The Rector

   THE RECTOR

It is widely acknowledged that as we get older we are more likely to take a pessimistic view of the world around us. Each new crisis in the settled order of things is received as a sign that we are in irretrievable decline and must therefore pity younger generations who will bear the brunt of it. Such fears currently focus around the all-consuming issue of Brexit. Commenting on the paralysis in government and the sense of getting ever closer to the precipice it’s not unusual for people to say I’ve never known it this bad.  Perhaps this reveals that selective memory is also a characteristic of ageing. There have been no shortage of crises even in our postwar history, critical moments including Suez, the Cuban Missile Crisis, the industrial strife and near economic collapse of the 1970s culminating in the Winter of Discontent. I was twelve years old at the time but rather than a catastrophe it seemed to me a time of excitement not least because it snowed heavily and lack of fuel gave us an extended Christmas holiday. It wasn’t until three years later and the sinking of HMS Sheffield in the Falklands War that it first dawned on me that external events can be cause for real anxiety.  Even so, I never doubted that all would be well in the end, an attitude that is typical not only of children but of younger people in general. The world as it is, is what  they know. They have no assumed standard against which to evaluate it and therefore it is not nearly so forbidding as it is to those who have learned to manage a particular status quo.

The pessimism of ageing is surely also related to the narrowing horizon of possibility as circumstance and physical limitation impose their restraints on us.  Yet the challenge of Christian faith is to sit contrary to these things and to reverse the general dynamic of life so that even as our bodies weaken and events threaten, we stand as signs of God’s glorious future. A few week ago the panelists on Any Questions were asked to name their New Year resolutions and to say what had become of them. The majority of responses amounted to admissions of failure with regard to Veganuary or Dry January but one of the panel, the director of Christian Aid, said that her New Year resolution was to smile more often and bring a little cheer into the world.  In terms of success and failure it’s not an easy one to evaluate and perhaps it’s all the more valuable for it. Most resolutions eventually fail for lack of will power and inability on our part to change what might be fixed character traits.  Jesus alluded to this when he spoke of a man cured of a demon as being like a house swept clean only to be repossessed by a more terrifying force, so that the last state of that man become worse than the first. (Matthew 12.43-45 ).  Willpower should be cultivated and tested but as a sole foundation for hope and self-esteem it should never be relied upon. But a smile, kind word or good deed, whether or not it is a conscious act of will, can always be seen as a triumph of grace, a blessing to both giver and receiver and an invitation to engage positively with life, in the present and for the future.

February is a month when New Year resolutions often falter, and the determination of New Year New Me is mocked by the powerful recurrence of established behaviours.  But rather than allowing this pattern to diminish our lives and our sense of what is possible in the world we should remember that by the grace of God each of us can be a powerful and effective sign of what is hopeful and good. It’s so easy to underestimate this or be unaware of it altogether yet to be conscious of it is not to be arrogant or boastful, it is rather to praise God who works wonders through frail flesh and blood. Each of us is unique and that means there are as many conduits for grace and hope as there are people called to God’s service.  It’s as well to hold this in mind during the course of a year in which public argument and discourse, fuelled by social media, is likely to become more bitter than ever.  If we become convinced that our view must prevail or else we are all going to hell in a hand cart, then we have fallen victim to that narrowing horizon of possibility that so often comes with ageing. The conviction that I am right, like the New Year’s resolution, is often grounded in a naïve sense of self-reliance.  But to engage with others with grace and courtesy and a little willingness to be vulnerable can be a remarkable opening for the grace of God, spicing our lives with the savour of his glorious future.

Charles Booth


 


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