Faithful Shepherd, Feed Me

Added about 2 years ago by Robert Beaken

GUEST BLOG: Robert Beaken looks for ways for Christians to keep nourishing their souls in the twenty-first century.

One of my heroes is Bishop Edward King (1829–1910), the saintly bishop of Lincoln between 1885 and 1910. His photograph sits on my desk to inspire me. Edward King was above all a pastoral bishop with a warm heart. His biographers Randolph and Townroe wrote: “His very presence was an inspiration; one always felt better for having seen him, and better able to face life. He cheered you and encouraged you, and would send you away from a visit to Lincoln ready to begin again and to go bravely on; and the vision of his radiant and joyous face as he stood at the Old Palace door to see you off kept dancing before your eyes on your way home.”

Lincoln then, as now, was a predominantly rural and agricultural diocese. Edward King wanted to be known by the people of his diocese and accessible to them. He travelled throughout Lincolnshire on the then extensive railway network (sadly, a casualty of Dr Beeching’s cuts), getting to know the station masters and railway staff at each station, visiting parishes and often spending the night at the vicarage with the vicar and his family. The bishop took especial delight in Sunday services and confirmations in small village churches. He had the knack of being able to convey important Christian teaching in words that could easily be understood by agricultural workers, by their families and children; and he did so in such a way that they did not feel patronised, but rather that their bishop was friend, who understood their often very hard lives.

Again and again in his teaching, Edward King spoke of the importance for Christians of feeding our souls. In the spring, when it was lambing time, he would frequently use the image of a newborn baby lamb: “Take a lamb three days old. Take it away from its mother. Give it no milk, nothing to eat; what would happen? You know. It would dwindle and die, and you would have no one else to thank for it.”

Gently, but persistently, the bishop would push home the lesson: “Now it’s just the same with your souls, dear children. If you don’t say your prayers, if you don’t come to Holy Communion, if you don’t read your Bibles, you are starving your souls; is it any wonder that they dwindle and die? Have you anybody to thank but yourself?”

It is not very fashionable nowadays to talk much about feeding our souls. It can seem a bit ego-centric or even self-important. Yet, the Christian life does require persistence and—as Edward King might have said—constant application on our part. Regular private prayer, Holy Communion and Bible reading are an irreducible spiritual trinity for all Christians. For priests—as all clerical readers will know only too well—there is often the danger that we may be so busy with the things of God that we can neglect God himself.

All Christians are on a pilgrimage through life, and—being realistic—from time to time on the journey, we all neglect to nourish our souls very adequately. We don’t go to Holy Communion when we easily might (or perhaps we receive the sacrament, but without much prayer and preparation beforehand), we rush our prayers and neglect our spiritual reading. The car—if I may use the image—drives along the road, but the level of petrol in the tank is often very low.

Well, we mustn’t beat ourselves too much up about this; and, as we grow as Christians, we may need to understand that what once nourished our souls sometimes does so no longer. The Lord may want us to move on and try something else.

We must also learn the important lesson that we should pray as we can, and not pray as we cannot. It is no good me in my parishes trying to lead the spiritual life of a cloistered Benedictine monk, or of a nineteenth-century vicar in Edward King’s time. I am a vicar in the twenty-first century, and I must seek ways of nourishing my soul and of loving and helping my parishioners that are appropriate for 2020, with all the opportunities and distractions of the present time.

If I must try not to have too low an expectation of the spiritual life, I must also try to avoid having an impossibly high expectation, which I shall never be able to fulfil and from which I shall fall away disappointed and disheartened. Prayer is a conversation between us and God, and short, simple prayers are often the best. We also need a bit of silence, to give God a chance to get a word in edgeways. Often, I pop into the chancels of my parish churches where the Blessed Sacrament is reserved and allow the peace and stillness that has built up around the Reserved Sacrament to strengthen and help me. I enjoy reading Holy Scripture (“letters from our heavenly country”, as St Augustine once memorably and beautifully described the Scriptures), and I would encourage us all to try other devotional books. I hope my new book will be something that many people can dip into and enjoy.

And the point behind regular private prayer, Holy Communion, Bible study and other spiritual reading? We are opening the door a little wider and bidding the Holy Spirit to step in. We are opening ourselves to God’s love, again and again, that he may change us and use us in his service.

Let the last word go to Bishop Edward King. One of his own oft-repeated prayers, which we might like to make our own, was: “Show Thou me the way that I should walk in, for I lift up my soul to Thee.”

The Revd Dr Robert Beaken is the author of Following Christ, a collection of sermons and spiritual addresses given in urban and rural parishes, following the Church’s liturgical year. Get your copy today.

Quotations from B.W. Randolph and J.W. Townroe, The Mind and Work of Bishop King, A.R. Mowbray and Co. Ltd, London, 1918, pp. 7, 154-56, 160.

Please note: Sacristy Press does not necessarily share or endorse the views of the guest contributors to this blog.

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