Spiritual treasure in unlikely places

Marianne Oliver - photo by Tim MaddrellDear Friends,

There is a beautiful poem written on a tablet in the Dering Chapel in Pluckley Church. It begins ‘Pulcherrimum infantum’. The poem is a memorial to two brothers, William and Heneage Dering, aged 6 and 8, who died in 1657 and 1660 respectively. Their father, Sir Edward Dering,an MP, presumably named Heneage, the younger boy, after Sir Heneage Finch, then Speaker of the House of Commons. Their mother Mary was a niece of the famous physician, William Harvey, after whom, perhaps, the elder boy may have been named.

The poem was found and translated by a friend, and I have given it an English word order:

“William and Heneage Dering were equal to the most beautiful child,
With lovely expression and gentle manners,
With clear signs of having the noblest character.
To everyone, so distinguished
To his own family, so beloved.
Oh how fragile is the joy of human life!
Short lived the ashes,
Very short lived the parents’ hopes,
They have united under this marble.”

What does this Latin inscription have to do with the Kingdom of Heaven? Firstly, it is a treasure found in an unexpected place; as seekers of the Kingdom we should always look for inspiration in unlikely places. Secondly the poem reminds us that the challenges facing us today are not new, individuals and families have been facing exactly the same challenges through the centuries.

Jesus tells a number of stories about the Kingdom of Heaven including a merchant who finding a priceless pearl, sells everything to buy it [Matthew 13:45-46], the tiny grain of mustard seed that becomes a great tree [Matthew 13:31-32], and the woman who puts yeast into flour, that raises the whole dough [Matthew 13:33]. These stories seem very ordinary and their instruction very subtle. Their message is experienced in the heart rather than explained with logic to please the mind. The Kingdom of Heaven changes our hearts and shifts our thinking, helping us to see meaning in our lives.

One of these stories, from the Nag Hammadi library, says:

The Kingdom of my Father is like a certain woman who was carrying a jar full of meal.

While she was walking on a road, still some distance from home, the handle of the jar broke and the meal emptied out behind her on the road.

She did not realize it; she had noticed no accident. When she reached her house, she set the jar down and found it empty.

I read this story ten years ago when very ill, and I could not work. I felt it described me, with both health and income gone, my meal had all vanished. I felt frustrated that the story offered no resolution; then I saw that it didn’t need to, it simply validated my situation. I had opportunity to find spiritual gain in a material context that was all about loss. I resolved to use this unexpected free time to deepen my relationship with God; working on the quality rather than the quantity of my life. It became a significant gateway on my soul’s journey. Today I am well and teaching full-time.

So living in the Kingdom of Heaven means adopting the values and perspective of the stories. It means seeking spiritual treasure in unlikely places. It means recognising that our challenges are our teachers, and that disasters can become blessings. For many of us [living in the G7], losing Lindsay as our priest at this particular time, has felt like a disaster… and yet he was called to go to Tenterden, so God has another purpose for us. This is an opportunity for us to find spiritual gain in our apparent loss.

Living in the Kingdom means recognising that we are conduits of God’s love, looking for the time when a critical mass of people channelling God’s love will cause:

‘the earth to be filled with the glory of God as the waters cover the sea.’ Isaiah 11:9

And that is how it will happen, when enough people are living in the Kingdom of Heaven so that God’s love through them revives the Earth.

When we seek any good for ourselves, we must pray that others may receive it; then as we become a successful conduit for this good to happen in another’s life, we cannot fail to share the blessing.

With best wishes,

Marianne Oliver (ALM in G7)