On Wednesday, for the feast of St James, Oswin took us deep into those caves where the Wild Boars were trapped in the darkness without food or drink. He pointed us to Jesus’ question ‘What do you want?’ and remarked on its relation to the question we answer at profession, ‘What do you seek?’ – and we might think back just a few days more to last Sunday when Mary Magdalen heard the question not what, but whom do you seek. In the darkness of the cave we wondered at the hopefulness and the trust of the young Wild Boar who said to the diver who had to return to bring more help, “See you tomorrow!”
Now, all that provides an important prolegomenon to today’s readings and the journey that today’s Eucharist invites us to make. It is extraordinary how something new can still pop out of the text – even from something as familiar as John’s telling of the feeding of the crowd with the loaves and fishes. Perhaps it is just because of this recent heatwave, and our cautionary notices on Festival day about keeping hydrated, but I found myself wondering ‘But what did they have to drink?’ We so quickly and easily relate the feedings miracles with the Eucharist – and most particularly John’s account in Chapter 6, but there is no mention of any drink, – no wine, no water, nothing.
This is also true of that feeding recorded in the second book of the Kings that we heard at Mattins. Here too all the focus is on the food, underlining the Lord’s word, ‘They shall eat and have some left.’ And when we turn to the Ephesians reading, there at the heart of it, we hear the words, ‘That you may be filled with all the fullness of God’ At a stroke, meaning floods in. We don’t need to be preoccupied with some of the detail: were they wholemeal loaves, or unleavened? If there was drink, was Diet Coke on offer? No, because all this is about something much more basic, something much more fundamental. It is a dramatic exploration of our complete dependence on God, – and it is also a wonderful demonstration of God’s total, unfailing generosity. What God gives, in the end, is not bread or fish – or even wine – but Godsself.
Perhaps this gives another layer of meaning to Jesus’ instruction that was highlighted in the Magnificat antiphon: Gather up the fragments, so that nothing may be lost. This is not a kind of middle class anxiety about waste, but rather about giving due recognition and reverence to the gift, because it is an expression of the giver of all; it is an overflowing of God’s very being. In finding ourselves given what we want – food when we are hungry – we are encouraged to acknowledge the only source and giver of life itself: the eyes of all wait upon you, O Lord and you give them their food in due season. And, once again, food here becomes a synonym for life itself.
There was a moving and sad report in yesterday’s paper of an Orca whale whose calf had died. The rest of the pod of whales moved on, impatient while she fussed over the dead infant, but she carried it with her for hours, refusing to give up on the one to whom she had given birth. What the feeding miracle demonstrates, above all in the Johannine version, is the depth of the love and commitment that God has for God’s creation.
Hearing the scriptures in this way is straightforward enough: it’s a bit like reading a variety of descriptions of a place you might visit on holiday – this article draws attention to this, this website highlights something else, and, at some point, you make a reasoned choice either to go or not to go. That is to say, it is we who are in charge. The information comes to us and we process it and choose what we shall make of it. We like to think that we are able to make good and right choices – though that is actually a bit less certain than we sometimes think!
This, you recognise comes close to the discussion of consciousness. Since the beginnings of modern psychology there has been growing interest in trying to understand the relation between the brain and the mind and how to give an account of human consciousness. For some time now, there has been a growing consensus, particularly amongst neuro-psychologists that human consciousness is nothing more nor less than a construct of the brain. Essentially, there is no significant connection between the external world and what my brain makes of it. (There is then, of course, nothing corresponding to a soul or indeed even a mind, except as a way of talking about part of our brain’s activity.) Such a view is both liberating and depressing in equal measure. On the good side, the world is whatever I choose to make it – and choose to make it mean. On the bad side, I am nothing more than a very complicated, highly sophisticated set of chemical and electrical reactions and circuits.
But a more encouraging and hopeful model is beginning to emerge. This suggests that consciousness is indeed a real engagement with everything inside me and outside. This view suggests that experience comes about when my perceiving system (eyes, ears, taste, touch) and the world meet, but the place of the experience is not in me, but rather actually located at the thing perceived. ‘This here and now seems to require us’ says the poet Rilke. This, then, is a picture of an intimate interconnectedness of things – a view much more consonant with the Christian understanding of creation. It also unlocks the imagination and invites us to pursue the kind of hopeful reading of the parable of the feeding of the crowd – to find in the experience evidence of the providential generosity of our God who will go on meeting our needs and giving us life. Renewed in hope we pray today’s Collect with new energy: Open our hearts to the riches of your grace, that we may bring forth the fruit of the Spirit in love and joy and peace….