Saturday, 14 November 2020

How can I keep from singing?


Firstly, an apology for the lack of a blog in the last two weeks; endless technical problems....... but now, to horse! 

My life goes on in endless song/ Above earth´s lamentations,
I hear the real, though far-off hymn/ That hails a new creation.

Through all the tumult and the strife/I hear its music ringing,
It sounds an echo in my soul/ How can I keep from singing?

Singing, but only by myself. Since covid struck, the choir Mary and I belong to- nothing fancy, just done for the joy of it- has not met to sing. We lack the technology to record individually and put it all together as though we are all singing in one room, and anyway, that smacks of a professionalism we don’t pretend to.

Song for me has been reduced to the croaks I can produce, and what I hear on the radio, or via CD. The earworm keeps it alive too.

The church services I led recently have been less than they could be, as there was no singing. The world has diminished by lack of expression in any form of live singing since the spring. 

Nevertheless, the heart continues to sing. In the face of all the goodness Audrey Assad’s song (above) witnesses to, how can I keep from singing?  ‘I will sing praise to the name of the Lord most high’ says the psalmist. In kitchens and bathrooms, songs and hymns are still sung ‘above earth’s lamentations’. Somehow, we can’t stop singing,  


Sunday, 25 October 2020

The helium balloon

 Seven weeks! I don't know how much longer I can expect the helium balloon to last; it came as part of a present at the beginning of  September, splashed with the words 'Thank you' across it. It has hovered above the television now, a little slimmer, a little dented, slowly losing gas, but essentially at the same height as when it was newly installed. 

At this rate, it may be some weeks yet before it starts to lose height, ready to be disposed of. It has a certain staying power which I had not expected. I'm not ready to part with it. 

Staying power. It's one of the qualities we, adherents of the faith, are asked to exhibit. But that staying power is not the same as immutability. Like the helium balloon, I've changed. I hope I'm less of a gas-bag than when I first came into the faith; I may be a little dented, less able to float above the cares of the world, less of a shine to me, but I hope too that I'm still in some way broadcasting a message of thanks to God for his goodness.  Still up there, still there. 

We cannot account for the future, but hope that the trajectory taken so far, that long walk in the same direction of the way of the cross, finds us with staying power to the end. 

Saturday, 17 October 2020

Years versus grace

 You know you're getting old when the case of medications is as big as the case you pack with clothes, when you go away. This sardonic thought struck me as I unpacked my stuff last week when we were away in Whitby- although let it be said that I take relatively few potions, and I recognise that multiple medications are not solely the province of those of us who are, shall we say, more mature in years. Okay, elderly.  

Numbers of thoughts crowded my head after this thought. 'I don't feel old/what is old anyway?/there is a vision of old age in the Old Testament as the crowning glory of a life'. And it is this last thought which is so intriguing, and which asks us to change our mind-set away from the number of years a life has lasted, to focus instead on its richness in wisdom and grace. 

Certainly this is a potent insight lighted upon by Richard Rohr, notable Franciscan monk and teacher; most clearly in 'Falling Upwards' a book about the 'second half of life' , Except this 'half' can be entered at any age, and marks the balance of life changing from the getting of 'stuff ' (position, status, wealth etc) towards the getting of wisdom. That ability to look beyond 'Does my bum look big in this?' to the serenity of 'Life has taught me...'   

There is something to be said for growing old disgracefully. But there is much to be said too for later years whose hallmarks are wisdom, serenity and grace. Like most folk, I commute between the two poles. But the compass points to a true north of wisdom, of grace. All I have to do is follow.      


Saturday, 10 October 2020

Packing up for winter

 The garden is in retreat, as expected. The bedding plants and other annuals, which have been wonderful, are way past their best, and I'm gradually replacing them with winter pansies. The 'Judy Dench' rose is still giving its all in what I guess is a last show of orange and apricot, but the rhubarb has finished, and leaves are falling from the young apple and plum trees. That notorious thug crocosmia- but let's be generous, it does add a lot of vibrant orange and green to late summer-has been thinned out, to give breathing space to plants which surround it. And that's just the beginning......

Seasonal changes come in our lives just as surely as in the garden, although perhaps not with the same regularity. We blossom here, and wither, or winter, there. TLC is applied here, weedkiller, in a metaphorical sense, there. Newness comes and spreads, and self-control , or worse, limits what might unreasonably take over. 

The only constant in life is change. For some this represents a challenge- the unchanging certainty of the faith is what draws them, although I have not found unchanging certainty in the church. Nor would wish too. It is 'Jesus Christ, the same yesterday, today and forever' who is unchanging, although our perceptions and ideas about him change. The church, bound by its contexts in time and place, mutates and grows and withers. 

It's a challenge, navigating the changeability/unchangingness of our beliefs and its contexts. Armed with metaphorical pruning shears and fertiliser, we tend the garden of faith as best we can, rejoicing in the beauty and work each season brings.    

Sunday, 4 October 2020

different perceptions.

 'Congratulations; you have completed a light training regime'. Thus the message as I finished my session at the gym. 'LIGHT TRAINING!?!- I gave my all for the last hour!!!' Thus my reaction. Okay, I am very unfit after a six month lockdown and no visits to the gym;  I am just doing, as Mary and I start up again, half the times I used to row/stretch/pull etc, in twice the times I used to do, but there's no need to rub it in.

Different perceptions.How I think I'm doing and how you think I'm doing.Who I think I am, and who you think I am. There will always be differences, but maybe the gap won't be as wide as this one, from which I am still smarting. I suppose most of us have something of an informed perception of ourselves and it comes as a rude awakening when that is shattered. 

I come up across that shattering each time I hear the two great commandments; to love God with all our passion, prayer, intelligence and energy, and our neighbour as ourselves .I don't measure up. But I guess God and I agree, have the same perception, about my need of his grace.      

Saturday, 26 September 2020

the joy and comfort of hospitality

I popped round to some friends earlier this week with plants I'd promised. Nothing special- just a perennial of which we have an excess, and which our friends can use to help fill their newish borders. It was a visit purely with that in mind- I'd said I'd leave the plants at the gate. 

But -let's call him Jo- Jo was at the front of the house, working. Conversation followed, and then Mrs. Jo came out, and asked if I'd like a coffee. No thanks; you're busy, this was a quick visit, unexpected at this hour. 

But how welcome were those words. An invitation to make this more than a functional drop-off of some plants. To go inside, undressed as I was for a more formal visit. Hospitality out of the blue. 

This is so redolent of God. To be invited inside, to be friends, to be fed, and all when I least expect it. Hear George Herbert on this theme; 

Love bade me welcome; yet my soul drew back, /Guiltie of dust and sinne. /But quick-ey'd Love, observing me grow slack/ From my first entrance in,/Drew nearer to me, sweetly questioning/ If I lack'd any thing.

A guest, I answer'd, worthy to be here:/Love said, You shall be he,/I the unkinde, ungratefull? Ah my deare,/ I cannot look on thee./Love took my hand, and smiling did reply,/ Who made the eyes but I?

Truth, Lord, but I have marr'd them ; let my shame/Go where it doth deserve./And know you not, sayes Love, who bore the blame?/ My deare, then I will serve. /You must sit down, sayes Love, and taste my meat:/So I did sit and eat.  

Sunday, 20 September 2020

Letting go

 We've been shedding stuff;one of the bookcases lining a wall in the lounge has had to go, in order to accommodate a more modern tv. Getting rid of books, for me, has all the agony of teeth being pulled without anaesthetic, but praise be, a judicious selection of no-hopers in the long line of books I've bought over the years with the intention of reading one day, has been sent to a local Oxfam charity book shop. 

More space, then, on the wall for pictures, as well as the new tv. More space in the middle of the room as the coffee table, now back against the wall, supports the tv. And breathe......

But inevitably, there will be the accumulation of clutter, the 'more' of modern life which fills all the space presently clear of stuff. May it take a long time, and may it be accompanied by further de-clutterings. A process I see mirrored in my life-in-God; clutter/de-clutter, ad infinitum.

I am reminded of a prayer, given to me by our son's godmother; 'Let not our souls be busy inns that have not room for thee and thine, but quiet homes of prayer and praise where thou mayst find fit company; where the needful cares of life are wisely ordered and put away, and wide, sweet space is kept for thee.'

May it be.    

Saturday, 12 September 2020

That Mary- the Blessed Virgin

 I was brought up in a non-believing household, but one which nevertheless- like all homes- held a number of prejudices, which I am heir to today. One was the place of the Virgin Mary, these prejudices, absorbed without any thought, together with early experience of church, led to a faith where she was whitewashed from the picture. I still struggle to give her her rightful place in my (limited) understanding of what it means to be a Christian. 

I note that last Tuesday is marked as 'the birthday of Our Lady'. Not a major Marian feast, perhaps-I don't know, but it caused me to think a little about her place in God's economy. In a sense all she did in the first instance, was to say 'yes' to God, unaware of all the consequences. From that flowed unimaginable good. 

And that is the pattern marked out subsequently for every Christian soul. An impetus of the Holy Spirit, and  a willingness to say 'yes' marks the beginning of a journey from which comes unimaginable good for  the salvation of the world. I hope and pray for that I may cultivate that same spirit as was found in her.     

Saturday, 5 September 2020

Think of it as a gift

 I'm nervous about the service I shall lead this morning; it's the first time I've been in church since mid-March, and much has changed. No hymns, socially-distanced spacing (something the C of E has been practising for decades- whoops!), communion in one kind only, and the rest...... I hope I shall remember all that I have to do, all that I have to announce, all that I would normally do and now can't. At least until things return to the status ante quo- if they ever do. 

So; nervous, nostalgic for how things used to be, hopeful that people will come, glad that we can be together in church again, antennae out to monitor how it compares to what went before. It will be familiar and unfamiliar at the same time.

I remember a friend telling me to view a visit to a Sunday service in a denomination I had never been to before  like this; think of the cat bringing you a mouse as he comes in after a night's hunting. My reaction would be 'ugh!', and worse if the mouse were still alive. But the gift is a gift of love. So try to view it as such, whatever your feelings. 

Today's analysis after I return home will not be- I hope- within the emotional spectrum of that story above. We shall do our best this morning in church, however limited the circumstances, to worship God in the best way we can, knowing it is our gift to him. After all, we echo St Paul's words' thanks be to God for his indescribable gift!'  

Saturday, 29 August 2020

Something more nuanced

 Up betimes, as Mr. Pepys has it, on Tuesday, to to wash, core, peel and stew the apples I had gathered last weekend.  They were windfalls, carefully picked over to ensure that they were worth harvesting; but even so, when the bruising, the ravages if the codling moth, the peel and the cores were discarded, stewed apple, packed into containers for the freezer, didn't amount to much. But 3 1/2 pounds of apple will be put to good use in desserts, or in jam, later in the year. 

It brought to mind words of Jesus about harvests, wheat and chaff; words which the smug amongst us might take pride in, as 'the elect'- the good,  the wheat, the saved, even, as it were , the saved apple, going on to a new life in jam or dessert, to carry Jesus' words into my apple preparation. I would have been among these self-satisfied at one time. 

But then, what about the rest- the cores, the peel, the  bruised and codling moth-damaged? It has its place; in the compost bin, to be turned in time into a new life as it enriches the garden with the goodness of compost. Nothing is wasted. And surely this is so in Jesus' parables too? The ash remaining after the chaff is burned would be used on the fields as something to enrich the soil. 

Jesus' parables repay close thought and interrogation. 'The kingdom of God is like....' is not an invitation to view a simple, black-and-white picture. We live in a compromised world, yet looking for the signs of the kingdom in it and beyond it.There is undiscovered treasure among the unregarded, the thrown away, the discarded; there is always the call to explore 'the beyond' in these stories, and 'the beyond' in our our prejudices too .


Saturday, 22 August 2020

The grand delusion

 My mind is still exercised, as it has been over the last two blogs, by Julian Barnes' Nothing to be frightened of . Yes, I've finished it, and moved on to other reading- George Orwell's Homage to Catalonia since you ask- but I go back to his metropolitan assertions of a purposeless existence in a purposeless universe. Well, why not immediately commit suicide, or  instigate and commit the most heinous mayhem, in that case; at best, why write novels at all. It matters not in the grand scheme of things- except, of course, there is no grand scheme of things, if one believes in this despairing 'rule of life'. 

I cannot hold that the judeo-christian grand narrative-a narrative so bold as to be cosmic in its view, its implications, its assertions- can be a delusion. And if it were, I would rather hold to a 'delusion of hope' which has given me so much as it has unfolded and developed in my heart and mind, than embrace the emptiness and despair- elegantly phrased, wryly presented, knowledgeably written, I grant- which his view boils down to. 

This grand narrative of salvation history has ways to go yet, and I look forward to being part of this stream,this river, of purpose and hope and above all constant reality for me- yes- but more importantly for the whole of the created order.  

Sunday, 16 August 2020

With joy

Yes; with joy, you will draw water from the wells of salvation, says Isaiah; an affirmation of enhanced living, drawing refreshment from an unfading source. I contrast this with my continued reading in Julian Barnes' Nothing to be frightened of''. ( I'm furthering last Sunday's blog theme here).  To be honest, this book has become something of a chore, given that the author, distinguished though he is,  has completely dissed the idea, the reality of God; this is not a book in which I could find wisdom to help me through life, let alone face death. 

If he thinks I am deluded, and pities me as a believer, then those feelings of delusion and pity are mine also for him. The book is not a source of wisdom for me, but more a series of interesting, yes, but dusty apercus; a measured, sometimes wry family memoir; witty, knowing, vignettes on how death and dying might be approached from the views of those who have committed their thoughts to paper. Two hundred and fifty pages of carefully collated, meticulously researched and stylishly-written (as far as the chunks about death and dying are concerned) junk.  

The book leaves me weary; I shall finish it, but not count it as as one of the great reads of the century. I come back to the reality of  a present experience, indeed a continuing experience of joy, refreshment, and hope. This has sustained me a person of faith since my teenage years, and I see no reason, can imagine no experience, why it will not continue to sustain through dying and death. Deluded I may be in the eyes of the London literati , but I continue with joy, to draw water from the inexhaustible and real wells of salvation.  

Saturday, 8 August 2020

A fuchsia in its glory

Mary and I are rejoicing at the moment in the beauty of a fuchsia, set on the patio table so that we can enjoy it the more through the windows of the dining area. It overwintered in the garage, where I feared it had died; it did not get the regular monthly watering it needed, but was offered that sustenance only when I remembered. I brought it out again this spring, more in hope than expectation, pruned it, watered it, and watched it thrive, to the point where it has hundreds of white pink and purple flowers, and masses of green foliage. 
These thoughts are prompted by my reading this week; Julian Barnes' 2008 family memoir cum discourse on the fear of dying- 'Nothing to be afraid of''. Death and dying without benefit of faith. It has set many hares running in my head, but it makes a number of unchallenged assumptions about the faith which. for a man of such intelligence and perception (his novels are finely judged and shaded) are tired and illogical. The death of the church and the Christian faith is confidently assumed- hence my reference to the fuchsia. 
It displays a metropolitan mind-set which I fear is widely accepted. The plaudits from the reviews, splashed across the inside covers, all seem to inhabit that world where faith, where Christianity as a living breathing entity, cannot be taken seriously. Where, if I asserted that within this living, breathing life of Christ I have experienced something of 'life in all its fullness' (Jesus' own words), I would be met by a blank, uncomprehending stare, possibly a response that I was sadly deluded. 

Nevertheless, life in all its fullness is what is on offer; 'the glory of God is a man fully alive' as Irenaus has it. And enjoy the glory of the fuchsia, fully alive. I shall continue to read Barnes, but continue also to want more of the abundant life, the torrents of pleasure (St Bonaventure)  which my life in Christ has brought me thus far.    

Saturday, 1 August 2020

Re focusing

For the past months, the house and garden have been our world. the routine of household tasks and the addition of some decorating; the usual garden tasks of weeding and mowing supplemented by springtime sowing and planting. This small world only interrupted by the need to buy food- so off we go to the supermarket before seven in the morning, keeping clear of crowds. 

Yes, I admit this has not been the whole picture; we have had small projects indoors- searching our ancestry, a bit of carpentry for me, some sewing for Mary;  and some short walks in the local area, but the focus has been very largely domestic. And there are increasing times now when it feels as though this is not enough. 

I think of the advantages we have in today's world over those whose enclosed world- a nunnery, a hermitage- was far more limited than mine. Books, tv, access via the phone and social media to friends around the world. My world is far larger than I sometimes care to think. And its domesticity and confinement can be a heaven; the pleasure of a newly painted room, the joy of the scent of sweet peas. 

Not all of us can do great deeds, but we can all do small things with great love, as Mother Teresa said. She echoes St.Paul; do everything for the love of Christ. .     

Saturday, 25 July 2020


For the past thirty six hours, we have have been looking after Blake, our son's dog. Another thirty six hours to go. It's been an occasion to be welcoming, to put him at his ease when he might well need some reassurance as to the whereabouts of his master. For us, this has been a time therefore, to put some of our routines to one side, to make space for his needs, to play, to look to his needs. To say 'well come'.

There's more to welcome than the word, spoken, or written on the door mat. It involves making space, putting oneself aside, making connection, thinking oneself into the other's shoes- or in this case, paws. Well come; we recognise the journey you have made, and will accommodate ourselves to that. We have done a number of things we would not have done if Blake were not with us. 

And all this feeds into what I do, or don't do, when I welcome Christ every day, and it feeds into what God has done to welcome me every day. There is no sense of parity here. My welcome of him is more the equivalent of the words on the doormat, with little beyond that. By contrast, his welcome to me meant becoming human, suffering, death. 

End of term report; 'must do better'. Ironically, this 'better' cannot be brought about without being more open to his welcome of me- recognising the journey made for me. Perhaps the end of term report should be 'must discover more of God's welcome to me'.   

Saturday, 18 July 2020

In both kinds

The news that our churches could open up again for public worship- with suitable precautions- was greeted by this church member with mixed reactions. Did I want church to open again after exposure to the best our parish,  and wider, the best the C of E, could bring into my home via YouTube channels? And before I take a service again, all those regulations to internalise and remember.....

Fortunately as a retired clergyman, I don't have to do all the risk assessments, think through all the issues; I can leave that to the young, the fit, the PCC- and I thank them for all their work. But it's strange that at our parish church, (with three aisles, and room for several hundred people in the nave and the two side chapels ) as we open again for public worship, only twenty eight people will be allowed in. 

As I begin to think about taking services again, it will need not only mental preparation to think through all the issues (distance, cleaning, hand gel, contact lists of whom came, which pews cannot be used, a list of do's and dont's to read out at the beginning of the service.....and the rest) but spiritual preparation too. It will be a new experience to be in church in these conditions. I shall be more nervous than normal. 

But at heart, I shall be glad to be there, serving the people what they have come for, even though it will be communion 'in one kind only' ; it will be for me only to take the wine. But as I have in solidarity with the laity not taken communion since the beginning of the outbreak, I know it will be for me something deep, perhaps unique. I hope it will not be long before we can all be in that privileged place of unique depth- communion in both kinds.      

Saturday, 11 July 2020

Garden scents

Mmmmmm.... every time I walked into the garden in mid-June, the scent of the rambling rose which fills the south-facing fence greeted me, made me smile, made me thankful. Honey-rich, musky, it filled the air. Now it's over for another year (it doesn't repeat flower), but it's been replaced by the first sweet peas. And by other roses, and the lavender by the cabin. Other times, other places have their aroma too; the jasmine by the gate at Katafiyo, the retreat centre in Cyprus; the first scent of indoor hyacinths just after Christmas. The list goes on, as do more unwelcome aromas- the mornings we go outside and realise, from what I shall call 'the agricultural smells' that we live close to farms; the pungency of fish, or rotting vegetation.  

Am I right in thinking that under normal circumstances, the sense of smell is the last to desert us? Aromas take us quickly back to the land of memories- think madeleines, and what poured forth from the aroma of those biscuits in the hands, or more properly the pen, of Marcel Proust.....

St Paul writes that 'we are to God the pleasing aroma of Christ' perhaps reflecting the ancient hope of the prophet Hosea that 'Israel shall be fragrant like the cedars of Lebanon;.- it's quite a thought, quite a responsibility. To bring a smile to the face of God, as it were. And to leave a lingering memory of sweetness, richness; something which makes one stop and dwell in the moment, thankful- is this our legacy to those around us?Mmmmmmm........

Saturday, 4 July 2020

with friends like these.....

The book of Job- one to steer clear of if you like soft-sprung faith! Little or no comfort from his friends in the face of the severest adversity- in fact, rather than comfort they pile guilt onto him. And when Job demands to know from God himself what sin he has committed to be brought so low, he gets no direct answer at all- just a big splurge of mega-nature stuff, like a deep view of stars being born as seen from the Hubble telescope. 

St. Teresa of Avila comments 'If this is how you treat your friends, it's no wonder you have so few'. Ouch! It's a reminder that we deal, in the end, with mystery. We know some stuff about God, and experience over the millennia has taught us that sometimes he has friends- it was Abraham who was called the 'friend of God'; and experience also teaches us that sometimes we don't get answers. Living as we do in a stable and dependable universe has taught us enough to believe in his goodness, but any thought that we can know more than the barest minimum is laughable. 

Nevertheless, that barest minimum is a solid foundation of goodness and love, and these are not to be sneezed at in a world which loves the cynical, seems to thrive on conflict, and human badness is brought to our attention all the time. The world of goodness and love -exemplified for instance in the beatitudes of Jesus- is one worth praying for, striving to be a citizen of, in spite of the mystery, maybe because of the mystery. I think goodness, love, stability, love and friendship would be a good place to start the 'new normal'. 

Saturday, 27 June 2020

A recurring theme

I can't quite capture the quote from Bernard Levin- 'the most famous journalist of his day' as I think 'The Times' had it- but it was something like ' For the fourteenth time, I am not a Christian' before he went on to describe how compelling he found the person of Jesus. He returned to the theme again and again. 
In like manner, I come back, though probably not for the fourteenth time, to 'the graced ordinary', a lovely phrase describing a lovely concept- the ordinary stuff of life, done with grace. 

I don't know where I first came across it, but it was about the time I discovered Kent Haruf's novels, and in a slightly different, sharper key, Marilynne Robinson's also. Both have characters- they would hardly call them heroes- who act out the ordinary stuff of life with grace. Tim Winton has it too, more peripherally, in an edgy way. It's not something which- in my limited knowledge- English writers seem to deal with. 

And yet as it seems much of the world is determined, for good or ill, to come out of lockdown in the near future, wouldn't it be the grandest of themes if we were all to make it our business to act with grace in all the ordinary stuff our lives are made of? We are not characters in books, probably not heroes at any time,  and have to cope with what can be an edgy reality at times. But grace in the ordinary stuff of life could make the new normal sweet, transformative, and that's worth working for. 

Saturday, 20 June 2020

Where I come from

I'm solidly English.Let me explain.  One of the goals Mary and I have set ourselves in this strange and confined time is to research our family history. My antecedents- as far back as we can research on the internet- contain no surprises; no exotic blood anywhere, no murderers, no royalty. In spite of jokes whilst in Scotland that 'the far Cuillins are calling out to me' and that Shaw is a Scottish name with its own tartan; and whilst in Wales that it's the 'Land of my Fathers', my family history is  just solid working-class folk from the southern Lakes, central Lancashire, Leicestershire and London. Mary's story is similar; agricultural workers from Northamptonshire, Huntingdonshire, Lincolnshire. 

It's fun, it's interesting, it answers some questions ( ah! that's where she fits in!) but raises many more, and it will always be incomplete. In the end, although it gives a sense of perspective, it doesn't change who I am. I come from God in the first place, and will be going eventually to God. In the now, today, I hope to journey in heart and mind a little nearer to him. 

A sense of journey and perspective is necessary to give meaning to the present. A sense of purpose pushing us forward gives that same meaning to the present also. Otherwise the present is merely a series of disconnected events. I'm not searching for meaning in my antecedents. I have that at the core of my being, in God. But it makes me wonder about the meaning, of lack of it, the locus of it and of identity, in the lives of others. I hope it is solid, stands the test of time, carries them forward, and is more than simply fun. 

Saturday, 13 June 2020

Diving in

I've been thinking a lot recently about the connection between water and the faith- partly encouraged by my reading, and partly by recent weather- we seemed to be heading for a drought, with the driest May recorded for one hundred and fifty years, followed by the usual British downpours which have more than soaked the ground, and certainly filled the rain barrel and the six other tubs and buckets I put out to capture the rain. This last amply illustrated a phrase  of St. Bonaventure which struck me sometime during the Easter season, of  'the torrents, the torrents, I say' of pleasure God takes in his children.
 Equally, the dry weather of May, when the rain barrel ran dry, and I was watering the garden each night ( May being the month when everything runs riot in uncontrolled growth- forget 'June is busting out all over') turned my thought to de-hydration, dryness, and the effects of this on body and soul. I remember well working alongside community psychiatric nurses in the community, when a joint visit to a patient always included the question 'How much water are you drinking?' There were follow-up questions, if needed, or a gentle pinch on the back of the hand- having explained what was going to happen- to see if the skin stayed in a peak for an undue time; this was a sure sign, I was told, of dehydration.
On the last great day of the feast, St John tells us in his gospel, Jesus called out in the Temple 'if any one is thirsty, let him come to me and drink, and living waters will flow out of him'. The output we hope for- to be refreshment, cleansing agents, sources of life for our communities- demands an input commensurate with the output. It's a challenge; torrents may be more than we can take, but sips will hardly sustain us, and do even less for the world around us. 

Saturday, 6 June 2020

Back in 'Ordinary Time'

There's one job I've resisted doing since we made a list, way back at the beginning of lock-down; painting the utility room. It's small, it's got awkward and inaccessible spaces, there's less than one square metre where paint can be put on with the same speed and efficiency as if I were painting a wall in (say) a bedroom. And... And.... the excuses go on. We chose the colour last weekend, set aside Thursday and Friday to begin the task, and I still found reason to put off Thursday.

But as I write, a start has been made. And since you ask, the colour is 'coffee liqueur'. By midweek, with a second coat of the said emulsion paint on the walls, and an application of white gloss on the woodwork, it should be finished. And it will take a good deal of persuasion to think about doing it again for another decade, at least (by which time we'll need to pay someone to do it, I should imagine), given the awkwardness, lack of accessibility, and all the rest.

There's always a tension between the 'now' and the 'not yet'. I thought I had successfully managed to put The Painting Of The Utility Room into the 'not yet', but it crept into the 'now'. For those who adhere to the faith, this tension is a reality we know in daily experience. We rejoice in the daily reality of God-with-us, and yet have set seasons- Advent, Pentecost- where we pray for God to come to us, as if he were not here already. We know the 'now' of God's presence with us and in the world, and yet see God as the One who is always 'coming to us'. Time and experience somehow collapse into eternity. Or maybe eternity expresses itself in time and our experience. We divide the church year into special seasons, punctuated by those wonderful weeks of  'Ordinary Time'. Like now, where we can just get on with soul-stuff without having to focus on Easter stuff, Advent stuff, Lent stuff, et al. 

I rejoice that in the ordinary as well as the special, we can find God, God with us, God coming to us. Telling me, that like the utility room, whatever my excuses, I can be made new.   


Saturday, 30 May 2020

An in-between time

There has been much talk during this pandemic, with its concomitant restrictions on movement and much 'normal' activity, of this being an 'in between time'. And the past ten days, between the Ascension and today's Pentecost, has had much of this;- perhaps focussed it in ways we had not thought.
All this is true, but all this is also false; all times are 'in between times'- between the past and the future, or say, my birthday and yours, one project or another. It's a reminder that all we have is the present.

That should demand of us an attentiveness to the moment, in the light of how precious the moment is; a 'being present' to the present. Well, it's something I wish and pray for, rather than the jerky attentiveness to some big event yesterday and some big event to come, leaving the present just a passage of time with little meaning or content.
With the advent of the Spirit of God today, we have, if we choose to take it up, a new way of looking at the present. It is the gift of seeing the moment as Jesus saw it, the moment when he knows power has gone out of him; the moment he sees what no one else sees- a blind beggar who needs healing; the moment he sees his mother by the cross, and gifts her and his disciple John to each other.

'Once I was blind, but now I see' was the witness of one healed by Jesus; it could be all of us, in the healing of time which his Holy Spirit brings us.

Saturday, 23 May 2020

A little peace, a little hope, a little calm

I guess if we're not filling our lives with distractions- and there are plenty of those around- in these strange times, we may well be facing some of our demons. In the possible emptiness, or boredom, or quiet of this time of retreat, into a smaller, domestic world, that which has remained hidden, or not dealt with, or suppressed, in the frantic busy-ness of life before Covid19, may be coming to the surface. No wonder mental health is mentioned with such frequency.

But it's not just mental health. This retreated world, this more enclosed world has about it the limitations of a monastery, a cloister, a convent. And demons- but let's just call them 'issues', or 'unresolved tensions' -are not just mental ones; they might be spiritual. But what an opportunity now to welcome them into consciousness, befriend them, find them to be ministering angels, and not demons at all.!

Old remedies, time-proved, trusted stalwarts have stood the test over the centuries to offer the best consolation, healing, release. Prayer, confession, truth, the sacraments, listening to God, a sympathetic listening ear; all these have their place. None is a quick-fix. But together they offer a road to a freer, deeper life in God, less burdened, more in tune with the grain of the universe, the grain of God.

May those who are sensing a surfacing of holy discomfort find the needful insight, fortitude, grace, light, and balm to move into a sunnier soul-place. 

Saturday, 16 May 2020

O mad lover!

'Oh yeah, the resurrection'; here I am, just six weeks into the Easter season, and I can get to that stage, of being less than attentive to the resurrection, to what it was, is, what it means, the life it brings. But then- a sign of grace- something shocks me out of that frame of mind and heart.
This time it's been three phrases, all from Italy, from two saints in the middle ages. Bonaventure talking about 'the powerful fiery torrent, the torrent, I say, of the pleasure of God ' in his children. And Catherine of Siena talking of God 'drunk with love, infatuated with your creature' and in another place addressing God as 'O mad lover!'

The power of the images, the force of the words, brings me back to the reality and impact of that event. I have to face it, I cannot ignore the death, the life of Jesus. The writers of these words have journeyed farther into the love of God than I have, to write so large, so loud, so imbued.

I would follow. The torrents of the infatuated, mad lover reinforce my sense that there is more. Swimming, floating, sailing and diving in the ocean of God's love, as I feebly do, I know in my head that this ocean is vast, limitless, and the pull of the deeper sea is something I feel. The saints have gone before, and have survived. A voyage beckons.

Saturday, 9 May 2020

the virtual world

Locked down as we are, culture and other such experiences come to us via the tv and the laptop, rather than us going out for these occasions. And truth to tell, many organisations have made it easy to listen to/watch/experience music, plays, gardens, houses, museums which in BC times ( before coronavirus) we would have journeyed to, and paid for. The virtual world- a tour of the palace of Versailles, for instance- has become our near neighbour.

As has church; live-streamed services proliferate on Sundays. It fills a need for me, it's the best that can be done in the circumstances, but..... it's virtual. It's still a laptop screen between me and the rector in his study, leading worship ( and leading it well) for the parish. I have to imagine the other folk I would be with in church. Are they joining in today, or absent? I shall never know.

It causes me to wonder about how direct, or how mediated, is my relationship to God. And as I reflect on this, it seems that quite a lot is mediated; through scripture, through tradition, the sort of church I go to, stuff I learned when I was a child, and all the rest. Is there a direct  unmediated connection to, apprehension of God?

Maybe this world can't bear the weight of that. There is the yearning for knowing, as St. Paul puts it, 'face to face', in a time to come when we have passed from this world, and I truly look forward to that. For now, it's 'as in a glass, darkly'. An imperfect mirror.
 mostly through Jesus, our 'only mediator' as the Prayer Book has it, but with the promise of one day, one glorious day 'face to face'.

Saturday, 2 May 2020

The hymns we sing

I was searching for a hymn this week, when I came across another which I hadn't sung for many a long year; I could only half remember the first few words but it brought a lump to my throat- a hymn by Fanny Crosby, that great Victorian writer of hymns of personal devotion. 'All the way my Saviour leads me' it begins; but the last line- 'Jesus led me all the way' jolted me out of sentimentality and caused me to think.

'Jesus led me all the way'; it's patently untrue, of course, in that, self-willed as I am, I have so often gone my own way. The primrose path still holds many attractions. But I guess that if I look at it from another angle, it has a truth- I have been led off primrose paths back onto the Way.

The words we sing in our hymns express truths we hold dear, or truths we would like to hold dear  (as above)  and aspire to; and hymns our parents and others held dear, hymns where the tune seduces us rather than the words, and a thousand things besides. But we still sing them, eagerly, bitterly, sentimentally, hopefully, stoically.

'He who sings prays twice' said St. Augustine, testifying to the power of singing, and the power of praying, however that is done; in faith, in doubt, in anger, in joy, and the rest. Sing a little in these strange times; sing a hymn; God gets it in both ears, so speak, maybe with both barrels from ourselves. It's one way to keep us on the Way, or help us find a route back to the Way. 

Saturday, 25 April 2020

Write this......

I note that I have now posted over one hundred blogs on this site. Over four hundred appeared on the website elsewhere when I was in parish ministry. It's a weekly task which remains a pleasure more that a duty; there is always something good to say about God. Together with the occasional poems I  write, these posts are now the main way I witness to the goodness and grace of God.

'My tongue is the pen of a ready writer' says the psalmist- for me, it's the other way round; my pen is my tongue, at least in 'declaring the works of the Lord' in the small corner which is my life. It has about it Dr. Johnson's riff on Descartes' I think therefore I am';- 'I write therefore I am alive'. Writing, such as I practice it, was a vocation I accepted when I was ordained. I had always written in one way or another, but that endorsement of the church in ordaining me gave writing a push it might not have had otherwise. I wanted part of my ministry to be writing something for God, about God, from God (you will be the judge of how successful that has been) each week. Not deep, not fancy, not inaccessible, not super holy, but something simple which reflects the intersection of an ordinary life- mine- with the grace of God as it finds me, challenges me, changes me, confirms me.

We all have a story to tell, many stories to tell. Those stories reveal us to others, and to ourselves. They do not end with death- how that story intersects with others will affect and shape the ones who hear the story, read the story, beyond my life.We know this from the words of those long-dead which still resonate with us. Scripture is but one example. Words impact us. My story is the Word- St. John's name for Christ- impacting me. Robert Louis Stevenson puts it far better than I;
Bright is the ring of words/When the right man rings them./Fair the fall of songs/When the singer sings them./Still they are carolled and said-/On wings they are carried-/After the singer is dead/And the maker buried.

May our story be one of goodness, and our words of grace.

Saturday, 18 April 2020

Blowin' in the wind

Out for a brief walk, keeping to a route where we were unlikely to meet others, we came across a man's shirt on the hedge, presumably blown there by a recent high wind. It seemed in good nick; we took it home, washed and ironed it. This is the second gift brought to us by the wind- a year or so ago a single-sized fitted sheet appeared on the fence by the park area in front of the house, directly after some gales. No-one claimed it; after some days we took it in, cleaned it, and I took it to Kenya as part of my bedding last autumn; the shirt, attractive and expensive though it was, was an XXL- I looked lost in it, so it will go to a charity shop when they reopen. Both these 'gifts' were, we imagine escapees from washing lines somewhere near us.

Unexpected gifts, blown in by the wind- how can I resist the direct parallel with the gifts God gives us via his Spirit, usually unexpectedly? I can't. But it did prompt some digging into the metaphor. Neither sheet nor shirt were 'oven ready'; both required some work. And both turned out to be for the benefit of others- via the charity shop, and the work I do as a charity trustee. The largest question these gifts prompt is ' Is this legitimately mine to have?'  In that both were unclaimed, we gave both shirt and sheet a temporary home.

'Is this mine to have?'- an attitude, a question I have asked, and maybe you have too, about the gifts of God which arrive unbidden in our hearts. Why do I continue to ask this question when my experience of the love of God is that it is 'the gift that keeps on giving', boundless, free, unstinting. But once I acknowledge that this is how it is, that God loves to give, I find I can give his gifts a home, make them ready, and use them for the benefit of others. The answer, my friend, is blowin' in the wind......

Saturday, 11 April 2020


Just as we are getting used to life in a quieter register, a more domestic mode, more circumscribed, along comes the resurrection; something tearing through the fabric of expectations, up-skittling what we consider the natural order of things. Tearing, up-skittling; words which suggest possibly a noisy, even violent, irruption into human affairs. A bursting forth.

Certainly St. Matthew's account of the resurrection, with its earthquake,and resurrected bodies seen in Jerusalem, has something of this noisy bursting forth. A degree of mayhem, panic and fear is experienced in this world  where Jesus is now back, very much back, on the scene. Other gospel writers take a more measured approach; the resurrection happens quietly, unseen, in the dark. It sneaks up on an unsuspecting world, although it doesn't take long to move centre-stage.

I don't know any quiet resurrection hymns for Easter Day. They all have something, rightly, of the crash-bang-wallop about them. Victory, the death of death, hope, new life in a divine dimension- what's not to celebrate- fortissimo?

But the resurrection is not one-size-fits-all. Quiet or noisy, fortissimo or pianissimo, celebratory or just a smile, may the resurrected Christ meet you today, address you by name, recognise you, and you Him.

We adore you O Christ, and we bless you, for by your holy cross, you have redeemed all the world.

Saturday, 4 April 2020

This narrower time

It takes time to settle into the more enclosed world we are experiencing just now. We must not imagine that as soon as Moses reached the heights of Mt. Horeb, the ten commandments came to him just like that; nor that Elijah experienced God as 'the sound of utter silence' as soon as he arrived in the cave after his escape from Ahab and Jezebel; nor that Jesus was tempted immediately he was in the wilderness. The consciousness of the presence of God has to be cultivated, and takes time.

Nevertheless, the reports from this enclosed world are encouraging. I remember visiting Mother Julian's room in Norwich, where she was walled in for decades as an anchorite in the late 14th century. Her legacy from this enclosed world- there was a window through which she could receive food, and counsel people- is most famously summed up in her phrase 'All shall be well, and all shall be well, and all manner of thing shall be well.'

We have resource to others, as Mother Julian had through her window; all manner of tech-stuff is available to us. But importantly we have resource to God, and this could be a time for deepening our relationship with him. It has to be cultivated, but this epidemic seems like a long haul. There is the time. This is the time.

Let me come at it another way; the rubrics for the Communion of the sick, in the Book of Common Prayer, state that 'although he do  not receive the sacrament with his mouth'- and few will receive the sacrament in these days- there is an inward communion 'profitably to his soul's health' which may be found in steadfast belief, confession, thanksgiving and meditation on the benefits of Christ's passion.

All these aids to our enclosure point to the fact that we are invited, in the words of the old hymn, to say 'it is well, it is well, with my soul'. Settle into this wellness and health.

Saturday, 28 March 2020

A larger heart

As self isolating becomes the norm, we might be tempted to become inward, focussed on all the worst that this culture urges us to think is important- Me! Me! Now! Now!
The news would have it that there is nothing else worth considering but Covid-19. But there is of course a bigger picture, which is that God is, that God is love, and that we serve him by serving others.
So today's blog will be short, and will bring God and others to the forefront of minds and hearts. It was sent me by a friend, who received it from one of the Bar Convent ( York ) sisters- the Community of Jesus- in Rome.
May we all be blessed as we keep in mind and heart the bigger picture of God, and others.

May we who are merely inconvenienced-   Remember those whose lives are at stake.
May we who have no risk factors-    Remember those most vulnerable.
May we who have the luxury of working from home-    Remember those who must choose between preserving their health or making their rent. 
May we who have the flexibility to care for our children when their schools close-    Remember those who have no options. 
May we who have to cancel our trips-    Remember those who have no safe place to go.
May we who are losing our margin money in the tumult of the economic market-   Remember those who have no margin at all. 
May we who settle in for a quarantine at home-    Remember those those have no home.

As fear grips our country; Let us choose love. During this time when we cannot physically wrap our arms around each other, let us yet find ways to be the loving embrace of God to our neighbours. 

And all the people said 'Amen.'  

Saturday, 21 March 2020

An extraordinary week

Last Sunday I was in Limassol, Cyprus, preaching at the Anglican church (and I apologise that the prepared blog did not appear- Technowhizz First Class I am not, and couldn't somehow get it all together to publish it). Today I should still be in Cyprus, but am home, tired and thankful that Mary and I managed to get home.
We are in self isolation. For many, this will be a new experience, and possibly unwelcome. We are social beings, after all. But before that- I take this as one of the lessons of the Garden of Eden story- we are made by God, and for God, and this could be a time to discover more of that.
This poem was sent to me, and it says all that many hope for in this turbulent, distressing, opportune time;

And the people stayed home. And read books, and listened,
and rested, and exercised, and made art, and played games,
and learned new ways of being, and were still. And listened
more deeply. Some meditated, some prayed, some danced.
Some met their shadows. And the people began to think
"And the people healed. And, in the absence of people living
in ignorant, dangerous, mindless, and heartless ways, the earth began to heal.
"And when the danger passed, and the people joined together
again, they grieved their losses, and made new choices, and
dreamed new images, and created new ways to live and heal
the earth fully, as they had been healed."
~Kitty O'Meara (unknown publication)

May it be so. The Lord be with you. 

Saturday, 7 March 2020

curiosity, observation

I'm taken up presently with Gilbert White's Natural History of Selborne,  a record of his observations, mostly the bird-life, in what was in the late eighteenth century, a small settlement in Hampshire which counted for little in those days, and probably doesn't now. Partly, as we read it in the present day, it's a reminder of how much we have lost as the changing patterns of agriculture have impacted on our landscape, our flora and fauna. Partly, it's a reminder of how far we've come in our understanding of migratory behaviour in birds; some of White's theorising doesn't seem to stack up - from the little I know!- about migration.

But in spite of all this, I'm much impressed by the curiosity of the man, and that mindset which will record from one year's end to another the observations he has made, which helps him understand- sometimes mistakenly (see above)-  a bigger picture.

Curiosity, observation; it's a process we know in the faith too. Few of us would be so foolish as to have 'blind faith'; our belief is built on experience as much as scripture and the teaching of the church. It's our experience of a good God which leads us deeper into Godself, although it would be foolish, nay, misleading, to say we have - I have- never taken a wrong turning, made a wrong assumption, gone where nothing stacked up. The pole star for all this is 'truth', found in the One who is also the way and the life. That is where my curiosity and experience has led. 

Saturday, 29 February 2020

In good humour

I have enjoyed over the last few days smiling at Jane Austen's humour in 'Northanger Abbey', the authoress' (does one use that word nowadays?) first book. Not so polished as her later works, it is perhaps her most humorous- at least, to this untutored mind. Maybe Jane Austen in the popular stereotype does not come with humour attached to her writing, but believe me, it does have its moments.

I guess the same goes for Jesus. Surrounded, rightly, by so much reverence, a laughing Jesus seems out of place, possibly unthinkable, but put 'laughing Jesus' into google, and numbers of images come up- and it's not just a simper or chuckle from Our Lord, but what appears to be a hearty and enjoyable laugh. But then, he has a fine sense of the ridiculous; camels going through the eyes of needles comes to mind.

If ever someone was pigeon-holed, it was, is, Jesus. But if he entered fully into our humanity, as orthodox Christianity has insisted on, then laughter, along with a whole host of stuff normally not admitted -because of over-pious reverence- comes into play. And this enables us to address him as our brother- perhaps not the most popular of Jesus' titles or attributes, but one that brings him nearer in our frail humanity. In Lent, which we have just begun, we who have been ashed last Wednesday, have heard the injunction to 'turn away from sin and be faithful to Christ'. This brother is our helper in that task.

I hope that in many ways he will be with you this week- maybe even to laugh together.

Saturday, 22 February 2020

The garden

The garden at home is more of a paddy field at the moment. Constant rain over the winter has left the fields round the house in what looks like a permanently flooded and muddy state; the lawns at our house squelch if  I walk on them. The rain barrel has never been less than full for the last three months. But signs of spring are here; unexpected views of tracts of snowdrops hidden in hedges as we drive by; the first daffodils blossoming in the garden.

'You shall be a well-watered garden,' says Isaiah the prophet,'a spring of water that never fails'. The metaphor of a garden for our life-in-God is one that constantly recurs in Scripture. And I have found that I can identify with it, to see drought, weeds, flooding, pruning, and much else as a feature of what the landscape of my life looks like. On a much grander scale, this is what John Bunyan is exploring in 'Pilgrim's Progress'; I will content myself with something more domestic- it is all I can do to keep my own garden in some sort of order and productivity.

Supposing your life-in-God is a garden, what does it look like today? What signs of life? What areas need attention? What will take some time to recover? What has been neglected? Fret not; 'My father is the gardener', says Jesus .Expert, practical help is at hand.

Saturday, 15 February 2020

Assumptions, slogans, lies and prejudices

'This isn't the Brexit I voted for' tweeted a man this week who spent 50 minutes-plus at Amsterdam airport, waiting to get his passport checked to enter Holland. 'Longer in the queue than in the air'. He has been  (metaphorically) shot down several times by folk replying to his message along the lines of
'this is exactly what was voted for, if we did but know it'.
I am not going into the rights and wrongs of Brexit; there are no winners in that debate any more; tribes have fixed lines, and merely shout at each other. But it does highlight the need for truth, and for informed debate where big decisions are made. Indeed, where all decisions are made.

Truth is a fragile commodity; 'alternative facts' are now firmly in our culture, and we have little idea where their entrenchment will lead us, in the big picture of our national life and politics.Although we might have some idea of where this will go as we look at the corrosive effects of lies, prejudices and 'alternative facts' as they impacted on the smaller world of our relationships.  We have been here before. There is the cynicism with which Pontius Pilate asks Jesus at his trial 'what is truth?; set this against Jesus' assertion of himself 'I am the truth (made earlier in his ministry, not in response to Pilate).
But in the end, who has had more influence on the course of the world's history? Truth personified in Jesus the Christ, or the governor of a back-water province of the Roman Empire? With truth comes a package of goodies which includes kindness, goodness, patience, understanding, and more. This is worth striving for, valuing. It rejects easy answers, slogans, cynicism, and the rest. We can add to the store of goodness in the world by standing with truth, with informed debate,rather than the easier road of assumptions, slogans, prejudices, lies, difficult though that may be. Although it won't, at this stage, change the queues at Schipol.   

Saturday, 8 February 2020

The accident

I have been struck afresh this week by something which happened far away, and its effects on so many people, including myself. Nothing extraordinary in that; the government in London puts taxes up, and here, 200 miles away, my income is more circumscribed. But this week brought it home to me in a way I hadn't realised before.

A pedestrian was sadly killed on a major road about thirteen miles from here. That road was closed during the morning rush hour and beyond. I was caught up in the resulting entanglement as drivers sought ways of getting to their destination along country roads not used to heavy traffic. I arrived nearly an hour late for a nine o'clock meeting. A friend abandoned her attempt to drive forty miles to take her mother to a hospital appointment. Along the roads I was using, secondary-age children were heading home; the school bus had failed to turn up within the appointed time. No doubt scenes like this were repeated in a wide circle around here.

It speaks to me of the interconnectedness of life, our dependence on one another. 'No man is an island entire of itself; every man is a piece of the continent, a part of the main'  wrote John Donne nearly four hundred years ago. This is a challenge to our autonomous view of ourselves in 2020, where I will do what I want, no matter the effect on others, or the effect on the planet. Somehow, that 'road traffic accident' brought home the idiocy of that self-centred view in a way other far-away happenings failed to do. It reinforced our connected-ness. 'Though we are many, we are one body, because we all share in one bread'; these are words I shall hear again today, and today they will have a depth and a resonance that was lacking last week.

Saturday, 1 February 2020

The patchwork quilt

I dug out an old patchwork quilt I made a long time ago, and it graces the bed again now, to keep out the winter cold. Truth to tell, I've forgotten many of the things- dresses of Mary's, tablecloths, napkins- which contributed to its squares and rectangles; and if I remember correctly, some material was bought specially for it anyway. In reds and navy- plain, patterned and checked- it adds a brightness, as well as a warmth, to the bed which was lacking before.

Odd bits, bits which might have been discarded, unimportant and forgotten, now brought together in an order and pattern. It should speak of church and how it ministers to the marginalised, but even a cursory reading of say, 1 Corinthians, shows St Paul dealing with deep dissension. And things have hardly improved in many places since.

Nevertheless, in spite of the popular perception that church is for those who have made it in one way or another, it remains a hospital for the walking wounded, myself included. And the walking wounded can be fractious.... We are all works in progress, striving to bring beauty and order and usefulness, striving to be whole, and sometimes holy, - in some ways then, like the patchwork quilt- into a world of need.

Sunday, 26 January 2020

literary life- and boredom

I have given up trying to read' The Silmarillion'. I started it when it first came out, over forty years ago, when my enthusiasm for Tolkien had already waned a little, and I had passed on to literary pastures new.  And read so far, and no further. But a review of the bookshelves revealed a number of unread  or unfinished tomes- this was one of them. I set to work, but reluctantly gave up after about two hundred pages. Reluctant because I usually read a book to the end, and hate to give up, however turgid the offering.
I got lost in the detail, couldn't make the connections, could see no overarching narrative. I fell into that group which one reviewer identified when The Silmarillion was first published; 'it will probably be bought by more people than will read it'.

No overarching narrative; it's concerned with a mythic past, but has no projection into the present or future. Okay, so many books are 'just a history' with no present or future about them, but Tolkien aimed higher, I understand. He aimed to give us our equivalent of the Nordic sagas, earth us in a grand narrative that is entirely our own.

Except, of course, we already have one, which has earthed us,- and heaven'd us- for the last two thousand years, and continues to be- despite all claims to the contrary by the chattering classes of one sort or another, the bedrock on which we stand.

I am far from bored when I read 'In the beginning...'- the opening words of the Old Testament, and the gospel of John. And the grand narratives of the Revelation to finish. And in between the cosmic theology of Paul's epistles, the shocking authority of Jesus, the heroes and villains, the tender love of God. All human life is there!- something absent from The Silmarillion.     

Saturday, 18 January 2020

The landscape of faith

I thought until recently I had some sort of understanding of the geography, as it were, of the faith; after all, I've talked it, prayed it, professed it, preached it for 50+ years. I thought I had a 'map', with, if not all the details (by no means all the details!) then at least the salient features; baptism, prayer, the sacraments, etc.
But a hard evaluation has shown me that I have some understanding of the small hinterland around me, and that is all. Why I was so foolish to think that I had a bigger picture, I can only put down to vanity and pride.
My thoughts go back to Bunyan's 'Pilgrim's Progress'- that seminal book which has had so much influence on personal devotion in English homes since its publication in 1678. (Since when it's never been out of print, I'm told). A grand landscape emerges in the book- as it does in C S Lewis's 'Narnia' chronicles. Christian ranges far and wide through rivers, bogs, mountains, byways, highways and the rest to come to the Celestial City. And all these places have their symbolic meanings; compared to which my narrow and small experience is as nothing.

'Bloom where you are planted' says the adage. So although my experience, range, understanding, and practice of the faith may be, as it were a small garden, my task is to nurture that, and venture out from there and learn to inhabit a bigger picture. The Delectable Mountains still call. Here is opportunity to tend a small garden, with my eyes and heart ready to explore a grander landscape. 

Saturday, 11 January 2020


After more than sixty years, I can still remember by heart most of the verses from Matthew chapter 2 which tell the story of 'wise men from the east' come to seek the Christ child. Our primary school class learned it, under the direction of our teacher Miss Vickers, for the school carol service when I was nine in Junior 3, and if memory serves, we recited it again when in Junior 4.

Strange what stays. I can see us know, on the risers, reciting this to parents in the hall in front of us. We were a large class- thirty plus. I wonder how many of them, like me, come into contact with that reading, and can say it, all over again?

'Wise men from the east, come to worship him'.And bring gifts- gold, frankincense, myrrh. It's one of the important readings from scripture which met us this first week in in this Epiphany season, when Jesus is manifested to a wider world than his own people. By the grace of God, he has manifested himself to me over the years, and I'm grateful. My gifts to him have been adoration, forgetfulness, wilfulness, disobedience, surrender, anger, love. The best and worst of my life. And the mediocre in between. But like the wise men, his bright star draws me on, into a mystery I don't understand, but know is true, just as the wise men must have felt in presenting gifts to a child they believed was a prophet, priest and king, judging by their gifts, but found in an ordinary house far from palaces and the trappings of royalty.

'Show me the way'- it's a prayer I often make, an acknowledgement that the Bright Morning Star I follow is the true one, even though it leads I know not where,and has mystery about it. But in the mystery, grace and truth above all, .     

Saturday, 4 January 2020

Twelfth Night etc

Tonight is Twelfth Night; but I wonder how many people know what this refers to? 'Isn't it a play by Shakespeare....? Something about misrule, the world turned upside down? Yes, but the reference is originally to  the last day in the season of Christmas. 'Season of Christmas? what do you mean? 
In the Christian calendar, Christmas is a season of twelve days, and today is the last of them. Tomorrow we begin the season of Epiphany- a difficult word, which means 'showing' or 'manifestation'.
Let's go back to basics. The Christian year has a shape to it; it starts in Advent, at the end of November, and climbs, as it were, to a mountain top for the twelve days of Christmas, after which it gently descends again through Epiphany, and some 'Ordinary Time' to Ash Wednesday, when Lent begins. Then a longer climb, over roughly six weeks, to the mountain top of the Easter season, where we stay for another six weeks till Pentecost, when we gently descend again through Ordinary Time till the beginning of Advent, when the whole process starts again. The climbs and descents are indicative of  the importance of the season, rather than anything else, in the picture I have drawn.
It all has something to say about the life of Christ, the love of God, and our response to different points of his life. I wonder, as we begin a new season- Epiphany-, what God will show me? show you? How God will manifest Godself to me? to you? And are open to it? Today's gospel talks of Jesus being 'full of grace and truth'. May we apprehend at least some of that, be apprehended by grace and truth, so that any misrule, anything upside down in our lives and experience may be righted, and ourselves set on our feet, as on a rock .