December 2017

December 2017

I will give you . . . riches stored in secret places
(Isaiah 45.3  NIV)

We thought we knew York well; we'd been there so often. But Simon Jenkins' book, England's Thousand Best Churches, directed us down a little lane, west of the river, to the hidden gem of All Saints Church, North Street. Here we found riches of which we'd been completely unaware; a medieval church with original stained glass, a hammer-beam roof, a roodscreen, and, primarily, an atmosphere of prayer and holiness. Another one is the church of St Magnus the Martyr amongst the soulless blocks of the city of London. Such churches are symbols of God's riches, stored for us in secret places.

     This verse from Isaiah, pledging hidden riches, was written at the end of the exile, a time of homecoming. God assures his people, not just of a new home, but of one which is thrilling beyond all expectation, where treasures are waiting to be discovered.

     In contemplation we can ask God to show us something of the riches he has stored for us. He who created our vast universe, who turned water to wine in lavish profusion, has an infinity of treasure stored up which, if we are patient, he will reveal to us. Who, for example, would have thought of looking for the riches of the Incarnation, Emmanuel, God-with-us, in the back yard of a pub in Bethlehem where animals were stabled? God's wealth concealed in poverty and ordinariness.

     But patience is the key. These treasures are not wide open to the world. They are in secret places, and we need to make time if we are to discover them. A temptation in contemplative prayer is to hurry, to expect too much too quickly. An archaeological dig does not reveal its artefacts as the first sod is turned; a code is not cracked without effort. We need to wait, our minds free, alert and uncluttered, until God shows us His hiding places. Rather like Simeon, who watched and waited for a revelation of the Lord's Messiah.

     Besides waiting, there is remembering. Count your blessings, the saying goes. When we dwell on the riches we have already been granted, and recognize all God has provided for us, we are filled with wonder. We are not worthy, and yet we have received unsearchable riches, pouring forth as light from the sun.

Note. This month's commentary is adapted from the book Within Thy Silence by Martin Tunnicliffe (O-Books 2010). Copies should be available from any bookshop and on the Internet