Saturday, 8 August 2020

A fuchsia in its glory

Mary and I are rejoicing at the moment in the beauty of a fuchsia, set on the patio table so that we can enjoy it the more through the windows of the dining area. It overwintered in the garage, where I feared it had died; it did not get the regular monthly watering it needed, but was offered that sustenance only when I remembered. I brought it out again this spring, more in hope than expectation, pruned it, watered it, and watched it thrive, to the point where it has hundreds of white pink and purple flowers, and masses of green foliage. 
These thoughts are prompted by my reading this week; Julian Barnes' 2008 family memoir cum discourse on the fear of dying- 'Nothing to be afraid of''. Death and dying without benefit of faith. It has set many hares running in my head, but it makes a number of unchallenged assumptions about the faith which. for a man of such intelligence and perception (his novels are finely judged and shaded) are tired and illogical. The death of the church and the Christian faith is confidently assumed- hence my reference to the fuchsia. 
It displays a metropolitan mind-set which I fear is widely accepted. The plaudits from the reviews, splashed across the inside covers, all seem to inhabit that world where faith, where Christianity as a living breathing entity, cannot be taken seriously. Where, if I asserted that within this living, breathing life of Christ I have experienced something of 'life in all its fullness' (Jesus' own words), I would be met by a blank, uncomprehending stare, possibly a response that I was sadly deluded. 

Nevertheless, life in all its fullness is what is on offer; 'the glory of God is a man fully alive' as Irenaus has it. And enjoy the glory of the fuchsia, fully alive. I shall continue to read Barnes, but continue also to want more of the abundant life, the torrents of pleasure (St Bonaventure)  which my life in Christ has brought me thus far.    

Saturday, 1 August 2020

Re focusing

For the past months, the house and garden have been our world. the routine of household tasks and the addition of some decorating; the usual garden tasks of weeding and mowing supplemented by springtime sowing and planting. This small world only interrupted by the need to buy food- so off we go to the supermarket before seven in the morning, keeping clear of crowds. 

Yes, I admit this has not been the whole picture; we have had small projects indoors- searching our ancestry, a bit of carpentry for me, some sewing for Mary;  and some short walks in the local area, but the focus has been very largely domestic. And there are increasing times now when it feels as though this is not enough. 

I think of the advantages we have in today's world over those whose enclosed world- a nunnery, a hermitage- was far more limited than mine. Books, tv, access via the phone and social media to friends around the world. My world is far larger than I sometimes care to think. And its domesticity and confinement can be a heaven; the pleasure of a newly painted room, the joy of the scent of sweet peas. 

Not all of us can do great deeds, but we can all do small things with great love, as Mother Teresa said. She echoes St.Paul; do everything for the love of Christ. .     

Saturday, 25 July 2020


For the past thirty six hours, we have have been looking after Blake, our son's dog. Another thirty six hours to go. It's been an occasion to be welcoming, to put him at his ease when he might well need some reassurance as to the whereabouts of his master. For us, this has been a time therefore, to put some of our routines to one side, to make space for his needs, to play, to look to his needs. To say 'well come'.

There's more to welcome than the word, spoken, or written on the door mat. It involves making space, putting oneself aside, making connection, thinking oneself into the other's shoes- or in this case, paws. Well come; we recognise the journey you have made, and will accommodate ourselves to that. We have done a number of things we would not have done if Blake were not with us. 

And all this feeds into what I do, or don't do, when I welcome Christ every day, and it feeds into what God has done to welcome me every day. There is no sense of parity here. My welcome of him is more the equivalent of the words on the doormat, with little beyond that. By contrast, his welcome to me meant becoming human, suffering, death. 

End of term report; 'must do better'. Ironically, this 'better' cannot be brought about without being more open to his welcome of me- recognising the journey made for me. Perhaps the end of term report should be 'must discover more of God's welcome to me'.   

Saturday, 18 July 2020

In both kinds

The news that our churches could open up again for public worship- with suitable precautions- was greeted by this church member with mixed reactions. Did I want church to open again after exposure to the best our parish,  and wider, the best the C of E, could bring into my home via YouTube channels? And before I take a service again, all those regulations to internalise and remember.....

Fortunately as a retired clergyman, I don't have to do all the risk assessments, think through all the issues; I can leave that to the young, the fit, the PCC- and I thank them for all their work. But it's strange that at our parish church, (with three aisles, and room for several hundred people in the nave and the two side chapels ) as we open again for public worship, only twenty eight people will be allowed in. 

As I begin to think about taking services again, it will need not only mental preparation to think through all the issues (distance, cleaning, hand gel, contact lists of whom came, which pews cannot be used, a list of do's and dont's to read out at the beginning of the service.....and the rest) but spiritual preparation too. It will be a new experience to be in church in these conditions. I shall be more nervous than normal. 

But at heart, I shall be glad to be there, serving the people what they have come for, even though it will be communion 'in one kind only' ; it will be for me only to take the wine. But as I have in solidarity with the laity not taken communion since the beginning of the outbreak, I know it will be for me something deep, perhaps unique. I hope it will not be long before we can all be in that privileged place of unique depth- communion in both kinds.      

Saturday, 11 July 2020

Garden scents

Mmmmmm.... every time I walked into the garden in mid-June, the scent of the rambling rose which fills the south-facing fence greeted me, made me smile, made me thankful. Honey-rich, musky, it filled the air. Now it's over for another year (it doesn't repeat flower), but it's been replaced by the first sweet peas. And by other roses, and the lavender by the cabin. Other times, other places have their aroma too; the jasmine by the gate at Katafiyo, the retreat centre in Cyprus; the first scent of indoor hyacinths just after Christmas. The list goes on, as do more unwelcome aromas- the mornings we go outside and realise, from what I shall call 'the agricultural smells' that we live close to farms; the pungency of fish, or rotting vegetation.  

Am I right in thinking that under normal circumstances, the sense of smell is the last to desert us? Aromas take us quickly back to the land of memories- think madeleines, and what poured forth from the aroma of those biscuits in the hands, or more properly the pen, of Marcel Proust.....

St Paul writes that 'we are to God the pleasing aroma of Christ' perhaps reflecting the ancient hope of the prophet Hosea that 'Israel shall be fragrant like the cedars of Lebanon;.- it's quite a thought, quite a responsibility. To bring a smile to the face of God, as it were. And to leave a lingering memory of sweetness, richness; something which makes one stop and dwell in the moment, thankful- is this our legacy to those around us?Mmmmmmm........

Saturday, 4 July 2020

with friends like these.....

The book of Job- one to steer clear of if you like soft-sprung faith! Little or no comfort from his friends in the face of the severest adversity- in fact, rather than comfort they pile guilt onto him. And when Job demands to know from God himself what sin he has committed to be brought so low, he gets no direct answer at all- just a big splurge of mega-nature stuff, like a deep view of stars being born as seen from the Hubble telescope. 

St. Teresa of Avila comments 'If this is how you treat your friends, it's no wonder you have so few'. Ouch! It's a reminder that we deal, in the end, with mystery. We know some stuff about God, and experience over the millennia has taught us that sometimes he has friends- it was Abraham who was called the 'friend of God'; and experience also teaches us that sometimes we don't get answers. Living as we do in a stable and dependable universe has taught us enough to believe in his goodness, but any thought that we can know more than the barest minimum is laughable. 

Nevertheless, that barest minimum is a solid foundation of goodness and love, and these are not to be sneezed at in a world which loves the cynical, seems to thrive on conflict, and human badness is brought to our attention all the time. The world of goodness and love -exemplified for instance in the beatitudes of Jesus- is one worth praying for, striving to be a citizen of, in spite of the mystery, maybe because of the mystery. I think goodness, love, stability, love and friendship would be a good place to start the 'new normal'. 

Saturday, 27 June 2020

A recurring theme

I can't quite capture the quote from Bernard Levin- 'the most famous journalist of his day' as I think 'The Times' had it- but it was something like ' For the fourteenth time, I am not a Christian' before he went on to describe how compelling he found the person of Jesus. He returned to the theme again and again. 
In like manner, I come back, though probably not for the fourteenth time, to 'the graced ordinary', a lovely phrase describing a lovely concept- the ordinary stuff of life, done with grace. 

I don't know where I first came across it, but it was about the time I discovered Kent Haruf's novels, and in a slightly different, sharper key, Marilynne Robinson's also. Both have characters- they would hardly call them heroes- who act out the ordinary stuff of life with grace. Tim Winton has it too, more peripherally, in an edgy way. It's not something which- in my limited knowledge- English writers seem to deal with. 

And yet as it seems much of the world is determined, for good or ill, to come out of lockdown in the near future, wouldn't it be the grandest of themes if we were all to make it our business to act with grace in all the ordinary stuff our lives are made of? We are not characters in books, probably not heroes at any time,  and have to cope with what can be an edgy reality at times. But grace in the ordinary stuff of life could make the new normal sweet, transformative, and that's worth working for.