posturing will end. And that people of faith may concentrate on the love and forgiveness of God, seen supremely in Jesus’ life and teaching and sacrificial death. For our own lives, may we forgive others as we also need forgiveness, and be more aware at what cost we are restored to connectedness to God.



Another hymn which comes to mind is To God Be The Glory, which speaks of the coming of Jesus and the revelation of his glory, especially in accepting death on the cross. Some of the words feel pertinent now: “The vilest offender that truly believes that moment from Jesus a pardon receives”. It’s very tempting to think of someone else as the vilest, especially when they really do seem – er – pretty vile – but St Paul in the Bible points the finger at himself and at a time of presidential pardons we should all remember that we need outrageous forgiveness.




 

Tuesday, January 19, 2021

Memo from God



Good morning,

As you got up I watched and hoped you would talk to me. Just a few words about the day ahead, perhaps, or about your night?

But I noticed you were busy showering and selecting the right clothes. I waited again, hoping to hear from you. When you ran around the house collecting papers, setting up for the day ahead, I knew there would be a few minutes to stop and say hello, but somehow you never slowed down.

I longed to tell you that I am with you and could help you accomplish more than you ever dreamed possible if you would just spend some of each day with me. At one point, you waited fifteen minutes in a chair with nothing to do. That would be a good time to catch up but you were thinking about the person that you had had a bit of a row with.

Then I saw you spring to your feet; I thought you wanted to walk and talk to me, but you picked up your phone and called a friend. That connectedness was wonderful and good for both of you and I was there with you both in the conversation and listening.




I watched go for your walk and waited patiently as my wonderful creation greeted all your senses but your mind was so full you seemed to notice nothing of my love surrounding you. The day carried on with so many activities, some of which were amazing and helpful and some which really seemed to get you nowhere and I noticed how you kept on telling yourself how incredibly busy you were. Can we talk? Will you listen?  

At the end of the day there was still more time left, and I hoped that we would talk but you turned on the TV;  and seemed to watch what ever came on. Surely you will talk with me about the News there are so many difficult things going on, we could talk them through together!

At bedtime you were totally tired. After you said good night to your family you picked up the Bible with the study notes, then glancing at the passage you told yourself it was too demanding so you put it aside and fell asleep. I had so much wanted to be part of your day. We could have had so much fun and accomplished so much together.

I love you so much that I wait every day for a thought, prayer or thanks. Well, maybe tomorrow! I'll always be there be waiting.

Your Friend, God



 




Monday, January 18, 2021

Doing Nothing

 


There is a Japanese man who makes a living by renting himself out “to do nothing”. He has garnered an enormous following online and thousands of clients. For £70, plus expenses for travels and meals, you can rent Shoji Morimoto, 37, from Tokyo but he will not do anything except “eat, drink and give a simple response”.

 

Morimoto first offered his services in June 2018 after posting a tweet that read: “I offer myself for rent, as a person who does nothing. Is it difficult for you to enter a shop on your own? Are you missing a player on your team? Do you need someone to keep a place for you? I can’t do anything except easy things.”

Apparently he originally offered his services free, Morimoto now has to charge to reduce the volume of requests and to discourage time-wasters. He sees three or four clients a day, and has been there for people 3,000 times since he first launched his service!




The most frequent  reasons that he is hired are boredom, loneliness and just to be listened to. He has also had lunches, posed for photographs on Instagram, accompanied someone filing for divorce, caught butterflies in the park and listened to health care workers struggling with their work. One time someone even paid Morimoto to take him from the hospital to revisit the spot where he had attempted suicide. He told the local newspaper  “I’m not a friend or an acquaintance. I’m free of the annoying things that go with relationships but I can ease people’s feelings of loneliness. I personally don’t like being cheered on by other people. It bothers me when people simply tell me to keep persevering. When someone is trying to do something I think the best thing to do is to make it easier for them by staying at their side.”




Morimoto is married and has a postgraduate degree in physics from Osaka University. In less than three years Morimoto - who used to work in publishing but left to “do nothing” - has published books about his career choice, inspired a television drama and acquired 270,000 Twitter followers.

One of his clients posted online: “I'm glad I was able to take a walk with someone while keeping a comfortable distance, where we didn't have to talk but could if we wanted to.” Another wrote: "I had been slack about visiting the hospital, but I went because he came with me."




Although this ‘doing nothing’ may sound initially hilarious or even ridiculous, you can see that it is in fact a very useful service that he can give, that he can be with people, accompanying them and in many ways this is a profoundly spiritual thing to do. Are we called to accompany people by listening, walking with or being there for them, giving our time?

A prayer that we may wish to use for someone we know ….

Circle of love
surround ……
May your love well up within….

Circle of healing
surround ……..
Circle of protection
Surround ….. with your eternal safety.
Give ……courage and strength
To live always in your love.




Sunday, January 17, 2021

Nathaniel


 

“Can anything good come out of Nazareth?” says Nathanael in today’s Gospel (John 1.43-51). A very interesting response to two people who announce that they have found the Saviour prophesied in the sacred Scriptures!

This remark about Nazareth suggests an attitude of prejudice against all people from that town, indeed from the area away from the sensible, in-touch part of the nation in which Nat lived. “In touch” because he lived there… And he has his pride in haughtily dismissing the idea that anything meaningful for him could possibly come from such a backwater. Pride and Prejudice, then.

It’s very easy to be uncommitted and questioning, to be cynical about the things we are told. And it’s true that a healthy scepticism is not always a bad thing in a world of conspiracy theories and phishing. We live in an age of cynicism and uncertainty, but what if to find the truth means putting our assumptions and fixed ideas to one side? Nat did respond to the invitation to “Come and See”.




Jesus sees Nat and immediately recognises his integrity and fundamental goodness. Nat is overwhelmed and realises that this person from Nazareth really is something good from an unexpected source. He finds faith, seeing a glory which ends his cynicism.

Jesus also promises that there will be greater things; “heaven opened and angels ascending and descending on the Son of Man.” It is an image which speaks of finding hope in God, of knowing that the link between this world and the next is there in Jesus. It speaks of transcendence, of a form of life greater than this world has to offer, of fellowship with the Divine, of life in the light of God’s love and salvation.

In this time of lockdown we can become sceptical about the way the situation is being dealt with and about God’s presence when we are faced with this threat to our well-being and life. We should not allow ourselves to have that automatic response which suggests that it is all hopeless: “Can anything good come from…… this?”. We cannot afford to go into a spiritual lockdown. Faith in God means that we are invited to know that God’s presence in our lives and our world brings us into the transcendent, heavenly realm of fellowship, in a community of life and hope.

 




Saturday, January 16, 2021

Snow


 

Here’s a photo of All Saints in this morning’s snow. I think it looks rather lovely or is it really rather forbidding?

Snow can look so attractive, and I am sure that we were all dreaming of a White Epiphany. Yet when it causes inconvenience, not to mention chaos, our enthusiasm can wane very quickly.

This cold snap reminds me of a line from the hymn “Thy Kingdom come, O God” where halfway through we have the opportunity to sing the line “By countless deeds of shame, we learn that love grows cold”. It’s not the most positive sentiment, and if we sing it I find myself wondering what the author intended. Or what he had experienced.



This weeks’ report from Ireland about the orphanages where the children of unmarried mothers were kept in shocking conditions, resulting in many extra deaths, makes one realise that love was in short supply. It was more about judgment on the mothers and their children, it seems, while the men or boys just disappeared. Another horror story about faith gone wrong, of love gone cold.

In the 1980’s there was a song called “You have placed a chill in my heart”. The Eurythmics describe an abusive relationship, and the need to “leave that ‘love’ behind”.  Sadly, we are very aware that a lack of love in early years can cause grief in later life, and abuse makes trusting and committing very difficult.




The disunity of the Christian church is another example of love gone cold. We are called to be one in Christ, but history got in the way, and placed a chill in many hearts. Nowadays we try to work together to give care in the community, and we have moved away from the suspicion and heresy-hunting. And yet the world sees the lack of unity, and it does not inspire faith. Jesus prayed that we would be one “that the world may believe”.

Our service of Prayer for Christian Unity takes place on Wednesday week, 27th January at 7.30pm. I am preparing it now, and I hope that you can join us for this Zoom service which is entitled “Abide in my love and you shall bear much fruit”. As fruit needs the warmth of the sun, our wintry hearts need thawing to recognise one another as brothers and sisters within the warm, intense glow of the love of God.

 


Thursday, January 14, 2021

 

                                            Little Snoring Norfolk

Thou shalt not……

There was a time when the Ten Commandments were written at the East end of most churches and taught to children and Confirmation candidates. They were seen as integral to the vision of the Christian faith which was to guide us through life.

For good or ill, you rarely see the commandments written large on church walls now. I think it is to do with the way that people have found the picture of God too forbidding with all those Thou Shalt Nots, and that the emphasis on restrictions paints a one-sided view of faith. It is more fulfilling to be encouraged to live lovingly, to care for others, to forgive, to do to others as you would have them do to you.

We are currently being told very strongly by secular authorities that “Thou Shalt Not”. Given the seriousness of the situation it makes sense that we should stay at home and be wary of contact with others for a while. Intriguingly it is being met with a mixture of acceptance by most people, denial by a small group and seemingly an offhand lack of concern by quite a few people: It applies to others, but not to me. We don’t generally like being told what to do even when it is for our own good.




God’s way of being is a positive way, of outgoing, sacrificial love. Jesus came to do the will of the Father and, for example, gave the Beatitudes  at the Sermon on the Mount : “Blessed are……..”. We are loved! He does pass judgment on hypocritical, self-satisfied, uncaring people but he is clear that he is inviting them to follow the way of the Kingdom. Faith is not about fear or self-righteousness – it responds to God’s love and looks to the needs of others.


                                                            New York post 9/11

Seeing the high infection rate and the highest daily death toll thus far, there are clearly a lot of Shalts happening when, in Elizabethan English, they Shouldest Not. Today we took the decision to close All Saints again for the coming weeks, a very hard choice which goes against my instincts and preferences, but the risks are too high. Worship and love of God is about our deepest feelings and our ethical stance in life: perhaps we can see it as not so much “not meeting” as “caring and protecting” until we can feel safe in this world, even as we live in the way we are called by God as inheritors of joy and peace in the next.