Friday, March 27, 2009

Friday Five - Blog roll spotlight

Even before I found myself reduced to one-handed typing, my blogging had been pretty erratic recently - & this is part of a more general decline, I think, as twitter & fb enable us to keep connected via one-liners hurled into the ether as we rush to our next appointment. It's not the same, though...I guess those networks have mostly replaced the blog posts that were all about sharing news (I was startled at how pleased I was to be able to tweet from A & E), but a real blog entry is far more satisfying, both to read and to create.
So I'm very happy to know of a plethora of great blogs. I suscribe to bloglines, which spares me the need to check all my favouites every day, but as Mary Beth has invited us to list 5 of our must-reads, here are some of those I turn to directly I spy an update. The full list, of course, is substantially longer - & pretty certainly includes you

Reflectionary - Songbird was the first American blogger I "met", probably the first blogger to whom I didn't have at least a tentative, friend-of-a-friend type connection. I found her, not sure how, very early in our blogging lives. Now she is my soul sister, a friend whose thoughtful writing & gentle wisdom I value so much...I still haven't quite forgiven God for putting us on different continents - but I guess if Songbird lived here in the UK I might never have met some other wonderful women. This time last year we were all afloat together.

Telling Secrets - Elizabeth is an inspiration - the kind of priest I'd love to be - and her blog is in turn funny, passionate about social justice, poignant in the transparent love which suffuses her ministry. I'm so grateful for her writing.

Digging a lot - a new find this year...in my rather derailed Lenten practice this year I have really appreciated Graham's series "I'm thinking about Grace". I'm looking forward, too, to seeing where his blog will take me when Lent is behind us.

The Crimson Rambler
- when I first visited & discovered the warning "caution: this blog is protected by irritable panda bears" I knew that the Rambler and I had a similar sense of humour. Since then I have discovered we have much more in common(including our debt to the metaphysical poets in shaping our faith)- & her writing style is a delight.

Jen Lemon -
joyously creative, Jen seems always to have the courage to dream the most beautiful dreams, and to act to make them come true. I love it!

Thursday, March 26, 2009

B - a tribute in memoriam

A Time for Everything
1 There is a time for everything,
and a season for every activity under heaven:

2 a time to be born and a time to die,
a time to plant and a time to uproot,

3 a time to kill and a time to heal,
a time to tear down and a time to build,

4 a time to weep and a time to laugh,
a time to mourn and a time to dance,

5 a time to scatter stones and a time to gather them,
a time to embrace and a time to refrain,

6 a time to search and a time to give up,
a time to keep and a time to throw away,

7 a time to tear and a time to mend,
a time to be silent and a time to speak,

8 a time to love and a time to hate,
a time for war and a time for peace.

9 What does the worker gain from his toil? 10 I have seen the burden God has laid on men. 11 He has made everything beautiful in its time. He has also set eternity in the hearts of men; yet they cannot fathom what God has done from beginning to end. 12 I know that there is nothing better for men than to be happy and do good while they live. 13 That everyone may eat and drink, and find satisfaction in all his toil—this is the gift of God


In the conversations I’ve had over the past few days, as I’ve tried to get to know a little of the essential B. one word that kept coming up was “Contented”.
What a gift!
If you judged his life by an arbitrary, materialist index, it might seem that he didn’t amount to anything much….but all who knew him described B as “a lovely man” – reminding us that there is far more to being fully human than paying off a mortgage or engaging with the rat race.
................[personal biographical details followed here]
His final months were spent in ___________ House, where his undemanding approach, together with his splendid sense of humour, endeared him to many. B did NOT want to be a bother, telling both A & J that they really didn't have to visit, that he was quite OK, had everything he needed, was content with his own company.
No wonder so many described him as a lovely man.

We chose that reading from Ecclesiates because it seemed to sum up B’s philosophical approach to life…there’s a time for everything – go with the flow and enjoy what you can while you are here.
I’ve no idea what B’s views on faith were – but I’m certain that no matter what B thought of God, God adored B. That’s just the way God is, and after all, Jesus told us that to enter his Kingdom we needed to become like children. It seems to me that there was something childlike in B’s calm contentment with whatever came his way. As Ecclesiastes reminds us…God has set eternity in our hearts…another way of expressing the truth that as we are made to relate to God we will be restless & discontented till we are safe home in his arms. B never seemed to be restless or driven – so perhaps he understood instinctively that he was both fully known and wholly loved,
We may come to recognise this as we make our way through life…but whether we do or not, the love and the welcome are there for us. That is the message that will be preached in countless different ways, in countless different churches through the coming season of Holy Week & Easter.
Jesus, hanging on the cross, opens his arms to embrace the whole world.
"Look," he says, "this is how much I love you….and that love turns out to be stronger than death."
So, lets give thanks for B. that lovely gentle soul, and commend him now to the God who made him, who loves him and who died so that we might live forever in love.

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Small graces on Lady Day

This was always going to be a busy time, even before The Arm happened.
My invitation to our local schools to follow the "Experience Easter" trail was unexpectedly popular, meaning that I'm needed in church to meet, greet, explore & explain not just for one week but for two. So far, with 5 out of 14 classes gone through, it's going fine. Interesting to notice which stations inspire the most thoughtful responses here - quite different in Ch Kings though the material, & my presentation of it, has not changed noticeably. I'll hope to blog the trail fully later - for now I'm only mentioning it as a clue to why life is a bit pressurised.
Add to that the Minister's Report for the Annual Parochial Church Meeting this coming Sunday at Church in the Valley, special services for Palm Sunday, pretty much every day of Holy Week & the Triduum (and a broken photocopier in the parish office - what stellar timing!) and a sudden run of funerals & tis unsurprising that my diary has looked a little alarming. When I got up this morning, I really wasn't certain that the different bits of the day would dovetail at all - but in the event they did, and there was so much grace in evidence throughout a long long day.

A decidedly ordinary assembly began the day. Theme: courage, but I failed completely to engage the room full of infants, whose attentions were focussed on the imminent excitements of some medieval "time travellers" who were due to arrive any moment. I left pretty certain that we hadn't connected at all, and consoling myself with the thought that I would be back next week - except that as we followed the Easter trail later in the day, a little girl snuck up to me and told me that my ramblings had in fact made a huge and important difference, that she had dared to tell someone about a heavy situation she was facing, that she no longer felt so alone and afraid.
On that basis, this morning's flop was probably the most significant assembly I've taken. Do pray for M and for all children carrying big burdens in silence...

A lovely Eucharist for the Annunciation. We prayed the Angelus together, the first time it has been used in public worship in the valley for quite a while. It's not a reflection of the dominant spirituality of the Sunday congregation, but that close-knit Wednesday group sank into it with comfortable devotion and it was just right for that time and that place.

Despite an emergency dash up to school to copy material for the Lent course (see what I mean re our copier's timing?) I even had the opportunity to ask someone to stand for election to the PCC - and he agreed. Splendid! He will be a real asset :)

Lent Course - the caring church. Startlingly difficult to persuade the group to recognise the examples of Christian service in their midst, even with some real saints of the church there among us. Even the towering figures, the William Booths & Mother Theresas, took a while to surface so that I'm left with the nagging though that we're still a long way from really making connections between faith and life. Even after dredging up examples of Christians who have made difference, it was hard to move on to discover what this might tell us of the fundamentals of our faith. Ah well - still a good conversation and who knows what may have surfaced once I'd departed for a funeral, taking with me, I suspect, the worry that they might not come up with the "right" answers.

Funeral at the crem for B, a man in his 90s whom I had never known, and whose executor was his solicitor. Did your heart sink like mine when you read that? Usually such funerals are bleak occasions when it can be hard to thank God for a life of whose course you know nothing. Not so B's service. His appointment o the solicitor reflected his lifelong determination not to burden those who loved him, and in fact B had an affectionate niece and a loyal friend who shared memories with me for the address, and suggested just the right readings for this quietly contented man. There were just a handful of us there in the chapel, and as we listened to Ecclesiastes "there is a time for every purpose..." I think we all knew we were on holy ground.
I rarely post funeral addresses, as I feel that they are too personal, not really mine to share, but I'm going to make an exception for B., because I learned so much in that half hour about the value of life, and really felt the words I spoke.

Experience Easter with another class, then book group looking (along with most of the world) at The Shack. We are divided: I hate the "style" but love some touches of the content and others were more enthusiastic. I have at least one parishioner who needs the reminders the book offers that God is not a vengeful ogre - but I fear she would be put off by the transatlantic context and not hear the truth through the background noise.
The real grace here, though, was the grace of sharing with friends in ministry. We trained together and over delicious scones that J had made we told our stories, mourned, grumped and celebrated ogether - and it was very good.

Thanks be to God for Wednesday - now to engage with Thursday's busyness, praying to notice God's presence along the way.

Sunday, March 22, 2009

A bit like what I said

Mothering Sunday – the Caring Church (3rd in a 4 sermon series on aspects of the healthy church)

A couple of questions this morning.
What would you write if I asked for a "job description" for mothers?
And, as a supplementary, have you ever known one that lived up to it?
Each year on Mothering Sunday, while I feel happy and grateful for all the love and care I receive from my family, I also feel horribly uncomfortable, because I know that I just don’t match up to the ideal of motherhood the tv commercials would like us to see as the norm.
I shout at my children sometimes.
I seldom if ever welcome them with a smile into an immaculate home where a tasty and nourishing meal is cooking, making the whole house smell wonderful.
Far too often, I tell them to go away and let me carry on using the computer for something REALLY important….and on occasion I’ve even had to tell a distraught child that I can’t listen to their woes because I have to leave to take a funeral…
In fact, if my family depended on me for all their mothering, things would be pretty bleak.

However, all is not lost.

The 2 Cor reading talks about God's love for us…
"God of all consolation" makes me think of the way mums are always supposed to be ready to "kiss it better" no matter what. We can't always do that, but Paul tells us that God can - so we don't have to "mother" unaided. Of course, the idea that God cares isn’t exactly news, is it? You’re all here today because you either have, or are seeking, a relationship with God, and you might perhaps have direct experience of the way God cares for you, like a perfect loving parent. Even if your experience of human family relationships has been difficult or disappointing, God offers us real care, real love with no strings attached.
Of course, God is beyond male and female, but I hope that for today you’ll not feel too uncomfortable if I invite you to think about the motherly qualities of God … I’d like those of you who are parents to think back to when your children were tiny…Did you love them then? If so, can you think why??
Was it because they did wonderful things for you? My guess is, probably not.
My babies were excellent at crying, at demanding feeds, at filling nappies but I don’t remember that many cups of tea in bed, or bouquets of flowers in those days.
But I have to say that I quite definitely loved them because they were, and are, my children.
In the same way, God loves us because God loves us, because God loves us,
There is nothing we can possibly do to make God love us more.
There is nothing we can possibly do to make God love us less.
Each of us is Ioved, completely and fully, like a precious only child, held securely in a warm embrace.

God mothers us.

But there is more…The Gospel reading shows us a son (Jesus) who cannot be the son he'd like to be to his mother and a mother (Mary) who cannot be the mother she'd like to be to her son. The expectation of the time would have been that Jesus would have a duty to look after his mother, to care for her in old age while Mary, like any mother, would have longed to protect her child, hated to see him suffer.
But circumstances intervened. The ideal family seems to be breaking down at the foot of the cross…
But because Jesus knows that he and Mary can't be what they would like to be to each other, he entrusts her to John, and John to her.
Together they form a new family – the church….the family we belong to too.
We are a family for each other and even if we lose our own families, or things go badly awry with those relationships, here in God’s church we should find lots of mothers, fathers, brothers and sisters to support us.

Remember, if you would, all those who have offered you love and care unlooked for…then reflect that within our Christian family each of us has a responsibility to share in the mothering of the world with God, by passing on the love and care we have been so freely given.
That is part of what being Church – the Body of Christ – is about.
Theresa of Avila understood this very well

Christ has no body now on earth but yours,
no feet but yours, no hands but yours.
Yours are the eyes through which the compassion
of Christ is to look out on a hurting world.
Yours are the feet with which he is to go about doing good.
Yours are the hands with which he is to bless all now.
Christ has no body now but yours


Today, then, we celebrate all those who mother us in all sorts of areas of our lives. Let’s thank God for them, and be on the lookout for chances to share in the work of mothering the whole world for God’s sake.

Laetare!

After a week in which frustration trumped exhaustion in the ongoing saga of life with a broken arm, rendering me pretty unpleasant both to myself and to my patient family, I'm happy to report that to-day lived up to its name & brought some much-needed refreshment.

Down at church in the valley we had a goodly collection of families, some regulars and some new faces/baptism returners.I was specially thrilled that a family for whose mum I shall take a funeral service later this week joined us. I try so hard to keep the bereaved, the disappointed, the childless at the front of my mind and to steer our reflections away from a religious version of a (rhymes with) Ballpark fiesta...Today I'd placed an icon of the Mother of God on the altar in the Lady chapel and moved our votive candle stand so that people could pause as they returned from Communion to remember, or to offer their grief to God. I hope it helped: they seemed in reasonable heart as they left.

During my talk, I borrowed from a friend the idea of inviting the congregation to come up with a job-description of a mother. I had kind of envisaged most replies coming from children and one or two did oblige - but I had some quite splendid interaction from one of our more senior ladies - whose mother was quite clearly every saint you can imagine and then some...Thankfully we all agreed that most of fall far short of such ideals, so were able to give thanks for all the other wonderful people God puts in our way to offer a little extra mothering and accept our own resposibility for caring too.
A quick burst of Teresa of Avila (no hands on earth but yours...), flowers taken to everyone by our wonderful children....just so much that was good, loving, holy..

Up the hill, things were completely different:not a hint of a child about the place but some special moments too. My colleague presided, so I had the pleasure of giving flowers to everyone as the returned from the altar. To be able to say thank you to everyone by name in that small community that loves their church so much, to acknowledge that we need one another..Holy ground once again, and some much-needed refreshment.

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Glimpsing the obvious

So often over the past 4 weeks, sympathetic people have commented that everything must take twice as long when managed with one hand...I have agreed readily but it was only to-day that I recognised the truth that, if everything is gong to take twice as long, my hope to get 50% of my normal goals achieved in a given day is only going to be possible if I actually work a full day - and that will leave me just as weary as in fact I am.
The problem is that faced with that realisation, and paring things down as far as I humanly can, there is still more to be done than I can begin to contemplate. I've said before that if I write a to-do list I'm quite close to the edge. I finished one this morning - and it covers 2 sides in my A5 notebook.
Whoever thought it might be good for Lent, Holy Week & Easter to belong together???

Sunday, March 15, 2009

Lenten health check part 2


Amid the thwarted plans & radical rethinking that this Lent has brought, one element of ny original intentions has remained constant. Fr Simon of Bless├ęd
has been texting & tweeting a series of daily gems, which have arrived regardless of whether I thought I was "up to" engaging with them or not. Since my phone has been my constant companion since the day of my fall, I've not been able to pretend they weren't there, even on the grumpist days.
So, despite myself I've read, I've reflected & I have been blessed in the process.

A few days ago, the words of Padre Pio
"pray, hope & don't worry"

sustained me as I went through the day - a reminder that amid bushels of "what ifs" all really shall be well.

Here is what I received yesterday.

Bless├ęd->Tip out the salt shaker into your hand. The many grains are as numerous as God's blessings on you. Don't count them, feel them.

I didnt, I confess, risk the salt - the prospect of something else that I could not tidy up for myself seemed unwelcome and thus likely to be counterproductive - but I most definitely engaged in feeling my blessings. I felt them as I prepared to sleep last night, cosy in my nest on the sofa with companionable cats at hand...I felt them again as we began our worship this morning by singing "God is here as we his people", as I offered the Eucharistic prayer with the wonderful Lenten Preface

It is indeed right and good
to give you thanks and praise,
almighty God and everlasting Father,
through Jesus Christ your Son.
For in these forty days
you lead us into the desert of repentance
that through a pilgrimage of prayer and discipline
we may grow in grace
and learn to be your people once again.
Through fasting, prayer and acts of service
you bring us back to your generous heart.
Through study of your holy word
you open our eyes to your presence in the world
and free our hands to welcome others
into the radiant splendour of your love.
As we prepare to celebrate the Easter feast
with joyful hearts and minds
we bless you for your mercy
and join with saints and angels
for ever praising you...

I felt them too as I spoke to people at the door and as I walked home in the spring sunshine, past gardens filled with daffodils beneath a sky of cloudless blue.
Blessed?
Oh yes, most definitely.


Saturday, March 14, 2009

Too good to miss : a belated friday five

When Sophia posted this yesterday I was too weary to engage, but its a topic that really does bear consideration in a Lent in which I've found myself changed in a moment from initiaor/doer to --- something that feels disturbingly like a lump of cold porridge. So here's my attempt at a mid-Lent health-check (with apologies if the formatting, which is currently refusing to behave at all).

The pastor of my grad school parish once gave a fascinating reflection, at about this mid-point in the season, called "How to Survive the Mid-Lent Crisis"! As I recall, his main point was that by halfway through the season we have often found it very challenging to live up to our original plans....But, he suggested--on the analogy of the healing and reframing of our life plans that can happen during a mid-*life* crisis--that that can be even more fruitful.

So here's an invitation to check in on the state of your spirit midway through "this joyful season where we prepare to celebrate the paschal mystery with mind and heart renewed" (Roman Missal). Hopefully there's a good deal of grace, and not too much crisis, in your mid-Lenten experience!

1. Did you give up, or take on, anything special for Lent this year?
Plans for Lent included daily reflective blogging, some serious reading & persuading people in both churches to engage in the diocesan Praying Together" programme...

2. Have you been able to stay with your original plans, or has life gotten in the way?
And how...!!!!

3. Has God had any surprising blessings for you during this Lent?
I've learned above all the sheer depths of patience & kindness that my youngest child possesses. ..I'm still struggling to find the grace to welcome the help of others..that would be such a blessing too. Currently I feel both frustrated & embarassed. Not good.

4. What is on your inner and/or outer agenda for the remainder of Lent and Holy Week?
Somehow we have to be ready to welcome c5oo school children to take part in the Experience Easter trail - new to these parishes but something which really worked in my training parish...We have Mothering Sunday & Palm Sunday All Age services to plan & I still need 2 liturgies for Holy Week, a clutch of sermons & bucket loads of publicity...
As for me, looking inwards, I still need to come to terms with who I am when I can do so little...and the challenge of befriending this body which suddenly feels much older & less reliable than I would like.


5. Where do you most long to see resurrection, in your life and/or in the world, this Easter?
At the risk of stating the obvious, a personal resurrection that involved welcoming Easter with two open arms would be wonderful...there's scope for a few more domestic & parochial resurrections too as church on the hill sheds the first installment of scaffolding & , please God, the families that found their way to churh in te valley at Christmas remember we're still here thinking about what happened when that Baby grew up...& further afield...some signs of hope for those struggling with unemployment & the fear of losing homes along with jobs.


Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Talk to yourself

This week at last I'm able to concentrate reasonably (hooray for life sans co-codamol) so have moved on from reading PD James & Phil Rickman to the more reflective pleasures of Gilead.
I realise that I must be the only person I know who didn't read this two years ago at least - but I'm glad to have got to it now, as it is perfect to drift in and out of, & contemplate gently.
With a less than perfect temporary cast (that was the short-lived#4 - I'm intent on getting full value from the NHS) I found myself awake & readin at 3.00 the other morning. Even at that uninspiring hour this struck me with some force

A good sermon is one side of a passionate conversation. It has to be heard in that way There are three parties to it of course but so there are to even the most private thought the self that yields the thought the self that acknowledges and in some way responds to the thought and the Lord

That sounds both wise & admirable, until you find yourself preaching into an almost entirely unresponsive context...here you are not at all sure whether nyone has in fact heard you at all. On Sunday, for example, I felt that from my side I was truly trying to initiate a passionate conversation. After all, there is not much about which a priest might feel more passionate than the prayer life of her church but, without indulging in a full-scale pity-party, it doesn't seem as if that passion is being passed on...I suspect that neither congregation (and I preached the same sermon in both churches) is used to providing any sort of sermon feedback - and I appreciate that this isnt always easy to give or to receive. The sermon feedback forms which were part of training were rarely occasions of deep joy - but they did at least furnish a few clues that the sermon was heard, that maybe just once in a while it might even have been useful -if only as an irritant.
I have an ambivalent relationship with preaching. I rarely give it the time I'd really like to, and too often there is a period in which sermon writing feels very close to getting blood out of a stone...but nearly always by the time I actually find myself in the pulpit there is a sense that at least some of these are the words that need to be heard. It would be reassuring to know that this was happening, and if anyone felt moved to join in a passionate conversation -well, that really would be rather wonderful.

Saturday, March 07, 2009

THE PRAYING CHURCH - sermon for Lent 2

During this Lent in our preaching & our study groups we are considering some firm foundations for a healthy church...so over the next four weeks we will be looking at prayer, at discipleship (learning), at care & at mission – sharing the good news of Christ. Of course each of these should already be part of our common life, but now may be the time when God is prompting us to do a health check – to take stock & to consider how we might become more fruitful for Him. We'll only begin to engage with each topic in our formal sessions, but my hope & prayer is that we may become more aware, both collectively & as individuals, of what should be in place in the life of our churches,- part of our common DNA.

So today we begin with a sermon on prayer!

Oh dear – that's going to add to the weight of Lenten guilt for sure – or maybe I'm the only person in the building whose prayer life can, to put it politely, sometimes tend towards the erratic.

As far as that goes – I think it's important to remember that prayer is more than just a matter of feelings...that though it may seem at times dry, unrewarding, even whistling in the dark, that does not mean that nothing is happening.

Prayer is to do with consciously opening ourselves up to the God in whom we live & move & have our being

Prayer represents a decision to let God be God in our lives

++Rowan has compared prayer to sunbathing

All you have to do is place yourself where the light can get to you. On the beach its no use screwing up your eyes & concentrating. You won't get a better tan that way...and the same is true of prayer.”

So trying to pray IS praying – even if that's not always how it feels. That's worth remembering as we work our way through Lent...

But this morning we're not going to focus on our individual prayer lives, but on the part prayer has in a healthy church.When school groups visited my old parish church, one of the first questions I would ask them was

what do you think the church is for?” (I dont need to ask St Matthews school children, of course...I'm certain they already know the answer).

Even with non church schools, it never took long before someone would say

It's a place to pray to God”

Bingo.

Whatever else takes place in this building, & the countless others like it across the world, that is their primary purpose. Let me remind you, too, that the church is so much more than the building...but if I asked the same question, using the church to mean the people of God, the answer would be pretty much the same.

Prayer is at the heart of what the church is for

Though we know that prayer is not to be confined to one place & one day of the week there's something important about the prayer that we practice together that should make it the foundation of every aspect of our common life.

It's our fundamental calling – here's Paul to the Colossian Christians

Devote yourselves to prayer, being watchful and thankful.

Or again as he writes to those in Thessolonica

Pray without ceasing”

or to the Ephesians

With all prayer and petition pray at all times in the Spirit, and with this in view, be on the alert with all perseverance and petition for all the saints”



There's no getting away from it – corporate prayer is an essential element of being church...because this is how we express & renew our identity as children of God and open ourselves more fully to enable God to work in us and through us
because of course prayer has nothing to do with persuading God to do things our way, and everything to do with tuning our wills to his.

Here's the theologian Herbert McCabe

For us to pray is for us to be taken over, possessed by the Holy Spirit which is the life of love between Father and Son. When our prayer is the prayer of the people of God as such, when it is the prayer of the Church as a whole, it is a sacramental expression of this life of the Spirit—that is what we mean by the sacraments and this is what we primarily mean by our prayer

That's pretty mind-blowing stuff, isn't it?

When we pray together, God prays through us. All that love, that healing, transforming power, there to be released. That is light years away from what the hymn writer described as “our prayer so languid & our faith so dim”

When we pray together, the strong can support or carry the weak. When we pray together, we are encouraged to raise our eyes beyond our own narrow horizons & pay attention to the needs and concerns of people will do not know, in places we will never visit.

What's more, public prayer teaches each of us a lot about what private prayers should be about.

  • When we meet here in church, we pray when we don't really want to pray or don't feel like praying;

When we pray together, the framework of those praying around us holds us steady at those times when we struggle to concentrate, to really engage. Because the liturgy demands it, we find we can pray even when we haven't prepared properly for it; we learn to pray the Word by drawing on Scriptures, as we hear them woven into the liturgy and respond in prayer to the readings...

United in Christ we can even pray for (and with!) those with whom we are in conflict & we are reminded to pray about people and things we would otherwise overlook.


A body of Christians praying together represents so much more than the sum of our parts.

There is great spiritual power in our unity of purpose, as we go to the core of our relationship with God, which feeds, nurtures, and energizes us and unites us with the whole communion of saints, that multitude of God's people stretching across space & time and on into eternity. Prayer is the most common or 'ordinary' of the ways that the holy and the human come together...the place where our limited reality touches the infinite glory of God & is transformed. We open our hands and reach out to heaven – lift our voices and receive grace upon grace .

As I prepared to preach today, I read a sermon on the final chapter of the Bible, the closing verses of the book of Revelation...the writer has a clear vision of prayer as the ultimate purpose and identity of the church

The strategy of hope given to us in the book of Revelation comes together in this activity .......That’s what the vision calls us to at the end; we are invited to open ourselves to receive this kingdom: “the Spirit and the bride say, Come. And let everyone who hears say, Come. And let everyone who is thirsty come. Let anyone who wishes take the water of life as a gift… Come, Lord Jesus.”

This is what church is. It’s how we join our voices, and our opened and outstretched hands, and cry out, with the power of the Holy Spirit, “Come, Lord Jesus.” All the stuff we do that makes us church is this communal prayer that opens us and invites God to do something new, unimaginable in our midst.

Our task is to offer our church as a prayer, opened up to the movement of God, and speak these words in every part of our lives.

Come, Lord Jesus

And this invitation to God is also an invitation to others:

And let everyone who hears say Come

That is the great prayer of the Church Universal...the prayer that echoes across the ages

And when all these voices and lives get mixed together, maybe we will discern all that we have already actively received, the prayers answered, the signs of the coming Kingdom.



Finite resources

can be frustrating - as I'm finding as my battered body uses energy to heal that I thought was mine to use on projects that seemed to be important. I'm learning slowly.
I've decided that if the keeping of a good Lent is solely dependent on the vicar getting lovely Lenten liturgies planned & printed we might have to make do with a less "perfect" Lent (I do know that it isn't, btw...honestly I do).
I've realised that though it is one heck of a nuisance for the poor Dufflepud to have to run the house & walk the dogs Monday to Friday, it probably won't do him lasting damage, & that though I may contribute the odd good idea to assorted groups in the parish & beyond, ther's not alot of pont in killing myself to get to meetings if my presence is all I can offer because the effort of getting there has left me with no creativity at all.
I certainly don't like it, but I am reluctantly beginning to grasp some important stuff, so maybe, just maybe, there may in the end be some good outcomes from this unplanned Lenten discipline.

All of this clarified for me as I read a wonderful article about the Church & the Credit Crunch over on Thinking Anglicans. I've come across the writer, Meg Gilley, on a couple of rather good preaching lists I belong to, and her sermons are always first rate. Here she is, discerning God amid the all too finite resources of a dwindling C of E in a financial crisis - the whole piece is well worth reading.

Money is a language. God will speak to us in whatever language we are able to listen. If there is a crisis with money, what is God saying? When I consider the Financial Crisis on a theological level (and of course it can and must be read on other levels as well), I hear a condemnation of our society’s love of money and insatiable appetites that must be satisfied now. We do need to repent and rebuild our infrastructure on better values. Money also asks questions of the church about its priorities. In a crisis, money tells us that we can’t do what we thought we wanted to do, and maybe we need to go back to think and pray about what it is that we are called to do in this place, at this time. It may be that we need to do less of something that is good in order to do another thing that is better.

Isn't that fab?. I'm trying to read it on two levels - as I deal with my own sense of material/financial insecurity (3 children still in various forms of education & a husband whose work is based on one of the ultimate inessentials, the antique clock) & also as I struggle with the limited enery that looks set to be my portion for a while yet

In a crisis, ........tells us that we can’t do what we thought we wanted to do, and maybe we need to go back to think and pray about what it is that we are called to do in this place, at this time.

I'm trying, really I am.

Tuesday, March 03, 2009

The Ideal Church - let me hear your views

is a pretty unlikely concept...All of us, I'm sure, have thought time and again,
"If I were designing the perfect means to enable God's people to join in God's mission to the world - I wouldnt start from here."
On Saturday, A began the away-day by asking us to imagine what we would commission if given the funding to create a picture of "the church".It was interesting to hear some of the suggestions; pretty much all of those which were shared included the building, with more or less emphasis on the people too. I didnt know whether to smile or weep at the image of a church with many hands reaching out to draw (or drag?) others in...it was too reminiscent of the way that church buildings can operate as a vortex sucking us all in & draining our energies.

However, one of the hopes for the day was that the two church councils would begin to see the greater calling of the Church - & we have planned to work with this theme through a sermon series supported by a four session Lent course.
So. I need material to prompt our thoughts on
The Praying Church
The Learning Church
The Caring Church and
The Sharing Church.

I had been SO looking forward to spending last week reading around & planning the sessions - but life intervened rather - so now I'm canvassing suggestions for
key readings (Scriptural or otherwise), anecdotes & inspiring questions - particularly in relation to the praying & learning themes. I'm deeply frustrated - I so wanted to create someting that would absolutely chime with the needs & experiences of my two communities - but as it is, I'm treading the well worn path to "get by with a little help from my friends". Hopeful thanks in advance

Monday, March 02, 2009

Seen in the fracture clinic

Yesterday's Lent text from blessed could not have been better chosen to accompany me to the fracture clinic
As u walk dwn the rd 2day, lk in2 the eyes of thse coming the other way. C the face of Chrst in them &pray they C His face in yrs
Christ in the man struggling on crutches whom I meet as we reachthe heavy swing doors into the department.Silently, ruefully, we compare our relative fitness to push open the doors & by tacit agreement take one each.


Christ in the little girl, 5 at the most, who comes over to me because we have matching casts & slings. She smiles & smiles but will not answer my question until her mum comes over & signs it for her. Then she responds eagerly, with a dance of fluid movements - which she repeats & repeats til she is sure I have got the message. She has recently been given cochlear implants but has yet to make sense of the new world of sounds that has been opened up to her. Even so, she is determined to reach out & communicate.

Christ in the plaster technician who massages my shoulders while his colleague moves my arm into new & uncomfortable positions - instinctively responding to pain I had not named aloud.

Christ in the two ladies, - white haired, frail, their two faces marked by suffering, who supported each other down the long corridor, silent & focussed amid the bustle of arrivals & departures.

Christ in the face of my consultant, perfectly attentive to me & my needs despite the throng of students, nurses & auxilliaries in the room - alert to any signs of disproportionate pain, taking time to really hear.

Christ in the many waiting in wheelchairs & trolleys - those whose job, for now, is to bear, to find themselves trapped in the passive mode.

Christ in the family members beside them, hoping their presence will make the experience less wearisome...those who could walk away, who are not themselves dependent on the institution for pronouncements & for healing, but who stay to go through the process of disempowerment, of ceding control to a system that is imperfectly communicated, in unacknowledged solidarity with their injured relatives
.

Christ in the friend who briefly abandons her husband, newly returned from a business trip, so that she can come & find me & bring me home.

Today I am home alone. Where will I find Christ, I wonder

good line

During my address yesterday I asked the children to suggest some things they might choose to give up during Lent. M, who is 8 I believe, bought the house down with her one word answer
"Smoking"

Sunday, March 01, 2009

OK - I write slowly with one hand...

but I'm only 3 days late with the Friday Five posted by Singing Owl this week
I am at a life-changing juncture. I do not know which way I will go, but I have been thinking about the times, people and events that changed my life (for good or ill) in significant ways. For today's Friday Five, share with us five "fork-in-the-road" events, or persons, or choices. And how did life change after these forks in the road?



As an ENFP making decisions is way outside my comfort zone, and often I've evaded the process by hanging on till the choices were pretty much made for me.
Sometimes, though, the moment of decion has been clear


1) I chose my Cambridge college the first time I walked through Great Gate. I had been taken to Cambridge for a weekend by a friend of my parents, whose own parents had settled their on escaping the Holocaust. We spent a lovely day exploring the Backs, and the moment we set foot in Trinity I made up my mind. I was 11, but never seriously believed I would study anywhere else from then on. The arrogance of youth, eh?


2) Buying our house in Great Rissington. We knew our family was outgrowing the terraced S London house LCM and I had moved to on marriage but had been seriously considering a ramshckle red brick Victorian villa near Clapham Common. We had many friends close by, knew the strengths & weaknesses of the local schools & were about to make an offer when we went off to the Cotswolds to house-sit for the Clockmaker's sister. One day we were waiting for a shop to open next to the local estate agents', and in the window was Lower Farmhouse...the Georgian house with an orchard I had always dreamed of. For a week or two that summer, the two possible lives hung equally balanced then we heard that the London house needed serious structural work, a lowish offer on Lower Farmhouse was accepted - and within 3 months we had left city life behind.

3) The summer that I began wrestling with my call to ordination I was invited to stand for election as a county councillor. I was stunned & flattered to be asked & intrigued at the thought of even a small-scale political career- but knew this was an either/or decision. God won!

4) When I began training I was offered a "fast track" option, based on prior theological training as a Reader. That would have allowed me to cover more ground, to study Greek, to emerge with a degree instead of just a dipoloma but it would have meant a journey towards ordination without the deep connections of a consistent peer group. For me, there was really no contest -though when I compare my theological edecation with all that Hugger Steward is exploring in his degree, I cant help feeling a tad wistful.

5) Just after I was Deaconed, Liz & Steve invited me to view their blogs...I knew that I ought to have said "no thanks...I must pour all my energy into the new life here" but, I thought, it couldnt hurt to look. Then I wanted to comment, & commenting seemed rude if I had nowhere to receive commments in my turn. So one day with a couple of hours free, I thought I'd give` blogging a go myself. So much has flowed from that barely conscious decision...

One armed vicaring

was inescapable this morning...I was relieved of the 8.00 & this afternoon's Evensong too (for which relief much thanks) & reckoned that the All Age congregation at Churc in the Valley were probably sufficiently innured to my ways to cope with the effects of an uber-cack-handed vicar still pretty high on pain meds.
All in all it could have been far worse.
OK we had the gradual AFTER the gospel & I welcomed the wrong pair of twins who had returned to celebrate the anniversary of their baptism...but against that we can set a very lovely rendition of Cwm Rhondda in honour of S David, a baptism that did not entail my drowning the delightful candidate & an address without notes, pretty much from cold, which went really rather well.
And I've spent all afternoon back in my nest on the sofa - so could even claim to have been marginally sensible.





So what's new?

Considering I am pretty much incapacitated, there seems to have been a fair bit going on here...but before you rush to remonstrate, I really have been doing my utmost to keep out of things & hide in my cave. It's just not been consistently possible - but where I can, I have done my utmost to stay home quietly. I know I need to - the tiredness levels are quite clear enough in themselves without anyone else needing to make the point.

But I would not have missed yesterday for anything. Though I know the can be of variable quality & value, I had a good few hopes invested in our first ever PCC Away day. It's so hideously easy for PCC meetings to focus solely on getting a church through from one Sunday to the next, on accounts, the state of the fabric & the colour of the carpet...They might occasionally do a little advance planning for festivals, or make an important decision about patterns of worship, but on the whole there isnt the space or time to dream dreams. So yesterday we decamped to the Poor Clares at Woodchester to do some work with the diocesan missioner on why we are Church at all, & how we might be Church better.
The Convent is a wonderful place - just what I was looking for for some personal quiet days & only 10 minutes drive away.The gardens were full of spring hope & the welcome from the Sisters could not have been warmer. Though even with several months notice it was not possible for all PCC members to attend, we got some useful work done as we began to consider the health of our churches. I found the experience of completing the "healthy church" survey distinctly sobering as the realisation dawned once again that, as priest to these communities, so much responsibilty rests with me - but it was so good to begin to think about this together. I hope there will be time to continue to reflect on the pictures that emerged & to to see what we can do to answer more fully our calling as the Body of Christ in our two communities. Perhaps not surprisingly, both churches recognise that we are specially weak at sharing our faith - though I guess that there may need to be a bit more stirring up of the gifts that are in us before either congregation feels bold enough to believe that we really have someting worth sharing. Lots to think about in my nest on the sofa.

I think that everyone felt the day had been worthwhile & my suggestion that we make this an annual event on the first Saturday in Lent was well received - so I booked there and then. For me personally, what blew me away completely was the generous hospitality that allowed me, an Anglican woman, to preside at the Eucharist in the chapel of this RC house. I didn't attempt to robe, & the demarcation of roles between President, Deacon & de facto SubDeacon was a liturgical mess - but the experience of breaking bread at that altar is someing I'll carry with me as the most unlooked for blessing at the end of a difficult week.