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...…..