Month: July 2021

The Compassion of God

modern day slaves

Wilberforce and abolition of slavery

Yesterday we commemorated William Wilberforce, Thomas Clarkson and Olauthah Equalano, all of whom were involved in anti-slavery campaigns and social reform.

William Wilberforce’s battle to abolish slavery is well chronicled in the biography of him by William Hague. It is rather too bulky for bedtime reading. There is, however a very good film, available on DVD, called Amazing Grace.– starring Ioan Gruffodd.
It tells of Wilberforce’s battle against strong vested interests, not least within Parliament itself. Year after Year, Wilberforce presented his Bill only to be rebuffed until very near to his death when he finally succeeded. By then, the toll on his health was a reminder that struggle for justice can often be costly.

What comes across most strongly is that he was driven by his faith in God. This led him to have a deep compassion for his fellow-man, and particularly for those who have no one to speak for them; no one to champion their cause. This was especially true of the many, many thousands who were transported from Africa to the West Indies to become slaves living under the most appalling conditions and treated as sub-human.
Wilberforce saw that slavery was a denial of humanity – not just of human rights – but of  fundamental humanity. He believed that we are all equal in God’s sight.

Knowing nothing personally about these slaves, apart from one he met who had become free, he acted with a passion that consumed him all his life – a passion that he showed in other social areas of British life too.
He was not just consumed with passion – he was filled with com-passion.  But it was a compassion that had a double edge.

In freeing the slaves, he also freed the slave-traders who were deeply sinful in what they were doing. Even Christian people, at the time, thought that slavery was acceptable. By abolishing slavery, Wilberforce hoped to abolish ownership of slaves and so freeing those owners of a misguided and sinful way of treating others.
Despite their failure to see this, he acted, year after year, for abolition until all were free – slaves and slave-traders.

It was an iconic victory and it remains a beacon for all who in this world of ours today are striving for the same freedom for the millions who still live in slavery of many kinds. These include those who are forced to be refugees. Enslaved by despotic rulers and those who support them, they are often deprived of their freedom, livelihood, homes. They are oppressed by stress, anxiety and rejection.
Also from oppressive conditions imposed by owners of sweatshops in Far East (and recently, as we discovered in Leicester), who, in making clothes cheaply for the British market, treat their workers as slaves and with no regard for their working conditions or their safety, and paying them little.

Wilberforce’s victory is a beacon too for those who are engaged in the great struggle for equality of all people today, especially for black people but for so many others who in our world who are treated as slaves.

emblems of the Abolition Movement

Slavery comes in many forms but even those who seek to enslave others are, as Wilberforce recognized, themselves enslaved. We need to pray for them too – those who are enslaved by their homophobia, misogyny, prejudice, bullying of others, racial intolerance, behave unjustly towards others, to name but a few!

All perpetrators of hate against others need our prayers. They need to face up to the darkness within which creates their enslavement and be led to repentance so that love and healing can grow within them.All things can be cured by God’s compassionate Grace.

Wilberforce achieved a great thing and it converted lives.

People like John Newton, a former slave ship captain who, sick in his soul, turned away from his vile trade and embraced God and became a minister in God’s Church, recognized the power of this grace in the wonderful hymn  – Amazing Grace.
A contemporary of William Wilberforce he wrote from his own personal experience of God’s compassion, grace and mercy which he found in Jesus.

But we are all too aware that what Wilberforce began, we must continue until all are free and all are equal.

Against all this, Jesus stands as our compassionate God who knows and loves each of us which is why He confronts everything that enslaves us; all the things that prevent the love of God working in our lives and which stops Grace from transforming us. He especially does this on the Cross where he confronts evil finally and destroys it with Love.

The Cross is the ultimate statement of God that His compassion for us is eternal.
He would love it if we too showed compassion and thirst for justice for others, as Wilberforce did.

[Mr. G]

Sanctuary in the midst of storm

My friend Joyce Smith has recently returned from the Northumberland Coast where she visited her beloved Puffins.

She sent me this evocative photo and caption

The photo and caption first made me think of Elijah hiding in the cave as the Lord passes by but the Puffin is sheltering from a storm at sea, so my thoughts turned to the Gospel  where in Mark 4 we read of Jesus stilling the storm.

Many will  know the story. Jesus was in the boat with his disciples and a great storm arose. As the waves beat into the boat the disciples began to panic—even those who were fishermen who were surely used to rough seas.  Jesus was oblivious to it all as he quietly slept in the stern of the boat.  The frantic disciples woke him up and shouted, “Teacher, do you not care that we are perishing!”

Rubbing the sleep from his eyes, Jesus turned towards the raging sea and said, “Peace! Be still!”  A sudden calm descended.

Jesus turned to his friends and said, “Why are you afraid?  Have you still no faith?”

The poor disciples had got it wrong again.  Incredibly, they went on to ask who he was, that even the wind and sea obey him.  Didn’t they know who he was?  Who did they think they were following?  Well, it’s an easy question for us to ask because we know, don’t we, just who Jesus is?  We know too that he has power to still the storm because he is Lord not just of humanity but of all Creation.  But if we were in the disciples place might we too have panicked? I suppose it partly depends on what sort of sailor we are. Or how strong our trust and faith in God is.

There are all sorts of storms in our life and some of the things that happen to us, and to those we love, can overwhelm us. That has been especially true over the past year or so. There are times when we are up against it and we just give in to despair or depression.  It’s at such times that we have to look for the Jesus in our midst—the Jesus who is constantly with us.  The Jesus who, when the going gets tough, simply holds us—be still!  be at peace!  Think of that famous story called ‘Footsteps’ – the one with the two sets of prints in the sand most of the time and then just the single set.  When the writer of the story accuses Jesus of abandoning him, Jesus simply replies that there is only one set of prints because that’s when Jesus carried him.  What we are going through may not magically go away though perhaps that’s what we expect should happen if we think about the storm at sea.  What really happens is that when life is hard for us, it is Jesus who holds us, carries us through, stills the storm within us and breathes his peace upon us. God never leaves us. But we do have to have faith to know that.

[Joyce & Mr G]

Be Careful what you wish for

Statue of St James, Santiago de Compostela : Photo Mr.G.

Be Careful What You Wish For

A Reflection on St James by Dr. Diana Lowry
Licensed Lay Reader @ St John’s, Epping

When I was growing up I was told the story of King Midas; I suspect many of you know the story but for those who don’t it tells of a Greek King of Phrygia, now in Asian Turkey, who had everything that he could possibly need. He still wanted more, however, and so when he was granted one wish for anything that he desired he decided that he wanted everything that he touched to turn to gold. His wish came true but not entirely as he expected. To begin with everything went well. The chair he touched turned to gold and so did the vase. Sitting down for a meal was less good – the plate and cutlery turned to gold but so did the food and drink, so by the end of the day he was a rather hungry and thirsty. But it was what happened in the evening that made him understand how his greed had caused a problem: his daughter came into the room and as he hugged her she turned into a gold statue. At this point he went back to the man who had granted his wish and asked him to reverse it. The experience had made him content with the wealth that he already had. His story has been used as an example of being careful about what you wish for.

Today we commemorate St James the Greater who also discovered that wishes can sometimes end differently from how you expect. In today’s gospel passage we hear about the mother of James and John speaking to Jesus and asking that her sons sit on either side of him when he inherited his kingdom. It is easy to make this an example of a Jewish mother wanting the best for her sons, but this is to misread the situation: while Jesus was a great teacher and did talk about his kingdom on many occasions it took a great deal of faith and vision to be able to believe that this was going to happen any time soon. In fact this passage follows Jesus foretelling his death and resurrection for the third time and he is not looking anything like a King. Although we know that God’s kingdom looks different from any other kingdom that we know, the disciples still had to understand this. Or maybe James’ mother did and this is a story of a mother’s vision rather than trying to get her sons the top jobs. However I doubt if that vision included seeing her son martyred which Jesus warned him about:

Jesus answered, ‘You do not know what you are asking. Are you able to drink the cup that I am about to drink?’ ‘We are able’, replied James and John. He said to them, ‘You will indeed drink my cup, but to sit at my right hand and at my left, this is not mine to grant, but it is for those for whom it has been prepared by my Father.’ (Matt 20:22-23)

James’ brother John was not martyred but he was exiled to the island of Patmos from which he probably wrote down ‘Revelation’. For him the price he had to pay was a long life spent in exile surrounded by water.

Following Jesus is immensely rewarding but it comes with the motto of ‘carrying the cross’. For each of us that will be different and for most of us it will not require martyrdom in this way: in other parts of the world, however, to be a Christian is dangerous and some do become martyrs. We need to pray for them.

James, and his brother John, was a fisherman and with their father Zebedee they owned a fishing business that was big and rich enough to employ others. They were among the first people who answered Jesus’ call to be ‘fishers of men’ and made up part of the inner circle with Peter. This meant that they were present at special events such as the raising of Jairus’ daughter, the Mount of Transfiguration and in the Garden of Gethsemane. Our passage from Acts tells us that James was killed by the sword on Herod’s instructions in about 42 AD, just 9 years after the crucifixion. This means that James had the dubious privilege of being the first apostle to be martyred. This then is what we know about James.

However there is a legend dating from the 6th Century which links him to Spain. This happens to coincide with a time when the Holy Land was inaccessible to Christians as it was held by the Jews, Persians and then Muslims. In any case travel to the Holy Land from Europe was expensive and difficult. Christians were encouraged to go on pilgrimage to alternative sites. And so places sprung up where pilgrims could travel as an alternative to the Holy Land, and for those concerned about such things, it would tick the box that they were devout and good and worthy of heaven! St James provided one of these places in the form of Santiago de Compostela after he supposedly travelled to western Spain after the crucifixion: his earthly remains are said to lie buried in the church built on that site.

I am not very impressed by the story connecting St James to Compostela but that didn’t stop me from walking the English Way from A Coruna. It was a special time spent with other people from this church. There were many conversations and enjoyment of nature; a special Communion service held in the forest and the amazing feeling of arriving in the square by the Cathedral. The cathedral itself was very welcoming and inclusive. During the service of Mass the mood was joyful and full of hope and praise: it was like a second Pentecost as the Holy Spirit circulated in the cathedral full of people from across the world.  Even if one doesn’t believe the legend it doesn’t stop Santiago de Compostela being a ‘thin place,’ somewhere where we can feel God to be very close. I am sure He understands that some of us need relics and other images to help us in our faith journey. I would presume to think that He doesn’t mind what brings us to Him in worship and praise, He is just so happy that we come!

It is important to remember that saints are people who point us to God. Whether you find seeing the possible relics of St James uplifting is less important than whether you learn from him: he was a man of faith who saw Christ as a King even as he approached Holy Week and death and, to many, looked like a failed teacher. And after Jesus died and rose again James continued to believe in his kingdom and share it with those he met. Herod only had him killed because he was effective at drawing people into God’s kingdom.

We are all pilgrims and Cardinal Basil Hume reminds us what that means in his book ‘To Be a Pilgrim’:

When we have acknowledged the existence of God and learned that He has intervened in our affairs, we should begin to respond. We want to find out more about Him, to try to be in touch with Him, and then discover that we should obey Him and serve Him. We have come to recognise that in God are to be found the ultimate meaning and purpose of all things, and especially of ourselves. This response is what we call ‘the spiritual life.’

Our journey in this life is a pilgrimage and going as a pilgrim to somewhere like Compostela can be faith and life affirming. But even if you can’t do that I encourage you to find some different ways to help you in your pilgrimage.

DL. Feast day of St James, Apostle & Martyr. 25th July 2021

Thwarted !

Photo: Mary Bard

THWARTED !

The third winner in my recent competition  – in the photographic section – is my friend, Mary Bard.

Mary wrote:  Here is my entry for your little competition. This squirrel has tried everything to get into my squirrel proof birdfeeder.  The birdfeeder wins every time! (When he puts his weight on the little stands, it pulls a protective wall down so he can’t get at the food.)

The squirrel may not be successful but it’s certainly an action shot worthy of a wildlife competition.
A prayer comes to mind which if the dear squirrel prays it may help in the search to find an alternative food supply.

[Mr. G 23rd July 2021]