When we were growing up, we used to play ‘bows and arrows’. To get good arrows, we spent our pocket money to buy good, thin doweling, and to put proper flights on them. On occasion, our arrows went over the fence to our neighbour’s place. He, not being particularly child friendly, resented this, and broke the arrows.
Now we also used to have hibiscus trees growing in our back yard. When pruned, these trees produced long, thin branches that did for ‘second class’ arrows, which were also free! When we discovered that our neighbour had broken our good, paid for, arrows, we made a large number of the second class arrows, and sent them onto our neighbours yard: only this time on purpose!
As Methodists, we did not celebrate a weekly Eucharist but had communion I think about once a month. The service was more or less straight from the Anglican prayer book, and the invitation to the communion went like this “ Ye therefore that do truly and earnestly repent of your sins, and are in love and charity with your neighbours and intend to lead a new life, following the commandments of god, and walking from henceforth in his holy ways; draw near with faith and take this holy sacrament to your comfort…’
Because I was just recently confirmed, and because of the relative infrequency of this service, these words sunk in. I felt as though I could not ‘draw near’ in faith without being in love and charity with my neighbour. Especially the one who had broken our arrows, and on whom we had taken our revenge.
So before the next communion service, I summoned my courage, and went to my neighbour’s house to apologise for littering his lawn with our second class arrows, so that I might ‘draw near with faith.’
This story came back to me as I returned to the place where I was once vicar to buy a house and to spend my retirement. When one is a vicar in a place, it is inevitable that there will be some people with whom one is not in love and charity. But when one moves on, those broken relationships can be left behind. When one lives in a small country town, as opposed to being in a city, one meets the same people, often. The escape form the stranger whom one may have offended is not easy, except when one moves away.
Here is the story of one event that happened to me while I was vicar. I used to ride my bike on a regular road nearly every day. In general the cars along this country road are pretty good. It is not heavily trafficked, and they could safely give me a wide berth.
One day, a red tray truck passed me too closely. The driver sounded his horn, just as he passed. Both things gave me a huge fright, and the adrenaline started to flow. I tried to chase the driver, but to no avail. I thought “I’ll be able to see him when I get into town.” So I kept an eye out, as I rode. Lo and behold, there it was! Coming toward me into town was the red tray truck. I shook my fist at the driver, and called out. Expressing my displeasure in no uncertain terms. I went home.
Twenty minutes later, a man rang the vicarage door bell. There was a tradesman, who asked me ‘Was it I who called out to him in the car?” “Yes it was”, I replied. I explained about the truck. “Well it wasn’t me! I’ve got kids in the car, and I don’t appreciate being yelled at with them there.!” ”I’m so sorry.” I said.
So now I have moved back to town. This person, I discover lives opposite me!
As I have settled in, and in retirement begun to review my life in ministry, the memory of those people with whom I was not in love and charity as I left, has returned. As the prayer book says ‘The memory of them is grievous unto us.’
So I have had to decide what to do. I remembered something from the 12 step programme of Alcoholics Anonymous. Steps eight and nine say “I have made a list of all persons we had harmed, and became willing to make amends to them all.” And I have made direct amends to such people wherever possible, except when to do so would injure them or others.
Yesterday I was at the garage, next to this person’s workshop. I saw him there, and went to do the work I needed to do to make amends. Ken (I’ll call him) was gracious. He told me that he had not recalled the incident, or recognised me and that he too had been frightened by people in cars, as he rode his bike. We parted on good terms. I have had to do this for another two people.
But now, I can walk down the street, and g to the church where I was once vicar, knowing that I do not need to feel guilty.
I have done what is necessary to be able to live in love and charity with my neighbour.
At this point I want to say: The in intimate relationships, the need for doing this king of thing is so regular that it becomes a common place. I think that ‘Love is always having to say ‘sorry’ ”. Not, “Love is never having to say ‘sorry’ “.
It is also true that this kind of reconciliation is not always possible. If another is not willing to take the steps of graciousness in response, then a fracture remains, and has to be lived with.
It is not surprising that the impetus for this comes from an experience of the Eucharist. What happens in Church is an intensive, and symbolic form of the kind of life that is life giving outside Church. Being in ‘communion’ with my neighbour in the extensive life I live during the week, is just an expansion of the being in ‘communion’ with Christ and other members of His body on Sunday.
It has those two elements. The ‘memorial’ (anamnesis) of how I have been in the face of God and God’s commandments is the impetus to confession: inside and outside Church. There is no difference: the one tells me how to be in the other.
I thank God for the courage to live this way, as much as I can and for the freedom it brings.