Third Sunday of Advent
Dear Brothers and Sisters in Christ,
The days are really drawing in now. Trying to get in a walk in the few hours of daylight we have is getting more and more difficult, though I keep trying because I know that it is good for body, mind and spirit. Many people talk about walking prayers, and once I’ve gotten away from the houses and up into the pastures and forests around Honley I truly feel like I’m in a walking prayer. Yes, I talk to God and, yes God answers back…though not of course as spectacularly as we see in the New Testament. Which suits me just fine because when God answers us spectacularly, God is expecting spectacular things….one only has to think of St Paul. For me, the conversation that comes when the sky stretches in such vastness, and the trees trace beautiful patterns against the gray clouds is more like the mist we had yesterday, it swirls around me reminding me to look at the robin in the bush, or the squirrels dancing on the limbs above, or the smile of passing walker, or the horses, cows, and sheep grazing away. More and more these days in isolation I’ve entered into conversation with God, I’ve spent more time thinking about Christ’s mortal life and the way he spent it in loving so many people, and I’ve felt and heard the presence of the Holy Spirit because the cacophony of my former daily life has been quieted.
What I’ve learned during these often-difficult times is that God has always been there, is always here. I’m reminded of St Paul’s words, when he tells us in Romans 8.39 ‘nothing in all creation can separate us from the Love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord’. Before this verse, Paul list the things that people fear can separate them from God’s love…rulers, things past, things present, death, powers etc. But one thing he doesn’t mention is… ourselves. And this is one thing I’ve learned very clearly, that mostly when I feel God’s absence, it is because I have been absent….God is always there. Sometimes we order our lives in such a way that we don’t leave space to recognize the one true fact of our existence, that when we wake in the morning, God is still there.
So, it won’t surprise you to know that I’ve been really spending a lot of time with Psalm 139. Indeed, I’ve memorized it…or nearly have…so I can recite it on my walks, or when I’m feeling low. It is a beautiful Psalm (though I skip over the few verses about slaying the wicked and bloody men. Things were a bit more brutal back when it was written over 3000 years ago). And it most emphatically reminds us that God is always with us. It points to Jesus’s assurance in John that through his death and resurrection: ‘On that day you will know that I am in my Father, and you in me, and I in you.” (John 14.21). Which again is what Paul reminds us of in Romans.
But sometimes its really hard to truly believe that God is in us, is with us. And this is why I find Psalm 139 so powerful. The reason we often set God aside and ignore the calls of the Holy Spirit, is because we really don’t think we are worthy. What is it we say so often, ‘I am no saint’….well actually, you are. So, in Psalm 139 when the Psalmist admits that God ‘has searched me and known me’ and ‘understands all my thoughts’ and ‘knows all the words of my tongue’ and ‘is acquainted with all my ways’ – we are invited and chastised in equal measure. God knows what we are, God made us, and God thinks that we are ‘wonderfully made’. Who are we to argue with God? That never goes well, does it.
Now, when the situation we are presently in, when the darkness draws in so quickly, I remember again from the psalm, “The darkness and the light are both alike to thee”. God is always our light, always around us, always with us, always in conversation. We don’t need to hide from God because ‘we are no saints’ God is with us anyhow, there is no hiding. There is simply turning our face to God and accepting that wherever we go, God is there and nothing, even our own sense of unworthiness, can separate us from our God, through Jesus Christ our Lord.
My favorite theologian, Evelyn Underhill wrote a series of prayers in her private prayer book, which was discovered and published a few year ago. And she has a prayer that I think can be helpful to us when we are struggling:
“O Lord Christ! Who in this difficult world was tempted in all things as we are – yet fell into no sin – look pitifully, we pray, upon us. Guide us with Your beautiful wisdom. Teach us in everything and in every hour what we ought to do. You alone know all our life. You alone know both what we suffer and what we need. To You that perfect faith which we should realize is known. Show it to us and teach us how to walk in it. Keep us, O Savior, in body, mind, and spirit; for with Your strong and gentle hands we commit ourselves”.
This week let us think on these things, and have some very good conversations with God.
With all Blessings,
Revd Professor Jessica Malay
Almondbury with Farnley Tyas