Address/Reflection by David McEvoy
2 August 2020
You can hear an audio recording of the address here
Since lockdown started in March, big gaps opened up in our lives. Suddenly so many things we value weren’t there anymore. Family and friends, work, places we love to visit, things we love to do. We may have been feeling something like grief at the things that we have missed, at these holes that have opened up in our lives.
Writing 1600 years ago St Augustine said in his famous prayer: ‘You made us for yourself and our hearts can find no peace until they rest in you’. I think these words can help us as we continue to feel restless even as the gaps that had opened up begin to be filled. ‘You made us for yourself and our hearts can find no peace until they rest in you’.
We humans have a deep-rooted desire for something significant, purposeful, meaningful. Something that underpins everything else. This creates a hole within us that we need to fill. Augustine explains that this is because God created us to relate to God and created within us a deep desire for God, whether we realise it or not. A hole that we need to fill.
We can try to fill this hole in negative ways such as by too much drinking or eating, or buying too many things. We also try to fill this hole in positive ways such as through our relationships, by the enjoyment of food and drink and beautiful things, by sport, exercise, creativity and the appreciation of art, music and the natural world. St Augustine said that these things can all be good in themselves. They reflect God’s ongoing work of love and creation in the world. Human work and creativity, as well as the beauty of nature, can point us towards God.
It is not surprising that being cut off from many of these things left many of us feeling empty and unfulfilled. In the last few weeks as restrictions have been slowly lifting it has been possible, with care and with limitations, for some of us to see friends and family, to go out, to come back into church, to visit galleries and museums, to start doing things.
However I have found that that the sense of unease, of incompleteness hasn’t fully gone away. All these relationships, all these activities are good in themselves and help fill that existential gap in our lives, pointing us to the love and creativity of God. But St Augustine also says that these things in themselves are not the goal, the destination. They are just steps on the way to the goal, the destination.
And it is when we can trust that God is with us and let God be God in us (as I said last week, whether we feel it or not) that we can move beyond our restlessness and unfulfillment and find the rest and completion that comes with God. In the Psalm which Victoria read we heard the restlessness of the Psalmist’s soul which finds peace in knowing that in the end God is always with him.
Last week we heard the parable of the pearl of great value: 'Again, the kingdom of heaven is like a merchant in search of fine pearls; on finding one pearl of great value, he went and sold all that he had and bought it' Matthew 13. 45. The merchant in the parable thinks that the pearls he has been buying are the goal of his quest, but it turns out that they are just staging points in his quest for something that transcends them all.
And when he finds that thing, he sells all the other pearls to buy it. Peter read to us the words of St Paul who wrote that all the value of the things he cherished most fades away compared to the ultimate value of knowing Christ.
The merchant’s heart was restless until he found the pearl that had real worth.
So that may well be why I still continue to feel restless. Maybe I have been gathering back all the lesser pearls that had been take away during lockdown to find that they were only lesser pearls after all.
Good in themselves, they may reflect God’s love and point me towards God’s love. But God’s love goes beyond them, is more than them. Maybe I was missing something all along.
And now, in fits and starts, some of us at least are taking tentative steps to pick up things we have been cut off from for months, we are beginning to fill the gaps that had opened up in our lives. For as long as it lasts, this gives us a chance to look again at our relationships, our interests and activities as they come back into our lives. This is a chance to reflect on them and on how they point us to God. If they do point us to God, then maybe we can bring something new to them, so they can make our lives and the lives of others richer.
And maybe these relationships, interests and activities can give us a fresh insight into the depth, the richness, and the completeness of God’s love. The love that that alone can bring peace and rest to our restless souls. The love, that like the pearl, is beyond value.