New eyes, not new visions

There are some people who say there is no God because they see no evidence for such a being. There are others who think there has to be something – some being, force or entity outside of this dimension of time and space in order to account for the mathematically unimaginable series of chances that atheists say brought everything into existence. But even so, they believe that such an entity is so far removed from us as to be unknowable. And then there are those who sense and see God everywhere. What is it that lets them see and feel what other people don’t? Is it just superstition or is it what the famous French writer Marcel Proust was talking about when he said that it’s not new intellectual concepts we need, it’s new eyes to see what’s already there.

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That ‘gnawing pain’ at the centre of our being

Ever since I watched him being savaged by two reporters in a television interview, while trying to get them to listen to why he was introducing Medicare, I’ve admired Bill Hayden, one of Australia’s iconic Labor leaders and former Governor General. But I always hoped that Bill, a lifelong atheist, who displayed such compassion for people and concern for justice might, himself, encounter Christ, who is the source and inspiration of those things. And now it’s happened. At the age of 85 he was recently baptized in St Mary’s Catholic Church in Ipswich. ‘There’s been a gnawing pain in my heart and soul about what is the meaning of life,’ he said. ‘I can no longer accept that human existence is self-sufficient and isolated…From this day forward, I’m going to vouch for God.’ All I can say is: me too!

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Chasing one’s tail

There’s a story about an old dog was watching a puppy chasing its tail and asked: ‘Why are you chasing your tail?’ The puppy said: ‘I have solved the problem, which no dog has ever before been able to solve. I’ve learned that the best thing for a dog is happiness, and that happiness is in my tail. Therefore, I am chasing it, and when I catch it, I shall have it.’
‘My son,’ said the old dog, ‘I too have considered that problem and have also judged that happiness is in my tail. But I’ve noticed that when I chase it, it just keeps running away from me; but when I go about my business. It follows me wherever I go.’
I think that’s what Jesus meant when he said: ‘Put God first in your life. Don’t worry about missing out, and you’ll find all your everyday human concerns will be met.’

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A lesson from Japan

A friend who grew up in Japan told me that the Japanese prefer to own one thing of beauty rather than many, because if you own one thing you will look at it and truly appreciate it, whereas if you own many things the beauty of each gets lost in the crowd and you appreciate none of them. G. K. Chesterton said: ‘The modern world has had far too little understanding of the art of keeping young. Its notion of progress has been to pile one thing on top of another, without caring if each thing was crushed in turn. People forgot that the human soul can enjoy a thing most when there is time to think about it and be thankful for it. And by crowding things together they lost the sense of surprise; and surprise is the secret of joy.’
So, it’s not how much you have that counts, but how much you appreciate it.

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Never underestimate a grandmother’s prayers

Mikhail Gorbachev, the former Soviet leader who brought an end to the Cold War, was born into a family of committed atheists. But his grandmother had him secretly baptized by a Russian Orthodox priest, and she put an icon of Jesus on the wall in every room in the house. Gorbachev’s father, who was a staunch Communist, countered by putting a picture of Stalin next to each picture of Jesus. But in December 1989, just after the breaking down of the Berlin Wall, Gorbachev went to the Vatican to meet Pope John Paul II. The two met and spoke in the Pope’s private library for seventy minutes. No one knows what they discussed, but what we do know is that what followed was the end of history’s first atheistic state. But I think the seeds of it were in that old grandmother’s faith.

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The power of a dream

Mrs Irwin always remembered that moonlit night when she found her son Jimmy standing at his bedroom window staring at the full moon. She asked him what he was doing, and he told her he was looking at the moon. So, she told him to stop it and to get into bed. Reluctantly he did so, but then said to her: ‘You know one day I’m going to walk on the moon.’ Who could have thought that the boy in whom the dream was planted that night would survive a near fatal motorbike crash, which broke almost every bone in his body, and then, thirty-two years later would become the first person to step on the moon’s surface?

James Irwin is just one more example of the power of a dream or vision that God puts in our heart. And, as the Bible says: ‘Though it linger, wait for it. It will surely come.’

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Quick to listen and slow to speak

I read about a little girl, whose mother saw her holding two apples. She gave the child a big smile, then asked her to give her one of them. Well, the little girl looked at the apples for a while, took a bite from one of them, then took another bite from the other. The mother felt the smile on her face freeze. She tried hard to hide her disappointment. But then, the child handed her one of them and said: ‘Here you are, Mummy, this one is the sweetest.’

It reminds us that no matter who you are, nor how much you think you understand what’s going on, it’s always wise to delay judgment until you given people time to explain themselves. What you initially see, and think may not be the reality. That’s why the Bible says: ‘Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry.’

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Kindness always reproduces itself

Years ago, a poor boy went begging for a meal. But he lost his nerve when a pretty girl opened the door, so he just asked for a glass of water. However, she thought he looked hungry and she gave him a large glass of milk, which he drank gratefully, then asked how much he owed her. She told him that one should never expect to be paid for an act of kindness.

Years later, that young woman succumbed to a rare disease and was eventually referred to Dr. Howard Kelly, one of the few specialists in that field. She recovered but then faced the prospect of how to pay for her treatment – until she opened the doctor’s account and read the words: ‘paid in full with a glass of milk.’

The man who saved her had once been that boy. As Jesus said: ‘give and it shall be given to you.’ Kindness always reproduces itself.

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God isn’t beige

In the academic art world, it used to be thought that Michelangelo portrayed God as subdued, dark and withdrawn. This was because his paintings were full of beiges, dark browns and ochres. But in more recent times, as the restorers got to work on the Sistine Chapel, cleaning away the impurities that over the centuries had impregnated Michelangelo’s frescos, they found that he had actually used the most brilliant colours in his original paintings. But the dirt and soot from centuries of candles burning in the chapel had darkened the colours and what they depicted.

I sometimes think that’s what organized religion has tended to do to God also – made God, who is the source of all love and light, seem dull and forbidding. That’s why we need to remember that Jesus is for us the true expression of the heart of God.

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Running on three cylinders

The first car I bought never seemed to run very well, and I wasn’t mechanically minded enough to recognise there was a problem. I just thought it was the way that old car was and put up with its coughing and spluttering. Then one week I loaned it to my Dad, who got so fed up with its poor performance that he personally paid to get it fixed. And that’s how I came to know the difference between a car that runs on all four cylinders and one that’s only running on three.

It reminds me of many people whose lives run along quite well, physically, mentally and socially – but still sense there’s something missing. And there is, because we are more than just physical, mental and social beings; we are spiritual beings too, created in the image of God to be in touch with God. It’s faith that gets that fourth cylinder working.

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