by Revd Preb Julian Ould
When I was forty and serving as a priest on the Isles of Scilly, full of beans and life, or so I thought, I collapsed and was rapidly flown off to the mainland. To cut a long story short, I could have died, but two lots of heart surgery brought me through and I am still here to tell the story. The reason for telling you this is not for sympathy (I don’t need it), but because it changed my outlook on life completely. Each morning I wake up and my first thought is, ‘I’m alive!’
The most precious thing that we possess is life. And whilst sometimes we take it for granted and assume that we have years of it – our allotted life span is all too short and we would do well to reflect on the fact that every minute wasted, is a minute lost – and lost for ever.
The French Missionary, Stephen Grellet, from the 18th century is quoted as saying: “I expect to pass through this world but once; any good thing therefore that I can do, or any kindness that I can show to any fellow-creature, let me do it now; let me not defer or neglect it, for I shall not pass this way again.”
A statement that offers a pattern for life, a statement that spoke and speaks of real love and care, God’s love and care, and the wonder that can be reaped from sharing it with others.
So often our world seems cluttered with the desire for money and material possession, and whilst in some respects this can be most rewarding, it does not necessarily bring happiness, and sadly can be the root cause of conflict, violence and unrest. Many a war, past and present, has been fought over the desire for lands or mineral resources or supposed material position and control. And yet none of these things can buy life or happiness.
And none of these things are of any real worth, for their value is only judged by the yardstick that we create. For example, we look upon gold as a valuable commodity. It is actually just shiny, yellow coloured metal, but we have put a value upon it, and in so doing have created a monster, that through the centuries people have fought and died for, and yet it is still just a lump of shiny metal. Even today we have structures like Fort Knox, which is a mighty fortress with guards and complex security systems, and yet looked at logically is a nonsense, for in what way does cosseting a vast deposit of yellow metal help our lives. Yes, I know that it is a reserve that bolsters a monetary system that enables trading and offers a bargaining power, but only because we have decided so! The fact of such a fortress to guard this yellow metal, which means oppose any attempts to take it, is merely perpetuating the nonsense of our ancestors. Life is precious and not to be wasted. Material possessions can help, and be useful, but they are only tools, and are far outstripped by the fact that we live and breathe, and that we are part of a creation that offers so much that can’t be harnessed by a monetary value.
There is a lovely, true story, told about the construction of the Shinto shrine at Nikko, in Japan, that so well illustrates the importance of our perspective of life and the need to live it well without being engulfed by the desire for material wealth, which at the end of the day is only wealth because we claim it to be so.
Centuries ago, when the people of Japan built the great temple at Nikko, the noblemen throughout the land were expected not only to contribute towards the cost of this construction, but also to donate precious gifts to adorn its walls and ceilings.
One nobleman was so poor that he had no money or costly gift to offer; but he was nevertheless anxious to make his contribution. So, he ordered his servants to dig up, very carefully, thousands of tiny trees from his forests, and transplant them on either side of the road leading to the shrine, covering a distance of some twenty miles. When the other noblemen saw this, they laughed at what they considered to be a poor gift. However, as the years passed by, the saplings grew to their full majesty. Today, as visitors or pilgrims approach the shrine, they do so along an avenue of trees of unforgettable beauty, a beauty which far surpasses the jewelled walls and ceilings to be found in the temple.
We have but one life, and we should endeavour to live it well and to the full. In the life and teaching of Jesus we were shown how to live this. In the awareness and sharing of the disciples the Church was born and people began to respond as members of the family of God, often facing martyrdom rather than relinquish this precious gift. Monetary possession can be of use, but to finish with Grellet’s words again, which in his faith offer Jesus’ enlightenment and key to life: “any good thing that I can do, or any kindness that I can do to any fellow-creature, let me do it now; let me not defer or neglect it, for I shall not pass this way again,” and in this is to be found true wealth and true happiness.