Can I see another’s woe, and not be in sorrow too.
Can I see another’s grief, and not seek for kind relief.
Can I see a falling tear, and not feel my sorrows share.
Can a mother or father see their child weep, nor be with sorrow filled.
William Blake’s gentle lyric draws attention to the powerful compassionate God who becomes an infant and suffers with his creation. Yet the prophets cry that God does not care that the rich ‘trample the needy’ and, many years later, St John asked the same question whilst banished (for his faith) to the remote island of Patmos. ‘How long, Sovereign Lord, holy and true until you judge the inhabitants of the earth?’ We have our modern equivalents that provoke these same ancient questions: the young mother taken from her two young daughters by a terminal illness; the teenage son ripped from the heart of his family by a teenager with a knife; the anguished cries of drowning refugees met with a stony silence. How long, O Lord?
St Augustine wrote, ‘Sometimes the secrets of heaven and earth still remain hidden from us and therefore we must rest patiently in unknowing.’ Fine words, but our world is not like the ancient world; we don’t do patiently-unknowing. We demand an answer now. We are sick of suffering, and impatient with poverty and pain – we demand a solution now. How long, O Lord?
A priest-colleague, who has a background in mental-health care, was speaking with me about a friend who was a university professor, a man of great faith, struggling with a deep and suffocating depression. His illness had taken him away from his family, his friends and his work and he felt completely abandoned by God. On top of this he felt like an enormous hypocrite – feeling that our all-seeing, all loving God was not to be found anywhere near him. His wife visited him in hospital, every day. Sometimes she did nothing but sit in silence. For days, weeks and months she did nothing, other than wait, and wait and wait. Eventually, at the very limit of his hopelessness, he saw that God was there in the strength of her waiting. Never before had he known the saving power of waiting – it was her waiting that brought him back.
Perhaps then, in our impatient world system with its assumption of scarcity, competition, profit and loss, Jesus proclaims a new system in which the more his love is shared, the more abundant the source. So in our faithfulness and impatience let us pray that with the help of our compassionate God, we may more readily and more confidently share our gifts of love and life with all whom we meet.