Soul Talk Advent Series 2019: 'Words to Live a Life by'
Guest blogger: Rosemary Hector
I drifted in and out of consciousness - or was it sleep? Grogginess from painkillers? White
coats came and went. Blue uniforms appeared and disappeared. Nobody had smiled. I was a
case. A puzzle. We had visited Hong Kong some months previously. Had I eaten a shrimp,
perhaps? Been bitten? Behaved irresponsibly? Would I ever return to normal?
There was a shuffle beside me. I turned my head and focused. A friend’s face.
‘Would you like me to pray?’
‘What would you like me to ask for?’
What indeed? A diagnosis? Would that be reasonable?
Knowing what to ask for means knowing what we want.
After many tests, the answer came. I had an ordinary condition that many, many people
have. My entry into this particular, not very exclusive ‘club’ had simply been more rapid
than usual, that’s all. For most people, symptoms develop slowly; mine had been an acute
hospital admission. Medication sorts the problem, but my friend’s question remained.
What do you want?
Once our immediate human needs are met, it is indeed the hardest question to answer.
Shelter, warmth, enough to eat and appropriate things to wear are all human needs. We live
in a society, however, where even these things cannot be taken for granted for all. But if
these needs are met – where do we go from there?
What do you want?
This is a question Jesus asks often of his disciples. What voice do we listen to? A red Ferrari?
A status watch? An expensive holiday? Celebrity, and its' attendant wealth? We suspect
these things might not be good for us. Perhaps not top of God’s list for us. Especially when
there are people around us whose basic needs have not even been met. Some of us are,
however, surprised that our perception of God as a severe spoilsport is also false.
In the UK we are rightly suspicious of the ‘prosperity gospel’ promoted in parts of the USA
that assures us that we are due all good things if only we trust God and claim the answers.
God is not a slot machine, however. We know he operates beyond the values of capitalism,
and beyond our physical limitations and cramped vision. He requires us to love our
neighbour, not pursue health and wealth.
With experience we know that even good things can sometimes have unintended
consequences. As Theresa of Avila noted ‘There are more tears shed over answered prayers
than unanswered prayers.’ Sometimes we want things that have a cost or a consequence
that we had not considered. And we know that, in parallel to the wonders of our world,
from stars to strawberries, terrible things happen. How can we know what to ask for when a
friend has an incurable genetic disease diagnosed? When someone dies too soon? When we
are disappointed by people we trusted? When our country seems to be faltering and
communities fail to thrive? When we see another business go under? When floods ravage
farms? When we see the consequences of poor leadership and bad decisions play out – and
not only in politics?
What do you want?
There are times when we simply cannot work out what we want. It’s too complex, our
problem is too connected to other people’s lives, we cannot know what’s ahead, our vision
is too limited, and our faith too weak. There is a place for simply lifting our hands and asking God to lift us and hold us. And to show us what to ask for.
Rosemary Hector worked in schools in Northern Ireland, Scotland , Birmingham and the West Country for the first part of her career, then worked in healthcare as a project and programme manager. Rosemary lives in Edinburgh with her husband, Alistair and they have three grown up children. She is a published author and her latest poetry book, A Quickening, has recently been published by Muddy Pearl.