late in evening the sky bruised
ringed them ugly and full
the sea moiled, black with heaving
feverish and wild
the rimless sky flickered with lightning
thunder padded and prowled
the wind woke, came like a beast
pawing this way and that
and the boat plunged and heaved
they held on in the scream of the sea
praying that as Christ had once calmed them
the waters might hear him again
then one of them looked and saw
in the midst of the worst of the night
a star chinking like gold
he pointed, they followed his arm
the storm did not lessen the least
but their faith was made of new fire
they fought like men unafraid
and the morning was born at last
This is an extract from Kenneth Steven’s wonderful sequence of poems, entitled A Song among the Stones, which tells the dangerous journey of four Celtic monks on their way from Iona to Iceland.
Impulsive master of misunderstanding,
You comfort me with all your big mistakes;
Jumping the ship before you make the landing,
Placing the bet before you know the stakes.
I love the way you step out without knowing,
The way you sometimes speak before you think,
The way your broken faith is always growing,
The way he holds you even when you sink.
Born to a world that always tries to shame you,
Your shaky ego vulnerable to shame,
I love the way that Jesus chose to name you,
Before you knew how to deserve that name.
And in the end your Saviour let you prove
That each denial is undone by love.
From: Malcolm Guite, Sounding the Seasons: Seventy Sonnets for the Christian Year
The present moment holds infinite riches beyond your wildest dreams but you will only enjoy them to the extent of your faith and love. The more a soul loves, the more it longs, the more it hopes, the more it finds.
Jean-Pierre de Caussade, Abandonment to Divine Providence, as quoted by James Martin, The Jesuit Guide to (Almost) Everything: A Spirituality for Real Life
Here’s another insightful quote from John Swinton’s Raging with Compassion: Pastoral Responses to the Problem of Evil:
Sin, evil, and suffering … are secondary realities, intruders into the goodness of the world. As such they require, indeed demand, to be resisted in faith and hope rather than resigned to with stoicism and despair. Goodness is our original state …. The turn towards evil drags us into a state that is alien to the desired purposes of the creator. The presence of evil separates us not only from God, but also from our true selves. As such it needs to be strongly resisted. Resistance relates to the faithful participation in Christ’s redemptive movement in the world now and in the future. Evil is that which blocks and fragments Christ’s work of reclamation, restoration, and redemption and prevents human beings from experiencing the loving presence of God in and for the world.
Because of [faith], you freely, willingly, and joyfully do good to everyone, serve everyone, suffer all kinds of things, love and praise the God who has shown you such grace.
Thus Martin Luther in ‘An Introduction to St. Paul’s Letter to the Romans’, quoted by John Swinton, Raging with Compassion: Pastoral Responses to the Problem of Evil. Swinton goes on to say that:
Faith … is countercultural. It is not a work of reason; indeed, it is not something that, on their own, human beings can achieve at all. It is an act of God’s grace wherein a person learns what it means to live in the power of the Holy Spirit and to love God in all things, even in suffering.
As a footnote on my previous post, I should say that Kennedy’s statement appeals to me because it connects with the Christian apophatic tradition, which is precisely a tradition of not knowing. Richard Rohr (in Things Hidden: Scripture as Spirituality) defines this as ‘the very concept of faith, the freedom not to know’, and notes that
it is amazing how religion has turned this biblical idea of faith around to mean its exact opposite: into a tradition of certain knowing, presumed predictability and complete assurance about whom God likes and whom God does not like.
Faith in God means believing that anyone can be transformed, regardless of the past.
Walter Wink, Jesus and Nonviolence: A Third Way