A Night in the Holy Sepulchre Part 3: Afterthoughts
I was sitting waiting for my train at Waterloo Station in London feeling sorry for myself. ‘What, oh What?’ I thought, ‘would all that I experienced in the Holy Sepulchre mean to the vast majority of outsiders, who knew little if anything of the Christian faith?’ I was watching the commuters, the tourists, the retail therapists and the other miscellaneous men and women rushing past me. They were of all ages, of all colours, and of all different shapes and sizes, but they all seemed to have one thing in common: they all seemed to be busy, in a rush, all totally preoccupied. I felt as if I were caught up in a Lowry painting watching, all the people pass to and fro, but these people were not burdened or bent with manual labour, their souls had not been sedated into submission in the ‘dark satanic mills’. They were upright and busy about their own business, they all seemed to be moving with purpose and intent, but what would they make of those thoughts with which God had graced me, as I had prayed before Calvary and in the empty tomb, from which Jesus had risen, only a few months before? What on earth would it mean to them, how could it enrich their lives, even if they stopped long enough to listen. I felt like an outsider, an interloper, who had just landed on platform one from planet Zog. Then, suddenly, a young man of no more than eighteen or nineteen started to walk towards me smiling. I began to get worried when he quickened his step, and opened his arms as he approached. Before I had time to take evasive action, the girl sitting next to me jumped up to be enfolded in his arms. Like a flash of lightning I saw the light, everything made sense that had made no sense before.
The more I thought about it, the more I realized that they would understand. They weren’t soul-less zombies after all. What did each one of them really want, what did they all have in common? Deep, deep down beneath the surface, they all wanted to love and to be loved. They all wanted to have a home, a family, or at least to be part of a loving family, where they could feel safe and secure. They all wanted to have a place that they could call home, where, if possible, all the personal selfishness, the petty jealousies, the small-mindedness, and the pernicious prejudices, in themselves and in others, could be ‘spirited away’. Then nothing would come in the way of the perfect love, the perfect family, the perfect home for which they had always yearned. And, if all their dreams could come true, they would not only want to live in this perfect new world forever, but ideally they would want it to become ever more perfect, ever more enjoyable, ever happier and for this happiness to go on forever. If this could be offered to them, wouldn’t they listen, wouldn’t this be good news, the best news they’d ever heard. Wasn’t it for this that the Holy Spirit had been sent on the first Pentecost day? It was to fill the world with the love to satisfy everyone, to fulfill their deepest desires and most heartfelt longings?
I became broody on the train home at the prospect of giving birth to another book. I wanted to try and translate the essential meaning of the simple spirit-filled spirituality that Jesus had bequeathed to the first Christians after his glorification. I would like to do it, in such a way, that nothing would be lost, as it was made relevant to postmodern secular men and women, so that they could understand and relish it. I began to think, and my mind took me back forty years or more.
I had spent Christmas Day with my friend Peter, his wife, their family of four children, and a foster child, who used to spend some weekends and part of the holidays with them. After the four children had been given their presents, the foster child was given what appeared to be a boring pile of papers. But when he looked at them he dissolved into tears – they were his adoption papers. When he finally wiped away the tears he danced around the room in joy. Henceforth he would never have to go back to the orphanage, in future he could call Peter his Father, even his Dad like the other children – this was the best news he had ever received – ever could receive.
Some of you might have looked at that moving clip on YouTube when a convert from Islam told how, that on reading the Gospels to see what their prophet Jesus had to say about Allah, he discovered something that changed his life. He discovered that Allah was not a distant God, but a tender loving Father, his Father, even his Dad. Abba was the word Jesus had used, and told others to use when speaking to him. It was the word still used by young Arabs today to address their fathers, after all, he’d heard it often enough. The realization moved him to tears, but it cost him dear before his new Dad could help him join the Christian family that he had dreamed about.
Born Christians too often take for granted the world-shaking truth, about why Jesus came, and the news he came to share with us. He is our brother, and we have the same Father, the Dad, who has given us new life, and a temporary home with him in this life ‘til we’re ready for the home he has prepared for us in the next. This home, that he came from, and to which he would return, will one day be our home too. It is here that we will share, to eternity, in the utter peace, joy, and bliss of going out of ourselves through love into endless ecstasy. We will share this experience too, not just with Jesus, but with all those we have loved on earth, but, purified of all the human weaknesses that once prevented us from loving them, as we would have wished. Now, because this loving, and being loved, will draw us up into ecstatic joy that will never end, a great Christian poet made up a new word to explain this experience that had never been conceived before. He was one of the Fathers of the Church and his name was St. Gregory of Nyssa. In order to make up this new word he fitted the two letters ‘Ep’ to the old Greek word for ‘ecstasy’ to form the new word ‘Epecstasy’. This means that the experience of loving and being loved by God, in our final home, will simply go on and on, and on and on to eternity. For the more love we receive, the more fully our capacity to receive even more love expands, and expands, and goes on expanding to all eternity. The solace of the searcher is to go on searching, the reward of the traveler is to go on traveling, for there is no end to the journey into infinite loving. And in this journey we become more and more our true selves from the ruins that we were at the beginning of the journey. Now this is the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth, so help me God-Father, to become worthy of all that you have done for me, in this world and in the next, and this is my sincere prayer for you, too.
Art: Our Town, L. S. Lowry, 1943; Holy Spirit Detail from “Chair of Saint Peter in St. Peter’s Basilica“, 03 05 2008, Sergey Smirnov; Some European pilgrims on the road to Santiago de Compostela, Oula Lehtinen, own photograph, 11.06.2005, CCA-SA; all CCA-SA, Wikimedia Commons.