Saturday, 29 December 2018

Towards 2019

A week where we have not heard the word 'Brexit', for which God be praised. Yes, it is important, and as things look, we face a very uncertain future if we head for a no-deal exit. But this week has focussed on more important stuff still; stuff with an eternal dimension. No, not the sales, and the state of the retail sector; nor the constant tweeting of the US president.
The decisive move of God into humanity in the form of the baby of Bethlehem gives us a yearly opportunity to step back from our concerns, large and small, pressing and not-so-pressing, to look at them from another perspective. Whatever our concerns,  the birth of Jesus tells us we are not alone; we have the fact of Emmanuel, 'God with us'.
This does not promise us immunity from all the trials and tribulations of this world- Jesus himself was immersed in them- but it does provide the assurance of grace and resource for the journey; that is Jesus' story, and what he promises to his followers. And as there are still six days of the Christmas season to go, may we know in them, and beyond into the whole of 2019, (in the words of the Christmas blessing) the joy of the angels, the eagerness of the shepherds, the perseverance of the wise men, the obedience of Joseph and Mary, and the peace of the Christ-child. In other words, grace and resource for the journey.

Saturday, 22 December 2018

Faith and fear

And if Joseph had given way to fear and respectability, and not married Mary, what then? The angel who visits Joseph in a dream certainly recognises the fear present; 'do not be afraid to take Mary as your wife' he says. And Joseph is certainly between a rock and a hard place; it's a choice between love and fear; the fulfilment of plans versus their disruption; respectability versus bravery.
And love wins in this battle in Joseph's mind and heart. With two thousand years of hindsight, we can see the honoured place this has brought him in the Christian story, and that it guaranteed the young Jesus a stable home, a trade to learn. But all this was far from clear as Joseph wrestled with the decision; what the future would hold was uncertain, unknown.
That future, now embraced in Joseph's decision made in love, opened up a world of possibility which would otherwise have not been possible for the pregnant Mary and for the child inside her.

This has spoken to me this week as I have contemplated this story. That decisions based on fear shut stuff down; decisions made for God and good, open up possibilities undreamed of. It does not mean I shall never fear again, but I am sufficiently away of the nearness of fear and its close cousin anxiety as a real option in any decisions, to know it can become a default position, which needs grace to change. Maybe this is why the Bible has, I'm told, three hundred and sixty fives references which read 'Do not fear' or 'Do not be afraid'. Almost as if we need a daily reminder that there are other options, real options, which open up avenues undreamed of.    

Saturday, 15 December 2018

Unknown paths

Stumbling into heaven- the title of this blog- accurately reflects where I am with God, usually. I can think of few decisions in my life where I have actively chosen a path in God. More often, it seems that people have pointed out to me what was blindingly obvious to them, but mysteriously withheld from me until I saw the wisdom of their ways; or I backed out of a cul-de-sac and LO! there was the right road after all; or a course of action walked towards me and yes, it seemed right.
This haziness in the process is often lost as I look back and see things with the benefit of hindsight as having a clarity it did not possess at the time.  The straight line of hindsight belies the zig-zag nature of the journey to a particular decision or action.
I wonder if this is how it was for the prophets? We look at the marvellous words of Isaiah, for instance, the beauty and the poetry ,with what appears as certitude about the ways of God, the coming promise of salvation; but were Isaiah, Joel and the rest casting their bread on the waters, giving truth their best shot, and leaving it to God to work it out?
Whatever, I share with them a number of things; waiting and wondering, and faith and hope. It's all I can do. But stumble as I do, it's proved enough for the journey thus far, knowing the truth of that promise that 'all things work together for good to them that love God'.  

Saturday, 8 December 2018

Prepared yet?

I wrote some weeks ago on preparing, and as we rush in the next sixteen days to The Big Event, I see how difficult it is, despite my best efforts to be counter-cultural/ be true to my faith/wish I were better prepared.
I can see more clearly now than some weeks ago that in daily life there is very little to prepare, compared to life in an age before mass consumerism. Then, preparation for the festivities of Christmas took time; the collect ( special prayer of the day) for one of the last Sundays before Advent begins 'Stir up O Lord, the wills of thy faithful people....' thus giving rise to its popular name 'Stir-up Sunday', which was easily seen in people's minds as a last call to get on with the business of making Christmas cakes and puddings. Preparation was needed, and preparation of heart and mind had at least a better chance of marching in step with life through Advent to the days of Christmas.
Now we go to the supermarket, or order on line, and Christmas arrives, pre-packaged. Little preparation in any physical sense is required. We assemble Christmas from the ready-made and the already gift-wrapped.
Ok, let's move this preparation, this advent mentality, somewhere interior, make it an affair of the heart and mind. Difficult, given that we are so forward-fixed in our culture on The Big Day Ahead and the perfection we expect of Christmas Day, the fantasies we invest in it. The now, the preparation of heart and mind now, seems closed off in so many ways.
But there is virtue in trying, in listening to ancient words which give foundation to all that the 25th could offer to us, if we attend to its voice, instead of devoting all attention to food, presents, drink and tv. Words of hope, words of salvation, of love, of justice, peace- words at the moment I am hearing every day in readings from the prophet Isaiah. 'Comfort ye, comfort ye my people, says your God'.
Let me dwell in that, be prepared in that.

Sunday, 2 December 2018

Ancient wisdom

Firstly, apologies to all for missing the last two weeks; preparations for heading to Cyprus to lead some day-retreats cut into the time for preparing and posting a blog; and having arrived at the Diocese of Cyprus and the Gulf’s retreat house at Katifiyio, deep in the Machiaras hills southwest of Nicosia, we had no internet connection. No means therefore to post blogs. 

The Greek lady next door was most concerned to hear of Mary’s health problems, and advised fresh thyme tea, ginger root, celery, licorice, to counteract her high blood pressure, and was dismissive of modern pills.  The ancient wisdom contained in herbal remedies is widely available in the many monasteries which dot the island, all with a gift shop selling the usual higher (and lower) tat usually associated with Christian sites. (Let me say I am not dismissive of it all, but I draw the line at ‘hand-made icons’ which have obviously rolled off the production line in their thousands).

Along with all this there are rows and rows of dried flowers and herbs, all packeted up with a label bearing witness to their healing properties. In the west this wisdom is largely lost; who will remember the recipe for my grandmother’s raspberry jollop  (good for sore throats) once I am dead?

The ancient wisdom with regards to the truths of Christianity is being lost in the west too, with its headlong rush into the short term joys of the shopping religion taking over the whole of our culture. If not that, it’s a dash into the new. ‘Life in all its fulness’- a promise of Jesus- means more than ‘more’, where more is confined to material goods. What price wisdom, serenity, joy- all of which are hard to find at the bottom of a shopping bag, however recondite the label.  

Saturday, 10 November 2018


Now that the selling opportunities for Hallowe'en are over, the first Christmas trees/puds/cakes/mince pies have appeared in the supermarkets in preparation for the headlong rush over the next six weeks to whatever it is we celebrate on the 25th of December- family, surviving another year, getting plastered with drink- oh, and the birth of the saviour of the world.
I swear I heard the first 'Are you ready for Christmas?'  this week. Well, no actually. I haven't even prepared for Advent yet...…

There's a sense in today's world that things are upon us before we know it, and with no chance to savour the experience before all is overwhelmed in the cry 'On to the next thing- whatever it is!' We sacrifice so much without the opportunity to reflect, sum up, learn. The world of wisdom- which essentially is about learning, summing up, reflecting- is cast aside in favour of knowledge, and the flavour of the now.

If we loved properly, we would live more slowly, simply, with a wider sense of awe and mystery. These words find no resonance today, but perhaps in preparation for Advent, and for Christmas, in our hearts if not in our purses, they might bring a little recognition of what life is for.

Sunday, 4 November 2018

Big rock candy mountain

Some hours later than usual, so apologies...….

 My mind drifted onto a song I had not thought about in many a long year, and which was a popular radio request when I was a child; Burl Ives' version of 'Big Rock Candy Mountain'. I looked up the lyrics, and was surprised it tells of the vision of a hobo, seeking his ideal destination, perhaps a  vision of heaven. Food security, a bed, not chased by the law, a supply of whiskey, no work to do, a productive earth.

Well, it's one vision of heaven, and there's much in those words that many would share. Indeed, much of it is worth striving for now as we seek justice and peace on the earth. And there are times of bliss when we somehow experience, are graced by, a coming together of many small portions of good and feel 'this is heaven'.

Are we deluded by these experiences into thinking that this is a foretaste of a much greater good which we shall enter in fullness beyond our earthly span? Or do these things have a truth about them? Is this all there is? Or is this another hint from a good God that we do not lose significance when we die, but enter into a much fuller experience of the 'life in all its fullness' that Jesus came to offer in this life, but accessed in an eternal way too?
The past few days of AllHallowsTide has spoken to me of the latter, and it has been, through the words of liturgy and prayer and scripture, a better, more substantive vision than a  big rock candy mountain.  May it have been so for you.

Saturday, 27 October 2018

The coming holy season

I'm old enough to remember a time when Hallowe'en didn't exist. That is to say, it was a date in the calendar, and that was all. Nothing to party about or celebrate. That was before it became a mega-marketing opportunity-a drive by the market to shift all sorts of single-use tat, before the buyers bin it on November 1st, and the shops fill up with more stuff (tat?) , this time for Christmas.
The most ironic thing I've seen about Hallowe'en is the supermarket signs exhorting punters to have a 'Happy Hallowe'en'. Come on! It's about ghosts and demons, restless spirits and spooky stuff. Happy?
I don't think so. OK, it's all been nicely domesticated so that kids go out in the dark and expect a handful of sweets when they knock on the door, but somehow this doesn't square with its pagan origins, and its appropriation into the Christian season of remembering the saints and martyrs (All Saints Day) and all holy souls (All Souls Day).
For the faithful, this is a time of remembrance, thankful for all those witnesses to Christ who have illuminated the way of the cross for us; and prayerful,as the memory of holy souls impacts on us. Hallowe'en in the Christian tradition is a time of vigil and fasting.
The only point of contact between the market version and the faith version is that we are more aware of the life beyond, the supernatural realm. Whether hell or heaven draws near depends on whether your belief is in what is pushed via the supermarkets, or in the Jesus who proclaimed himself the light of the world.

Saturday, 20 October 2018


I wonder often, where the balance lies for folk between entitlement and thankfulness. As I walk along the street, I imagine that most folks' faces are in repose, and if this is so, most faces seem pretty miserable. Few smiles, few signs of joy, of being thankful to be alive. I often wonder what mine looks like to those coming towards me.
A sense of entitlement to 'stuff ', large or small, leads, to my mind at least, to a fine and accurate personal accounting system, to ensure that one has all one is 'entitled' to. As often as not, when I have indulged in this, the account falls short, leading to a grudge mentality, a sense of unfairness, far removed from any joy or thankfulness at what life has offered me.

Of course life is unfair! The grace one needs is to face that fact, be thankful for what one has, seek to be generous with what life offers. I have come back with deep appreciation to the words of the General Thanksgiving, found in the Book of Common Prayer. I learned it as a teenager, and it has never really gone away, but recently has found a regular place in my prayers. 'We...give thee humble and hearty thanks for all thy goodness and lovingkindness to us and to all..... but above all for thine inestimable love in the redemption of the world by our Lord Jesus Christ, for the means of grace and for the hope of glory.' It goes on in equally beautiful phrases. Goodness, lovingkindness, inestimable love, means of grace, hope of glory. These are the antidotes to entitlement, and I hope (by that offer of grace the prayer makes extant) to have my life moulded to thankfulness. May it be so. And for us all.  

Saturday, 13 October 2018

I sat entranced for a good twenty minutes yesterday morning, just looking at the sky. A huge drama unfolded, as thin, grey storm clouds surged north-eastwards in the high winds, while higher clouds turned pink to apricot to gold, to silver, and above them, the clearest blue.
'The heavens declare the glory of God' says the psalmist, and never was it more evident. For many, beauty, majesty, drama in the landscape is their link to God, and while I wouldn't decry that, it leaves unsaid what kind of God this might be, given also the terror and destruction of, say, a tsunami, a hurricane, such as we have witnessed in recent days.

For me, as for Christians everywhere, God is most clearly seen in Jesus; a 'photograph of God' as he has been called. Willing to take on human form, be cursed, and all that we know of him from the gospels. There is beauty, majesty, drama in the story, and terror too, but it holds together in the resurrection, where terror, destruction, cursing and evil are overcome, and the drama of new life opens untold possibilities for good.

The resurrection goes on; today and everyday I shall experience new life and possibility with God's grace to uphold me, the life of Jesus to sustain me. May this be yours also.  

Saturday, 6 October 2018

Letting go and letting God

The course I have helped with for the last several years on 'Spiritual Direction' began with a new intake on Friday . When the applications came in, I was one of those who thought 'help!' and directed that prayer Godward. The applicants all appeared on paper so competent, so experienced in so many directions, that I realised I had very little to offer. What was I thinking, standing up there at the front welcoming this eager group to a two year journey, when they all could - on paper, and probably otherwise as well- beat me into a cocked hat.

I will not be alone on my feelings of inadequacy. It happens to us all. My five loaves and two fishes of experience are very little, but I can put it in the service of God, and like the lad in the gospel story, trust that God will somehow use it. My experience, my trust ( both small, but offered with good intentions ) and those of my fellow course-leaders,  may, if the track record of past courses is anything to go by, be used by God to lead folk into new avenues of service, discovery of self and discovery of God.

Now what could be more exciting than that?

Saturday, 29 September 2018

Letting God speak

For a religion with a supposed strength in 'family values' ( somewhat in tatters now because of recent scandals, I admit ) Jesus has some surprising things to say about family. 'My mother and brothers? they are the ones who do the will of God.' Bit of a punch in the stomach to hear that when, as close family, you're pressing through the crowd to get to see Jesus.

And the rest..... this isn't the only time Jesus disses family relationships in favour of kinship based on a relationship with God. So, wither 'family values'?- a nebulous term at best, which will mean different things to you than to me.

We add all sorts of stuff to the gospel to make it what we, we want it to be, rather than what it is. What we think it says, what we think Jesus really meant, what makes it more comfortable. In all sorts of areas. It's part of our fallen nature, to be unable to see things as they are; it's all 'through a glass darkly'.

As I listen to the gospel this morning, I pray, and you might want to do the same, that I will hear what is said, believe what is said, rather than what I would like it to say. The prophet Isaiah was able to say 'He awakens my ear to listen as a disciple. The Lord God has opened my ear.' May it be so, and that we be led into truth, and not false and cosy notions about what we think the faith should be.    

Saturday, 22 September 2018

The intrusion of the weird

In her latest book of essays, Marilynne Robinson (one of America's great writers) writes sadly of her mother's seduction in her old age- housebound, with possibly little to occupy her still sound mind, reinforced by the views of similar neighbours and friends- by the views of a prominent right-wing tv channel in America. Her daughter's encouragements that the world was not about to end, and that the authority of Jesus on this was more robust than some pert blonde on a tv channel, were not enough to convince mother, who became more anxious, fretty.
Marilynne Robinson calls it 'the intrusion of the weird'. It can come from any direction, of course, and in a world of instant news and views, perhaps we are more prone to it than previous generations. Think how much time you spend on your newsfeeds. I confess to more time than is good for my soul and mind.
Which brings us to the nub. What has authority for us in our world view? Where is the anchor? What is the ground which will not be moved?
For me, it is God in Christ, moving always for the best with unpromising material, against a grain of weird, malign, unfortunate, despairing, cynicism. His words and actions act as a corrective to the moment by moment intrusions which would leave me prone to all sorts of weird, all sorts of malign, despairing cynicism. May you find hope and joy today in the one who promises 'life in all its fullness,', the True North to all our wayward compasses.  

Saturday, 15 September 2018

Care of the soul.

We 'care' for everything these days, although it seems to me that this mostly means applying furniture polish, creams of one sort or another, detergents, weedkillers. Care of the mind, the heart, and the soul; these are rarely mentioned. Why would they be, when the very existence of minds and souls is disputed, and hearts- bruised, broken, or in other ways not as they should be- can be assuaged by the application of diversionary stuff- alcohol, a new gadget, a new relationship.

I am in the business of care of souls. Every Christian somewhere in their DNA has this responsibility. Care of their own, and care of others' souls. It's one we may not couch in those terms, or not recognise, but our faith is not a privatised and lonely experience, but one played out in the everyday stuff of life, and epitomised by the way we gather in worship together each Sunday to care for our souls, and each others'.

There's a 19th century hymn ' It is well with my soul'. It would not be written today, with a title, sentiments like that. But it expresses a truth about the health or otherwise of my soul that transcends the narrowness of today's legitimacy. May balm, medicine, Elastoplast of a spiritual nature be yours and mine today, and may we see our way to pouring emollient care onto the souls of those we come across. My it be well with your soul, and mine.

Sunday, 9 September 2018

I write from Whitby, that ancient holy site, although a modern flat in the town is not quite the picture which one normally associates with 'ancient holy site'. Okay, I can see the abbey on the east cliff, and its presence dominates the town, but today the picturesque, the tourist, the short summer season take precedence. It takes great leaps of imagination to go back to a small community, facing north, isolated by geography, producing a powerhouse of prayer and holiness.

But holy sites, even those long abandoned, continue to draw people. We recognise 'thin places' where heaven, God, the numinous, come closer to us. Sanctified by use, validated by recognition, we go to them for what we lack in life, what we seek even when we cannot name it. Cathedrals have that 'draw', but so do many other places; I think of a holy well in suburban Paphos, Cyprus, adorned with votive offerings which speak of the pain of many hearts and prayers.

My own list of places which have drawn me would include Compostela, Durham, Chichester. And smaller, more local but equally potent locales- Lastingham, St. Gregory's minster. They draw me, tell me to 'keep on keeping on'; to continue to be a pilgrim, where both journey and destination are vital to me being fully human.  

Sunday, 2 September 2018

The repairs to the car

Cars; high maintenance or what? Ours was at the garage earlier this week for a 'diagnostic check' on the 'engine management system'; a light on the dash kept coming on to indicate something needed attention. Fortunately, whizz-bang electronics soon identified the problem, and in no time at all, which included a quick but costly rendezvous with the garage's cash payment system, the car was back on the road, and running as sweet as a nut.

If only all problems were so simply fixed! Given the level of insight I have into my life and its dynamics, the unexamined prejudices I entertain, the no-go areas I'm unwilling to cast a steely eye over, learned behaviours which now serve no purpose, and all the rest of the components of this jalopy of a personality, it's a wonder I breeze through life as well as I think I do. No plug-in diagnostic checks to short-circuit all the detritus as outlined above...….

Except the still, small voice, which tries to check me, tries to steer me to the right, the good; somehow the management system, aka the Holy Spirit, still makes connection with the real issues, and attempts to untangle, set me straight. And confession; that helps. I may not run as sweet as a nut- any one close to me will tell you my faults, and I could add more to the list-but I'm still on the road. 'L' plates in place,' running the course set before me' as the Good Book says, here for the long haul, which will include many a pit stop for attention to the faults so evident in this model.


Sunday, 26 August 2018

The wine notes

I'm quoting direct from the bottle's label here (the bottle being of new Zealand Sauvignon Blanc); 'this wine is approachable and food friendly with a beautiful expression of crisp lime and ripe passionfruit. Enjoy with seafood and white meats'.

Which is quite restrained, considering the number of fruit and other notes which experienced 'noses' detect and extol on other wine labels I have read. Most of the stuff they detect passes me by; I am an inexperienced glugger; you may read into that 'I know what I like'. Those rarified labels  are witness to another plane of experience I am not party to.

I wonder if we can express what we see in the wine in the chalice at Holy Communion in the same analytical and yet poetic way as those who write the notes on  the wine bottles? Do I detect notes of suffering, patience, sweaty pain? It's certainly a beautiful, and at the same time appalling, expression of love of God to man, of hate of man to God. Goes well with other likeminded folk who enjoy this wine; goes well with bread to make a feast like no other; refreshing aftertaste, grace notes of assured love.

Inexperienced tasters welcome. Me included. Might try and write a better label, though.    

Saturday, 18 August 2018

A year on

A year ago this past week we moved into what is still to us, the 'new' house/ 'new' community/ 'new' church/ new neighbours/ new surroundings. And the rest.....
It has taken time to settle, to learn the ropes, to feel we belong. We still have 'L' plates on in so many areas - it doesn't seem like second nature to know this, that and the other. Yet.
All this may come, and it's devoutly to be wished that it is so. Meanwhile, we not exactly blunder on, certainly not stumble about in darkness, but often have pause to think, 'now, what's the way forward?'

My experience of faith is like that; just when I think I have it sussed, I find that I'm in new territory, and have no, or few, landmarks to guide me. Old certainties drop away, and new ones have not yet formed (only in their turn to fall by the wayside).  I could retreat into safe formulas, ways of thinking and doing, but am conscious of the onward, upward call of Christ, who calls us to follow, not knowing, as the disciples did not, where it all might lead, where it all might end.

Adventurous spirits, sign on here.

Saturday, 11 August 2018

A wedding

I conducted a wedding yesterday- the first since I retired. So I was nervous, on a number of fronts; would I get it right, would I remember everything, or would it go wrong and then the day would be less than wonderful for the equally nervous groom and bride.

Part of the nerves on everybody's part is the seriousness of the occasion. OK, surrounded by joy and happiness- yes! But my remembrance of every wedding rehearsal I've taken- and most couples seem to want one- is that when it comes to the marriage vows, as I say them to give an illustration of how it will be on the big day, the mood changes, and it comes home how serious this is.

Commitment of any sort is serious stuff. But a marriage- the deepest commitment any of us can make- throws into relief just what's at stake. To have and to hold, from this day forward, in sickness and in health, for richer for poorer...…….Big Stuff, capital B, capital S.

Christians in some sense are wedded to God. Baptism is a sort of wedding; after it, I'm tied to God, because it's a choice I made, gladly and freely. And God is bound to me. Each day is a fight for me to forsake all others, and remain true to God. It makes me nervous, and could overwhelm me, were it not for grace. Upon grace, upon grace, upon grace. For which, thanks be to God, the far more faithful partner in this enterprise.

Saturday, 4 August 2018

something deep

I'm a big fan of 'Long Lost Family' although it doesn't get me blubbing and reaching for a hankie to wipe my eyes. (If Mary watches it with me, she's in for both -blubbing and a hankie, I mean). But I find it fascinating the connection that suddenly comes when after decades, close blood relatives who in some cases never knew the other existed, find a bond, a closeness. Sometimes this peters out, as has been shown on the 'LLF Revisited' programmes, which play catch-up with the original reunion a couple of years on; but more often this initial bond  marks the start of a new and close relationship, a hole that has been filled, an ache satisfied, a question answered.

What strikes me most is the sense of 'I have found you/I have been found', 'I have not forgotten you/I am not forgotten', 'Welcome/ I am welcome'. It makes real to me Jesus' story of the prodigal son, and all that took place as the father ran to meet his foolish long-lost son; all that remorse the lad brought as he comes back to the dad who had never given up hope, never given up looking for him.

It makes it real; I see it before my eyes on tv as long-lost folk are re-united. I am brought into a precious, holy moment, and one that speaks to me of the welcome I have received from God, the deep conviction I have that I am not forgotten, I have significance, in this infinite universe, I am welcome in this world. And of the relationship, always renewed, as I come back after wandering away. What kinder words are there in all the world than 'Welcome home'?

Saturday, 28 July 2018

Recent rain

Looking at last Friday's weather forecast on Thursday, I let out a cry of 'Fantastic!' The outlook suggested a 60% chance of rain. So welcome, so needed. Especially as the air on Thursday seemed extra close- windows that had never been opened were thrown wide that day. Doors were wedged wider, all in the hope of attracting the least through-breeze.

In the event, there was some rain on Thursday night, and lots of it on Friday morning in several downpours. And no grumbling from this spectator as it pooled on the laughable remains of the lawn.

Rain has a mixed reception in the faith; for the people of Noah's time ( Noah and his family excepted) it was a disaster. At other times the prophets speak of God's blessing as like rain; welcome, refreshing, nourishing, cooling us down. It depends on the context. It always does.

The faith, or rather its apprehension and application, needs a bit of 'nous ' to use a good northern word. A bit of guesswork, a bit of reflection, a bit of familiarity with the ways of God ; an understanding of context. A bit of 'wait and see ,' a bit of patience. A bit like Noah. A bit like us, sweltering in what seems unending heat and drought, longing for refreshing rain.

Sunday, 22 July 2018

Mary Magdalene

For one who is meant to be retired, last week was extraordinarily busy. As a result, God-stuff faded a little into the wallpaper. OK, faded a lot. Rather than a felt and conscious presence, an internal dialogue, it was more like a memory of someone gone, with whom I ought to catch up.

But opportunity for that catch-up came this morning at early service. A quiet gathering, with just a dozen or so, where we remembered the part which Mary Magdalene played in the faith. And the catch-up which came for her as, in the Easter morning appearance, Jesus, who she mistook for the gardener, says her name. That's all. Not 'Don't you recognise me? Can't you see whom I am? Get a grip, it's Jesus talking to you!' or any other possible response. Just the deepest thing that resonates in her- her name.

It's that deep stuff resonating within me which keeps me plodding on in the faith. Somehow I know that I am known by name. in That in spite of not recognising the God in front of me, making all sorts of mistakes about who and where he is, I am still in a relationship with him where I am recognised and known. And that includes being too busy to pay attention, assigning God to the wallpaper of life.

Memo to self; must try harder...….  

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'.