The blessings and curses of name calling

 

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What shall we call her? How does she want to be known?

“To all God’s beloved, who are called to be saints.” Romans 1:7

In the wake of the London stabbings a Yemeni Muslim, Tam, living in London posted on her blog:

I moved to England in 2000 and I had a few months of peace and a promise of a new life in a civilised country where people were nice then boom, 9/11 happened.  We became the most hated people alive real quick that year. And by we, I mean muslims. Sure, nothing major happened to me, but the comments were there, the minor physical attacks were there. I was always on edge. Always looking behind my back. I westernised myself as much as possible not even to fit in, but to become invisible. I did not want to become anyone’s target. I refused to wear the hijab for the longest time for this very reason. From America to Paris and everywhere in between, the world fell apart in terms of these horrific attacks in the name of Islam. We became that neighbour everyone bitched about and ganged up on.

Having just finished watching a video of Police instructing people in a bar to get down for their own safety, my ever so alert ears picked up the dulcet tones of a not so gentle man saying, “fucking muslim cunts.” And honestly my heart bled.

She said her heart bleeds when she hears such things because that is what she hears herself being called.

What we are called matters. And what we call others matters.

The names we are given show us our parents’ pride and joy. Why did they give us the names they gave us? What was the meaning they wanted to convey to us? Why did we choose certain names for our children, or our pets? What was the meaning we wanted to convey? What were the terms of endearment? How did we want our children to think of themselves when we so named them?

I’ve been called many things. Apparently the midwife who delivered me referred to me as “the philosopher” – based on my first reactions to seeing the light of day. She may have been right, or that recollection by my mother may have shaped me. That first call, that first ID may be the cause of this post. Who knows? We will be inclined to live up to any good name we are given. But we are likely to be brought down or live down to any bad call.

I was delighted to read some praise in my recent work review/appraisal. I was called indefatigable. (Why use two syllables when six would do?) It was actually “indefatigably good humoured”. I don’t expect the person who wrote that remembers using that word, nor do I expect that person to realise the effect that has had on me in my ordinary everyday existence. In those words is loaded appreciation and encouragement. I am grateful for the thought which went into the feedback to my review, for the moments my reviewer has given to thinking “what shall I call him?”.

I also know that it is not strictly true. I know myself. I do get tired, I do get pissed off. And God knows me better than my reviewers. He knows it’s not true. But I do find encouragement in the half-truth and the potential. And I do find a meaningful calling. So if I am called “indefatigably good humoured” that becomes a calling. It is who I must try to be if I am going to live up to my name and calling. I now think, “Fancy being called that. That is something to live up to.” My name might actually improve my humour and that may become a blessing to others.

The names we call one another can be positive strokes. Being called David, being called “indefatigably ….” are positive strokes. We all need those. But some of the names people are called, the names that they are known by, are cruelly demeaning and damaging.

It does matter what we call one another. The names we give to one another, the ways we refer to one another carries meaning. It is important. Not just annually, in such things as reviews, but in the daily, everyday ordinariness of our transactions. We remember the names we are called. They don’t just ring in our ears but in our heart of hearts.

 

We shouldn’t be shy in our name calling. If someone has been good or helpful, we should tell them. If they haven’t been we should try to discern, with the help of those three, Faith, Hope and Love, what they could be. If we are not sure what to call someone we should simply ask them: “What do you want to be called? What do you want to be known as?” We might be in a position to help them become more widely known as just that – and that is about helping people respond to their vocation.

In our prayer we listen for God’s call, to what he wants to make of us. Henri Nouwen spoke about the blessing we can expect to hear in prayer. This is how he heard God’s call: “You are my beloved, on you my favour rests”. He wrote in Life of the Beloved:

 

We are beloved. We are intimately loved long before our parents, teachers, spouses, children and friends loved or wounded us….

Being the Beloved expresses the core truth of our existence.

Listening to that voice with great inner attentiveness, I hear at my center words that say, “I have called you by name, from the very beginning.  You are mine and I am yours. You are my Beloved, on you my favour rests.”

We also listen to what others call us in our day to day dealings with others. We invest a lot in our reputation. We want to hear a blessing in the names people are making for us.

What are the blessings and curses of our name calling?

What shall we call one another?

Eucharistic community – is it the bearing we’re wearing? Sermon notes Trinity 9B

Notes for a sermon for the saints at St Wilfred Grappenhall – August 2nd 2015 (Proper 13B, Ordinary 18B, Trinity 9)

The text: Ephesians 4:1-16

We all have one letter in our hands – it’s a part of a letter with a prison stamp, which seems to be addressed not just to people in one place, Ephesus, but to all places at all times. This fragment is intriguing because of the wonderfully motivating language, but because it touches on the behaviour of saints. It’s a letter to saints about how saints behave. In the letter WE are called saints so it’s a letter about how we behave.

My sermon is playing for time – time for us to dwell on this fragment – time to gather round three hearths within the fragment. Please feel free to wander round this in your own way at any point, but for those who want to stay with me I start with a question that, for some reason kept bugging me while I was reading this letter. The question is, “Why did the guest have to leave the party?” It’s a question posed by the story from Matthew’s gospel (chapter 22).

I’ve got an email here which might remind you of that story. It’s one of those “complaining” emails.

It begins:

“Hi King”, (isn’t it strange how we don’t use “dear” so much in emails? Does it mean that people are now less dear and precious to us in the days of bulk correspondence?) – anyway, the email goes on:

“I feel I have to complain to you about the way you treated me at the party you organised. First of all, thank you for the invitation. I had thought that I would have been invited to one of your earlier parties because of the work I have done in the community. Anyway, I did manage to rearrange my diary so that I could join you in the palace.

“I was shaken when your flunkies grabbed me and escorted me from the party. I can’t see what I did wrong. They said it was because of what I was wearing, but the invitation did say that the dress code was informal, and other people were wearing t-shirts and shorts as well.

“What’s made matters worse is the media coverage. The headlines are awful and everywhere, and the film showing me weeping and gnashing my teeth has gone viral on youtube. You have made me a laughing stock. It has been so damaging, embarrassing and disrespectful. I demand an immediate apology.

“And one more thing. I don’t know who did the seating plan, but I can’t understand why I wasn’t at one of the top tables. You don’t seem to realise who I am.

Yours, humiliated,
Frank Lee Speaking.”

I’ve got the king’s reply:

“May I speak to you frankly? I do this in love.

I felt honoured that you accepted my invitation, and that you made the time to come (many didn’t – which explains why there were so many people there who you’d probably only seen begging at the city gate). It wasn’t the clothes you wore (I rather liked that t-shirt you wore). No, it was the bearing that you were wearing. You were upsetting the party and upstaging the guests. You were resentful, argumentative and arrogant. You had to go.

I am sorry that you felt embarrassed. That was never my intention. I hope you understand.

Love

Rex X”

Welcome to the party.

As Christians we enjoy ourselves. We use the language of party – a eucharistic language. Sunday by Sunday there is eucharist, celebration, wine, good company, gifts, song and a party Spirit. It’s not a party to be missed for the food – the bread that gives life to the world.

The party spirit of the worshipping community is captured by describing it as “Eucharistic community”. I want to share three hearths with you – the three hearths take us to the heart of what a eucharistic community is – what the party is about.

First:

At the heart of our eucharistic community is our “thank yous”. A eucharistic community meeting is full of thank-yous – count the “thanks” in the liturgy, in our prayers, in our scriptures, in our interactions. We are awash with thanksgiving. Thank you, thank you, thank you. The eucharistic community is raised in appreciation and thanksgiving – indeed, that is the very meaning of the word eucharist.

Alice Walker, author of The Color Purple, says that “Thank you” is the best prayer that anyone could say. She says that she gets to say that prayer a lot: “thank you expresses extreme gratitude, humility and understanding.” Is that our prayer?

Ephesians talks of “thank yous”. Here’s how The Message translates another verse (5:4) in the letter: “Though some tongues just love the taste of gossip, those who follow Jesus have better uses for language than that. Don’t talk dirty or sill. That kind of talk doesn’t fit our style. Thanksgiving is our dialect.” Thanksgiving is our dialect.

Positive psychologists are also talking about the importance of gratitude and thankfulness as a transformative and converting behaviour…..

Second:

In the depths of Eucharistic language there is gifting – and that is the basis of our gratitude and thankfulness. It is how “eucharist” is spelled. CHARIS comes in the middle of that word. “Charis” is left when you peel away the “eu” and the “t” from the beginning and end of “eucharist”. “Charis” is the heart of “eucharist”. “Charis” means “gift” and “grace”. We have words that are recognisably derived from CHARIS, for example “charity”, “charism” and “charismatic”.

Someone who wears a charm bracelet wraps gifts around her wrist (– a charm arm) – celebrating charming life, an acknowledgement of being charmed and a vocation to be charming, generous and gracious. Grace is the word that is used in the “thank you” letter addressed to the Ephesians. “Each of us was given grace according to the measure of Christ’s gift.”

I wonder if the wedding guest was told to leave because he had no charm.

According to our reading, there are two groups of people within a Eucharistic community. One group is made up of saints, the other group is made up of apostles (they are advocates), prophets (they speak from the heart of God to the heart of the people), evangelists (they are angels with only have good news to share), pastors (they shepherd) and teachers (guess what they do). Those are charisms that form a ministry team – and you can bet that some people here are part of a team like that – the beginnings of a team of people who are gifted and charmed to help this other group of saints, so that all of us are equipped for ministry until we find the unity that God has in store for us. All of us are charmed and gifted – but some are charmed and gifted to help the rest of us – be saints.

The gifts God gives can only be valued by a Eucharistic community. They are gifts of ministry for the sake of the saints who live for the sake of the world. That’s the party spirit.

Third:

The third hearth of a Eucharistic community is that we are communities in formation.

We are still growing up, with growing pains which show in our joints and the way we join each other. Our relationships are always less than perfect. Outsiders often call us hypocrites because we so often don’t walk the talk.

We often forget that we are still growing, that we have so much to learn, that we are building one another up. We often speak the truth to one another (try to teach one another a lesson) forgetting that the responsibility within the Eucharistic community is to speak the truth in love. That is the party spirit.

I wonder if the wedding guest had to leave because he only spoke the truth, or because he was a know-all, not humble enough to realise that he had so much to learn. Paul said, “we must no longer be children … but speaking the truth in love, must grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ ..”

I wonder if it was something about the guest’s bearing. Was it the bearing he was wearing? I wonder whether it is something about the church’s bearing which, in some quarters, has become branded as toxic. Thanksgiving isn’t always what hits people in the eyes. it’s not always obvious that we see ourselves only as children, only as “growing up”. Nor is it always apparent that we are thankful party people, or that we are always charming and blessing.

Each place needs a community of thanksgiving, a community which is intentionally growing up, and a community which is charming and blessing, so that the ways of the world can be changed, so that so that life can be different, so that those who walk through the valley of the shadow of death may find hope, and may find a welcome at the table where all their hungers are satisfied, so that they may share the bread of life.

(The drawing is by Cerezo Barredo, part of series of illustrations for the Revised Common Lectionary – this one is of the parable of the wedding feast (Matthew 22).

A resolution: notes for a sermon for the 2nd Sunday of Christmas

Notes for a sermon for January 5th 2014 at St Alban’s, OffertonJohn 1:1-18

Note: this is the first time some of the congregation will have seen each other this new year.
Ask about resolutions made? (And broken) Find some out.
And ask for people to pray for each other that they might keep their resolve.

Mine is to “notice more” and to “welcome each day”.

It’s never too late to make a resolution.
We don’t reserve resolutions for New Year’s Eve do we?
Making resolutions is an everyday activity. Each year has its critical moments during which we make resolutions. (And we should be helping each other to keep those resolutions for as long as they need to be kept).

I have been wondering what a congregational resolution might look like.

Many of our resolutions are money oriented aren’t they, like “making ends meet”. I am sure that many of you make such resolutions, and I am sure that many of your PCC resolutions are along those lines. You might also have resolutions in place regarding your GAP goals. And you need to help each other to keep those resolutions.

I am wondering whether we would like to make a fresh resolution in the light of this morning’s gospel. The resolution is “let’s see”. Can I explain?

John’s gospel begins in a way that none of the others do.

John doesn’t introduce the themes of his gospel with reference to the nativity of Jesus. Instead, John sets the scene (no pun) by referring to darkness and light.
His point is that the world and our times are overwhelmed in darkness and that Jesus is the light that shines in that darkness.
The light helps us to see even when we are living through dark times.
That’s how John sets the scene for his gospel.
The darkness is so dark that some can’t even see the darkness.
God causes his light to shine in that darkness. That’s the good news.

Having introduced that theme John then goes on to provide examples of specific instances when the light did shine in the darkness, when people saw and realised, when the penny dropped.

That’s why I suggest that a good resolution for you as a congregation is “LET’S SEE” – and I hope that you will pray for one another that you may keep that resolution and that you may help one another to see.

John’s gospel is littered with invitations to come and see.

He said to two of John the Baptist’s disciples, “Come and see”.
You can almost hear them talking to one another, “shall we?”, “shalln’t we?” finally resolving “yes, let’s see.” (1:39)

Philip found Nathanael and urged him to “come and see”.
“Come and see what we have found”. He had found him about whom Moses and the prophets wrote, Jesus, son of Joseph from Nazareth”. (1:46)

And then there was the woman Jesus met at the well at Samaria. She went to the city and called out “come and see a man who told me everything I have ever done! He cannot be the Messiah, can he?” And they left the city with the resolution to go and see. (4:29)

The disciples that Jesus loves (the beloved disciples), according to John, are the ones who accept the invitation – the ones who come to see him as the light, the resurrection and the life.

Our gospel for this morning mentions “seeing”, or, “not seeing” – because of the darkness.

 The word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have beheld/seen his glory. (1:14)

 No one has ever seen God. It is God the only Son, who is close to the Father’s heart, who has made him known. (1:18)

 No one had seen God. But Jesus has made him known. We can see God in and through Jesus because he is the very image of God – he is the spit of his father. In Jesus we have the opportunity to see God.

Do you fancy making a resolution this morning to go alongside those others you have made in your lives?
Do you want to see?
In dark times in your relationships, in dark times in your work, in dark times in your families, in dark times in your faith, in dark times as a congregation, in dark times in your health, do you want to see?
At times when you feel trapped, do you want to see a way forward?

We try to cover our darkness don’t we?
We make up a face that hides the cracks.
We give the impression that we know where we’re going.
We smile and present a brave face to the world.
We hide our dark thoughts.
We pretend we are all sunshine and light.

But this does not help us to SEE. We hide our darkness by using artificial light.

If we hide our darkness, if we pretend everything is hunky-dory we are not going to see the true light which God causes to shine among us, through Jesus, through his saints and through one another.
(If we think everything is hunky-dory, we see nothing. We are blind fools).
We have to be honest about our dark times and our dark thoughts.

A lady I know, Jan Richardson, has recently lost her husband.
He died after what should have been fairly routine surgery at the beginning of December.
She is an artist who keeps a blog called the Painted Prayerbook.
Most weeks she produces an image to accompany the Sunday readings and writes a blessing which she posts on her blog.

I’m going to read her latest blessing, written for Epiphany, written in the light (or, rather, the darkness) of her husband’s death, and written in the light of herself being blessed through those who shared their darkness “by entering into days of waiting and nights of long vigil.” It begins with the words that reflect that darkness. “This blessing hardly knows what to say …” It is called:

This Brightness That You Bear
A Blessing for My Family

This blessing
hardly knows what to say,
speechless as it is
not simply
from grief
but from the gratitude
that has come with it—

the thankfulness that sits
among the sorrow
and can barely begin
to tell you
what it means
not to be alone.

This blessing
knows the distances
you crossed
in person
in prayer
to enter into
days of waiting,
nights of long vigil.

It knows the paths
you traveled
to be here
in the dark.

Even in the shadows
this blessing
sees more than it can say
and has simply
come to show you
the light
that you have given

not to return it
to you
not to reflect it
back to you
but only to ask you
to open your eyes
and see
the grace of it,
the gift that shinesin this brightness
that you bear.

Let’s see.

Is that a resolution you want to make in the light of John’s gospel and in the light of Jesus?
Is that something you want to help others do?
Is that something you want to resolve to do as a church and congregation?
Is this a blessing you want to bear in your lives for those who share the darkness with us?

Shall we help one another to see? Is that a resolution worth keeping?

The words that wake us – a sermon on Isaiah 50:4

Words that wake us

A sermon preached at Mattins at Chester Cathedral on October 13th 2013.

The Lord God has given me the tongue of a teacher (or, of one who is taught), that I may know how to sustain the weary with a word.

Morning by morning he wakens – wakens my ear to listen as those who are taught. Isaiah 50:4f

What are the words that waken us?

What are the words that weaken us?

To what extent do the words that waken us make us?

To what extent do the words that wake us break us?

 

What are the words that wake us?

I asked some Fb friends, and got loads of replies:

They ranged from the relatively mundane (but still wonderful)

“Do you want a cup of tea?”

to the “This is the day that the Lord has made”

there were those who said that they woke to the sound of silence.

Anna says that it isn’t really words that wake us so much as noises, events, images, light etc. To which jenny replied that it isn’t so much the words, as the tone of voice that wakes us

My friends didn’t think anyone used Rise and Shine any more. A bit old fashioned they thought. Though it strikes me as a good Christian wake up call with its associations with the Lazarus story. Perhaps it’s too upbeat and cheerful when waking from slumber.

The words that wake us have the power to make us or break us. The words pounded through the bedroom door – “you’ve got 10 minutes to get dressed and be on that bus”. What effect do they have on the day and family relationships?

Those who are haunted by fear and those who are anxious about the future have other words that wake them up – not just at the crack of dawn, but repeatedly through the night.

Words spring to mind when we are anxious, excited or depressed.

The words that wake the mother struggling to make ends meet are words of panic. What are the words that wake the child who is being bullied.

Words have power.

Words weigh heavy.They shape the way in which we see ourselves and others. Dismissive put downs can affect us for decades. Careless labeling of others mean that we misjudge others.

Many of the words we pick up from a world that is indifferent or hostile to us are so powerful that we come to believe them.

Be careful how you speak to your children. One day it will be their inner voice . Peggy O’Mara

We have to take care about what we say. Particularly with our first words of the day, or the first words of a conversation. An email reply comes across well with an opening response of “it’s good to hear from you”. Macdonalds aren’t far off the mark when their “servers” bless those they have served with “have a good day” – to which the correct response (probably not often said) is “and also with you”.

Malcolm Guite, a priest-poet, asks the questions in his poem “what if …..” Some lines:

“What if every word we say,
never ends or fades away?

What if not a word is lost,
what if every word we cast
cruel, cunning, cold accurst,
every word we cut and paste
echoes to us from the past,
fares and finds us
first and last
haunts and hunts us down?

What if each polite evasion,
every word of defamation,
insults made by implication,
querulous prevarication,
compromise in convocation,
propaganda for the nation
false or flattering persuasion,
blackmail and manipulation,
simulated desperation
grows to such reverberation
that it shakes our own foundation,
shakes and brings us down?

We must weigh our words carefully. The words that wake us are the words that make us and the words that break us.

The prophet, in our first reading, has the tongue of one who is taught. I suggest that it is not the “tongue of a teacher” as translated in our reading, but the “tongue of one who is taught” … by God – given by God so that he would know how to sustain the weary with a word. (Isaiah 50:4)

The words that wake the prophet are the words that make him. The words that wake him are the words of God.It is because God speaks and the prophet listens that the prophet becomes as one who is taught, as one who can sustain the weary with a word. The prophet says, “Morning by morning he wakens my ear to listen as those who are taught.”

The Bible often refers to the voice of God not being heard. There are various reasons for God’s word not being heard. They include God’s own silence, but also there are times when God’s word is not heard because it is not listened to.

Here we meet with the prophet whose ears woke every morning to the word of God.  We can perhaps feel the intimacy between God and the prophet as the prophet feels the breath of God on his ear as he whispers him awake morning by morning.

What are the words that wake us?

There is no shortage to the words that wake us. Newspaper headlines, breakfast TV, advertising – these are the hidden persuaders who know that the words that wake us are the words that shape us, and they want to shape us to their own ends.

The prophet shows us an alternative. His ears are awakened by the whispered word of God, a word which brings blessing to him and the weary.

There are many people who have this discipline of listening to God before first light. It is a discipline shared by very many faith communities.

But our prayer, whether it be morning or evening, can be full of our own words, with God not being able to get a word in edgeways. We can say our prayers without hearing a word from God.

Hearing the word of God requires discipline and attentiveness.

We can choose the words. The words of God can be words of Jesus, words of the angels, words of scripture inspired by the Holy Spirit, words spoken through the prophets. God has spoken many words. They have been repeated down the ages and brought many to life. They have wakened many morning by morning, and hearing them has signified the end of night and the break of day. We can choose the words and we can let the words choose us.

All the words of God are summed up in the one Word, Jesus. All the words of God can be translated as love. “Love is his word” is how hymnwriter Luke Connaughton puts it. All the words of God are for the weary, the lost, the last and the least. They are timed for the dead of night, the ending of darkness and the first light of day.

If it is true that the words that wake us, make us, then is it true that if we allow the words of God to waken our ears morning by morning, we too will have the tongue of one who is taught?

Do the words by which God wakes us make us a blessing to those around us who are weary and those who are oppressed and abused by words and deeds that break them?

Lazarus Sunday

israel-125year-old-man-laughing
laughter of a 125 year old Israeli.
Source unknown.

Lazarus’s laughter brought a challenge to yesterday’s sermon (April 10th 2011). “Doesn’t God only laugh at the wicked?” was my tight-lipped challenger’s question.

According to the Lazarus’s post-mortem report I had picked up from Eugene O’Neill’s play, Lazarus LAUGHED. Lazarus had replied to his sisters’ question about what life was like after death by saying that God’s laughter resounded round heaven. Lazarus too in his post-mortem life could only laugh. That is how he came out of the tomb, with laughter welling up from his whole being.

I thought. Maybe God does laugh at the wicked (though I think he probably takes them more seriously than that), but I am sure he laughs along with the righteous (sorry, theological correction – those he has made righteous).

Two points intrigued me with the Lazarus’s story.

Firstly – it’s what’s in a name. Lazarus isn’t a name you hear much about – would his nickname be Laz-y (we often shorten names to the first syllable and then add a “y”). If we pronounce it Lazzy, his friends would be members of the Lazzy band. Lazarus means “God helps”. He’s from a village called Bethany. Bethany means “house of affliction”. So the story of “Lazarus in Bethany” is the story of “God helps in the house of affliction”.

Secondly, Lazarus stands for all of us. Laz ‘R’ Us. We can’t establish Lazarus’s cause of death for his post-mortem report from John’s gospel (11:1-45). But we know what causes ours – pick any from poverty, abuse, disease, anger, anxiety. We all get  bound up with these, with deadlines, with expectations of others. They all suck the life from us. When Jesus called “Lazarus, come out” he is calling us out of our bind, so that we can have post-mortem life. (How that phrase “coming out” has gained new liberative meaning in recent decades!) No longer bound by his ego, no longer with death on the horizon, Lazarus stands for all of us.

God helps Lazar/us in the house of affliction to laughter and life. When Lazarus laughs, he laughs with all who enjoy post-mortem life, whose date of death is not some time in the future, but a moment in the past.

I was struck by the beauty of this Lazarus blessing by Jan Richardson from her beautifully Painted Prayerbook.

The secret
of this blessing
is that it is written
on the back
of what binds you.

To read
this blessing,
you must take hold
of the end
of what
confines you,
must begin to tug
at the edge
of what wraps
you round.

It may take long
and long
for its length
to fall away,
for the words
of this blessing
to unwind
in folds
about your feet.

By then
you will no longer
need them.

By then this blessing
will have pressed itself
into your waking flesh,
will have passed
into your bones,
will have traveled
every vein

until it comes to rest
inside the chambers
of your heart
that beats to
the rhythm
of benediction

and the cadence
of release.

>Blessing

>It is easy to believe we are ‘cursed’ – naturally, not supernaturally, I mean.

The media messages pick on our personal, social and institutional points of vulnerability. All these voices leave us with a deep sense of unease.

If we feel cursed ourselves the likelihood is that we will curse others.
However, if we know we are blessed the likelihood is that we will bless others. I know how much I curse others, and I know how much I bless others – and can draw my own conclusion that I haven’t been doing enough listening to the voices that call me blessed. I know I am not alone in finding it hard to accept blessing and to treasure the blessings people give.

Blessing comes from the Latin word “benediction” meaning “speaking well”. Jesus has a warning for us when too many speak well of us (Luke 6:26) that means we might have become too powerful, boastful and corruptible – but all of us need to be affirmed.

Nouwen points out that this is the way to “a sense of well-being and true belonging” and was moved by the blessing given to a 13 year old at his bar-mitzvah by his parents: “Son, whatever will happen to you in your life, whether you will have success or not, become important or not, will be healthy or not, always remember how much your mother and I love you.”

For Nouwen, prayer is about listening to that voice of blessing – to hear with the “ear of faith” the persistent voice of love saying “You are my beloved child – on you my favour rests.”

The blessings are there for us to receive.

“the blessings of the poor who stop us on the road, the blessings of the blossoming trees and fresh flowers that tell us about new life, the blessings of music, painting sculpture, and architecture – all of that – but most of all the blessings that come to us through words of gratitude, encouragement, affection and love. These many blessings do not have to be invented. They are there, surrounding us on all sides. But we have to be present to them and receive them. They don’t force themselves on us. They are gentle reminders of that beautiful, strong, but hidden voice of the one who calls us by name and speaks good things about us.”