Wednesday, 24 August 2011

St Bartholomew

Good Evening, Lord.

I have just found out that St Bartholomew was flayed and beheaded for telling people about you and I have to say that it's upset me a bit. 

Really - flayed? I mean, the beheading bit is one thing, but flaying?  Sounds completely uncalled for if you ask me, and I speak as someone who has in my time watched plenty of gory films and unflinchingly read the most horrible of horror stories. I hasten to add that in the recent clearing out of my head I have realised that I no longer choose to fill my mind with nasty things, and so a consideration of things gruesome has been consigned to the past. But this is different.

It really happened, and it happened to someone that I have read about in the Bible and it happened because this person preached the Gospel. People didn't like what he said and so they killed him and made it particularly unpleasant for him as well. That's what they did to you, isn't it? And St Peter, who if tradition is to be believed, was crucified upside down - unspeakable things have happened to people who have stood up for you.

How easy it is for me to be a Christian. Here, in a safe place, surrounded by civilised people (I know, that's a whole other discussion) and in a country where my right to believe what I want and say what I want are protected by law. I suppose the ins and outs of that statement could also form the basis of a whole other conversation as well, but it's pedantry to argue that we are not free when you compare our lot to some of our brothers and sisters in other countries who love you just as much or more than I do, and yet if they were to go out in the street and say so they might be arrested or imprisoned or worse.

So do I often take advantage of my cushy number to go out and tell people in the street about you? I think you and I both know the answer to that. I wear a cross round my neck. I go to church on Sundays. I write this blog. I tell my children about you and I try (and quite often fail) to live in a way that shows you to other people but my track record in passing on the Good News is pretty pathetic.

St Bartholomew by Michaelangelo.
Holding his skin. Blimey. 
So Bartholomew met a nasty end because he travelled around preaching your Gospel and showing people the way to you.  When I meet him in Heaven I shall be in awe. I won't have a word to say to someone with such courage. In comparison with such technicolour faith mine is faded and monochrome. Of course, he knew you - he met you and he looked in your face and he heard your voice. That might have been a small advantage, don't you think? You saw him for the first time and knew who he was. You chose him for something special and he did what you asked. Even to his death. Amazing.

People do such wonderful things in your name even today. Of course, that's not to say that people haven't done some pretty awful things in your name as well, but when I hear of stories where someone has died for another in the name of Jesus Christ, in Auschwitz or in the trenches or even in Afghanistan or China I see that your Holy Spirit is still doing his thing just as he did in Peter or Paul or Bartholomew. People through history have done amazing things motivated by the desire to do what you want them to do. Do you ask any less of us now? Any less of those of us who trundle along day to day living a fairly pedestrian Christian life, all wrapped up in our own sorrows and anxieties and triumphs and concerns? Expecting you to answer our prayers about life's comforts or trivialities? And yet you do, such is your love for us.

I don't flatter myself that you have a Great Role for me to play in the history of Christianity. I don't imagine that I am so special that my name would have a particular place in history, except that I am your child and my significance lies entirely in the fact that I am yours and you love me. I know that I am unique and you have a job for me that only I can do. I have no aspirations to be a St Paul or a St Bartholomew and to be honest, the idea frightens the life out of me, but I know that the hairs on my head are numbered and you are proud of me. I know that you have hopes for me. I know that you want me to be all I can be. When I read about your people who knew you and loved you so much that they gave you everything it makes me realise how miserly I am with my energy and my time and every other thing I have. How half hearted. How easily distracted.

I'm sorry that I ask you what it is you want me to do and then qualify my wanting to know with my own restrictions and provisos. I'm sorry that I so often don't hear you because the voice of my own hopes and fears is too loud and drowns you out. I'm trying to learn how to listen to you, Lord. I want to do my individual little job for you and I want to do it well. As long as I don't have to die, or step outside my comfort zone, I mean.

See? I am afraid of what you might ask me to do. I know that you love me and want the best for me - you are for me - so why do I always expect it to hurt?  Why do I assume that the thing you ask me to do will be alien to me and difficult and unpleasant? To the best of my knowledge and understanding I don't think of you as a hard, cruel taskmaster. I can't explain it.

All I can do is give you what I have right now. All I have right now I lay down in front of you. Fearful and anxious and full of reservations but with a little part of my heart that wants to do your will. A little part of my heart that wants to be bigger.  I want to be what you want me to be because I know that I cannot be properly fulfilled any other way. I want to do what you want me to do because anything else is meaningless if it doesn't make you happy. I want my life to have meaning and reason and I want my life to have significance in your eyes. I want to fall in front of you one day and hear you say that I was a good and faithful servant. That I did my best.

That's what I tell my daughters - that if they do their best Mummy and Daddy will be proud of them no matter if they win or lose. If they do their best there is nothing more that I can ask of them. Most of the time I know that I'm not doing my best, Lord, and I'm sorry. I take the line of least resistance and I take the easy route and it's because the hard way scares me. I know that you love me. I know that you won't ask me to do anything that you haven't equipped me for. I'm just a bit of a coward.

Please, take what I have and make it better. Bigger. Braver. More receptive and wiser. More discerning and more intuitive. Take the faith I have and make it bigger.

What's next, Lord God?

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