We begin a new liturgical year. The season of Advent comes around once more. And once more we are invited to wait in hope.
On Saturday I gave a day of reflection to a group who are dear to my heart. The priest saying mass asked me what readings I wanted. I hesitated and he suggested repeating the readings of the Feast of Christ the King. I gladly agreed.
The gospel was that of Jesus being mocked as being ‘King of the Jews’ as he hung on the cross. Of course this is the gospel for the feast, what else would it be.
And yet, and yet, the juxtaposition of the triumphant nature of the feast itself and the image portrayed in the reading jumped at me in a way it never has before.
What struck me was that Jesus hanging on the cross wasn’t the disaster it appeared to be. It was horrific; it was tortuous; it was desolate. But it wasn’t the disaster it appeared to be.
That gives me hope.
I am sitting at something called the H3D symposium. This evening I had a great conversation which has left me energised and hopeful. The conversation was with Kelly Chibale.
Kelly co-supervised my PhD. When I began as his student in 1999 he was just starting out. A Zambian who had gone from working in an explosives factory to a PhD at Cambridge. He postdoced with the best and the brightest and returned to Cape Town with a vision to make a contribution to science in Africa. I could be wrong, but think the first paper we published together was his first paper as an independent academic.
Today H3D, the drug discovery spawned from his lab employs just over 50 people! He is also warden of Smuts House at UCT.
This evening, we had an amazing conversation, about politics and life and hard work. But above all about the importance of building and sustaining relationships. I know Kelly has his detractors, but if there is an example in my life of the fact that one person with a vision and sustained effort can make a difference in our world – Kelly is the man. And most importantly, in a crowd of 170+, he fended off the distractions of at least a few international guests to continue the conversation we were having.
Even if he had achieved 1/10th of what he has managed to create, he would still be a role model for me, because above everything, he values people. Regardless of whether they contribute to his vision or not – he values people.
When I had worked in spirituality for four years, and then emailed him to ask if I could get back into chemistry. He responded that day to say, come do a postdoc in my lab – He values people.
At a time when I am feeling a little overwhelmed by potential threats, I am deeply grateful that I know this man. There is hope for our world, if we could all value people to this degree.
The 1st of November is the solemnity of All Saints. It is commemoration of all those who have gone before us who now stand in company of the Blessed Trinity and the angels.
For me it has a personal significance – one I have broadened beyond the scope of the original intention. In the Spiritual Exercises of St Ignatius in the final contemplatio there is a ‘composition of place’ – I imagine myself standing before God our Lord, with the angels and saints interceding for me .
In my mind’s eye the image is clear – I am standing in the front of a quire style church – the floor tiles are oblique and alternating black and white. In the choir stalls are the saints and angels. They are personal to me. My saints and angels.
The people both living and dead who have supported me and who are supporting me in my life’s journey; who support me in my faith journey (whether they profess faith in the way I do or not).
I know my interpretation is not quite what the Church intends for this feast. But I love the image of those who have been my guides and those who have loved me willing me on to greater truth. I stand where I am now because of those who have been willing to hold me when I was less able to face into what is real. I stand where I am now because of I stand with others who have chosen the painful path of what is real.
On this day, I am deeply grateful to my company of saints and angels.