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.