Thursday, 29 November 2012

A Humble Crown

"Grey hair is a crown of splendour, it is attained by a righteous life" (Proverbs 16:31)

Sundays are just the best. The day breaks with a sweetness to it, birdsong is clearer. It is a day of breathing deeply, pausing often and most of all, giving thanks. As our voices are carried out and over the mountaintops, joy is born. I look around the room where we are gathered, starting with a beautiful nonagenarian man, eyes closed, his bony hands resting lightly in his lap. Then glancing over each radiant face, before my gaze comes to rest on my littlest one, arms up, his small palms stretched out wide. Five generations, joined together in song... The moment swells and becomes a memory. Later, when the little worshipper is sitting in the elder's lap, I am struck by the gentle strength and unmistakable sense of peace around this man. The time is over all too soon, and I just know that if I could spend a day sitting at his feet, I would be richer and have deeper understanding.

One of the sad realities of living in the mountains, has always been the vast distance between us and our families. I used to think that our children would be poorer for growing up without an extended family. They have no real concept of family in terms of blood relations, but we have been truly blessed by an amazing "mountain family". They are not there to replace those who are far away, but they have given us a sense of belonging, added substance to our lives and offered more than generous support.

The best of all is that we are the "youngsters" in this family. What binds us is a shared love for Christ. The respect I feel for them is not because they are such wise, strong and "good" folk, but because they are humble and real. For me, the heart of a healthy community is mutual respect. This morning I almost read "over" 1 Peter 2:17: Show proper respect for everyone... At first glance it seemed so obvious, but then I looked again. Show, meaning; make it outward, tangible. Everyone being, I would imagine, well, everyone. Not only those whom I think have earned it, or have a position that demands it. Everyone. The word "respect" comes from the Greek word timao meaning honour, revere or venerate. It literally means placing a great value on something. Interestingly, today we tend to place our values on personal rights and the equality of man. Loving God means surrendering my rights and being willing to serve.

Respecting everyone also means we should be especially conscious that God has created all people in His image, regardless of whether they believe in Christ. Therefore, we should show them respect and honour, because their souls are of more value than all the wealth in the world. The second part of the verse reads; love the brotherhood of believers, fear God, honour the king (authorities)...

I was quite humbled (and flattered of course) when a talented young Xhosa artist and friend grabbed my hand and made a little curtsy when I told him my age. "Oh respect, mama" he said, his dreadlocks bobbing up and down around his face. Old Testament laws demanded that people should rise in the presence of the aged. (no, not counting myself in that category yet...) Lev 19:32 goes on to say "show respect for the elderly and revere your God".
There is true beauty in "ageing", even though it has become a word that is mostly seen with an "anti" before it. The world view is to resist it, counter it, slow it down. Could it be because we have forgotten how to "revere" the elders? That we fear becoming "old fools", instead of being embraced and respected, consulted rather than forgotten.

How God must smile when a grey head bows down before him. In spite (or perhaps as a result of) all that they have seen in this crazy world. My prayer is, should I live to hold my own grandchildren in my lap, that I may remember the value of their souls. Remember to place their names in His hands and pray that they may be engraved there, until; grey but glorified - they too will be led into the Eternal Light.

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