Friday, May 30, 2008

So very tired

One of the things I was totally unpreapred for as I made the transition from curate to priest-at-least-notionally-in-charge was the high level exhaustion that has been my constant companion since 6th April.
This has nothing to do with not loving the job - I have rarely been happier, and am very sure that I have come home and am exactly where I should be. (thankfully, members of my congregations are kind enough to confirm this independently, which is always reassuring)
Nor is it a reflection on the demands that are being made of me - both my congregations are entirely supportive and caring, and very anxious that I should take the proper time off, rest when I need to,and generally not work myself into the ground.
It may just be a reaction to the quantum leap between even the most focussed and devoted of curacies and the reality of being the place where the buck stops...the popular comparison of leaving school on a Friday afternoon as a 6th former and returning on the Monday morning as the Head Teacher is truly a pretty accurate comparison in my profoundly limited experience...Where is Wonderful Vicar when I need him?!
Be that as it may, I'm pretty wiped out most of the time right now.
Not when I'm with people - then I am fired up, energised and energetic, remembering and radiating exactly what I am for...
No, it's when I get home that the slump happens...so that simple and silly household tasks sit neglected for days, and even after 3 days at 4 mph on the much loved narrowboat Polyphony, I'm still inclined to sleep and sleep and sleep some more.
Not to worry!
My family are pretty tolerant really, and if you are going to need to adopt Inertia as a middle name, I can think of few better places to do so than England's inland waterways.
We all had a lovely time - busy doing nothing!


Life after people

The Dufflepud recorded this while we were away on the boat earlier this week...
It considers a scenario in which humanity is suddenly obliterated from the face of the earth, and what impact that might have after 1 year, 10, 20, 100, 1000...
At first I was very impatient with the pronouncements
"One week after people, much of the world will become dark as electricity generating plants fall into disuse"
"After a year without people, plant life will begin to take over our cities"
"Big deal" I thought "Will it really matter - we're the only ones who would be affected by the absence of electricity, by the jungle encroaching on our cities, by the steady waterlogging of the London Underground"
Then I wondered...is that the completely pragmatic response of someone who can see that things are important only in terms of the species that created them?
or is it the ultimate selfishness? someone who sees their race at the centre of the universe, and cannot imagine that there is any value to anything if human values have ceased to operate?
I watched some more....
The clever digital imaging showed me London and New York overcome by rampant nature...I was unmoved.
It suggested that the sphynx and the pyramids might not survive as nature burgeoned unchecked.
I continued calm and untroubled.
Then, suddenly, the focus changed to the libraries of the world...and I realised that in this world without people, John's Gospel, Herbert, Shakespeare and even Bach would cease to have any meaning. To my surprise, this mattered HUGELY.
While I was completely matter of fact about wonderful architecture disappearing, the other artistic triumphs of the human mind seemed to have a far greater value .
I began speculating whether the deep truths that such works hold for me would become less real if there were no human beings to absorb and respond to them.
I began to think about all those questions about a tree falling in a forest where there is nobody to mark the fall. Suddenly, it mattered desperately that humanity should survive...simply to glory in the expression of beauty, to open the windows on to God that the arts offer.

I didn't make it to the end of the programme - my tv tolerance is distinctly limited -, but apparently the most likely thing to survive 1000 years after the human race has ceased to be is Mount Rushmore. Now, if anything were likely to bring down my grey hairs in sorrow to the grave...well, that might just do it!

Saturday, May 24, 2008

Last minute thought for the day...be holy

Another effort entirely dependent on a little help from my friends at PRCL...without whom I would still be staring at the blankest of blank screens. Too tired to think more tonight, - we'll simply have to hope and pray that the Spirit lends some wings tomorrow morning.


Last week, on Trinity Sunday, we marvelled together
“Holy, holy, holy is the Lord God Almighty”
Today too we are asked to consider holiness
One holy catholic and apostolic church
His holiness the Pope…or even the Dalai Lama…
If I say the word "holy" to you, I wonder what images come to mind. My guess is that your first thought would be of some place or some person, whom you perceive as different in a particular and special way…somewhere or someone wonderful, maybe remote,surely set apart from all that is mundane.
There’s even a rather lovely worship song “Purify my heart…” which has as its chorus “My heart’s one desire is to be holy…I choose to be holy, set apart for you Lord”
And when we hear the opening of our Old Testament reading today, what are
the images that come to mind?
"Speak to all the congregation of the people of Israel
and say to them: 'You shall be holy, for I the Lord your God am holy.'"
But just how are they to be holy?
By going to services in the temple and getting the worship just right?
By saying their prayers regularly in the most authentic version possible?
Or by fasting? By reading their scriptures? By contemplating God through meditation or

Well, no…when it comes down to it, the holiness we are called to is rather different. Listen.
"When you reap the harvest of your land, you shall not reap to the very edges of your field, or gather the gleanings of your harvest. You shall not strip your vineyard bare, or gather the fallen grapes of your vineyard; you shall leave them for the poor and the alien: I am the Lord your God."
This is uncompromisingly practical, it’s about what you do when you
harvest the fields, when you are taking the fruits of your labour and your property. You are not to exploit your resources as if you are the only one in the world. You are never to assert that charity begins at home.
You are to leave something for the poor and foreigners, who have nothing with which to pay you. They must have some of your harvest for free. That is "holy".

Being holy then is not about retreating from the world into contemplation or higher thoughts, but about everyday life. It is a choice, not a state of mind…You “do” holiness, for it is about loving your neighbour as much as you love yourself.
And this is the theme that Jesus picks up in our gospel reading today, part of the sermon on the mount. What does it mean to love one's neighbour as oneself? And how far do I have to extend that idea of my neighbour?
This is where it gets really scary, because Jesus says that there is no
limit.
"Do not resist an evildoer. But if anyone strikes you on the right cheek, turn
the other also."
Being neighbourly is usually taken as being friendly. But we are to
treat as neighbours those who are unfriendly, even those who oppose us or speak against us, or offer us violence.
"Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you."
That is being holy, praying not for ourselves but for our enemies, in the
middle of conflict and difficulty. Holiness has less to do with rarefied acts of worship and more to do with Jimmy Mizen’s mother saying that she is praying for those who killed her boy, and for their parents too.

This is holy, because this is how God is..
"He makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the righteous and on the unrighteous."
God is the ultimate good neighbour, for whatever people do he sends blessings.
Perhaps this is what makes God holy?
That amid all the ugliness, the violence, and the brokenness of life, he simply and consistently offers us nothing but love.
That is certainly out of the ordinary…
And of course, that is our challenge.
If we sing, with fervent intensity
“I choose to be holy”…then we have to understand what that entails.
Could we ever respond to all the setbacks of life, the attacks from other people, the tragedies and disasters, only with love, mercy, compassion? That, says Jesus, is where perfection lies, where holiness is to be found.
"Be perfect," he says, "as your heavenly Father is perfect."


Friday, May 23, 2008

News from darkest Africa

for those as wants to know...
Hugger Steward is clearly alive and well, as he has not only sent me a brief (very brief - he's so male) email but has also posted on his website here
I wish there were pictures, but we'll have to wait for those. Meanwhile, I'm just happy to have been waved at from half a world away.

Too Much Information?

I’m kind of meme-resistant at the moment…after all, I barely have time for thoughtful blogging right now, so feel even less comfortable wasting your time with things that are of only the most dubious interest to anyone.
Moreover I discovered on Monday that Senior Clergyman Whom I Really Admire has been known to drop in here, so I feel extra-concerned to focus on quality rather than simply splurging all over the screen in an outpouring of verbal excess (though I guess that's mostly what I do anyway).

However, I was
tagged by

Rules: The rules of the game get posted at the beginning. Each player answers the questions about himself or herself. At the end of the post, the player then tags five people and posts their names, then goes to their blogs and leaves them a comment, letting them know they’ve been tagged and asking them to read your blog.

Ten years ago: Mostly a mummy.I was very involved in the life of our village school at Great Rissington, as a Governor, classroom helper, unofficial chaplain and choir mistress, and watching our church after school children’s group grow and grow.realising that running B&B was simply not enough to boost our family finances with 3 children who all enjoy getting involved in life up to the hilt, and pondering work outside the home. Filling in scary forms for the first round of the diocesan selection procedures (that time they said “No”).


Five things on today's "to do" list:

It being a Friday, these are all unrelated to ministry and yes, this week I intend to spend the whole day in non -vicaring. Promise.

1) Book car for service (oh joy…have just checked paperwork and it isn’t actually due yet after all…hooray...so I can cross that off without any financial outlay after all)
2) Make a sticky tea loaf to take to the boat, where we are heading on Sunday evening for 3 days (eek...need to buy some milk before I can do that...later)
3) Renew my Road Tax online (done - aren't I good little vicar?)
4) learn my way round my new Epson printer (finally lost patience with the hissy fits of its predecessor, which had to be given a large G&T and a month of therapy to persuade it even to consider working whenever a new cartridge was loaded)
5) Go for a dog walk with the Dufflepud, who is currently on study leave for his GCSE exams (but, having had a German exam this morning, seems to be mostly playing computer games at the moment)

Things I'd do if I was a billionaire:

Protect my children from student debt (and ensure they have reliable, eco friendly cars when the time is right)
Pay off the sum needed for building works at a church school I know
Set up a trust fund to ensure the continuation of the project for street children I spent time at in Bangalore
Explore the world, with my children if they’d like to come.
Oh...and buy a Mac.

Three bad habits:
  1. procrastination (nothing new under the sun)
  2. eating my way through sermon blocks (I have a Co-op down the road with a wonderful range of Fair Trade foods which I can almost persuade myself it's a duty to eat)
  3. shredding my cuticles when either stressed, bored or otherwise unthinking (I'm aware that this last is deeply yukky, but I get so irritated when LCM tells me to stop that his intervention is actually counterproductive)

Five places I've lived: goodness, I really have only lived in 5 areas at all…so here we are
  1. St Leonards-on-Sea, Sussex
  2. Cambridge
  3. Durham
  4. London (2 locations south of the river)
  5. Gloucestershire (3 different locations in the county…)


Five jobs I've had:
  1. cashier in an amusement park (take my advice and don’t do it!)
  2. bookseller,
  3. TEFL teacher,
  4. charity administrator,
  5. antiques seller
I'm taking the easy option when it comes to tagging...Everyone in the world seems to be in the throes of playing this already, so just join in if you want to.

Corpus Christi


I love this feast.
As someone for whom the Eucharist has made sense even at times when nothing else in life or faith hung together, the idea of a whole day dedicated to thanking God for this amazing gift was bound to delight me.
I do, though, tend to struggle with the more florid externals of traditional catholic devotion - the processions with rose-petals, and the priest only permitted to lift high the sacrament during Benediction if he (I think it would probably tend to be "he" in this context) is swathed in the humeral veil.
I know of some churches where this is so intrinsic to devotion to the Sacrament that what should be gift, grace, welcome becomes "Keep out...this is too rarefied, too holy for the likes of you" - or, for the casual visitor, "Whatever is happening here is far too esoteric to connect with my reality".
That makes me sad.
Surely the point of Christ's presence in the sacrament of bread and wine is that he makes himself accessible to us, that he can be touched and held by our ordinary, grubby hands - that he blesses us in our humanity.
That is what I most love about the Eucharist...
That we are invited to come and eat regardless of our condition, that God trusts us with himself, makes us an incalculable gift through his presence in that fragment of wafer, that sip of wine.
Last night, FabBishop presided and preached at a lovely service here
where the emphasis was very much on
"come as you are,- but see what, through God's grace, you will become".

Though we didn't use it in the liturgy, this was the prayer that resounded for me throughout the service, and indeed all day long.
It's just about the best expression of what the Eucharist means to me, and why I will always hope to celebrate Corpus Christi

Most merciful Lord, your love compels us to come in.
Our hands were unclean,
our hearts were unprepared;
we were not fit even to eat the crumbs from under your table.
But you, Lord, are the God of our salvation,
and share your bread with sinners.

So cleanse and feed us
with the precious body and blood of your Son,
that he may live in us and we in him;
and that we, with the whole company of Christ,
may sit and eat in your kingdom. Amen.

Thursday, May 22, 2008

Two churches

means that every other month I have two magazine letters to write, since Village on the Hill shares a parish mag with its sister in the valley, but also produces its own village magazine every second month - and I get to write in that too.
This is the week, and of course I'm going to be late and frantic - but here is my effort for Hill & Vale, the Benefice magazine. We thought about St Helena yesterday - where would I be without the liturgical year?

One of the benefits of belonging to a church that has a strong sense of the rhythm of the seasons is the way the liturgical calendar introduces you to all sorts of people you might otherwise never come across at all.
So on a Wednesday morning recently I found myself invited to consider the life of Helena (the mother of the Roman Emperor Constantine), whom Common Worship describes as “Protector of the Holy Places”. In Helena’s case, the “holy places” were those we are familiar with from Scripture, the sites of Jesus’ birth, his life and ministry, places that have been the focus of pilgrimage for two thousand years. However it struck me that we all of us have our own “holy places”, whether or not we are aware of it, and that we protect them with all our might and main.
Most obviously, the holy places in our communities are our churches, and the beautiful churchyards that surround them.These are places set aside for encounters with God, made special by the prayers of so many people who have gone before us, so it is no wonder that we treasure them and sometimes find it very difficult if any change is suggested. I’m someone that believes passionately in the ideal behind the traditional parish system – that each and every community should have its own identifiable place of worship and its own visible “God person” – someone tasked with carrying the needs and concerns of that place with them in prayer. I feel that it is hugely important that our churches are there, available for anyone who wishes to visit, to pray, or just to sit quietly. They are a constant reminder of God’s presence with his people, as we carry on our ordinary lives, with varied degrees of attention to him.
But there are other “holy places” too, spots where something important has happened in our lives, where God has become particularly real to us. Sometimes a beauty spot speaks very clearly of God’s presence in creation. It’s easy to recognise God when the whole of creation seems to be singing with the joy of his presence- but other places can be holy too, even the most unlikely ones.
For me a railway carriage somewhere between Eastbourne and Pevensey Bay on a June day thirty years ago was the site of an almost overwhelming experience of God’s love, which transformed my journey that day and my life from then on. But, of course that wasn’t the sort of spot I could revisit. For one thing I had no way of establishing precisely which carriage it was, and in any case that didn’t really seem important.
It was the sense of God’s presence that made the ordinary special that day…but afterwards – who knows? – perhaps I travelled in that carriage many times without knowing.
Quite a useful lesson, I think. I have the experience to treasure, - a bright jewel whose beauty I can and do rejoice in, something that gives me new energy and enthusiasm when I am weary or disappointed. The place where it happened was transformed at the time, but – but the real value of that God-moment was the difference it made to me.
So, although I honour Helena and all who protect and cherish our holy places, I’d encourage you to keep your eyes open to encounter God any and everywhere in the world. Love your churches, visit them, pray in them often but don’t allow them to become the only context in which you expect to find God.
God is far bigger than that – and you can expect to encounter him everywhere you go, if your heart is open.

Wednesday, May 21, 2008

A quick purr

I have a couple of possibly worthwhile posts brewing, but in the meantime I do need to share a delight from today. It's NOT about the numbers but..................
At our 10.00 Eucharist, the congregation numbered SIXTEEN (an increase of about 50% on the habitual attendance during the vacancy) of whom 12 stayed for coffee and chat afterwards.
I love this group...Their love for one another and for God is absolutely evident, so that worshipping with them is pure delight...and somehow, when I find myself confronted with the lections of the day, it is easy to find the theme that we need to explore together, the words that need to be said. Three weeks ago I suggested that this service might benefit from the social dimension. This week I spent all of coffee time hearing the sort of difficult stuff that will simply not make its way through to me on a busy Sunday when I have to bolt from Valley to Hill without so much as a backward glance.
It's good to have services like this, that confirm exactly why parish ministry can still "work" on a good day.,

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

Another Orthodox Gem

from the S Sophia home page.
What the world is seeking from Christians is consistency. The world is asking us to reveal the beauty of the Christian message by conscientiously living its principles, in the light of the Crucifixion and the Resurrection. The world is looking for us to reveal, in the course of our daily reality, the beauty, radiance, glory and power in a life that has been made new in Christ. The world is calling upon us to radiate the presence of the Holy Spirit. It yearns for a living Christianity that bears witness to the mystery of the All-Holy Trinity's love."

Archbishop Anastasios of Albania

What can one say but Amen!

Monday, May 19, 2008

Surprises

at Church on the Hill yesterday included
  • a new couple in the congregation, who seemed extremely delighted to be there and happy with everything on offer
  • the two grandsons of one of the Wardens who sat patiently amusing themselves in the children's area, therby lowering our average age so dramatically that I can't begin to do the sums (I so wish I'd known they were coming though...of all the Sundays to choose, Trinity is not the one I would have picked to encourage them to join us more often - and tbh Church on the Hill is not the natural venue for child-friendly worship in any case...)but there they were, and as their grandmother clearly expected them to be given Communion I was more than happy to oblige. That was emphatically not the moment to question their status, if such a moment could ever exist - and those felt-tip covered fingers added a most welcome variety to the beautifully-manicured and the work-hardened hands on either side of them
  • one of the two ladies of the choir launching into the most amazing descant during the final verse of "Thou whose Almighty Word" - which was the more inspiring because it was utterly unexpected. When congratulated afterwards, she said "I just remembered it from school"....given that I'd preached about sharing our gifts, this felt pretty much on message!
  • a compliment, a real live compliment, on the sermon....absolutely the first time anyone in either church has even mentioned my preaching afterwards, and one lovely man actually said it had "helped him a good deal". That, of course, can only be down to God's grace - but his words were a huge encouragement to the vicar!What with the topic, the leak and the wedding, writing the sermon had been distinctly challenging but, in the interests of consistency, here it is...Perhaps I should start planning now for next year?


Trinity Sunday – the day when preachers across the globe decide that it’s time to take a spot of gardening leave…The day when ingenious demonstrations involving shamrock leaves (3 lobes, 1 plant) or the 3 states of water – ice, liquid, steam –come to the fore. The day when, surely, our non Christian friends must wonder whether we’ve all finally and irrevocably lost the plot. As Dorothy L Sayers once said, when commenting on the Athanasian Creed “The Father, incomprehensible, the Son incomprehensible, the whole darned thing incomprehensible…” Why on earth do we make life so incredibly complicated for ourselves, with claims of one God and three persons. Why? The simple answer is one that is never going to satisfy sceptics. We preach the doctrine of the Trinity because, whatever its complexity, it is fundamentally and deeply true. Not the maths - 1x1x1=1 Not the unhelpful attempts to somehow split the nature of God into 3 job descriptions – "Creator, Redeemer and Sustainer" perhaps – or "Lover, Beloved and Love…"though there are elements of truth here, of course. In reality all those roles belong to all three persons of the Trinity and not specially to one or another…We do often speak in terms of God the Father as the creator – indeed, we will do so when we stand to affirm our faith at the end of these reflections – yet both Genesis and John describe Creation as being an act within which all Three persons are active and intrinsic... Listen
In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth. Now the earth was formless and empty, darkness was over the surface of the deep, and the Spirit of God was hovering over the waters.

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was with God in the beginning. Through him all things were made; without him nothing was made that has been made. In him was life, and that life was the light of men -

There from the very outset is community…Father, Son and Spirit are all involved as their creative love is expressed in our world.
Are you confused yet?
Are you thinking sadly “It’s all Greek to me?”

Well, in fact there is a Greek word used to describe the Trinity (perichoresis) – which I find a hugely helpful route into understanding a little more….
Perichoresis means that the three dance together as one…

I love that…it conveys joy, order and a recognition that all are essential to the pattern of the dance.
Dances make connections between the dancers while the dance goes on– and the dance of the Trinity continues beyond space and time in eternity….but, most amazingly,
we are invited to participate.
You probably know the icon by Anton Rublev whose official title is “The Hospitality of Abraham” - sometimes referred to as The Trinity too.
It depicts 3 figures seated around a table, set for a meal…the fourth side of the table, the side nearest us, is open and the invitation is obvious. That place is reserved for us…we are called to sit down and join in the feast, for the celebration is incomplete without us. You see, I believe that the central truth of the Trinity, -the point of it all, if you like, - is that our God is a God of relationship…that the Love that is at the heart of God exists to be poured out, because that is what real love does…Real love is equal in the giving and the receiving…real love makes room and draws others in. Real love is not happy till that space at the table is occupied. Right at the beginning, as the catechism reminds us, God was (and is) the supreme being, who exists entire of Godself…with no need for anyone or anything else… BUT God longs to give…so, though there was strictly no need for creation, it came about as a choice, an act of gracious generosity that flows naturally from the inner life of the Trinity, the mutual delight and regard that the three persons have for one another, in the one God. .Made in the image of God, whose very nature is eternal loving relationship, in the image of God who is always in relationship and communion with creation, we too are called to live interrelated, mutually loving lives with other people, In the passage from 2 Corinthians Paul stresses the gifts of love, unity and fellowship that God bears for all. The vastness and majesty of God is beyond our comprehension but through relationship we can enter into a little of the mystery, and indeed share in God’s mission to draw the whole of creation into that relationship of love.We can do that, but we cannot do it alone.That’s what today’s Gospel is about... Following the events in Jerusalem the eleven disciples have obeyed Jesus’ directions and returned to Galilee. They gather on a mountain and meet with the Risen Christ. Jesus commissions them, fervent believers and perplexed doubters alike, to make disciples throughout the world. They are to baptise in the name of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit, and to teach people to obey Jesus’ commands, Jesus reassures the disciples that his relationship with them is everlasting, that he will always be with them – to the end of the age.That promise is as firm and as clear as the call to mission. No one is excluded from doing God’s work because they ask questions or are perplexed, nor, come to that, because they doubt their own abilities. The disciples, whatever their state of mind, are promised the power and authority to carry out the task of bringing people to faith. Their authority and their mission is not compromised by their human weakness or uncertainty. Their mission, and ours, is to take the news of that loving relationship out to every corner of the world…nobody is to be excluded, nobody forgotten.When I was growing up, I rather think the church had lost sight of the universal nature of the call…but the truth is that God’s mission is laid on us at our baptism, our ordination into the priesthood of all believers. The vocation to share God’s love has never been restricted to those on whom the Bishop has formally laid his hands at ordination. We who are baptised must be nurtured so that we learn to obey the commandments of Christ, living out in the world the discipleship to which we are called. Nurtured in faith, we are tasked with reaching and nurturing others.The task of making Christ known can happen wherever we find ourselves – at home, at school, work, in the community …and though it may involve words, it is as likely to be based upon a life so full of love that others long to share it. As we follow this call, we will find ourselves standing against the prevailing tide that encourages us to go it alone, as self- made individuals The God we serve is a God in community, and in joining in God’s mission we too will come to realize our need for others. This understanding of the Trinity is one which contrasts with the popular understanding of community. It’s nothing to do with gathering like-minded people, united by a common interest…nor is it about choosing to work only with those whom we can see as equals, people like us…God-centred community is different, for it is based on shared openness, a process of mutual surrender. It is based, too, on the reciprocal universal acceptance of the real "me", - a gift that it takes courage to offer, but which must be offered whole heartedly. There is no option of reserve or of pretence. Nothing must be held back, no gift hidden, no weakness denied ... That sounds so un- English, doesn’t it? All very difficult and uncomfortable... There’s so much about the process of self discovery we’d prefer to gloss over, so much self-knowledge we’d prefer to forget –but to live in God’s image means that we cannot hold anything back. God, after all, holds nothing in reserve but trusts us with the gift of God’s own self – Christ in the world, and Christ in the Sacrament. We too, must make a gift of ourselves. Made in God’s image we are to work together, reflecting the life of the Trinity - diverse yet unified. So on this Trinity Sunday we consider the vocation of the whole people of God… We are called, each one of us, to discover who we really are, so that we can give our true selves to one another, to build community. We are called, too, to rejoice in our essential differences, the way that our gifts and weaknesses complement each other, the way that together we can be a church that is strong enough to be serious about our mission to change the world. And at the centre of all that comes mutual love, as we are drawn into the dance that stretches from creation through today and on far into God’s future.

Holy, holy, holy!

Blogging about Saturday's wedding sent me, of course, to the home page of the Cathedral of Saint Sophia - where I found this. What a glorious expression of a central truth, which I'm prone to lose sight of as I focus on the people of God who are physically gathered around the table at the Eucharist. John Chrysostom has a clearer long-distance vision, which chimes in with that image that FabBishop loves, of earthly worship "grasping the heel of heaven".

I'm not sure that it would have helped the actual content of my sermon yesterday had I read it earlier, but it would undoubtedly have added a thread of pure gold to my worship. Could there be better reading for Trinity Sunday?

Icon of Lord Jesus Christ - The Cathedral of Saint Sophia is named after the Divine Wisdom of our Saviour, Lord Jesus Christ.

"On high, the hosts of angels sing praise; here below, humankind forms choirs in the churches and imitates them by singing the same doxology. On high, the seraphim cry out in the Thrice-Holy Hymn, here below the human throngs sends up the same cry. The inhabitants of heaven and earth are brought together in a single festal assembly. There is one shared thanksgiving, one shout of delight, one joyful chorus." S John Chrysostom

Sunday, May 18, 2008

Wow!

By the time you've reached forty something, it's a rare thing to attend the first-time wedding of one of your contemporaries - but to do so is a huge delight.
Earlier this year I wrote about the rather special Baptism of D, an old friend who was preparing for his wedding. Saturday saw The Wedding itself - and it would be hard to imagine a more love and joy-filled celebration. D's bride is Greek, so the service was in the Orthodox Cathedral of S. Sophia in London, and the rite itself was full of majesty, mystery and delight. It was surprisingly easy to feel engaged, despite having virtually no idea what was being said and done most of the time - the liturgy is replete with a sense of awe-struck wonder which rubs off onto the congregation, though I can't imagine how my faith journey would have looked had I been raised in a church where so much remains veiled and distant, the soul and the senses engaged but the mind left to make its own connections.

I loved the moment when we were invited to shower bride and groom with rose petals, symbolising the blessings we were praying down upon them, as they walked together around the Holy Table...I found it both moving and helpful to have a physical outlet for all those emotions that cluster around a wedding service - and to see the petals lying there afterwards, visible prayers for a bright future. D has had some tough times along the way, and I've worried, poured gin and generally tried to make things better ever since we left university, so it was wonderful to see him lit up with happiness.

The reception was held at the Pump House Museum, an amazing place stuffed with the ephemera of the past 100 years...it was like finding yourself inside the very best sort of vintage shop, with leisure to browse and explanations available for everything. Mind you, it was a teeny bit disconcerting to find that the iron that I remember my mother using till I was at least 10 counted as a museum piece...but amid the excitements of the evening this reminder of the passage of time felt pretty unimportant really! So we ate, we talked, we danced and we rejoiced...

D and V, be very happy my friends

Friday, May 16, 2008

Less than helpful

Tomorrow is pretty much dedicated to a wedding in London, which meant that today was never going to be easy. Lots of errands to run, more Christian Aid envelopes to collect (in the Parish on the Hill) and a sermon to produce for Sunday - but a dear friend had arranged to drive down from darkest Monmouthshire to take me out to lunch, so I was determined to make time to enjoy her at least. It was her first visit to the vicarage, and it was fun to show her round before we sank on the kitchen sofa with a large coffee apiece. Then I looked up, and noticed an unfamiliar line on the ceiling...Next came a slow drip...
We ran upstairs and confirmed that the leak was nowhere near the bathroom, so, thanking God for the benenfits of a clergy house, I phoned the diocese.
The rest of the day was taken up with a succession of builders, plumbers, men with and without circular saws (of course, the man summoned specially to bring one from Berkley arrived without it) and earnest conversations between worried workmen in the drive.
The site manager from the original building project was on hand, and could not have been sweeter or more helpful, but there was no getting round the fact that instead of ticking jobs off my list, I spent most of the day watching my nice new house have a meltdown all of its own.
The cause was identified mid afternoon as a leaky join in a heating pipe and was fixed shortly before 6.00 tonight.
The day had looked complicated anyway, but with this development it became utterly unmanageable...
I have left undone those things which I ought to have done, - but there's absolutely nothing I plan to do about that tonight. It's bedtime, and, however busy, tomorrow is another day.

Friday Five: Grand Tour

One of our original ring members, jo(e), wrote yesterday about a trip she and her sisters are taking overseas with their parents, to celebrate their 50th wedding anniversary. Many other RevGals are headed for the Festival of Homiletics in the coming week (click here for information on a RevGals meetup!!).


In honor of these upcoming trips, herewith your Grand Tour Friday Five.
Name five places that fall into the following categories:

1) Favorite Destination -- someplace you've visited once or often and would gladly go again
Oh my! I feel that I came late to travelling life, but the past few years have taken me to some truly wonderful places. How to choose between Connemara with my parents, Venice with Hattie Gandhi Iceland with Hugger Steward? New Orleans was a delight as well - which I'm longing to revisit.
But my time in India in 2006 was of a different order. It planted something in me which has transformed the way in which I look at the world. I had just a month, in one small corner of a vast country which is many different experiences rolled into one. How could I not long to return for more? It's part of me now, and I left a bit of my heart there in exchange.
And of course there is Cambridge, the most beautiful city in the world, which I'm happily planning to re-visit often over the next three years, what with HS and Mr Giraffe's Best Friend and all...

2)Unfavorite Destination -- someplace you wish you had never been (and why)
The concrete nightmare that so much of Tenereife has become.We "won" a holiday there a few years ago, but even the knowledge that our accommodation was free (flights, food etc were a different matter - and yes, it was a Time Share sales ploy - which we were dotty not to resist) could not make me enjoy being there. The worst thing was the realisation that this was a rather beautiful island - until the tourists arrived. So sad to find ourselves part of the wrecking party.

3) Fantasy Destination -- someplace to visit if cost and/or time did not matter
(Apart from a long long stay in India, that is?)
I long to go to the Galapagos (almost as an antithesis to the Teneriefe experience, in that the human impact on those islands remains minimal)

4) Fictional Destination -- someplace from a book or movie or other art or media form you would love to visit, although it exists only in imagination

Narnia of course. Though I'm not sure it exists only in imagination...I want to sail on the Dawn Treader and reach the utmost east....to run barefoot on the grass by Cair Paravel...to explore the caves where Father Time sleeps.


5) Funny Destination -- the funniest place name you've ever visited or want to visit

Sandy Balls perhaps?
Though it lacks the charm of Rime Intrinsica (which is apparently to be found among the Dorset delights of the Wriggle Valley, - down the road from the Piddle valley...oh joy!).


Oh goodness...now I have truly itchy feet but the furthest I'm heading in the near future is the Grand Union Canal. There's such alot of wonderful world out there. As well as HS in Tanzania, I've been talking on facebook this morning to a godson who has probably travelled more since he left school last summer than I have since I left the womb. Dreaming happily here...

Oh dear

Yesterday was one of those afternoons that do little for your faith in humanity.
It began with a sad little funeral at the crem, funded by the Local Authority, for a man whose family were unable or unwilling to tell me anything about him at all.
I did my best, using John Donne's reminder that "no man is an island" to add some rightness to a situation in which as a stranger I found myself speaking about someone of whom I knew nothing but his name, his dates and that, of course, he matters to God more than we can ever grasp.
However, later on I made a start on collecting my Christian Aid envelopes and was startled by the way in which some people clearly feel absolutely no connection to people with loves, hopes and dreams just like their own, living in poverty across the world. There were, as always, those who claimed that they had never received an envelope (well, actually I delivered it myself...but that really doesn't matter) and those who said that they had already contributed to the disaster relief fund so had nothing to spare at all...but there was also the beautifully spoken man with the shiney cars in his drive who said
"I am my own charity" and another who, having asked what Christian Aid was about, said
"Why would I want to help people who are struggling to survive in another country?"
Ummmm...If you can't see that, I think we need more than a doorstep conversation.
Later I was chatting to a friend who reported a survey that claimed that (along with War on Want) Christian Aid was the country's most hated charity- perhaps because of a mistaken belief that it provides aid FOR Christians, rather than as an expression of Christian love.
Time for a rebrand perhaps?
But it's tricky...When we don't shout about church-led projects the claim is that "Christians are all talk but never do anything to make a difference".
If we proclaim that the work being done is part of our response to God's loving generosity, by giving it the label "Christian" we are presumed to be limiting our help to those who share the faith. Oh dear indeed - but The Man never said we'd be popular, did he?

Thursday, May 15, 2008

Some uncomfortable words

This morning at Church on the Hill I was talking to the congregation at the BCP Communion about the true meaning of "comfort" . They were, I think, slightly startled when I told them that it had nothing to do with cosy rugs and favourite slippers - but everything to do with giving strength. I told them about the panel in the Bayeaux Tapestry, which depicts William "comforting his soldiers" by prodding them with a spear...and we thought about how the Holy Spirit can sometimes give us a kick where it hurts, in order to force us into the action required of us. My thoughts then moved on to Christian Aid week, and our need to be as well as to preach good news - and there I left it. It felt OK, really....specially as I was coming back to arrange a display for our QuizAid fundraiser tomorrow night, and to bake some Fair Trade goodies to be shared there. I was, I suspect, a teeny bit complacent...

Unfortunately, of course, the Holy Spirit's kicks aren't restricted to those areas where we are ready to be encouraged into action...that would be too easy by far.
So I came home to read the rather wonderful interview with +Gene Robinson here - - definitely worth a look, whatever your views I think.
You won't, I'm sure, be surprised that the miserable divisions in the Anglican Communion feel rather a second-order issue for me most of the time now, as I do my best to begin to take root in these communities and learn how to serve them - but the reality is that the Lambeth Conference is getting ever closer - and whether or not the Communion will survive that, only God in his mercy can say.

I hate that we are divided like this - that instead of focussing on the love of God huge quantities of energy are being taken up with obsessing over something that seems so far from the centre of the Gospel.
I hate that someone whom I love and admire seems almost disabled by his office.
I have no idea what the road ahead may bring - but as we continue to reflect in these Pentecost days on the work of the Holy Spirit all I can do is to pray that a fresh outpouring upon the whole Church may bring forth fruits of love, joy, peace...
I am Anglican by choice as well as by birth, and I am deeply grateful for the gift of my calling to priesthood - but I cannot hang onto that gift at all costs.
If lines are drawn, there will huge and painful decisions for many of us to make.
I have no idea whether I will have the courage of my convictions - being brave has never been my strongest suit - but I believe that I know where Jesus would stand.
Surely we find him, always, alongside the marginalised, those in pain, those despised and rejected...and where Jesus is must be the best place to be.

Sunday, May 11, 2008

Breakthrough!

I enjoyed preaching at Church in the Valley this morning (though as usual nobody would presume to comment on the content at all) - but that wasnt the breakthrough!
Nor was it that the crucifer acolytes et al grasped my re-arrangement of the end of the service, so that we were actually ready to leave when the Deacon of the Rite told us to "Go in the peace of Christ"
No...the breakthrough came when I realised that if it felt right to me to move to a certain place at a particular point during the liturgy - actually, I didn't need to think about whether this was the way they had done things before. There are good sound liturgical reasons for me to kneel at the altar step during the prayers of the people - and it doesn't actually matter a hoot whether or not this is how D, G or anyone else might have done it. I'm in charge!!!!
Just as well that Hugger Steward is safely absent. If I'd told him, the chorus of
"I am vicar, hear me roar" might have got rather wearing by bedtime!

Saturday, May 10, 2008

Pentecost Sermon - daring to dream.

Another offering that leans heavily on the shoulders of others - this time the helpful resources that Christian Aid themselves provide, which are always a joy to use (though I really have tried to make them my own).

When the day of Pentecost had come, the people of St Matthew’s were all gathered together in one place when suddenly………..


How would you carry on with the story?
After all, those words from Joel draw each one of us into the dreaming of dreams and the seeing of visions.
What would your dream, your vision be for this church family on this day of Pentecost?

Does it feel to you as if the coming of the Holy Spirit might surprise us all at any moment, or do the events we’ve been hearing about have a flavour of unreality, of long ago and far away that can have little impact on Cainscross in 2008?
Sometimes it’s easy to be trapped by our own weariness, - perhaps a long vacancy has meant that the tasks of ministry have been shared among fewer people, people already fitting things in in their limited “spare time”.
At that stage it’s very easy to simply focus on keeping going without daring to lift our eyes to see God’s bigger picture, to allow sheer exhaustion to divorce you from the ongoing action of the Holy Spirit….
If you’ve ever felt like that, imagine how it must have been for the disciples…They had lived through the emotional upheaval of the first Holy Week and Easter…the grief and despair of Good Friday, the confused excitement of the Resurrection, the joyful reunions with a Jesus who was both the same and also unutterably different.
They had heard him promise to be with them always – but seen him vanish from their sight.
Now they were faced with getting on with things by themselves– and perhaps his promise to send them a comforter seemed less than helpful. They didn’t want comfort. They wanted Jesus, with them at every stage…Without him they had no sense of the big picture, no inkling of where God might be leading them, certainly no courage to dream.
Does that sound at all familiar?
I’m pretty certain that the disciples, waiting obediently because they had no idea what else they could do, had no inkling of what was about to happen.So the impact of the Spirit’s coming upon them is the more amazing.
Suddenly, there is courage and conviction.
Suddenly there is complete understanding of just what God has been doing (would Peter the fisherman of old have launched into this sort of sermon? Clearly not)
Where there was weariness and despair, suddenly everything becomes new and exciting.
History has reached a turning point. Through God’s gift of the Holy Spirit, God’s presence became real once again for the disciples.
Through God’s gift of the Spirit, God’s presence is real for us - with us, in us and even working through us. The word for Spirit in both Hebrew (ruach) and Greek (pneuma) also means ‘breath’ – and breath, of course, is synonymous with life.
It INSPIRES us…bringing new life to the world, to each individual and each community, near and far, past, present and future.
New life…for weary churches, for battered communities, for a hurting world.
As today we begin Christian Aid Week, we recall their commitment to “life before death” and their co-operation with the Spirit in all that leads to human flourishing, among those whose lives have been diminished by poverty and injustice for too long.
We recognise that God’s big picture includes the obliteration of poverty, the overcoming of human greed.
Perhaps that’s how we should carry on with the story…
“When the day of Pentecost had come, the people of St Matthew’s were all gathered together in one place when suddenly everyone realised that they could make a difference…that they were not too small or too insignificant to change the world. So they began to pray.. and to work together to affirm life in all its fullness”
I think that might be one happy ending that would make God smile…but there are others too, for the Holy Spirit does not just bring new life…the Holy Spirit empowers people so that they can empower others...
Those confused and defeated men found themselves transformed into radical preachers of a dynamic message, full of confidence, longing to share their gospel in all directions. They knew at first hand what a difference God could make in the lives of the most ordinary, unexceptional people…and they wanted their friends, their neighbours, and the strangers from across the world to experience that same transformation.
Might that be the end of the story?
“the people of St Matthew’s were so thrilled by the reality of God’s presence that they, that WE, could no longer keep quiet but simply had to go out and tell the world, - better yet, show the world, that things had changed.
We’re not just a church of nice people but a new creation!

These actions of the Spirit show the changes God wants to bring about in the world. And the message of Pentecost is that God calls and equips us, as transformed people, to play our part in this mission. We are called to live in a new way.
Through the Holy Spirit we can see things differently, recognise the truths that lie beneath the surface of our own lives, the comfortable excuses we make to ourselves about our own lifestyles, and see the injustices around us.
Through the Holy Spirit we can have courage to, as the Quakers put it “speak truth to power”. From the upper room, the disciples went out to prophesy and testify on the streets of Jerusalem. They told the truth about what had happened in recent weeks, and about where it would lead the world. Many joined their number as a result. As followers of Christ, we are also called to proclaim God’s love, and the justice he requires. We are challenged to speak and to act where there is injustice and abuse in our world, and of our world…to be a voice for the poor and the marginalised…and a voice for the planet itself, the fragile earth whose balance human greed has threatened.
So, another ending to the story
“The people of St Matthew’s pledged themselves to respond to the needs of the world around them by living lives based on God’s justice…by working to make trade fair…by befriending the planet….”
Big words, big concepts – but we are all small people, people living insignificant lives in unimportant places…and yet, at Pentecost, the Holy Spirit united people in purpose and mission. We, too, are called to work together to serve God’s people and purpose. We are reminded in the epistle that we each bring different gifts to this task, but they come together for the common good, we all have different roles to play, but for a single cause: to transform the world.
“When the day of Pentecost had come, the people of St Matthew’s knew themselves important in God’s great plan. They recognised that the Holy Spirit is already with them, giving them the gifts they need to bring about God’s dream for this place…and they dared to look ahead, to see God’s bigger picture, and to weave their own dreams to collaborate in the coming of the Kingdom”

So - will you pray with me?
God of the rushing wind,
sweep through our indifference.
God of the fiery flames,
ignite our compassion.
God of the many voices,
open our mouths to speak out against injustice.
That through your Spirit
and our actions
this world may be transformed.
Amen.



What I saw from Rodborough Common

I've always had bad eyesight...
One lazy eye, which is also very short sighted, meant an early childhood of patches, eyedrops and those horrible NHS glasses with pink plastic frames. With my teens came contact lenses and a whole new world of effortless vision - but by then I'd got used to the idea that I wasn't "a visual person", my creative outlets were verbal and musical and that was that. When I met Longsuffering Clockmaker, he rather prided himself on the fact that because his work involves frequent changes in focus, from the very intricate parts of clock work to the normal everyday seeing required in any office, his eye muscles were well exercised - which was, apparently, going to protect him from needing glasses for ever more!

Fast forward 20 years and yes, he does indeed need specs while I need to remove mine to see things that are close at hand. However, in the interim I've become the delighted owner of a digital camera and suddenly discovered that it's OK to take imperfect photos, to experiement, to delete...Someone once described this blog as "visual" and that brought me up short. Remember, I'm not a "visual person"!
But since then I've loved the process of simply gazing as I walk...of stopping with the camera...constantly shifting focus from the miniscule to the wider horizon.
I was specially aware of this yesterday
, a near perfect May afternoon, as Mufti and I explored the common. In the distance I could see across the glinting silver of the Severn into Wales, or, in the other direction, I could look down on my own parish, close-packed into the valley, and reflect on the lives going on far below (Church in the valley is the tower towards the middle of this picture...it really is my patch)



I could exult in the multitude of cowslips that turned patches of common yellow-gold or concentrate my gaze on tiny speedwells, anenomes and wild orchids at my feet. There was so much to see, so much to delight in, near and far...the minutae and the big picture. Of course I couldn't and didn't see it all, but what I did notice gave me great joy. Perhaps I'm learning to see at last.


Friday, May 09, 2008

Friday Five - the inadequacy edition

Sally is consistently more spiritual than I, so it's no surprise that as Pentecost approaches she has given us a wholly appropriate task to engage with. It's just a slight shame that it brings out the worst of the inadequacies launched originally when I was the only girl in the high school Christian Union not to burst into speech in tongues during the great charismatic revival of 1975. Sally my friend, you weren't to know, and I don't want this to sound carping or defensive...so here are the best answers I can manage to this week's questions
FOR PENTECOST THIS WEEKEND:
FROM ACTS CHAPTER 2: 14 Then Peter stood up with the Eleven, raised his voice and addressed the crowd: "Fellow Jews and all of you who live in Jerusalem, let me explain this to you; listen carefully to what I say. 15 These men are not drunk, as you suppose. It's only nine in the morning! 16 No, this is what was spoken by the prophet Joel:17 " 'In the last days, God says, I will pour out my Spirit on all people. Your sons and daughters will prophesy, your young men will see visions, your old men will dream dreams. 18 Even on my servants, both men and women, I will pour out my Spirit in those days, and they will prophesy. 19 I will show wonders in the heaven above and signs on the earth below, blood and fire and billows of smoke. 20 The sun will be turned to darkness and the moon to blood before the coming of the great and glorious day of the Lord. 21 And everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.'
Anyway, it's Pentecost and my very first Friday Five! Thinking about all the gifts of the spirit and what Peter said of the "last days"......
Have you or anyone you know
1. ...ever experienced a prophesy (vision or dream) that came true?
The night before my third miscarriage I dreamed about a baby boy whom I knew was called Hugger Steward. In my dream, my daughter (then too young to talk) said to me with complete calm
"It's alright Mummy. Hugger Steward is going away for a while but he will come back to you in time"
When I woke the next morning it was to the early signs of a miscarriage...a year later, I gave birth to the son whom the doctors said I would't carry to term, the son who is my own beloved Hugger Steward.


2. ...dreamed of a stranger, then actually met them later?
If one's own unborn child is a stranger, then yes (see above)...

3. ...seen a wonder in heaven? (including UFO's)
In the early 1990s during Holy Week there was a particularly wonderful comet to be seen, Hale Bopp iirc....I will never forget how, having guessed and pretended that of course I'd seen the comet, I really did see and recognise it for the first time, as I walked back across the fields from Little Rissington Church, after Tenebrae on the Wednesday of Holy Week. Somehow the dramatic beauty of the comet and the cosmic events of the first Holy Week fused together in my mind to make an unforgettable whole.

4. ...seen a "sign" on the earth?
Today I walked on Rodborough Common, where the grass was golden with clumps of cowslips, the hedgerows white with hawthorn, and the air filled with birdsong. Will that count?

5. ...experienced knowledge of another language without ever having studied it?
No. When i was The Only One not experiencing the charismatic revival (see above) I was deeply grateful to both God and my fellow students at High School by the Sea for sparing me the "I can speak in tongues and you can't" routine.At that stage, it might well have killed my Christian faith forever.


Bonus Question: What would a modern day news coverage of the first Pentecost have sounded like?
Sun "Great Balls of Fire"
Grauniad "Ethnic co-operation on language project"
and most stages in between too.

Wednesday, May 07, 2008

(Partial and orange) view of the bookshelves

for those who might be interested!

At the moment I'm allowed about another 12 books before my shelving is exhausted in the study - BUT we've managed to clear 2 smaller bookshelves which are currently sitting in the hall looking vacant - so it's clearly high time I spent my lovely "new job" booktokens. Wheee!

Just so you know, my shopping list looks like this right now
Blue like Jazz - Donald Miller
Travelling Mercies - Anne Lamott
Plan B - Anne Lamott
Messy Church - Lucy Moore
Creative Communion - Margaret Withers & (the ever wonderful) Tim Sledge

For no good reason, Amazon are being bolshy about the combination of gift certificates and credit card - but we will overcome and it will be delightful and exciting to get the parcel, whenever it arrives - even if it does mean I need to begin the overspill process.

Signs of spring

are everywhere today, - both literally and metaphorically.

I've just given lunch to some wonderful ladies who have been major pastoral carers for Church in the Valley throughout the vacancy, and who, praise be, have no intention of stopping now.
We enjoyed a lovely safe conversation, in which it became wonderfully clear that we were all truly speaking the same language, that we could dream dreams and share visions together, and discover that God is giving us some matching hopes for our church and our community. So exciting!

Meanwhile, I have one parishioner very poorly in Gloucester Hospital - which means that 3 times already this week I have had to drive through countryside that looks something like this. Don't you feel for me?!


On the way home yesterday I simply had to stop in Randwick Woods...The bluebells have just peaked and are beginning to decline - but the colour and the scent (distressingly unbloggable) remain quite breathtaking.


I feel rather like the psalmist whose lot has fallen in a fair ground and I am truly and deeply grateful.


Tuesday, May 06, 2008

The last boxes

are either unpacked, or safely hidden away until the next move, and yesterday we invited the parishes to tea...
We're the first people to live in the new vicarage, and the demolition of its predecessor caused considerable sadness particularly in the parish in the valley, so it matters that everyone really knows and believes that they are welcome here, whenever they need or want to come. Yesterday they came in droves, all afternoon and I was unutterably thankful for the wonderful ladies who had correctly predicted that we maybe couldn't manage without help, and kept all comers supplied with tea.
The Dufflepud did sterling work on guided tours and it was, it has to be said, rather lovely to have the house tidy enough not to dread certain doors being opened. Below lies the proof...it won't ever look this good again (and please note that my desk remains its usual bombed out self, even amid the prevailing order!)

The afternoon was actually great fun, albeit exhausting - which led to a stupid ending to the day.Too shattered to drive, I came home from returning the church crockery to the hall via a close encounter with the vicarage gate-post. Dents and scratches are the consequence.Drat!


Two views of the sitting room (neither of which really shows you how good the curtains look - but believe me, they are worth every penny)










Here's the kitchen...
Ironic that when we actually lived in a farmhouse, we had nothing like this kind of large warm living space - but now, in a brand new vicarage, we have a rather wonderful "farmhouse kitchen" where animals, books and ironing piles co-exist happily with assorted Flemings - and I can shut the door and protect the parish from the reality of our mess and muddle. Thanks be to God!

Sunday, May 04, 2008

A Good morning

My first "Family Service" at Church in the Valley this morning...
I know, I know - every time we gather as the people of God it should be a family service...And there's clearly something wrong if it's not "all age" every week...But I've inherited this, and there is something to be said for earmarking one particular Sunday on which the children from our church school are specially encouraged to join us for worship - and also, a Sunday on which children are invited back to celebrate the anniversary of their baptism.
Whether that makes it also the best Sunday to invite the congregation from the rather more formal Church on the Hill for a Benefice service is another question that remains to be discussed....but for the moment, that's the way things are.
So...instead of the organ (and our highly professional organist, who produces miracles from the congregation on a weekly basis) we have a rather gifted pianist whose preferences are rather more along the Mission Praise and music group lines. We have a shortened liturgy. We have a parish breakfast of tea and toast (between the 8.00 and the 10.00) and, when it's not a Bank holiday weekend, we even have some extra children in our midst.
When it came to the sermon slot, I invited them to join me sitting on the edge of the dais and told the story from there, which felt fine and was mostly well- received I think - but my favourite moment came just before the Peace, when the baptism anniversary children are invited to bring up their baptism candles for a round of applause and a prayer. There was just one baptism child there - celebrating his third anniversary. Together we lit his candle from the Paschal Candle, I prayed for him and then told him to keep on shining for God and to take his candle carefully back to his parents.
I don't think I have ever been taken so seriously.
With immense dignity, one slow, slow step at a time, he made his way down the aisle, savouring every moment of glory. The congregation were entranced and so was I. I rather think God enjoyed it too...and goodness, that child did shine!

Saturday, May 03, 2008

And he's off


Being substantially taller than his sister, Hugger Steward is not dwarfed by his backpack in the same way at all - but he has packed it with even more care, and has done all he can to prepare for most eventualities. I just wish his mother were more prepared for the central purpose of parenthood, which is, I'm sure, to work yourself out of a job.
Never mind. The Dufflepud has GCSEs ahead, so there should be quite enough to keep me occupied as a mum, assuming that my parishes leave me with time or emotional energy to spare - and July isn't really that long to wait for a hug.

Once upon a time

I would regularly aspire to a wholly original sermon! Today, the teeth of reality bite hard and I'm grateful for any help I can get, from the bookshelf, online, friends and acquaintances...I have yet to ask the postman (but that's only because he doesn't arrive here till so late in the day that I tend to have abandoned all hope long since) but otherwise all and any contributions are gratefully received.

So, the offering I will deliver at the Family Service tomorrow originated in a book by Edward Hays : "The Ladder" and has been reshaped by a colleague on the PRCL list and then tinkered with a little more in conversation this morning with a friend.Thus it is in no sense original but I hope that it might still be some help as we try to think about what it means to have Jesus with us, but not visible and to live in the Kingdom of heaven, which is both now and not yet.

I HATE saying Goodbye – and this weekend I’m specially aware of this as Giles sets off on his Gap year adventure to Tanzania.
Of course, I really want him to go and to have a wonderful time, but I can’t pretend that this has made the process of letting him go any easier.
So, the accounts of Jesus saying Goodbye to his disciples that we’ve heard over the past couple of weeks have seemed particularly close to home. I’ve been reminded again and again that "Goodbye" is the quick way of saying "God be with you" – and that wherever we are, and whatever may happen – that is always and wonderfully true.

But we’ve just celebrated Ascension Day – when we recognise that Jesus isn’t visibly present as the man from Galilee in our everyday world… On Thursday the children from St Matthew’s School helped me to think about the ways in which Jesus is still very much here, though we can’t actually see him – but I want to share a story with you that looks at the Ascension in a rather different way.
Before I begin, I must remind you that whenever we talk about God, we find that our words aren’t really good enough. God is beyond our language just as God is beyond our understanding – so the ways in which we speak are mostly metaphor…using something we do understand to help us describe something that is too big to be limited by our brains or our language.
For example, we often describe Jesus as the Light of the world – but I’m sure that none of you think in terms of a light bulb or even a candle when you pray. We think about God as a rock, but that has more to do with the fact that we know we can rely on God’s loving presence, come what may , than any supposed mineral qualities.
So, when you hear this story, which talks about heaven as somewhere up in the clouds, I don’t want you take that too literally. It’s just a way of talking about something that’s way beyond speech.
But the real meaning of the story…that’s true enough, for sure.

So, if you’re sitting comfortably I want to share a story with you that has been told since the days of the early church - by the desert fathers and mothers, sitting around their camp fires -by St Gregory of Nyssa and St Basil the Great - and by many others we won’t get to know this side of Paradise. I heard the story from someone who’d read it in the works of Abba Sayah …He admits that it’s a story with only the shakiest of provenance - but there is no doubt whatsoever that it’s true.

As the gospels tell us, after forty days of resurrection appearances, Jesus knew it was time to leave his disciples – his mother, his brothers and sisters, all his companions in the Way. It was hard to say goodbye, but he knew that the time had come. After all, he was the Truth and we humans can only take so much of that.

So Jesus called them all together on the mountain top, and made his farewells. It was a tearful moment. Mary was crying. John was crying. Jesus was crying. Even Peter, the immovable rock, was reaching for his handkerchief.

They knew that Jesus had said he would always be with them. But they also knew it wasn't going to be the same. There would be no more breakfasts by the seashore, no more late night discussions around the campfire, no more unexpected jugs of wine…and so they wept.

Jesus was sad too, but he was glad to be returning to his Father, and he knew it was all part of the plan. And so he began to ascend.

As Abba Sayah told the story, as Jesus began to rise, slowly and gracefully into the air, John just couldn't bear it. He grabbed hold of Jesus' right leg, and refused to let go.
"John?" said Jesus “What are you doing?”
And John shouted back,

"If you won't stay with us, then I'm coming too."

Jesus calmly continued to rise, hoping that John would let go. But he didn’t. And then, to make matters worse, Mary suddenly jumped up and grabbed hold of Jesus' other leg.
"I'm coming too," she shouted.
By now, Jesus’ big exit had obviously been ruined, but he looked up into heaven, and called out:
"Okay, Father... what do I do now?" And a voice came out of the clouds, deep and loud like the rumbling of thunder in the distance.
"Ascend!" the voice said.
"Ascend?" Jesus asked
"Ascend!" the voice replied.

So Jesus continued to rise through the air, with John and Mary holding on until they too were lifted off the ground.
But the other disciples couldn’t bear to be left behind either, so they too jumped on board…and within moments there was this pyramid of people hanging in the middle of the sky. Jesus at the top. John and Mary next. The apostles hanging on below. Quite a sight, if anyone had been watching...

And then - what was this? Suddenly all kinds of people were appearing out of nowhere…friends and neighbours from around Galilee, people who’d heard Jesus’ stories, people whom he had healed, people who just knew that he was something special…
Young and old,- men, women, children, Jews and Gentiles…a huge crowd – and they too refused to be left behind…So, they made a grab for the last pair of ankles and hung on for dear life. One way and another there was quite a kerfuffle -people squealing “Wait for me” -then startled yelps as they felt themselves seized by the ankle -and above it all the voice of God calling out, “Ascend!"

But all of a sudden, from the bottom of the pyramid, there came the piping voice of a small child.
"Wait!” he shrilled, “I've lost my dog! Wait for me”
"I can't wait," Jesus called back, "I don't know how this thing works."
But the little boy wasn't going to be left behind, and he was determined his dog was coming with him. So, still holding on with one hand, he grabbed hold of a tree with the other, and held on with all his might.


For a moment, the whole pyramid stopped dead in the air - Jesus pulling upwards, and the little boy holding on to the tree, scanning the horizon for his lost dog. But Jesus couldn't stop. The ascension had begun, and God was pulling him back up to heaven.

At first it looked as if the tree would uproot itself. But then the tree held on, and it started to pull the ground up with it. Sort of like when you pull a rug up in the middle, the soil itself started moving up into the sky. And hundreds of miles away, where the soil met the oceans, the oceans held on. And where the oceans met the shores, the shores held on. All of it held on, like there was no tomorrow.

To cut a short story long: Jesus DID ascend to heaven, He went back to his natural habitat, living permanently in the presence of God’s endless love and care and wholeness and laughter.

But, as Abba Sayah tells it, he pulled all of creation – the whole kit and caboodle – everything that ever was or is or ever will be – he pulled it all up into heaven with him.

On Thursday we talked about the Ascension as “Christmas backwards”.
At Christmas, we concentrate on Jesus coming to earth to transform us with the presence of God. At Ascension, we focus instead on Jesus taking earth back with him into heaven…
Whichever way you look at it, the work of Jesus was to transform us and the world we live in by infusing everything with the presence of God.
Heaven meets earth; earth is drawn into heaven.


And, as Abba Saya said. that's where we've been ever since.
So – let’s make sure we live that way, so that everyone we meet can tell that we are children of God and citizens of heaven.