Friday, 13 April 2012

Not my will but Thine ~ Parson Hawthyn at prayer ~ a memorable excerpt

In my previous article I talk about The exertion of will and the importance of not imposing one's will on others.  In the excerpt featured here the fictional character of Parson Hawthyn exemplifies this point according to his own spiritual principles: he prays for a sick child, but does not expect the child to live.  In fact it seems likely that the child will die, but he prays none the less, not for the child's recovery, which would be a presumption, but perhaps more for God's presence:



The excerpt is from "The White Witch" by Elizabeth Goudge, (Part 1, chapter ten), which was published in 1958.
In the church Parson Hawthyn sat up stiffly and rubbed his rheumatic knees.  He felt cold and stiff and his hour of prayer had brought him no personal satisfaction, plagued as he had been with indigestion, wandering thoughts, a depressing sense of personal failure and the growing conviction that Joe would die. The apparent failure of prayer never disturbed him, convinced as he was both of its hidden worth and of the adorable perfection of the will of God, but he was distressed because Froniga would be distressed.  Slipping once more to his painful knees he tried to pray for her too, and for the child's parents, and this time, as he struggled to compose his thoughts, they ceased to wander, were gently taken hold of and spun together, as it seemed, into one thread that tautened and drew out into a shining line of wonder.  He crawled up it as a spider might do, taking those for whom he prayed with him, though aware that in his case the line was not of his own spinning, up and up while the wonder deepened into joy and the joy into worship.  He hung for what seemed a timeless moment upon the point of worship and then the thread snapped, and he fell, so heavy was the weight of his sin.
     He hoisted himself back upon the bench again and thanked God for the mercy that had been vouchsafed to him.  He had not been kneeling in any of the places where Froniga had tried to picture him, but in the dusty corner where the sexton kept his branch of broom.  He always said his private prayers here, for he felt that the spiders and the mice who shared his affection for this particular corner were more suitable companions for his unworthiness than Our Lady of Heaven, or even that happy little creature Anne Haslewood.  As for mounting up the steps to the altar, he seldom dared to do that unless robed in the vestments of a priest.  These gave him both anonymity and confidence. Wearing them he was no longer that despicable sinner John Hawthyn, but the priest of this parish, one with all the priests of this parish both past and to come, robed in the mediatorial office of Christ Himself, so lost in it and dignified by it that his individual frailties ceased to exist.  But in private prayer these both frightened and humbled him, and he felt more at home among the mice.
      He listened companionably to their rustlings and squeakings, removed a spider from his neck with affectionate gentleness and watched with pleasure the flight of a white moth across the dusk.  To another the church would have seemed dark, but to him it seemed almost luminous, so deeply did he love its darkness that, like the habitual barrenness of his prayer, seemed not a wall but curtain. In his self-confident days he had tried sometimes to part the curtain, but not now.  His belief in what was behind, that made him able to describe himself in all sincerity as a happy man, nourished itself upon the fact of the curtain.  If it were ever to be drawn aside it would be from the other side, not this, and it would be no more his hand that drew it than it had been his hand that spun his thoughts together into that line of light.
     He got up and made his way through the shadows to the door and opened it.  The white moth came with him and fluttered out though the porch into the grey curtain of the rain...
I've known this book for almost as long as I can remember and have my own copy which I get down from the shelf from time to time.  It is not an easy book: it is set in the time of the English Civil War (1642 - 1651) and is full of conflicts and oppositions: Royalists against Parliamentarians, Anglicans versus Puritans, Gypsies versus Giorgio, Black magic warring with White, and families and friendships torn asunder.  At such times the features of truth, loyalty and friendship cannot be easily identified and otherwise amiable companionships are often forced into crisis.

Parson Hawthyn somewhat resembles dear old Mr Septimus Harding, of Trollope's Barchester Chronicles

Parson Hawthyn has a great deal more humility and strength of character than I have but his attitude to prayer and fate is very similar to my own: that all our experiences of life and eventual death do have their place in the greater scheme of things which we can't know, only catch glimpses of it.  We are required only to do the best we can - which at times can test us right up to and even beyond our limits. 

My own view of God is pantheistic, in that I see all aspects of the world, and the natural world in particular, as expressions of a universal life force which, although it is able to be scientifically evaluated, yet retains its own mystery which lies beyond that.  Thus, each creature and expression of the natural world is part of the face of God or Gods, and for me this awareness brings with it a great interest in as well as respect for the world we live in.  In fact this awareness came to me the other way around, but in any case the two fit together very comfortably!

Each creature, however seemingly tiny and insignificant, is striving to live out its very own unique physical and other characteristics to the best of its ability, and in doing so must battle the odds with those around it.  I'm aware of this with little creatures in rock pools as well as the insects and plants in my garden, just as much if not more so than the people in the world.  Blot any one of them out and that particular consciousness and life form is lost to the world.  So I'm careful, as I go about my work and explorations, to live and let live.  Yes, live and let live.  And when we die and we come to the end of what we know we are absorbed back into the mystery which lies beyond...   

I do my best to strive for what I believe to be right, to care for and respect others, and then leave it all in the lap of the Gods, hence: 
Not my will be done, but Thine...