Tuesday, November 29, 2016

Training for the evil of Murmuring?

Another long train journey home, and I hear the announcement that, due to a "lack of train staff" my train has been terminated a few stops short of its destination. I have to get off the nice, warm train and onto a cold station to await a train whose arrival no-one knows, including the train staff.

I wanted to find out if there was another train due, but when I arrived at the information desk, I was met with a lone girl whose job wasn't to man (or in this case, woman) the information desk facing a group of men who were making loud complaint about being thrown off the train because "someone couldn't be bothered to do their job." I had a certain sympathy for their complaint: it seemed strange to me why the current driver of our train was not going to end his shift at the terminus, which would have been more logical.

For once, I was only mildly irritated. At a different time, I too would have been livid at the inconvenience. In a few months, I might find myself livid at the inconvenience. Today, however, I was not that bothered. This was not the same for the blokes who were shouting at this woman. I was trying to ascertain what they were trying to achieve. They were clearly angry. They had been working hard, and they wanted to go home and have their dinner. As the result of someone "not doing their job properly", they would be late home.

Yet, what could the poor girl do? She couldn't magic up a new driver who may or may not have been delayed on another train. She couldn't give any information about the next train out because, first, she did not possess a radio and, second, the decision had not yet been made by the powers-that-be. She was there trying to help, trying to co-ordinate a difficult situation. She didn't want to cancel the train.Instead she seemed to be the one accused of cutting the budget to pay staff overtime so that they could continue the journey. I have to give her her due, she did not let this misplaced angst get to her. She dealt with it really well, and the British Transport Police managed to calm the situation.

For me, it was a fascinating study in the power of murmuring. St Benedict very clearly describes this as a vice, and it was instances like this that show his wisdom and the presence of God in his thinking. What was initially irritation worked up into a frenzy of anger as the murmurs against the situation grew and became more and more irrational.

I will admit to being a very bad Benedictine. I complain A LOT! It's something that I need to work on and, with the grace of God I shall. Sometimes, it's just a need to voice some form of dissatisfaction. Other times, as I saw today, this complaint simply doesn't do any good at all. It achieved nothing and made people feel awkward. Sometimes, we just have to accept things the way they are.

In our line of work, there are people who can really make work difficult with unreasonable demands or ill-thought through requirements, or through not doing the work they are supposed to do. There are people who are unpleasant in the way they deal with things, there are systems that seem arcane and produce more trouble than support. There are always obstacles which scupper the most reasonable of plans. We can complain and murmur, but that can't achieve much.

The trouble is that this murmuring can lead us into very dark water.

In the U.K., I voted to remain in the EU. Brexit won and yet there were complaints that this was not sufficiently democratic. Perhaps it should have required a two-thirds majority. Perhaps, now that Parliament has been given the right to vote on when Article 50 is triggered, the MPs will vote it down. Blame Boris Johnson! Blame Nigel Farage! Treachery! Treachery! What this country needs is a revolution.

And in the U.S. "Trump is not my president!" "Abolish the Electoral College!" "Democracy isn't working!" "Secede from the Union!"

No. The point is that we are all in this together. We need to get some perspective, and what murmuring fails to do is to give that whole perspective. Murmuring focusses the attention on one tiny little aspect of life that causes us wrath so that we fail to take into account the bigger picture. When we are angry, our opinions suddenly become facts with which we seek to beat to death the cause of our irritation.

The news that broke my heart this week was that a premature baby was left to die in a sluice room in a hospital. We can play the blame game, but whatever caused this tragedy doesn't undo this tragedy. Out there are two parents in the greatest pain, requiring support, seeking answers but nothing can be done. Of course, I am angry about this. It grieves me dearly. May I be angry at God for this?

The trouble is that we just cannot get the bigger picture. We can't see th system as a whole. There are probably very strict rules about how many hours a train driver can drive a train and this is for our safety as passengers. It seems daft that the driver isn't allowed to drive for another 10 minutes to reach the terminus,m but this is probably due to a coincidence of difficult scenarios and rules which work against each other. Democracy is the same, the system isn't perfect and may seem to work against us. We cannot see the bigger picture and so perhaps we should just accept that things are difficult for other people other than ourselves. Rather than tear each other apart, we need even more to pull together, to accept that the system is flawed and all of us, ALL of us, seek to do the best we can for the sake of our society and our community. That's why St Benedict hates murmuring - it does more harm than good. Far from being an outlet of one's anger and frustration, it rips the community to pieces in a welter of accusation and bitterness.

Should we be angry at God for all the Evil in the world? God is certainly big enough to cope with our tears of sheer grief and misery at the horrible situations in which human beings find themselves. The trouble is that we don't have the capacity to see the whole picture - we CAN'T have the capacity to see the whole picture. Our tears are precious to God: He does put them in a bottle presumably to take stock of how much we truly care for others. If there is any answer to the problem of the presence of Evil in the world, then that answer must be cross-shaped. The Mystery of Our Lord's Life, Death and Resurrection is to give an answer to Evil, but to understand it requires us to experience its power before we can know what true salvation is. There is no answer that we can understand, nor can the answer save us from Evil; only Our Lord can save us. His answer to Evil  is "No! These are my children!"

Sometimes, it is all we can do just to pull ourselves back from complaining. Sometimes, all we can do is just sit there open-mouthed, with wet eyes and aching hearts and pray to God, "even so, come Lord Jesus!"

Even so, come, Lord Jesus.

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