Last Sunday, I walked from the seminary to the Carmel, not a long walk, to say Mass and as I came to the corner of the block, which houses both the Archbishop’s house and the Carmel, I noticed a sign saying, “Rooms for rent”. I thought mischievously, “It looks like a vocations’ advert!”, but I knew it referred to houses further down the lane. However, it reminded me of something I read some years ago about God knocking at the door of a house looking for a room. The man who answers the knock says that he does have one small room for rent and God asks to see it. The man shows him the room and God says, “Hmm, I like what I see, but I did want more than just one room.” The man answers, “Well, maybe I could let you have two rooms.” “Fine”, answers God, “I’ll take them, I like what I see, but would you consider letting me share the whole house?” The man replies, “Well, I don’t think I am ready, at the moment, to share more than just two rooms.” God answers, “That’s ok; I’ll take the two rooms and wait until you are ready to share the rest. I like what I see!”
We sometimes think of our relationship with God in terms of black and white – we imagine that either we are with God or we are not, but that is not how it works. Our union with God more like a marriage, except that God is more determined to hold on to us than any marriage partner would be. In a good marriage, we can see how the love between the couples grows over the years – but grows slowly, slowly, until at last in old age we can look at such a couple and see how much they have become “one flesh”. Through good times and bad, through quarrels and new beginnings, through hurts and forgiveness they have learnt to fulfil the promises made on their wedding day and truly become one with each other. So it is with us and God!
A few weeks ago, one of my students wrote an essay for me and in it, he wrote, “When we sin, we turn our back on God”. Sometime ago, I would have just accepted that statement, but this time, it caught me and I stopped and looked at it again and thought, “No! That is not how it works!” There may be a few times in our life when something like that happens, but much more often something else is happening. Most of the time when we become aware that we are in sin – is not that we have turned away from God – but that our sin reveals to us that we had never really turned towards him in the first place, we only thought we had. Most of us are very blind to the true state of our relationship with God, but, the Lord has sent the Holy Spirit as our Advocate and when we are ready for it, the Spirit uses our sin to reveal to us that there are still rooms in our house in which we have not yet let God live. Julian of Norwich, one of my favourite spiritual writers, puts it another way – she says, “In our eyes we do not stand, but in God’s eyes we do not fall!” Meaning – that we were never standing in the first place.
This way of looking at our relationship with God makes much more sense to me than imagining that I can fall in and out of love with God several times a day – love is not like that. It grows up slowly, like a tree, but also dies only slowly, even if we should poison it with constant bitter words and actions. When, through sin, we become aware that we do not love God as much as we would want, this does not mean we have turned against him – it shows us that the road before us is still long, but the Lord has promised we will one day get there. The great saints sometimes seemed to be in great pain when they spoke about their sins, but, I think that this was because they were so close to the Lord that every imperfection showed up more clearly, whereas with me, I suspect there are still whole corridors, in my house, which are dark, dusty and unlived in, but when the Spirit leads me, through some action I have done, to see how dark they are – I feel the pain of separation, not because the Lord has gone, but because I realise that I have never yet let him live in that part of my house.
Such thoughts bring me back to Eastertime, which we are now celebrating, and that great hymn of praise, “The Exultet”, in which the priest or deacon sings: “O happy fault, O truly necessary sin of Adam that brought us to great a Redeemer!” I cannot bring light into those dark places in my heart, but I can open the door to the Light, by owning their darkness. When I become aware that I am a sinner, I try not to look away and hide my head in shame, but I try to look straight at the Lord – and say: “This is me, Lord! I did that, because that is what I am like. But – you are the One I want, you are the Friend I want beside him, you are the One I choose, even though in my weakness I can do nothing to bring you here.” And Scripture assures me that if I do this and, in my weakness and brokenness, lift up my arms to him, he will not turn away from me, for that is the faith that opens the door of my house to the Lord of Life.
It is some time since I have written anything in my blog. I have been experiencing a dry period, a long winter during which I have had no inspiration or desire to write anything. I think it has been closely connected with the sickness and death of my sister-in-law, Mary, with whom I have been close since my brother died, first to comfort her in her loss and then to accompany her as she became sick herself until she finally died just over a month ago. I used to send her an sms each morning when I woke up, for that was the time she was going to sleep, and I would wish her peaceful dreams. The mornings now seem a little empty, but I notice that my winter is slowly giving way to spring, and small flowers of inspiration are beginning to grow again.
We have finished the first term of the seminary – almost – and in ten days I shall be going to Bali to lead the retreat I give each year. I have 33 people from Sarawak and Sabah coming with me this year, so please pray for us.
About six months ago, I slipped in the bathroom and sprained my shoulder and it hurts when I do things like towelling myself after a shower; and it hurts particularly at night, when I lie on my side. I have tried all sorts of remedies and some seem to help, but then it gets worse again. One of the problems is that I do things that aggravate it – like grass-cutting, so I have decided to stop that for a while, but then late last night, I was turning into the Cathedral grounds on my way back to the seminary, but the gate was half-closed and we could not go in because so many cars were coming out. So, grumpy me got out of the car and pulled the other side of the gate open, something the other car owners would probably not have dared do, but the gate was much heavier than I thought and I spend the night nursing my aggravated sprain!