Saturday, 13 April 2019

Taken by surprise

Funny how when stuff 'arrives' it is never as I imagined it. Could be a parcel from Amazon, or an anticipated event, the colour in a tin of new bought paint as it's applied to the wall- anything, really; and it's never quite as imagined. Sometimes that means some disappointment, sometimes an unlooked-for sense of satisfaction. Whatever, it demonstrates a gap in comprehension/understanding/application- or much else besides. And, that life is full of surprises.

My experience of God is like that; what comes is not what was quite expected, and I'm thankful. Did I ever think I would have opportunity to experience church life in rural Kenya and in ex-pat Cyprus the way I have done and continue to do? Would I have chosen these;? I suspect my fantasy 'stuff' would not have run to these destinations. I could name heaps of other experiences all tending to surprise.

'God of surprises; is a book-title, but also a reality of life. And, as I say, I am thankful. Firstly that those surprises have shown God to be kind and beneficent, and that being so, the surprises have made for my welfare and wholeness, and not my destruction.

I wonder what's round the next corner? Whatever it is, it will be something of a surprise that I could not have fully imagined, and it will be good. To take a verse from the good book totally out of context; 'Thanks be to God for his indescribable gift'...….

Saturday, 6 April 2019

The railway near here

There are two level crossings in our village; the Selby to Leeds railway line cuts across the main road linking those two places which passes through the village; and the line crosses the stress-free back-road to York. More times than enough I have to stop at one of these crossings for one, two- and one time three- trains to cross. It must have been even busier when the now abandoned line just east of the main road crossing gates was in use.

The course of this now abandoned line- a short one linking the east-west Selby-Leeds line with the north-south East Coast Main Line- can be seen at several points from roads round here. Variously now a farm track, obliterated as it is built over by houses; and a feature in a field marked by a raised alignment or trees, it bears no resemblance to what would have been a well-maintained, and presumably vital part of the rail network. It invites nostalgia for what once was.

But it also invites reflection on the 'change and decay' that can come upon us. Change is inevitable, but decay is not. And yet I see in many of my contemporaries who embraced the faith ardently in former days, an abandonment of what was once vital. Sometimes, like an  overgrown railway cutting, it is hard to discern what was once there. My own faith is much changed and developed, and deepened and (I  pray) affirming of others, since its early days. This has been a process where God has remained vital to me, and the landscape round that has been pruned, sown, flattened, bulldozed, and much more, but has still been connected to God. I would not want it overgrown and abandoned, something others would wax nostalgic about, but robbed of all context and content to what it was.

Saturday, 30 March 2019

Just don't look at the lawn

Now that spring is here, gardening creeps back onto the agenda. Okay, I've done some tinkering over the winter, but now things need to move into a higher gear. Some of the tubs have great beauty about them still, with the winter pansies still going strong, and daffodils pushing up through them. Other tubs and pots need attention. The border is full- yes, it does need a bit of weeding, but overall, the eye can pass over it and be pleased at the textures and colours and shapes.

General effect; fair to promising. Just don't look at the lawn.

The lawn needs a lot of attention. Over the winter I can see that the moss has spread, there are patches of weeds, and the worm casts don't add any positive adornment to its look. And yes, the lawn does need its first cut. This will at least give it an air of being cared for, even it out. But it will need far more attention than the lawnmower.

This garden review parallels the attention the faithful are giving to their souls over Lent. A review of what needs doing to nourish the soul, ensure its welfare, its feeding, its growing. It's trumpeted high and low that gardening is therapeutic, but maybe it's more than that. Maybe it's a mirror of the gardening of the soul we give ourselves to, or neglect. Both approaches ( nourishment or neglect ), as with the gardens we tend or ignore, have consequences, for good or bad, beauty or ugliness, nourishment or starvation.

Saturday, 23 March 2019

A marmalade morning

Half a morning this week spent on making marmalade- always a good experience in the end, although frustrating sometimes if it refuses to set, or takes an ordinately long time to do so. Eighteen jars of various sizes were filled this week, which promises a long season of St. Clement's marmalade (orange and lemon) to enjoy.

And then the wreckage to clean up; jam pan and utensils to wash, dry and put away; labels to write and stick on the jars; and finally the marmalade to the store cupboard. But just before this, the joy of licking the spoons, scraping the last of the marmalade from the jam pan, and ensuring that those childhood rituals of 'nothing wasted' are observed.

The leftovers. Yes, there's a joy about them, even if they are leftovers, dregs. And when it comes to the love of God, so many are content to live in the dregs, the remains, thinking' this is good enough'.
Either forgetting or not knowing of the store cupboard of goodness waiting to come forth.

After the dregs, I couldn't wait; I buttered a slice of soda bread, and (the marmalade now being cool enough) spread it thickly. So good.

I think- I know- this is how God wants us to enjoy him. From his riches, not living on the dregs.  

Saturday, 16 March 2019


The ideal of our present culture is to have unlimited choice; we've been heading that way for a generation and more. I remember being staggered by the choice of 19 squillion brands of breakfast cereal in the local supermarket when I first lived in the States nearly fifty years ago. Now, it's everywhere, and so taken for granted that we don't see it any more.

Except, of course, that we are not granted unlimited choice; it is an illusion. We are granted what the market thinks will sell, but still somehow presented as if we have infinite choice. But beyond this is the illusion that as limited human beings- limited in time and space, in economic reach, in what our history has imposed on us, in the consequences of choices we have already made (and this is not an exhaustive list)- we can have unlimited choice.

Choice is the servant of our values. 'Choose you this day whom you will serve' invites Joshua in the Old Testament as he speaks to the gathered children of Israel whom he is leading. And the choice is stark, limited, urgent, and a moral enterprise. In the end it's 'common good' or 'because I''m worth it', life or death, life enhancement or a closing down of options.

Hard maybe to see this in the all-persuasive and seductive world which invites us to pamper ourselves at every opportunity, but choice is an indicator of moral compass. And true north? I hope that mine is fixed, with Joshua; 'as for me and my house, we will serve the Lord'.      

Sunday, 10 March 2019

In and out of touch

Apologies for there being no weekly blog for the last two Sundays. My understanding of the complexities and demands of phones and laptops more than 6 feet away from the router would leave a four year old in hysterics. My blunderbuss approach to trying to be in contact with UK via phone and laptop  from abroad exposed me as winner of the title 'Mr Technophobe 2019'.

I returned on Wednesday from Cyprus, where I had been doing some work for some of the Anglican churches there. Be ye not jealous, thinking 'ah, some winter sun.....'; this has been, I'm told, the wettest winter since records began 147 years ago. Certainly, up in the hills south of Nicosia where I was staying, it was, shall I say, a tad cool.
Technophobic me was well to the fore at the beginning of my stay; a phone that didn't want to ring UK numbers, a laptop that refused to send e-mails till I got back to the UK. And me going frantic the while as I am out of communication with those I love, assuring them I am ok, wanting to know that they are ok. Happily, by the middle of the stay the phone had twigged that a local network was available, and normal service was resumed. And, breathe...……

To be out of communication with oneself, with others, and with God marks a profound disjuncture, whether we recognise it or not. Most folk have some notion of being 'out of sorts' with themselves, and usually we can tell if there's something amiss in our relationships with others. Being out of communication with God probably doesn't bother the majority of the population. For me, it would bring me to the above-mentioned frantic state I knew in Cyprus. I seek to stay 'tuned-in' to God. May there be open two-way communication for you and me with God today.  

Saturday, 16 February 2019

A  quick search on 'google' can confirm or dispel most of the half-remembered things I want answers about nowadays. The words to 'The Ash Grove', that lovely Welsh folk song; a quote from one of the prophets -quicker to look on google than leaf through the Old Testament. And a search to find out what happened to the ship I sailed to New York on in 1969.

These searches can plug gaps in knowledge- before I forget it all again- but don't go anywhere near what is needful at this time of life, ( 70+ going on 25) which is the getting of wisdom. I can cram my head full of facts, but these are ineffectual in dealing with the ups and downs of life, and the decisions which come with those peaks and troughs.

Somehow the wisdom comes from within, and not via pressing keys on a laptop. And few people can tell you how it  is obtained. For me, it is the product of my inner life, where a mix of reflected-on experience, prayer, scripture and time- time above all- has given me the small store of wisdom I fool myself that I have accumulated.

It's something to do with refining, or percolating, like rain-water through rock- till it appears again like an emerging small stream . Unremarked, unnoticed, but making a valued, refreshing mark on the landscape of my life, which I draw on to nourish my experience. For all of which, God be praised.