Sunday, 15 July 2018

the place of loyalty

A bit later than usual, but her goes...….
My car insurance is up for renewal, and the letter from my present insurer informs me that I 'may get the insurance ( I ) want at a better price if you shop around.' So much for loyalty, and any rewards that might accrue for displaying that virtue, by re-insuring with the sender of the letter.
The websites who advise on family finances and on saving money all tell us to switch providers, to abandon loyalty (although for some it's just inertia, not loyalty) and to practice that supreme virtue of the consumerist society and shop around.

But where should it end? Do we restrict it to money stuff, or has this consumerist 'ethic' (I hesitate to use the word) already infected our personal relationships, the way we treat work, leisure, and a whole host of the networks which make us who we are?

I am reminded again in church this morning that I am to 'love the Lord your God with all your passion, prayer, muscle and intelligence' as a modern translation has it. No wriggle room, no shopping around there! Instead of consumerist, I am consumed by God. But, ironically, paradoxically, free at the same time; consumed by the God who will be loyal to me, and will impart all sorts of virtues over time in this wayward disciple.

Saturday, 7 July 2018

Hearing God.

I knew a lady once who was convinced- no-one could dissuade her otherwise- that she should leave church A for church B. God had told her this was what she had to do. After some time serving at church B, under divine instruction she moved to church C. The story repeated itself again, with all the same elements, back to church A.

I'm not convinced that God works like that. Is God fickle? Temperamental? Restless? Or was there something restless, critical, unmet, in this lady's moving, so closed in her mind to input from others; this input, gently administered, might have been able to address the unmet need. Hmmmm.

I am wary of any statement which I hear when the words 'God has told me.... ' fall from the lips of the speaker. It needs a context. Mostly around the realities of 'is this in line with what God would do? is this tested and approved by wise and mature folk? And the rest...….

We are all prone to self-delusion, this writer above all. Which is where the verse in the Acts of the Apostles keeps us sane; 'it seemed good to the Holy Spirit and to us...….. ( my italics) - there is a wisdom which is perceived in a co-operative way, and which is far from the self-absorption and indeed self-delusion of today's world. We could use it more, cultivate it more, were we not so taken up with ourselves.

Saturday, 30 June 2018

It has taken me a lifetime- let the reader understand I am a slow learner- to realise there is a difference between being 'pi' and being holy; between being convinced in the head and believing in the heart; between asking God for a heap of stuff for a needy world, and praying; between telling God stuff he already knows and praying; between fretting over whether I am walking in the predetermined will of God for me every second of my life, and accepting the freedom God gives to choose the good ( and regrettably, sometimes  choosing the bad), between western liberal values and what Jesus means by 'the kingdom of God'.

And these are only the most obvious things that come to mind. If I were more insightful, less fretty, less pi, then other things would hit me in the eye, and. I hope, lodge in my heart too. There is a lot to learn along the way which Christians follow, but there is a lot to unlearn too. I have difficulty in distinguishing which is the more important at times.

There is solid ground, however, to stand on. A light to guide. I keep in mind and heart Jesus' words about being the way, the truth, the life. Heard many, many times, but learned deep in the heart- at least for this slow learner- far less frequently than I would wish. The 'L' plates are still firmly attached and the prayer, as always, is 'Show me the way'.

Saturday, 23 June 2018


As I write this, it is a sunny afternoon in Sark, and I am listening to the lapping of the swimming pool about two metres away. The only other sound comes from the birds. On an early morning walk earlier today to the Pilcher monument, I was surrounded by the perfume of honeysuckle from the hedgerows all the way there and back. Needless to say, in this haven of quiet I was asleep again before lunchtime.
The days are taken up with walks, contemplation of the views, wondering at the glorious flora in the hedges, eating and sleeping. I might get to swim, if I manage the effort......... oh, ,and a five spot burnet ( a daytime moth of great beauty) has just landed nearby.
Time to recharge is in short supply in our rushed lives. But is perhaps needed more than ever, given the increasing clangour about mental health, and indeed all other sorts of health, that of the spirit and soul included. Jesus himself called his disciples away from the crowds to to spend time with him alone, and he withdrew ‘to a quiet place’ as the gospels record, as a matter of habit.
So, while I can, I will recharge, revive, reconnect, in that classical Anglican way with God, with neighbour, and with self.

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.

Saturday, 28 April 2018

Arriving home

No blog last Sunday, as some things in western Kenya- where I was at the time, ten kilometres from the nearest town- are a tad difficult, and for me, setting up a blog was one of them.

I arrived home on Thursday, 28 hours late, having missed the best part of two nights' sleep; I still feel the lack of it, and can nod off at the drop of a hat. (Friends at this point will protest 'no change there, then...'). I guess most of us will have some horror story concerned with travel, and the journey home from Nairobi tops all my previous hair-raisers. I will spare you the details, dear reader.

But it was good to be home. Immediate cup of tea, clothes sorted into piles for the washer, a long shower. The red dirt and rain splashes  (it's the rainy season in Kenya) are now gone and clothes look and smell fresh again. I feel clean after the very different 'shower' arrangements experienced in Kenya left me smelling less sweet than I, or Mary who commented on it as I arrived home, are used to.

There is a goodness about arriving home, particularly after a troublesome journey. I go back to all those stories of coming back, coming home, to God. Sweet, clean, refreshed. I'm glad I made the journey.

Saturday, 14 April 2018

fresh bread

The smell of baking bread graced the house yesterday. I say ‘graced’ since its promise is of something wholesome, with authentic taste, something to get the juices going in anticipation of the feast to come.

It was my custom in parish ministry to bake a bread-loaf for the first Sunday of the month, when all our churches met together as one, to celebrate Holy Communion together. (That is, those whose duty and joy it was to attend, and not those who said ‘the service is not in our village this morning- I’ll have a day off’). I loved, and still do, the symbolism of one bread, broken in many pieces; something fresh, wholeness, authentic, promising a feast to come.

Which is why I shall, from time to time in retirement, provide a fresh loaf when I celebrate  Communion here, as I shall do today. Yes, it takes time to make; yes, it’s messy on the altar as crumbs tend to be made- small wafers don’t leave this problem; yes, it’s different, and goodness knows, there are plenty in the church who don’t like change. But for those who are prepared to go with it, it offers, I believe, new insights into what Jesus means when he says ‘I am the bread of life’.

After all, as Christians, we are ‘companions on the way’, and the heart of ‘companion’ is com –‘with’, panis- ‘bread’; someone I eat bread, a meal, with; share something filling, satisfying, tasty. I think of Jesus, in the Easter readings making himself known to two disciples at Emmaus as they recognised his actions and intention as he blessed bread, eating with them.

Be known to us in breaking bread, and do not then depart; Saviour, abide with us, and set, thy table in our hearts.- as the old hymn has it.

(no blog next Sunday; normal service resumes on Sunday 22nd) 

Saturday, 7 April 2018

home- where the heart is?

This is the first blog on a new site.
Previous readers may remember that when I was Vicar of Marston Moor parish, I regularly blogged on our parish websites- at Tockwith and at Askham Richard.
So, welcome to this new set of blogs!

I read recently that Margaret Thatcher, after she had left office, in an interview with Vanity Fair remarked that 'Home is where you come to when you've nothing better to do', which seems to me a fairly bleak view of home, and rather disses the ineffable Denis. This brought to mind the equally bleak view espoused by Mary, conversing with Warren, in Robert Frost's poem 'Death of a hired man'.

"Home is the place where, when you have to go there ,                                                                           They have to take you in."

Do these two views say all there is to say about 'home'? I hope not; as far as the faith goes, I would maintain that 'coming home to God' is what my faith, the faith, is all about. That sense of 'gemutlich', homely, welcoming and warm, secure and always there. Ok, for many home is much more bleak, and ok, even if it's good we stray, and at other times we venture out with God into other environments than home, but somehow the notion of God as our 'true home' has captured me, and I find this vision of home stays within me, even if the surrounding landscape looks nothing like home.

The great homecoming story in the scriptures is, of course, the Prodigal Son, so eloquently and movingly depicted by Rembrandt ('The return of the prodigal son', in the Hermitage, St. Petersburg).
The compassion of the father figure, the expression on his face, and the gathering the poor lad into his father via those large hands- all these say far better than I can write, about the 'home' the 'welcome' which God extends to those who set their face towards him.

Easter, among its other meanings, is also a story of homecoming; Jesus the key, the door, the means of welcoming us into God in the richness of  resurrection life. And in this season, I have six weeks to enjoy something of its meaning. I shall enjoy exploring more of this 'true home'.