At the beginning of the month Thomas and Adele and I were walking through Wakefield from Westgate on our way to Linda’s funeral at the Cathedral. One of the first places we passed proclaimed in bold, confident, shiny letters a single word: ‘Truth’. I think it is a rather expensive NightClub.
The owners clearly believe the name will have appeal – will draw people looking for an experience that will take them out of themselves, enlarge their lives, be memorable.
So that got me thinking.
On the day we renew the dedication of our lives in what Michael Casey calls ‘truthful living’, what are we looking for?
Truth? Yes. Truthful living. But what is this that draws us?
Is this a quality, something that can be more or less, a practice in which to excel? With the goal of becoming Olympians of the Spirit? A training in virtue?
Or something that is quite distinct, that radiates attractiveness, beauty, splendour? Like the allure of the nightclub. Something perhaps always just unattainable, but a real treasure to be won?
The central moment in the scriptures when St James and the other apostles hear the word, the moment when the word ‘truth’ is encountered in the middle of the city, comes as Jesus tells them – and us – “I am the Way, the Truth and the Life.”
What grips the lives of the apostles and of so many through the ages even to us in this Church today is not an ideal, shiny and bold,
and it’s not a quality to gain.
It is a ‘relating’ – a ‘being in relationship’. Truthful living is the human living Christ Jesus lives in loving response to His heavenly Father. Demanding, wrong-footing us, incomparably attractive, a relating that – utterly improbably – turned the values of the ancient world upside down. (Perhaps you can tell: I’ve started reading Tom Holland’s Dominion – and he waxes lyrical on the subject: the scandal of the God who is not Caesar, not King Herod, the God who associates with the lowly, the suffering, the crucified criminals. The God who sees and attends to all the layers that comprise human kinship.)
And this is relating which turns lives upside down in our world today, as Abbot Robert reminded us on Festival Day.
I wonder if it isn’t the allure of being in relationship that draws clients into Wakefield’s nightclub ‘Truth’.
Then the next place we saw walking through Wakefield to Linda’s funeral had the name ‘Hogarths’. I think it’s a bar, strap-line: ‘We love all things gin’.
Somehow Hogarth’s picaresque vision of human lives equally has something to do with truth. Earl Squander, Tom Rakewell and the many characters who tumble out of Hogarth’s paintings inhabit a world not unlike that of the parables. They point a moral, but our delight is in the stories they enact and the attentive love with which Hogarth depicts and skewers them.
Hogarth surely invites us, his viewers, drawn in by these colourful exaggerated lives, to find ourselves there too – and our society.
One of his paintings is entitled: ‘The Sleeping Congregation’.
When just before Chapter the monastic taster week was taking place, we talked together about the vocational journey and how we discern the work and call of God’s Spirit in our lives. We didn’t exactly suggest our lives are a Rake’s Progress, but we did recognise that the vocational path doesn’t follow a map. It’s mazy. Perhaps we take wrong turns. Maybe there is no single road. But we agreed that, wherever that takes us, God does not stop relating to us, with the fully loving relating to all things human we know in Christ.
The participants found that helpful. Our lives, so far as we lead them in God, will necessarily be marked by Resurrection – life from death.
‘Truth’ and ‘Hogarths’. They’re next door to one another.
And I found this helpful as we went to Linda’s funeral – Linda who always wanted it told plainly, who didn’t give up on serving others with love.
And so to our patron saint, St James.
If we’re tracing the pathways of lives, why did our Lord call James?
As an apostle, he does not seem to have accomplished much.
Churches founded? Books written? Or letters even?
He was always there, in the Synoptics, with Peter and John, and always seems obtuse. The careful preparation our Lord gave him led to an end at the swing of a sword a few chapters into the Book of Acts– a quick death, and without even a story like St Stephen’s to colour the bare fact.
Perhaps St James can show us that truthful living does not depend on accomplishments – or colour – or depth of understanding.
His life was lived on one note: – Christ called and he followed. “They left everything and followed him”, as St Luke puts it.
And the after-life of St James, Sant Iago, has drawn sufficient crowds into the mazy path of pilgrimage to suggest our Lord knew what he was doing.
And has drawn us too.
Here we are on St James Day, asking to be renewed in our following,
to undertake again in fellowship and with good zeal our truthful living,
gripped by the humanly unsurpassable living Christ Jesus lives in loving response to His heavenly Father.
Pledging that we are able to drink the cup that He drinks.
May he keep us faithful to the apostles’ teaching and fellowship, united in prayer and the breaking of bread, and one in joy and simplicity of heart, in Jesus Christ our Lord.