The Sublime and the Familiar

Funny how words change. “Perculiar” used to mean “specific”. “Prevent” meant “go before”. And “sublime” was the antonym of “beautiful”.

I mention it because “sublime” is the sort of word I’d use to describe St Luke in his rendition of the waiting in Gethsemane:

“And he came out, and went, as he was wont, to the mount of Olives; and his disciples also followed him.
And when he was at the place, he said unto them, Pray that ye enter not into temptation.
And he was withdrawn from them about a stone’s cast, and kneeled down, and prayed,
Saying, Father, if thou be willing, remove this cup from me: nevertheless not my will, but thine, be done.
And there appeared an angel unto him from heaven, strengthening him.
And being in an agony he prayed more earnestly: and his sweat was as it were great drops of blood falling down to the ground.
And when he rose up from prayer, and was come to his disciples, he found them sleeping for sorrow,
And said unto them, Why sleep ye? rise and pray, lest ye enter into temptation.”

Anyway, it’s not that I wasn’t aware of what the reading was, this evensong. And, clearly, it’s not like I’m unaware of its significance. Call it the warmth of the day, or a distracted mind. But I reckon it was the sublimity of the words. They’re so gorgeous,  it’s so well-written and, in KJV English, so kind of stately, that I missed it completely. There’s horror, loneliness, comfort and challenge there. I had to go back afterwards and re-read it.

Our Lord’s challenge – the temptation to run away – the closeness to his father.  The weakness and failure of the disciples.  And yet all wrapped in words so lovely.

When we want our religion to be pretty, decorous, fulfilling, happy – where the words are lovely and the Spirit’s flowing and God’s in his heaven – we can forget about when the words don’t come and the Spirit’s took a day off and the heavens are empty and blank and satirical. Which is ironic. Because that is when God must be closest to us.

Not to say God isn’t in the lovely times. But he knows about the ugly ones too.


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