On the pilgrim way: ‘My perspective is not necessarily God’s’
Sheila Maxey learns two sharp lessons
I have recently had two sharp lessons. They taught me that my perspective is not necessarily the right one, or God’s.
First, there was E – a feisty old lady (probably my age!) who is very pally with God. When E tells me she talks to God all the time, I often listen in a rather patronising manner. Recently, she complained that God was just not listening to her about her shoulder and back pains. I thought: Surely such pains just need to be accepted at our age, and are not something to bother praying about? E went on to tell me that she had gradually begun to hear God telling her to relax, to trust him more. The pains were now definitely reducing. For all my patronising, I realised she was truly listening to God and that she was reminding me to ‘take everything to God in prayer’.
Next, a misjudgement. I take Communion each month to Ray, who has been more or less bedridden for 15 years. During the Second World War, Ray was in the ambulance corps. He married a German refugee – whom his small, Essex village found it hard to welcome – and was the rock of his village Congregational (later United Reformed) church.
Mostly, Ray watches TV in bed – especially University Challenge – and listens to the music of Radio 3. Every weekend, his daughter drives 60 miles and back to visit him, sometimes with her daughters and grandchildren. Ray’s son, who lives locally, also visits regularly. Ray’s cupboard door has lots of pictures of the little great-grandchildren. When I visit, I am interrogated about my holidays, my means of transport, the people he knows whom I might have seen, and my family. When I read from the Bible, he always wants to know the version. During the Communion service, he joins in with the responses and the Lord’s Prayer, knowing them all off by heart. Now, at 94, Ray has died.
When I had the news that Ray had died, my immediate response was gladness. I thought it meant an end to years of helpless waiting for death, and an end for his daughter to those long weekend drives. But when his daughter phoned me, she was so sad. The family had spent the day before in tears. Those weekend visits were not a chore. They loved him so much, and he was so interested in every detail of their lives, never complaining about his situation. I had quite misjudged Ray’s situation, and failed to see it with God’s eyes – the eyes of love.
The poet, Mary Oliver has also recently died, on 17 January 2019. She, like Ray and E, had such a zest for life. Her poem, ‘When death comes’, contains the lines:
When it’s over, I want to say: All my life/ I was a bride married to amazement. /I was the bridegroom, taking the world into my arms.
Sheila Maxey is Book Reviews Editor for Reform
This article was published in the March 2019 edition of Reform