Saturday, 30 May 2020

An in-between time

There has been much talk during this pandemic, with its concomitant restrictions on movement and much 'normal' activity, of this being an 'in between time'. And the past ten days, between the Ascension and today's Pentecost, has had much of this;- perhaps focussed it in ways we had not thought.
All this is true, but all this is also false; all times are 'in between times'- between the past and the future, or say, my birthday and yours, one project or another. It's a reminder that all we have is the present.

That should demand of us an attentiveness to the moment, in the light of how precious the moment is; a 'being present' to the present. Well, it's something I wish and pray for, rather than the jerky attentiveness to some big event yesterday and some big event to come, leaving the present just a passage of time with little meaning or content.
With the advent of the Spirit of God today, we have, if we choose to take it up, a new way of looking at the present. It is the gift of seeing the moment as Jesus saw it, the moment when he knows power has gone out of him; the moment he sees what no one else sees- a blind beggar who needs healing; the moment he sees his mother by the cross, and gifts her and his disciple John to each other.

'Once I was blind, but now I see' was the witness of one healed by Jesus; it could be all of us, in the healing of time which his Holy Spirit brings us.

Saturday, 23 May 2020

A little peace, a little hope, a little calm

I guess if we're not filling our lives with distractions- and there are plenty of those around- in these strange times, we may well be facing some of our demons. In the possible emptiness, or boredom, or quiet of this time of retreat, into a smaller, domestic world, that which has remained hidden, or not dealt with, or suppressed, in the frantic busy-ness of life before Covid19, may be coming to the surface. No wonder mental health is mentioned with such frequency.

But it's not just mental health. This retreated world, this more enclosed world has about it the limitations of a monastery, a cloister, a convent. And demons- but let's just call them 'issues', or 'unresolved tensions' -are not just mental ones; they might be spiritual. But what an opportunity now to welcome them into consciousness, befriend them, find them to be ministering angels, and not demons at all.!

Old remedies, time-proved, trusted stalwarts have stood the test over the centuries to offer the best consolation, healing, release. Prayer, confession, truth, the sacraments, listening to God, a sympathetic listening ear; all these have their place. None is a quick-fix. But together they offer a road to a freer, deeper life in God, less burdened, more in tune with the grain of the universe, the grain of God.

May those who are sensing a surfacing of holy discomfort find the needful insight, fortitude, grace, light, and balm to move into a sunnier soul-place. 

Saturday, 16 May 2020

O mad lover!

'Oh yeah, the resurrection'; here I am, just six weeks into the Easter season, and I can get to that stage, of being less than attentive to the resurrection, to what it was, is, what it means, the life it brings. But then- a sign of grace- something shocks me out of that frame of mind and heart.
This time it's been three phrases, all from Italy, from two saints in the middle ages. Bonaventure talking about 'the powerful fiery torrent, the torrent, I say, of the pleasure of God ' in his children. And Catherine of Siena talking of God 'drunk with love, infatuated with your creature' and in another place addressing God as 'O mad lover!'

The power of the images, the force of the words, brings me back to the reality and impact of that event. I have to face it, I cannot ignore the death, the life of Jesus. The writers of these words have journeyed farther into the love of God than I have, to write so large, so loud, so imbued.

I would follow. The torrents of the infatuated, mad lover reinforce my sense that there is more. Swimming, floating, sailing and diving in the ocean of God's love, as I feebly do, I know in my head that this ocean is vast, limitless, and the pull of the deeper sea is something I feel. The saints have gone before, and have survived. A voyage beckons.

Saturday, 9 May 2020

the virtual world

Locked down as we are, culture and other such experiences come to us via the tv and the laptop, rather than us going out for these occasions. And truth to tell, many organisations have made it easy to listen to/watch/experience music, plays, gardens, houses, museums which in BC times ( before coronavirus) we would have journeyed to, and paid for. The virtual world- a tour of the palace of Versailles, for instance- has become our near neighbour.

As has church; live-streamed services proliferate on Sundays. It fills a need for me, it's the best that can be done in the circumstances, but..... it's virtual. It's still a laptop screen between me and the rector in his study, leading worship ( and leading it well) for the parish. I have to imagine the other folk I would be with in church. Are they joining in today, or absent? I shall never know.

It causes me to wonder about how direct, or how mediated, is my relationship to God. And as I reflect on this, it seems that quite a lot is mediated; through scripture, through tradition, the sort of church I go to, stuff I learned when I was a child, and all the rest. Is there a direct  unmediated connection to, apprehension of God?

Maybe this world can't bear the weight of that. There is the yearning for knowing, as St. Paul puts it, 'face to face', in a time to come when we have passed from this world, and I truly look forward to that. For now, it's 'as in a glass, darkly'. An imperfect mirror.
 mostly through Jesus, our 'only mediator' as the Prayer Book has it, but with the promise of one day, one glorious day 'face to face'.

Saturday, 2 May 2020

The hymns we sing

I was searching for a hymn this week, when I came across another which I hadn't sung for many a long year; I could only half remember the first few words but it brought a lump to my throat- a hymn by Fanny Crosby, that great Victorian writer of hymns of personal devotion. 'All the way my Saviour leads me' it begins; but the last line- 'Jesus led me all the way' jolted me out of sentimentality and caused me to think.

'Jesus led me all the way'; it's patently untrue, of course, in that, self-willed as I am, I have so often gone my own way. The primrose path still holds many attractions. But I guess that if I look at it from another angle, it has a truth- I have been led off primrose paths back onto the Way.

The words we sing in our hymns express truths we hold dear, or truths we would like to hold dear  (as above)  and aspire to; and hymns our parents and others held dear, hymns where the tune seduces us rather than the words, and a thousand things besides. But we still sing them, eagerly, bitterly, sentimentally, hopefully, stoically.

'He who sings prays twice' said St. Augustine, testifying to the power of singing, and the power of praying, however that is done; in faith, in doubt, in anger, in joy, and the rest. Sing a little in these strange times; sing a hymn; God gets it in both ears, so speak, maybe with both barrels from ourselves. It's one way to keep us on the Way, or help us find a route back to the Way. 

Saturday, 25 April 2020

Write this......

I note that I have now posted over one hundred blogs on this site. Over four hundred appeared on the website elsewhere when I was in parish ministry. It's a weekly task which remains a pleasure more that a duty; there is always something good to say about God. Together with the occasional poems I  write, these posts are now the main way I witness to the goodness and grace of God.

'My tongue is the pen of a ready writer' says the psalmist- for me, it's the other way round; my pen is my tongue, at least in 'declaring the works of the Lord' in the small corner which is my life. It has about it Dr. Johnson's riff on Descartes' I think therefore I am';- 'I write therefore I am alive'. Writing, such as I practice it, was a vocation I accepted when I was ordained. I had always written in one way or another, but that endorsement of the church in ordaining me gave writing a push it might not have had otherwise. I wanted part of my ministry to be writing something for God, about God, from God (you will be the judge of how successful that has been) each week. Not deep, not fancy, not inaccessible, not super holy, but something simple which reflects the intersection of an ordinary life- mine- with the grace of God as it finds me, challenges me, changes me, confirms me.

We all have a story to tell, many stories to tell. Those stories reveal us to others, and to ourselves. They do not end with death- how that story intersects with others will affect and shape the ones who hear the story, read the story, beyond my life.We know this from the words of those long-dead which still resonate with us. Scripture is but one example. Words impact us. My story is the Word- St. John's name for Christ- impacting me. Robert Louis Stevenson puts it far better than I;
Bright is the ring of words/When the right man rings them./Fair the fall of songs/When the singer sings them./Still they are carolled and said-/On wings they are carried-/After the singer is dead/And the maker buried.

May our story be one of goodness, and our words of grace.

Saturday, 18 April 2020

Blowin' in the wind

Out for a brief walk, keeping to a route where we were unlikely to meet others, we came across a man's shirt on the hedge, presumably blown there by a recent high wind. It seemed in good nick; we took it home, washed and ironed it. This is the second gift brought to us by the wind- a year or so ago a single-sized fitted sheet appeared on the fence by the park area in front of the house, directly after some gales. No-one claimed it; after some days we took it in, cleaned it, and I took it to Kenya as part of my bedding last autumn; the shirt, attractive and expensive though it was, was an XXL- I looked lost in it, so it will go to a charity shop when they reopen. Both these 'gifts' were, we imagine escapees from washing lines somewhere near us.

Unexpected gifts, blown in by the wind- how can I resist the direct parallel with the gifts God gives us via his Spirit, usually unexpectedly? I can't. But it did prompt some digging into the metaphor. Neither sheet nor shirt were 'oven ready'; both required some work. And both turned out to be for the benefit of others- via the charity shop, and the work I do as a charity trustee. The largest question these gifts prompt is ' Is this legitimately mine to have?'  In that both were unclaimed, we gave both shirt and sheet a temporary home.

'Is this mine to have?'- an attitude, a question I have asked, and maybe you have too, about the gifts of God which arrive unbidden in our hearts. Why do I continue to ask this question when my experience of the love of God is that it is 'the gift that keeps on giving', boundless, free, unstinting. But once I acknowledge that this is how it is, that God loves to give, I find I can give his gifts a home, make them ready, and use them for the benefit of others. The answer, my friend, is blowin' in the wind......