Sunday, 17 June 2018

In  one of the by-ways of my reading this week, I came across Joseph Glanvill- well-known to all of you, I'm sure- a 17th century English philosopher, writer and clergyman. He must have possessed some second sight, in that he predicted there might be 'conferring at the distance of the Indies by sympathetic conveyances  ……. as usual to future times, as to us in a literary correspondence'. That is, the telephone, and other modern stuff which enables almost instantaneous communication.

Maybe it's not too difficult to imagine a future age with all sorts of gizmos we presently do not possess, although I imagine it would have been more difficult back then. Nowadays we are used to the fast pace of technological change. Yesterday's sci-fi is today's reality. But the moral issues in every sci-fi novel or film are those we face today- nothing has changed in that respect. It 's the choices we make, the consequences of those choices, good fighting evil- the familiar stuff of our everyday experience.

We are often seduced by the siren calls of new technology, and the hope, and sometimes the reality that our lives are improved by the kit we buy. But that still leaves us with the choices for justice and peace, or their opposites, which we have to make day by day. We need a firmer foundation, a clearer light for life, than the latest phone.
'I am the light of the world' says Jesus. Who managed life very successfully without gadgets, gizmos, gewgaws. And still provides light, to stumblers in the dark like me, and millions like me.  

Saturday, 9 June 2018

The 'Rambling Rector' rose

We moved into this house last August, and began to plant a garden in what was a bare patch of green, surrounded by solid, but again bare, fences.
The first fruits of this holy task of garden-making are now becoming evident. I'm particularly struck by the profusion of flowers on the 'Rambling Rector' rose. Although it was only planted last November, and is less than two feet high, there are more small, creamy, orangey-scented flowers on it than I can count. In time it will cover the fence- that is the idea- but it will also, if true to type, become a bit of a thug, and need to be radically kept under control. Prune, prune, prune will be the order of the day. I heard recently of one 'Rambling Rector' bringing down a fence-  unattended and rampant, it had become so heavy its support gave way.

I guess I'm talking about balance; unrestrained growth versus something more controlled. Most of us  think we are balanced and it's probably true that most of our friends and family think we are at least slightly out of kilter. I put myself under the rule of the one who said 'I am the true vine, and my father is the gardener'. I do this in the hope and belief I will not turn out to be a thug of any sort, someone who brings self and others crashing down; but that with appropriate pruning, and feeding, will produce something of beauty and use - a life well-lived for God.

Sunday, 3 June 2018

It was the feast of Corpus Christi earlier this week; I had the privilege of presiding at Communion on the day. Corpus Christi goes back to the thirteenth century, in part due to the lobbying of a Belgian religious who after her death was canonised- St. Juliana of Liege.

The central notion of the day is to give thanks for the service of the Eucharist, or Holy Communion; it is more usually remembered as part of the events of Holy Week. Juliana's thesis was that its place can be somewhat overlooked in the rush of events leading to Jesus' trial and execution. Hence a day where it stands by itself, and due consideration can be given to its 'weight'.

As a priest, I see people's faces as they take communion. Few others do. I have written before of the devotion of older folk who at pain to themselves, will kneel to receive the bread and wine; the struggle of some disabled folk to come to the altar rail to receive. I have no idea what goes on in people's hearts and minds as they eat the morsel of bread, take the sip of wine, but I sense their thankfulness, their love, their devotion, to this simple but profound act and its meaning.

'I am the bread of life' says Jesus in the gospel reading for Corpus Christi. To see the faces of the believers on that day was to believe it.

Saturday, 26 May 2018

Did we get to the end.....?

I've just finished Patrick Leigh Fermor's 'The Broken Road' - the last part of his journey across Europe in the  1930s to Constantinople. In three books of magical prose he charts his walk through a vanished world. I came to his books in the late 80s - eleven years after the first describing his walk - 'A time of gifts'- was published; and was immediately captured by that, and when it appeared, by its successor 'Between the woods and the water'. This last part of the journey was a long time coming; Fermor found it difficult to write in his increasing old age, and it's more discursive. Still, the old sparkle shines through.

But the journey breaks off before he reaches his destination, and we have no coruscating descriptions of Constantinople. Hints of what might have been are found in writing of the remains of Byzantine culture along the way in south eastern Europe, but Constantinople itself? Yes, he arrives there, yes, he is absorbed by those in the city who expected him, and to whom he is introduced, but nothing remains in his prose to tell us of those days, what it meant to arrive, what he felt he had accomplished.

It's a disappointment, to this reader at least. But maybe it's a fitting end, on further reflection; maybe the journey is always more important than the arrival. For Christians, the notion of journey, and especially of pilgrimage has been a significant way of structuring understanding of the life of faith. I cannot tell my journey in such wonderful prose, my encounters do not scintillate like his, but the journey has been an endless source of recollection, recapitulation, learning, reflection. It has been a time of gifts, sometimes a broken road, but the road lies ahead, and I intend, with God's grace, to walk it to the end, to a city more captivating even than Byzantium of old.    

Saturday, 19 May 2018

I'm  applying to renew my passport; my present one runs out early next year, and  now is as good a time as any to begin the process. My vicar will come  by on Wednesday to countersign the photo which will accompany the paperwork, that it is 'a true likeness ' of me.
Wait! Surely I'm not that old-looking, care-worn, lined person who looks out at me from the small square of glossy paper in front of me. What a fright! I'm younger! More handsome! Please!

True likeness- ouch! I'd better get back to reality, and accept the fact that this is me. True likeness is close to the heart of the faith we profess, unwilling as we may be at times to embrace it. Firstly, that Jesus is a true likeness of God- which my experience of God over the years has led me to believe. See Jesus, see God. That, for me is the easy bit.

The harder bit is what follows from that. God's promise is that 'we shall be like him'; one of the outcomes of this Ascensiontide and Pentecost season is that we become 'divinised'- the life of Christ is poured into us, to make us more like the Jesus we read of in the gospels. Somehow I am becoming a 'true likeness' of Christ. Unreal and unlikely as it seems, and especially for me, knowing what goes on in my interior life. But this is the reality of the faith I profess, and I had better accept that this is me.  Massive imperfections; still, after all these years wearing 'L' plates; but with the life and light of Christ in me,  trying to show a true likeness of the life of God. It looks, from my point of view, a perfect fright, but there is the hope in me that God is at work in the mess, pulling some resemblance of Christ into a focus that the world can see.  

Saturday, 12 May 2018

The weather of the first part of the week took me in mind back to teenage years, and sung mattins; that long litany of 'all ye works of the Lord' being called on to 'bless ye the Lord: praise him and magnify him for ever'- the Benedicite. And particularly the verse calling on 'Fire and Heat, bless ye the Lord'.

The rigours of the weather seemed to be saying to me that it was doing its level best to punch out all the heat it could. Fulfilling its purpose, so to speak. And what enjoyment it brought, to this lover of warmth anyway.

I'm finicky about the heat I like. Memories surface of a very humid 42degrees C/ 108 F when I worked in St. Louis, Missouri, and three showers a day in failed attempts to keep stickiness at bay. This is not my idea of heat. Nor is melting while I preached in a corrugated tin church in Kenya. Yes, this heat was punching out its blessing of God, but I'll take my heat a little more temperately, please.

The trouble with God and his blessings is that he is so extravagant. Heat may be more than I can cope with. Cold too; the St. Louis winter reached minus 59, if you include the wind chill, the year I was there. Full on or what!? There are times when God doesn't hold back, and comes at you full on. We're coming up to Pentecost, when God goes full on with his gift of the Holy Spirit. Stand back!

But in the blast of his blessing, I've learned through the grace upon grace upon grace which has been showered on me, to add my voice to the whole of the created order, and join (as per the Benedicite) 'ye children of men' and 'bless the Lord', do my bit to 'praise him and magnify him for ever.' It's all I can do.  

Saturday, 5 May 2018

Poor worms. The last few weeks have seen our paved areas resembling the aftermath of a battleground, as worms, exposed as they cross the tarmac of the drive or the slabs of the patio, die in quantities. Squashed ( inadvertently ) by car or foot, picked off by birds, or merely failing to reach the safety of next door's lawn, they come to their end.

All life is risky, although possibly not death-defying as per above. Exposure to something new can be a risky experience. Someone's asked me to lead a retreat, which caused a sharp intake of breath and the  thought 'Me?' ( As it happens, the dates mean I can't do it). I listen to a number of folk via my spiritual companionship ministry, and a common theme at the moment is the difficult choices people are making, and the weighing of risk. Not of battlefields or death, but equally real decisions which affect not just them, but their families and beyond.

In our world of constant noise and aural wallpaper, it's often difficult to hear God calling to us.  And the call is often to the new, with its attendant risks. After all, Jesus' call to his disciples was to 'Follow me'. He  did not provide a route map or a detailed plan as he made that invitation. Just ' Follow me'. It's the same today.  But those who follow would not choose to do anything else;  the journey with the God of the uncomfortable and the risk is all in all.