The London Marathon was a dynamic symbol of people’s willingness to push themselves hard to raise money for others. Indeed similar events are now held in countries all over the world. Sir Ranulph Fiennes drew attention to this global concern when he and a colleague ran seven marathons in seven days. Beginning on a Monday by running 26.2 miles on King George Island at the north end of the Antarctic peninsula, they then ran a marathon on each continent on the following seven days, in Santiago, Sydney, Singapore, London, Cairo and New York..
Their chosen charity was the British Heart Foundation, partly because Sir Ranulph can identify with those who have heart problems. A major heart attack four months (yes, months) before his week of marathons had left him unconscious for four days and nights. But then, in the course of 168 hours, Sir Ranulph’s wounded heart encircled the world.
Perhaps today, in less physically energetic ways, we might allow our hearts to take in the struggles and pain of people in this and other continents. Our hearts are wounded too, by our self-centredness and lack of vision, but being disabled didn’t prevent excellent performances in the weekend’s wheelchair event. Let us too, hold the world in our imaginations and thoughts, even if to enter its suffering wholeheartedly causes us pain.
Every time Gavin Jacobson reaches for the Heinz tomato ketchup bottle which he uses at every meal, he sees a label which says 'Gavin, phone mum'. Heinz replaced the normal label with one prompting him to call his mother, Maxine, after she begged them to help. 'Since starting university three months ago,’ said Mrs Jacobson, ‘he has only called home twice, so I persuaded Heinz to produce a one-off bottle so I could get my message across.' Now Gavin’s ketchup bottle is a permanent reminder of how his mum loves him and wants to keep in touch. Heinz has launched a competition inviting customers to suggest other alternative labels.
The kitchen cupboard may be where Gavin finds signs of his mother’s care but he, and the rest of us, can find reminders elsewhere that we are loved. All around us are signs of careful provision for our needs and our delight. Some things speak instead of suffering and pain but the world’s beauty and intricacy suggests there is a power that cares about us and wants to be in communication with us.
Where we can, let’s today enjoy what’s around us. We don’t need labels on what we see for much of it to make us feel we matter and, if we believe that the power behind it is personal, that God might be glad if we kept in touch.
We stayed in bed for a while on Bank Holiday Monday and did a crossword, the kind for which you need knowledge rather than ingenuity. As we brought to the surface facts and names we simply had no idea we knew, we marvelled at the human brain. Not only does it enable us to know what we need to know but it has the capacity to store huge amounts of information that we may never need, much of it utterly trivial.
In the gaps, while trying to bring the required facts to mind, we looked out at our window box where, among other flowers, there was a deep burgundy mimulus with lovely orange and yellow spots. This flower, like all mimuli, only lived for one day, and others in the box, on days when we are busier, may well go unnoticed during their lifetime. All that creativity and winter preparation just for one day.
The Biblical myth about creation suggests that God rested on the seventh day. We felt we deserved our day of rest on Monday. But, when you think what extravagant generosity and skill went into creating the world, we deserved it nothing like as much as God did!
The Djenne Mosque in Mali is built of mud and every year 40,000 people gather to repair the damage caused to its walls by the rainy season. They use the trunks of palm trees which are left sticking out of the walls to clamber up and restore the smoothness and strength of the exterior. The building is created out of one basic element, the earth, and is vulnerable to the power of another, the weather. It is kept in good repair by people who depend on nature and their own hard labour for their survival.
Christians believe that God chose to be part of earthly life, to become as dependent on its elemental forces as every other human being. You couldn’t get much closer to the soil than being born in a stable. Christ seems to have delighted in the natural world. He represented God’s involvement in the most basic aspects of human living and of God’s sharing in the basic human struggle to survive.
In the west, we are not so in touch with nature as in other parts of the world. But today we can enjoy the feel of the weather on our skin and the contact of our hands with material things. We, like those who annually repair the mosque, can find spiritual nourishment in being close to the physical world.