Proverbs can be rather special and sometimes important to our understanding of many different aspects of our way of life. The one above is essentially an English proverb, with reference to how we use, and value, our pennies and pounds, though knowing the ‘wisdom of peoples’, it probably exists in other forms, and in other languages.

During the last week, I have thought about its meaning quite a lot – not from the monetary point of view, though that must be its origin – rather about its application to the spiritual journey we are all travelling; I refer to the path towards God.  So far as the monetary meaning of the proverb is concerned, I think that this is fairly obvious.  If one is careful about the use of our ‘pennies’ – taking proper care and attention over the small – then it stands to common  sense, that we will have no need to worry over the larger sums of money that come our way.  In the spiritual sense, the proverb’s application is much the same.  If we go about our lives, taking care of the little things that brings us closer to God – a prayer here, a prayer there, a good turn here, a good turn there, and little acts of charity, along the way, to try and love and support others with whom we ‘rub shoulders’, then the more we practise these small things, the more will they change our lives, especially our attitude of mind. All these will be a kind of ‘cash in the bank’, adding up – ‘stacking up’ our credit – with the Lord. After all it is God, in the first place, who has been in action in the small things, ‘the pennies’, so to speak, of life. The much bigger things – things that are likely to change lives, irrevocably – things of life and death significance – will be dealt with in that same positive frame of mind. They will still involve challenging and difficult moments, but the habits of a life time’s training, in the small events of life, will help to bring us through all those major decisions.     

This spiritual journey is real, very important – one cannot underestimate that importance – and if we travel it faithfully, and consider well what we are doing, and where we are going, that same spiritual journey can help a person climb over the roughest obstacles that our ‘temporal’ life can throw at us.

 Sometimes Life Is Just An Assault Course

Yet, it is an interesting fact that some people – an unknown proportion, I think – are not interested in things spiritual. On the positive side, however, I meet with people and I share their views; they tell me that, without a faith in God, they cannot understand how people can cope with life!  

Some time ago, a man – some 16 years younger than myself – came to see me; he told me that he had a severe cancer and that he had lost his faith. He talked, and talked in tears, about what this illness meant for him, his fears for his wife and family he would leave behind; one of his children was very young, around just seven years of age.  He said he did not think he would reach Christmas, and indeed, his prophecy was to prove true. He was hoping that chemotherapy would extend his life, but this was not to be. In the end, it was living the present moment, and trusting in God, that really helped him – this together with all the comfort he accrued from his loving family and friends, as well as the nurses and doctors in the hospice. Whenever there was a chance to pray, or to receive Holy Communion, he gratefully accepted it. This man, a parishioner, became a friend. For me, it was hard to understand God’s ways in all of this; it must have been so much more difficult for his family, but at least, we – the family and I – were aware that God was calling him to a better life.  In the end, faith carries us through, but that faith is (was) built up – made stronger, and unassailable, by all the little things – the ‘pennies’ if you like – by the frequent prayers, the sacraments and the little acts of kindliness and love. 

‘Multi-tasking’ is not a good thing for me, nor is it for most; I came to the realisation of this by observing Fr. Ambrose, who had a gift for living, well, the task in hand. He was able to focus, very directly, on the one thing to be done, and refusing to be deflected by other, perhaps, extraneous matters. As monks we must undertake quite a lot of praying together.  In this, it is amazing how that time of common prayer can be one that brings its own problems; problems arising when it is hard to focus on the prayers in hand; problems in concentrating on God’s presence; problems to do with, living in God, as we pray.  At such times, rather, the mind and heart can wander away into many distractions. It cannot be a good thing when heart and mind wander at prayer, but, we are human, and far from perfect, and God knows this. Ask and he will help, and with God’s help, even wandering minds can be overcome – as they most certainly are on ‘good’ days.

Monks at Prayer

They say that, ‘life is never easy’. To react calmly when routines are disrupted can be very frustrating; not to become obsessive, when something of value has been mislaid, or lost, can be hard; remaining at peace, when strong criticism is levelled against you, is another challenge, and, by God’s grace, I have found it is possible, in some instances, not to react to such provocation. Many people face the challenge of having to deal with human – perhaps sexual attractions – to another and the sense of love that very often begins to emerge – when both the attraction, and the love – are morally wrong – simply because of the upsets these cause to the stable relationships that already exist.  I mention, here, just a few examples – the challenges to all of us are myriad. However, with God’s grace, things do begin to improve, little by little, (the ‘pennies’ again), in all these situations and the many others that face us all.  Certainly, for me, it is a slow process, with ‘ups’ and ‘downs’ along the way.

From my own perspective, something that has proved a great help has been the practice of trying to live, well, the present moment, in all its simplicity, focussing on the one thing that I am called to do, at that time.  As I said earlier, ‘multi-tasking’ is not for me.  A parishioner once said that, ‘today is the best day of the rest of your life’; that little saying has become a ‘mantra’, for me, to live as well as possible, the ‘now’ – the activity in which I am actually engaged.  Furthermore, each day I receive from others on the internet a ‘password’ to help me live the present moment.  To be honest, sometimes, the ‘password’ often gets neglected, especially when ‘life’ takes over, but, to give one example, today’s ‘password’ has been very apposite for me, given the mood and situation in which I found myself; it was: “Have a merciful love” – and that, for each moment of the day. Thus, my aim today, was to live mercifully with myself, and with others, all day long. It proved a great help on another busy day. 

At this point, I return to my opening proverb: “Take care of the pennies and the pounds will look after themselves”. As I said before, this is not just about money; it also concerns the spiritual life. The other aspect of this is that, if one fails to take care of the ‘pennies’ – of the little things – praying well, thinking well, putting to death the evil that is within, by focussing on the good, and trying one’s best to be loving to all with whom you engage, then the ‘pounds’ – the bigger things – are going to raise their heads and ‘kick you where it hurts’. The solution is look after the ‘pennies’, and to do this,   you can always put yourself right with God the Father again, in whatever way is appropriate; as an American would say: “Start right over.”   In modern technological parlance: “Hit the reset button.”

Starting over is helpful for our humility, especially if it means saying ‘sorry’ to God – or to another, and humility is essential for our journey to God. In the final countdown, we might do well, also, to remember part of the address to a pope, just before he is crowned as the successor of St. Peter: 

“Remember man that thou art dust, and unto dust thou shalt return”. 

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