“Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.” 1 Thessalonians 5.16-18 NRSV
At the beginning of August I was fortunate enough to be able to spend a Monday to Friday on retreat on the Sunshine Coast. It was in a beautiful setting, despite the descent of the smoke from the dreadful wildfires in the Interior: a former Orthodox monastery built on a wooded slope overlooking Howe Sound. Main meals were provided by and shared with my generous hosts; after dinner I walked with them and their dogs down to the shore before we said Compline together. The rest of the time I spent in silence, for once disciplined in switching off the email and the phone. There was space to pray Morning and Evening Prayer reflectively; to read – a novel, Julian Barnes’ The Noise of Time, and a spirituality book, Ronald Rolheiser’s The Holy Longing, each recommended to me by a member of St. James’ and both worthwhile; to walk up to a lookout (ringing a bell first to ward off the neighbourhood bear and cougar!); and, above all, to be still, to wait upon God.
I am thankful to God and my hosts for a restful and restorative time, and for many graces received. It is remarkable, however, how quickly general busy-ness has taken over on my return, even in August. I am reminded even more how essential, and how difficult, it is to find a regular time each day to be still and open to God. The routine of Morning and Evening Prayer, together with the Mass, gives a framework to the day, but it is so easy for that necessary time of focused stillness to be crowded out by cares and concerns, or interrupted by seemingly more urgent demands. It is that need of self-discipline again!
I know there are many in St. James’ who do find time to be still and to pray, for whose prayers and example I am grateful. I would be interested to hear from any who would value coming together for a shared time of silent prayer, initially perhaps once a month. One possible time would be 4 pm on a Sunday afternoon, concluding with Evening Prayer at 5 pm.
Writing on this theme also gives me the opportunity to highlight the importance of sustaining the public celebration of Morning and Evening Prayer daily at St. James’: the small group which takes responsibility for this ministry would value new members. Please see Deacon Joyce or another of the clergy if you are interested.
The week before last, after a long search for a suitable craftsperson, a significant piece of work on the outside of the St. James’ building came to fruition: a sign-writer painted the name of the church above the main doors, and the designation of the memorial garden on the south wall below the Lady Chapel windows. I wonder how many of us noticed this last Sunday!
Reflecting on this, two thoughts came to mind. First, we sometimes only see what we expect to see. We become so familiar with how things are, how we expect things to appear, that we do not immediately take note of change, of something new. I recall a reverse example, as it were: some years ago when I attended a college-reunion a friend and I were looking at college photographs of our era. To my consternation at first I could not see myself in any of the pictures until my friend pointed out that I did not wear a beard at that time. (He added, unnecessarily I thought, “And you were beautiful then!”) This reminds me of the need for recollection, to attend to my surroundings and to people and situations I encounter, rather than as so often to rely on my preconceptions and assumptions. It reminds me too when reading the bible, for example, to be attentive, to be on the alert for a new insight, a new engagement with what may be a very familiar passage.
Secondly, seeing the church’s name over the door reinforced for me the significance of naming, of owning our own identity and of our identity being acknowledged, open to recognition by others. To know or to be known by name enables relationship rather than casual passing by.
John 20.15,16 portrays a powerful example of this: Mary Magdalen recognizes the risen Jesus only when he calls her by her name. “Jesus said to her, ‘Woman, why are you weeping? For whom you are looking?’ Supposing him to be the gardener, she said to him, ‘Sir, if you have carried him away, tell me where you have laid him, and I will take him away.’ Jesus said to her, ‘Mary!’ She turned and said to him in Hebrew, ‘Rabbouni!’ (which means Teacher).” (NRSV). And in Isaiah 43.1 the prophet has the Lord say, “Do not fear, for I have redeemed you; I have called you by name, you are mine.” (NRSV again)
May the Lord, who calls us, each one, by name, bless us and keep us.