A number of years ago I went to a teacher’s In-service meeting. One of the activities was to highlight reading problems from the perspective of the student. The lecturer handed out a passage to everyone – much like we would hand out a worksheet or a book, and then asked certain people in the room to read – much like we would. One of the “volunteered” said that she had left her glasses at home and couldn’t read it. The lecturer’s eyes lit up with delight. It turned out that he had given her a copy of the passage typed out in Greek and rather than make a stumbled effort to plough her way through it, she had thought up some excuse. For those of us who had the English version – it had been no problem. To some pupils in school – the passage might as well be in Greek for all that they can read it, or understand it.
Last night Joe and I were invited to a Gaelic mass! Roman Catholic mass I can probably remember from my childhood days. I know that for some people the idea of a written liturgy is stifling, but for me there is a certain comfort in the words – I affirm my faith as I listen to the words of the priest and speak my responses.
Having a Gaelic order of service handed to me – was like being given the Greek passage at the In-service day! Even trying to follow my phonetically stumbling over the words doesn’t work either because the letter that are written and how you think they might sound as a word don’t always match up. So I just remained silent throughout. Can you imagine how frustrating that can be?
I contented myself with looking around and trying to match my Roman Catholic memories with my current surroundings. They didn’t match!
St Mary’s Church is beautiful inside. I think it is the simplicity which makes it so beautiful. I cut my spiritual teeth as it were in a small chapel in a village two miles from where I lived. It was a wooden hut – you don’t get more simple than that. The two proper churches I remember were one in Rugby where I took my first communion. The place was very grand, quite gloomy, with a distinct smell of incense and crammed with statues posted at every pillar. The other one was in Northampton next to a convent we were “visiting” while my mum was in hospital. That was even more imposing. It was ditto to the nth degree.
The walls of St Mary’s are white and the ceiling is blue. There are windows down each side of the aisle – some of them are stained glass but most are just plain frosted glass. The window opposite where I was sitting was of Jesus carrying a sheep with the words “I came to serve” written beneath. I was reminded that Jesus has given me the same commission – to serve, to follow in his footsteps. I am not here to build my own house, or have my own troubles sorted out – but to serve others.
Another window – when the meeting was over and we had a chance to meander – was just awesome. I could have stood beneath it just gazing upwards! It was Jesus walking on water reaching down to grasp Peter’s hand. Peter’s head was above the water, the rest of him was underneath with the fishes! There was a rainbow in the sky stretched between the clouds. It was a really beautiful window. How often have I felt like Peter? He was not just ankle deep in water but his head about to disappear beneath the waves – about to be overwhelmed. Sometimes I feel like that. Sometimes I feel that I shouldn’t feel that way and I hear in my ears “You of little faith.” Sometimes I feel that I shouldn’t share with others that I feel that way because I am expected to be a pillar in the church. I am sure that no one would actually deny me my moment of weakness. My church body would gather round to support and pray for me if they knew I was feeling that way. But it is what I do that counts – so calling out to Jesus – “Lord, save me!” – and he does.
I have been thinking a lot about remembering our weaknesses. Talking in a meeting a number of weeks ago with some of the teachers in the church I broached the idea of confessing weaknesses. We seem to encourage one another to confess strengths and build one another up that way. We speak of victories and positive testimonies – which I am not denying that we need to do. I don’t think we treat our weaknesses in the same way. Maybe it is a matter of pride that we don’t tell people about them – bit it all leaves an impression that we are strong and that we don’t have our crushing doubts and uncertainties. I am not sure that I am looking for rallying prayer support at those moment either. I want to be accepted with all my bumps and bruises. Do I want to wallow in my sorrow? No. I don’t want to wallow – but to rush away from weaknesses, and cast off suffering as quickly as we are inclined to do – I am not convinced that is beneficial either.
I guess the window has made me think. In my mind Peter may sink in the water – but never to the point where his head is about to disappear beneath the waves. To have him gulping almost a last breath before he cried for help – I never pictured that kind of desperation. To have Jesus leaving it until that last breath to pull him out – I never pictured that kind of heartlessness, if that is the right word. Because I know the end of the story I think “He was never really in any real danger.” That’s not what his face on the stained glass window showed!
Is it a mind-set of Christians that they think they will never be in any real danger simply because they are Christians?