Taking part in an online prayer meeting last weekend, the priest mentioned the Letter of St Paul to the Ephesians, recommending a reading of that Letter. His words have stayed with me all week and I had fully intended to do just as he had suggested. And then daily life got in the way. Although I have reminded myself of his words every day this week – well, strictly speaking, I didn’t ‘remind myself’, the words simply remained there in my mind – still, I have not actually done what he suggested. Over the last 24 hours I have been trying to work out precisely why those words have remained with me. And I have realised what that reason is.
Many years ago, at high school, we had some ‘free periods’ where there was not a class booked – we could use the time for study or to do something else, as we chose. During some of those free periods, I would wander along the road as I had the desire to sit in Church. St Mary’s Catholic Church, immediately across the road from the school, was always locked on those days so that wasn’t an option, unfortunately.
But just a little further along the road there was a side road on the right, Auchingramont Road. Turning into this, there was the small Episcopal Church of St Mary the Virgin, on the right hand side, a beautiful and welcoming little Church which was built in Hamilton in 1847. Their doors were always open. And so from time to time, I would go and sit inside this beautiful little Church. I don’t recall ever meeting anyone inside and so I had the place to myself. I would sit quietly at the back, deeply aware of the silence of the place and the fragrance of well-polished wood floors; some of the gilt and bronze within the Church would catch little glints of the oustide sunshine as it peeked in through the exquisite stained glass windows. And I felt very much at peace in there. There was just ‘something’ about this small sanctuary on a little road.
On entering the Church, there was a little table near the back and upon this, there were a number of pocket-sized versions of the New Testament; and so I would pick one up and sit and read it for a while there in the silence, carefully placing it back on the table afterwards, determined to continue at my next visit. Apart from listening to the readings at Mass in my own parish, this was probably the first time I had actually had a real encounter with Scripture. And it was a real encounter, most assuredly – all these years later, I remember it very clearly indeed, as though it were only yesterday.
I remember, too, which book of the New Testament I first read – and fell in love with. It was Saint Paul’s Letter to the Church at Ephesus. I opened the book and I read these words –
“Grace and peace to you from God our Father, and from the Lord Jesus Christ. Blessed be God, the Father of Our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us with all the spiritual blessings of Heaven in Christ. Thus, He chose us before the world was made..” (Eph.1:1-4)
What a welcome! Had I been struck by lightning in that moment, I don’t think I could have been more surprised than I was on reading these words from this Letter which (I thought) I had chosen at random. They say a book has to grab you in the first paragraph if you are to continue reading it – well, this one had grabbed me. And I continued reading.
Not very long afterwards, I went into town to buy myself a similar pocket-sized New Testament as the one I had read in the little Church of St Mary the Virgin, so that I could also read at home. I have a vague recollection of the lady at the till in WH Smith being a little surprised that a fourteen year old was buying such a book.
Looking quickly round the study today, I can see four different Bibles, two books of the Psalms, and one book combining the New Testament and Psalms. I love the writings of the great Saint Paul and I love the Psalms very deeply.
Looking back, it seems to me that this was one of those little moments of divine grace at work. A little spark had been lit. As time passed, that spark continued to smoulder quietly, winnowed by various breezes and winds during the intervening years – sometimes brighter, other times flickering a little more; but never once was it extinguished.
In his Letter to the Hebrews, Saint Paul tells us that “the Word of God is something alive and active” (Heb.4:12) – and how right he is! Even a couple of seemingly innocuous lines can act as a hook of sorts, because of which the soul is drawn in and entirely captivated.
I thank St Paul for those words of welcome and grace and peace which he extended to me, and which resound within me still, all this time later.