Lake Waihola. Nikon D7100 Nikkor VR18-200. 18mm 1/200 f7.1
In the last 10 days I have driven approximately 3,000 km, but it seems the inner journey has been longer. There have been the usual round of diocesan activities and I was greatly privileged to be able to lead a retreat in Akaroa for St. Luke's parish, Christchurch. But in the course of the last week or so three things have reminded me of the fragility and beauty and seriousness of this great adventure that are all embarked on.
1. Last week our infant granddaughter became ill. Ada, now three weeks old, developed a very high temperature and a very rapid heartbeat and was admitted to Christchurch hospital for a few days. In the end she returned home sore from the tests and treatment she had been given but otherwise none the worse for wear, but it was a fairly testing time for us all. Clemency and I took it in turns to be present with Scott and Bridget as they tended their little girl. My duties consisted of taking Noah to the botanical gardens or the beach, pushing the swings, buying him fluffies, playing hide and seek, reading him books and using his digger to fill his truck with stones; all of which by mutual agreement was pretty darned awesome.
This is what I bought into not so much on the day about a month ago when Ada was born but on that other day 33 years ago when her mum was born. When Bridget was about 5 minutes old and before she knew what a mouth was let alone what were the noises coming out of it, I held her and promised her that for as long as I lived and had strength I would be there for her. She may not have heard or understood, but I did. A commitment is a self imposed limit on behaviour and this is one I gladly keep. Last week I couldn't be anywhere else.
2. In the last few days I have learned that my friend Captain Phil Clark, the head of the Church Army in New Zealand, is seriously ill. I've never asked him but I guess he's in his 40s, husband of Monika and father of Emily and Michael. I first met Phil a few years ago when he came South to be guest speaker at our synod. He was a witty and challenging public speaker and the sort of dinner companion who had everyone else at the table clutching their sides in helpless laughter and worrying in case their dessert was running out of their noses. Then, last year, he walked Te Harinui, the Hikoi of Joyful News with me. Again, he was great company on the long walks and a very useful communicator in public meetings. He's one of the nicest blokes you could ever wish to meet. And now the doctors have told him he may not see Christmas. I heard this news, shocked as were all who know Phil and knew again the preciousness and the fragility of life.
3. I heard a confession. Jesus' famous story of the prodigal son is about someone who set off in search of freedom, self expression, fulfilment and the expansion of horizons but found instead enslavement and diminishment. So this modern prodigal, despairing at the end of a similar journey, sought me out in a public place and desperately named the chains and manacles and shackles which held so firmly. There was no purple stole and no prayer book. At the time I think we both would have named it a conversation rather than a sacrament but, nevertheless, I was able to be the one standing at the gate, and running eagerly forward to embrace and pronounce the undiminished love of the Father. I carry this particular confession with me many days afterwards because I had such a sense of God working in this person's life; because the circumstances relayed were so raw and so real; and because they remind me so painfully of the chains which I have, from time to time, so willingly and eagerly clapped onto my own limbs.
So, from time to time we face the limits of our existence. But paradoxically a knowledge of our limits simultaneously faces us with some inkling of the infinity with which we deal.