Saturday, 22 February 2020

The garden

The garden at home is more of a paddy field at the moment. Constant rain over the winter has left the fields round the house in what looks like a permanently flooded and muddy state; the lawns at our house squelch if  I walk on them. The rain barrel has never been less than full for the last three months. But signs of spring are here; unexpected views of tracts of snowdrops hidden in hedges as we drive by; the first daffodils blossoming in the garden.

'You shall be a well-watered garden,' says Isaiah the prophet,'a spring of water that never fails'. The metaphor of a garden for our life-in-God is one that constantly recurs in Scripture. And I have found that I can identify with it, to see drought, weeds, flooding, pruning, and much else as a feature of what the landscape of my life looks like. On a much grander scale, this is what John Bunyan is exploring in 'Pilgrim's Progress'; I will content myself with something more domestic- it is all I can do to keep my own garden in some sort of order and productivity.

Supposing your life-in-God is a garden, what does it look like today? What signs of life? What areas need attention? What will take some time to recover? What has been neglected? Fret not; 'My father is the gardener', says Jesus .Expert, practical help is at hand.

Saturday, 15 February 2020

Assumptions, slogans, lies and prejudices

'This isn't the Brexit I voted for' tweeted a man this week who spent 50 minutes-plus at Amsterdam airport, waiting to get his passport checked to enter Holland. 'Longer in the queue than in the air'. He has been  (metaphorically) shot down several times by folk replying to his message along the lines of
'this is exactly what was voted for, if we did but know it'.
I am not going into the rights and wrongs of Brexit; there are no winners in that debate any more; tribes have fixed lines, and merely shout at each other. But it does highlight the need for truth, and for informed debate where big decisions are made. Indeed, where all decisions are made.

Truth is a fragile commodity; 'alternative facts' are now firmly in our culture, and we have little idea where their entrenchment will lead us, in the big picture of our national life and politics.Although we might have some idea of where this will go as we look at the corrosive effects of lies, prejudices and 'alternative facts' as they impacted on the smaller world of our relationships.  We have been here before. There is the cynicism with which Pontius Pilate asks Jesus at his trial 'what is truth?; set this against Jesus' assertion of himself 'I am the truth (made earlier in his ministry, not in response to Pilate).
But in the end, who has had more influence on the course of the world's history? Truth personified in Jesus the Christ, or the governor of a back-water province of the Roman Empire? With truth comes a package of goodies which includes kindness, goodness, patience, understanding, and more. This is worth striving for, valuing. It rejects easy answers, slogans, cynicism, and the rest. We can add to the store of goodness in the world by standing with truth, with informed debate,rather than the easier road of assumptions, slogans, prejudices, lies, difficult though that may be. Although it won't, at this stage, change the queues at Schipol.   

Saturday, 8 February 2020

The accident

I have been struck afresh this week by something which happened far away, and its effects on so many people, including myself. Nothing extraordinary in that; the government in London puts taxes up, and here, 200 miles away, my income is more circumscribed. But this week brought it home to me in a way I hadn't realised before.

A pedestrian was sadly killed on a major road about thirteen miles from here. That road was closed during the morning rush hour and beyond. I was caught up in the resulting entanglement as drivers sought ways of getting to their destination along country roads not used to heavy traffic. I arrived nearly an hour late for a nine o'clock meeting. A friend abandoned her attempt to drive forty miles to take her mother to a hospital appointment. Along the roads I was using, secondary-age children were heading home; the school bus had failed to turn up within the appointed time. No doubt scenes like this were repeated in a wide circle around here.

It speaks to me of the interconnectedness of life, our dependence on one another. 'No man is an island entire of itself; every man is a piece of the continent, a part of the main'  wrote John Donne nearly four hundred years ago. This is a challenge to our autonomous view of ourselves in 2020, where I will do what I want, no matter the effect on others, or the effect on the planet. Somehow, that 'road traffic accident' brought home the idiocy of that self-centred view in a way other far-away happenings failed to do. It reinforced our connected-ness. 'Though we are many, we are one body, because we all share in one bread'; these are words I shall hear again today, and today they will have a depth and a resonance that was lacking last week.

Saturday, 1 February 2020

The patchwork quilt

I dug out an old patchwork quilt I made a long time ago, and it graces the bed again now, to keep out the winter cold. Truth to tell, I've forgotten many of the things- dresses of Mary's, tablecloths, napkins- which contributed to its squares and rectangles; and if I remember correctly, some material was bought specially for it anyway. In reds and navy- plain, patterned and checked- it adds a brightness, as well as a warmth, to the bed which was lacking before.

Odd bits, bits which might have been discarded, unimportant and forgotten, now brought together in an order and pattern. It should speak of church and how it ministers to the marginalised, but even a cursory reading of say, 1 Corinthians, shows St Paul dealing with deep dissension. And things have hardly improved in many places since.

Nevertheless, in spite of the popular perception that church is for those who have made it in one way or another, it remains a hospital for the walking wounded, myself included. And the walking wounded can be fractious.... We are all works in progress, striving to bring beauty and order and usefulness, striving to be whole, and sometimes holy, - in some ways then, like the patchwork quilt- into a world of need.

Sunday, 26 January 2020

literary life- and boredom

I have given up trying to read' The Silmarillion'. I started it when it first came out, over forty years ago, when my enthusiasm for Tolkien had already waned a little, and I had passed on to literary pastures new.  And read so far, and no further. But a review of the bookshelves revealed a number of unread  or unfinished tomes- this was one of them. I set to work, but reluctantly gave up after about two hundred pages. Reluctant because I usually read a book to the end, and hate to give up, however turgid the offering.
I got lost in the detail, couldn't make the connections, could see no overarching narrative. I fell into that group which one reviewer identified when The Silmarillion was first published; 'it will probably be bought by more people than will read it'.

No overarching narrative; it's concerned with a mythic past, but has no projection into the present or future. Okay, so many books are 'just a history' with no present or future about them, but Tolkien aimed higher, I understand. He aimed to give us our equivalent of the Nordic sagas, earth us in a grand narrative that is entirely our own.

Except, of course, we already have one, which has earthed us,- and heaven'd us- for the last two thousand years, and continues to be- despite all claims to the contrary by the chattering classes of one sort or another, the bedrock on which we stand.

I am far from bored when I read 'In the beginning...'- the opening words of the Old Testament, and the gospel of John. And the grand narratives of the Revelation to finish. And in between the cosmic theology of Paul's epistles, the shocking authority of Jesus, the heroes and villains, the tender love of God. All human life is there!- something absent from The Silmarillion.     

Saturday, 18 January 2020

The landscape of faith

I thought until recently I had some sort of understanding of the geography, as it were, of the faith; after all, I've talked it, prayed it, professed it, preached it for 50+ years. I thought I had a 'map', with, if not all the details (by no means all the details!) then at least the salient features; baptism, prayer, the sacraments, etc.
But a hard evaluation has shown me that I have some understanding of the small hinterland around me, and that is all. Why I was so foolish to think that I had a bigger picture, I can only put down to vanity and pride.
My thoughts go back to Bunyan's 'Pilgrim's Progress'- that seminal book which has had so much influence on personal devotion in English homes since its publication in 1678. (Since when it's never been out of print, I'm told). A grand landscape emerges in the book- as it does in C S Lewis's 'Narnia' chronicles. Christian ranges far and wide through rivers, bogs, mountains, byways, highways and the rest to come to the Celestial City. And all these places have their symbolic meanings; compared to which my narrow and small experience is as nothing.

'Bloom where you are planted' says the adage. So although my experience, range, understanding, and practice of the faith may be, as it were a small garden, my task is to nurture that, and venture out from there and learn to inhabit a bigger picture. The Delectable Mountains still call. Here is opportunity to tend a small garden, with my eyes and heart ready to explore a grander landscape. 

Saturday, 11 January 2020


After more than sixty years, I can still remember by heart most of the verses from Matthew chapter 2 which tell the story of 'wise men from the east' come to seek the Christ child. Our primary school class learned it, under the direction of our teacher Miss Vickers, for the school carol service when I was nine in Junior 3, and if memory serves, we recited it again when in Junior 4.

Strange what stays. I can see us know, on the risers, reciting this to parents in the hall in front of us. We were a large class- thirty plus. I wonder how many of them, like me, come into contact with that reading, and can say it, all over again?

'Wise men from the east, come to worship him'.And bring gifts- gold, frankincense, myrrh. It's one of the important readings from scripture which met us this first week in in this Epiphany season, when Jesus is manifested to a wider world than his own people. By the grace of God, he has manifested himself to me over the years, and I'm grateful. My gifts to him have been adoration, forgetfulness, wilfulness, disobedience, surrender, anger, love. The best and worst of my life. And the mediocre in between. But like the wise men, his bright star draws me on, into a mystery I don't understand, but know is true, just as the wise men must have felt in presenting gifts to a child they believed was a prophet, priest and king, judging by their gifts, but found in an ordinary house far from palaces and the trappings of royalty.

'Show me the way'- it's a prayer I often make, an acknowledgement that the Bright Morning Star I follow is the true one, even though it leads I know not where,and has mystery about it. But in the mystery, grace and truth above all, .