Wednesday 23 September 2020

For thy sake

I've always loved the words of the Metaphysical poet and Anglican clergyman, George Herbert:

Teach me, my God and King,
In all things Thee to see;
And what I do in anything,
To do it as for Thee.

In these strange and maddening days, many have felt themselves totally adrift from their normality, unsure of their purpose and direction. It has been, and is, a disquieting experience, leading some to question what it is they believe. Feeling cut off from the consolation of their religion and needing to be angry with ‘someone’, they have distanced themselves from both the Church and from God. How do we find our way back to a sense of God and find peace again? I do not pretend to have an answer which will satisfy all, but I have found it helpful to consider the sentiments of George Herbert, whose advice is to do everything as if it were for God. It may not seem to us, or indeed be, of any great significance, but I don’t believe that matters. As St. Teresa of Avila once noted: “It is not the magnitude of what we do, but the love with which we do it.” Hence, doing what we do as though we were doing it for the Lord – that is, doing things “for (His) sake” – can bring about a transformation in us.

Back to Herbert again:

A servant with this clause [“For Thy sake”]
Makes drudgery divine:
Who sweeps a room as for Thy laws,
Makes that and the action fine.

It is a small enough thing, insignificant we might say, but it is doing something.

We read in the fifth chapter of St Luke’s Gospel how, after the disciples had spent a long, fruitless night fishing on the Lake of Galilee, they were surprised when Jesus told them to go and try again. Peter famously answers, “Lord, we have laboured all night long and caught nothing. But if you say so, I will do it.” He might well have argued the toss and told the carpenter from Nazareth to keep to making ploughs and yokes and leave the fishing to them. Instead, he chose to act in the obedience of faith and do as he was told, even though it made little or no sense to him. His faith was rewarded.

Jesus had instructed him: “Launch out into the deep and pay out your nets for a catch.” In effect, Peter and his co-workers were acting as they had done every night of their working lives; what made things different was their new sense of vocation: “Because you say so, I will do it.”

When we learnt to swim, there was for some of us, a time when we preferred to stay close to the side of the pool at the shallow end. We can sometimes live life a little like that, unwilling through fear or a lack confidence to “launch out into the deep” – taking our foot off the bottom of the pool and moving away from the safety of the shallows. Someone once said that to discover new countries, we have to be prepared to leave the shore. Talk of launching out anywhere may seem to make little sense right now, especially when it looks as though restrictions on our movements and activities may be about to be imposed again. However, we need to keep moving, mentally and spiritually. Our prayer life need not ever stagnate. When St. Catherine of Siena said, “Every time and every place is a place and time for prayer,” she wasn’t trying to be clever, simply encouraging us to keep going, regardless of our how we might feel about the circumstances in which we find ourselves. Duc in altum: launch out into the deep and do not be afraid.