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Fr Ray Hemingray has shared his thought for today, Sunday 6th September 2020.

‘Perfection’

I expect most of us have in our kitchen cupboards a few items of crockery or glassware that have chips or cracks in them. But we don’t throw them away, because we can still find a use for them. Their flaws don’t mean that they are of no use and have to be discarded. However, when we have visitors, we may tend not to display the flawed crockery and glassware, but only get out those items that look perfect, as if we don’t have anything that is less than perfect. (A bit like Hyacinth Bucket in the TV series ‘Keeping up Appearances’!)

A common exchange on the telephone is: ‘How are you?’, to which the response is almost always, ‘I’m fine. How are you?’, even though we might be feeling very un-fine at the time, due to health issues or just having a very bad day. We tend not to want to admit to having any health issues (which is the equivalent of cracked crockery in our lives), unless we are talking to someone very close.

Prayer can be the same. When talking to God, we may not be eager to talk about our faults. We may be ashamed of them. Instead, we concentrate on praying for other people. Praying for other people is a good thing, but we need also to acknowledge our faults to God and ask for his forgiveness.

God is not going to discard us because we have chips or cracks. Like the chipped and cracked items in the kitchen cupboard, he can still find a use for us in his kingdom, and he is always ready to forgive. He would rather that we approach him with humility and ask forgiveness than approach him with a false pride that says, ‘I’m fine’, when we know we are not.

Much as we may strive for perfection, we are human, and it is part of human nature that we are imperfect, that from time to time we make mistakes, and that we all have our weaknesses that make us fall short of perfection. (I am reminded of the words of the Rev. Canon Chasuble in Oscar Wilde’s play, ‘The Importance of Being Ernest’: “None of us are perfect. I myself am peculiarly susceptible to draughts.”)

In the Sermon on the Mount, in Chapter 5 of St. Matthew’s Gospel, Jesus encourages us to be perfect: “Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect.” It’s a tall order, and one that most of us are unlikely to fulfil, like the rich man described in St. Matthew’s Gospel, who asked Jesus what he had to do to gain eternal life: ‘Jesus said to him, “If you wish to be perfect, go, sell your possessions, and give the money to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; then come, follow me.” When the young man heard this word, he went away grieving, for he had many possessions.’

The best we can do is aim for perfection and not beat ourselves up if we fall short, but instead seek God’s forgiveness. Aiming means maintaining a focus. There’s a story about a group of boys who challenged each other to see who could walk in the straightest line across a snow-covered field. Only one of them managed a straight line. When asked by the others how he had managed it, he said, “I kept my eyes fixed on the church spire and walked towards it, whilst the rest of you were all looking at your feet.” It takes focus and effort to get anywhere near perfection.

By some strange coincidence I have just recently read twice about Kintsugi pottery (which I had never heard of before). This is a Japanese practice of mending broken pots by fixing the joints with gold or silver, so that the resulting pot is more beautiful than the one that broke. I read about it first in a book entitled ‘Soul Fuel’, by Bear Grylls, and secondly in an article on the internet written by a well-known contemporary theologian, Paula Gooder, who is the Canon Chancellor of St. Paul’s Cathedral. She argues that the word ‘perfect’ has more of a sense of being worthy or mature in our relationships with others and with God. She says this: “We are called to be who we are with all our cracks and imperfections, knowing that God’s glory will shine through those cracks into the world around us and that the gold of God’s love will mend our brokenness into something far more beautiful than it was before. The Christian calling is not a calling to perfection. It is a calling to remain uncomfortably with our imperfections so that God’s glory can shine all the more powerfully.’

Let us pray therefore that God’s glory may shine through us, in spite of all our imperfections – ‘Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father which is in heaven.’ (Matthew 5:16, King James Version)

Fr. Ray