Yours Faithfully, The Rt Rev John Pritchard, Bishop of Oxford
Ronald Knox was a precocious little boy of four and he often found it difficult to get to sleep. His parents asked him what he did when he couldn’t sleep and he replied very seriously, ‘I lie there and I think about the past.’ At four years of age he didn’t have very much past to think about, but most of us have rather a lot. A few nights ago we may have been thinking about last year and what we had managed to achieve, and that may have been a bit of a mixed picture.
There should, hopefully, have been some very good memories but there were doubtless some darker moments as well. And then there’s our longer past which we pull behind us like tin cans tied to the back of a newly-wed’s car. Those experiences and habits are jangling, noisy and hard to ignore.
But then came New Year’s Eve, a brilliant fireworks display (Thames or Dubai) and we started to look forward. It’s a strange moment, a tipping point, gazing out into a future full of vague shapes with nothing really distinct.
It can be daunting. Who knows what our life will be like in a year’s time? But it can also be invigorating because we have the opportunity to co-create our future. We can’t do it by ourselves because ‘no man is an island’ and also because unpredictable events will inevitably intervene in some way or other.
So we can’t absolutely control our future, but we can co-create it by giving it some values to work with, a framework of beliefs about what’s important, that we take very seriously. Those values are like the operating system on my computer – they aren’t the actual content of my life but they’re the mechanisms that shape it.
I got to wondering this year about the values on which I want to base my life. I remembered the strap line of a church I came across that named its values: love, live, grow, serve, build. Not bad. I remembered also the Christmas sermon I had preached in the cathedral a few days ago where I used the phrase: move in, live deep, share everything. Not bad either.
But then I remembered a deeper, older wisdom which named the key values to live by as ‘Faith, hope and love,’ and I felt I had come home. Those three make so much sense. They were written by St Paul in a passage often used in church weddings.
One of the iconic people from my own life died just after Christmas. He was my vicar when I was a young, bouncy curate, and I learned so much from him. I can see now that his key values were faith, hope and love.
One of the people I admire most is Archbishop Desmond Tutu who stood alongside Nelson Mandela all the time Mandela was in prison. Desmond Tutu was a vital force in the transition to black majority rule in South Africa. And I can see clearly that his key values were faith, hope and love.
Try doing without any of those three and you can see how we would lose our way. So I think those are the values I’ll try and live by in the year ahead. Faith, hope and love.
And by the way, ‘the greatest of these is love.’