Lay Reader's Letter
Life, they say is what happens when you are planning something else! As I sit looking out on my garden everything is white, with several inches of snow. Three weeks after the first snowfall, the novelty is starting to wear off and I trust that by the time you read this Spring will be beginning to show itself in our villages.
The weather caused so much disruption to our neatly planned lives. Many of you will have been unable to get to work, or been housebound because of the snowfall. Some of you may have had your travel plans at Christmas disrupted, unable to fly or travel by train. Our modern society seems to take it for granted that our lives will run smoothly - yet, in reality, life is rarely that easy, and when something out of the ordinary happens we often struggle to cope and ask questions like "Why is it happening to me?" or "Why now?; and we complain "Life isn't fair". Those of you who are experiencing bereavement, or who have lost your job, or who have suffered financial loss or unexpected illness will know what I mean - and don't think the congregation at St Mary's is immune to these events.
But even joyful events can turn your life upside down. Just before Christmas, and quite out of the blue, our son and his girlfriend informed Christine and me that we are to be grandparents and that there would be a wedding in February. Well, words simply cannot express our joy at the news but, suddenly, there is panic in our household as we wonder what to wear and when we will fi nd time to go shopping, especially given how busy the diary is for January. But, even with such wonderful news, we know things could go wrong; childbirth remains one of the most dangerous events for mother and baby, as some of you will be painfully aware. I am reminded of words from Rudyard Kipling's poem "If you can meet with Triumph and Disaster and treat those two impostors just the same".
From the earliest times to the present day people have tried to identify ways of living that might guarantee a happy or successful life and to understand the mystery of, apparently random, life-changing events - even Albert Einstein, unhappy with some random elements of life, was quoted as saying "God does not play dice". Perhaps the ancients were closer to death, and life, than we are today - they certainly gave the subject considerable thought. I fi nd two ancient writings to be helpful; the Tao-te-ching, by an ancient (6th century BC) Chinese wisdom writer Lao-tzu whose teaching is similar to Zen Buddhism, and the book of Ecclesiastes from our Old Testament, written in 300-250BC.
The way of living in accordance with the Tao is 'not grasping', not trying to hold on to what we believe should be rightfully ours: things, people, youth, status, beauty, life itself. We grasp by trying to domesticate reality but grasping, the Tao says, is futile. Indeed, in Buddhism, it is considered to be the primary source of suffering.
Ecclesiastes (a very user friendly read) has a similar message: life is not about pursuing the rewards promised by the path of conventional wisdom but about living simply and in the present. True wisdom means carpe diem, seize the day - don't miss it, don't let life slip by unnoticed. Instead, live life to the full - for all of us life is short. As the author says:
Go, eat your bread with enjoyment, and drink your wine with a merry heart. ... Enjoy life with the wife whom you love. ... Whatever your hand fi nds to do, do it with all your might. ... For time and chance happen to all men.
GORDON GRAY, Reader, St Mary's
- February 2010
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About the Vicar's Letter
The Vicar's Letter has been appearing in the villages Focus magazine since August 2002.
The Rev. Peter Graham also used to publish The Vicar's Letter in the parish magazine of 1964. Please see the Vicar's Letter area for these.