12 August – COMMEMORATION OF THE LIFE AND WORK OF FLORENCE NIGHTINGALE, Nurse, Social Reformer, and Living Artist.

Florence Nighingale

Yesterday on the feast of Saint Clare, 11 August, the Reverend Emily Hylden published a piece in the Living Church entitled “Everyone’s An Artist” in which she skillfully interweaves the practices of living artists with an examination of the ways in which God calls us to become “living art” and to bring Jesus into the world through our words and actions.  The piece analogized the actions taken by the prophet Jeremiah, and others, by which they sought to demonstrate his prophecy not only by words but through actions so as to bring home the message that repentance was imperative.  In its conclusion Emily asks the question “How is God inviting you to join in his great work today? Notice Emily uses the word invite which conveys the concept that you have a choice.  You can ignore God and go about your business, or you can accept the invitation and begin the most important work you will ever do.

Today the Calendar of the Book of Common Prayer calls for the commemoration of the life and work of Florence Nightingale who is as most know the founder of the modern nursing profession.  Florence was a person who accepted God’s invitation and set about to make herself a “living artist” by conveying through her actions and deeds Christ in the world. She revolutionized hospital and nursing practices, set up hospital training classes for nurses and devoted many years to the question of army sanitary reform, to the improvement of nursing and to public health in India, and, she published Notes on Nursing in 1859 which went through many editions.

Accepting God’s invitation is daunting and frightening. It raises a number of concerns in our minds. Do I have the ability and talent to do this? What will people think of me if I do this? Will I be able to make enough money doing this to be “respectable” and live a comfortable life?   But, the lessons appointed to be read in connection with Florence Nightingale today provide us with reassurance.

In the lesson from Isaiah 58 the prophet talks about “the fast I choose: to loose the bonds of wickedness, to undo the thongs of the yoke, to let the oppressed go free, and to break every yoke.” He talks about sharing bread with the hungry, bringing the homeless poor into your house, and clothing them. And the lesson concludes with an assurance that “if you take away from the midst of you the yoke, the pointing of the finger, and speaking of wickedness, if you pour yourself out for the hungry, and satisfy the desire of the afflicted then shall your light rise in the darkness and your gloom be as noonday. And, the Lord will guide you continually, and satisfy your desire with good things, and make your bones strong.” Therefore, God seems to be saying the equivalent of “come on in the water’s fine”, you will be more than fine you will be illuminated.

As to the how, this question is answered by the lesson from Saint Paul’s first letter to the Corinthians in chapter 12.  Saint Paul writes that there “are varieties of gifts”, “varieties of service,” and “varieties of working,” but that it is “the same God who inspires all in every one.”  He goes on to list examples such as “utterance of wisdom”, utterance of knowledge, gifts of healing as with Ms. Nightingale, worker of miracles, prophecy, the ability to distinguish between spirits, the ability to speak in tongues and the ability to interpret tongues.  This list is largely applicable to Church life but should also have a broader application to life in general and the assurance that each of us possesses talents and skills God can use in his service with equal effect. So take heart and know that you are capable of doing God’s work whatever your talents may be.

And, finally the Gospel as reported by Saint Luke tells us what happens when we become “living artists” and we practice what we preach.  Chapter 5 recounts the story of when Jesus was so hard pressed by the crowd he got into a boat and taught from the boat on the waters of Lake Gennesaret.  When he finished speaking he turned to Simon Peter and told him to “Put out into the deep, and let down your nets for a catch”. Peter quickly let Jesus know that he had been at it all night and had caught nothing so what’s the point? But out of respect for Jesus he ordered the nets to be let down. The result was they brought in a tremendous haul which practically broke the nets.  When Peter saw this he realized there were forces at work here far beyond him and he knelt before Jesus and expressed his unworthiness and acknowledged his sinfulness. It was at that point the assurance came “Do not be afraid,” said Jesus, “for from henceforth you will be catching men.”  In this I see that being a living artist, while a gamble and a bit frightening, pays off and is our job.  We may not become worldly wealthy, but spiritually wealthy to the point that the nets and the boats break.

So, how is God inviting you to become a living artist today?

Quotations from the Oxford Annotated Bible, Copyright 1962, 1973, Oxford University Press, Inc. based on the Revised Standard Version of the Bible,  OT Copyright 1952, NT 1st Ed 1946, 2d Ed 1971 by the Division of Christian Education of the National Council of Churches of Christ in the United States of America.

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