Letter from the Vicarage - October 2016
BLESSINGS FROM THE VICARAGE
Dear Brothers and Sisters,
As if the Olympics weren’t good enough, I take my hat off to our Paralympians – on occasion the media have called them super-human in their advertisements – and I totally agree. Having previously worked as a staff nurse for over 5 years at Lord Mayor Treloar College for the disabled in Holybourne near Alton, I learnt so much about resilience, stamina, and courage in the face of adversity – and sometimes that was just about the students getting up in the morning having survived the night, let alone being about studying and developing independence in body, mind and spirit… The classes at Treloar’s were all about ‘enabling’: enabling whatever helped that student live, feel alive, and achieve their heart’s desires. I loved looking in on the art classes wherein the students used all manner of materials and were so creative. It was as though they were freed to express something beyond, that came from within – something that was hidden behind their disability that was freed to be.
In A Sunlit Absence, Martin Laird (Order of the Society of Augustine) wrote about the practice of contemplation, but there was something in it that reminded me of the art students at Treloar’s:
"According to ancient theory of art, the practice of sculpting has less to do with fashioning a figure of one’s choosing than with being able to see in the stone the figure waiting to be liberated. The sculptor imposes nothing but only frees what is held captive in stone. The practice of contemplation is something like this. It does not work by means of addition or acquisition, but by release, chiselling away thought-shackled illusions of separation from God. . . . Contemplative practice proceeds by way of the engaged receptivity of release, of prying loose, of letting go of the need to have our life circumstances be a certain way in order for us to live or pray or be deeply happy. . . . With enough of this stone removed, the chiselling becomes a quiet excavation of the present moment. What emerges from the chiselled and richly veined poverty of the present moment? The emerging figure is our life as Christ."
Too often we see the stone and not the freed, emerging person within…
Too often we assume that because people are different in body, mind or spirit, they have nothing creative or amazing to contribute to life and living.
Often our fears of connecting with that person who is different from ‘us’ or ‘me’ (whatever that might mean) are driven by our fears of becoming ill, immobilised or disabled ourselves. And although we resist contemplating this - the questions arise in our heads, "How would we cope? How would we survive?"
One thing I am very grateful for learning from the wonderful students at Treloar’s is that - wait for it – all of us are disabled in some way…and it is a complete fallacy thinking that we are perfect or can achieve perfection. That is not only being trapped in stone but an added ‘millstone’ round our necks of our own making…
By saying all of us are disabled I mean that all of us are stuck in stone in some way, be that worries or anxiety that can sometimes paralyse us; depression; dementia; fears about being a good enough parent; concerns about not being a good enough parent or friend; loneliness or health problems which are isolating; aging and immobility; work pressures; home pressures; relationship pressures – the list goes on and on.
But the good news is that no matter how thick the stone is around us, God knows us and never loses sight of us. God’s aim is always that we are chiselled free by God’s love. And then in God’s love, our emerging figure can then love others…and even help free others.
In so many ways we are all longing to be chiselled free – to find the love that liberates. So it is not really surprising, is it, that Jesus Christ was an artisan? A carpenter, no less…one who used chisels regularly in his apprenticeship and one whose stories in the Bible are all about liberating the captives, releasing those who were in prison – what was his tool in his ministry? LOVE.
Ultimately though, Jesus the Christ – the free One-in-God was nailed to wood himself – he was disabled by those he came to free, who preferred him to simply be a carpenter of wood – rather ironical don’t you think? But LOVE is eternal and infinite in God, and so Jesus was not kept entombed in stone after he died but rose again. My Brothers and Sisters, God’s hopes for us to be loved and free can never be quashed.
Where do we see this most? In the endeavours of the brave and humble, whether Paralympians or students or even ourselves...
Be free in God’s love.
With love and prayers,