Evensong Fifth Sunday in Ordinary Time (February 8 2015)
Reading: Mark 1: 29-39
That evening, at sundown, they brought to him all who were sick or possessed with demons. And the whole city was gathered around the door. … In the morning, while it was still very dark, he got up and went out to a deserted place, and there he prayed.
Those of us who were here for the Eucharist this morning will realise that in choosing this text for reflection I have returned again to the gospel on which I spoke this morning. A different strand of the gospel set for today, certainly; but an example of what a rich gospel text we have had to engage with and, in this passage we catch a glimmer, an insight, the shadow of a hint about the mystery, the otherness of Jesus.
We are familiar with the distinction between public and private life. For politicians, celebrities and many professions the public persona presented to the world is usually (and necessarily) kept quite separate from the private self that is known only to intimates. The distinction is of course a functional construct: we are who we are.
Tragically a public persona can be misleading; it can be a mask – and we have had some prominent examples of public figures whose benign, even avuncular persona has been the front for a dark and predatory identity. There is nothing wrong with recognising a public persona and a private self, but what we need is a deep inner coherence between them, not dissonance or disjunction.
The gospel passage gives a snapshot of Jesus’ early public ministry and the profound impact of his presence and work in Galilee. One translation of this passage would have it that “the whole city was pressed against the door.” Consider it: all that pressure, all those people, crowded and pressing against the door of the house wanting access to Jesus – even the most extroverted, the most gregarious – would want a little space.
So in contrast to that description of a claustrophobic public life and ministry, Mark offers us the picture of the solitary man, up before dawn, in a deserted spot, at prayer. You could say that this is a glimpse into the reality of who Jesus is; this is a snapshot of the private persona and what keeps integrity and coherence in him. Prayer is what sustains and renews him. Prayer is what holds and drives his ministry.
So for us too: away from others, open to silence and away from distractions, it is prayer that grounds, connects and renews us.
As some may know from my blog, one of my routines is to rise very early and to sit on the deck and just be still. Sometimes the mind is racing or distracted but the aim is to become quiet and still; and to hold that stillness.
I see the band of light in the east over the peninsular; the first leaves on the great copper beech looking near to fall; the calls of bellbird and tui sound before the light; the swoop, flutter and thump of a pigeon in the shrubbery - this is all so simple; so ordinary. Something anyone can do. Dare we claim something so ordinary as this to be prayer?
Stacked on my mantelpiece are the journals of the mystic and contemplative Thomas Merton. In one (Thoughts in Solitude) he writes: “Let me seek, then, the gift of silence, and poverty, and solitude, where everything I touch is turned into prayer: where the sky is my prayer, the birds are my prayer, the wind in the trees is my prayer, for God is all in all.”*
As our Lord shows the way in a deserted place and in solitude, so may our inner and outer world be coherent; may our public and our private worlds be grounded in truth; may everything we touch be turned into prayer.
(*Merton goes further: “In true prayer, although every silent moment remains the same, every moment is a new discovery of a new silence, a new penetration into that eternity in which all things are always new. We know, by fresh discovery, the deep reality that is our concrete existence here and now and in the depth of that reality we receive from the Father light, truth, wisdom and peace. These are the reflection of God in our souls which are made to his image and likeness.”)