by John Hartley
Do everything without complaining or arguing so that you may be innocent and pure.
Phil. 2 14-15
Many years ago, I read a book by Donald Nicholl entitled “Holiness”. The book adopted a lay-oriented practical approach to its subject. One of its exhortations was “Do not complain!” In our western democracies we have become spoilt by the freedoms we enjoy. We all revel in criticising authority, while the press enjoys enormous power in its ability to stir up our critical nature. The Covid crisis has engendered some good and much-needed debate about what government policy should be. But it has also magnified our resentments when freedoms to which we believe we have an absolute right are taken away. And so we mutter and complain with what we believe is righteous anger – failing to understand that saving lives is paramount, and that the government has an unenviable task on its hands.
Admittedly, without public protest many great wrongs would not have been righted. Slavery would not have been abolished, nor would the exploitation of child labour. The Black Lives Matter movement would not have got underway; and our National Health Service would not have come into existence. But this reflection is about our personal attitude towards things with which we disagree, not about the need for social or political movements.
My brother, who was a Cistercian monk for 56 years before he died in 2010, would always attempt to recall the words of Psalm 15/16 when he was upset or disappointed about the way things were being done in the monastery, or frustrated by an unwelcome task he had been given.
“Welcome indeed the heritage that falls to me
The lot marked out for me is my delight”
Those words are a precept of acceptance and obedience. They are ones that we westerners find alien to the independence and freedom of action we claim to be our birth right. My son Christopher, who works in the hotel industry, told me once how important it is to complain about poor service or poor food. How else can improvement be achieved? he asked. In the business world his advice is certainly correct. But in the other world in which we are aspiring to holiness, must not an uncomplaining spirit of acceptance and obedience be our aim?
Let us pray...
Breathe in me, O Holy Spirit, that my thoughts may all be holy.
Act in me, O Holy Spirit, that my work, too, may be holy.
Draw my heart, O Holy Spirit, that I love only what is holy.
Strengthen me, O Holy Spirit, to defend all that is holy.
Guard me so, O Holy Spirit, that I may always be holy.