Night time Houses
|A sermon preached by Imogen de la Bere at St. Albans-St. Saviour's, on 29 October 2000.||
Sometimes I walk home at night and when I do I amuse myself by looking into people’s houses. On my particular route I can usually see into about one in every three of the front rooms, and it’s a fascinating experience – you see people sitting together companionably, people working, people caught in a moment of conversation. You see pretty drawing rooms with ornaments carefully arranged and chaotic ones with things everywhere, studies crowded with bookshelves, bare elegant rooms. Each room a fascinating snapshot of a differently led life .
I often think it a great pity that people can’t walk past their own house as a stranger does, and see how delightful their interior appears, how a room piled high with papers and books, which might drive its inhabitant wild, can seem like a treasure trove when viewed with a sympathetic eye, how a sparse room with one person quietly at work can seem like an oasis of calm, how a kitchen full of light and conversation can seem a life-giving and glorious.
Of course one must not exaggerate – the room piled with papers maybe dusty and make it difficult for the inhabitant to find anything, the domestic scene may be about to explode into a furious row. It is easy to be sentimental and trivial about a scene only glimpsed. But many people are mildly discontented with what they have. The house is comfortable but you would like a bigger kitchen – yes, we do have a lot of laughs at home, but you wish your son would settle down to a real job – yes, you do try to keep things nice but the children are so untidy – Many people suffer from meaningless discontent. We have a perception of ourselves or our families as falling hopelessly below some ideal – what I have started to call the Nigella Lawson syndrome.
But if we could stand back from ourselves and capture our own life in a moment of time – frozen like a Dutch interior painting – and look at it as a stranger does – see its qualities, and its character – try it some time. It’s fascinating. Go outside at night and look into your house through the window. You will be amazed.
If only we could all stand back from ourselves and see.
Bartimaeus in today’s gospel wanted to see – the story is one about persistence – look how it is told. When he heard it Jesus was coming, he began to shout out! He was embarrassingly loud – the bystanders told him to be quiet, they must have included some important people, because they sternly ordered him to be quiet. But Bartimaeus wasn’t going to give up – this was his big moment. He shouted even more loudly! Son of David have mercy on me.
Jesus didn’t come to him, though, even though he heard the shouting. He stood where he was and made Bartimaeus come to him. Bartimaeus had to make even more effort – but the storyteller tell us - throwing off his coat he sprang up He was a blind beggar and he sprang up… here was the opportunity of a lifetime! – and when Jesus asked what he wanted, he didn’t prevaricate or pretend, he came straight out with it – he wasn’t going to miss his chance. My teacher, let me see again. And when Jesus said to him: ‘your faith has made you well’ but he could as truthfully have said your persistence or your effort .has made you well.
Can you truthfully say that you put that sort of effort into trying to see? How much actual work do you put into looking at yourself? Do you ever look at yourself at all? And if you is it a superficial glance which tells you either that you’re OK or that you’re worthless? Both conclusions are likely to be wrong.
People who glance at themselves and decide they’re all right are mostly likely to be smug and selfish. People who glance at themselves and decide they are worthless are frequently people in need of a great deal of love and building-up. In both cases, serious, effortful self-examination would change the perspective. The smug person would notice that there is room for improvement and the self-disgusted one would see that they had virtues and strengths undreamt.
But seeing yourself more clearly requires real hard work – and is best conducted with the help of others. Friends who love you can be wonderful in this process; people who simply like you, and are clear-sighted can be even better sometimes. It often strikes me as sad that only when couples are in the throes of a divorce do they turn to their friends for analysis or personal support. Why didn’t you talk about this before? I often think to myself when it’s too late to save a relationship. Why not put all that effort into understanding one’s needs and behaviours in the normal course of things - like right now.
There are several methods of looking at yourself – you can attend courses or groups, you can take the plunge and tackle the subject of self with a friend, or you can use a tried and tested technique which predates counsellors and psychiatrists by several hundred years!
You may have heard the term Ignatian spirituality – based on the writings and work of St Ignatius Loyola. Some of you may indeed have completed an Ignatian retreat or used his exercises for years. Some of you may be experts or adepts - I certainly am not! The Ignatian way involves a serious methodical self-examination – called the Examen of Consciousness, which still highly effective. It is simple enough to use every day and rigorous enough to provide an analysis that is both psychologically and spiritually satisfactory.
You can find out a lot more about Ignatian spirituality, the Examen and retreats and Ignatian ways of praying the scriptures from the Jesuits website: www. Jesuit.org. You can even do a retreat on-line!
The Examen, briefly, consists of five steps, and is designed to be performed each day, with the events of the previous day in mind, so if you do it in the morning you examine the day before, in the evening the day about to end.
The first step is to place yourself in the presence of God, however you perceive that, and by whatever means you need.
The second step is to go though the day event by event, recalling each part – remembering all the good things quite concretely, the taste of the first coffee, the crackle of the newspaper, your colleague’s warm greeting – and as you do this you see yourself in each event, who you are, how you behaved, and note your strengths and gifts.
The third step you make yourself aware of the possible activity of grace – of the spirit at work in the events of the day.
The fourth step you look at the events of the day again, looking for opportunities of grace, seeing how you responded or failed to respond to the opportunities grace afforded you..
The fifth step is put, simply to pray words of reconciliation and resolve. Ask for forgiveness and resolve to do some things differently.
Simple, detailed, strenuous and in use for centuries.
Another tool of Ignatian spirituality is a special form of meditation on the stories of the gospel. Again I am not an expert in this, only a beginner. But I offer you this sample exercise, which you can try waiting for the bus, on the train, in the car – anywhere you have a few minutes.
To perform this exercise you imagine yourself as a participant in the story of Bartimaeus. You place yourself there – see the road, the dust, the heat, the smells. I always find Monty Python’s Life of Brian useful here. You hear the cries of the beggars, the braying of donkeys, the buzz of excited conversation. You hear Bartimaeus shouting out, the bystanders hushing him. Then you see Jesus coming. what does he look like? You watch him call Bartimaeus – the beggar leaping up – running to the sound of Jesus’ voice. You see his eyes suddenly open and he leaps for joy – the roar of the crowd, the calm at the centre where Jesus stands.
Then he sees you. he looks at you. He seems to look right into you, into your heart and mind. To read your thoughts, to understand the very core of you….
What does he see? Who are you, stripped naked under the gaze of his love and understanding? He sees you – can you see yourself?