On my way back from doing a bit of shopping in Mirfield – it’s amazing how often I manage to go shopping, in spite of being sworn to “simplicity” of life – I said “Excuse me” to a young mother whose little boy was running along a doorstep “ I’m preaching on Sunday, and it would help if you could say if you have to give him a bit of freedom otherwise he won’t learn to be adventurous ? ”: She said, “You see what he’s done to his face if he gets a bit of freedom” and she turned his face towards me – he was quite a baby, far off from being a year old, and his face was all red and bruised and scabby from a fall.
So how does God our Father manage to encourage us to take risks, when He is all powerful, all loving, all knowing ?
He never shows us His face, we never hear His voice at all. Far further from us than any parent, however loving. It is tempting to believe he simply doesn’t exist at all.
The suggestion is that He really is THE GOD OF THE GAPS.
Both Old and New Testaments are deeply poetic, and it is in the gap between the words – THE WORD – and the meaning that God speaks to us, if we do but listen.
Mark Oakley’s famous book THE SPLASH OF WORDS ; BELIEVING IN POETRY (Canterbury Press 2016) is being read to the brethren at Supper, and what he writes suggests there may be something in this. He says: “one scholar, Joachim Jeremias, has argued that the original Aramaic of Jesus’ sayings would have been full of poetic alliteration and assonance, conveyed through a four-beat rhythm. Likewise, the persistent and inventive imagery of Paul, and the baffling, evocative vision of John continued the push beyond the literal into the heart of spiritual realities.” [Oakley: Introduction: XX]
What is “The heart of spiritual realities” – it is God.
Mark Oakley quotes R.S. Thomas: “He is such a fast God, always before us and leaving as we arrive.” In other words God is always there before us. We don’t need to be in control – that’s why Dictators are always a disaster in the long run. We don’t need to be in control, but to look for, to see, to find, possibilities for good – possibilities for God – in every event, in everything that happens to us. Even if we miss the Bus, there are possibilities for good in being late, there are even possibilities for good waiting for us in the Bus Station.
The first reading, from Acts, is a very poetic account of the Day of Pentecost. Luke wants to know, and wants US to know, that’s what happened = the descent of tongues of flame. It’s a bit like the words of the Mass itself, we have to want to believe the bread and wine have really become the sacred body and blood, although the look and taste is just the same as it was before. Like when we are Ordained, we want to believe we receive the Holy Spirit ourselves, just like they did on the Day of Pentecost whether or not we feel any different, after the Bishop lays his hands on us, than we did before.
This is how George Herbert (d.1633} puts it. Notice how he uses the word LOVE when he might as well have written the word GOD
|LOVE bade me welcome: yet my soul drew back,|
|Guiltie of dust and sinne.|
|But quick-ey’d Love, observing me grow slack|
|From my first entrance in,|
|Drew nearer to me, sweetly questioning,||5|
|If I lack’d any thing.|
|A guest, I answer’d, worthy to be here:|
|Love said, you shall be he.|
|I the unkinde, ungratefull? Ah my deare,|
|I cannot look on thee.||10|
|Love took my hand, and smiling did reply,|
|Who made the eyes but I?|
|Truth Lord, but I have marr’d them: let my shame|
|Go where it doth deserve.|
|And know you not, sayes Love, who bore the blame?||15|
|My deare, then I will serve.|
|You must sit down, sayes Love, and taste my meat:|
|So I did sit and eat.|
The two readings say this in their different ways. Philip says to Jesus, “Show us the Father and we will be satisfied” and Jesus replies, “He who has seen me, has seen the Father” AND PHILIP BELIEVES HIM almost. So Jesus promises that He will ask the Father, and He will send him another Advocate, the Holy Spirit, just to make sure.
So, in Baptisms, Confirmations, Ordinations, we pray that the Father will send the Holy Spirit. But that won’t make any difference, unless we believe . It’s our own BELIEVING that makes the difference,