Saturday, 28 December 2019


Christmas is the time for all those soft-centred films to be paraded on tv; the annual outing for The Snowman, plus assorted other films and programmes with the feel-good factor which- forgive my cynicism- leave something of a saccharine taste.

I say this because the Christmas story is far from sugary. Yes we have hardship overcome- the journey to Bethlehem; and the birth of a baby- sure to bring a smile. But Christmas is not just the 25th. It is twelve days, and hard on the heels of the birth of Jesus comes St. Stephen's day, when we remember the first Christian martyr; and two days later the Holy Innocents, who might be called the 'collateral damage' in the ruthless attempt by King Herod to kill the baby Jesus, who himself has to flee, a refugee, to Egypt, with his parents. The Prince of Peace (so named by the prophet Isaiah)  surrounded by mayhem.

It all reminds us why Christmas is so much more popular than Easter. We can throw sugar and sweetness over Christmas, and forget the hard bits; only the devout will remember St Stephen, and the Holy Innocents. With Easter, death, torture, injustice stare us in the face, are harder to ignore. But underneath, Christmas has its shadows, its reminders than this saviour, this child was born to collide with evil in order to overcome it. The first collision comes with the massacre of the Holy Innocents; after Jesus' resurrection and ascension, the first collision come with the stoning of Stephen.

Less 'aaaaaaahhhh!' than we thought then. If we take it seriously, if we talk about the real Christmas, as opposed to the sugary confection of food/good times/ tv/ booze/ repeat-until-we're-bloated that we have made it. Mat it surprise us all with its reality. 

Sunday, 22 December 2019

Snow on snow

We awoke on Wednesday morning to a thin covering of snow; not the 'snow on snow, snow on snow' of Christina Rossetti's poem  'In the bleak midwinter', but enough, with the fog which accompanied the smattering, to turn my mind to her poetry.

I've come late to admiring her work; I've used one or two of her poems recently in stuff I've been doing. I like its quiet insistence, the way it burrows into the truths of her faith, truths beyond fact. Few can think, for example, that Jesus was born in the midst of a snowy landscape, Bethlehem being so far south. But a picture of a bleak midwinter would not somehow be complete without cold and snow, and it paints a picture of a moral and spiritual landscape which longed for the sunshine and light to come in the revealing of God's purposes in Jesus, hidden and quiet though they were in a stable, far from the centre of things.

The year turns today; we start that increase of light and warmth which comes with the shortest day  behind us. It will be difficult to see this for some weeks to come, but it's there. May the light of Christ- the 'gladsome light' as the ancient hymn has it, warm, refresh and illuminate whatever winter, or dark, or cold, of body, mind or spirit you may be experiencing.

Saturday, 14 December 2019

Good things in small packages

Out to a Christmas party on Friday night; drinks, a meal, a disco. My disco days are over, especially with the present sciatica; careless movement would lead to a wince at least, a cry of pain at most. But let's focus on the positives....

Pudding was a small pot of chocolate; thick, rich, intense. And no bigger than a tin of shoe polish. Not that I could have managed more at the end of a three course meal. And the small pot came not the blandness of a chocolate bar or some chocolate mousses, but with real taste.

It caused me to reflect on that adage 'good things come in small packages'. Somehow our world-view sees disaster and tragedy, as I see it reported, in screen-filling terms. SHOCK! scream the headlines. Good is somehow smaller and quieter, a filler on the back page. The neighbour who day after day fetches a pensioner her paper; the folk who week after week, without fuss, put something in the food-bank trolley at the supermarket, who turn out to make tea at the disabled club. Good, in small, unsung packages.

Chief of these, in my view, is the birth of our saviour at Christmas. Just a baby, among so many babies. Small, born at night, in an out-of-the-way place, in a third-rate province of the Roman empire. Who would have guessed he would change the course of the world? A small quiet package, as it were, but rich, intense, far from bland, a shock to the system with his taste. Dig in,  and savour!

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. 

Saturday, 12 October 2019

Finding the way.

On Thursday we drove from Larnaka to Nicosia: the inner workings of  Nicosia and its roads is not something I know well, and I was afraid I would turn up late for my meeting at the Anglican diocesan offices. The day was saved by the soothing voice on the phone’s map system, which got us faultlessly from A to B. And back to Larnaka again at the end of the day.
All I had to do was to follow the instructions. To listen. Sometimes a little difficult to follow the said instructions, as they came a tad late to say, get into the right hand lane, but in general terms it worked well. The one time we did take a wrong turn, we were soon back on track, thanks to the re- routing capabilities of the app.
‘This is the way: walk ye in it-listen to the voice which says that’ - I recall a verse from the Old Testament with that sentiment. Listen and follow. In the end, that is how we walk the Christian way. So many clamouring voices trying to gain our attention: it’s hard to hear the authentic voice of God in our crowded world. In the car it was easy to listen to the app: we were all attention. Still and all, that’s what it comes down to. Attention to God to walk the way. May it be so.

Saturday, 5 October 2019


There's a moment in one of my favourite pieces of music- 'O Magnum Mysterium' by Lauridsen, of what I might call 'planned disharmony'- a dissonance in the singing which makes its presence all the more noticeable among the lovely slow meditation on some of the wonder of the Incarnation; the music is part of the special settings for the Christmas season.

And listening to music generally, I often find myself concentrating not on the air, the melody, but the harmonies; what are the trumpets doing, the oboes, the basses, at this point? Where are they going, what are they adding, in relation to the main thrust and direction of the music? It's noticeable, in listening to a piece of music in this way, that not all the voices of a band, and orchestra, have to add to the music at any given point. They can be silent; only those who have work to do are heard at any point. The 'heavy work' may be being done by the strings, but for colour, emphasis, underlining, or many other reasons, the brass may accompany them. Or part of the woodwind section. Maybe for a few bars only. And it seems to me that the essence of harmony in music is that there may be a number of different lines of expression being explored- the double bass is playing a different line to the flute- but that all are within sight of each other, and all working to a common end- that of aiding the work in the 'now' in a euphonious way, and towards the greater goal of moving the music to an appropriate conclusion, as the composer wishes; glorious, subdued, whatever.

This has much to teach us both in civil society, with its present 'discourse' marked by braying, disharmony and shouting; and in the church too. Unity will not mean that we all sing the same song, but it will mean we are all in hearing distance of each other, and are taking note of each other's line towards the end of glorifying God. May it be so, Amen! 

Saturday, 28 September 2019

God in the wool-gathering.

I love that phrase- 'wool-gathering'; idling in one's mind, gathering up bits of stray wool from the barbed wire or hedge at the edge of a field, without any aim in mind; and so by extension idling, thinking nothing in particular, as one is engaged in some other activity, such as peeling vegetables.

I wonder if it was thus for the Virgin Mary when the Angel Gabriel announced to her that she was to be the mother of God's son? Was she ironing? Well, I doubt that; the pressing of clothes with an iron being of more recent vintage, surely? But maybe sweeping the floor, kneading dough- a task of that sort,  which by its regularity and given that a woman's lot was hard, and would keep her occupied from morn till night, but maybe allowed time for thought, idle or more constructive.

Medieval pictures often show Mary reading, and maybe she was when Gabriel came, but that speaks of luxury- a book!; and a good education- she reads! We frankly don't know. But maybe it was while she was daydreaming, wool-gathering, that the angel came to her.

If so, it speaks of the blessedness that can be ours in what is often regarded as wasted time, or at least regarded as a break between meaningful activities. Maybe let God into your daydreams; he might surprise you, and turn a daydream into a hope, wool-gathering into something gathered up where it was unravelled before. 

Tuesday, 24 September 2019

Cobbling stuff together

When my father died, I took a lot of the wood he had gathered over the years, and have been using it in various low-level projects since then. This week has seen a further venture take shape; a screen or frame, which will go in the garden- I hesitate to use the word 'adorn';- and which I hope will enable climbers such as sweet peas to thrive as they scramble up it.

The garage has echoed to the sound of a saw and a hammer; the frame, inelegant but I hope sturdy and fit for purpose, was made from different bits of wood roughly the same width and depth, but not all quite the same. From a distance no-one will notice this roughness- I hope. The frame may be put in place in the garden this coming week if the weather holds. It will be next summer before it comes into use, however, as sweet peas and maybe a clematis, ramble through it.

If only life had that consistency and smooth perfection which we all hope for! Instead, I suspect it has a cobbled together feel about it- at least at times- as new stuff has come our way, and we have incorporated it into what is already there. Few of us will have had a 'life-plan' at primary school, and realised it without any hitches, in just the way we envisaged back then.

But it's in this stuff-of-life, stuff-to-hand, that God is found. That is the point of the incarnation, of Jesus becoming flesh, human; that the material of life is important, and can be put to holy use, or at least 'use'. Sawing and hammering as I was, something new emerged; I was engaged in a creative act, and I felt somehow enlarged by this. In creating, after all is said and done, we imitate the Creator and His work. In small, I know. Imperfect, I know. But it is a reflection of a God-like activity.     

Saturday, 14 September 2019

A change in the air

The air is crisper, sharper, in the mornings now. Summer is over, and there's a definite feel of autumn around. Even if we didn't have the evidence of autumn fruits on the trees, that late riot and burst of colour in the garden and hedgerows, we would know it by the air, by the early fall of darkness. After a week away I meant to water the garden on the evening we arrived back, was distracted for a while, and when I was ready to go out and pick up the watering can, it was already dark.

We read these signs automatically, cut off from as we are- most of us living in towns- from a wider data base which comes from country living, with its myriad clues as to season, aridity, stress, fecundity, weather, and all the rest. No surprise then that the gospels are full of references to the signs all around in the landscape of Jesus' day, and that Jesus himself often refers to farmers, harvest, agricultural labourers, barns and much besides; it was all to hand, and his hearers would readily understand.

But he applied all this to the life of the spirit, for much of the time; the landscape, the weather, the activity of farmers, became a metaphor for the life, the health, of the soul. I wonder how good we are, in our self-sufficient, secular age, at taking the 'temperature' of our spirits? How we gauge 'a change in the air', and whether it presages a storm ahead, or something better? There are seasons of the soul just as much as there are seasons to the earth, and it can all be pretty nuanced; can you detect the shifts that are happening in your spirit, in your relationship with God? What's the forecast?

Saturday, 7 September 2019

Navigating between the rocks.

My thinking recently has been churning over the pitfalls into which some forms of the faith have fallen in recent times.
On one side there is the dreadful spectacle of 'the evangelical right'- a species bred in the United States, but which makes evangelicals of any hue anywhere else in the world run for cover, and disown anything to do with 'evangelicalism'. The potent brew of guns, uncritical endorsement of a narcissistic president, bad theology, a very narrow view of what constitutes 'the gospel of Christ', and a smug embrace of insulation from the demands of a wide justice and peace; all this has me walking wide circles around anything to do with the 'e' word. Wrongly so, in that Christianity is an evangelistic faith- but I would have to define my terms there in a wide way to avoid any taint of 'the evangelical right'.
On another side is the equally corrupt self-serving of the institutional churches, including my own;   these have been found  wanting in recent years, and  have now been rightfully exposed, for covering up of  the abuse of  large swathes of young folk, in an effort to protect their churches''reputations'.
Equally, from another direction, our decreasing familiarity with the radicalism of the gospel has led large sections of our church attenders to believe that if we are nice, if we practice western liberal values, we are living the gospel. That gospel is far more radical than being nice. We have no 'edge', no connection between what we proclaim, and how we live.

Lord save us from these rocks, reefs and whirlpools, and others which dull our understanding, or lead us into the false, the inauthentic. Lead us back to loving you with all our being, and our neighbour as ourselves. Please. And soon.

Saturday, 31 August 2019

back to school

The supermarkets have been reminding us of 'back to school'-time since the beginning of the holidays, but with exam results now published, and minds set on changing class/school/beginning higher education, the slogan has some reality about it. Time to focus on buying new shoes for the kids, in the hope they won't have outgrown them by half-term....

September for me has a greater sense of new beginnings than the beginning of the Christian year on Advent Sunday, or  the new year on January 1st. It's those rituals of new shoes, new uniform, the photos we take of the kids in their new finery, the procession of parents with kids on the first day of term after the absence of the same  going past the house for the last six weeks; all this- whether actual or imprinted in the memory as experienced by us as children or parents- gives September and the start of school a sharp reality. 

'New every morning is the love' says the hymn, echoing the psalmist, rejoicing in the freshness of God's love, the new beginnings it offers. And new beginnings are what, I'm sure, we all long for in some way or another- a new start, a clean page. Let it be unmarked by blots, mistakes, smudges! Unlikely, given entrenched patterns, favourite paths, blind prejudices. 

But the hope is held out to us, indeed, the reality is held out to us; 'Behold', says Jesus, 'I make all things new'.   

Sunday, 25 August 2019

the heart of the matter

I'm reading 'Palace Walk', by the 1994 Nobel laureate Naguib Mahfouz. It's the first book in a trilogy, tracing the history of a Cairo merchant family from the first world war to the 1950s. I was delighted to read this incisive description of the state of  one of the main protagonist's life as he attends Friday prayers at the mosque;

'By the time he entered the sanctuary he felt at peace with the world and performed the prayer, asking God to pardon him and forgive his sins. He would not ask for repentance, since he secretly feared his prayer might be granted and he would turn into an ascetic with no taste for the pleasures of life he loved and without which he thought life would be meaningless. He knew beyond the shadow of a doubt that repentance was a necessity and that he could not be pardoned without it. He just hoped it would come at an appropriate time so he could have full enjoyment of both this world and the next'. 

Who among us who profess the faith, hasn't been there? It's the prayer of St. Augustine; 'O Lord, give me chastity, but not yet'.  We lurch through life, intending good, but straying off the path, trying to bargain with God, thinking ourselves virtuous for our good deeds, often unaware of what we have neglected, or transgressed.

But a passage like the one from Mahfouz draws us up sharp. 'Must do better' will hardly be convincing to us or to God, as we look back. A life of grace and dependence on God calls; calls us into deep water and unknown ways and resources. We paddle about in the shallows, run back to the beach. Life in the deep still calls, but few answer it. Myself included. 

Saturday, 17 August 2019

'a long walk in the same direction'

I made a ten mile walk yesterday. It's quite some time since I, with my professed love of walking, walked so far, but I chose well for a first longer walk; by the side of the Selby Canal for 5 miles there, 5 miles back. All on the flat, in good weather.

It's an old canal, with bridges that look as if they would fit into a nineteenth century rural painting with ease. It made for a pleasant walk; quiet, green, an aid to contemplation and inner quiet. With unexpected pleasures amid the plod; the sight of two swans and their seven well-grown cygnets gliding down the canal towards Selby. A crab-apple tree, some sloes, views across the fields.

The words of the 'Nunc Dimittis' accompanied me all the way; Now Lord, let your servant depart in peace, according to your word. For mine eyes have seen your salvation, which you have prepared before all people, A light to lighten the gentiles, and the glory of your people Israel. Why this,and not something else, I don't know. But welcome it was, in the bright and particular light of a late August morning, knowing that the intensity of the summer light was not likely to be seen again this year, to know there was another light to illumine the way as we head into the darker part of the year.

The walk took about three hours. South-westerly there, roughly; north-easterly back, roughly. Long-enough, in a particular direction to qualify, I think, for that definition of life-long faithfulness which I and all Christians aspire to, to apply in some small sense; a long walk in the same direction. 


Sunday, 11 August 2019

Boundary issues

I hasten to state at the beginning of this piece that I am not in dispute with any neighbours over any boundaries; this new estate where we live has fences which mark clear edges to property. Nevertheless, it seems to me that much of the world's troubles stem from boundaries, and the disputes which arise as these are contended over. And most of them are nothing to do with land. It's more 'my rights versus what you (mistakenly) think are your rights' in any particular dispute. Or responsibilities, of course, or interpretations of truth, or visions of what society should look like, but human nature being what it is, I suspect 'rights' take precedence over these others in many a dispute.

We are not immune in the church- far from it. We are as disputatious as the rest, imperfect as we are. Our disputes mark the difference, the gap, between the church and those mysterious words of Jesus- 'the kingdom of God'. Trying to see what 'kingdom' means, and trying to bring it about, we make choices which shift over time as to what and who is 'in', what and who is 'outside' this kingdom, and these in turn set off disputes.

I wonder if Jesus knew what balls he was setting rolling as he talked of the 'kingdom of God'. When all is said and done, more has been said than done to bring it about. Nevertheless, I cling to that vision of a kingdom come which we find in the Revelation at the very end of the New Testament. In spite of our disputatious nature, we somehow struggle blindly, for the most part, towards 'justice, peace, and joy in the Holy Spirit' as the Taize community has it as they sing, and which is spoken of in the Revelation. May it be so. 


Saturday, 3 August 2019


How small my world is! It encompasses my family, friends, church, acquaintances, interests. It's a box which contains me; the sides are what I believe about myself, what has been told me, all of which I have internalised or overcome, what I now believe about myself, about possibility. In that sense the box has no set dimensions, sometimes bigger, sometimes smaller.

My hope and belief is that with time, with the wisdom God gives me as I grow older, with his Spirit working within me, the box will  continue to grow, and not become smaller. I think of the chorus I sang in Sunday School so many years ago, about God's love being as 'wide, wide as the ocean, high as the heavens above....'; my little box can grow into that expansive space without crowding, if I give myself to it, give myself more fully into the hands of a loving God. 

And that little box should dissolve- this is the Christian hope- so that the soul can roam freely in the infinite love of God. Okay, so the fullness of this will only occur when I die, when I pass into the full realisation of eternity, but it would be good to stretch a little, begin to feel a citizen of that eternity now.

Lord deliver me from my small world, into the grandeur of yourself.

Saturday, 27 July 2019


The heat this week- extreme by Yorkshire standards; it is 44 C according to the thermometer on the cabin in the back garden- has reminded me of my year in the States, to which I set off fifty years ago this last week. I noted in the diary I kept that on one memorable day soon after I arrived in one of the leafier suburbs of St. Louis, Missouri, that the temperature rose to 108F, a degree or two warmer than it is here today.
By contrast, in the winter it fell one day, if we count the wind-chill factor in as well, to minus 59F. I remember that day well; I had walked the mile into the town, and ran back as fast as I could, or I was sure my ears would drop off.
Mostly of course, it was less extreme, and mostly pleasant, although the humidity was hard to cope with in the summer. Three showers a day failed to keep me from being dripping wet, in spite of the air-con. I prefer a more equable climate. But wonder if the heat this week is a sign of things to come in this age of climate change.

There is a middle way in the faith too. Some have despised it, most notably the writer of the Revelation, berating one of the seven churches of the Roman province of Asia (in western Turkey) to which he was writing, for its being 'neither hot nor cold'. Well, I hope to be sincere and firm in my faith- I am reluctant to use that overworked word 'passionate'- but not lukewarm. Judicious, wise, seeing what good I can in all, drawing strength from many sides. I hope Jesus would approve. And maybe it's needed, a via media,a middle way, in today's world where polarity seems to be flavour of the month. 'The common good'; there they are, those words I keep uttering, in prayers and sermons. They demand a middle way.

Saturday, 20 July 2019


The 'Rambling Rector' rose which climbs along the north fence in the back garden is now over, and with it the lovely musky perfume which drifted across to the house, or which one caught when walking beside it.
A new fragrance has replaced it; the lavender, under the south fence is now a magnet to the bees and butterflies, and in the clammy afternoon heat its fragrance beats out into the rest of the garden. I hope it lasts for a good few weeks; there is nothing in the garden at present which will carry on the work of perfuming us, giving us such pleasure. The honeysuckle has been a disappointment- attacked by aphids, it has not been the glory this summer both of flowers and perfume, which I had hoped for.
As is to make up for that disappointment, a friend arrived this morning with a bunch of sweet peas, and their delicate aroma can be caught in the dining room; lovely! 

St. Paul's epistles ask us to be a fragrance for God. Striking image! Something that causes people to smile, to pause, to savour the present moment, to give thanks. Someone that causes God to smile, to be thankful we are as we are.In St. Paul's world, full of earthy smells and the Great Unwashed, a pleasing aroma would be something to be truly thankful for......

Well, the message is- we give off an odour, and I'm not necessarily talking B.O.! What is mine- something to make others smile, or something which causes folk to wrinkle up their noses? And what's yours?

Saturday, 13 July 2019

the post-prandial nap

For as long as I can remember- at least since 'O' level days- I have had a nap over lunchtime. Mostly after lunch, but if I'm struggling with that delicious drowsiness which tells me I need a sleep, sometimes just before lunch. If it fails to be part of the daily routine, Mary tells me that my normally equable and sweet-tempered self becomes bear-with-sore-head-like.

Twenty minutes is all I need to recharge, but sometimes of late it drifts into an hour, and if so, I find it difficult to wake up, and all afternoon I feel as though I would benefit from sleeping another several hours. Shocking, isn't it, in a grown man?

I'm reminded of the verses in the Old Testament about God not sleeping. Constantly watchful. whose attention doesn't drift off. At the great contest on Mount Carmel between Elijah and the prophets of Baal, Elijah taunts these prophets, when their God does not answer their prayers to send fire down on the sacrifice they have made to him, that perhaps Baal is sleeping? Or has gone on a journey?

Elijah has absolute trust in the God who is ever wakeful and watchful, who does not need to recharge his batteries, who is not dopey at any time, is always alert to what is going on. At the same time, this same God recognises our need for rest and sleep- again, the Old Testament tells us 'He giveth his beloved sleep'.

'Someone to watch over me'- the old standard song, has it about right. I can rest in peace while God, ever alert, keeps watch.

Sunday, 7 July 2019

Busy busy

Whoops! Twelve hours late in posting a blog! It's an indication that life has been too busy this last week.
If only life had a steady rhythm to it, where the days and weeks all has an equal weight of work and leisure.......instead, it all seems to be taken at a pace. Maybe there is an antidote, but I haven't yet found it. It's a delicate balance between wants and needs, the urgent and the satisfying, the must-do and the leisure options; things for self, things we do as a couple, things for church.

Somehow when I look at Our Lord, things never seem to be hurried. Maybe pressured, as in the Garden of Gethsemane just before his betrayal, but not hurried. A little searching for the secret of unhurriedness wouldn't go amiss....

Maybe it's about being appropriately resourced as well ,for all the different roles and demands. You'd think that two years into retirement, with a lifetime of sorting stuff, juggling priorities, I would have learned something. I wish.

As a youngster, keen in the faith, I admired for that sentiment of burning out for God. An incandescent flame. Not now; I'm in it for the long haul. In the words of Paul, I'm keeping on keeping on. Whatever the hurry.


Saturday, 29 June 2019

setting sail

This coming month marks fifty years since I set off for the United States. I was going for a year, and had no idea where I would be for that year.
Let me explain. I had been accepted by an exchange programme run by American Mennonites, with whom I had had contact while at college via a number of summer work-camps in various parts of Europe. Thus it was, that after graduating, I was staring at a huge ship at Southampton docks, and thinking 'This is it! This will be the longest I have ever been away from home!'
On board I met the rest of the party from Europe who would also be away for a year- some twenty of us. And learned for the first time where I would be working and living- in a children's centre in suburban St. Louis, Missouri. 
The first two days out of Southampton brought us terrible weather- loose furniture was tied down in the public areas, and I brought back breakfast one of those days- after which I was right as nine pence. But the weather cleared after that, and we arrived in New York in heat and sunshine.

As I look back on this time, I see what has stayed, what remains in me. Not the avid love affair with America- its cars, its lifestyle, its optimism, its wide open spaces- which so consumed me at the time, but the values imparted by contact with Mennonites- their pursuit of peace, their concern for the earth, their emphasis on reconciliation, their embrace of pacifism. Like some deep underground stream, theses have nurtured and refreshed in the long years since that ship sailed under the Verrazano Narrows bridge, and I was eagerly on the lookout for our first glimpse of the Statue of Liberty.

If you look back over a similar time, what remains for you? What values have endured, and what has fallen away?

Saturday, 22 June 2019

The art gallery

Maybe this week's blog has continuity with last week; the thread is this;

We visited the Turner and Ruskin exhibition at York Art Gallery earlier this week, and it set all sorts of hares running in my head. And the bass notes to it all were the need for human expression of creativity, and how a life can only have some sense of fullness to it if the creative instincts are allowed  that expression.

For JMW Turner, this seemed to be at every moment of the day, judging by the number of sketches and paintings he made- over 19,000 in the Tate's catalogue. I'm amazed at the journeys he took- is there any place in the more picturesque parts of Britain he didn't paint or sketch?
For others of us, the opportunities may be more limited in time and scope; for me, making a salad for lunch is just as creative as, say, crafting a poem (see last week's blog). But fortunately, creativity comes in myriad clothes, and it's perhaps not always obvious to us just how creative we are.

In all this we reflect something of our creator God; the words and works of Jesus reflect a creativity with words which still unleash their potency today, and his works of healing are mirrored in countless acts, corporate and individual, done in his name today for the amelioration of human suffering. All of which in their turn may allow space for creativity to emerge.

Maybe you can feel an audit of your creativity coming on. I hope so.Just where do you blossom, show forth your unique contribution to the world? Think about it.... and give thanks.

Saturday, 15 June 2019

something different

Here's a different kind of thought; a recently composed poem.

Black Socks

I still need black socks
In retirement
Which do not draw attention to themselves
In holy moments of wine and wafer.
Bright or odd will do- and more than do-
At other times; a vibrant or off-centre statement
Affirming joy and good.
But now, unseen black socks
Will forward holiness. Such little things,
So great a vista; the widow’s mite to aid
Unseen touches on the hem of God.

Saturday, 8 June 2019

without hope of reward

I gave blood this week; I state this as a fact, and not to brag. I only came to blood donation in my forties, and wish now I had discovered it earlier. I stand in awe of a lady at church in her 80s, I think, who has given over 100 pints of blood. Good on her!

It's not something that features 'up front' in my life, nor, I imagine, in the lives of the thousands of blood donors who regularly go three times a year for an hour or so at a church hall or working men's club and depart a little lighter having given a pint of blood. It remains an aspiration with me to donate three times in a year, but my annual trip as a trustee of an orphanage, to Kenya, means that the anti-malarial tablets I have to take, prevent my donating for six months after I return to the UK.

So even in these days characterised by so much concern for the self, there is still to be found a great deal of altruism. But it doesn't vaunt itself, so we are never sure how much good is being done, quietly, unobtrusively, without fuss.But it is safe to say that churchgoers, Christians, people of  the faith, according to the surveys which research this stuff, are always in the vanguard of altruistic activity.

Imagine what would not be done, how the store of goodness would be depleted, and that of indifference or evil would rise, if these folk, and the faith that propels them, were to disappear. The rumour of God being alive and active still counts for something.

Saturday, 1 June 2019

Losing faith

Sooner or later in a tv detective series, I give up. A staple of the genre is that the super-intelligent/insightful/against-the-grain-of-conventional-thought hero, in spite of a cast of supporting extras, works it out on his or her own, and the culprit will not be who you thought it would be.

And this is where I lose faith . It's all set up to look real ( cast of thousands.....) but becomes the work, the genius, of one person. This, apart from the fact that the plot has so many twists and turns I rarely catch them all, and as the credits roll, I turn to Mary and say either 'What was all that about?' or 'So, explain it to me.....'

I have no doubt that genuine police work is patient, thorough, exasperating, and yes, intelligent, insightful, and considers all the possibilities; but my guess is that essentially it's teamwork. Not a facet that gets much credence in our super-cop tv world. It will be the combined gifts and expertise of the whole team in the real world which leads to that lovely but unlikely phrase beloved of post-war chummy detective films, as the villain is handcuffed- 'It's a fair cop, guv!' (As if...)

Teamwork. In our fragmented and individual-centred world, we could do more to emphasise this. It takes a whole village to raise a child, says the African proverb. Church struggles to articulate and actualise this concept of 'team' as it seeks to live out what being 'the body of Christ' means, and prayers centre on 'the common good'. It's in our DNA, even if we fail.

What an appealing facet of experience this would be in our broken, fragmented, me-centred world if we could make that teamwork, that unity, centre-stage. I live in hope.  

Saturday, 25 May 2019

Let's not talk about it......

It's odd, given that the one certain fact for all of us is that we shall die, that we avoid talking about dying, and often avoid making preparations for it. But this week I had the rare opportunity to speak to someone about their coming death, in a frank and refreshing way. The man knows he is dying, and that it won't be long. There are some in his family to whom he can talk about this, and others who steer the conversation away to other topics.

We talked openly about the preparations he had made, starting with the arrangements for the funeral, which were full and detailed. I moved the conversation on after that to preparations for his soul, given that he is a devout Christian. This was more difficult for him, but after Holy Communion and prayers, he confessed that the had moved on and found comfort in what had been said and done and prayed.

We prepare in some way for all the great events in life; a wedding, a holiday, a birthday celebration, and exam, a dinner party, moving house; the list is endless. But not so much for dying. For what it will mean for us, and for those we leave behind. So obsessed is our culture with youth that we never grow old, never leave the party. So obsessed with success that we cannot admit to the 'failure' of dying. So centred around ourselves that we cannot contemplate a world without ME, and so prepare for that fact.

But oddly we have the means at our disposal all the time. Something in us dies when we leave one school for another, one job for another, one town for another, one house for another- and all the rest of the deaths large and small which go with living. They could speak to us, if we let them. But let's not dwell on that- on to the next party!

Saturday, 18 May 2019


I have several 'anchors' dotted through the year, and this year I have missed a number of them in succession. I missed being 'ashed' on Ash Wednesday- I was flying back from Cyprus that day, and the words in the liturgy for Ash Wednesday are important to me in setting a direction and a purpose for the forty days of Lent. After that, I missed the renewal of my ordination vows- an annual event at York Minster which takes place every Maundy Thursday; I was chief cook and bottlewasher after my wife's discharge from hospital a few days before this. Palm Sunday and Easter day were hurried and cramped because of caring duties.

So a drive over the wolds last Tuesday evening in glorious weather and balmy air, to a friend's installation as vicar in a benefice there, snuck up on me as a significant but unexpected anchor to replace the something of what I had missed. The promises she made in the service, the expectations she was now living under, the responsibilities she now had- most of these were mine as a priest. I could assent to all that she was saying- for myself. And did ; it was for me my Maundy Thursday Renewal of Vows service, except a month or so later.

Anchors; they prevent us drifting. Keep us in a safe place. Help us ride out the storm. It's only when they are not there that we miss them- and then not always. Here is one who is glad he found an anchor on a lovely spring evening, which deepened the gladness of the occasion in quite an unlooked-for way.

Saturday, 11 May 2019

More from the garden

When I'm gardening, I find a great comfort, and vindication for my stumbling efforts out there, in Jesus' words 'My father is the gardener'. To me, it's a picture of God quietly working in the background, certainly, but out there planning, tending, weeding, nurturing, planting, and the thousand-and-one other activities which a gardener comes to realise are necessary for the maintenance and thriving of a lovely space.

My own activities this week have been on a small scale. An area of about 1 1/2 square metres of constantly wet ground between the raised bed and the decking has had some attention which I hope will transform it from just somewhere between two more interesting areas, into something of an adornment in its own right. Better drainage, some pots to add colour, and it will in time add interest and life to somewhere which has- till now- exercised my mind as to how it could be improved, and exercised my heart in a feeling of despair as I looked at it.

And an unexpected gift of some slabs has given me thought for what may be done with them. Present thinking includes making a new bed, with the slabs as edging. Dividing some plants, the inclusion of a small water feature, rearranging a path, planting bulbs- a gift from a friend; all these are going round in my head at the moment.

The constant activity of God to the benefit and beauty of creation, the benefit and beauty of my soul and personality; in a miniscule way I see this as I potter about outside. 'My father is the gardener', and I'm privileged  to recognise that, and to learn from this -to me- ever expanding metaphor.  

Saturday, 4 May 2019

The flaneur

Is the flaneur now an extinct species? That fin de siècle Parisian man, ( always Parisian, always male) who saunters about town observing society; it might be called idle, and many would berate the uselessness inherent in such an occupation, if that's what it is. But there's something marvellous in the fact of having time to watch and observe.

Even in Paris, I should imagine that the city is marked now by hurrying people, all in pursuit of making a living, all caught up in the need to be fast and direct from A to B. And all looking at their phones, or making calls. Requiescat the flaneur, with time on his hands, and nothing better to do than stroll, saunter along, observing. A café call here, a bit of a stroll, with no object in mind but to watch, a short time seated on a bench, and then more strolling.

I've painted it in sympathetic colours; the backdrop it needs is an elegant city, summer weather, an income and time to allow the strolling to take place. And maybe today's world has squeezed all that, with its almost moral imperative to hurry, its indoor life huddled round the 'home entertainment centre', its life in cars, taxis, metros, trains, buses.

I come back to this; W. H. Davies' poem 'Leisure';

What is this life if, full of care,
We have no time to stand and stare.
No time to stand beneath the boughs
And stare as long as sheep or cows.
No time to see, when woods we pass,
Where squirrels hide their nuts in grass.
No time to see, in broad daylight,
Streams full of stars, like skies at night.
No time to turn at Beauty's glance,
And watch her feet, how they can dance.
No time to wait till her mouth can
Enrich that smile her eyes began.
A poor life this if, full of care,
We have no time to stand and stare.

Not quite the flaneur, but close cousin. And...... breathe...… and see..... and...…..

Saturday, 27 April 2019

That was then...

There are recipe books you buy, and books, or files, of recipes you compile. I was looking through the file of collected recipes earlier this week, and realised how much it reflected the garden we previously fought with ( it was a tad large to manage ) at the vicarage before retirement. Amongst the easier parts of that garden was a large rhubarb patch. Consequently the file contains recipes for dozens of things which can be made with rhubarb; all sorts of jams and puddings and drinks, and even a soup. Bottled, frozen, stewed; you name it, we did it.

I did bring a small crown to the house we now live in, where the garden is much smaller, and the need for a large patch of it given over to rhubarb is much diminished. And the plant has taken time to thrive. All of which places our rhubarb enterprises in the 'that was then, this is now' phase. The recipe file can be thinned out; much of the rhubarb stuff can go.

We move on. Faith moves on. Some folk outgrow a childhood faith, but fail to develop and adult one. I can see much 'that was then, but this is now' in my own faith, and hope it presently reflects something more suited to the needs and conditions of now, something more adult, mature, realistic. It has had the corners knocked off, is more at ease with questions than answers, is prepared to live in wisdom rather than knowledge .I cannot say that the faith- like the recipe file- has thinned out. Rather it has been enriched, filled out, and God fills the horizon. And this is riches indeed.      

Sunday, 21 April 2019

Maundy Thursday

It's Maundy Thursday today, the day when if at no other time, we think of the role of servants, and the imperative to serve in our faith. This is brought to mind not only because of the gospel reading for today- Jesus taking a towel and a basin of water, and washing his disciples' feet- but because twenty years ago today I set of with five others from our then church, to deliver two wagon loads of aid to a children's hospice in eastern Romania, in those desperate days after the revolution when the horror pictures were still so fresh in the memory. (The hospice had been founded by an English priest, and staffed by English nurses, so conditions there were mercifully good, but it depended on donations from the UK).
And this memory sparked others, of instances of mercy and servanthood I have known in churches I have been involved with. Nothing grand, but all worthwhile. Nothing which hit the headlines, but which made some appreciable difference to those who were served. Hosting Chinese families who were studying in the UK, so they had a week's holiday by the sea; promoting 'Operation Christmas Child'- shoeboxes of goodies for kids who would not otherwise have presents; endless coffee mornings for good causes; building an orphanage in western Kenya; sponsoring a child's education in Ethiopia; the list goes on.
The essence of being a servants is that one is not noticed. None of these instances- and they are replicated in countless numbers in churches and other centres of goodwill throughout the land- will be remembered in ten or twenty years' time, except possibly by the recipients, but that is not the point. In as much as we did it for the least of our brethren, we did it for God. Not in hope of reward, but mimicking the Servant Lord we follow on Maundy Thursday.  

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.    

Sunday, 10 February 2019

Book of the month (2)

'…..and that things are not so ill with you and me as they might have been, is half owing to the number who lived faithfully a hidden life, and rest in unvisited tombs.' These are the closing words of 'Middlemarch' about which I wrote last week. And they seem a fitting tribute to some of the characters in the book.

But more than that, these words reflect a truth which I hope would be universally recognised. I think of Simeon and particularly Anna,  there in the Temple when it came to Jesus' presentation as a child. Probably they were people whom regular worshippers there might half-recognise- 'I think they were here last time I came...' but whose faithfulness and constancy in worship would have largely passed unnoticed. We surmise from the gospel account they virtually lived in the Temple precincts. But their life was hidden from view to their generation. As it is from ours; apart from the brief incident which Luke records, we know no more.

Yet they added something to the story. A gladness they had seen God's anointed one, a prophetic voice warning Mary of pain to come because of this child, a foreseeing something of the trajectory of Jesus' life. And then they sink into the gospel narrative; we hear no more of them.

I'd like my life, indeed, every Christian's life, to be like that; a faithful life, hidden and not showy, adding to the stock of good in the world. The rest doesn't matter.

Saturday, 2 February 2019

Book of the month.....

A copy of George Eliot's 'Middlemarch' has been sitting in one of our bookcases- unread- since 1981;  the book-plate on the inner cover gives that date. And now I am over two-thirds through it, and find it, eventually, unput-down-able. I was a bit slow to get into it just after Christmas, and put it aside for a book acquired as a Christmas present, but now...…… every spare moment seems taken up with it. It will be the middle of the week before it is finished, and I hope for neat and tidy endings with regard to the fate of all the main characters, although I fear that the plot has set up so many conflicts, that this hope will not be fulfilled.

My experience of the faith has some similarities with the process of reading 'Middlemarch'. Invest in it, and it becomes all-absorbing. Lay it aside, neglect it, and other interests supervene. I cannot say that neat and tidy endings are part of the faith; life is too varied for that. But the broad canvas             (cosmic in scope in the case of the faith), interest in the outcomes of people's affairs, and wanting the best for them; a benign understanding of the frailty of human behaviour, uncertainty as to how the future might unfold; all these are part of how our story is taken up into God's story.
And as with 'Middlemarch', the omniscient author will, I'm sure, bring it to a satisfactory ending.  

Saturday, 26 January 2019

News to share

Mary and I lunched one day last week at our local Further Education college; like many another, it runs its own training restaurant, where we were the subjects of assiduous attention, and ate lovely food in pleasant and quiet surroundings, at a very reasonable price.
And apart from two ladies, whom I guess were regular diners there, and an official party of local mayors who looked at though they were being wined, dined and wooed in a PR exercise by the college's great and good, we were the only diners.
Here's the dilemma; do we keep this  'find' to ourselves, in the hope it retains its quietness and appeal, or do we spread the word, believing this can do nothing but boost this facility and its lovely young people? Privatise or publicise?
Good news is for sharing ( just as bad news is, too, unfortunately- it's usually called gossip). So not only do we intend to go again, but also tell folk about this experience too. It should be like this with the faith, but then buttoned-upness, Englishness, not embarrassing folk, and all the rest get in the way.....

The experience at lunch was good. I have no hesitation in saying that. And, slightly less confidently, lest I should offend, could I say, please, if it's ok with you, that my experience of God is so good, it's almost beyond words. Sorry. I know we're not supposed to talk about God, and all that...…….  

Sunday, 20 January 2019

Resurrection life......

I came across a quote I wrote many years ago in a notebook I found again this week; 'we are not to give passive assent to a fact in a creed, but to participate in the life of the resurrected Jesus.' Ouch! The challenge rings true in my heart; so much of what we take for the faith in the west is a passive acknowledgement  of a credal statement, rather than a vital demonstration of what the faith is about.

I'm as guilty as the rest. And it's difficult to work my way back through all the processes of western thought and its twists and turns, to where belief and lived experience were so intertwined that the gap was negligible; probably a mythical place, I acknowledge, but maybe there was a state, way back when, where apprehension of the resurrection led, sans complications, to a life imbued with that resurrection force.

But I pray that in spite of all the cultural accretions, the intellect, the doubts, the anxieties, which I have put between myself and The Life, somehow I may live it. And that it may be recognised in some small way as having the stamp of God in it.
Is that how it is with you-?        

Sunday, 13 January 2019

The faithful few

A late call to a nearby parish to preside at their midweek communion; this finds me with a congregation of ten faithful souls saying the familiar words, making the familiar confession and declaration of faith. Do not hear complaint in the fact there were ten; for a small village, and midweek, this is nothing to complain about. It is the faith and prayers of these folk which keeps the Anglican flame alive in rural parishes, keeps the churches open, ready to welcome, keeps some heart to villages where maybe the pub has closed, the school is in danger of closing, the bus service is not what it used to be, and community life, such as it is, is increasingly the prerogative of the elderly, as younger families retreat behind their doors for the joys of their home cinema.

And our prayers in the communion service brings all this and more before God. We are not there for ourselves, but as those who seek the kingdom heaven here on earth in our community. Imperfect as we are, and with often competing visions as to what that kingdom may look like here, nevertheless we pray 'thy kingdom come, thy will be done'. And we do our bit, motivated by the love which will not let us go, the different glimpses we have seen of glory, the common understanding of being somewhere in the narrative of redemption for our village, our community, our day, ourselves.

'We adore you, O Christ, and we bless you, for by your holy cross you have redeemed  all the world'. Yes, Lord, I believe. Now, I'll just call and see if Mr. Jones needs any shopping.

Saturday, 5 January 2019

This painting life

Transforming the kitchen from its dark blue to a more welcoming and warmer yellow ('Banana Split' is the official colour; I would describe it as 'custard yellow') has been the major task this week. It has demanded four coats of paint, to obliterate any trace of the blue beneath; hard work in confined spaces above the kitchen cabinets, and when not that, fiddly work around all the electrical sockets. And then there was the preparation, and the cleaning of the brushes; the detailed work with a small paintbrush in those annoying bits the bigger brushes couldn't adequate cover; and work with a razor blade to scrape off paint that shouldn't have covered the window frames etc.

But transformation has been achieved. At a cost of aching bones, as I've stretched into positions the aged body didn't know it was capable of, and sweaty work up close up to the LED kitchen lights. All of which, as I transfer these thoughts into a more spiritual framework, makes me thankful for the infinite patience of God's Holy Spirit as he works with me to achieve something like an image of Jesus to be seen through me. Not just a paint job, but the promised transformation of me ( and indeed humanity and all of creation) into something resembling Christ. In that work, there's a lot to clean up in me, to rub down, to get into the detail.

I'm a work in progress, as I've said before. Expect no 'Mona Lisa' , but do expect something which shows the hand of a master behind it.