As I write early on a Tuesday morning, the weather has taken a savage turn towards autumn. For the last couple of weeks weíve had something of a late summer and even when thereís been no sun weíve had mild temperatures and dry days. I donít know about you, but when the sun shines or the air is warm anything seems possible. I feel much more relaxed and open to the world around me. I dread winter because I know Iíll end up huddling into myself and being crotchety with people around me. The way ahead looks bleak and lifeless and uninspiring.
But this morning as the wind howls around the Grange and as it brings with it lashing rain I am starting to learn about the greatness and majesty of God. The mystics (men and women who have learned to see beyond the end of their spiritual noses) tell us that we should learn to find God in every thing and every person, even and especially that which is repugnant to us. Wind and rain is repugnant to me but both get everywhere and nothing that is out in the open remains untouched by them. In particular, we only know the presence of the wind by the way that the trees move and the sound it makes as it moves through trees and round buildings. But to all intents and purposes, the wind is invisible. Not unlike God, eh?
In a couple of weeks the bones of St Therese of Lisieux will come to Leeds and people will come to pray beside them following an ancient tradition of our Church to venerate (honour) relics of saints. It is very easy to see how people might find this idea repugnant, or morbid or just downright gross, medieval nonsense; but you can guarantee it will attract attention. When I go to venerate the bones of St Therese I wonít be praying to those bones, Iíll be doing something that just about all of you who are reading this do: Do you have a picture of your football hero on your wall? Do you have your favourite pop star on your phone? Do you have a keepsake of a relative who has died (a watch, a piece of jewellery, a bible perhaps)? Do you have pictures of people in your house who have died? Through these things we allow ourselves to be connected to another world other than our own little world. Youíre not likely to get close up and personal with your favourite pop/movie star or your favourite footballer; and you have no chance of holding the hand of the person in those pictures who died some time ago. But what you do have (your pics, your personal file on your mobile) are inventive ways that you use to see beyond the end of your spiritual nose and to move, in part, in a world that might otherwise seem closed to you.
This is what relics represent: access to another world through that which might seem alien or repugnant. The life and teaching of St Therese has been very influential amongst millions of people for over a century and when I visit the relics in a couple of weeks Iím hoping that my proximity to something so intimately connected to that teaching and life will remind me at a deeper level of the need to put that teaching into action. I have a picture, which I clearly remember taking, of my grandma and granddad Lodge sitting next to the bowling green in Batley park in the late 1970s. When I look at it I am reminded of their great love for each other, and whilst I am sad that they are not here with me anymore that memory of their love for each other and for me warms my heart and makes me smile.
So it is with the relics of St Therese and all the saints. I am provoked into thinking about deeper things beyond the end of my nose, things that speak of Godís world and life. As Iím sure God moves through the bright, warm days, as Iím sure that this howling wind speaks to me in some way of the mysterious God, so Iím sure that the dry bones of this young woman from another time can be used by God to make me thing about things outside of my world and my concerns. And perhaps thatís what people might really be objecting to when they say venerating her relics is morbid, gross, medieval; maybe theyíre a little nervous at the thought that God might just Ďgetí to them in this strange way. St Thereseís bones represent death for so many people; for me, they represent a doorway into real life, the sort of life Jesus wants me to share with him.