Posted by: rosa alba | May 21, 2010

Hide and Seek

Seek ye first the kingdom of God
And His righteousness…

Ask and it shall be given unto you,
Seek and ye shall find,
Knock and the door will be opened unto you,

And the song starts over, breaking off into descant rounds. A song many of us remember from our school assemblies, Brownies, Guides and – do they still happen? – evangelical  Bible camps happened upon during the Glasgow Fair on the beaches of Ayrshire. One camp tied the song into a pirate treasure hunt in the rock pools of the beach at Portpatrick, back in the days of jelly shoes towelling  jumpsuits.

While Faith is undoubtedly a treasure (a friend once said “the greatest gift  my parents gave me was to teach me my Faith,” a sentiment I hope my son will echo), and a treasure  inextricably linked to the other two theological virtues of Hope and Love, the song itself seems to have both become popularised and have fuurther popularised the “gimme” approach to prayer  (the voice of Faith), a not unusual approach to life in this post-Thatcherite society. Lack of Faith in God, replaced with Faith in individualism and “Almighty Dollar” begets increasing lack of Faith when God – confused with Santa – fails to deliver.

The New International Translation of  Matthew 7: 7  uses a present continuous in place of the present finite rendering the better kennt King James Version of:
“Ask, and it shall be given you; seek, and ye shall find; knock, and it shall be opened unto you,”

“Keep asking, and it will be given to you. Keep searching, and you will find. Keep knocking, and the door will be opened for you.”

I wonder if this better reflects the process of growing in Faith (and Wisdom), growing in and through all the gifts of the Spirit, that is referred to in the quotation. For while this passage continues  by referring to a father’s love for his son (or daughter), and his providing them in their needs: to ask and seek and knock and find the door opened are not perhaps items on an immediately gratified shopping list. As part of the Sermon on the Mount, the content of Matthew 7, subtitled at Effective Prayer in the Jerusalem Bible translation, (v 7-11) the verses also has to be taken in the context of the whole Sermon of living a holy and faithful life: focussing on the metaphor of “entering” the door  that we stand knocking at  and which is:

“a narrow gate. For wide is the gate and broad is the road that leads to destruction, and many enter through it. But small is the gate and narrow the road that leads to life, and only a few find it.” (Matthew, vv 13 &14).

Further still, I think both the phrases (ideas) of “ask and it shall be given unto you” and “knock and the door shall be opened unto you” turn on (require, even)  the process of “searching and finding” that bridges them; and, to return to the KJV translation (though it applies equally if less boldly in the NIV) in this bridging concept, the (grammatical) voice shifts from passive (be given, be opened) to active: the searching and finding involves our participation and commitment, our action.

How do we search and when: I think of the RAF Search and Rescue helicopters, based until recently at Lossiemouth, and  so often seen and heard in the skies above the North Sea: I remember Piper Alpha, the Chinook crash and other oil-related and fishing-related losses at sea;  or of those lost on the Cairngorms, found after hours of searching in snow, wind, dark by the Mountain Rescue Volunteers.  Melodramatic connotations, but yet  symbolic of the pitfalls of life and the commitment involved in seeking “the narrow road…only a few find it”, and in the process many of us have long and murky “dark nights of the soul” the terror where nightfall and fog descents and we spend hours lost on treacherous mountains or where we we swim anchor-less in stormy seas. It is not gratuitous that  many of the songs of Southern Gospel Music feature lighthouses, ships, anchors. Our Lord Himself, familiar with both fishing and farming as ways of life, used not just nets and boats as symbols, but also used parable of the Faithful, Devoted Shepherd seeking out sheep lost in some “roch corrie”: sometimes the asking is a piteous bleat, answered by a crook around the neck “howking us up and leading us back to the sheiling”.  What is remarkable is how the metaphors of First Century Palestine still hold truth and resonate in  21st Century NE Scotland.

The phrase ‘the Lord helps those who help themselves’  is not, in fact, in the Bible but originates with Aesop and yet that is the inference we can on one level take from the verses quoted; however there is another aspect in which the” asking/receiving” cannot be divorced from the  active “seeking/finding”: verse 11 of Chapter 7 of Matthew (see above) speaks of God giving us that which is good for us.. it would be fatuous to use the trite excuse of “you did not ask the correct question”  or  yet, “you might not get what you asked for”, but prayerfully considering a problem, and taking it to the Lord for a solution can often result in us finding a way to work out an unexpected solution on our own. “Lord, let me win the lottery [to pay for a new boiler/afford a holiday/fix the bathroom]” may be answered with additional offers of paid employment or exchange of goods, or if we look hard enough, other options not often involving “handed to us on a plate”.  The road is hard and does involve our effort and commitment: work and sometimes sacrifice, of an extra coat, time, love.

James (the James, author of the book of the Bible) writes in 2:14 that faith without works is meaningless: “faith, if not accompanied by action, is dead” (NIV). It is the Grace of God, Grace visited on us and topped up in the Sacraments  that calls us to believe and sustains that belief but it is not “a one time” response to God’s call:

“Here I am! I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in and eat with him, and he with me;” (Rev. 3:20).

but, in our bleating human frailty, a constant “asking” “seeking” and “knocking at God’s door” in the hope of finding the key to let us in: the keys are Prayer and the Sacraments. In the Sacrament of Reconciliation, God says to us “come awa’ in, Ah’ve been waitin on ye;” and – in the Eucharist, “ye’ll be needing yer supper”: the feeding of the lambs, the mission given  Peter and the other Apostles by Our Lord during the time between the Resurrection and the Ascension.  There is an old Scottish joke: if you go to someone’s house at suppertime in Aberdeen, they will say, “Come in, ye’ll hae brought the supper” and in Edinburgh, “Come awa’ in, ye’ll hae had yer supper’, but in Glasgow they say “Come awa’ in, ye’ll be needing yer supper.” We can meet this further with the Highland custom of

“the guest who having taken salt, can never be ejected” (Ruthven Todd)

(the crime of the Campbells not, the slaughter of their rivals the MacDonalds of Glencoe, as the unforgiveable action of guests turning against their hosts):  once we have answered Him and sat down with Him,  the Shepherd, will not reject us – when “awa’ frae the fauld. fit-sair and wearit” we have strayed “far awa’ frae the bracken,” we only need to ask for the path back to the shieling, “the path He kens best for us” (Psalm 23). If we ask for help, in this we will receive.


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