Saturday, 7 December 2019


Home made marmalade; there's nothing like it. Gone are the days when, just after Christmas, we'd look out for the arrival of seville oranges at the greengrocers, and spend hours peeling, cutting up the rind, sifting out the hundred of pips; now it's a tin of prepared fruit, and off we go!
But lemon marmalade- that's less of a favourite. To be honest, I've only just come back to it, having neglected it since late childhood. Orange, lime, grapefruit- these all pass muster, but lemon fails to make the grade for me. It's my sweet tooth, product of a childhood just after the war.

So into the prepared lemon fruit this week went a pound and a quarter of mango from the freezer, and the result was much to my liking. The mango has taken that edge of bitterness off the lemon. I shall relish it.

Taking the edge off bitterness; now there's a grand theme! Adding sweetness to life. I'll go with that, given the cynicism which seems to be the essence of cool just now. A little sweetness, to add to the stock of joy in the world- not something cloying, but enough to remind us that not everything need be acerbic, cynical, distant, cool. The psalmist found the ways of God 'sweeter than honey in the comb', and invited us to 'taste and see that the Lord is good.'

I know what he means. Every time I make jam or marmalade, I leave enough in the jam pan, and on the spoons I've used, to scrape several spoonsful  into my mouth, and cynical and cool I am not. Inward satisfaction, contented smile. Yeah! Taste and see it's good and sweet! As have been my tastes of God, and as I trust they will continue to be.

Saturday, 30 November 2019

Paying the price

More than twenty hours on planes, and a similar amount of time in cars on increasingly awful roads, plus a full-on schedule- all in the last ten days or so- have left me with an ability to fall asleep at the drop of a hat. And the first twinges of sciatica, noted before I left for Kenya, have blossomed ( helped by sitting so long in planes and cars) into something painful, which requires painkillers and a therapist.
Ah yes, the joys of travel! Or not, as here. I'm paying the price of increasing age, tired after a hectic trip, reminded that I am no longer twenty nine, and that occasions like this recent trip bring home to me, in spite of enthusiasm for the enterprise and its tasks, that there is a price to pay.

That pithy saying 'there's no such thing as a free lunch' still remains true. As I look back over the weeks of the kingdom season I am reminded of the benefits I enjoy today at the hands, the work, the prayers, the sacrifice, of others. Remembrance Day, All Saints, the feast of Christ the King- all bring home to me that my present freedom to live in material peace and security was at cost to others. Supremely in the kingship of One who reigns from the cross.

'It was for freedom that Christ has set us free' wrote St Paul to the small band of Christians in Galatia, followers of The Way in an ocean of paganism. It was their remembrance of Who had paid the price for that freedom which made it actual and real, when so many, in their daily lives, were subject to masters who many not treat them with any degree of kindness or consideration, or freedom of any sort. Those early Christians rejoiced in their essential freedom, thankful for a price paid, and the consequences it had for them, and for the world.   

Saturday, 16 November 2019

They also serve

I'm constantly surprised by how much of life is taken up in preparing, or in waiting for an event, and then in the stuff that needs to be done after the event- the unpacking/washing/ironing, say, after going away. The stuff before and the stuff afterwards can seem to take up twice as much time as the event itself.
And yet it's the event itself we focus on- the holiday! the meal! the meeting! But it's the preparation and the feedback that makes it what it is.

Which probably helps to explain why we have two seasons of preparation in the church year; Advent and Lent. We are coming up to Advent in a couple of weeks- a time a of preparation for the Coming One- both in the birth of  our Saviour, and in the possibly-neglected-by-many-Christians hope of the Second Coming of our Lord. Preparation stirs us out of normal routines and forces us to think intentionally about what we are preparing for, and amongst these- for Christians- will be stirrings in the heart of both the comings I have mentioned above.

Preparation for Christmas is taken over by presents, decorations, food, drink- preparation for yearly excess; preparation for Christmas and the Second Coming will more likely, for those for whom these are spiritual realities, focus more on pruning, reflection, and actions allied to retrenchment to the basics, the core, of life lived for God.

May your preparation, possibly pruning, yield an abundant harvest; as our Lord puts it- life in all its fullness.

Saturday, 9 November 2019

swimming, floating, diving

It took me forever as a child to learn to swim; I was probably nine or ten when I realised that the water would hold up even me. It was a matter of trust; yes the water would hold up all the others in our class who were thrashing around the pool; but me? the jury was out on that one.
I can swim, after a fashion, but I don't like to get too far out of my depth. I remember sailing across the Atlantic in 1969, and the thought of so much water beneath the ship- who knows how many feet, maybe miles!- of water lay beneath the hull, filled me with unease. ( By contrast, 33000 feet of air beneath me in a plane leaves me quite unmoved.)

I am drawn back to the little I know of St. Isaac of Nineveh, that 7th century eastern, (and watery) saint. Born in Qatar, he likely saw  and was familiar with pearl divers in his youth, and that knowledge informed some of his writings. He asks us to dive into God, as if seeking pearls. To realise that although my boat is so small and your sea is so large, O God ( part of the well-known prayer of the Breton fishermen), we can be sustained and thrive in the sea of God's love; we can seek and find pearls if we leave the boat. And dive, or swim, or float in the ocean of God's love.

It's a call to a deeper communion with God, a call which I'm convinced God is making all the time. Few hear, it, and I should think that fewer still respond.  The call is still there. I for one am attempting to answer it. Just off to get my speedo's on- as it were. 

Sunday, 3 November 2019

A Kingdom

In May 1649- I remember it well......- an Act was passed by Parliament setting up a republic, to be known as The Commonwealth, following the execution of the king, Charles I. And for the following eleven years England was a republic, governed by the Lord Protector, Oliver Cromwell. After his death his son Richard carried out the duties of that office for eight or so months, before negotiations brought back Charles II in 1660. History lesson over, except to say that for most of its history, England has been a kingdom, or part of one.

I write this blog as we dwell briefly in church life in 'the kingdom season'; the time between All Saints' Day and the Feast of Christ the King. It gives us pause to look back over the journey we have made from the promise of Advent last year, through Christ's life and ministry, and the coming of the Holy Spirit, and all the reflections on that since Pentecost; to sum it up, to rejoice in the completeness of God's work, to acknowledge Jesus as Lord and God.

We live in the 'now and not yet', the 'now and still to come' in this kingdom. We know something of the rule of God, and long for, pray for, its completion. Mostly it's hidden, or is seen by those with eyes to see, ears to hear; but the hope of every Christian is that it will be revealed in fullness at a time of God's choosing. We see something of what that revelation of the person of 'Christ the King' might be when we see a picture of a monarch in full regalia. The picture is one of richness, authority, rule, power. St. John gives us a picture of all this and more via his privileged glimpse into heaven as he writes about it in the Revelation. Meanwhile, in this kingdom season we pray and praise in words that befit homage to a king; 'blessing and honour and glory and power be yours for ever and ever'.


Saturday, 26 October 2019

A vision

It must have been 1954 or 55; the queen came to our town for a gala performance as part of a tour of the north west. Mum, Dad- carrying a stool for my grandmother to sit on while we waited- Grandma herself (visiting us at the time), my brother (3) and I (6), tramped over the fields of the half-built estate where we lived, to the main road. I guess I had no idea what to expect, but we waited, it grew dark, and a shiny black limo, lit up inside so the royal couple could be seen, drove by, to cheering and flag-waving crowds. And that was it. I have a memory of white fur, a tiara, and that is all- but even they could be influenced by the subsequent pictures of what a young queen should look like for an evening event. 
‘Subsequent pictures’; the queen has been in the background for most of my life- her doings captured by the papers and the tv, part of the diet fed us by the news of the day. 
But I once had an opportunity of a more steady gaze, via an invitation, with several hundred others, to a Royal Garden Party. As well as superior sandwiches and cakes, here was the chance to gawp at those members of the royal family who were on duty that day. And by chance, I happened to be nearer the queen than any of the others. A little figure, listening intently to what the chosen, who had been singled out to speak to her- and I was not one of those- had to say, before she moved on to someone else. 

I guess for many of us, this parallels our life, our lifetime, with God; a brief glimpse of loveliness, maybe an opportunity for a steadier gaze, and the constant reminders throughout our lives of this figure who is always there. When my paths have crossed the queen’s (yeah, I know this sounds pretentious; forgive me), this has been by chance, once-or-twice-in-a-lifetime experiences. The invitation is always there, though, for us to glimpse, or steadily gaze at God. He need not always be in the background.  

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.