Bishop Guli's Blog, Talks and Publications


Bishop Guli's Talk for Launde Abbey's 900th Anniversary Evensong, June 2019

We’ve heard this evening two Bible readings (from the book of Judges and from Luke’s Gospel). At the heart of each is a couple – a man and a woman - who though the wife was barren, were granted the gift of a child. In those days of course, infertility was thought of as a condition that only affected women and being barren had a significant impact on a woman’s place in the community. Women were passed from father to husband where their primary purpose was to produce a male heir. Children gave women status – a place in society without which many will have felt like failures. So it’s fair to assume that these women – Elizabeth from Luke and the woman from Judges who isn’t even given the dignity of a name, will both have prayed for many years for the gift of a child and so these are heart warming stories.

I wonder over the years, how many have come to Launde Abbey to implore God for their deepest desires to be fulfilled? How many hundreds and thousands of prayers have gone up from this place by those crying out to God in their longing for a child, in their prayer of healing for a loved one, in the emptiness of loss that follows grief, in the search for some deeper meaning and purpose to their lives.

And what happens to all these prayers as they float upwards and are gathered into the compassionate heart of God? Not everyone gets what they want, or what they came for. The mystery of prayer is a complex one which we cannot easily explain or understand.  So there will be those who leave here disappointed and confused, who’ll have to continue their journey towards fulfilment; and they do so with our prayers and well wishes. But others, I suggest, whose prayer also seems unanswered discover a sense of peace, the beginnings of a new and unexpected way into the future that they hadn’t foreseen. They may not get what they came for but something within them shifts, giving just enough space for God to set them on a new path altogether, a future that’ll lead to new things from which good will come. As one door appears to close they catch a glimpse of another opening. And this is the challenge for all of us. To see God’s hand laced through all the experiences of our life, sometimes rejoicing with us in the fulfilment of our hearts desires and other times carrying us through the pain and darkness to the promise of a place of unimagined grace and light.

And then there are those whose prayers appear to be answered but perhaps not in ways they may have considered. To think that our two bible stories this evening are simply about answered prayers for the birth of a child would be to miss the main point. For me, there are two things to remember. First, underlying the narrative is that two women are restored to a rightful place within their communities. They are given the worth and value that each and every person deserves and which we now know is available to all through a relationship with Christ, regardless of our circumstances and our status in society. And secondly, I want to suggest that the gift of children is not at its most fundamental level about parental fulfilment but about the unfolding lives of Samson and John.  

Like these two women, children came late in life to me, after many years of anguished prayer and heartache. And when finally my first child was born, I thought initially it was about me and my fulfilment.  To my shame, it took me many years to learn that it wasn’t about me and my plans at all. Not only did my life not pan out as I’d imagined it would after having children. More that, although they have brought me great joy, I’ve come to realise that the children aren’t here primarily for my fulfilment. They’re here to live their own lives, to discover their own purpose, to grow and move and find their being in the God who loves them and desires good things for them. I may have given birth to them, and for good and ill I’ve had a part to play in their evolving stories. But ultimately they must each travel their own journey and follow their own calling, face their ups and downs and pray their own prayers just as Samson and John the Baptist did and just as each one of us is called to do.

Our stories unfold in unexpected ways and, if we are open to it, our prayers lead us along surprising paths. Our lives intertwine with the lives of others and a bigger picture emerges from the threads that are woven together.

My hope is that Launde Abbey will continue to be a container for the prayers of all who come here, those who bring their heart’s desires before God who is compassionate and loving and knows the number of hairs on our head. I hope it will continue being a place of solace and refreshment where people are held and healed. But I hope too that Launde will be a place where those encountering God will be emboldened to embrace the future in sure and certain hope that whatever happens none of us need ever be alone for God will journey with us in surprising and wonderful ways.

 

Launde Abbey 900th Anniversary Celebrations

Choral Evensong with joint choirs of

Leicester and Peterborough Cathedrals

23rd June 2019

Judges 13. 2-7, 24-end

Luke 1. 5-25

 

 




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