Fr Ray Hemingray has shared his thought for today, Sunday 21st March 2021.
Relationships are all about people behaving towards each other in such a way that benefits both of them. And relationships work when an individual is constantly thinking about the other person in the relationship, or they work together to achieve mutual benefit. To illustrate the point, here’s one of ‘Aesop’s Fables’, entitled ‘The Blind Man and The Lame Man’:
‘A Blind Man being stopped in a bad piece of road, met with a Lame Man, and entreated him to guide him through the difficulty he had got into. “How can I do that,” replied the Lame Man, “since I am scarce able to drag myself along? – but as you appear to be very strong, if you will carry me, we will seek our fortunes together. It will then be my interest to warn you of anything that may obstruct your way; your feet shall be my feet, and my eyes your eyes.” “With all my heart,” returned the Blind Man; “let us render each other our mutual services.” So taking his lame companion on his back, they, by means of their union, travelled on with safety and pleasure. This shows that it is from our wants and infirmities that almost all the connections of society take their rise.”
Those who are married or in a long-term relationship will find that their relationship succeeds if each of them is always conscious about how the other one feels, and strives to support the other. As anyone in a long-term relationship will know, we don’t always get it right, and sometimes we may hurt the other person, deliberately or unintentionally. But a hurt relationship can be restored, if there is contrition and forgiveness. Here’s a little story I occasionally tell a couple at their wedding, allowing the congregation to listen, or else I give the couple a slightly abbreviated version privately at the altar, whilst the congregation is singing the final hymn. Canon Mark Oakley, currently Dean of St. John’s College, Cambridge, included this story from his own experience, in his book ‘Readings for Weddings’:
‘When I was training to be a priest I was sent to a church for a few weeks to work with an old, wise and gentle priest. He has since died. One Saturday, and I shall never forget this, he allowed me to stand next to him as he married a young couple who were obviously devoted to one another. After they had taken their vows and he had pronounced them husband and wife, the priest leaned forward and whispered so quietly to the man and woman that only they, and I, could hear. “I have been married for fifty-one years,” he told them, “but I don’t have any secrets on how to keep a relationship like yours fresh. I want you to promise me, though, today, that you will always try and do three things. Always say to one another “I’m sorry”; and always say to each other “I forgive you”; and always, please, always keep telling one another “I love you”.’ I have never heard any better advice for such a beginning and I simply pass it on to you both today with hope and with much affection.‘
It is important to be constantly finding ways of affirming a relationship, rather than taking it for granted, whether it is with a partner, a child, a relative or a friend. Often we can do it without words – a smile, a kiss, a cuddle or just a simple acknowledgment. (Some reading this may, like me, be old enough to remember the words of a song sung by Alma Cogan in the 1960s – ‘Little things mean a lot’.) Here’s a lovely poem that illustrates love without words. It’s by Katherine Tynan, an Irish writer of novels and poetry, who played a major part in Dublin literary circles in the early part of the twentieth century.
‘As I went up and he came down, my little six-year boy,
Upon the stairs we met and kissed, I and my tender Joy.
Oh! fond and true, as lovers do, we kissed and clasped and parted;
And I went up and he went down, refreshed and happy-hearted.
What need was there for any words, his face against my face?
And in the silence heart to heart spoke for a little space
Of tender things and thoughts on wings, and secrets none discovers;
And I went up and he went down, a pair of happy lovers.
His clinging arms about my neck, what need was there for words?
Oh, little heart that beat so fast like any fluttering bird’s!
“I love,” his silence said; “I love,” my silence answered duly;
And I went up and he went down, comforted wonderfully.’
Last week the topic of my Thought for the Day was ‘indifference’. J. K. Rowling, the author of the Harry Potter books, once said, “Indifference and neglect often do much more damage than outright dislike.” We need to guard against a relationship suffering as a result of one party neglecting the other.
Relationships are sustained by love. Love is the key. Love can come in many forms: truth, forgiveness, patience, compassion, kindness, humility, giving, gratitude, unselfishness, trust – the list could go on. I have always thought that, no matter what the subject of a sermon is, the theme of love is always somewhere to be found in it, even if the word ‘love’ is not actually mentioned.
Jesu encourages us – no, commands us – to love: “I give you a new commandment, that you love one another. Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another.” (John 13:34)
And I will conclude with some advice on relationships from St. Paul:
“As God’s chosen ones, holy and beloved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience. Bear with one another and, if anyone has a complaint against another, forgive each other; just as the Lord has forgiven you, so you also must forgive. Above all, clothe yourselves with love, which binds everything together in perfect harmony. And let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts …” (Colossians 3:12-15)