This year’s Whitehall carol service came at the end of a challenging year. CIG were honoured to have our honorary Chaplain, Rev Jonathan Aitken, speak to civil servants on the power of gratitude in facing fear.
As part of a very moving message, Jonathan shared his personal story about prayers of gratitude.
‘Some years ago, I was going through a self-inflicted career catastrophe. A fall from grace which saw me crashing from Cabinet Minister to Convict, serving a prison sentence in HMP Belmarsh, for perjury. In the middle of this downward spiral disaster I was advised to take the spiritual advice of an eminent monk.
This venerable former Abbot listened carefully to my tale of woes as I described how I was going through the fires of: Defeat, Disgrace, Divorce, Bankruptcy, and Jail.
But, instead of offering me sympathy, the old monk lent forward in his chair and said in his quavery voice:
“Have you tried thanking God for them?”
I could almost have hit him!
But the monk went on to guide me to a couple of telling sentences in a book which in the 17th Century was regarded as a great Christian Classic “A Serious Call to a Devout and Holy Life”. Its author, William Laud, wrote these two arresting sentences: “If anyone would tell you the shortest, surest way to all happiness they would tell you to make it a rule to thank and praise God for everything that happens to you. For it is certain that whatever seeming calamity befalls you, if you thank and praise God for it, you turn it into a blessing”.
Just for a moment, ponder on these words of spiritual wisdom. Then apply them to any of your own personal worries and then to the pressures of the Pandemic.
In my own life, once I started to thank God for my personal disasters and chastenings, I learned from them, and now, with gratitude, I count my blessings for my happy and fulfilled life as a Priest and Prison Chaplain.
And looking at the Pandemic, I think we can all begin to see with gratitude what the Prophet Isaiah called “The Treasures of Darkness”.
They include: The superbly dedicated work of the NHS.
The amazing scientific discoveries of the Scientists at Oxford University and elsewhere, who appear to have found new vaccines which will contain not only Corona Virus but all sorts of other viral strains which, unvaccinated, might cause pandemics in the future.
The many individual acts of kindness and good neighbourliness which keep on occurring in local communities.
And perhaps through the fog of our fears we can even begin to see the emerging contours of a gentler, kinder, softer and less sharply materialistic Britain, which might embody the spirit of Christmas all year round.
If these ‘Treasures of Darkness’ are real, as I believe they are, let’s be thankful for them and encourage them, and pray for them.
I wish you all a grateful, unfearful, happy and blessed Christmas.’