Saturday, 19 October 2019

Cat and mouse

Holiday hotels with an international clientele offer unrivalled opportunities- especially in the dining room- for observing the different customs adopted by different nationalities over food. Mary and I returned from Cyprus earlier in the week; the hotel we stayed in had a large contingent of Russian visitors. Forget the old British complaint about Germans always being first to take up all the sunbeds by the pool;the new focus of attention for English fulminations is the Russian, and his or her hoovering up all the food in the dining room.

Your correspondent modestly sits, English style, with a bowl of cereal in front of him, and when that is finished, queues (!) for scrambled egg and other delights of the the Full English. Not so our Moscow brethren; the table is full of everything all at once, so that several plates (for one person) adorn the table, with an eclectic mix of yogurts, salad and cheeses, salami, stuff from the Full English selection, toast, croissants, pain-au-chocolat, maybe a banana or three. At the least, this causes raised eyebrows among the English diners. And behind that can be discerned the words 'greedy', 'manners' and the like.

I love Anglican worship, and on holiday if we worship with some other tradition, my spiritual eyebrows are often raised ('what, no Old Testament reading?' 'where were the prayers for a world of need?......) by the different customs and traditions. But should my hackles be thus raised? A Salvation Army captain once put it to me like this; 'Your cat brings in a mouse. You berate her and throw the mouse into the bin. But the cat brought it as a gift of love!'
We proclaim in our churches- or most churches do- that we welcome all. But do we, if the stranger who enters is different/doesn't fit in/is not 'our sort of person'?  What sort of welcome is it? Hmmmm. Welcome, in spite of us, in spite of our failings, our raised eyebrows. The 'L' plates still show on most of us, me included. 

Saturday, 12 October 2019

Finding the way.

On Thursday we drove from Larnaka to Nicosia: the inner workings of  Nicosia and its roads is not something I know well, and I was afraid I would turn up late for my meeting at the Anglican diocesan offices. The day was saved by the soothing voice on the phone’s map system, which got us faultlessly from A to B. And back to Larnaka again at the end of the day.
All I had to do was to follow the instructions. To listen. Sometimes a little difficult to follow the said instructions, as they came a tad late to say, get into the right hand lane, but in general terms it worked well. The one time we did take a wrong turn, we were soon back on track, thanks to the re- routing capabilities of the app.
‘This is the way: walk ye in it-listen to the voice which says that’ - I recall a verse from the Old Testament with that sentiment. Listen and follow. In the end, that is how we walk the Christian way. So many clamouring voices trying to gain our attention: it’s hard to hear the authentic voice of God in our crowded world. In the car it was easy to listen to the app: we were all attention. Still and all, that’s what it comes down to. Attention to God to walk the way. May it be so.

Saturday, 5 October 2019

Harmony

There's a moment in one of my favourite pieces of music- 'O Magnum Mysterium' by Lauridsen, of what I might call 'planned disharmony'- a dissonance in the singing which makes its presence all the more noticeable among the lovely slow meditation on some of the wonder of the Incarnation; the music is part of the special settings for the Christmas season.

And listening to music generally, I often find myself concentrating not on the air, the melody, but the harmonies; what are the trumpets doing, the oboes, the basses, at this point? Where are they going, what are they adding, in relation to the main thrust and direction of the music? It's noticeable, in listening to a piece of music in this way, that not all the voices of a band, and orchestra, have to add to the music at any given point. They can be silent; only those who have work to do are heard at any point. The 'heavy work' may be being done by the strings, but for colour, emphasis, underlining, or many other reasons, the brass may accompany them. Or part of the woodwind section. Maybe for a few bars only. And it seems to me that the essence of harmony in music is that there may be a number of different lines of expression being explored- the double bass is playing a different line to the flute- but that all are within sight of each other, and all working to a common end- that of aiding the work in the 'now' in a euphonious way, and towards the greater goal of moving the music to an appropriate conclusion, as the composer wishes; glorious, subdued, whatever.

This has much to teach us both in civil society, with its present 'discourse' marked by braying, disharmony and shouting; and in the church too. Unity will not mean that we all sing the same song, but it will mean we are all in hearing distance of each other, and are taking note of each other's line towards the end of glorifying God. May it be so, Amen! 

Saturday, 28 September 2019

God in the wool-gathering.

I love that phrase- 'wool-gathering'; idling in one's mind, gathering up bits of stray wool from the barbed wire or hedge at the edge of a field, without any aim in mind; and so by extension idling, thinking nothing in particular, as one is engaged in some other activity, such as peeling vegetables.

I wonder if it was thus for the Virgin Mary when the Angel Gabriel announced to her that she was to be the mother of God's son? Was she ironing? Well, I doubt that; the pressing of clothes with an iron being of more recent vintage, surely? But maybe sweeping the floor, kneading dough- a task of that sort,  which by its regularity and given that a woman's lot was hard, and would keep her occupied from morn till night, but maybe allowed time for thought, idle or more constructive.

Medieval pictures often show Mary reading, and maybe she was when Gabriel came, but that speaks of luxury- a book!; and a good education- she reads! We frankly don't know. But maybe it was while she was daydreaming, wool-gathering, that the angel came to her.

If so, it speaks of the blessedness that can be ours in what is often regarded as wasted time, or at least regarded as a break between meaningful activities. Maybe let God into your daydreams; he might surprise you, and turn a daydream into a hope, wool-gathering into something gathered up where it was unravelled before. 

Tuesday, 24 September 2019

Cobbling stuff together

When my father died, I took a lot of the wood he had gathered over the years, and have been using it in various low-level projects since then. This week has seen a further venture take shape; a screen or frame, which will go in the garden- I hesitate to use the word 'adorn';- and which I hope will enable climbers such as sweet peas to thrive as they scramble up it.

The garage has echoed to the sound of a saw and a hammer; the frame, inelegant but I hope sturdy and fit for purpose, was made from different bits of wood roughly the same width and depth, but not all quite the same. From a distance no-one will notice this roughness- I hope. The frame may be put in place in the garden this coming week if the weather holds. It will be next summer before it comes into use, however, as sweet peas and maybe a clematis, ramble through it.

If only life had that consistency and smooth perfection which we all hope for! Instead, I suspect it has a cobbled together feel about it- at least at times- as new stuff has come our way, and we have incorporated it into what is already there. Few of us will have had a 'life-plan' at primary school, and realised it without any hitches, in just the way we envisaged back then.

But it's in this stuff-of-life, stuff-to-hand, that God is found. That is the point of the incarnation, of Jesus becoming flesh, human; that the material of life is important, and can be put to holy use, or at least 'use'. Sawing and hammering as I was, something new emerged; I was engaged in a creative act, and I felt somehow enlarged by this. In creating, after all is said and done, we imitate the Creator and His work. In small, I know. Imperfect, I know. But it is a reflection of a God-like activity.     

Saturday, 14 September 2019

A change in the air

The air is crisper, sharper, in the mornings now. Summer is over, and there's a definite feel of autumn around. Even if we didn't have the evidence of autumn fruits on the trees, that late riot and burst of colour in the garden and hedgerows, we would know it by the air, by the early fall of darkness. After a week away I meant to water the garden on the evening we arrived back, was distracted for a while, and when I was ready to go out and pick up the watering can, it was already dark.

We read these signs automatically, cut off from as we are- most of us living in towns- from a wider data base which comes from country living, with its myriad clues as to season, aridity, stress, fecundity, weather, and all the rest. No surprise then that the gospels are full of references to the signs all around in the landscape of Jesus' day, and that Jesus himself often refers to farmers, harvest, agricultural labourers, barns and much besides; it was all to hand, and his hearers would readily understand.

But he applied all this to the life of the spirit, for much of the time; the landscape, the weather, the activity of farmers, became a metaphor for the life, the health, of the soul. I wonder how good we are, in our self-sufficient, secular age, at taking the 'temperature' of our spirits? How we gauge 'a change in the air', and whether it presages a storm ahead, or something better? There are seasons of the soul just as much as there are seasons to the earth, and it can all be pretty nuanced; can you detect the shifts that are happening in your spirit, in your relationship with God? What's the forecast?

Saturday, 7 September 2019

Navigating between the rocks.

My thinking recently has been churning over the pitfalls into which some forms of the faith have fallen in recent times.
On one side there is the dreadful spectacle of 'the evangelical right'- a species bred in the United States, but which makes evangelicals of any hue anywhere else in the world run for cover, and disown anything to do with 'evangelicalism'. The potent brew of guns, uncritical endorsement of a narcissistic president, bad theology, a very narrow view of what constitutes 'the gospel of Christ', and a smug embrace of insulation from the demands of a wide justice and peace; all this has me walking wide circles around anything to do with the 'e' word. Wrongly so, in that Christianity is an evangelistic faith- but I would have to define my terms there in a wide way to avoid any taint of 'the evangelical right'.
On another side is the equally corrupt self-serving of the institutional churches, including my own;   these have been found  wanting in recent years, and  have now been rightfully exposed, for covering up of  the abuse of  large swathes of young folk, in an effort to protect their churches''reputations'.
Equally, from another direction, our decreasing familiarity with the radicalism of the gospel has led large sections of our church attenders to believe that if we are nice, if we practice western liberal values, we are living the gospel. That gospel is far more radical than being nice. We have no 'edge', no connection between what we proclaim, and how we live.

Lord save us from these rocks, reefs and whirlpools, and others which dull our understanding, or lead us into the false, the inauthentic. Lead us back to loving you with all our being, and our neighbour as ourselves. Please. And soon.