Plodding on

Sometimes, even the most enlightened ordinand can have an off day…

A bad night’s sleep, a sore throat, a letter from one’s mother declaring there will be no more Christmas presents, an unproductive workday, a strange anonymous-meat-and-vegetable log for lunch, coming out of the study to examine a poorly friend’s vomit, and having her cough in your face…

I abandoned my plan to make a few notes on how Hegel’s ‘Pneumatology’ arguably owed as much to Hindu literature such as the Upanishads, as it does to Christian theology, and how with Hegel it was not so much a matter of Father and Son relating in Spirit (an unbalanced Trinity anyway) as Brahman and Atman relating in Om. Instead I tinkered on the computer, tried to stay awake, and frittered time away with fairly unimportant messages.

But on the plus side, rubbish days like this are a good reminder that it doesn’t work as Hegel would like to imagine… we are not able by effort of meditation to simply move intellectually towards some lovely spiritual awakening whereby we become aware of our ‘oneness’ with the Universe… our desires and persuasions and weaknesses do not, as Hegel would have it, simply provide the dark side of the dialectic which encourages us to strain ever higher towards Truth and Reason… it often seems these are just unhelpful, and hard to work with, like unwanted and uncommunicative but demanding lodgers, who move things around the house of the Mind, using up the gentle Soul’s resources and and costing the Will an enormous effort just to keep the place habitable and functional.

In the same way, it often seems that the Holy Spirit is like a visitor who drops by, and tidies up as she goes… even using the lumbering and unhelpful activities of the uninvited weaknesses and desires to reorder and renovate the house… Sometimes, shooing them out whilst the Soul is hiding gloomily in a corner, and opening the windows to let in some fresh air… the Holy Spirit ministers to us, even (or perhaps particularly) when we feel we are in too much disorder to ask for specific help. It would be easy (it often is), when the plodding day is over, and the inner house seems light, hopeful and peaceful… to imagine that we had not been in difficulty, or that we have ourselves somehow sorted things out by work we had done.

But I know that I do not usually manage to work through: the difficult essay that I can’t get a grip on, or the emotional situation that feels so demanding, or the circumstances that it will take a miracle to change… Instead the essay just suddenly makes sense, and a book I’ve never read falls open at the sentence which will help me go on; the intensity of the emotions is just lifted, and there is suddenly more love to go round, in place of the hurt I felt at first… and those bleak circumstances change – a volunteer appears, some money arrives, a stranger comes and offers just the piece of advice needed.

As William Temple said:

‘When I pray, coincidences happen… When I don’t they don’t’.

Well even when I don’t know what’s good for me… God does, and his Loving Spirit is welcome to run my household any day… I just have to see to it that I don’t side with the grumpy, lumbering lodgers, and shut the Spirit out!


About Jemma

Learning to be both a priest and a human being in the Anglican Church
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