Saturday, 8 May 2021

Lost and found

 At last! We have been fruitfully engaged during the pandemic with family history; it has filled in some gaps, dismissed some long-held, cherished notions, and although leaving us with more questions than answers, has been an instructive pastime, much enjoyed. 

And at last we have been able to place A, someone we knew was distantly related, but unsure how, into the family tree. And it brings enormous satisfaction to have done it, after hours of methodical search going back many months. He is second cousin. once removed, to Mary's mum. 

Finding and 'foundness' are integral to the faith. It is much more than the satisfaction experienced in finding A's place in the family. It is mutual; the finder and the found both rejoice. I don't care that I don't know if I am the finder, or if God is, in a particular situation; the mutuality, the relationship is all. And to God I am not a second cousin once removed; I am  a son; prodigal more times that I care to admit, but always found again, always reminded of my sonship. 

  

Saturday, 1 May 2021

Drought

 How long is it since it rained? No sign of April showers since, well, forever. There may be some rain later in the week, and I for one will welcome it. So early in the year to have the rain barrel empty! Meaning that the late summer timetable has moved to late April; the garden has been watered from the outside tap, just when seeds are springing up, and life straining to grow in the tubs and beds. I hope it does not portend a dry summer, with water restrictions.....

The psalmist knew of drought, and applied it to his soul; Like as the hart panteth after the water brooks, so longs my soul for thee, O God. My soul thirsts for God, even for the living God. And dry seasons of the soul are part of our experience, if we are alive to the movements of our spirit. An absence is noted, of, how can I put it? Refreshment? Life? Joy? All of these, and none of them; I struggle to fill any word with what that absence contains. (If absence can contain anything). 

Fortunately, there are the promises  in the good book that we shall be like a well-watered garden, a spring that shall never fail, a tree planted by the water side;  I am reminded of Eric Whitaker's 'Cloudburst' as I read these promises, and the wonderful noise of the rain in the latter part of that choral piece. Let it rain! And be accompanied by the rainy refreshment of soul.

Sunday, 25 April 2021

building

 The past two days, in glorious sunshine, I have been building a pergola? an arbour? Well, a wooden structure in the back garden. It has been planned in my head, recast, re-planned for last several months, as problems have been thought through, and plans adapted in the light of  that thinking. It needed four hands to erect it, so the happy combination of good weather and a visit from our son enabled the structure to be built. Wobbly and unsteady at times, before all the joins were made, it stands steady now. Some finishing touches still need doing, but the effect I am hoping to achieve will take two or three years; climbing plants need to grow all over it before it is 'finished'. 

Gardeners believe in the future, it has often been said. Builders too. But more than that, gardeners believe in a good and stable future which allows time for growth and maturity, Gardens are always unfinished; there is always more to do. They are always a work in progress. 

As is cultivating the soul. There is always more to learn and experience of the God who helps us hone our lives to a vision of completeness, who is always ahead of us, always calling us, always wanting us to add to the work in progress. 

I am tired, and ache after the exertions of the last days. Soul cultivation can be tiring too. It can be sweaty and thirsty work, but there is always recourse to the never failing fountain of life. Even if the present reality doesn't match the hoped-for effect.

Saturday, 17 April 2021

Unexpected

 'Ah yes, I was expecting you'; not a sentiment we hear from the lips of any of those who met Jesus after the resurrection. All the encounters caught the disciples, the women, the witnesses off-guard. It was in grief, in sadness, in disappointment, in doubt, in resigned 'we'll go back to fishing' that Jesus meets his followers. None expected the encounter; in many ways they were unprepared for it. The encounter turned expectations upside down. 

This is not to diss in any way the regular rhythms of prayer which the church commends to those who are serious about their faith and seek to encounter God. A discipline, a preparedness for encounter, a reminder that 'today is about meeting Jesus' is all to the good. Out of that can come the unexpected-meeting-with-grace. Like the couple I saw at the bus stop- needy, probably with multiple problems from the snatches of conversation I overheard- who out of the blue turned to me, wearing the day clothes of clerical shirt and collar, and said 'Father, please pray for us today'. Or the young traveller man in the changing room at the gym, who saw me put on my clerical shirt and collar as part of my clothing after the shower- I had just taken a wedding before coming to the gym- and (he) buck-naked, asked me to bless him. Unexpected encounters like these don't need a clerical collar. They do need resource, our disciplined prayer, and readiness to respond when the unplanned-for occurs, so that the kingdom of God , ever 'at hand' flows out of hearts at least semi-prepared, even semi-expected. .    

Saturday, 10 April 2021

A turning point

 We're still at the stage of shock/disbelief/awe/fear/amazement in our Easter readings from the gospels. Not surprising, and these stages of grief-turning-to-joy should not be underestimated. For the disciples, their world had been completely turned upside down. They had in some way come to accept the unsettling of their world in the three years they had been with Jesus, but this new reality of resurrection demanded a bigger leap, a wider imagination, an exploding and emerging shift to all they had known. 

I imagine it was all pretty untidy, this acceptance of resurrection, with some casualties- ideas, cherished notions, if not people- along the way. But it had a collective feel about it; the disciples, the women, the witnesses, could explore the implications, the Lord's directions, together.

That untidiness is hinted at in today's gospel; Thomas wants evidence- a reasonable request- before he believes any more than the has gains of the last three years. Doubt and evidence; vital components of a lively faith, otherwise we have uncomprehending, blind, unreasonable, -and ultimately eminently mockable- cultic 'faith'. 

Yet Thomas ultimately comes to the deepest acclamation of faith in the gospels- 'My Lord and my God!' So let's hear it for untidy, disputatious searchers for truth, and help them on their way; who knows, they might venture as far as exotic, unimagined India  (qua Thomas) in the reality of the good news? 

Saturday, 3 April 2021

The Old Words

 I have found the old words, the familiar words, helpful in keeping me on the path, relatively speaking, through Lent. 'We adore you, O Christ, and we bless you, for by your holy cross, you have redeemed all the world'. 'Hearken, O Lord, and be merciful, to us who have sinned against you....'' Lord, have mercy, Christ have mercy, Lord have mercy.' And the rest. 

The old words have a patina on them through constant and cherished repetition. They have proved strong and durable, and have put God back where he belongs, as the eternal subject and centre. I have retreated to my proper place, not the centre of my universe, but frail, sinful, in need of grace. 

Easter Day finds me in that same world, but where old words 'Christ is risen- He is risen indeed!' make it possible to continue, with hope that the little mortal wounds we suffer, or inflict, through life, are provisional. The parts of me which have died or have inflicted death on others, can have a resurrection, so that I and others- indeed all creation- can be whole. Christ comes walking towards us out of the future, bringing his kingdom of love, peace, joy justice, and all that is good and lovely. The old words are shot thorough with life, with gold; they touch me and resurrect even me.   

Sunday, 28 March 2021

Rules and grace

 Last week I wrote of grace. This week I'm firmly back in the world of rules; I write to a prisoner on death row in the US, and twice recently my letters have been returned since the envelopes were non-standard. The first time I sent the letter in an envelope of the palest shade of grey, not knowing that they should be white. Letter returned to me by the authorities, undelivered to its recipient. So I put it in a white envelope, and sent it off. Letter returned, ditto. The interior of the envelope was blue, printed thus presumably to prevent prying eyes seeing the envelope's contents. But still not good enough; the search is now on for that rare beast, a white envelope with a white interior- and it ain't easy to find. 

Ah yes, rules. If only we knew them all, could keep them all. If only I was aware of the rules, handed down since childhood, that govern my life- even better, aware of the rules that govern yours, so that I don't cross them. Put like this, together with the variable rules of every society, written and unwritten, changing and unchanging, petty-fogging and common-sensical, public and private, new and old, there must be an infinite number. No wonder we are confused, transgressing at every turn, 'in thought, word and deed, through negligence, through weakness, through our own deliberate fault.'

All of which is somehow transcended for those in the faith by grace, which in a world of infinite rules, allows me to move forward, The promise is that I shall not be trapped in failure to keep the rules, anxiety that I have transgressed, and thus immobilised; but experience the green pastures, the goodness and expansiveness of salvation, of grace, which put rules into a perspective which acknowledges their place, but allows me to see the shocking truth that grace is sovereign. This coming week exemplifies the clash of rules and grace- in spite of the insistent and deathly voice of rules, grace overcomes.