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Thursday, April 23, 2009

Letters from Scotland -2

Dear Helen,
Do you remember that first task you set us? It turned out to be one of the saddest but yet one of the gladdest of my life. Eager to make a start, I scanned the question. Looked easy enough – one word answer required, simple task: read straight through the Gospel of Mark and share with the group one word which sums up the person of Jesus portrayed there. I start out. Mark’s story unfolds. I feel inexplicably sad and tired; I realize Jesus is a stranger to me. The tiredness I feel is sharply contrasted with the energy of Jesus. I notice the organizational skills of Jesus, the manager of the apostles and shake my head at myself, realizing how firmly entrenched in my commercial world I am. I choose "tireless" as my word to describe him. I turn to the sharing of the rest of the class and feel challenged by the words offered by others and wonder if these are the ones I could truthfully have chosen. Their words imply relationship and I sadly realize my word is that of an observer, an outsider, not of someone in relationship with Jesus. The words hang there on the screen – loving, compassionate, kind, humble, they have written. Then one catches my eye – happy. The tears well in my eyes.
One of the prayers that I used to make over a long period in the years easily twenty to thirty years before I began the course was “Say but the word and I shall be healed.” Underlying the prayer was the desperate feeling that I was isolated from God, that I would never find him. Sometimes the prayer would take on an almost taunting tone – you could heal me if you really wanted to. One word is all it would take. One word was in fact all it did take!
In that instant when I saw that word – happy – inscribed there in front of me and, just as I was beginning to think that was the last word I would ever choose because my experience of religion did not seem exactly happy, I was suddenly stopped in my tracks and that spine tingling moment of realization was there – an epiphany if you like – I was back hearing myself saying that prayer....say but one word....and there it was right in front of me – one word – happy. God had found someone to speak it for him and I heard in it love, care, peace, joy, an invitation – and happiness. A deeply humbling moment; a heartfelt prayer was answered. I was learning to listen. You were teaching me.
For some reason a prayer of Janet Erskine Stuart’s began to sound in me. Mother Stuart writes her all-affirming prayer at the end of a long poem inspired by words of Julian of Norwich: His appearing shall be sweet.
I know that when the stress has grown too strong
Thou wilt be there
I know that when the waiting is too long
Thou hearest prayer
I know that through the crash of falling worlds
Thou holdest me
I know that life and death and all are Thine

Sweet is His appearing indeed. Like Julian, Mother Stuart captures the homeliness and courtesy of His presence to us – holding, hearing, being there - in life, in death, in all, forever.
From your student, Jane, in Scotland

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