Julian Meeting for June 2021
There are in every life, except perhaps in the most severely diminished by disability or circumstance, days when we cannot avoid the transcendent and mysterious. The most obvious have to do with birth and falling in love, illness and death. These times may be at once deeply spiritual and deeply carnal experiences, putting us in touch with levels of experience that we sense but may find it difficult to describe. To hold your newborn child in your arms for the first time is something wholly different from awaiting its arrival and imagining what it will look like. To see a living creature emerge with ears and fingernails, and a palm engraved with the lines he or she will carry to the grave, and to know that without you this tiny human being who is unlike any other who has ever been born, with a unique personality and a unique destiny, simply would not be, must be a cause for wonder.
As is falling in love, especially when that leads to a deep and lifelong commitment; and to give yourself without reserve to that particular mystery is to trust that you are able to be lifted out of the narrowness of self in the give-and-take of love, and in so transcending yourself become more, not less, what you truly are. But the key moments of our lives are not all happy ones: they are often moments of darkness and confusion. Inevitably, some people have to bear heavy crosses from time to time: darkness and pain of different kinds: sickness, or the loss of work, or the death of one who means more to them than life itself.
At those points of crisis it is hard to escape questions about what a human being is and what hidden depths lie within us, and each of us has sometimes been amazed and humbled by the inner resources of courage and self-sacrifice people can call upon at such times. People have not been taught to think of their response to crisis or their coping with pain or – and this is the most significant gift – their natural compassion, as a mark of their Godlikeness, but insofar as they enlarge our potential to give our loving attention to others, then they are precisely that; and there are innumerable ordinary experiences which have the quality of transcendence because they have taken us beyond our own egoistic selves.
In any age, and particularly in the last 12 months, we witness many examples of true compassion; in the NHS, the lifeboat and ambulance services and, in every local community where many souls are prepared to assist those in every sort of need. We are indeed blessed in our own village that so many are striving to help others in so many ways without acclaim. There are so many displays of true compassion which have the quality of transcendence because they have taken us beyond our own egoistic selves. That has got to mean working with the raw material each of us is given, the stuff of daily experience, and helping one another to build on whatever glimpses we may have had of the reality of God at the heart of our own lives. For almost certainly those glimpses will be authentic, if unrecognised, experiences of the transcendent reality in which our lives are rooted.
Frederick Buechner puts it much better than I can:
“There is no event so common-place but that God is present within it, always hiddenly, always leaving you room to recognise or not to recognise him…..If I were called upon to state in a few words the essence of everything I was trying to say both as a novelist and as a preacher, it would be something like this: Listen to your life. See it for the fathomless mystery that it is. In the boredom and pain of it no less than in the excitement and gladness: touch, taste, smell your way to the heavenly and hidden heart of it because in the last analysis all moments are key moments, and life itself is grace.”