Tag: God

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]

God is very near – Teresa of Avila

Today, October 15th, the Church keeps the feast-day of one of my favourite saints – Teresa of Avila.  She was often referred to as God’s Gadbout because she spent a lot of her energy in founding convents of nuns throughout Spain in the 16th century.  She was forever on the move and yet she is remembered best for her teaching about Prayer and particularly about Contemplative prayer which requires stillness.  No matter how busy she was – and she was very busy – she made sure her heart was constantly fixed on God, whom she referred to as Your Majesty.  God for her was very near.  Indeed she coined a famous phrase – ‘God walks among the pots and pans’  We find God in the ordinariness of life, and if we train ourselves to recognize that, we shall meet Him in the everyday events of our lives and in the people we meet.  This is about finding Heaven in Ordinary.

Teresa believed that God was within us as well as beside us, and here she took up our Lord’s own teaching that the Kingdom of God is within us.  We encounter Him in the silent depths of our hearts.

You know that God is everywhere, she says, which is a great truth; wherever God dwells there is heaven, and you may feel sure that all which is glorious is near His Majesty.

Then she refers to St Augustine who sought God in many places and at last found the Almighty within himself.  We don’t need to go to heaven to find God, she says, We are not forced to take wings to find Him, but have only to seek solitude and to look within ourselves.

She calls this seeking God in solitude within ourselves the prayer of Recollection – or Contemplation.  In her work, Interior Castle, she develops this using the imagery of a King in his Palace.

Let us realize that we have within us a most splendid palace built entirely of gold and precious stones – in short, one that is fit for such a Lord – and that we are partly responsible for the condition of this building, because there is no structure so beautiful as the soul full of pure virtues, and the more perfect these virtues are, the more brilliantly do the jewels shine

What we find in this Palace is the mighty King who, she says,  has deigned to become your Father and Who is seated on a throne of precious value, by which I mean your heart.

Realizing this took her quite a while.

Had I understood always, as I do now, that so great a King resided in my soul I should not have left Him alone so often, but should have stayed with Him sometimes and not kept His dwelling place in such disorder.

For Teresa, then, it is when we enter into silence and spend a little time with God in our hearts that the soul makes progress in the prayer.  God becomes the centre of our being, always to be found when we still the voices of the world that claim so much of our attention.

Teresa says that it is only through silence that we can encounter the love of God and receive it into our hearts.  God is very near.  We should seek him within.

A Prayer of St Teresa
(often known as Teresa’s bookmark.
It was found in her prayer book after her death)

Let nothing disturb you.
Let nothing frighten you.
All things are passing;
God only is changeless.
Patience gains all things.

Who has God wants nothing.
God alone suffices.

Harvest, a time to thank God

Harvest poster @ St. James, Whitechapel, Lancashire
created by Helen Smith & Sunday School children

John, a Vicar in North Lancashire once told me that on Harvest Sunday he had blessed the Atlantic Ocean . As his parish was extremely land-locked I expressed some scepticism about this. “The trouble with you,” he told me, “is that your vision is too narrow!” He then explained that on Harvest Sunday morning he had held a service at a farm in the parish. During this service he had blessed the farm’s water-supply, a stream which ran into a small pool and then out again at the other end. This water then flowed down into a small river which eventually flowed into the mighty Ribble. This in turn flowed out into the Irish Sea and the Irish Sea was eventually joined to the Atlantic Ocean . So John, by a small stretch of imagination and a big vision had indeed blessed the Atlantic Ocean .
I was both deeply impressed and very chastened!

John’s big vision was a reflection of God’s vision for Creation. Harvest Festival time is an opportunity to think about the Farming community and , despite the problems in Agriculture, to celebrate and give thanks for those who provide for our needs and share with God in the joys and fruits of creation.

It is also essential to focus on those who have no harvest.
This is a time of great uncertainty with all the effects of Coronavirus, not least the plight of the increasing numbers of those needing to use Foodbanks*. Then there is drought in various parts of the world, extreme heat causing wildfires in West Coast America, after devastating fires in Australia, the effects of war in the Middle East, the destruction of the rain forests, all of which are compounded by situations like the explosion in  Beirut which destroyed homes and lives, and so much that mars creation. Add to that the possible problems for farmers and food producers and sellers who will be affected if we have a no-deal Brexit.

Whilst these are big issues affecting us as we try to harvest the resources of our planet with responsibility, we mustn’t lose sight of the bigger picture. In a world teeming with beauty there is a right moment to say Thank You to God for providing a world not only for our needs but also for our delight.

When, in 1843, the Revd R.S. Hawker introduced to his parish in Cornwall an Harvest Thanksgiving service, he simply wanted to give thanks to God and to the farming community. He did not guess then that by 1862 such a festival had become so widespread that the Church of England, encouraged by Queen Victoria, made it an official Thanksgiving.  Others have joined the celebration.

Though that Cornish Vicar lived at a time of rapid and deeply unsettling change in Agriculture as people started to migrate to the new industrial centres seeking work in manufacturing industries, he still saw much to give thanks for. We can get bogged down in the negatives in a way which blots out the positive. There is a wideness of vision which can take in the difficulties and problems whilst pointing us beyond them.

In rural Lancashire during the time I was there, we had the beef and then the sheep crisis in the space of ten years. Both had a devastating effect on the lives of the farming community. We also lived in an official Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty. Both the problems and the joys existed side by side. With so much beauty around us the area attracted many visitors. Today many farmers still tend the land but also cater for those in search of the beautiful and the breathtaking. Those indeed who are able to drive or walk through the countryside in search of something we might call spiritual and what I would certainly recognize as God, are often refreshed in spirit. With the brushstrokes of His creativity God has painted on a wide and deep canvas. We should stand back from time to time and enjoy the view.

Harvest is certainly a time to pray for farmers and give thanks for their provision of food. It is also a time to do something practical about the needs of the world.
It is, however, particularly, a time to thank God for all the providence and goodness towards us.

[GC]


  • Foodbanks* throughout the country are reliant on gifts from the public. Many are currently overstretched and would welcome donations of food . Why not find out where your nearest Foodbank is and phone them to ask what are their specific needs. Then think about how you might be able to help. This too is an expression of thanksgiving.