‘Les Miserables’ – a personal reflection

We’re all ‘miserables’ in need of God’s grace

As I sat down to write of the profound effect Victor Hugo’s Les Miserables had on my life, I found to my astonishment that I was writing in the voice of my 14 year old self. And so I wrote:

I borrowed Les Miserables from the mobile bus library when I was 14. I liked reading and each week with a friend I rode my bike to borrow books.

The book seemed like an adventure story, so I read it. It was about a man who had a hard life. He helped people.

He rescued a poor girl and really cared for her. There were lots of adventures. But then, when she married, it was strange because he felt he shouldn’t be with her new family. This was sad. Eventually he died, nearly alone, but the candlesticks were with him. They reminded him always of a man who many years ago saved his life and helped him to go a different way. He was given a chance and it was not easy but he made choices to go that better way. They were sometimes hard choices. Choices matter.

But some people are cruel and they don’t give you another chance, and that’s not fair. In the story there were women and children who hardly ever got any chances. People were cruel to them. I didn’t like that. It was unfair. But the man, because he had been given a second chance by the first kind man, he then himself gave people second chances. I liked that. I wanted to be like these two men. They were both kind and gave second chances to all sorts of people. Second chances matter.

Growing up I didn’t have a father. I lived with my two sisters, mother, grandmother and great uncle. They all loved me and gave me second chances – and lots more chances. But people were not kind to my mother. They wouldn’t let us into a father and son night because she wasn’t a father. But a kind man from church saw my mother crying. He asked her if he could be my father for an hour and he took my friend, his real son, and me to the meeting. He was a good man who stood up for my mum and me.

I think that God helped the two men in the story. The candlesticks showed that. Throughout the rescued man’s life he carried the Bishop’s candlesticks with him to remind him that he belonged to God.They were with that man when he died: “He lay back with his head turned to the sky, and the light from the two candlesticks fell upon his face.”

Reading this, I do indeed hear my younger voice. I have never forgotten the story Les Miserables nor the two men, the second chance, and the story of the candlesticks.

The themes of Les Miserables (‘The Poor and Wretched’) are the themes of our own lives.

The released, but brutalised, convict Jean Valjean, having received the Bishop’s hospitality, then robbed him of silver cutlery. Valjean is subsequently captured by the police and brought for condemnation before the Bishop. To Valjean’s astonishment, the Bishop insists the cutlery has been given to Valjean and even adds two silver candlesticks (“You forgot to take these”).

Privately, the Bishop challenges Valjean: “You promised me to become a good man. I am buying your soul. I am rescuing you from a spirit of perversity and giving it to God” What beauty! The joy and power of grace and grace’s agenda.

Yes, forgiveness is given. Grace is received. A second chance begun. But the very next day, the second chance is dramatically thrown into question: Valjean robs a vagrant boy of a coin. The boy protests, struggles briefly, but then flees in fright. Valjean seems to suddenly come to himself and rushes after the boy but cannot find him. Guilt-ridden and in despair, he weeps in remorse.

This turning point (while omitted in contemporary musicals) is a key to understanding the book: “Did any voice whisper to him that he was at a turning point in his life, that henceforth there could be no middle way for him, that he must become either the best of men or the worst?… What was certain, although he did not realise it, was that he was no longer the same man. Everything in him was changed.”

Jean Valjean struggled to live out the consequences of forgiveness, of the grace of the second chance. So unfolds a wonderful story of redemption, hope, sacrifice and love: of living out the Bishop’s gift of the candlesticks.

I think that’s why I treasure my own ‘candlesticks’: reminders of God’s grace and forgiveness.

See, Inner Life: Book: Bishop John Harrower reflects on reading Victor Hugo’s classic ‘Les Miserables’ http://tma.melbourneanglican.org.au/inner-life/harrower-on-les-mis-290917  September 29 2017

God’s promise, my eyes

God’s promise given decades ago – true today and true tomorrow. Praise God!

Psalm 121 Revised Standard Version (RSV)

Assurance of God’s Protection

A Song of Ascents.

I lift up my eyes to the hills.
From whence does my help come?
My help comes from the Lord,
    who made heaven and earth.

He will not let your foot be moved,
    he who keeps you will not slumber.
Behold, he who keeps Israel
    will neither slumber nor sleep.

The Lord is your keeper;
    the Lord is your shade
    on your right hand.
The sun shall not smite you by day,
    nor the moon by night.

The Lord will keep you from all evil;
    he will keep your life.
The Lord will keep
    your going out and your coming in
    from this time forth and for evermore.

Dios es fiel – God is faithful

Praying in real time

In conversation about prayer today, Peter Adam commented on Brother Andrew and prayers for a persecuted church:

Please don’t pray for us.
Please pray with us.
If you pray for us, you will pray for the wrong things. You will pray for safety.
But if you pray with us, you will ask God to bring millions to faith in Christ.
You will pray that when the inevitable backlash comes because of our witness, we will be faithful, even if it costs us our lives.

 

Can I pray in this way for the persecuted church?

Can I pray this for our missionaries, can I pray this for myself in the evolving context of Australian life and ministry?

May God give me the strength to be real in my discipleship, in my prayer life. Amen.

Also, Archbishop Romero’s Prayer/ Poem

Prayer for Bishop’s Election Tasmania

Today and tomorrow the Synod of the Anglican Church in Tasmania is meeting in Launceston to elect the 12th Bishop of Tasmania. Gayelene and I have been praying for the Nomination Committee, the clergy nominated, the members of the Synod and Bishop Chris Jones presiding at the Synod – God’s grace in Christ and the discernment of the Holy Spirit be with you all as you prayerfully gather in the name of the Triune God that Father’s will be done and Tasmania and the nation be blessed.

Eternal God, shepherd and guide,
in your mercy give your Church in the Diocese of Tasmania
a shepherd after your own heart
who will walk in your ways,
and with loving care watch over your people.
Give us a leader of vision and a teacher of your truth.
So may your Church be built up
and your name glorified;
through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

For more information see Anglican Church in Tasmania

A Blessing in Brokenness

A Service of Lament at Christ Church Cathedral opened the Diocese of Newcastle’s Synod last night. The Holy Spirit ministered powerfully as the tragedy of child sexual abuse touched deep within each of us. The sorrow and tears were visible signs of the deeper lament.

I thank Diocesan Bishop Greg, Bishop Peter and their leadership, for compassionately embracing both publically and profoundly, the trauma and grieving of victims, their loved ones, the Anglican family and wider community.

I was honoured to preach the sermon which concluded with the following blessing. I adapted it from an Irish Franciscan Blessing to the particular context of the Diocese of Newcastle.

A Blessing in Brokenness 

May God bless us with discomfort,
At easy answers, half-truths,
And superficial responses
So that we may seek truth boldly
And love deep within our hearts.

May God bless us with holy anger
At injustice, oppression,
And exploitation and abuse of children and adults,
So that we may tirelessly work for
Justice, integrity and peace.

May God bless us with tears,
To shed for those who suffer or suffered such abuse,
Betrayal, rejection, pain,
The loss of faith, trust, innocence, of all that they hold dear,
So that we may reach out our hands
To believe and comfort them and
To share in their pain.

And may God bless us
With enough foolishness
To believe that we can
Make a difference in the world,
So that we can do, with God’s grace,
What others claim cannot be done
To bring justice and kindness: health,
To all our children, survivors of abuse,
Those who are grieving and ourselves.

In the name of Him whom we seek to serve:
Our Holy, Just and Loving Saviour,
The Broken Resurrected One, Jesus Christ. Amen.

Christ Church Cathedral’s Facebook with some photos from the Service of Lament.

Remembering Aunty Ida West

Unpacking brings forth hidden treasures. Here is a treasure: finding prayers and reflections about Aunty Ida West! I brought them together for Aunty Ida’s Funeral Service in St David’s Cathedral Hobart on 11th September 2003. Let me share them with you.

FUNERAL SERVICE OF AUNTY IDA WEST: Reflection and Prayers

In a book* that celebrated 52 Australian Leaders, Aunty Ida wrote:

‘There are a number of passages of Scripture that I find help me, . . . The passage in Matthew 14:22-33 about Peter (seeing Jesus and) stepping out of the boat onto the water and about his fear reminds me of the times I have been fearful, when I have had to step out of the boat. I get comfort from an old hymn ‘A Few More Years Shall Roll’. I’ve kept a copy of the hymnal for many years because it gives me hope and comfort; I even have a tape of me singing it from many years ago, and I sometimes listen to it. I am comforted when I say

A few more struggles here,
A few more partings o’er,
A few more toils, a few more tears
And we shall weep no more:
Then, O my Lord, prepare
My soul for that blest day.’

The hymn (by Horatio Bonar) continues:

‘Tis but a little while
And He (Jesus) shall come again,
Who died that we might live. Who lives
That we with Him might reign:
Then, O my Lord, prepare
My soul for that glad day.

In this Cathedral today, let us pray with confidence to God, who raised Jesus Christ from the dead for the salvation of all, the God in whom Aunty Ida found hope and comfort and who has received her into His glorious presence on ‘that blest day’, the day of her earthly death.

A Prayer of Thanks for Aunty Ida’s life

Thanks be to God for the gift of life.
God of life, you have made us in your image,
you called us to reflect your truth and light.
We thank you for the life of Aunty Ida.
We thank you that her life did reflect your truth and light.
We give thanks for her love for you that nurtured her love
for her aboriginal people and for all people.

A Prayer for the community; for we who mourn Aunty Ida’s death

God of all mercy, giver of all comfort:
Look graciously we pray, on those who mourn,
especially Ida’s sisters, Girlie and Bernice, and her children,
Lennah, Darrell and Michael and their families.
Also for her grandchildren, great-grandchildren and great-great-grandchild.

Casting all their troubles and concerns on you,
may they know the comfort of your love;
through Jesus Christ our risen Lord. Amen.

A Prayer that Aunty Ida’s work will continue

Dear Peace making God,
we thank you that Aunty Ida worked for reconciliation and justice,
because in her words, ‘that is what the Lord would want me to do’*.
Help us to maintain that commitment
so that our community might be reconciled and just. Amen.

Lord’s Prayer-Traditional

Our Father, who art in heaven,
hallowed be thy name,
thy kingdom come,
thy will be done,
on earth as it is in heaven.
Give us this day our daily bread.
And forgive us our trespasses
as we forgive those who trespass against us.
And lead us not into temptation,
but deliver us from evil.
For thine is the kingdom, the power, and the glory
for ever and ever.     Amen.

Bishop John Harrower

*NOTE 1: Aunty Ida is featured in the book: Living Faith in Public Life: Fifty-Two Australian Voices, Openbook Publishers, Adelaide, 2000, pages 108-109.

NOTE 2: A Favourite Hymn of Aunty Ida West: THE TIME IS SHORT” (by Horatio Bonar)

A few more years shall roll,
A few more seasons come
And we shall be with those that rest
Asleep with in the tomb:
Then, O my Lord, prepare
My soul for that great day:
O wash me in Thy precious Blood,
And take my sins away.

A few more suns shall set
O’er these dark hills of time,
And we shall be where suns are not,
A far serener clime:
Then, O my Lord, prepare
My soul for that bright day:
O wash me in Thy precious Blood,
And take my sins away.

A few more storms shall beat
On this wild rocky shore,
And we shall be where tempests cease,
And surges swell no more:
Then, O my Lord, prepare
My soul for that calm day:
O wash me in Thy precious Blood,
And take my sins away.

A few more struggles here,
A few more partings o’er,
A few more toils, a few more tears,
And we shall weep no more:
Then, O my Lord, prepare
My soul for that blest day:
O wash me in Thy precious Blood,
And take my sins away.

‘Tis but a little while
And He shall come again,
Who died that we might live. Who lives
That we with Him might reign:
Then, O my Lord, prepare
My soul for that glad day:
O wash me in Thy precious Blood,
And take my sins away.

NOTE 3: The Media Release: ANGLICAN MEDIA TASMANIA
Media Officer: Rev. Stephen Carnaby
Tel: 0417 343710   Email: bishop@anglicantas.org.au   PO Box 405, Sandy Bay, 7006
_________________________________________________________________

Tuesday 9th September 2003   MEDIA RELEASE: TRIBUTE TO AUNTY IDA

The Bishop of Tasmania, the Right Reverend John Harrower, today paid tribute to Aboriginal leader, the late Aunty Ida West, who, he said, had lived a life of wonderful service both to her people and to Tasmania.

Bishop Harrower described Aunty Ida’s life as “one of great inspiration, flowing from a deep commitment to Jesus Christ, which in turn nurtured her love for her people and for Tasmania.”

He said that he would long remember the part she played in his welcome as Bishop of Tasmania: “Aunty Ida and two other Aboriginal elders placed my hands into some Tasmanian soil as both a welcome and a reminder of who had been the original custodians of the land. It was a very moving moment.”

Bishop Harrower said he would long remember the time he spent with Aunty Ida recently at her farewell celebration at Glenorchy: “I took with me to the celebration a plaque she gave me a year ago, inscribed with the words ‘Jesus is my Rock’. On that very special day she reminded me never to forget in whom I have put my trust.”

The Bishop said that the most striking thing about Ida West was her selfless giving: “She was always thinking of, and giving to, others. Her willingness to put others first was the most striking thing about her and a wonderful example to us all.”

See also: NAIDOC Week 2015  – Celebration of Reconciliation  – The Water Ceremony

Blessing: Good Samaritan Donkey Sanctuary & ICU

BLESSING of 25th ANNIVERSARY and INTENSIVE CARE UNIT of the
GOOD SAMARITAN DONKEY SANCTUARY Hunter Valley NSW 4 October 2015

God of Life,
you honoured donkeys with life giving labour and service to humanity.
Donkeys carried Mary and Jesus to Bethlehem for birth,
and then in escape from death to safety in Egypt.
Jesus chose a donkey to ride into Jerusalem
by which to demonstrate that he came in peace.

God of Life,
we thank you for your blessing on the Good Samaritan Donkey Sanctuary;
as we celebrate 25 years of devoted donkey care and rescue.

On this day we especially ask your blessing on the Intensive Care Unit.
Bless the donkeys who receive care here.
Bless the workers with skill, persistence and joy in healing.
Bless the donors who have generously provided this beautiful Intensive Care Unit.

Bless these pastures, hills and river
with seasonal weather, growth and safety
that donkeys will be provided for in abundance.
Bless these buildings, facilities and equipment
with regular maintenance and wise usage
that the donkeys receive loving care,
and the honour and respect due to them.

As Jesus blessed the love of the Good Samaritan;
Bless, we pray, the love of the Good Samaritan Donkey Sanctuary.

These blessings we ask in the name of Jesus Christ
who honoured donkeys
both through his teaching and by his actions. Amen.

*I wrote this Blessing at the request of the Founder of the Sanctuary, Jo-Anne Kokas, and took pleasure in praying it at this special celebration on St Francis Day 2015.

*I should add that a delightful touch was our former donkey, Petal, who was in the pen just behind me as I prayed. Petal nudged the gate with her muzzle throughout the Blessing seeking my attention! She lived in Tasmania on our property for some years before returning to the Sanctuary for health reasons. Life was always an adventure with our Petal! One of Petal’s many engagements in Tasmania involved the Easter March of witness and The Water Ceremony.

*For more information, see: Good Samaritan Donkey Sanctuary.

Farewell Speeches

I have been asked by a number of people to share a couple of farewell speeches.

One was given by Anne Brown at Synod this year. This speech radiates God’s love so beautifully and powerfully thorough the words of His people.  Here it is: Thankyou_BpJohn.

Thankyou_John_cover photo

The other speech was given by Kathryn Anderson at our last Diocesan Council meeting. I was deeply moved by such heartfelt words:  Farewell speech DC

A Thank You Letter 23 Sept 2015

A ‘THANK YOU LETTER’ from JOHN & GAYELENE HARROWER

23 September 2015

Dear Brothers and Sisters in Christ,

Thank you for your interest and prayerful support of our life and ministry in Tasmania over these past 15 years.

It has been a wonderful privilege to participate in God’s work in the islands of Tasmania.

With the Tasmanian Anglican Family, we have shared in joyful celebrations as well as worked through heartrending situations. And these have deepened our trust in God and our respect and affection for one another.

In all of this, we have co-laboured in the grace of God in Christ to build a healthy church … transforming life. So many have given generously of their time and talents to the mission of God in Tasmania. We are blessed to be a part of you.

We are thrilled that The Revd Meredith Campbell with her sister Mrs Alex Chittick are taking over the Anglican Church Donkey Ministry in Tasmania, and that Arthur and Jeanne Wherrett have offered to assist as required. Gayelene raised about $12,500 for mission with her British Giant Rabbit business and we praise God for these years of rural life. Our chooks found a family home, the ferrets are with us as are our two dogs. So we are now settling into life in Melbourne. In October I commence a half-time role as Bishop assisting the Primate of the Anglican Church of Australia and we are connecting with our family and former parish of GWAC (St Barnabas Glen Waverley).

We have been greatly blessed to receive cards, letters and creative expressions of thanks. We have them in a beautiful folder prepared by the ever thoughtful and efficient EA Carolyn McGinn. Thank you one and all, and please accept our apology for not being able to reply to each of you personally.

The Farewell Services in Ulverstone, Launceston and St David’s Cathedral (7,9,12 September), will remain in our hearts and minds always. Special thanks go to our gracious brothers and sisters who gave generous speeches of appreciation and to all who attended, including Elvis! – Life is rarely dull in Tasmania! What joyful celebrations of God’s grace and goodness among us, and through us!

Thank you to all those who participated in the wonderfully generous Farewell Gift to us of $12,341.30 towards SparkLit’s mission* project to support the ministry of the Open theological Seminary in Lahore Pakistan. This is totally beyond anything we could ever have hoped or imagined. Your Farewell Gift has given us such joy as we know of the great encouragement this will be to our Pakistani brothers and sisters. Thank you!

Please be assured of Gayelene and my continuing prayers for the Anglican Family of Tasmania and for its mission to Tasmania and the world.

As Christ’s pilgrim people we are ever on the move as the Holy Spirit guides us into, and through, the seasons of life. We have every confidence because we trust in the God of Life. We join in the words of the Early Church’s great ‘Hymn of Christ’,

Christ is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn over all creation. For by him all things were created: things in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or powers or rulers or authorities; all things were created by him and for him. He is before all things, and in him all things hold together. (Colossians 1:15-17)

We thank God and we thank you for your part in these 15 years of being at mission with our wonderful Tasmanian Anglican Family.

In deep gratitude, Gayelene and I pray this blessing upon the people of these beautiful islands:

A BLESSING FOR TASMANIA
God of all Life,
Bless in abundance the lives of the people of Tasmania.
Enrich our society with relationships that deepen our common life.
Grant seasonal weather to our State,
And enable us, by your grace, to create life-enriching work for our unemployed.
God of all Life, bless Tasmania.

God of all Light,
Bless this State with leadership that is honest and caring.
Send the light of your wisdom on our work and our play.
Shine the light of your justice on all our dealings,
So that these islands may reflect your light in all the world.
God of all Light, bless Tasmania.

God of all Love,
Bless Tasmania with your love, in all we say and do.
Help us to love one another, as neighbours and friends.
Care for families whose young have left these shores.
And by your good Spirit, ignite our love for Christ.
God of all Love, bless Tasmania

In the Name of God: the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit. AMEN.

John and Gayelene 🙂  🙂 

A Blessing for Tasmania’ written by Bishop John Harrower on the occasion of his Ordination as 11th Bishop of Tasmania St David’s Cathedral Hobart 25 July 2000
*Sparklit’s mission, http://sparklit.org/2015/06/02/for-such-a-time-as-this/
See also: