Abba Poemen said that passions work in stages; he said that, if you can purify your heart, passion will not come into your expression; but if it comes into your face, take care not to speak; but if you do speak, cut the conversation short …
The vast majority of us are not saying anything, or are certainly not putting pen to paper or fingers to keyboard. Some are clearly moved towards prayer and send very caring messages of prayerful support. Others simply must express their concerns.
At times like this in the life of the church I find that there is considerable solace in the Psalms. Particularly when there are those who are sending emails in the middle of the night, giving cause to remind me of Psalm 77:
You keep my eyelids from closing;
I am so troubled that I cannot speak.
I consider the days of old,
And remember the years of long ago.
I commune with my heart in the night;
I meditate and search my spirit …
The monks often hark to this Psalm. They say that the monk who has been aroused by any mistreatment whatsoever must preserve the calm, not only of their lips, but also in the depths of their heart.
From the many letters I have received, there are certainly those who feel aggrieved and mistreated, and justifiably so. It is right to express doubts honestly and openly. But when I read some of the letters I say to myself, not like this.
The monks say that when our aggrieved mind broods, when we are upset, this is not the time to utter the things that rage suggests. Perhaps acting corporately may help. Having been an elder in the past, I was always encouraged by the way that elders acted as a body, as a council rather than individually.
Tolerance… how can I write a reflection about tolerance? I have no difficulty at all in seeing the various viewpoints in relation to ‘Uniting our Future’. Even the phrase Uniting Our Future incites rage, and I understand that too. I absolutely concede the right that we each have to hold our various views. But how can I ‘moderate’ the despair that is creeping in? How can hope be restored?
According to Thomas Merton, we should all feel near to despair in some sense because this semi-despair is the normal form taken by hope. Hope without any sensible or tangible evidence on which to rest. Hope in spite of the burden that we are asked to bear.
Henri Nouwen once wrote that “Hope prevents us from clinging to what we have and frees us to move away from the safe place and enter unknown and fearful territory.”
By the time you read this, God’s reply to the complaint of the Prophet Habakkuk will have arrived in our Lectionary readings “… If it seems to tarry, wait for it; it will surely come, it will not delay.”