I was walking to Mass. Here was a moment for calm reflection. Yet here I was in a rage about something absurdly ridiculous which actually didn’t affect me at all. I had woken from my dreams.
I had a dream today. I was walking in a desert. The sky was a perfect cerulean blue. The desert sand utterly flat. I was in a vast plain. A great sun beat down. I was alive because I could feel the sand beneath my feet. But I was not alive. The Sun did not burn me. I was not thirsty or hot. I was comfortable as I paced this great desert.
The point was that there was nothing in it. I had nothing. Everywhere was completely empty. I was walking from life to death.
Yet I was entirely happy. With no possessions or fears or hopes. No past or future. I realised that for happiness nothing was needed. There was no bright light in the distance, no voice, no direction or time in my travel. I was walking off the incubus of life.
I went to the exhibition of John Martin’s works at the Tate Britain. It is superb. I was very struck with the contrast between his ‘Pandemonium’ and ‘The Celestial City and River of Bliss’. We seem to have lost what the Victorians had: powerful means of expressing visually religious truths.
Religion need not be something abstract: it can feel and be seen.
These are interesting saints. They have had, as two of the original apostles, an enormous influence on human history. But absolutely nothing is known about them. I suppose that’s what we should all aim for: complete anonymity, great effect, a variation of the old theme. You can achieve whatever you want in life as long as you don’t try and claim the credit.
I was listening to a talk and one comment struck me: the two greatest things that the Church can offer are beauty and her saints. True, but what can atheism offer? No liturgy, no cathedral architecture, no quiet parish country churches, no saints, and no beauty.
What then is its attraction? A kind of intellectual curiosity. A full stop. I doubt; therefore I am. I am free. Not bound by any tie to some traditional form of reasoning. True, but where are the saints? Where is the beauty?
“Try your best to enter by the narrow door.” Luke 13:22-30
Try your best.
I thought of this as I looked very carefully at the Cezanne pictures in the National Gallery.
There is one – “An avenue of trees at Chantilly” – that struck me very forcibly.
I try in my painting to get in the countryside this same subtle shade of green, blue, yellow, and brown.
I have no ambition in art, no talent, no career, therefore no jealousy of anyone; no frustrated ambition.
I try my best. It is inadequate and no one cares. What a pity one cannot achieve this equanimity in the rest of life.
There was a programme on television about some young women becoming nuns.
I can quite understand the impulse but can we not be just as committed in ordinary lay life? No, almost certainly not, but for half an hour a day, yes.
Does an athlete have to run all day and live in an athletic camp? No, he can run half an hour a day and in that half an hour have as intense an experience as any Olympic athlete.
I was struck at Mass by one phrase in the letter of St Paul to the Romans.
“My brothers, there is no necessity for us to obey our unspiritual selves.”
But we do, all the time.
The reading from Matthew today always seems to me so simple yet so impossible to implement.
“…to love the Lord your God with all your heart with all your soul and with all your mind.”
The second even more impossible.
“You must love your neighbour as yourself.” (Matthew 22:34-40)
Does anyone do it?
St Paul continues his discourse on the spiritual and inspirational.
“It is death to limit oneself to what is unspiritual.”
Surely no one can contend that notion, for the atheist accepts that life ends in death.
St Paul today talks of the struggle that is always within us between the spirit and the world.
“Every single time I want to do good it is something evil that comes to mind.” (Romans)
But in a small, simple, existential pleasure like hoisting a spinnaker up a mast, that angst seems dissipated.
I always find these words difficult, powerful yet alarmingly and no doubt true:
“Jesus said to his disciples… Do you suppose that I am here to bring peace on Earth? No, I tell you but rather division.” (Luke 12:49-53)
These words struck me at Mass, particularly for someone like me who is a natural doubter.
“The language of the Cross may be illogical to those who are not on the way to salvation. But those who are on the way see it as God’s power to save.” (St Paul to the Corinthians)
True, the Cross is illogical, but it draws you into it.
“Here I am Lord. I come to do Your will.” Ps 39
This is all I could remember of the Mass as soon as it was over in the Cathedral, but it is enough.
When I was attending the Cathedral Council at Lincoln recently I suggested that they should make more of the fact that once upon a time, the Shrine of St. Hugh of Lincoln was once a major pilgrimage site. Thirty years ago only a handful of people walked the route to St. James of Compostela. Now, 300,000 a year do so. On 12 November the new Bishop of Lincoln is being consecrated. Perhaps Gabriel might make an imaginary walk from London to Lincoln calling at the places he might have done in centuries past, starting a couple of weeks before.
“This is what I will do: I will pull down my barns and build bigger ones… I will say to my soul. You have plenty of good things laid up… But God said to him You fool, this very night a demand will be made for your soul.” (Luke 12:13-21)
Why do we worry so much about the transient instead of the eternal?
It was the end of the week on Saturday evening at Vespers. The reading was about Christ after the Resurrection calmly eating some boiled fish in front of the disciples. Suddenly, for an instant, it all seemed true, that it could not possibly have been made up. Then the moment passed but the week had progressed from small beginnings.
A friend was talking to me about her experience at Medjugorje. She had spoken to one of the visionaries who said that Our Lady had said “Tell my child that all that is important is love, joy, and peace.” That night, lying awake for a long time, those words turned in my mind.
One of the great is being laid low. It happens every day. Perhaps the only route to happiness is in St Therese’s way of being small and unnoticed.
With a friend we were reading that of the greatest trees, a few have the smallest seeds.
The reading was from St Paul about faith flowing on from faith. To me it seems like a river from small beginnings to a mighty stream.
I moved a motion that was defeated by 200 to 61 but in defeat we achieved a review. Something gained.
The reading was about the King having to go out into the street to gather in tramps because none of the invited guests wanted to come.
We were told that this reading is all about having to go where we would rather not and often this is best for us. I thought of this as the theme for this week.
I went to Evensong at Durham Cathedral where I was a student forty years ago. Of course the stark Norman setting is magnificent but from all the anthems and psalms one response stayed in my mind. “Do not let my heart grow cold within me.” But immediately my mind wandered, perhaps to something cold.
Today’s little grace: a day of long driving but at the start of a ten-hour drive, even a few moments at the back of the Cathedral was worth something.