To get the message
Someone who seemed omnipresent in my younger years is now someone who is largely forgotten but was probably one of the most influential English speaking intellectual evangelists – one Malcolm Muggeridge. Those of a certain age will know who I am talking about.
Muggeridge had done everything it seemed in his long and active life. He lived in Russia under the horrors of Stalin, corresponded with Gandhi, worked for MI6 alongside the Free French in WWII, before writing for the Evening Standard and Daily Telegraph, where he got sacked for criticising the Royal Family.. He finally found his real role on TV in live debates discussing pretty much everything -especially Christianity, although he was frequently made fun of by satirists at the time. He went from being Agnostic to being a Christian in the 1960’s (and becoming a Catholic very late on in his life- influenced by the time he spent with Mother Teresa of Calcutta ) through the writing and talking of several influential books in which he railed against what he saw as the permissive time he was living in – summed by his intense dislike of what he called the culture of “pot and pills”.
I mention Malcolm Muggeridge because he had the most amazing use of the English language and he had that rare ability to be able to say something that is not just elegant but totally profound. My favourite line of his is:
Every happening, great and small, is a parable whereby God speaks to us, and the art of life is to get the message."
One of the reasons I think this quotation speaks to us is because it shows how God communes with his children, not necessarily directly to each and every one of us, but through all the things that happen to you and me. The small ‘coincidences’ that we may often dismiss as being anything more than just that, but it is how God teaches us something through them- if only we had ears to listen. God’s ways of moulding us are infinite and come in different forms.
It can happen to us by simply, apparently at random, getting up to look out of a window and seeing after a downpour a wonderful rainbow, or you put down whatever it is you are doing, and just decide to see or talk to someone and suddenly an overwhelming feeling of love, compassion and empathy for that person comes over you. This is how God teaches us.
The theologian Frederick Buechner must surely have been right when he wrote:
If we only had eyes to see and ears to hear and wits to understand, we would know that the Kingdom of God in the sense of holiness, goodness and beauty is as close as breathing, and is crying out to be born both within ourselves and within the world
Malcolm Muggeridge in his quote also points out that the critical part of understanding God’s message is that the art of life is “to get the message”. If we don’t truly listen, as opposed to just hear, then it is unlikely that “we will get it”. That is when the message truly registers and hits home with us, that we understand the lesson we are being taught and can use that infinite wisdom.
How do we listen then? I think we can start by understanding that our relationship with God is a two way conversation. It shouldn’t just be us asking God to correct the problems or crises we currently have, but we need to listen and discern His word and what is being said to us.
John 10:3-4 teaches us that when we are told:
To him the doorkeeper opens, and the sheep hear his voice, and he calls his own sheep by name and leads them out. And when he brings out his own sheep, he goes before them and the sheep follow him: for they know his voice
A lot of this comes down to a different aspect of faith. The faith that allows you to realise that it is not always down to you to find a solution to whatever it is that you are trying to address and have the belief to trust God to lead and guide you towards the right, just and wise action.
Let us all have eyes to see, ears to hear and wits to understand!