A few mornings ago, I woke up with cramp in my leg and had to quickly get out of bed and do a little dance to get rid of it. I, then, looked at my watch and saw that it was 4.30am – very close to my rising time of 5am – and decided that there was no point in my going back to bed, so I sat on my bed and, after saying “Good morning” to the Lord, my mind began to wander. “4.30am” has a special place in my childhood memory, for it was the time my Father used to get up to go off to work. I remember once, when I was small, waking up about that time and, seeing the light on downstairs, I went down and saw my Dad sitting there, having a cup of tea before he set off for work. He made me a drink as well and afterwards sent me back to bed, while he got ready to pedal his bicycle to work. He was a postman and in those days people wanted their letters delivered before they went to work, so postmen had to begin work at 5.30pm: sorting the mail, prior to taking it out and delivering it. As I sat there thinking about that, I realised that my Dad had done that morning after morning so that I would have a house to live in, food on the table and clothes to wear, and I silently said a “thank you” to him for his love for us. I am sure that on most mornings he would not have been explicitly aware that he was doing it for his family; he was most probably thinking about the weather he would have to cycle through to get to the Post Office – and England is notorious for its rain and cold. Moreover, I am also sure that on most mornings he would much rather have remained tucked up in bed, especially in winter, and only reluctantly got up and set off through the wind and rain, but nevertheless although it was done reluctantly, it was still an act of love – and maybe even more so, precisely because it was a unpleasant duty he took on himself for the love of us, rather than being a pleasure he enjoyed.
My thoughts, then, came back to myself, because I don’t like getting up early either. I usually get up at 5am on weekdays, because, in the Seminary, we begin our morning prayers at 6am and I need a cup of coffee and half an hour of quiet with the Lord before we begin. Often, as my alarm rings, I think how nice it would be just to turn over and go back to sleep and it is sometimes only reluctantly that I get up to pray – but does this make my prayer less worthy? My little meditation on my Dad showed me that my prayer is also an act of love and if, on occasions, it is done reluctantly or distractedly or “yawningly” it does not detract from it being an act of love and maybe even makes it more of an act of love than it would be if it were always a joy.
As I sat there remembering my Dad, I also began to realise that his early mornings reached out and touched for more people than just us, his family. His morning bicycle rides through the wind and the rain enabled me to live and so, in turn, also touched every person whose life I am involved in in some way. There is a ripple effect, an interconnectedness between us, so that even the smallest act of love reaches out far beyond the person to whom it is directed. In science, there is the so-called “butterfly effect theory” that suggests that a hurricane in one part of the world may be caused by a butterfly flapping its wings several weeks before in another part of the world. In the same way, the smallest act of love, the smallest prayer for another, reaches out far beyond itself and can, by God’s grace, bring about wonders beyond our imagining. This, of course, is what we are referring to when we profess that we believe in the Communion of Saints – we are all bound together in one family, by the God who lives in each and all of us.
So, my getting up in the early hours, is not just something between me and my Lord, but also reaches out and touches many others. In my morning offering, I give all my prayers, thoughts and actions to the Lord and I believe that he takes what I do and say and uses it to reach out to someone in need: maybe, helping a sick or lonely person get through the night, or giving a little comfort and support to someone worried about a loved-one, or maybe giving that added bit of strength to a tired and weary person trying to reach their destination. I do know what my actions will do and I do not need to know – I need only to do them for someone and they become small acts of love able to change the world.
Since that morning, a few days ago, I have returned several times, in thought, to wonder at what those cold and wet bicycle rides of my Dad have given rise to. They not only put food on our table, but also enabled me to be sitting here today writing this blog for you – a ripple effect far beyond anything he, or I, could have imagined – as John Donne says, “No man is an island…” I also wonder at such profound thoughts, coming as they did at 4.30 am in the morning – and all brought on by an attack of cramp!
We are coming to the end of the seminary term and next Monday, 27th August, I shall be going home to England for my annual leave. It means that I shall have to steal two weeks from next term because classes will begin before I get back. The obvious time for me to go on leave would be in the long seminary holiday of January – but who wants to go to England in January? Unless, maybe, someone born and bred in Sarawak so as to experience the opposite of weather here!
Last Monday I went to my first Mission station, a town called Mukah. When I first went there in 1971 it was a rather sleepy town at the mouth of the river, but now it is a growing town. I went for the consecration of the new church there, my first time of seeing a consecration since 1981. It is an impressive ceremony, involving anointing with oil and much incensation, including a very large incense burner, placed on the altar, which sends up clouds of smoke – a symbol of the prayers to be said there. I think there were one or two prayers being said on the airplane I arrived on – it was a twin otter, 20 seater and when the wind and rain hits us, as it did on that inward journey, it flies!! And I mean flies!!