When we are upset, or going through a crisis, even a small crisis of one kind or another, it’s then that we often reflect on life. We might think about the reasons for life, and maybe just what life is all about. We might even think about the existence of God. It is those moments, when we experience emotions that we can’t put a name to, emotions somewhere between happy and sad, neither one thing or the other, that we could begin to see that we are complex beings. And we demand complex answers to things that we, hard as we try, never seem to find.
When we go through a life crisis of one type or other, we are facing a kind of test, although some people might not know it, or see it like that. Some people are unlucky; they have had, or are having, hard lives. Other people are more fortunate; they, like many of us, have had or are having decent lives. And most of us have had one or two crises now and again; it’s the nature of life. When you are caught up in the storm, right in the middle of all the chaos, it’s hard to see anything else or think about anything else. This can affect us deeply. And then, to add to it all, life goes on, and people around us seem sometimes indifferent to our plight, our troubles; and where is God? Where is God indeed.
Looking for answers? I’ve only got more questions. It seems as a race, we are always questioning, always asking questions brazenly and willy-nilly, half expecting the answers to pop out of the air; they never do. The fact that we ask questions proves that we all have a kind of nascent intelligence, regardless of upbringing, education (or lack of), and any other factor that makes us different from the next person. We are different, but we are also similar, all part of the human family. We are similar in that we have similar yearnings; yearnings to understand, yearnings for things to be explained to us, yearnings for something higher than ourselves and yearnings for something bigger than ourselves and possibly yearnings to belong. We yearn, for many intangible things, but never seem to find. It’s like we’re blind, set adrift on a lonely dirt path, that we’ve never been on before, and then we expect to find what we can’t see; no wonder so many people are confused!
There’s something that I have thought about for a long time; we’re never happy with what we are; if we have blue eyes, we want brown. If we are tall, we want to be shorter. If we’re big, we want to be smaller. Whatever it is we are, we want to be something different. I think we should really be grateful that God has made us unique; there’s no one quite like you, or me. Human beings, the most intelligent, the most resourceful, and certainly the most destructive species on the planet, seem to be the least satisfied. You could give someone a gold bar, and they’d complain because it was dusty. There’s no pleasing some people. And, yet, someone else can live a humble life, just making enough to get by, with maybe a little to spare, and they are grateful for it. We’re a cantankerous lot us humans, restless and forever wanting to change things, not happy with what we have, and always ready to moan and complain if things just aren’t right. Well, some of us anyway. What’s the answer? Maybe we’ll find some, if we search hard enough.
When I look at some wealthy people, I wonder whether they are truly happy. It seems to me that the more money people get, the more they seem to want; they never seem satisfied. After your first million or so, when you never have to worry about it again, then it seems that some people just want more and more. Is there a spiritual emptiness to some people’s lives, that they try to fill with material things? I do wonder. And then I look at the wealth that organised Christianity has, like the Vatican and the Church of England. If the Vatican has billions of pounds of wealth, and vast collections of in some cases priceless art works, and to my knowledge has vast land holdings, then what is the purpose of that wealth? Does it serve God? I have visited Rome and seen the relative poverty of some of the people living there; can’t the Vatican help to find people work in Italy and in countries around Italy, and help young people to get work, and help make people’s lives easier with all that wealth? And likewise with the Church of England; doesn’t it have enough wealth to help, really help, people get work and be trained and help people get educated? I may be being too harsh here, for these organisations may indeed be doing just that, but I think they need to be more transparent about what they are doing with all that wealth. Money seems to get in the way of everything, especially friendship, love and concern for fellow humans.
Isn’t it funny how age creeps up on us; no sooner we are teenagers, then somehow we’re adults, and then somehow we’re middle aged. And we don’t know how it happened. When we’re young, we want to be older and what we think is more sophisticated. When we’re old, we might pine for the days of our youth, and perhaps wish we could undo all the stupid things we did or said in our salad days. When we might find a moment, a rare moment, where we are just satisfied, just glad to be alive regardless of all the problems, misgivings and worries we might have, it's then we might reflect on the peace that so deftly evades us most of the time. Peace; isn’t that what it’s all about? Even in the Old Testament, with its genocide, fratricidal wars, envy, rape, warfare, rage, jealousy, disobedience to God, general bloodletting and so on, reading between the lines I get the feeling that God wanted His people to have peace; peace to sit under their own vine and fig tree. Anyone without peace in their lives may quickly realise that peace, far down on most people’s lists, is actually like an oasis in a desert. It is God’s peace that I think most Christians are seeking. And it might be peace that people are seeking when they drink too much, or abuse drugs, or seek vast wealth. But real peace has nothing much to do with any of these things; where will we get us some peace? Is there such thing as peace, perfect peace? Instead of searching for real peace, we make troubles for ourselves, and heap misery upon misery. And, then, we wonder why we are so miserable!
If we are seeking peace, genuine peace, in our lives, where do we begin? And, as well as seeking peace, perhaps we are seeking other things too, like maybe a job or a better job, to get ourselves educated, to save to start a business, to become a better photographer or writer or painter or guitarist or musician, or whatever it is we want to do; it’s all within our grasp to be honest. So, peace; where will we find peace, and its brother, contentment? I have learned quite simply throughout my life that God is the only source of real peace and real contentment. It isn’t about being the richest, or the best, or the toughest, or the most beautiful or handsome, it goes beyond these things; it isn’t also about accepting mediocrity in our lives, or somehow accepting poverty and limited horizons either; it’s harder to define than this. Some people could be content living in a tin shack with rainwater to wash in and a banana tree to eat dinner from. But that for me isn’t really godly contentment either. It isn’t about a lack of material things any more than it is about having lots of material things and wealth and so on. It goes beyond this too. So, just what is contentment then? I think contentment begins with being grateful to God for any good things we take in our lives for granted, and just simply being glad for those good things, whatever they might be. And peace? Well, for me, peace is at its simplest really a spiritual condition, not necessarily the absence of troubles which we all have now and again, but a condition where we learn to fully put our faith solely in God, whatever happens and whatever the circumstances we might find ourselves in. It is possible to have peace in the centre of the storm.
I was reflecting on life again, and I was thinking how that in life, relatively few people become world famous or even moderately famous, relatively few people become super-wealthy or famous like Jimi Hendrix or Winston Churchill or Barack Obama; and I thought honestly ‘does it really matter?’ How many people have lived anonymous lives? Most people that have ever lived in fact. I sometimes go for short breaks to Llandudno, a small but pretty coastal town in North Wales, and there is a mountain there called the Great Orme. On the Great Orme, there is a church called St Tudno’s. Apparently it goes back centuries and centuries but I don’t know how old the present church there is. There are two specific gravestones I noted when I was there. Both are children, called Sarah and William, of Robert Williams, who was a mariner. They died at the end of the 18th century. I always think just what sort of lives they led, what they ate, what they believed, what if any dreams they had, why they died at such a young age. Were they loved and cherished? Who can say? They’ve lain there all those years, long forgotten by most people, with all the history that has passed since they died. Their whole lives, short lives at that, marked by two carved slabs of slate. Then I thought that this was the fate of most of humanity; certainly in the past, not even the dim and distant past, people’s lives were generally hard, people often didn’t have enough to eat, or proper clothes, or medicines, or access to help and advice. How far we’ve come, and how fortunate for some of us to live lives far removed from those times. So, in the great scheme of things, we should be grateful to God for whatever good things we have, and perhaps reflect on two children from long ago who perhaps didn’t.
If God is the Father, then I was one of His wayward sons; one of the many no doubt. I had to learn what it was like without Him, to really understand what it was like with Him, and to understand what I was missing. I was the prodigal son and, eventually, I returned to my Father, my heavenly Father. But I had to learn the hard way just what being estranged from God means. It seems as a species, we always make things hard for ourselves unnecessarily, and we make what is essentially simple, a relationship with God, into something complicated. I think religion is one thing, and Christianity is something else. I sometimes think that some people who fervently espouse Christianity, are actually being only too religious, and instead of waiting on God, and truly being inspired from God, run ahead of themselves making all sorts of statements and living in ways that are not from God at all. I think we have all done this; but we must learn to live as God would have us live; it’s that simple, and that difficult.