To fall short of the standards which recommend us

For the religious to fall short of the standards [a standard is a type of flag ordinarily used as a type of identification], which recommends them to the world and to be found out is devastating in at least two ways. First, there is that terrible accusation of hypocrite and second, the expected attacks against their faith. Not only is the individual called a ‘fake’ but their long-held belief system is also called into question. The believer or the secularist for that matter who dares to go public with their moral standard is setting himself or herself up for the inevitable failure. In different but also in some very similar ways there is a resistance to both the believer and the non-believer who exists and moves about in the world. Moral excellence belongs to none. We are all works in progress saint and sinner alike. Who then is the perfect one ["as good as it is possible to be"] living and walking amongst us? The only question seems to be whether our transgressions remain secret or are exposed by some ‘accident’ of history; or a betrayal by a friend; or by our own digital footprint.[1] Nowadays, too, there is the added pressure and anxiety on the believer to appear ‘church like’ on account of the cynical view and increased scrutiny placed on faith-based communities, particularly by the progressively popular ‘anti-religion’ movements which ironically share demonstrable rudiments with religious fundamentalism.

Quotation: Satsuki Shibuya

Quotation: Satsuki Shibuya

So what to do especially during times when everybody seems to be on the lookout for ‘virtue signalling’? Human beings who are trying to practise some form of goodness within one of these faith-based communities are being more and more hunted out of existence as if some kind of sport. There is a hard choice to be made. Keep testifying to those things we hold of value knowing full well we shall fall short of our standard, or remain silent before an increasingly cynical world and say nothing that we might remain protected from scorn and likely ridicule. Writers for instance of such little and imperfect reflections as this present one are particularly susceptible, for compromises and contradictions knock everyday on their door. So then, it has been more than once that I have questioned myself whether I should stop uploading such entries. But I cannot stop. Even, if only for the entirely selfish reasons of self-therapy. And so the inner turmoil of being “mine own executioner” is the price I pay.

“And forgive us our trespasses, as we forgive those who trespass against us” (Matt. 6:12)

This anxiety of being ‘caught out’ [whether a religious or not] has the potential to paralyse the sensitive heart, to silence and to instil a sickening fear into the mind. It could leave a fellow human being in ruins as they go about trying to conquer their own private demons. Is it let's say hypocritical, to warn and to speak out on the shattering consequences of addiction if one is in secret fighting against an addiction himself or herself? Who knows more than the compulsive obsessive for example or the addicted of the limitless lure and ‘bloodletting’ of their diseases? Understanding the neuropsychology of addictive disorders is a lot harder than the easier option of a too hasty judgement. Our greatest teachers have been the “wounded healers” of our world who have dared speak when they themselves were near enough to burning.[2] Is he or she to keep silent, lest they be called out and labelled a ‘hypocrite’? It is a question which a large number of us will have to face. Whether and despite our imperfections and deviations from our ideal standards, for we are all broken in one way or another and we are [most of us at least] a walking quilt of patches, to keep on spiritually striving or to allow for the fear of falling short to dowse our spirit and so burying our authentic voice? We all want to appear credible and for our reputations to bear significance, the accusation of hypocrisy fills most of us with a sickening dread. Particularly in present times with that appalling association of ‘brand name’ to identity. It is for the individual to decide, to accept all manner of calumny if need be, or to be a crowd pleaser. “Living a life that matters doesn’t happen by accident,” writes Michael Josephson in a thought-provoking reflection. For there is little doubt that sooner or later we will hear that demoralising sound of stones crashing into our windows.

“Let him who is without sin cast the first stone” (Jn. 8:7)

It is a sad but undeniable truth that we fall, and fall ‘short of the mark’ daily. Transgression of one type or the other is our common lot. We also carry a big sack of contradictions which discourages and holds us down. But we should not despair nor disregard the intent of our hearts which point to the nobler side of ourselves. What things are these heart, and soul, and spirit? They are your inner voice [your conscience], and those invisible forces [of nature] which animate you and give you awareness, which differentiate between The Odyssey and the Apocalypse, that is, your consciousness.[3] It is vital we do not betray ourselves by giving up on what our soul whispers to us in the still of the night, when it reveals to us the truth of who we are called to become. Endurance will bring its own restoration. Every path worth taking is strewn with obstacles, but in essence that is what growth is all about: the ‘struggle’. This is the ongoing story behind all of the great odysseys in literature. Think also on the ‘lowly’ caterpillar which despite its unglamorous state continues on its journey to reveal itself one of nature’s most ethereal creatures, the butterfly. In terms of “us” this could be translated into the psychology of human development and the search for meaning.

To have tried our very best, to have remained vulnerable to attack, to struggle and to agonize [from the Gk. contest] over what it means to be a good person [when in truth none can be all good] even if ‘caught out’ for our transgressions, and to try to hold to the standards we have set ourselves right through to the last hours of our life, may well be our hardest and most beautiful work. More useful than any successful poem or grand score of music we might leave behind. It will certainly be our most enduring. It is what we would normally call our legacy. And so do not give up. The essence of life is growth. It is the ongoing process of broadening and heightening. Allow for no one to stop you from striving to reach the highest within you. As for perfection it is one of the great lies, it does not exist in the corruptible flesh, it’s a mythology in the service of the other ‘walking dead’. Pretending, that is being hypocritical, is very different to trying your very best.[4] The secret here is not to call out others by name. Here, as well, this is very different to fighting for justice instead of going after retribution. If we practise “true love” by forgiving “insults” directed at us, Saint Mark the Ascetic (5th cent. AD) encouragingly counsels, we have found a surer way of becoming “free from hypocrisy”.

There remains the real possibility we will continue to fight and struggle against our fetishes and failings and inconsistencies to our last breath, when we would have hoped to have loved more at the end than at the beginning. That is the glory then, even in the face of defeat to never give up on the ‘conquering’. I recollect here the story of a monk who had no intention of staying in his monastery after experiencing the rigours of the monastic life even after a few weeks. Every evening when alone in his cell he would remove his cassock to place it on the hook behind his door with the sincerest intention of leaving his vocation come morning. He went through this routine to the final days before his death, more than sixty years later. So he remained, he conquered. Was he right or wrong in his endurance? That is for him alone to know but his example is not without its merit. Is it worth it then, ‘wasting’ ourselves in the pursuit of our higher ideals? By ‘wasting’ I do not at all mean ‘destroying’ but giving up on those things which would in fact destroy us. Yes, as one of my favourite authors had once replied, it is worth it when it means stretching our human limitations and digging to the depths of our being even past “the darkness”. I am here referencing the much misunderstood Nikos Kazantzakis who was relentlessly driven to understand the purpose of life:

A command rings out within me: “Dig! What do you see?”
“Men and birds, water and stones.”
“Dig deeper! What do you see?”
“Ideas and dreams, fantasies and lightning flashes!”
“Dig deeper! What do you see?”
“I see nothing! A mute Night, as thick as death. It must be death.”
“Dig deeper!”
“Ah! I cannot penetrate the dark partition! I hear voices and weeping. I hear the flutter of wings on the other shore.”

“Don’t weep! Don’t weep! They are not on the other shore. The voices, the weeping, and the wings are your own heart.”[5]

To outwardly identify someone with their lapse, the reasons which we should probably never know, would be one of our cruelest acts. It is a denial of all their other possibilities. So let us practice compassion in its place. It does matter how we treat others. Love is a combination of many motivating qualities, both known and unknown, but it is compassion [to ‘suffer with’], which is its most recognizable expression. When people are crushed for air and the world around them seems to be falling apart their discernment can fracture into a thousand pieces. A man I once knew, a good man and a respected member of his believing community, had in one unthinkable moment lost all but one of his family in an automobile accident. He turned to alcohol for some years in a hopeless effort to numb the pain which could not be numbed. Yet all along he would say that he understood liquor was not the answer and would in his sober hours warn others of its uselessness. He remained accountable to himself. That was enough. So what was he then? Was he a grieving and suffering soul struggling to survive or was he an unrequited drunkard and a fake? So, yes, let us hold off from such quick judgements. Could we even for a minute put ourselves in the shoes of this modern day Job? To what shadowy places would our own desperation take us or has taken us already? He recovered, by the way, the best he could, to be a source of real hope for others. Even to this day his is one of the names which does help to sustain me.

“It is not what you are nor what you have been that God sees with His all-merciful eyes, but what you desire to be.” (The Cloud of Unknowing, anon.)

Do not rush to expose your brother or sister nor to find delight in their humbling. We are all in need of reproof during our times of carelessness but a gentle correction is very different to overlooking the log in your own eye. What if the multiplicity of your own secret transgressions were to be suddenly exposed to the world? I would want for the ground beneath my feet to open fast and to be quickly swallowed up. So let us, then, give the benefit of the doubt to those who struggle yet truly believe in the nobility of the better man or woman, and if they are caught out judge them not by their inglorious fall but rather consider whether they have spread a little more compassion and sunlight into their community. Therefore we should also be very careful of value judgements, that is, judging others based on our own standards and priorities. And let us ask ourselves the following question why is that we do not hold to a similar account the more famous amongst us? We punish the everyday man or woman to the point of persecution, but the celebrity or the powerful we admire and elevate even more when they fall short of those ideals which we would normally consider inviolate. Amazingly, it is as if our idolizing is an inoculation against the charge of hypocrisy against the ‘stars’. If we do not worship the Creator we will worship the created order. We will elevate the corrupt and the decaying material body to a space it cannot survive. We are hurting ourselves and those around us by drinking in the opiate of superficiality, and by lowering our standards we are also selling short the future of our children’s generations. We teach them that success belongs to others and that to them is bequeathed the measure of mediocrity. Because you are wounded, because you have fallen, because you have made a trainload of mistakes, these are not good enough reasons to give up on the person you have been called to become. You are a unique presence in this world “made of star stuff” as Carl Sagan once famously quipped and for the community of believers the very temple of the indwelling of the Holy Spirit (1Cor. 6:19f). Do not allow for the stone throwers to diminish your self-worth.

To keep trying to be human till your death, this would be a life well lived. This is then, too, what it means to try to be good. Each day is an opportunity to grow deeper into that eternal potential breathed into us from the moment of our creation and to live out in greatly richer expressions the radiance of compassion. Therefore this is the hardest truth, to “die daily” (1Cor. 15:31). This is the geography of the “unseen warfare”. Ultimately, what really matters in this everyday struggle of ours with all of its ups and downs, is that God alone knows and discerns the true intent of “the hearts of all the children of men” (1Kgs 8:39).

“Dear Lord, you know I am not perfect, too often I have been anxious that I would be found out to have fallen short of the mark, scared of being held to account for not being perfect to my word, yet allow for me to be at peace in the knowledge that trying my best will be my chief and most enduring work.”

[1] By transgression here and throughout, I am referring to a personal moral lapse or weakness, and not to any crime which might have to do with a violence inflicted upon another. This is another matter altogether and would require a different and more immediate response.

[2] Henri J. M. Nouwen’s famously insightful reflection on the healer as wounded himself or herself yet in the service of ministering to others has rarely left my side: https://www.amazon.com/Wounded-Healer-Ministry-Contemporary-Society/dp/0385148038

[3] This is a truly huge topic, even when it comes to definitions with many disciplines contributing to our understanding of self and the question of human spirituality, which then naturally spills into the complex connection between the mind and matter. A good start would be with an initial introduction to these subjects from the reliable Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy: https://plato.stanford.edu/about.html

[4] Of all places I came across a marvellously discerning article in The Guardian addressing hypocrisy in the modern context [and how we can accuse people wrongly] very useful and certainly worth sharing: https://www.theguardian.com/science/brain-flapping/2016/nov/17/its-only-wrong-when-you-do-it-the-psychology-of-hypocrisy

[5] https://www.lifemasteryhacker.com/blog/nikos-kazantzakis-on-life-death-and-the-meaning-of-it-all

On being rejected by those we love

St Joseph the comely

St Joseph the comely

“I know that when a door closes, it can feel like all doors are closing. A rejection letter can feel like everyone will reject us. But a closed door leads to clarity. It’s really an arrow. Because we cannot go through that door, we will go somewhere else. That somewhere else is your true life.” (Tama J. Kieves)

How good it would be if we were loved by everybody and that everybody we met did see the best in us. But would it really? And would it make us wiser or stronger? Nothing hurts more than to be rejected by someone we love. Nothing hurts more than to have people we treasure turn away from us. This might come in the form of a sudden stop in communication or in other more hostile ways. The grief which is felt can be inexpressible. It is altogether different when we are treated as lowly by those we do not know very well. But it too can hurt, yet it is not the same. There are of course, the extreme and very hard cases, when a parent walks away from a child, or a formerly devoted spouse walks away from their partner. Then there are those great friendships where years have been given over to them and which have been sustained with much grace and plenty of love. The old and trusted friend withdraws his or her hand to walk away. How do we respond? To say that they were not “true” loves or “real” friends in the first place, does little to soften the pain. What can we do?

There are various ways we can come to grips with this awful happening, for we are each gifted with unique experiences and charisms. And it is upon these that we must call upon during such times that we may not become entirely disconsolate. The rejection from a loved one can give validation to our most hidden insecurities and fears. It is the cruellest and most dangerous of all the rejections. Sensitive and tender hearts have often responded too quickly, with catastrophic results. To such difficult questions, where grief and mental torment are involved, there are no easy answers. The confrontation is real and terrible and hurts the bones. Often there are additional issues of perceived shame or guilt. Our identities seem to be taken away from us. Trust is also lost. Our beliefs are shaken to the core.

Though every situation is different, we all share in the human condition and of having some idea of how the “other” might feel during shared experiences, whether physical or mental. If you tell me you thirst, I have understanding. If you tell me your head hurts, I can understand that too. If you tell me you grieve because of a great loss in your life, I also have some comprehension. Though in each case it can only be by degrees, for the experiences and our reflective natures, still remain unique. But there is common ground and it is from here, this solid and proven place, we can be saved and strengthened. The great lessons are not too far away, if only we should endure and search and never, ever lose hope.

There is a higher purpose or reason behind every great love and every heartbreaking betrayal, and both come with their hidden gifts and powerful graces. We would all much prefer the “great love”. But let us also not recoil from the heartbreak. It is good that we persevere and do strong battle knowing that it is only through the fire that steel is hardened. It is first made soft and malleable, to be brought to the ideal place known only to that element, where its properties are encouraged to their full potential. It is through these excruciating losses, which will often enough break an unhealthy cycle of co-dependency, that we can gain profound insights into life. That is, a less cloudy revelation as to the ultimate purpose of our existence; a deeper understanding of the complexities and contradictions of human nature; a more “nuclear” vision to love and forgiveness; another chance at becoming the men and women we were meant to become; the realization of our strength and power of our spirit. The all-important lesson, too, that bitterness and animosity are an enormous waste of time and a loss of valuable energy. “When you have been insulted, cursed, or persecuted by someone,” writes Saint Mark the Ascetic, “do not think of what has happened to you, but of what will come from it, and you will see that your insulter has become the cause of many benefits to you, not only in this age, but in that which is to come.”

These are ways which bring us closer to the sacred, to those things which our collective religious experience has associated with the divine.

Maybe we have given all we can to the “other”. Perhaps it is now time for them to move on, to explore other horizons vital to the unfolding of their own story. Maybe we have been one of those beautiful little tiles of a greater mosaic, little in the bigger scheme of things but enormously crucial. Maybe we have nothing more to give and we have done our job.  We should avoid any thought which might now try to talk us into believing that these people are wicked when only yesterday they were righteous. Of course, all this implies the equality to the relationship, for when an adult hurts or walks away from a child it will call for a different response and a different type of resilience. And yet we know from those who have experienced this dreadful hurt, that this too can be overcome and conquered. Here we can find our peace and turn our pain into a priceless jewel. And though there will be times when the recollection will still hurt and yes, even bludgeon us during the night, it is important to remember: this too, it will pass.

“He heals the broken-hearted and binds up their wounds” (Ps. 147:3).

Other doors will open. One of the secrets is to wait, to not force these doors, to allow and to give time for providence to work.

In the Old Testament Joseph was betrayed and sold into slavery by his brothers (Gen. 37:18-36). What was worse, they had even thought about killing him. “When Joseph’s brothers saw him coming, they recognized him in the distance. As he approached, they made plans to kill him.” Joseph both endured and he forgave, to rise up to become the second most powerful man in all of Egypt, next to the Pharaoh.

“Dear Father do not allow for me to crumble and break should I ever be rejected by a loved one, do not let for my heart to grow cold that I might not forget that there was much beauty and joy in there too, amidst the sorrow. I want to remember that I was an important part of another’s unfolding story and that my own is not yet over.”

Sorrow Comes to All

“Christ offers us, not a way round suffering, but a way through it; not a substitution, but saving companionship.” (Kallistos Ware)

http://meetville.com/images/quotes/

http://meetville.com/images/quotes/

Where is God during these times? Where is He when bad things happen to good people? How do the words of a preacher help or heal those who have lost their homes, who have lost their families, those who are alone in prison, or in a hospital dying of cancer? The mother whose child is dying in her arms because it is sick or hungry? “Where is God?” ask the poor and the abandoned. “Where is He now?” asks the young person about to put an end to his or her life. The words of no individual, however great, cannot ever eliminate the pain nor explain away the suffering. We would be deluded to think that our words, even though genuine and caring, could wipe away the multitude of tears. And yet, by pointing to divine revelation, that is, witnessing to Scripture and to the “Word” (the eternal LOGOS who was from the “beginning” Jn. 1:1), a sorrowful heart can be shown that there is, indeed, a way through the suffering. However desperate and improbable our situation, always there is hope for we have been “begotten” to a “living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ” (1Pet. 1:3). God is there, sharing in our common humanity, “taking the form of a bondservant, and coming in the likeness of men” (Phil. 2:7), experiencing our pain, empathizing with our humiliation, feeling our rejection, suffering with us in a meaningful and enduring way. He does understand our grief and reveals to us the way through our sorrow.

In His human nature, before His terrible crucifixion, the GodMan prays, “My soul is exceedingly sorrowful, even to death” (Matt. 26:38). He is there in every hospital and prison and orphanage and broken home and mourning heart. “I was naked and you clothed Me” (Matt. 25:36). The Father was there at Calvary when His only begotten Son cried unto Him, “My God, My God, why have You forsaken Me?” (Matt. 27:46) There will come a day, Scripture tells us, a specific moment in history when all sorrow and all suffering will come to an end, “[a]nd God will wipe away every tear... there shall be no more death, nor sorrow, nor crying... no more pain, for the former things have passed away” (Rev. 21:4). God promises, that similarly to Jesus, our pain will be redeemed and a higher understanding will come to us for “now we see in a mirror, dimly” (1Cor. 13:12). This does not lessen the brutality of our toughest battles, but it does mean our tears and suffering are not to be looked upon as ‘wastelands’. These experiences of sorrow ("feelings of deep distress") are not only commonplace in our lives, but often they are the only authentic way of communicating with each other. Real pain, unlike feigned pleasure, cannot be easily counterfeited. Fairy-tales and myths, from the earliest of years when the believing community was persecuted and torn asunder, had nothing to do with a faith ‘blind’ to the outside reality -but it was a belief tested and realized in the world and established in blood.

What may presently be inexplicable, will be made clear to us on that last day to which we do "not know what hour" (Matt. 24:42). We will see that our path, strewn with both joy and heartache, was our unique way through life and that it could not have been any different; in some tangible sense our spiritual DNA. And that He, our Lord, was there with us in ways that we could not ever have possibly imagined. That He was there during those times when sorrow might appear to be robbing us of breath and even of life itself- as the penitent thief himself discovered on Golgotha Hill when he asked the Lord to remember him in His kingdom, “[a]ssuredly, I say to you, today you will be with Me in Paradise” (Lk. 23:43).

Sorrow does not discriminate and it cares little for our religious convictions or philosophies. We all have to find a way through our suffering and to make sense of it. Our profoundest thinkers have encouraged us to not fight the provenance of our pain but to ask the meaningful question: What does this suffering mean for me and how can I use it? There is an assumption of reason here, that we are not dealing with “accident”. The Universe itself we are discovering is not without cause or order. If gravity is just slightly moved, then there is nothing. Physicists and cosmologists are all the more speaking of “fine-tuning” and moving away from theories of random behaviour. We, too, are the stuff of stardust. Let us at least, if we are not able to do anything else, bring comfort to those who are in deep distress. This alone might be one of our great successes as human beings.

“Dear Father, I still do not understand and I suffer at the awful horrors and unimaginable pain about me. How are these dreadful and abysmal things possible when every good thing has proceeded forth from Eternal Love? I weep at the impossibility for wherever I turn, I come back to you, and to you Alone. Yes, my Lord, if there is any small goodness within me, it is on account of my suffering, and if we have performed any good deed, that too, is on account of our suffering that we might learn something of compassion.”

What is the Apocalypse?

"Behold, I stand at the door, and knock: if any man hear my voice, and open the door, I will come in to him, and will sup with him, and he with me" (Revelation 3:20).

The Book of Revelation  (circa 95 A.D.)

The Book of Revelation (circa 95 A.D.)

Apocalypse is a word which will normally stir feelings of anxiety and dread in our hearts. This is particularly true if the term is connected to the Book of Revelation, especially for those who have not read the book or who might have read it with little knowledge of the text’s rich history and literary context. To begin with, ‘apocalypse’ is from the Greek which means revelation, that is an “unveiling” of things not previously known. Apocalypse does not mean cataclysm or catastrophe, albeit the apocalyptic genre is also concerned with those subjects.

Traditionally apocalypses are created during periods of great upheaval and unrest, during times of natural disasters and war. The literature reflects the fears and hopes of its author and recipients, they have a dread that the world is coming to an end and they want to be saved from the impending doom. But there is much more to John’s apocalypse, more correctly the Revelation of Jesus Christ (Rev 1:1), than his references to seals, and plagues, and beasts, and final conflicts, and that infamous “666”. Importantly, too, apocalypses are not only about prophecy. And in John’s case his revelation is also a letter addressed to the seven churches which are in Asia (Rev. 1:4). This not only has the intent to announce the document’s universal significance, that is, its ‘catholicity’, but also to create a sense of intimacy which comes through the epistolary form. Unfortunately, it is the backdrop of the apocalyptic which will normally transfix readers and keep them anchored to the prophetic or ‘end-times’ scenarios alone. There is, however, something else happening in John’s book as well, outside its tempered use of the apocalyptic symbology (in contradistinction to the non-canonical apocalypses rejected by the early church), that the apocalypse is also a personal address. And it is this marvellous aspect to the book which we too often lose sight or fail to acknowledge as a community of believers.

How then can this ‘fantastic’ prophecy be read on an intimate level? We should remember that it is also a letter, and that in addressing church communities it is at the same time speaking to the individual members who comprise that community of believers. Whether in John’s times when the first Christians were undergoing persecution, or during the Great Wars and other global conflicts when we could destroy each other, or today when it seems unless we concede (if not directly contribute) to the deconstruction of religious faith, the book continues to speak to us. On a personal level most of us will have to live through our own little apocalypses and final judgements, we will enter into our own conflicts and battles and often enough feel that we cannot go on. The Book of Revelation can speak to us, revealing that however hopeless things might appear there is always a deliverance. Whatever the ‘beasts’ or ‘dragons’ we are dealing with, irrespective of any prognosis whether real or of our own making, however dark things might appear, an “overcoming” (Rev. 2:17) over any obstacle is not outside our reach. This does not necessarily mean that things will work out as we might want them, but that the Creator has seen to a better way to “wipe away every tear” (Rev. 21:4). For both the history of the world and our own little smaller individual histories, there will be redemption and unveiling of what it was all about and why it had to be that way.

Look at those who have achieved true greatness and who have brought joy and beauty and hope into the world. Have any of these men and women been exempt from the purgatorial fires of life? Have any of these souls been spared from suffering even of the worst kind? No. Viktor E. Frankl who survived the horror of the Nazi concentration camps sums it so very well, “What is to give light must endure burning.”

Let us not aspire to be famous

“Fame has also this great drawback, that if we pursue it, we must direct our lives so as to please the fancy of men” (Baruch Spinoza).

An ink and wash sketch on the theme of Percy Bysshe Shelley's 'Ozymandias' (Date Unknown)  The Serendipity Project

An ink and wash sketch on the theme of Percy Bysshe Shelley's 'Ozymandias' (Date Unknown) The Serendipity Project

Let us not aspire to be famous and to be highly esteemed. These are two of our greatest enemies, and should we ever rise to such dizzy heights (outside the grace and providence of the Creator) these infernal liars will destroy us, and through us they will hurt others. How long will your fame last? What wisdom will it deliver you? What benefit the praise for a season? How will you respond when your flatterers find fault with you? These ‘terrible’ gifts, if not used correctly and put to the service of others, are self-seeking aspirations which ultimately invite hubris and bring injury to the soul. In a beautiful psalm (Ps 72) where the attributes of a great King are enumerated by Solomon, “fame” is connected to the righteous deeds of the royal ruler and it is in this way that “the name endure[s] for ever”. For the ancient Greeks honour and reputation would ordinarily be conferred after death when the evidence of a life could be weighed and tested. Our greatest legacy is our character which is built up invisibly and in secret. Unmerited fame and artificial praise, history has revealed to us, do enormous damage to our spirit (in the sense of our dispositions and attitudes) and they can result in a caricature of the true self. We are weak and frail beings to begin with, and these worldly acclamations only serve to magnify our flaws and vulnerabilities. Honour and glory are often confused with fame. By all means  let us aspire after greatness, it is a different thing altogether. Our fathers and mothers, those who minister to the sick and to the dying, the poor and abused who have not given up on hope, the orphans and those who are hungry, these are the ones to whom honour and glory are due. The quality of worthiness is to be discovered here. It is here, in these disregarded palaces, that truth and reality are to be found. “Lord, I have too often sought the sponsorship of the world, running after its temporal prizes which rust and crumble but You have taken pity on me, and You have bent me, lest I confuse those things which store grace in me with those which steal them away.” 

Hope

“And you shall be secure, because there is hope; yes, you shall dig about you, and you shall take your rest in safety” (Job 11:18).

George Frederic Watts  Hope  (1886)

George Frederic Watts Hope (1886)

Hope is my favourite word. It has helped me survive and not give up looking for meaning during hard times when all appeared lost. It gave substance to the other great words which I needed to trust in: love, faith, and prayer. Why do we place such confidence in these profoundly spiritual expressions of life? I think one of the reasons is because of our 'expectation', that not only are these movements into grace possible, but also do-able. Outside the living-out of hope, this longing for delivery and restoration, how else are we to put into practice those other hope-inspired acts which give purpose and meaning to our lives? Hope is the opposite to despair. It means refusing to surrender or to believe there is no way out. Hope can change everything, and it usually does. Hope is “to bend your ear over your almost shattered lyre,” recollecting George Frederic Watts's evocative painting “Hope” (1886), “to catch the music from the last remaining string.” Needless to say, hope can be experienced in different ways, like our unique reaction to the ringing of a doorbell past midnight.