The Logos that the Father has spoken
Jn. 1- [1-9] 10-18; Eph. 1-3-14; Ecclus. 24: 1-12
May it be given to me to speak in the name of God, Father Son and Holy Spirit. AMEN
What we read is a fascinating aspect of CR’s diversity, and it comes into focus nowhere better than in suppers Monday to Friday. Mostly, I find myself underwhelmed by the books chosen and am always impressed by those brethren who relate and discuss texts keenly after the meal. Often, I quickly forget what I’ve heard and find my mind wandering in hopefulness to the next choice of tome. Yet occasionally, this is happily otherwise; and so it has proved with our recent chapter from The House of my Friends by Eric James, erstwhile chaplain of Trinity, Cambridge.
James writes most movingly about his friendship with Dean Eric Symes Abbott of King’s and Westminster. I was struck especially by the pen-portrait given in James’s recollection of Eric, who was his New Testament Greek tutor at King’s. James writes following Abbot’s admonishment of his miscopying an iota:
I doubt whether Eric ever had any idea of the significance of that touch. [Abbot taps him jokingly on the head for dotting the iota.] It diminished the distance between us and conveyed the assurance of friendship… a friendship that lasted nearly forty years. There was a discipline and detachment to the touch, yet it was also intoxicating and the lighting of a fire. I felt that Eric had seen me ‘under the fig tree.’ He made me feel that my ideas were valuable – that I was valuable. (The House of my Friends, pp. 37-38.)
Thankfully, I experience a not dissimilar approach under Dorothee’ s tutelage in NT Greek sessions. But that is only half the story, for James’s recollection of his tutor and friend Dean Symes Abbott seems to me so richly to evoke Christ’s characteristics of approach and behaviour, that one cannot help be arrested by both. That evening, I felt I had come away from supper aware of profound truth; truth manifested in the prosaic description of a disciplined and detached touch – a touch that intoxicated and inflamed its recipient. And I find myself asking, is this not what Christ’s incarnate touch may do for us too at the gate of the year?
Ours is very much a community of words; men and women of letters and learning and reading live both up and down the hill. This is great! I now have a love both for German and for NT Greek and for continuing to think how I might dabble and pick up bits of this or that language going forward. All fantastic! But the learning and the books and any amount of achieving we may do can be of no significance whatever if we do not also apprehend the intoxication and become ignited by the love exemplified in Eric Abbott and incarnated in our Lord Jesus Christ, Logos – Word and Wisdom of the Father. Here this morning, we take once more that Logos to ourselves in bread and wine as we behold ourselves in Him who leapt down from the Father and dwelt among us in the mystery of love.
Eric James says, ‘I felt that Eric had seen me ‘under the fig tree.’ He made me feel that my ideas were valuable – that I was valuable.’ Symes Abbott it is who enables the Christian development of his students as he deploys his incarnate pastoral zeal to form Christ within them and bring to birth the fullness of love. Here the wisdom of the world, of the university hall is inverted, as Wisdom chooses what is distinctly average that it might be raised up, transformed and God be realised in his own kingdom of priestly souls. So Eric James, self-confessed black sheep and struggler becomes the Dean of Trinity and God’s person walking in parish and chaplaincy alongside his fellow sheep and strugglers. James learns in that Greek class, under that fig-tree of his low-esteem, what love in its littleness and imperceptibility can do: he is a witness himself of its coming down and breaking-in. And apprehends it for all it’s worth. A jokey, befriending tap on the head pitches a tent that cannot be dismantled.
This love far from diminishes the world with its letters its education and its learning. On the contrary, as St. John reminds us, it saves it in flesh, incarnating true wisdom in a life of passion and death – So God makes Godself the only route to resurrection, enlivening and availing the gifts of the classroom and the chalice to us all.
Through the insignificant touch of a pastor’s heart, Eric James achieved his Masters in theology. But his theosis was in view long before. He had been espied under the fig-tree of his master’s own making, that he could be called forth, brought out and made to understand the wisdom who was choosing him for her dwelling-place.
We also have seen and heard the Father’s Logos in these latter days through the Son whom he chooses to bear in us. Will we hear afresh and likewise apprehend the Word of the Father this New Year, that his touch however imperceptible may refine prudence within us and remake a divine kingdom of priestly souls, speaking the Logos, His holy and incarnate wisdom for the healing and wholeness of many who need to receive it? Pray that for us all, the Christ-Child by, with and through whom we find a voice and speak its Word, may present very God to us once more in this new year: the gift that the Father’s love gave us in the power of the spirit to find us and save us. AMEN