Wednesday, 3 August 2011

eyes to see

A Sermon for Holy Communion at SS. Mary and Nicholas, Littlemore, Oxford
Thursday, 21st July 2011, 7.30 p.m.

Gospel: Matthew 13:10-17

Eyes to see, and ears to hear

When we read this story, for many of us the first reaction is “But why?  Why keep it secret?  Why speak in parables, not in plain language?”

I have an old friend, a holy nun (she would resist the word holy, as is her right) who had a time of seeing to the reality of things, God’s reality.  At the sacrament of Holy Communion she could see the Holy Spirit.  Nuns being nuns, Reverend Mother said, “well if you can see so much, we’ve a leak in the laundry and perhaps you can find it”.  And she did. 

I asked her what it was like.  Very much to my surprise, she said “it’s hell”.  I thought it would have been wonderful and spiritual.  But it is not for mere mortals to see all that God can see, all the time.  Sometimes we need spiritual truth we can mull over in front of the telly, with a cup of tea. 

Perhaps you know the feeling described to me in a lecture one time – to my shame I forget who was speaking – quoting Bishop Ian Ramsey, one of the “great white hopes” of the Church of England, who thwarted all that by dropping dead when he was made bishop of Durham – he spoke of the moment when “the penny drops, the ice breaks” and some new understanding becomes clear.  Often it is something we already know, but haven’t yet expressed. 

There is a scene in the Forsyte Saga when after a sociable day with one of their nephews, one spinster aunt says to the other – having fathomed that his interest in his cousin’s wife is romantic rather than social – “Oh my dear, I’ve just had the most terrible thought”.  The elder sister replies, “then you mustn’t tell me, dear.”  The penny had dropped, the ice broken.

O God, give us ears to hear, and eyes to see, but please, not all the time.


Richard Haggis
Littlemore, Oxford
July 2011


  1. This is thought-provoking, which is one of the reasons I have waited a while to respond.

    Some of the time, when we are trying to analyse a situation and thinking hard about it, perhaps discussing it with others, we come to a conclusion which seems logical and with which our brains can find no fault. Yet for some reason we are not completely convinced by it in 'our very being'.

    At other times, usually when we are thinking about something completely different, 'the penny drops, the ice breaks' in what seems almost a blinding glimpse of the obvious and we wonder why we could not see it before. In making an intuitive leap, we recognise the truth as something we had always known, deep down.

    Neurologists doubtless have an explanation readily to hand, about pathways in the brain. But for me, the first kind of answer is only accepted by the conscious mind/ego/whatever you want to call it, whereas the second chimes with the knowledge of the soul.

    Is this over the top?

  2. Our brains work on the same things at different speeds, and on different things at the same time. It's a wonder they work at all! Then factor in the soul, and sometimes we must sit back and wait for that light.

    And thank you