In the Sure and Certain Hope . . . .

I took these photos on Thursday 12th in a brief lull between the gales and the Kaffir lilysqualls, the rain and hail. Any flowers blooming now are blooming marvellous – sorry! – and these delicate, fragile beauties (Kaffir lilies and Nerenes) seem to offer more hope and bring more joy than even the first snowdrop in Spring.

In the face of the terrorist attacks in Paris a simple sign of hope can do more for my faith than any words. For a time, when I lived in Cambridge, surrounded by theologians and academic clerics, I did study quite seriously. I struggled with John Robinson, wrestled with Romans and Karl Barth, lapped up Revelations with John Sweet, did Mark with Morna Hooker and worked for the Bishop’s Certificate. And all that actually gave me the courage to abandon the floundering ship that is the Church in Wales. Now I have reverted to the simple faith of my youth.

A few weeks ago I was advocating the Bible as a brilliant textbook, or possibly Nerenes“resource material”. The Old Testament could be used for religious studies, citizenship, relationships, learning from experience, social history, and the New Testament covers almost every other aspect of human life, with St Paul as a Self-help, Body, Mind and Spirit Manual.

Aged 15 I attended a confirmation class and when the Rector asked which bit of the Sunday service we liked least we answered with one voice – the Psalms! He assured us that when we grew up we would come to value them and how right he was. The Psalms have sustained me through some very tough times; it’s amazing how often I can find words in the Psalms of the day, which are entirely appropriate to that particular day.

Today, for example, Morning Prayer began with Psalm 42. Verse 6: ‘why are you so full of heaviness, O my soul, and why are you so disquieted within me?’ Well that’s obvious, isn’t it? The horrific events in Paris last night have left me wondering what on earth to say, or think or how to form prayers that make sense. But almost immediately there is hope. Psalm 33, which begins with a call to rejoice and sing songs of praise because ‘he loves righteousness and justice; the earth is full of the loving kindness of the Lord.’ And it is. We can watch on TV as Parisians react with calm dignity, probably fearful but nevertheless travelling around the city to lay flowers and light candles. But make no mistake. Calm dignity and civilised behaviour that dreads making a terrible situation worse isn’t the extent of loving kindness. Loving kindness isn’t a wishy-washy, anything goes liberalism. Real loving kindness demands passion, commitment, tough core values and the backbone to fight for the truth you believe in, without descending to strident shrieks, obfuscations, lies and downright bullying. If we can’t face up to the strident shriek brigade who are getting away with it gender-wise at the moment how on earth are we going to face up to ISIS? And, if you need firming up in the tough love stakes may I recommend some early David Attenborough films about mother love and survival.

Today’s reading from Isaiah is pretty brilliant too. ‘I will wait for the Lord, who is hiding his face from the house of Jacob, and I will hope in him’. Not so easy to accept in the face of so much slaughter by so few but then I get to the thrilling words I know well. ‘The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light; those who lived in the land of deep darkness – on them has the light shined.’ There’s something I can hang on to, and it gets even more appropriate. ‘For all the boots of the tramping warriors and all the garments rolled in blood shall be burned as fuel for the fire.’ Why? Because ‘a child has been born for us, a son given to us.’

Which is what Christmas is all about, though not many people know that any more, and here in Wales a lot of people are probably hoping that the son be a daughter!

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