When was it that we saw you?

Keith Duke, Christmas Poor
When was it that we saw you? 1: Reading of this post

I have been pondering the line between self protection and self sacrifice this week. My dad was a generous man: it was said of him that he would give you the shirt off his back, that he was generous to a fault. He also had his own demons. These are traits that run in my family.

I brought my eldest home from the flat she was staying in this week because she had incurred the wrath of the residents who live in the flats around their communal, gated courtyard. She has a generous, loving and compassionate heart, a gift for ironic sarcasm, especially when she has had some Dutch courage, and she has more than enough of her own demons to fight. They did not like that she had invited a homeless person in through the gate to let him shower in her flat, while she washed his clothes and gave him some clean ones to wear. When he was challenged by one of the residents on leaving, he was impolite and they later rounded on my daughter like a pack of wolves. As I said, she has a gift for ironic sarcasm and did no more than add fuel to the blaze already burning.

In God of Surprises, Gerard W. Hughes writes an uncomplimentary reference for a Mr E. Manuel who has been applying for the priesthood. It it he says:

Three years ago he gave up his job and took to the road, returning occasionally with an unsavoury group of companions…a man can be judged by the friends he keeps.

God of Surprises, Gerard W. Hughes

Jesus, and His unsavoury group of companions; how He encourages us to turn the other cheek, to walk the extra mile. In the Spiritual Exercises, on the Three Kinds of Humilty, St. Ignatius says of the third kind:

This is the most perfect kind of humility. It consists in this. If we suppose the first and second kind attained, then whenever the praise and glory of the Divine Majesty would be equally served, in order to imitate and be in reality more like Christ our Lord, I desire and choose poverty with Christ poor, rather than riches; insults with Christ loaded with them, rather than honors; I desire to be accounted as worthless and a fool for Christ, rather than to be esteemed as wise and prudent in this world. So Christ was treated before me

The Spiritual Exercises of St. Ignatius, trans Louis J. Puhl
Bodwellian Castle
When was it that we saw you? 2: Reading of this post

In the Rules for Discernment, on the way the enemy works Ignatius also says:

The conduct of our enemy may also be compared to the tactics of a leader intent upon seizing and plundering a position he desires. A commander and leader of an army will encamp, explore the fortifications and defenses of the stronghold, and attack at the weakest point. In the same way, the enemy of our human nature investigates from every side all our virtues, theological, cardinal and moral. Where he finds the defenses of eternal salvation weakest and most deficient, there he attacks and tries to take us by storm.

The Spiritual Exercises of St. Ignatius, trans Louis J. Puhl

And in “The Me I Want to Be”, John Ortberg comments that our signature sin is born from our greatest virtues, it is just pulled a few degrees off course. He says:

The pattern of your sin is related to the pattern of your gifts.

John Ortberg, The Me I Want to Be
When was it that we saw you?3a: Reading of this post

These are the ideas swirling within me as I contemplate my daughter’s predicament, and her sensitivity to the hostility she has provoked by her actions and by her response to the hostility they provoked. It is not for me to tell her what she should do, or what she should have done. I can see where her castle wall was unprotected and I feel a deep sorrow and compassion for the suffering she experiences. I also see the grace in what moved her to act the way she did in the first place. She always shows empathy to the homeless person on the street and helps in whatever way she is able. She knows many of the homeless in the city by name, she looks them in the eye and speaks to them as friends, because she understands the saying:

There but for the grace of God go I.

Christ of Maryknoll
When was it that we saw you? 3b Reading of this post

There is a line between self protection and self sacrifice. I do not always know where to draw it for myself, I do not think my dad knew where to draw it either, and I believe it to be also true of my daughter. God inhabits that space. My daughter may be looking for a new place to live, and the homeless man? He apologised, and was gutted, that his impolite response to the resident who challenged him had rebounded on her. In addition, because he had been able to get cleaned up, he managed to get himself a job after leaving her flat. What else can I say, other than that I am proud of her?

How well have you loved?” 

“Lord, why did you tell me to love? 

I have tried, but I come back to you, frightened… 

Lord, I was so peaceful at home, I was so comfortably settled. 

I was alone, I was at peace.”  

“When men came into you, 

I, your God, 

Slipped in among them.”  

Prayers of Life, Michel le Quoist

Salt and Light

Salt and Light 1: Reading of this post.

On Tuesday this week on Pray as you Go the scripture used was from Matthew 5:13-16:

You are the salt of the earth; but if salt has lost its taste, how can its saltiness be restored? It is no longer good for anything, but is thrown out and trampled under foot.

I have to be completely honest here and say, I have never really understood this part. I mean, I think I have an understanding of the point Jesus is making (on one level) but it seems like a poor analogy, and Jesus is not known for His poor analogies! I get stuck on the salt losing its taste. How can salt lose its taste? The statement contradicts itself, surely? If it no longer tastes like salt, then it no longer is salt. I am of course thinking from a Chemistry perspective. It is the ions that make the salt taste salty, and sodium chloride, salt, is chemically very stable, resistant to change. It requires the use of electricity in electrolysis to convert the sodium and chloride ions back into elements and so, destroy the saltiness, or the salt. I do not really think this is what Jesus was getting at!

So, I started to ponder salt. Quite an ordinary substance, and useful. Firstly, when you put it in boiling water for cooking, it raises the boiling temperature of the water (boiling point elevation) and so will help to cook the food more quickly. The sodium ions also insert themselves in between chains of pectin in vegetables – pectin is partly what gives raw vegetables their hardness – and so helps to soften them in the boiling cooking water. It also enhances the taste of food – it is not so much its own salty taste, but the augmented taste of the food we are after when we season it with salt. And of course, it is used as a preservative, to stop food from going off too quickly. From here, I could apply the analogy to the disciples to whom Jesus was speaking: their role, (and our role) to soften the hardness of heart in those we meet, to encourage that process by interjecting where the love of God is needed; to help to draw out God in each person we meet, to enhance their own goodness by our interaction with them; and to be a preservative, to act to slow down the movement away from God, to act against the desolation that seeks to spoil those gifts given so generously by God.

Chemical Structure of Sodium Chloride. Usborne Science Encyclopedia
Salt and Light 2: Reading of this post.

It is said that the graces received in the Exercises are always there, they are never lost, and I would testify to that from my first hand experience. I am still stuck…how can salt lose its taste? So, I consulted Wikipedia:

The most common interpretation of this verse is a reference to salt as a preservative, and to thus see the duty of the disciples as preserving the purity of the world.

…salt was a minor but essential ingredient in fertilizer,…the disciples are thus to help the world grow and prosper…indicating that the disciples are to bring new life to the world

…a common Jewish expression at the time was to call the Laws the “salt and the light” of the world, which may mean this section is an introduction to the discussion of Mosaic law that will soon commence.

In the Rabbinic literature of the period salt was a metaphor for wisdom.

Salt also played role in ritual purity and all sacrifices had to contain salt.

…the many different uses of salt show its importance in the life of the period, and it is this importance of the disciples that is being referenced.

Ancient peoples sometimes put salt on the wicks of lamps to increase their brightness.

I learned a lot here, all good stuff, although I am not clear how putting salt on the wicks of lamps can increase their brightness. I feel a home experiment coming on. I also felt vindicated at the beginning of the section on Losing Saltiness:

The issue of salt losing its flavour is somewhat problematic. Salt itself, sodium chloride (NaCl), is extremely stable and cannot lose its flavour.

It goes on to make the point that Jesus was not teaching Chemistry, and considers:

…the impossibility of what is described as deliberate, it is counter to nature that salt lose its flavour, just as it is counter to God’s will that the disciples lose faith.

There it is! Not only does Jesus know Chemistry: you must know already that I love Chemistry, He uses it to say:

You will always be mine. Nothing can ever take you away from me.

How cool is that? I am just going to pause for a moment and savour the flavour of this realisation.

It is the same promise He made to the young woman in His workshop that I described in my post last week.

Wikipedia then goes on to talk about impurities, and as I suggested at the beginning, these impurities are not salt, and therefore do not taste like salt. Perhaps it would be to extend the analogy to describe spiritual desolation, and I would point out that dissolution, filtration and recrystallisation will extract and purify salt which has been so “corrupted”. The eleven year olds in my science class know how to do that. So too then, might the impurities in our own hearts be cleansed with water, separated from that which would draw us away from God, and purified by prayer and time spent with Him until we are indeed salt of the earth in the way that Jesus intends us to be. We are in essence, not lost to Him and always retrievable by Him.

Salt and Light 3: Reading of this post.

I wrote about light in a previous post and I said:

…the warmth of the light draws us gently out of the darkness, it invites us not to remain there.

I was at that time referring to our response to God’s light, but here, it also applies when considering how the followers of Jesus might be attractive to others. In the meditation of the two standards Ignatius says:

Consider the address which Christ our Lord makes to all His servants and friends whom He sends on this enterprise, recommending to them to seek to help all, first by attracting them to the highest spiritual poverty,

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

And in the Contemplation to Attain the Love of God, which means to become able to love like God loves, not to win God’s love as it might be misunderstood, Ignatius makes two points:

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

The second is that love consists in a mutual sharing of goods, for example, the lover gives and shares with the beloved what he possesses, or something of that which he has or is able to give; and vice versa, the beloved shares with the lover. Hence, if one has knowledge, he shares it with the one who does not possess it; and so also if one has honors, or riches. Thus, one always gives to the other.

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

In other words, the relationship is reciprocal.

This is to consider how God works and labors for me in all creatures upon the face of the earth, that is, He conducts Himself as one who labors. Thus, in the heavens, the elements, the plants, the fruits, the cattle, etc., He gives being, conserves them, confers life and sensation, etc.

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

If God shines His light on the world as described previously, it is for us to do likewise, to attract and draw others to the source that is light itself. Salt and light. It is not enough to keep it all to ourselves.

Lauren Daigle: Salt and Light

Shovin yer Grannie Aff a Bus

Shoving yer Grannie aff a bus 1 : reading of this post

Going back a few months, I was planning an assembly to give in school on the theme of “Compassion for Old People”. I found it a bit tricky at the time – how could I find anything to say that was not blatantly obvious, and maybe even dull? So, humour is always good, especially when working with teenagers. I thought that as the students enter I would play a nursery rhyme that is one of the first songs that small children in Scotland might learn:

Shoving yer Grannie aff a bus 2 : reading of this post

And after introducing the theme, I would comment on how much we love our Grannies in Scotland and provide a short video clip as evidence to that effect:

Shoving yer Grannie aff a bus 3 : reading of this post

I knew it would not be appropriate for me to show them this other clip, even though I really did want to, on account of it being a bit too fiery:

Shoving yer Grannie aff a bus 4 : reading of this post

I did not do that assembly in the end, it was rescheduled for another week with a different theme. Given that this blog is about Spirituality and about “Finding God in All Things”, you might be wondering at this point:

Where is this coming from?

and also,

Where is it leading to?

Both good discernment questions.

I have been noticing recently, conversations with vulnerable people: people who are “poor” speakers by wordly standards, and we are not very patient with poor speakers in our world.

One little old lady, who is a Gran (but not my Granny), who has had a minor stroke and stutters now, and also finds it difficult to remember the words she wants to use. She gets frustrated. There may also be dementia there, because the conversation gets recycled several times on a loop. She knows her memory is fading: it scares her, even though she puts on a brave face.

One young man who is autistic, who functions in his own specialist realm on a high level that is unfathomable to most people and yet finds simple social conversation anything but simple. It is difficult and painful and has to be consciously worked at.

Some years ago I went on a student retreat with others from the Chaplaincy, and there was a PhD student there from Zimbabwe. We spent the first session talking about ourselves, introducing ourselves so that the others could get a sense of who we were. I remember feeling impatient to begin with when this student spoke, he seemed to be telling a rambling story and I wanted him to hurry up and get to the point. And then I had a light bulb moment: his story was the point. Here was a person who knew how to just be, how to live in the moment and to appreciate all that was around him; it is who he was, considered and present, not rushing to get it all done and trying to have a mic drop moment. I was at once full of admiration and awe, as I acknowledged my own vice of impatience and aggressive drive.

There is something in the nature of the world that demands aggressive drive to be successful at life. We see it in films, television, work: everywhere. Just look around at what is honoured and respected in the world and there you will see it, and it has always been there. The world is pushy, and if we are not pushing, we are failing.

Why am I pondering an aborted assembly plan here and now? Why Scottish nursery rhymes and why Grannies? Many of the daily readings recently have been from Isaiah, as was the guided prayer I posted the other week. We have been studying Matthew Chapters 6 and 7 in Bible Study, and of course, in the UK there has been a general election for a new government. Some of the rhetoric in the election campaign has been around what kind of society we want to live in. Do we want to live in one where the desires of the wealthy to hoard their money in offshore tax havens dictate government policy and where lies and bullying of those who speak out are the means to achieve that?

St. Ignatius summarises what I am thinking of in the meditation of the Two Standards in the Spiritual Exercises:

The first step then, will be riches, the second honour, the third pride. From these three steps the evil one leads to all other vices.

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

And of course in Matthew’s gospel, Jesus says:

‘No one can serve two masters; for a slave will either hate the one and love the other, or be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and wealth.

Matthew 6:24
Matthew 7:20

Even Wonder Woman in the trailer for the new film sums it up:

Nothing good is born from lies.

Shoving yer Grannie aff a bus 5 : reading of this post

Or do we want to live in a society where government policy is based around the preferential option for the poor, where the wealthy contribute their fair share to the country and public services are maintained effectively for the benefit of everyone? Do we continue on this road where the treatment of the sick is in decline, where education and the mental health of our young people is deteriorating, where homelessness is on the increase, where people are working ungodly hours and are still unable to put food on the table without resorting to hand outs from the food banks and racial violence and violence against religious minorities is increasing? Do we all do what we need to do to fix it?

For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.

Matthew 6:21
Isaiah 41:17
Shoving yer Grannie aff a bus 6 : reading of this post

I am thinking about how we treat the vulnerable in society. In Jesus’ day, that was the widow and the orphan: those with no male kin to claim them and no status. Who are they in our own situation? The ones we are repelled by? The ones it takes too much effort to engage with? Do we even notice those feelings within ourselves? And when we do, how do we respond?

Isaiah 40:1
Shoving yer Grannie aff a bus 7 : reading of this post

Sometimes I walk past the homeless person on the street, and I can hardly bare to look them in the eye; sometimes I give a small amount of money, and sometimes I give a generous amount that leaves me a little short, and I wish them well. All of it makes me uncomfortable and angry. I am angry that there are homeless people on our streets: I am not angry with homeless people for being there, I am angry with a society that has created the conditions conducive to homelessness, and that it is on the increase. It is a case of there but for the grace of God go I, because how many of us are just one unfortunate, catastrophic event away from such a situation? There was a young homeless man my daughter knew from school. He gave her his only five pounds late one night because she did not have enough money to get a taxi home and he was concerned to make sure she was safe. A few months later she heard that he had died alone in his tent, and had lain there for four days before being discovered.

In everything do to others as you would have them do to you;

Matthew 7:12

After the results of the election, I have to say that I am ashamed to be British. I am incredulous at what the UK has voted for. It is certainly not the preferential option for the poor. I am reminded of the meditations of the first week of the Spiritual Exercises, where we are asked to contemplate the sins of the world, and our own sin. The grace we ask for in the first week is:

…shame and confusion, because I see how many have been lost on account of a single mortal sin, and how many times I have deserved eternal damnation, because of the many grievous sins that I have committed.

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

I have to acknowledge that were I to place myself in the Exercises right now, it would be here, in this place of shame and confusion. I notice the movements in me where I am not responding, even internally, in a way that is more for the glory of God: I notice my anger and where it might move me to personalise it and lash out at others and I notice the pull of despair, which has the potential to shift me from this place of spiritual consolation of shame and confusion, the grace of the first week, into spiritual desolation, where it would be all too easy to feel that God has not answered the poor and needy, and lose some faith and trust in God.

If we are using pushing your elderly relatives off of a bus as a metaphor for how we look after the vulnerable in society, then Scotland knows that it is not the done thing: it is so obvious that it does not need explaining. A three year old child could sing it to you. After the general election I will say that I am proud to be Scottish.