The month of August saw another major trip for Christine and myself, this time to Yorkshire, for a family gathering in memory of my brother, who passed at the height of the Covid shutdown. It had been several years since we had the chance to visit England and this was a time of both joy of reconnecting and sadness of family loss. At one point, my sister, unfolded a printout of a family tree, which stretched the whole length of the living room and opened boxes of old family photographs. I spent hours copying some of those photos with an i phone. I felt as though I had been divided from my family, through living in the States for 33 years and I was getting filled up rediscovering my roots. As it turns out I had followed the path of four out of six of my mother’s siblings, who had spent the major parts of their lives away from England in Burma, Pakistan, Nigeria, Kenya, America, Canada and Jamaica. People say, we are likely to repeat what our parents did, even if we try not to.
Since returning to chaplaincy work after that trip, I have visited many people who have been just days away from passing on. Holding their hands and praying for them, sometimes with them being so close to passing, they are unable to respond at all. Sometimes they are able by squeezing my fingers and hold on. They have lived long lives and their bodies are worn out and by and large they want to pass on. They are ready to die, often due to discomfort or pain; it is hard for them to find meaning in their lives, as their bodies fail. I try to assure them the love of God will never leave them and that their prayers are as valuable to God at that time as they ever have been in their lives. They are approaching the great divide, between this life and the next. It is at this approach to passing through the divide, that our faith is foremost. What we really believe is painted by our faith not by our works and it is our belief for which Jesus was born.
There is a part of scripture that always puzzled me, but now it begins to make sense for me, I wondered why would Jesus say, in Luke 12:51?
51 Do you think that I have come to give peace on earth? No, I tell you, but rather division.
Jesus is the great divider in that he comes to see who will follow Him. Some of us will decide to follow Jesus and some of us will decide not to. God promises those who receive salvation through Jesus Christ, that they will know the full presence of God. They will be in His presence, consistently, always. When they die.
While here on earth the life of our bodies involve trials and joys, troubles and pleasures, boredom and excitement. Life here is what we physically know.
But all along through our lives we are being drawn towards knowing ‘the presence of God’ in a spiritual dimension. We are constantly being called to come closer to Him. We carry a hunger for God’s presence, which we become aware of at certain times in our lives. Times where God reveals himself to us personally. Times when we have awoken to the Spirit of God working in our lives. Perhaps these moments could be likened to; we awake from a time of unknowing into a moment of sobriety and absolute awareness of our own inadequate failing human condition. We all get these moments of clarity, of awareness, of being able to taste the Kingdom of God. We are able to see the Kingdom of God, fleetingly, but not fully.
But God assures Christ’s believers approaching ‘the divide’, soon you will be able to be in His presence, completely, forever. Not an ephemeral fleeting experience, but the full presence of God. That is the eternal life Jesus has offered us, as the Son of God.
That is why He called himself the divider.
He divides those who believe in him and those who choose not to believe in him.
We choose how we are going to be divided. We do the deciding. It is our choice. No one else. At this point the lives which our past family led, has no relevance. The beliefs our living family holds, is relevant for them. God is only looking to see whether you believe in Jesus Christ, that is His dividing line.
In England, one of our day excursions was to York Minster, a wonderful cathedral, full of artwork and sculpture. One sculpture which caught my eye was of a laid out body with both hands holding a bible to the chest. An image of the comfort and promise of faith.
25 Jesus said to her, “I am the resurrection and the life. ]Whoever believes in me, though he die, yet shall he live, 26 and everyone who lives and believes in me shall never die. Do you believe this?” John 11:25-26.
This month, in addition to enjoying the sweet times of family gatherings in England, I finally finished the two Saint Paul Icons I had been commissioned to do. These are original icons, so they took a lot of time to draw and design as well as to paint. They are both identical, one is for a priest and one for his friend.
We hope you have all had a blessed summer, and we are so very grateful for your prayers.
Love and prayers,
Christine and Michael