Saturday, 22 September 2018

The intrusion of the weird

In her latest book of essays, Marilynne Robinson (one of America's great writers) writes sadly of her mother's seduction in her old age- housebound, with possibly little to occupy her still sound mind, reinforced by the views of similar neighbours and friends- by the views of a prominent right-wing tv channel in America. Her daughter's encouragements that the world was not about to end, and that the authority of Jesus on this was more robust than some pert blonde on a tv channel, were not enough to convince mother, who became more anxious, fretty.
Marilynne Robinson calls it 'the intrusion of the weird'. It can come from any direction, of course, and in a world of instant news and views, perhaps we are more prone to it than previous generations. Think how much time you spend on your newsfeeds. I confess to more time than is good for my soul and mind.
Which brings us to the nub. What has authority for us in our world view? Where is the anchor? What is the ground which will not be moved?
For me, it is God in Christ, moving always for the best with unpromising material, against a grain of weird, malign, unfortunate, despairing, cynicism. His words and actions act as a corrective to the moment by moment intrusions which would leave me prone to all sorts of weird, all sorts of malign, despairing cynicism. May you find hope and joy today in the one who promises 'life in all its fullness,', the True North to all our wayward compasses.  

Saturday, 15 September 2018

Care of the soul.

We 'care' for everything these days, although it seems to me that this mostly means applying furniture polish, creams of one sort or another, detergents, weedkillers. Care of the mind, the heart, and the soul; these are rarely mentioned. Why would they be, when the very existence of minds and souls is disputed, and hearts- bruised, broken, or in other ways not as they should be- can be assuaged by the application of diversionary stuff- alcohol, a new gadget, a new relationship.

I am in the business of care of souls. Every Christian somewhere in their DNA has this responsibility. Care of their own, and care of others' souls. It's one we may not couch in those terms, or not recognise, but our faith is not a privatised and lonely experience, but one played out in the everyday stuff of life, and epitomised by the way we gather in worship together each Sunday to care for our souls, and each others'.

There's a 19th century hymn ' It is well with my soul'. It would not be written today, with a title, sentiments like that. But it expresses a truth about the health or otherwise of my soul that transcends the narrowness of today's legitimacy. May balm, medicine, Elastoplast of a spiritual nature be yours and mine today, and may we see our way to pouring emollient care onto the souls of those we come across. My it be well with your soul, and mine.

Sunday, 9 September 2018

I write from Whitby, that ancient holy site, although a modern flat in the town is not quite the picture which one normally associates with 'ancient holy site'. Okay, I can see the abbey on the east cliff, and its presence dominates the town, but today the picturesque, the tourist, the short summer season take precedence. It takes great leaps of imagination to go back to a small community, facing north, isolated by geography, producing a powerhouse of prayer and holiness.

But holy sites, even those long abandoned, continue to draw people. We recognise 'thin places' where heaven, God, the numinous, come closer to us. Sanctified by use, validated by recognition, we go to them for what we lack in life, what we seek even when we cannot name it. Cathedrals have that 'draw', but so do many other places; I think of a holy well in suburban Paphos, Cyprus, adorned with votive offerings which speak of the pain of many hearts and prayers.

My own list of places which have drawn me would include Compostela, Durham, Chichester. And smaller, more local but equally potent locales- Lastingham, St. Gregory's minster. They draw me, tell me to 'keep on keeping on'; to continue to be a pilgrim, where both journey and destination are vital to me being fully human.  

Sunday, 2 September 2018

The repairs to the car

Cars; high maintenance or what? Ours was at the garage earlier this week for a 'diagnostic check' on the 'engine management system'; a light on the dash kept coming on to indicate something needed attention. Fortunately, whizz-bang electronics soon identified the problem, and in no time at all, which included a quick but costly rendezvous with the garage's cash payment system, the car was back on the road, and running as sweet as a nut.

If only all problems were so simply fixed! Given the level of insight I have into my life and its dynamics, the unexamined prejudices I entertain, the no-go areas I'm unwilling to cast a steely eye over, learned behaviours which now serve no purpose, and all the rest of the components of this jalopy of a personality, it's a wonder I breeze through life as well as I think I do. No plug-in diagnostic checks to short-circuit all the detritus as outlined above...….

Except the still, small voice, which tries to check me, tries to steer me to the right, the good; somehow the management system, aka the Holy Spirit, still makes connection with the real issues, and attempts to untangle, set me straight. And confession; that helps. I may not run as sweet as a nut- any one close to me will tell you my faults, and I could add more to the list-but I'm still on the road. 'L' plates in place,' running the course set before me' as the Good Book says, here for the long haul, which will include many a pit stop for attention to the faults so evident in this model.


Sunday, 26 August 2018

The wine notes

I'm quoting direct from the bottle's label here (the bottle being of new Zealand Sauvignon Blanc); 'this wine is approachable and food friendly with a beautiful expression of crisp lime and ripe passionfruit. Enjoy with seafood and white meats'.

Which is quite restrained, considering the number of fruit and other notes which experienced 'noses' detect and extol on other wine labels I have read. Most of the stuff they detect passes me by; I am an inexperienced glugger; you may read into that 'I know what I like'. Those rarified labels  are witness to another plane of experience I am not party to.

I wonder if we can express what we see in the wine in the chalice at Holy Communion in the same analytical and yet poetic way as those who write the notes on  the wine bottles? Do I detect notes of suffering, patience, sweaty pain? It's certainly a beautiful, and at the same time appalling, expression of love of God to man, of hate of man to God. Goes well with other likeminded folk who enjoy this wine; goes well with bread to make a feast like no other; refreshing aftertaste, grace notes of assured love.

Inexperienced tasters welcome. Me included. Might try and write a better label, though.    

Saturday, 18 August 2018

A year on

A year ago this past week we moved into what is still to us, the 'new' house/ 'new' community/ 'new' church/ new neighbours/ new surroundings. And the rest.....
It has taken time to settle, to learn the ropes, to feel we belong. We still have 'L' plates on in so many areas - it doesn't seem like second nature to know this, that and the other. Yet.
All this may come, and it's devoutly to be wished that it is so. Meanwhile, we not exactly blunder on, certainly not stumble about in darkness, but often have pause to think, 'now, what's the way forward?'

My experience of faith is like that; just when I think I have it sussed, I find that I'm in new territory, and have no, or few, landmarks to guide me. Old certainties drop away, and new ones have not yet formed (only in their turn to fall by the wayside).  I could retreat into safe formulas, ways of thinking and doing, but am conscious of the onward, upward call of Christ, who calls us to follow, not knowing, as the disciples did not, where it all might lead, where it all might end.

Adventurous spirits, sign on here.

Saturday, 11 August 2018

A wedding

I conducted a wedding yesterday- the first since I retired. So I was nervous, on a number of fronts; would I get it right, would I remember everything, or would it go wrong and then the day would be less than wonderful for the equally nervous groom and bride.

Part of the nerves on everybody's part is the seriousness of the occasion. OK, surrounded by joy and happiness- yes! But my remembrance of every wedding rehearsal I've taken- and most couples seem to want one- is that when it comes to the marriage vows, as I say them to give an illustration of how it will be on the big day, the mood changes, and it comes home how serious this is.

Commitment of any sort is serious stuff. But a marriage- the deepest commitment any of us can make- throws into relief just what's at stake. To have and to hold, from this day forward, in sickness and in health, for richer for poorer...…….Big Stuff, capital B, capital S.

Christians in some sense are wedded to God. Baptism is a sort of wedding; after it, I'm tied to God, because it's a choice I made, gladly and freely. And God is bound to me. Each day is a fight for me to forsake all others, and remain true to God. It makes me nervous, and could overwhelm me, were it not for grace. Upon grace, upon grace, upon grace. For which, thanks be to God, the far more faithful partner in this enterprise.