Still Life No. 4

My “Still Life” book has several quotations and snippets for this week.

  • There was once in man a true happiness, of which there now remains to him only an empty trace which he vainly tries to fill out of his environment. He seeks from things absent the help he cannot obtain from things present. Yet all these efforts are inadequate, because the infinite abyss can only be filled by an infinite and immutable object, that is, by God himself (Blaise Pascal)

I’m not sure I fully grasp the sense of this – but I think it is saying that humankind has lost its ability to be satisfied with simple things, and that we have lost too an understanding of the spiritual world. We try to fill this “gap” with more and more stuff, but in fact it is only God who can fulfill our needs.

Which, to be honest, is what is preached in churches the world over. And it is what I believe. But even in believing it, I recognise that, often, I still try to fill my “God shaped hole” with things that aren’t God shaped at all. It reminds me of when I was teaching Reception aged children, and they would play with puzzles like this:

Even though I could see that the star shaped piece wasn’t going to fit in the square shaped hole, the child would keep trying to ram it into place! So many of us are like that: we try to ram stuff – be it the latest technological gadget, or the latest New Age fandango, or family, or “the perfect partner”, or our own selfish desires – into the God shaped hole, in order to make ourselves feel better. And, of course, these things don’t fit. But, if we let go of these things, and be still, and stop trying so hard to find the right piece, I am sure that God will lead us to finding what we need to fit perfectly into that empty space of longing…

  • For solitude sometimes is best society/And short retirement urges sweet return (John Milton)

Two quotations that I have written obviously caught my eye, and caused me to stop and think. One written in 1999:

  • (Jesus) did tell us to live and work in such a way that when the Holy Spirit orchestrates opportunities to speak about God, we will have earned the right to do so… (Bill Hybels)

This is something that is often on my mind: I am so manky and irritable sometimes that I do not reflect Jesus’ love in any way. I am no advert for the Christian faith, and if I did preach it “Jesus makes you happy!” I’m sure I could be laughed out of town. Jesus may have told me to live and work in such a way…but I’m afraid I’m still struggling to do that.

Then, in 2003, linked to Psalm 51

  • The Holy Spirit is our advocate against the rationalism of desire

The Psalm itself reads:

Have mercy on me, O God,
according to your unfailing love;
according to your great compassion
blot out my transgressions.
Wash away all my iniquity
and cleanse me from my sin.

For I know my transgressions,
and my sin is always before me.
Against you, you only, have I sinned
and done what is evil in your sight;
so you are right in your verdict
and justified when you judge.
Surely I was sinful at birth,
sinful from the time my mother conceived me.
 Yet you desired faithfulness even in the womb;
you taught me wisdom in that secret place.

Cleanse me with hyssop, and I will be clean;
wash me, and I will be whiter than snow.
Let me hear joy and gladness;
let the bones you have crushed rejoice.
Hide your face from my sins
and blot out all my iniquity.

Create in me a pure heart, O God,
and renew a steadfast spirit within me.
Do not cast me from your presence
or take your Holy Spirit from me.
Restore to me the joy of your salvation
and grant me a willing spirit, to sustain me.

Then I will teach transgressors your ways,
so that sinners will turn back to you.
Deliver me from the guilt of bloodshed, O God,
you who are God my Savior,
and my tongue will sing of your righteousness.

Open my lips, Lord,
and my mouth will declare your praise.
You do not delight in sacrifice, or I would bring it;
you do not take pleasure in burnt offerings.
My sacrifice, O God, isa broken spirit;
a broken and contrite heart
you, God, will not despise.

 May it please you to prosper Zion,
to build up the walls of Jerusalem.
Then you will delight in the sacrifices of the righteous,
in burnt offerings offered whole;
then bulls will be offered on your altar.

As I read this, and think about what I wrote at the beginning, I think I am back to where I started – by pure chance!

When we truly come before God, confessing our desires and our perceived need for “stuff”, the Holy Sprit helps us to see that these things are not necessary for life, or for joy or for contentment. I think, so often, we justify our need for “stuff” – it will make me feel better, everyone else has one, I need it for whatever reason – We rationalise it. We make it “normal” to want these things, so that we can’t see that they block our view of the eternal, important things. Yes, for a short time, we love our new gadget, or the new dress, or we feel fulfilled by the new lover, or whatever it is…but if we  allow the Holy Spirit to unblock our view of eternity  and to teach us, we learn that, lovely as these things are, they are not what we need . What we need is God.

We shall not cease from exploration, and the end of all our exploring will be to arrive where we started and know the place for the first time. (T.S.Eliot)

One Response to “Still Life No. 4”

  1. Ian Says:

    One of my favourite Psalms, and a wonderfully relevant and challenging post for me as one who also tries ‘to fill my “God shaped hole” with things that aren’t God shaped at all.’ and who can be rather irritable at times. Having scene my nieces struggle with those different-shaped puzzles I can identify with the image.

    Thank you for your wise and considered thoughts, and the challenges they raise for me.