I’m not moaning (read on) but Francis of Assisi never had to cope with this. Or the Desert Fathers… or Therese of Lisieux. They had other problems, I suppose. They lived before the world was full of jingles and YouTube and people who keep sending you daft jokes…. they lived before their heads could be crammed with uninvited clamour and crap, distracting them from lofty thought and deep contemplation.
When I was on the beach this morning (stifle that yawn) it was raining and blowing a hoolie and it was just magnificent! I stood there, leaning into the wind, bare headed and soaked in seconds, deafened by the roar of the sea, marvelling at the excitement, power and noise of the storm, and I shouted to God, there all alone, unheard by anyone but him, “Look! Look! And yet somewhere, in your fabulous world, there is sunshine.”
That’s when it happened! Into my head, completely uninvited, the Seekers came, all the way from the 1960’s, singing that most annoying, trite, silly song “Morningtown Ride”
“Somewhere there is sunshine, somewhere there is day
Somewhere there is Morningtown, many miles away”
You try getting rid of that simplistic la-la-laaaah when it’s in your head. Almost impossible. With it came the mental image of Judith Durham in her flowing boho dress, all smiley-hamster jolly…. surely enough to wipe the beatific smile off the grizzled face of any Desert Father? But the plinky-plonky song was such a surprise, there in my prayer time, that it made me laugh aloud. What should have been an annoying distraction was just delightful. I almost capered….
An unusual entrance to prayer, but it worked. It illuminated the bigger picture, so that I was somehow conscious of the experience of all mankind at any one moment in time – and aware that I couldn’t even begin to understand the miracle of this life. Somewhere there is sunshine, somewhere there is rain, somewhere a baby takes her first breath, somewhere someone takes their last, fortunes are made and lost, love is vowed and hearts are broken, the tide comes in, the tide goes out….
Wouldn’t it be great if we remembered that, when our shoes leak and the world seems to be against us? Life is change. The balance of love and life, good and bad, is beyond our management. Life shows us, daily, that we are not in charge, that a greater power than we can imagine holds all things together, but we struggle to realise it, and some of us never do. It’s taken me 70 odd years (some very odd).
Seasons come and go. It’s too easy to believe that where we are just now is where we will always be, but if you are down this Christmas, at the bottom of the sea, in the belly of the whale, you could be bubbling over this time next year. I hope you are. And, of course, because we are emotional creatures, I know that there will be seasons ahead when I’m the one groping around for joy, knowing it lies there, but struggling to grasp it, or submit to it….
This is a season of plenty for me. I am so grateful for it. I don’t own anything lavish, just a little house without a garden, with no views, sandwiched between others on a busy street, but I have plenty. I don’t have money in the bank, or a spanking limousine at the kerb, jewels or antiques, but I have plenty. I have moments on the beach, I have moments at my desk, I have friends and laughter, and oh, my friends, listen, listen, I have prayer. I have God. What more could anyone want? My life is so full of love, and humanity with all its faults (all my faults) that I just want to shout with joy and gratitude. How have I ended up here, approaching my 73rd Christmas, so very very joyful? By the grace of God. Nowt to do with me.
I’ve just this minute – promise, promise – had a text from a friend in Italy with a photo attached – Rome is bathed in golden light! Somewhere there is sunshine. Do you think God is reading this as I write?
I read the Gospel of Matthew last week, from the genealogy of Jesus at the start, to the words of Jesus at the end, “And surely I am with you to the very end of the age.” The part that grabbed me and kept me still for a while, was the Sermon on the Mount, and I am – again – so amazed that today, even today, you and me can hear the words of Jesus, we can enter into this great comprehensive massive mind-blowing sermon just as if we were there, at the time, listening, listening, wondering, in the dusty heat of the day….
“Do not judge, and you will not be judged. Do not condemn, and you will not be condemned. Forgive, and you will be forgiven. Give, and it will be given to you. A good measure, pressed down, shaken together and running over, will be poured into your lap. For with the measure you use, it will be measured to you.”
How I love that. “A good measure, pressed down, shaken together and running over, will be poured into your lap.” If you go to Matthew 7 and read that whole chapter you’ll see that this promise covers so much – God’s love, and his grace, his forgiveness, his lack of judgment (acceptance), his provision, and the gift of eternal life… poured into your lap.
I know I will sometimes forget to be joyful. But maybe if I take this day, and commit it to my mental hard drive, I’ll remember to think beyond my circumstances, to be more aware that God is in control and that when life is difficult he still is in control, and when grief threatens to overwhelm us, he is still in control, and when the day is dark and the storm is defeating us, he is still in control. And that somewhere, there is sunshine.
I hope that you are all full of joy as you read this, but if you aren’t, don’t give up. Even the hard times are good. How amazing is our God that not only did he create mankind, but he gave us minds that are capable of reaching beyond space and time, he gave us imaginations and a hunger for knowledge, he gave us the ability to love and care. He gave us the ability to understand that when it’s raining and we’re drowning, God is good and he holds all things together, where there is rain there will be sunshine, where there is night there will be day.
I’ve told everyone that I don’t want any Christmas gifts. Positively not. Absolutely not. I’m determined that when I die my house will be cleared in one morning, so I don’t want any more clutter, Nothing. NOTHING. I have everything I need and more. So no gifts.
Except, perhaps, one of these…