Thursday, September 26, 2013

Last(ing) Agape

Agape loveLast Tuesday, we held our last Agape meal at White Stone House – the last time our committed members will meet on a Tuesday night and share a meal together, a meal which includes the bread and the cup of communion.

We’ve done this every Tuesday night for just over ten years.

A dear friend shared this on Facebook afterwards: “For those who have a clue what I’m on about: White Stone had our last ever Agape meal last night and I’ve been experiencing almost physical levels of grief ever since. For those who don’t: life has hard bits and this is one of them.”

Life has hard bits and this is one of them. Yes. Yet that same friend ended our time together by reading from Paul’s letter to the Romans about hope. “Hope does not disappoint us.” We needed to hear that as we look to our diverging future paths.

It dovetailed with something I read out earlier that evening. Paul again, this time to the Corinthians: the famous passage about love. Even good, holy, exciting, wonderful things “will pass away” writes Paul, but “love will never pass away”. The lasting fruit that has grown among us over our years together, through good times and bad – is love.

White Stone may pass away; all our genuine love will remain.

The next day, I was reading 1Corinthians 13 again. With the help of, I looked up Wycliffe’s translation (one of the earliest bible translations into English). Its 14th century vocabulary and cadences sound odd to our ears – but I also found it oddly fresh and striking. So I end this post – probably my last before White Stone finally ends altogether this coming Saturday – with these words about what Wycliffe calls charity, and we call love, and Paul called agape: the greatest gift of all.
If I speak with tongues of men and of angels, and I have not charity, I am made as brass sounding, or a cymbal tinkling. And if I have prophecy, and know all mysteries, and all science, and if I have all faith, so that I move hills from their place, and I have not charity, I am nought. And if I part all my goods into the meats of poor men, and if I betake my body, so that I burn, and if I have not charity, it profiteth to me nothing.
   Charity is patient, it is benign; charity envieth not, it doeth not wickedly, it is not blown with pride, it is not covetous of worships, it seeketh not those things that be his own, it is not stirred to wrath, it thinketh not evil, it joyeth not on wickedness, but it joyeth together to truth; it suffereth all things, it believeth all things, it hopeth all things, it sustaineth all things.
   Charity falleth never down, whether prophecies shall be voided, either languages shall cease, either science shall be destroyed. For a part we know, and a part we prophesy; but when that shall come that is perfect, that thing that is of part shall be voided. When I was a little child, I spake as a little child, I understood as a little child, I thought as a little child; but when I was made a man, I voided those things that were of a little child. And we see now by a mirror in darkness, but then face to face; now I know of part, but then I shall know, as I am known. And now dwelleth faith, hope, charity, these three; but the most of these is charity.
(1Corinthians 13, Wycliffe Bible)

Thursday, September 05, 2013

When life sucks...

The big tall tailor always comes 
To little boys who suck their thumbs...

Two chilling lines of children’s (cough) poetry that I’ve never forgotten from my own childhood. The gist of this (certificate 15?) little poem is that little boys who suck their thumbs will be visited by a sinister tailor who would be most unlikely to be able to produce a clean DBS disclosure; he is equipped with scissors specially designed for snipping the errant thumb-sucker’s thumb clean off. (Read the full poem if you dare here, complete with gruesome illustrations I also remember from my infancy.)

I don’t recall whether or not I sucked my thumb as a small child – probably not given the terrifying tutelage of the tall tailor. But my 5-year-old does. Or rather, did – he recently severed the end of his left thumb. Thus his thumb-sucking days came to an abrupt end (the other thumb, he says, ‘doesn’t taste nice’ – so that’s that.)

The loss of part of his thumb wasn’t, in this case, due to a tall tailor, but an accident involving two boats, lots of blood, an ambulance ride, a small op, and a consolatory bowl of ice cream. A fortnight later, his thumb is now dressed, undressed, redressed, and healing well, thank God. It may even heal completely (we’re praying so). My son seems less disturbed by the whole episode, frankly, than his parents

Why do I write tailors and thumbs and the severance thereof?

Simply that such things can bring a sense of perspective. We’ve been undergoing a fair amount of grief recently due the closure of our community (see last post). Yet, in that moment when I sat in the ambulance and watched the paramedic write ‘amputation’ on his accident record, I experienced a change of perspective. The end of an era, disappointment, dying dreams – such things are indeed painful. But compared to loss of life or limb – not so very terrible. 

There's no denying that we're going through a rather difficult time. Thumbs down, so to speak. If you're a praying person, please pray for us, and if not, then please (as one of my friends puts it) do some 'good-vibing' towards us.
And yet: perspective. Our son is alive (sans thumb-tip). My friends and fellow workers will still be my friends and fellow workers in the new days to come. A new day is dawning. No-one has died. In fact – as many have tried to help me to see – this is in fact a good time, a God time.

And – here’s the rub – even death itself is provisional. With God, as Julian of Norwich once famously expressed it, ‘All shall be well and all shall be well and all manner of thing shall be well.’

So there, big tall tailor!