26 Jan When Grit Becomes a Pearl
‘Arise and drink your bliss, for everything that lives is holy.’
– William Blake, ‘Visions of the Daughters of Albion’.
William Blake’s prophetic and attractive words turn the world into our oyster, but they also apply equally to the grit of our lives.
The Rule of St Benedict takes the ‘bliss’ of Blake, and complements it with the need for balance.
Oysters are solitary and closed. In fact, we live in a world in which it is in increasingly easy to become, in the words of Charles Dickens about the miserly Ebenezer Scrooge, ‘as solitary as an oyster’ – sealed in a variety of shell-like groups, networks, and practices, whether these be our church congregations, our work-places, our interactions in our social media echo-chambers, or even our traditions and seasonal rhythms. Over the last year the tendency for us to feel separated has increased through the necessary restrictions to help prevent the spread of the Covid 19 virus.
It is also easy for these shells into which we retreat to become places where we can hide from God, like Adam and Eve covering their nakedness in the Garden of Eden. In order to take up my pearl of great price, to reach out and touch the Kingdom of God, to hear and find God beating within our hearts, I need to be able to admit grit into my oyster-shell.
As a disciple of St Benedict, I pray the Psalms.
In his introduction to the Rule, Benedict calls us to ‘listen carefully’, ‘with the ear of our heart’, and to ‘rouse ourselves from our lethargy.’ Sometimes I hear people say that they find the Psalms difficult to identify with because they were written in a culture which was very different to our own. But the enduring power of the Psalms arises from the fact that they were written within a culture identical to our own. Wherever people find themselves under the threat of an enemy, whenever we rage against sickness, slavery, or hurt deeply from within; whenever we feel the temptation to seek revenge, experience anger, feel sorrow, want to express thanks, praise, commend goodness, or want to be liked, then the Psalms will remain our prayers for all of human life’s seasons.
Our job as Christians is to let the words of the Psalms get under our skins, and as often as we pray them, to allow them to become the grit within our oyster.
One exercise I find helpful is to imagine the Psalms as our side of a conversation with God, and to take upon me the character of the psalmist, as though I were praying from the writer’s personal perspective. I try to believe and trust in the words as they unfold before me as our truth.
Taking the Psalmists’ different persona on as our own, for as long as a particular psalm lasts, will help us to understand what it means and feels like to admit into us the grit of our fallen but seeking-to-be-lovely humanity.
Praying the Psalms will allow God’s grit into our oyster, which, with God’s grace and strength, we shall cultivate into a pearl of great price.
William Blake was right: ‘everything that lives is holy’, even the grit of lives, the grit of the Psalms.
But it takes a St Benedict to show us how.
Paul Edmondson is Head of Research and Knowledge at The Shakespeare Birthplace Trust and is a non-stipendiary minister of St Andrew’s, Shottery