Yesterday I had the privilege of speaking to an older woman called Audrey who has spent the last twenty years or so tirelessly campaigning against injustice and poverty and working with all the faiths in Birmingham to create a movement of compassion for our world.
I was asking for an official quote about something but when we had finished that bit of business she said: “You know what, Jessica. Take every opportunity while you are young. Don’t get too bogged down.”
For the two and a half years I have been spending time with a good friend who has terminal cancer. As she got closer to death she became clearer and clearer that we had a duty to enjoy ourselves, to make the most of what life offers, to do the things that make us happy. She wrote about this is her wonderful blog.
I wanted to believe it and know in my head that Jesus talked about bringing abundant life, life in its all fullness. But another part of me was stuck in the idea that my enjoyment was not important. There is a 70s chorus that rings around my head which goes something like this:
“J-O-Y, J-O-Y surely this must be, Jesus first and yourself last and others in between.” I think, like many people, that my enjoyment is something to be squeezed in after I have done my duty to God and my neighbour.
But on Saturday I had the chance to spend the day with other deacons listeing to Canon Rosalind Brown talk about the spirituality and the theology of being a Deacon. So much of what she said was enormously helpful but what really stood out was when she said it could be part of the Deacon’s calling to introduce someone to good wine.
I love introducing people to people and I also love introducing people to things – whether it is a brand of skincare, a holiday park, a book, food, a clothes company or wine but I assumed this was completely unrelated to anything as sacred as ministry or my vocation as a deacon.
But it turns out it is not. Thomas Traherne, quoted on Saturday puts in like this:
“You never enjoy the world aright, till the Sea itself floweth in your veins, till you are clothed with the heavens, and crowned with the stars: and perceive yourself to be the sole heir of the whole world, and more than so, because men are in it who are every one sole heirs as well as you. Till you can sing and rejoice and delight in God, as misers do in gold, and Kings in sceptres, you never enjoy the world…
“Yet further, you never enjoy the world aright, till you so love the beauty of enjoying it, that you are covetous and earnest to persuade others to enjoy it. And so perfectly hate the abominable corruption of men in despising it, that you had rather suffer the flames of Hell than willingly be guilty of their error. . . . The world is a mirror of infinite beauty, yet no man sees it. It is a Temple of Majesty, yet no man regards it. It is a region of Light and Peace, did not men disquiet it. It is the Paradise of God. It is more to man since he is fallen than it was before. It is the place of Angels and the Gate of Heaven.”
And so, Rosalind concluded, we need to ensure our spiritual life includes enjoyment of God’s world and perhaps it is part of a diaconal (or any) ministry to help others enjoy it too. We should (as my friend said, we have a duty) to enjoy and model enjoying God’s hospitality and take time to marvel. And we should invite our friends and neighbours to go for a walk, appreciate music and where appropriate share a good glass of wine. Our engagements with the tough bits of life need balancing with restorative engagement. And finally, Rosalind reminded us, we don’t have to do it all alone – we can join with others who are also enjoying God’s hospitality.
So thanks to Audrey, Rosalind, Thomas Traherne and my friend, Libby, I feel the jigsaw is starting to make sense. Perhaps I will take J-O-Y off my mental playlist for a while.