Recently, I came upon an episode of ‘Keeping Up Appearances’. For those unfamiliar with this early 90s TV series, the central character is a woman named Hyacinth Bucket (pronounced ‘Bouquet’). Each episode focuses on Hyacinth’s attempts to promote an image of herself as a woman of high social standing – and there is an exhausting array of efforts employed to achieve this goal!
I recall all those years ago finding the whole premise hilariously funny. But seeing it now, I just found it terribly sad. My heart ached for Hyacinth as those around her hid from her, or rolled their eyes at her or complained about her. This time I saw a fragile person trying desperately to be something that she was not. Something in the passing of the years has affected the eyes of my heart.
Our life experiences offer many gifts to our hearts, I suspect. Great joy can cultivate a generous heart. Deep suffering can nurture a compassionate heart. The surprise of life can invite a resilient heart. And sometimes our experience may leave our hearts heavy and restless.
I was reminded of this when I saw my first blossom the other day. From a twist of what looked like dried branches, this one small blossom had burst forth. And I was surprised by my surprise! Somehow the winter spirit had captured me and I had almost forgotten that this is the nature of seasons. Seasons come and go – usually with some lessons learned during the process. The challenge is developing the capacity to move with the seasons, I suspect. I realised I was making a home in the winter spirit, forgetting that the slower, darker, colder time was inexorably engaged in the work of preparing for all that spring will bring.
Perhaps some of us are feeling as though our missionary hearts are a little wintry at the moment. Paul Theroux, an American novelist, writes that ‘Winter is a season of recovery and preparation’. And there is much for our missionary hearts to recover from. It seems as though hardly a day passes without another story of a church in disgrace. We are a church living with extraordinary internal and external pressure and a church that is carrying much sorrow, hurt and anger. But we cannot allow our missionary hearts to make a home in this wintertime of the church.
Disruption is a term that is being increasingly used by sociologists and analysts to describe what is happening in the world. It is almost as if all our understandings of how the world used to work are being overturned. We may feel this way about the church.
And yet. Our hearts would have been touched, I’m sure, by the stories of suffering and loss as a result of the recent bushfires in Greece and California. Or by the stories of heroism that emerged from the Thai cave rescue. Perhaps some of us were up early on Saturday to see the wonder of the moon eclipse. The human capacity for empathy, awe and wonder has not really changed. And when we enter into the texts of the ancient peoples we realise that the universal questions about life remain. We connect with all peoples as we join our search with the eternal search for meaning in life. Why do people suffer? Why is there sadness and joy? Why don’t things always work out?
In a world-view that is shaped by the Catholic Tradition, we know that not only is God constant in the midst of this age of disruption but that God continues to be revealed to us. God is with us in our sufferings, and in the ‘take our breath away’ moments. And we have confidence in this because Jesus suffered, loved and brought life where there was none.
Over these next Sundays, the Lectionary cycle invites us into a sustained reading of Chapter 6 from John’s gospel. We will be powerfully reminded that Jesus is the bread of life. Jesus is the one who sustains, who satisfies, who continually invites us to look beyond ourselves and who calls forth from us generosity and hope.
So let us not make a home in a wintry missionary heart! Let us open our hearts to this time of change and renewal. Let us join with Simon Peter who commits himself to Jesus’ work because, Lord, 'to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life. We have come to believe and know that you are the Holy One of God.’
(Jn 6: 68-69).
And that is where we can draw strength for these missionary hearts of ours so that we can proclaim with renewed energy the good news that our experience of Jesus brings.