‘May you live in interesting times!’ is an old Chinese curse. It doesn’t sound very serious at first thought, but when you are in the thick of things, history being made; times changing; recessions; revolts; rifts and schisms and minor crises thrown in… then you begin to know what a curse it really is.
We live in ‘interesting times’ -with many in Britain having forgotten what true poverty is, we are on the brink of becoming all too well acquainted with it once again. I know of course, that for some it never disappeared, but for others it will be a shock, to have to forgo new clothes in order to eat, or to stay in the same town year after year, never going away on holiday.
Not so much for me: I can thank a frugal father, that I always knew how books must be balanced… and a wily mother, that I knew the morale-boosting importance of an occasional unexpected treat. I know how to cook pleasant (I was going to say ‘delicious’ but some of those pies used to be pretty awful) meals from leftovers; I know how to go shopping with a list and ignore the things we can’t afford. But I also know to make hay while the sun shines so that you can continue to enjoy the memory when rainy days return.
Feast and Fast -it’s an age-old cycle… and it’s one that we would do well to rediscover. The Church’s liturgical year; its cycle of feast days, times of repentance, of lenten fasting and of celebration, which change through the week and throughout the year: have their roots not simply in religious markers, scriptural or apocryphal, but in the lifestyle and economy of human beings. Through the week, food and thanksgiving is simple -on Friday even more so, echoing the pattern of Easter week -and then on Sunday, there is celebration -a little saved through the week and savoured on the day of rest, accompanied by joy and worship.
The weekly pattern is enlivened across the months by other feast days -to be looked forward to, occasions that could be shared, unlike modern private festivals such as birthdays or anniversaries – with the whole local community… again, these ‘Holy Days’ -where we get our word ‘Holiday’… each had their customs, their worship pattern and their lively parties. An individual’s birthday was of minor significance, if marked at all -but in contrast, the community kept feast days together.
The Church of England today, whilst holding onto a variety of locally variable celebrations -has really only kept Easter and Christmas as nationally recognisable events… Despite being a lifelong churchgoer, I did not realise the sigificance of many other events in the liturgical year, though they follow, largely, the Gospel story…
Pentecost, when the Church marks God’s gift of the Holy Spirit, poured out on the disciples at Jerusalem is perhaps my favourite Church celebration -because it is a very important one… effectively the birth of the Church. And it has not been taken over by consumerism… I think it would be a pretty bold and foolish ad-man who decided that we should attempt to purchase and send one another ‘gifts of the Holy Spirit’ at Pentecost… though history may prove me wrong before the end of the ages.
…So, we are living in interesting times. Upheaval and disorder can be very creative, it can be exciting to be a participant in history… but it certainly feels a little like being at sea… a little nerve-wracking trying to stay on watch… it makes me often think how ideal Jesus’ choice of fishermen, as his first disciples, was. Not for nothing is ‘fisherman’ counted as one of the most dangerous jobs on earth, even today. And yet, although we as priests are being called to follow Jesus as disciples, we still try so often, to live a ‘quiet life’. I don’t mean avoiding unnecessary trouble, which is sensible and peaceful -I mean, avoiding even necessary trouble and difficulty.
I have a feeling that these interesting times will be particularly interesting times for Christian discipleship… and I hope that God’s plans for me and for those I know, will not be so interesting that we get distracted from the task of worshipping and following Christ.