I'D LIKE TO TEACH THE WORLD TO SING - First Days In Hastings
The day begins with a song that represents the innocence of the music of the early 1970's - I'd Like To Teach The World To Sing by the New Seekers - going round in my mind in a kind and lighthearted spirit which isn't a bad way to start the first day of my new life in Hastings.
The reality of my move from Shankill, from Galway and out of Ireland hasn't really hit me at all because I've kept it at bay in case it might be overwhelming. It also feels temporary because I will travel back to Ireland a few times during the summer to fulfill commitments - a retreat and four weddings.
The move was blessed by the prayers and Bible readings that were the set pieces of yesterday, prayers that I didn't choose but ones that hold a lot of meaning - "Alone with none but thee my God I journey on my way...May your hand be on the man you have chosen...With joy you will draw water from the wells of salvation...Where the Spirit of the Lord is there is freedom...reflecting like mirrors the brightness of the Lord...For it is not ourselves that we are preaching but Christ Jesus as Lord."
Today's liturgy is also appropriate in that it's the feast of St. Richard of Chichester who is a patron of the diocese where I now work. My letter of appointment from the current bishop Richard Moth was waiting when I arrived. Becoming Parish Priest has never mattered to me, it's not something I ever aspired to and I have never seen it as a promotion but, reading the letter of appointment makes me realize that it's more awesome than I ever understood. This is what Shankill has prepared me for!
Celebrating Mass here in this beautiful church of St. Mary Star of the Sea that dates back to 1883, at the moment of consecration something strong - both emotional and spiritual - stirred in me. A realization that this ministry means being united to Jesus in a new way that I have not experienced before. "This is my body..." takes on a deeper meaning.
The last time I was a Parish Priest was in Tanzania at the tender age of 28 and during that period I had a very strong yearning for the contemplative life, a yearning that was expressed for me in the love that Jacob had for Rachel in Genesis 29 - "Jacob kissed Rachel and burst into tears!"
This early outpouring of Jacob's love is deepened in a most unusual way. He offers to work for her father for seven years in order to win her hand in marriage and ends up working another seven years before the marriage takes place. The significant line for me is that for Jacob the years "seemed like a few days because of the greatness of his love for her." We all experience delay in the fulfillment of our desires, including our deepest spiritual desires. My yearning for union with God would take a long, long time to find fulfillment.
The reason I'm talking about this now is that the story of Jacob and Rachel has come back to me a lot over the past few weeks. In the intervening thirty-something years I had largely forgotten it and maybe even had let go of much of my contemplative yearning. But now it has returned and I'm wondering if Hastings represents the time and place of its fulfillment since I will be living quite a solitary life here.
"Let it be done to me according to your Word!" And, when I was looking for a title for my Hastings Blog, the words of Psalm 27 came clearly to mind, "Of You my heart has spoken 'seek His Face'" - it's all part of the same urge! Let it be done!
Already I feel like I'm living in an altered state of consciousness, an alternative state of being, far, far away! In the evening I take a long walk through the old town down the sea front for a couple of miles. The weather is fabulous! Bars and restaurants are overflowing into the narrow streets with shiny, happy people making a lot of joyful noise, while I make a joyful silence moving in the midst of them.
Children play, couples stretch out on the stony beach, small groups gather around little fires, a fairly large crowd lines up for admittance to the Rocky Horror Show on the Pier while multitudes of seagulls swoop and soar and dive for every scrap of discarded food. These birds make an awful mess of the whole town but still I love the sight and shape and sound of them. They remind me of the Jonathan Livingstone living in me.
My first Sunday is the Feast of Corpus Christi - the Body and Blood of Jesus - and it's also my mother's 91st Birthday. I think of her in heaven and I think also of Fr. Seamus Stapleton, my predecessor whose untimely death necessitated my coming here. The marvelously strange ways of the Lord. He has given this kind community and me to each other so that we may be the Body and Blood of Jesus in this place and time.
I'm staying in Seamus' old room where my eye fell on one book among the many - 'The Wounded Prophet' - and within a short space of taking that into my hands my attention was drawn to the BBC drama called 'Broken' about a priest in a run-down parish.
Wounded and broken are realities that seem to follow me and I'm inclined to think that it is my past wounds and brokenness that have equipped me to be a prophetic presence in this place of God's choosing. I'm inclined to think that whatever is wounded or broken in my life is also already transformed by the risen wounds of Jesus.
I'll finish with a prayer of St. Richard of Chichester. The last three lines I thought originated with the musical 'Godspell' but they are much older than that. Richard died in 1253.
Thanks be to Thee, my Lord Jesus Christ
For all the benefits you have given me,
For all the pains and insults you have borne for me.
O most merciful Redeemer, friend and brother,
May I know You more clearly,
Love You more dearly,
Follow You more nearly.