I spent the best part of two days this week, Monday and Tuesday, trying to uncover from somewhere inside my head, the name of a writer whom I have heard speak, and some of whose books I have read, but her name just wouldn’t come to me. I knew she was English, and that she was a Catholic spiritual writer, poet and theologian, so I tried every combination of words I could think of to search the internet. It wasn’t that urgent, it was just that something she wrote came into my mind but her name wouldn’t. Before long, remembering her name became an obsession. I knew there was a “G” in it and I lay in bed on Monday night going through all kinds of combinations of names with a “G” in them. I knew also that her name always reminded me of a former Conservative minister in the Thatcher government so I was trying to think of that motley crew as well. Still the name wouldn’t come. I came into St. Mungo’s on Tuesday morning and tried another internet trawl, but to no avail. I then went off to hear Confessions and to celebrate the lunchtime Mass. And then, just after returning to the office, and when I wasn’t thinking of it at all, it just popped into my head. Her name was Edwina Gately. I had gotten the “G” right, and the Conservative minister was Edwina Currie.
I felt a great sense of relief and a return to sanity.
Isn’t it amazing the things that are hidden and waiting to be uncovered, and I don’t mean just inside of our heads. I’ve always remembered two stories that appeared in the media between 1983 and 1986, when I was first based in St. Mungo’s. The first was about a newly married couple who bought a house in Aberdeen. Before they bought it, this house had belonged to an old lady who died and there was still some of the old lady’s furniture in the house, and one of the items was a big chest of drawers. Now, the bottom drawer was stuck very tight and they had to get a lever to prise it open, and when they prised it open there was a hundred thousand pounds in notes lying there in the bottom of the drawer, which this old lady had seemingly just stashed there and forgotten all about it. The other story was about a lady who had in her house some old family heirlooms and she decided to have them valued. Now, among these heirlooms there was what she took to be an old lamp, but when it was valued it turned out not to be a lamp at all, it was a Ming vase, about 600 years old, and it was worth, at the time, a quarter of a million pounds. Two treasures hidden in the depths, waiting to be uncovered.
For a few years afterwards I would occasionally use those stories to encourage reflection on what great treasures might be hidden within us that we don’t realise we have, and that may need to be uncovered; like the gift of faith, or, most especially, the great treasure we have within us that is the gift of Christ himself. Jesus talks about a pearl of great price, and about treasure hidden in a field, that are worth surrendering all we own in order to possess, and He’s talking about the mysteries of the kingdom that have been planted deep within us, but that we may easily forget about if we neglect our spiritual lives. St. Paul talks about a treasure in earthen vessels which finds expression in a beautiful St. Louis Jesuits’ hymn which has the refrain: We hold a treasure, not made of gold, in earthen vessels, wealth untold; one treasure only, the Lord, the Christ, in earthen vessels. Just to imagine that Christ dwells within us, these poor earthen vessels, through the Holy Spirit, but that we might forget about Him and not realise the treasure we have.
Here is the remembered quote from Edwina Gately that started all this:
We are too complicated. We have made God too complicated. We have been so anxious to define and to control, that God has been lost in all the definitions, the rituals and the rules. God is. And that perhaps is too simple for us.