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!