Teachers of Tenderness

I spent this week with clergy from across Devon praying, studying and having fun. I was encouraged by the gift that we have in our clergy but I was reminded that if we are not careful we can miss the Teachers of Tenderness.

As part of my homily on Wednesday morning I spoke about Lisa. Lisa was part of a community of people with learning disabilities who worshiped in one of the churches where I was Team Rector.

Each week Lisa with her smile would delight in telling how many she scored in archery and where she had stopped for coffee and a cake. Lisa did not read so she always repeated the congregational responses – it added a wonderful pace to the service although it did catch visiting ministers out on occasions. When we started the administration of communion she would not wait to be directed she would come up to the altar when ready – often to the frustration of those who wanted to keep order. After she had received she would put her hand on my shoulder and bless me. I was aware of the muttering this caused from those concerned it was not liturgically or theologically coherent. Lisa and I could not have explained what had happened but we knew that God had happened and I carry her blessing with me today.


In the words of Jean Vanier she was a ‘teacher of tenderness’; In rephrasing the words of St Paul ‘God has chosen the weak and the foolish to confound those caught up in their heads’. Tablet 19/26 August 2017 page 6

Lisa gave what she had in a way she understood and God Transformed it and I am sure she did not know the impact that it had.

The passage given for the morning was John 6:1-14 the miracle of the bread and fishes and many of us who preach on this passage will suggest that the most obvious theological purpose is to show us that Jesus is the new Moses repeating one of the greatest acts of Exodus (Exodus 16:9-15); the Israelites being fed in super abundance with manner from heaven. The similarities are unmistakeable, both Moses and Jesus crossing the water into the desert; like Moses he sits down in the companies, appoints helpers to distribute the food and feeds them with miraculous bread in such quantities that baskets are left over.

The primarily symbolic meaning of the bread is the Word of God, the message of salvation. But I worry that being caught up in our heads we miss that it was a boy with 5 small barley loaves and two small fish – a teacher of tenderness.

In his small act he gave what he had in the way he understood without any understanding the impact it was going to have transformed by Christ – feeding and nourishing.

One of the wonderful things about living in Tiverton is being able to walk along the canal path with my dog. However, my dog is not always well behaved and much weights on my mind and there is a risk that because of my grumbling I miss the quail and the mana and caught up in my head I miss the Kingfisher catch fire.

Gerard Manley Hopkins in his poem ‘as the kingfisher catch fire’ uses a number of images to identify congruence between what a thing is and what it does.

The kingfisher, dragon fly catching and reflecting sun brightness, a stone tumbling over the rim of a well, a plucked violin string and the clapper of a bell sounding – ‘What I do: is me for that I came’.

The last image Hopkins uses being Christ who loves and acts in us in such a way that our lives express the congruence inside and outside, this congruence of ends and means –‘What I do: is me for that I came’

Eugene Peterson in his book ‘as the Kingfisher catch fire’ writes ‘Christ as both the means and the end playing through our limbs and eyes to the father through the features of our faces so that we find ourselves living almost in spite of ourselves, the Christ life and the Christ way. (Eugene Peters page xix As the King fisher catch fire)

In giving what we have to Christ he transforms it to life over following.

So let us not miss the bread and the quail by grumbling or miss the teachers of tenderness by being caught up in our heads.

Let us give what we have and trust the Christ life and the Christ way.

As the kingfisher catch
Gerard Manley Hopkins

 As kingfishers catch fire, dragonflies draw flame;
As tumbled over rim in roundy wells
Stones ring; like each tucked string tells, each hung bell’s
Bow swung finds tongue to fling out broad its name;
Each mortal thing does one thing and the same:
Deals out that being indoors each one dwells;
Selves — goes itself; myself it speaks and spells,
Crying Whát I dó is me: for that I came.

I say móre: the just man justices;
Keeps grace: thát keeps all his goings graces;
Acts in God’s eye what in God’s eye he is —
Chríst — for Christ plays in ten thousand places,
Lovely in limbs, and lovely in eyes not his
To the Father through the features of men’s faces.


About Sarah Mullally

If you wanted a blog run by an experienced blogger look elsewhere - I am a beginner. I am a mum, Bishop, Dame and poor potter - welcome.
This entry was posted in Uncategorized. Bookmark the permalink.

1 Response to Teachers of Tenderness

  1. acdodwell says:

    Thank you for this- obviously we were both taken by Jane William’s reference to this poem as I posted it on my blog yesterday!

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s