Amazing Grace

Part of an Art Installation in London, on Wilberforce and the Abolition of Slavery.

I watched the film Amazing Grace last week for the second time, about William Wilberforce and his long campaign leading the abolitionists to end slavery in the United Kingdom. There is much in the story that moved me, but there is one small, short, and maybe even overlooked scene, that remains with me, and indeed did so after the first viewing of the film (about 14 minutes 8 secs into the film). It takes place just after he has sung Amazing Grace to the politicians. Wilberforce is in his grounds admiring plant life and spiders webs, and has an open conversation with his butler about how God has found him. He says:

It’s God. I have ten thousand engagements of state today but I would prefer to spend the day out here, getting a wet arse, studying dandilions and marvelling at spiders webs.

William Wilberforce, from the film Amazing Grace,

And the scripture readings from last week, about Martha and Mary, also fed into my thoughts. It is the tension between contemplation and action: something I definitely feel daily, as I expect many people do in the busy, pressured world we live in. I am also reminded of The Way of Paradox, by Cyprian Smith:

When I emerge from a state of inner withdrawal and abandonment to God in prayer, and take up my duties in the everyday world, I am establishing a flow of energy whereby light, life, wisdom and power of heaven enter our world to enliven and transform it.

The Way of Paradox, Spiritual Life as taught by Meister Eckhart. Cyprian Smith

To me, the tension is necessary: it is creative. The desire for God is there, and becomes stronger, or perhaps we become more sensitive to it, as we practise prayer, and engage in the examen habitually. And this deepening relationship with God drives our action, according to our own personal vocation – there is no alternative. When we say Yes to God, it becomes our will too. It is the Contemplatio in the Spiritual Exercises:

The first is that love ought to manifest itself in deeds rather than in words.

The Spiritual Exercises of St. Ignatius of Loyola: trans Louis J. Puhl S.J.

I guess the process is to ensure that with our cooperation and as far as we are able, we maintain the balance in our lives and flow appropriately from contemplation to action and to contemplation: God’s amazing grace will do the rest.

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