Saturday, April 29, 2006

What do we want? Procrastination! When do we want it? Next week....

Since this weeks' RevGals' Friday Five concerns procrastination, I couldn't possibly contemplate it until today, Saturday...

Name 5 things you do when you should be doing something else.
  • Well, clearly blogging itself is an essential, so it’s only right and proper that it should take priority over any other lesser task, such as preparing supper, or a sermon or making that difficult phonecall or…….If you are sufficiently misguided to insist that blogging is not, in fact, the reason that the sun rises in the morning, then perhaps that might just qualify…And with it blog-reading, blog-planning, checking emails, surfing generally, chatting via google or at rlp's, checking emails again (Surely someone must have mailed me in the past 2 minutes while I’ve been gazing out of the window) playing addictive little online games that involve bursting bubbles or dropping marbles, checking emails, blogging some more..and then seeing what telegrams I can build using the letters from the word verification whatsit..but I still don’t think you should really count it as procrastination. It's too important. Honestly.
  • Then there’s reading… that teetering pile of theology books that has adorned my desk for weeks now, last month's Church Times from the loo, the latest bargain from the “speakeasy bookshop” (TeenWonder’s name for a strange little paperback exchange in town, which never seems to do enough business to stay open, (so must be a front for something…hence the title) the Cornflakes packet, anything you like as long as its not related in any way to Sunday’s Lectionary

  • And I can’t possibly think straight while the desk and indeed the study looks like this…so I’ll tidy it. Not clean, no…because once I’ve got out the hoover that implies a degree of commitment to the task that is utterly foreign…but tidying can be as partial as I fancy. You do know that Schubert never had any intention of finishing that symphony, don't you?

Taking cuttings. I’m really not very good at houseplants, but I always have a few pots of geraniums about the place which produce babies most obligingly,-and those babes always need potting up,which reminds me that all the other plants need watering….

  • And once I’m at the sink I can always put the kettle on…coffee anyone?
  • Then I’ll drift past the piano and tinker around with the keys before returning to the serious centre for procrastination in the studyYou see, procrastination is not a numbers game, it's an art form, a way of life...Goodness, is that the time? And I've really not started sorting myself out for Sunday....
"Lord, help me to concentrate on just one ....... oh look, a bird!"

Friday, April 28, 2006

Preaching inadequacy

Tuesday morning I attended a really good training session on preaching...The first part of the morning looked specifically at the issues that often deter us from preaching on Paul (in a totally unscientifice survey of those present, it emerged that most of us would only preach on the epistle 10% of the time, if that...). As always, I came home determined to do more reading, to really engage with the texts I am presuming to preach...and, as always, my resolve remains pathetically unrealised to date...and in a moment I'll start feverishly trying to collect thoughts for Sunday evening...REVELATION. Help!!!!
The second part of the proceedings was led by James Wallace, a Redemptorist priest and professor in homiletics in Washington who was a hugely engaging speaker. Though I worry I may never actually get round to reading it, I'm ordering his book Preaching to the Hungers of the Heart without more ado. I'd already bought it for WonderfulVicar at Christmas on the recommendation of the ever-inspiring Diocesan Director of Ministry, but having heard Wallace for myself I really want to own it.
I'm still reflecting, though, on my response to a question he put to us all.
"When you are preaching, what image would you like to use to describe what you are doing, or hoping to do?"
There were lots of answers of the very impressive and rather daunting man sets before him the model of Charles Simeon, the inside of whose pulpit was famously carved with the words "Sir, we would see Jesus"...another hoped to be a burning bush...another a lens refracting sunlight to set fire to paper....another, a connector...making sense of the world in the light of the word (that one, at least, I could imagine aspiring to).
And me? I didn't offer my image...and I'm still wondering what it says about me as a preacher that the predominant thought was of a well-meaning dog (probably yet another labrador) charging enthusiastically through the undergrowth trying to come up with a trail that actually leads somewhere...or perhaps an old-fashioned explorer with pith-helmet and stout stick, clearing a path through the jungle on behalf of those who are travelling with me.
I suspect that just possibly I need to stop and have a long hard look at myself and what's going on for me when I am preaching...whether there is actually a reasonable basis for my feeling that I am totally inadequate to the task and have a non relationship with Scripture (spot the Catholic) or whether actually I just need to remember that I'm me and will never ever manage to be anyone else, no matter how much reading I attempt.
Meanwhile, those of you who preach, I'd love to hear what your image of yourself as preacher might be.

Thursday, April 27, 2006

Bright ideas please

DarlingDaughter has now received outline details of the school where she will be based, though it's not clear what age group she will be teaching. She has a short induction programme when she arrives in Bankok, but there seems to be an assumption that she will come laden with a plethora of games, songs and ingenious ways to encourage her pupils to get to grips with our mad, mad language. I suspect, from the way she deals with small children generally, that she will actually take to this like a duck to water, but she is currently in free-fall panic mode (now that we've discounted the White Slaver option, being a disaster in the classroom is at the top of her heap of terrors) and convinced she'll not be able to think of anything. So, my dearest blogging friends, may I ask you to join in a coroporate brainstorm...What songs, games or stories would you suggest as routes to painless learning.
So far, I'm thinking "Head, shoulders, knees and toes" and "Put your finger on your nose" for body parts, "Old Macdonald" for animals, "Sing a Rainbow" etc....and games along the lines of "I unpacked my grandmother's trunk", a few tongue twisters and maybe they could make their own Happy Families cards.
We have till Tuesday to boost L's confidence...all contributions gratefully received.

Meetings revisited.

You are so right, Mary. Thanks for reminding me, - and Dave, as always, for so many times when your take on life makes all the difference. Anyone not already a regular at Dave's sites,- they are one of the better reasons to log on in the morning. Seriously entertaining.

cartoon from

Cartoon by Dave Walker. Find more cartoons you can freely re-use on your blog at We Blog Cartoons.

Wednesday, April 26, 2006

At long last....

somebody understands! Thank you to Jonny for directing me to this cure for information overload

The Wednesday Walk

this week took us up to Crickley Hill Country Park...I seem to be working my way around the hills that encircle Cheltenham, but there are so many marked trails up here that I may not move on for a few weeks. We'll see...
Today's wanderings were very pleasant, despite the repeated and prolonged disappearance of the Evil Dillon (just too many rabbit warrens for a terrier to resist) and I enjoyed capturing assorted signs of spring, as well as the semi obligatory panoramic view ( I can almost see hencity from here). I'm intrigued that, after a lifetime of being a very non-visual person (a by-product of short sight is that I tend to concentrate on all the other senses, and above all the imagination), the acquisition of my much-loved though basic digital camera at Christmas has really changed my approach on this sort of outing. I now set out expecting to see something worth looking at properly...and so, on the whole, I do.
It was lovely that there were so many cowslips. When I was a small child, reading Little Grey Rabbit books (where they seemed to feature heavily) they were incredibly rare, but by the time we moved to Gloucestershire 16 years ago, they were staging a hedgerow come-back. I grew some from seed in our orchard at Lower Farmhouse, only to find them popping up all over the lawn for several years...then, one year, they vanished as if they had never been, for no reason I could ever determine. Perhaps that's the definition of wild flowers?(cf Aslan, not a tame lion)
Another burst of nostalgia was occasioned by the sight of wood anenomes,- or, more romantically, wind flowers. Back in the days when we didn't appreciate the danger of picking wild flowers indiscriminately ( the oh so anarchic sixties) a favourite childhood walk was to Hollington Church in the Woods...A great-aunt of my mother's was buried there, which was sufficient reason for me to pick, in season, armfuls of anenomes to place in jam jars on her grave and any others that took my fancy.
Later on, of course, it would be bluebells...I still find it difficult to resist the lure of those vast oceans of blue. The sheer joy of gathering baskets full remains a very special memory. Yes, of course it was deeply irresponsible, and I never allowed my 3 to pick as much as a solitary bloom during their country childhood...but I feel slightly wistful that it's no longer a possibility. The urge to appropriate is so strong...and my largely housebound mother was always so delighted when I came home with baskets of flowers.
After all, the past is another country. They do things differently there...

Meeting expectations

Meeting people? Fantastic.
Meetings? Usually pretty grim.
It’s a sad fact that, though they're a pretty non-negotiable feature of clergy life, I’m really not much good at Meetings. Even when they involve people I'm genuinely fond of,I tend to come home depleted and depressed. Though I don't understand why this should be so, experience suggests that they inevitably bring out the worst in almost everyone.Views become polarised, attitudes are struck, umbrage taken...and sometimes, very occasionally, a few useful decisions are made. I did wonder whether church meetings were particularly pernicious,- it having been a while since I was last a school governor or PTA rep,- but I'm now able to confirm that its pretty much a universal phenomenon.
On Monday evening, our feminist theology book group was cancelled (all too wiped out or over-committed after Easter) which meant that I could, after all, go to an open meeting organised by the Charlton Kings Parish Council.(Note to friends from the U.S.:despite what Richard Curtis would have us believe in Dibley, this is NOT the same as the Parochial Church council,- it's the voice of local government in smaller communities, while the PCC is supposed to run the church). It's purpose was to discuss "The Problem of Youth in Charlton Kings".

You see, suburban though we are, we do run to a very small shopping precinct in Charlton Kings. It’s the home of Somerfield, the library, the Kings Hall Youth Club, a sweetshop, Indian take away and one of our two chippies. It also boasts a turfed area and a rather attractive stepped water feature, which rejoices in the slightly pretentious name of “Centrepiece”. And a few bench seats, which are just perfect for use in cycling stunts.
Which, of course, is part of the problem.
The precinct is the meeting place for kids in the village,- and a few from further afield.
Mostly they hang around in clumps, eat chips, ride their bikes round in tight circles and paddle in the water feature if it’s turned on…but sometimes things get out of hand, a few do drugs, graffiti is scrawled, shop windows are broken, cars kicked and old ladies alarmed. After a meeting at the local secondary school last September, one or two kids were given something called an “ABC” (acceptable behaviour contract, I’m told) and for a while all seemed to have settled down. But with lighter evenings, it appears that we still have a problem…at least in perception if not in reality.
The Police had contacted the church after someone had made complaints about kids messing around in the church yard….which kind of made me smile nostalgically, as my High School was opposite the cemetery in Hastings, and that was the prime spot for all illicit activities in my teens. To be honest, though, my impression is that many of those living around the centre of the village have reached the stage where simply seeing a gaggle of youngsters together would have them reaching for the phone to summon help. And it’s just not fair.
Hence the meeting.
Besides the parish councillors, and a number of "concerned residents", there were about a dozen representatives from the local groups that exist for young people…the assorted youth clubs, Scouts, Explorers, etc. Unfortunately, nobody appeared from the secondary school, which was a bit of a PR disaster, but Dave, the Youth Worker from the Baptist church, was brave enough to put his head over the parapet. He has been rather a victim of his own success, in that Fusion the Friday night Youth Café he started now regularly attracts far more kids than he has room for. This means dozens of youngsters milling about on the pavement outside....and more potential for alarm and despondency.
For many there, Fusion seemed to be part of the problem…but when some of the youngsters who had congregated outside were persuaded in to present their side of the story it was clear that, together with the youth clubs, it is very much part of the solution.
Those kids were splendid. It must have taken huge courage to walk into a meeting stuffed with people who were intent highlighting their shortcomings, and to speak as honestly as they did …They were prepared to recognise that they might seem intimidating, but pointed out that they got very weary of being cast as the villains at every turn. They spoke of how much they appreciate the secular Youth Club, and how they wished it could run more often...And they were pretty united in their feeling that the problems came from "a few immature boys who just like to look like big men".

Thankfully, some of those gathered for Monday’s meeting recognised this, and there was talk about misconceptions and unfounded suspicions, but there was also an awful lot of ill tempered ranting from people who were old enough to know better, and the whole evening had the aura of a sustained whine which was deeply disheartening.
Towards the end of the proceedings, I was invited to speak and shared a story about my own misconceptions. One evening last winter, I was stopping off at church on my way home in the car, and a shade perturbed when, as I parked about a dozen hoodies emerged from the churchyard and surrounded the car. However, working on the “whistle a happy tune” principle, I got out and asked if I could help them at all…
“Yeah…” one of them said “Are you the one that’s selling the Make Poverty History wristbands?”
A question of perceptions? I rest my case…

Tuesday, April 25, 2006

Hot News!

DarlingDaughter has reached a decision
(awestruck silence)

At 4.56 this afternoon, she clicked "accept" on the UCAS website, so, from October 2006 she will be reading English at......................


..................................................................................................................................... CARDIFF!!!!

Decision made largely on the basis of a last minute interest in psychology as a subsidiary subject, which she would not be able to do at any of the other universities which had offered her a now we just have to hope and pray that she finds that as rivetting as she anticipates. I'm kind of wondering if she's been unduly influenced by reading "Regeneration"...but hey, she had to find some way of finally committing herself,- and all of the options were horribly attractive.

Actually, she is on a roll this week, as she departs for 6 weeks English teaching in Thailand (courtesy of a gap year programme called Dragonfly, which she assures me is not a front for white slavers) so has been doing all sorts of very atypical things (she's another ENFP, surprisingly enough), - such as committing to fly hither and yon on particular dates, arranging finance, and even sorting out registered post for her passport and visa. One way and another, I'm remarkably proud of her.
I do suspect, though, that I will be very tearful off and on over the next 7 days...this is the beginning of the nest-emptying process, and I'm not sure I'll ever be quite ready for it.

Saturday, April 22, 2006

One of those days

when I know without any question that this is the most wonderful calling in the entire world, and I wouldn't swap it for anything!

I've just had the huge privilege of marrying Andy and Jo and the whole thing was just wonderful...This is my 4th wedding, and this time I've been able to see things right through from first contact to The Day. Andy and Jo have been a delight to get to know over the past few months and to be involved in this celebration of their love and committment was pure joy. When we rehearsed on Thursday, a huge battery of their friends and family came along to support them, - and there were absolutely no passengers in the church this afternoon. I've never heard the congregational responses spoken with such conviction, and as for the singing - Welsh blood on Jo's side and alot of rugby players about the place, so I suppose we couldn't go wrong with Blaenwern and Cym Rhonnda,- but it was a glorious noise. And at the end, as they went out into this glorious spring sunshine, to the sound of bells and Widor, it was all rather overwhelming, really! I didn't disgrace myself and cry, but I certainly couldn't stop smiling as I cycled home. Poor WonderfulVicar...he's still in Spain and missed it all.
Andy and Jo, God's richest blessings on you today and always, - and thank you for welcoming me so wholeheartedly into your lives!

Thursday, April 20, 2006

Instinctive holiness

Little Fishes this morning was just lovely :-)

I'd not been with them last week (sad clash with Chrism service...which will always mean that I miss washing toddler toes) so this was my opportunity to share the events of Easter, as for the huge majority this is their church, and their only encounter with the festivals will be on the nearest Thursday morning. So we did a kind of omnibus version of events from Good Friday through to the evening of Easter day, feeling the nails that the Youth Group had hammered into the cross, lighting one symbolic candle for the whole group from the Paschal candle that burns just beside our space in church, and then going to the Easter garden to see what had happened to the Great Big Stone that had blocked the door to the tomb.
At least, that was the way I'd planned it....but in the event, only S wanted to move from the rug to see what had happened....and he came galloping back..."The stone's gone. See inside. Nobody there!"
Then, in their own instinctive gospel parallel, the other mobile children went to see for themselves while S repeated excitedly "The stone's gone...the stone's gone".
We all had a look, and we couldn't see Jesus hiding there, so I went on with the story as we walked back to our places, explaining about those travellers to Emmaus and their surprise companion. Then I produced bread, and reminded them of what Jesus had said at the Last Supper...
"When you share bread, think of me and I'll be with you"
So we did.
And He was.
Wonderful, just wonderful!

Wednesday, April 19, 2006

Scenes from Clerical Life

Scene 1: Curate and DarlingDaughter are driving DD to work
DD: So, what are you going to do with your day off?
C: Not sure...Dog walk, a bit of blogging...don't seem to have much to blog about really
DD: Oh something'll happen you can write about. It always does

Scene 2: the Curate's kitchen. The curate opens the plate cupboard and is unexpectedly showered with cold duck stock (a bowl of which is, for some reason, cooling on the top shelf of said cupboard).
Having retreated to the shower, Curate attempts to clean kitchen floor, only to discover that despite the life-time's supply of cleaning materials which her m-i-l produced as a house-warming present (anyone would think the Curate was neglectful of her housewifery) there isn't a new head for the kitchen mop anywhere. Camera pans out to show whole clerical kitchen, awash with gloop.
Curate: ****!!!!! ****!!!!! ********!!!!!!!!!!!! Am I supposed to blog this??

Monday, April 17, 2006

A whole lot of nothing much...

has suited me very happily today. Idled the morning away with Donna Tartt's The Secret History (better late than never), followed by a long dog/boy/horse walk in the woods near Hawling. When we got home, tradition decreed an Easter Egg hunt, even though the offspring are now much too grown up for this really (specially in the miniscule garden at Privet Drive, where coming up with any hiding places at all was almost too much for my weary brain).

They did rather better hiding some indoor eggs for the parents...this one would still be baffling us, were it not for a clue based on Ferdinand the Bull, whom, as you may recall, "liked to sit just quietly and smell the flowers".
I'm rather depressed, though, that in the process of searching the sitting and dining rooms I became so horribly aware of the general level of mess and muddle that I may actually have to spend the next couple of hours cleaning. Somehow, that really doesn't match my idea of a recuperation day, so perhaps I'll simply take out my contact lens and pretend that I see no evil whatsoever!

Sunday, April 16, 2006

The strife is o'er (or something like that)

Just home, from the final of four today, and the culmination of a week of such intensity that I'm left breathless, light-headed with relief that we've all actually stayed the course, and profoundly grateful that Easter Monday is still a public holiday in the UK, and I have nothing whatever that has to be done.
Highlights of today included the warmth of that habitually private and introspective group, the 8.00 congregation - many of whom positively purred with pleasure when we gave them Easter eggs to take home...the fact that my 10.00 sermon actually felt OK when I preached it, despite my fear that I'd said everything I could possibly say about John 19 long since (St Mary's, frustratingly, always uses this gospel on Easter Sunday, regardless of the Lectionary).....and the way the children at our 11.30 Family service were so genuinely intent as we lit their candles from the Paschal flame. We ended that service with a kind of whole-body Amen, which clearly appealed to one toddler hugely, as he was still practising it and yelling Amen at the top of his voice as he made his way down the road afterwards...a happy vision!
And, despite everything, the assorted wooden and blown eggs found their way safely onto our "Easter tree" in time for lunch, and cava was drunk to celebrate the end of a dry Lent for the Clockmaker, and chocolate and hugs exchanged.
And now Evensong is done and dusted too, and WonderfulVicar is away for a week's holiday, and it's a low pressure week all round, with only a funeral, a wedding and a couple of Baptisms rippling the surface. And it all feels absolutely wonderful! I rather think I might sleep long and deeply tonight.
Do hope you're all relaxing too.

Saturday, April 15, 2006

Bedtime thoughts on Holy Saturday

Well, we’ve made it thus far…despite everything that the week could throw at us.
Thursday's Chrism service in the Cathedral was beautiful, once you’d adjusted to the forest of surplices on every side (HopefulAmphibian remarked that it was like waking up as a small child so totally engulfed in your bedding that you couldn’t at first find a way out…there was white everywhere!)…
Home for an afternoon of manic preparations for the Youth Group’s observation of the Maundy Watch….Lovely Eucharist, and 12 very different feet to wash…my first time doing this at St M’s, and, as always, breathtakingly moving. What is it about feet, I wonder? They seem so vulnerable, somehow, when you are kneeling beside them with a bowl of water…
The Watch as observed by Koinonia (senior youth group) was its characteristic mixture of noise and silence, of silly games and loud music in the parish centre, and prayerful concentration in the church. This year, I’d arranged a display of objects relating to various characters in the passion narratives and invited the kids to handle them, think of ways in which they might be like the person represented and have a silent conversation with God. Judging by the attention they seemed to be paying, I think this worked. A sponsored reading of Mark and John was the constant undercurrent of the night in the parish centre….for the second year running, the readers congregated on the stairs, which made their reading utterly central both physically and mentally, to the whole experience of the Watch.
To my relief, I got round the problem of needing more rest than two dozen hyped up teenagers by retiring to the parish office at 2.00, and managed a good 4 hours of reasonable sleep, which made a huge difference to the day that followed. For the short service which concludes the Watch I handed round a bowl of nails, and asked the kids and the few adults who’d braved our company first thing on Good Friday morning, to hold them and consider ways in which we all hurt Christ each day…and at the end of the service I invited them to hammer these nails into our large rough cross. And I can testify that the sound of nails hammered into wood is utterly devestating when it is the first sound in the church after the 12 hours of intense, focussed silence.
I won’t forget that soon.
Good Friday liturgy, with proclamation of the cross …Charlton Kings Churches Walk of Witness, ending with the planting of the cross on Timbercombe Hill…3 hours (led by the retired Bishop of Derby, who was on stunning form, and gave us so much to take away and work with)….then home…as drained and exhausted as the disciples must surely have been.
Later, though, I rallied and returned to church for a concert…but thankful bed by 10.00

Holy Saturday morn saw me driving to Bristol, to do some work as a pastoral tutor for my old training course, WEMTC, who had spent Holy Week on their annual Easter School, this year looking at Death and Resurrection. Today’s speaker was Sheila Cassidy, who spoke about her experiences as a prioner in Pinochet’s Chile as well as her work with the dying. I’ve read, and benefitted from many of her books, - and I was in no way disappointed by hearing her speak. Amazing woman.

Home in time for a walk through for the Easter Liturgy. I worried a bit about incense grains, a bit more about the Exultet…but nothing had prepared me for what actually happened! The likely pressure points were fine…indeed, singing the Exultet was pure joy, feeling unbelievably fresh and real, as if I were truly the first person in the whole history of the world to be entrusted with proclaiming that message….though at the same time I was hugely aware that I was the first woman in the 800 years of St M’s to have sung those ancient words…
The unexpected happened as we gathered at the font to renew our baptism vows. Nobody had warned me that this part of the service had huge potential for slapstick, and truly, if someone told you about this, you would probably not believe them. Armed with a branch of rosemary, I embarked on sprinkling the gathered congregation, - but the rosemary snapped in my hand and went flying through the air, catching my youngest, who was looking every inch an angelic chorister, on the nose.
Never one to miss an opportunity, he seized it and threw it smartly back, - and it landed in the font, where it floated, disconsolate, while choir and congregation dissolved into helpless giggles.
By dint of looking very hard at my order of service, I avoided this myself, and we returned to the Chancel in reasonable order…
After this, all went smoothly…and I loved it, so so much.
The mixture of high liturgical drama and utter farce will stay with me for a long time to come. Thank God that I'm serving with a vicar and congregation who aren't afraid to share the gift of laughter....(and those who would have found it appallingly irreverent were mercifully all tucked up at home).
So, there we have it for Saturday. Who knows what Sunday may bring?
Alleluia. Christ is risen.
He is risen indeed. Alleluia

Friday, April 14, 2006

Stabat Mater

I can’t believe it.
At a time like that, part of me was worrying about his tunic.
I’d made it for him, you see….poured my love into every single stitch. When he was away from home, out on the road, I liked to think that he carried a bit of Nazareth, a bit of our family life with him wherever he went….That tunic was a sign of all the love and care I longed to lavish on him, even when he resisted I think, on the whole, I was glad that the soldiers decided to leave it intact. I know that means that one of them will go home wearing it…but that’s somehow better than seeing it torn into pieces, even as my son’s flesh is being torn.
And my heart.
He’s just spoken…it was like a flashback.
“Woman, here is your son!”
It’s what my Joseph said to me, in that dingy little shed behind the inn in Bethlehem, as he handed me the bloody, birth stained bundle…”It’s a fine boy, just as you said….”
And at that moment, all my relationships changed forever. That precious armful was immediately the most important person in my life, all the world to me.
I’d have died to protect him. It’s true, all the things you read about the lionness defending her young…..I was like that….Herod’s soldiers would have had to deal with me, before they could lay hands on my baby son, my little Jesus.
I remember how he used to reach up with his tiny arms from the cradle…asking me to lift him, to hold him to myself, to show my love with caress and cuddle.
Now he seems to be reaching out for love from the whole world…but the world is a cruel loveless place. Instead of running into his open arms, the people of Jerusalem have nailed him in a caricature of an embrace on that cross.
Simeon knew what he was talking about all those years ago. My heart is truly pierced…as surely as his side, by that terrible Roman spear.
I thought he must mean that it would be hard having a son who was so much greater than his mother…a son who outgrew his parents before he was 12. The things he used to say…I never knew whether to box his ears or fall at his feet.
That day when he went back to the Temple, because he’d not had long enough…the day when he hurt us so badly
“I must get on with my father’s business!”
Oh, how could he….Joseph was a wonderful father. Provided for us, even though he knew that Jesus wasn’t his own son…Loved me through thick and thin… Gave Jesus time, attention,- everything a boy could need from his father. I used to sneak in to the workshop and watch them, both intent on their creations, the 2 I loved most, perfectly at ease with each other in a silence of deep mutual understanding.
I hoped that maybe all that business with the angel could be forgotten, as Jesus grew up
Then Jesus threw it all back in his face, that day…Only 12, to be so unkind.
Though I don’t think he meant it harshly. Not really.
Jesus doesn’t have an unkind bone in his body…It was as if he was telling a truth that mattered even more than his affection for us, his parents.
That’s what I told the others, that day when he wouldn’t see us….Years later, that was. And I can’t pretend it didn’t hurt to be rejected like that. We’d gone a long way to see him…It’s not easy when your son becomes somehow public property. He seemed to have time for anyone who came along, if they asked him for help.
Yes, I was proud of his growing reputation as a teacher and a healer…but I wanted some of his time myself. Mothers are entitled, aren’t they. Work life balance?? He could have done with a bit of that….but he seemed to be driven by a calling that was beyond anything I could fathom. He understood what the angel had been getting at, I’m sure of that now.
And somehow, what’s happening today is part of it…..
A sword will pierce my heart….oh yes….I can feel it, sure enough.
He could have got out of it, I know he could.
I was so frustrated when he wouldn’t do anything to make the situation better. He was clever with words…clever with deeds too. He seemed to have power over demons, diseases, even, if you believe the rumours, he has power over death. Lazarus certainly looks well enough, if you meet him in the street.
So…my clever, clever son…does nothing.
I was first frustrated, then appalled. To see him being beaten through the streets of Jerusalem, then stripped of his clothes and nailed to that cross.
And I couldn’t do a thing. A sword in my heart.
He didn’t even want me to be there. When he told John to be my son, I knew he wanted him to take me away…to protect me from seeing what would come next.
I was grateful to him for that…the sort of kindness I’ve always known was part of my Jesus.
But I’m not moving.
My place is here.
How could I walk away from my son.
Now, as at the beginning, he is all the world to me. I don’t care who else is here. There will be a time to mother John later.
For now, I’m opening my arms to cradle the body of my child once again.
“Woman, here is your son”

Dearest Lord
Keep me faithful to you
through whatever life brings.
Help me to accept with humility
My place in your plans
And to wait with open arms and heart
To receive you, however you come to me.

Today you will be with me in paradise

Two people sharing the same experience, but coming to such very different conclusions. It happens all the time….We’re all different, we say. It’s a question of temperament, upbringing, who knows what. Two men who’d lived their lives by a code of dishonesty….One suddenly recognises the truth that is there beside him, and is enabled to embrace it.
Not so his companion.

We’re hanging here side by side, all facing death...Hanging, they say, concentrates the mind wonderfully, and is surely a time when there is no point in anything but total honesty.
Certainly our situation offers no room for negotiation. We’ve evaded justice for so long, but it’s finally caught up with us, with all the inexorable might of the Roman army.
We’re nailed, sure enough.
And my brother is carrying on, true to form…He’s really got it in for the other guy, the one they are calling The King of the Jews.
King, eh? They like irony, the crowd….and they’ve underlined it by that crown of thorns they’ve forced onto his head. That must have hurt….though now I imagine all his pains are blending into one….my body is itself transformed into one screaming agony…Hands, feet, head, bursting lungs…they are just expressions of the overwhelming suffering…
I can’t be angry any more….can’t fight this.
I wish my brother would be quiet… There he goes again, blaming that man for his own pain.
“Aren’t you the Christ. Well, DO something.”
Countless people down the centuries have joined their voices with his. Even now, he is busy denying his responsibility for the mess we’re in. He never did know how to carry the can. It might be my fault. It might be the man next door’s. It might be God’s. But it’s never ever his…God wouldn’t let him suffer….not him, and not his family.
It’s funny how people will never see it’s their own fault…..I’ve heard them, sounding just like him, roundly rejecting a God who can allow any suffering.
“If God existed then my dad wouldnt have died of cancer, AIDS babies would not be born, already diseased and dying, there would be no hunger or war in the world. God can’t be real, or if he is, he certainly can’t love us…or have power over anything in the world.”
I see things a bit differently, myself.
I’ve lived by my wits, ignored the law….but now it’s caught up with me. Only to be expected, really.
Punishment fits the crime. I’ve been violent….I’ve killed….It’s fair enough. It hurts…I would have wished for a gentler death…but it’s justice.
There’s got to be suffering, I’m sure of it, not because of God , but because of people like us, people who choose to do evil.
I’ve never had a lot of time for God, if I’m honest….Yes, I know, I’ve never had much time for honesty either…but there’s no point in messing about now, is there.
The funny thing is, God seems much more real now that I’m here in this dreadful place than ever he did when we used to go the Temple for the festivals when I was a kid.
It’s almost as if he’s specially here because I hurt…I’m unhappy…Oh God, I wish you’d help me. I didn’t mean it to end this way. I thought I’d have time to get things straight for my family…maybe to put right some of the wrong I did. But it’s too late….
And I’m sorry.
And God seems very close….It’s like he’s looking at me….and he somehow loves me.
I feel better when I look at that Jesus man…
His eyes are kind, even in all this pain. He looks the way a King should look…wise, loving, able to bear anything for his people.
I wish he’d let me part of his kingdom. It would be alright if he was in charge…He’s not like those Roman rulers, not like mad Herod…He’s the sort of king I’d be willing to live and die for…..
"Jesus, remember me…..not for what I’ve done but because I need your help. Right now.
I’m about to sink into the blackness that surrounds me. Help me Jesus. Remember me."

Jesus, remember me.
I need you too
Today and always.

Thursday, April 13, 2006

Tu es Petrus

I never thought it would end like this.
To start with, it seemed so easy to follow him…the most natural thing in the world.
On that day beside the lake, everything else just faded into the background. Friends, my father’s boat, the day’s catch…they might as well not have been there.
There was just Jesus…and me.
He said the word and we dropped everything. To be honest, I think we’d have gone with him even if he hadn’t invited us. We needed to be with him. He had that sort of effect, you see.
Love? Yes, I suppose I did love him. Certainly I would have trusted him to the ends of the world and beyond….
But I didn’t always understand him.
Do you have to understand the things you love? I don’t think you do….I went with him first because of the way he was. I maybe stayed because of his stories. Wonderful stories, they were. While he was speaking, you felt as if you were on the edge of understanding the sort of deep reality someone like me can barely dream of.
He attracted so many, and he held them too.
You couldn’t help listening. Men, women, children,-even the winds and the waves were spell- bound when he spoke.
It was as if he was opening the shutters of our minds, just a tiny crack, and outside was the most perfect spring day. I longed to get out there and experience it for myself, but somehow…

There were the obvious, spectacular things too.
The healings,- even my wife’s mum seemed to regain a spring in her step, to have a new light in her eyes and a gentleness in her voice after he’d been with her. And all those lame men walking, and the dumb shouting out his praises.
It was really awesome.
Gradually it dawned on me just who he might be.
I felt silly even thinking it to start with. After all, we’ve been waiting for the Messiah since the time of King David, and a good few would-be saviours had fallen along the way. Why should Jesus be any different just because he was MY Lord? After all, as my mum would tell you, I’ve a bit of a habit of thinking that geese are swans,- but somehow, the more time I spent with him, the more likely it seemed.
So eventually I came out with it.
I’m a direct kind of bloke,-no messing.I’m happiest dealing solid answers to solid questions.
And it was a direct question that triggered me that day.
He turned to me, as we were going along, and just asked
“Who do you think I am?”
The words were out of my mouth before I’d had a chance to think. Not a moment to hedge my bets
“You’re the Christ, the Messiah, the Son of the living God.”
I heard myself speaking, and part of me was thinking,
“Oh well done Simon! You’ve done it again. Opened your big mouth and put your foot in it. He’ll not like that. After all, he’s close to God:anyone can see that. He’ll be angry at my blasphemy”
But I was in for a surprise, wasn’t I?
He seemed really pleased.
“You’ve got it. At last! God’s blessing on you, Simon. You recognise me for who I really am,- you’ve been listening to my heavenly Father, clearly. Let me tell you who YOU really are too…
You’re Peter…a rock….someone I can rely on…the rock on which I’m going to build my church.
The church will be like you, too, strong, energetic, - nothing will stand in its way. Not even the gates of hell”
You’ll imagine, I felt pretty good then.

It wasn’t always that way, though. Even when I did understand what was going on, I didn’t always enjoy it.
Like the day when I realised we were stuck with one another, come what may.
There’d been some pretty heavy theology going on, and most of the crowds had had enough. They’d come to see signs and wonders, to hear enthralling parables, but that day Jesus seemd to be talking in code. Small wonder that many turn round, baffled and disappointed, and headed for home. It was all too difficult. Who could blame them? I watched rather wistfully as the last family disappeared over the horizon, back to a nice, safe normal life. I didn’t talk about my fishing much, but I did miss it. It's in the blood, after all.
He must have picked that up, because he came out with another awkward question,- no point in trying to talk your way out of it.
“Do you also wish to go away?”
Oh, I did wish to go away, but at the same time, I knew it was hopeless. I’d never be satisfied with life at home again. It seemed too small, too limited. Jesus had made me grow out of it, however much I wished he hadn’t. So I said the only thing I could
“Lord, to whom can we go? You have the words of eternal life…”
That was it.
Only one route ahead, and it looked like hard going.
I felt weary just thinking about it, but I knew I couldn’t turn off the main track.
I had no control over events, was caught up in them, committed despite myself.
Things were beginning to get a bit scary by then. Jesus was saying too much, upsetting the wrong people, and I knew I’d been clocked as one of his mates. There was probably a big fat file on a desk somewhere with all my details,and my wife, my kids….
Not a good thought.
But there wasn’t really any alternative.
One way street. No u turns.
No idea where we were heading though….
I didn’t expect it to end like this.
Even last night, at supper, I just didn’t get it.
All that foot washing. I’m not demonstrative. That made me feel so uncomfortable, Jesus down on his knees in front of me….
I wanted to swap places, till he said this was something else really important.
Another one of those clever stories that meant more than it seemed to…but this time we were acting it out ourselves.
Being washed was the way we were going to be part of Jesus’s work, so then naturally I wanted more than just a quick dab of my feet. I was in this up to the neck,so I wanted him to wash me from head to toe as well. But he wouldn’t.
And he said we’d all give up on him…very soon.
We were sure that had to be wrong. We’d been through so much together by then. We were rock solid, all of us. A team.
Oh, why was he ALWAYS right?

He said I’d disown him…pretend we’d never met.
I fought it, every step of the way.
Fought sleep in that cold garden, where the shadows were full of menace.
Did my best to defend him…till he told me not.
That was hard. For once, I could do something for him,but that was wrong too. Nasty piece of work that Malchus…it wouldn’t have done him any harm to have gone through life not hearing what others really thought about him. But Jesus went on being Jesus. Couldn’t resist the impulse to heal, even then.
And, apparently, I can’t resist the impulse to say the wrong thing….to say things I regret immediately afterwards. That’s how I’ve always been..
And this morning, in those cold hours before dawn when just keeping alive feels like one effort too many, I did just that.
Denied all knowledge of the most important person in my life…the one I care about more than life itself.
And now he’s gone.
They’re going to kill him. And I'll never have the chance to say sorry, to tell him how much he means to me, to really share my hopes and dreams.
I don’t know how I’ll bear it.
He’s gone. And I’m left.
To whom shall I go now? What price eternal life???

Lord, I'm another
who's quick to proclaim
How much I love you.
Yet I too deny you often
when I meet you on my doorstep.
Help me to live my words of love
Give me rock-like integrity
and then use me in the building of your Kingdom.

Wednesday, April 12, 2006

He suffered under Pontius Pilate

I don’t like it.
This posting to Judea hasn’t been easy at any point. I don’t understand the Jews…the way their religion infiltrates every area of their lives. They seem to be obsessed with it. Wouldn’t even let me use Temple funds to build an aqueduct, even though the country is desperately short of water in some areas…
Downright upitty, they were.
Didn’t sound like a conquered people at all….
I’ve tried to show them that they are subject to the might of Rome…that it has got us places that their endless catalogues of religious laws and observances never got them. Not sure they’ve grasped it, though, even now.
Take their attitude to this Jesus man.
He seems innocuous enough…actually, quite impressive in his own way. He has a kind of deep, quiet dignity which is rather attractive…I can see why people have followed him, listened to him.
But the Jews see it differently.
To be honest, I’d like to get him off my hands…release him with a community service order and maybe ban people from congregating around him…but he’s harmless in himself, I’m sure of it.
Only, he’s not now, because of the way the crowd has turned.
I may have to sacrifice him to the cause of peace….He should like that, he seems to have pacificist leanings….wouldn’t let his followers defend him when he was arrested. And they look a pretty pathetic rabble now…Whereas the crowd outside the Praetorium is large and sounds ugly. I can hear them now, baying for blood….If I release Jesus, there will be a riot, people will be hurt and my position compromised. I can’t afford that. I have my political career to consider….I don’t need unfavourable reports getting back to Rome.
Oh, and I wish my wife would stay out of politics. Just got a message that she’d had a dream that I ought to avoid involvement with this Jesus.
She’s right, of course. I ought to, but its too late now.
I AM involved and I have to do something…
Roman law is based on human rights. I can’t condemn an innocent man but if I let him go, others will suffer. Civil unrest is a terrible thing.
Perhaps after all a compromise is possible.
As long as I’m seen to dissociate myself from events, they can’t possibly be my fault. If the crowd want him dead, they can tell me so loudly and publicly. And I’ll give them a really obvious alternative, someone theyd be mad to want back among them. That notorious villain Barabbus should fit the bill.
With a choice like that, even the Jews will surely show a little common sense. If not, well,
Time for a little symbolic hand washing I think….
Truth? No time for that. Not sure it even exists in this world of political expediency….Not sure at all.

Father, forgive me when I take the soft option
When I sacrifice your truth for the sake of an easy life.
Thank you that, however often I fail
You will never wash your hands of me.

Tuesday, April 11, 2006

Stunning. Go if you can...



The play starts and ends at the cross. Above us, Christ hangs crucified. At his feet we gather, shoulder to shoulder with those who knew him. As they witness his suffering, their stories, told in flashback and dramatic re-creation, speak of their own suffering and the mercy they found at his hands.
The script is divided into six episodes to create space for other expressions of worship and reflection arising directly out of the drama.
The whole presentation becomes a powerful act of remembrance which is both participatory and reflective. Threaded with moments of great joy and celebration, robustly and full-bloodedly performed, Calvary uncovers a deep connection between the audience’s ordinary and extraordinary sufferings and the crucifixion of Christ. (From the Riding Lights website)

Here might I stay and sing:
No story so divine;
Never was love, dear King,
Never was grief like thine!
This is my Friend
in whose sweet praise

I all my days
could gladly spend.

Post Script: it occurrs to me that in a week of much ministry, in which so many of us will be responsible for enabling worship for others, this was the most amazing gift...the opportunity to stand at the foot of the cross, without responsibility for anyone else, and to worship. I am so very thankful.

S.O.S. Exultet needed!

I know it's the Tuesday of Holy Week, - and that most clergy knowing they would be singing the Exultet for the first time ever on Holy Saturday would have checked that there was a copy around the place long since...but I'm me, OK, and I just haven't. And now it appears that the only copy we have anywhere is extensively scribbled over (not a huge problem) and also in Gregorian notation (rather more of an issue). Yes, I can manage to read it if I really have to, but I kind of feel that I may possibly be having enough fun dealing with the reality of presiding at the Holy Saturday celebrations, and I just don't want to be worrying all night that I'm going to get the chant wrong. Does anyone out there have a copy in modern notation that they could bear to scan and send to me?
Otherwise, I guess I'll have to listen to the mp3 files I've found morning noon and night till I simply don't need to look any more....but it will feel very odd ancticipating all that Easter joy before we've even made it to the cross.

Monday, April 10, 2006

It’s quite definitely Holy Week. Together we are assembling a jigsaw, made up of so many aspects of life here.
  • I spent some time today with M’s family, putting together a picture of her life and discussing their hopes and ideas for her service, which will take place next Tuesday. They really REALLY didn’t want the church shrouded in Passiontide gloom as they gather to thank God for their mother, so this time-lag seems fine.
  • I talked to another special lady, who is living with cancer. She had good news today that the tumour hasn’t grown of late…a small resurrection to carry her along for a while.
  • TeenWonder performed a temporary rescue for a dear friend’s daughter, a close contemporary of my own DarlingDaughter, who is having a really rough time, without much help from the National Health Service, where “joined up thinking” seems an impossible dream.
  • 2 dozen of us followed Stations of the Cross, using the wonderful material produced by the Benedictines of Turvey Abbey, and I found myself totally involved in the process, so that this revisiting of so much that is familiar seemed fresh, new, and more real than anything else today.
  • Until, that is, the service ended, and I met F and realised that non-joined-up thinking had reached new levels of dislocation, and action was now being taken where it was neither wanted, needed, nor helpful.
So much brokenness.
So many crosses.
Tonight, I really want to be Simon of Cyrene...but I don't have the strength on my own.

Almighty God, whose most dear Son went not up to joy but first he suffered pain, and entered not into glory before he was crucified: Mercifully grant that we, walking in the way of the cross, may find it none other than the way of life and peace; through Jesus Christ your Son our Lord.

Sunday, April 09, 2006

Palm Sunday 2: in the church

So we wound our way round the block and into church, where the elderly, infirm or plain embarassed were awaiting us, and the service proper got under way. We had 2 miniscule acolytes on duty, who were having a lovely time fencing with their palm branches at every opportunity, and providing entertainment for all and sundry. It's probably just as well that they were out of sight when we got to the dramatised Passion Gospel,in which I got to read the part of Jesus. To say this was mind-blowing, in a church where the “priest as icon of Christ” argument has been used so often to limit women’s ministry, would be a serious understatement. To move from that Gospel to say the Eucharistic prayer emphasised for me what a huge journey so many people have made. It’s sad that too often I can only see those who still can’t accept my priesthood, when there are dozens who welcome and affirm it, bless them. For a few months I’d been vaguely paranoid as communicant numbers have been slightly, but unmistakably, down when I’m celebrating, and I wondered just who the silent objectors might be. Today suggested that perhaps WonderfulVicar has been right in his assertion that it was just an unhappy co-incidence that a dozen people happened not to be there on “my” Sundays. I know it’s not about numbers, but it’s still comforting not to feel that people are absenting themselves from the Sacrament because of me…Certainly today people turned out in force, with more there than on Christmas Eve.In fact, despite breaking up the last 10 wafers into quarters, I was still one short at the high altar, which was not such a good feeling. It’s wonderful being a distributor of God’s grace most of the time, but when my inability to count makes that grace appear limited…Oh dear :-(
I felt uncomfortably symbolic of all the ways that the church has impeded the very relationship with God that we exist to facilitate…But then I realised that there was still plenty of wine, and the person concerned was totally happy to receive under one kind only…and I heard God laughing gently as he pointed out that I don’t have to be the one doing the facilitating! Sometimes I'm a distressingly slow learner.

Palm Sunday 1: in the precinct

Startlingly good Palm Sunday, bearing in mind the truly frightening degree of churchiness that afflicted the soul this time last year! I’ve been pondering why it felt so much better, as actually we had been too chaotic (WonderfulVicar is as last minute as his curate) to actually rewrite the liturgy,- and anyway there is probably a PCC resolution somewhere that decrees that we can’t change it because Bishop Robert (God rest his soul) liked it this way….
But actually, it felt completely different, for which I'm profoundly grateful.
One improvement was beyond our control, in that Somerfield now open later on a Sunday morning, so we were not performing our antics in the precinct in front of a large audience of bemused shoppers. Those who were about seemed fairly well disposed on the whole. The policewoman who had been detailed to manage traffic for us as as we made our way along New Street held her palm with minimal embarassment and the jogger who overtook the procession waved in a cheery fashion as she passed. Some of the teenagers who more or less own the precinct outside shopping hours were playing frisbee behind the gathered congregation, but this was fine,- very much how it must have been, with the life of Jerusalem carrying on regardless as that cavalcade made its way into the city. Rather like this, I suppose...

Musée des Beaux Arts: W H Auden

About suffering they were never wrong,
The Old Masters; how well, they understood
Its human position; how it takes place
While someone else is eating or opening a window or just walking dully along;
How, when the aged are reverently, passionately waiting
For the miraculous birth, there always must be
Children who did not specially want it to happen, skating
On a pond at the edge of the wood:
They never forgot
That even the dreadful martyrdom must run its course
Anyhow in a corner, some untidy spot
Where the dogs go on with their doggy life and the torturer’s horse
Scratches its innocent behind on a tree.

In Breughel’s Icarus, for instance: how everything turns away
Quite leisurely from the disaster; the ploughman may
Have heard the splash, the forsaken cry,
But for him it was not an important failure; the sun shone
As it had to on the white legs disappearing into the green
Water; and the expensive delicate ship that must have seen
Something amazing, a boy falling out of the sky,
had somewhere to get to and sailed calmly on.


Of recent weeks, I’ve been rather missing the two small rodents (usually gerbils) that used to keep me company in the study at the old house . So I was distinctly excited when I passed the newsagents this morning to see an ad “Baby gerbils free to good home”…Having floated this past the (very enthusiastic) Good in Parts offspring, I wondered aloud to WonderfulVicar’s wonderful wife whether she thought this might be a good idea. Her reaction
“Aaarghhhh……they are just like rats!!!!!”
So now I am left wondering whether there are more people in the world who would think “Oh, how sweet” if they encountered small furry animals with beady eyes, sitting in a cage in the clergy study when visited to pour out their souls, or whether the majority are with V and would think “Oh no………rats………plague……….fleas!!” and run screaming from the room.
Straw poll of blog readers urgently needed. Please record your views below.
As a supplementary, would you feel differently if the animal in question was a hamster rather than a pair of gerbils? I really REALLY want to know.

Call my bluff?

When I picked up my phone to go to church this morning, I noticed that I had had a call (ID withheld) at 3.20 am...Sorry, whichever of my friends it was who confronted unexpected carnage in the kitchen, - my mobile spends most nights on charge in the study, and I simply wont hear it. Next time you find a body, use the landline!
Let me know if I'm not too late to come round with some dettol and a mop, though.

Going up to Jerusalem : John Harvey

Jesus as we start once again to follow you
On the way of the cross
We are apprehensive.
For we are not sure of ourselves.
On our journey
We have often been very afraid,
Sought soft options,
Often fudged the sharp solution.
On our journey we have often tried to hide
Our real selves
From others
From ourselves
And from you.
We, who dare to say
We are following you
Know how faltering are our footsteps
How delicate our discipleship
How feeble our faith.

Yet still you call us
By name
And invite us into your company
And onto your road.
So give us the courage
And the commitment we need;
Help us to look out for one another on the road
Show us how we may share the duty
And the joy of discipleship
Knowing that in the end
It is you who have blazed the trail,
You who will accompany us all the way
You who will meet us on the road
And say our name. Amen.

From Eggs and AshesPractical & Liturgical Resources for Lent and Holy Week ed Ruth Burgess and Chris Polhill, Wild Goose Pubs

Saturday, April 08, 2006

New toy

This is soooooo cool! I am sitting up in bed blogging on our new and utterly wonderful laptop! It arrived via ebay and the negotiating skills of TeenWonder but is actually rather better than the one we actually purchased, thanks to a pretty impressive crop of gremlins that afflicted the vendor well and truly. Being a thoroughly nice man, said vendor ended up upgrading our purchase substantially, and the version which arrived here is if not quite an Armadillo, then something very similar, "a dilloing in its armour...". It is unbelievably works in every room...and I think I may be in love :-) Of course I do realise the inherent danger that I may now lead my entire life here online....but in the interests of such sanity as remains in the world I will fight this impulse. But, seriously, it IS lovely!

Spring is sprung

Another lovely walk this afternoon, with boys, dogs and Nipper the pony. Said pony lives in a beautiful Cotswold valley near Hawling with all the room she could possibly desire, and walks there have kept me relatively sane throughout the past few years.
I love the fact that boys, dogs and ponies all need to be taken out once in a while, so there's absolutely no guilt involved in abandoning a half tidied study and the work that therein is...and I've never come back feeling anything other than entirely happy.

The people who run the livery yard also breed Welsh ponies and today we met a new arrival, Bruno, born, predictably, on Monday (deliveries have a habit of happening a few hours after the Flemings have gone home....) He was so delightful that I'm posting his picture for absolutely no good reason, except I want to. Foals have a real feel-good factor!

Totally unscientific...

test of true friendship, as encountered at A Church for Starving Artists

You call a friend at 3 in the morning and say, "There's a dead naked man on my kitchen floor and I need you."
True Friend says, "I'll be right over."
Not: "Who is he?" Not: "Why is he in your kitchen?" Not: "What time is it?"
"I'll be right over."

Pondering this, I realise that I'm blessed in knowing several women (that's interesting, they are all women) whom I'm confident fit into this category. Thank you all for being part of my life. The phone's on my side of the bed, should you ever need to make that call...

Friday, April 07, 2006

Holy Ground

I’m not long home from such a special experience….A lady from the congregation, who has been a very long time a-dying, finally departed this evening. Her daughter phoned me straight afterwards and I went to the nursing home, where M’s room was filled with her family crying, laughing, loving her and each other with so much tenderness and honesty it was the most amazing privilege to be there.
In the end I spent a couple of hours, as more family members arrived in waves, and everyone seemed to feel that I should be there to pray with each group. During the whole time, everyone was completely natural and comfortable around M, holding her hand, stroking her hair, talking to her with just the same easy loving familiarity that had characterised earlier visits. At times we drank tea and ate chocolate, at times we read Scripture and prayed, at times everyone wept. The hardest time was when her husband, who’d been there for so many days and nights, finally decided he should go home…leaving his wife of 55 years.
But there was so much laughter and so many blessings given and received.
Thank you, M….I learned much from your last days, and even more from your wonderful family. Go well in the peace of Christ.

Magic moments!

After my burst of bad temper last night, perhaps it's just as well that I'm taking today and tomorrow off as far as possible, to just be a mummy. I was in danger of missing my children altogether as their Easter holiday ends just 2 days after Easter, which means that there's little point in the traditional clergy break then. TeenWonder has spent most of the week playing with computers (as he is wont to do) and a new wireless aerial arrived this morning, enabling him to use my existing one for the laptop...Only the new one has a shorter flex, and, as my study is a former garage (don't I know it on wintery days?-concrete floors remain chill even with double layer of carpetting) it's crucial that the aerial is in the right place or thick walls prevent any signal at all.So today we've moved furniture and computers round and round the room, only to end up where we started. In the process, some of the piles of paper spread across the floor have been glared at, one or two dealt with properly and some declared that's all good, though not exciting.
I've never quite got this study right, possibly because I was so particularly fond of the ex-hayloft I used at our old house, but it is definitely better when it's tidy and there are fresh flowers on the dresser.
So I'm feeling a bit better, and ready to play "thanks for the memory" courtesy of Songbird's "Friday Five"

Whether it was on Broadway or at your neighborhood elementary school, name five experiences of the performing arts that have touched or tickled you.

1. This is a composite memory...each Good Friday, from the age of 6, my father took me to hear the local choral society perform Messiah. I adored going out with my father,- felt deliciously grown up and special,- but was never quite sure whether this was a concert or an act of worship. Good Friday in those days was definitely different from other days of the year; it felt wrong to play outside, we would certainly only eat fish, and the whole area felt deeply quiet somehow. Yet, against this was the glorious excitement of Going Out in the evening to our local theatre...the glamour of performers in evening dress...that focussed silence as the conductor raised his baton. It felt more intensely devotional than anything that happened at that time in our rather fussy and traditional Anglo Catholic church. I was utterly enthralled, - and so excited when we reached the Hallelujah chorus, the audience rose and my father produced a score from his pocket so I could sing too. Wonderful.

2. Let's fast forward...hard to choose just one of so many wonderful moments during my student career...There was the open air "Salad Days", a May Week production in our last year at Cambridge, its frothy unreality summing up our own experience
"And if I start looking behind me
And begin retracing my tracks
I'll remind you to remind me
We said we'd never look back"

3. Or the thrill of singing Monteverdi Vespers in Kings Chapel at the end of my first term...realising the level of excellence that I was invited to be part of.

4. Or the moonlit magic of the Minack Theatre in Cornwall, where I spent 3 summers rehearsing and performing Gilbert and Sullivan operetta.

5. But that means this has to be my last choice...On my 40th birthday, for the first time in 20 years,I found myself playing the cello again, in the back desk of the orchestra that was accompanying an amazing production of Britten's Noye's Fludde in beautiful Burford Church. All 3 of my children were on stage, DarlingDaughter singing Mrs Sem quite beautifully (allowing for considerable maternal bias, the Oxford Times rated her too!) and as we reached the final chorus, for performers and audience, and joined in Tallis' Canon, I realised that actually 40 was deeply OK. Indeed, I could have (though I fear this will sound melodramatic) have died then and there and been perfectly happy.

I could have written about so many more...but these were special and I loved them..

Thursday, April 06, 2006

Grrrrrrrr (bad tempered Curate alert)

It's just after 10.30 and I've just got in from the first meeting of the new PCC...
Leaving aside the fact that by 10.00 we have all lost the will to live, and would vote to ban Christmas if we thought it would get us home sooner, tonight's meeting was pretty much as usual. We voted in favour of a new proposal that might make it possible for us to actually get on with re-ordering St David's Chapel without blood on the carpet. This was greeted with universal enthusiasm and hearty cheers...I would share them, except that I have been suggesting this particular route through the whole morass for something over a year...
But of course, I'm a woman and therefore both invisible and inaudible at times like this.
I repeat.

Wednesday, April 05, 2006

Now that's what I call a day off!

Lovely long sleep…Positively no sore back or shoulder (which has been a bit of an issue of late), no departing hoards with whom to jostle (thanks to school holiday)…Shower without queues or angst,- nobody was in any sort of rush for anything! Heaven before we’d even reached 9.30 am! Things only improved when the post arrived, with the laptop that TeenWonder had bid for on ebay...there have been alot of blips and hiccoughs en route to the arrival of this wonderous beast, so it was a huge excitement to actually see it here in the flesh over 2 weeks after the purchase had been completed. Of course, there will now be unseemly squabbles over ownership, but for today we were all just overjoyed that it's here at all.
Next, the dogs and I enjoyed a splendid walk, up through the woods to Seven Springs and back down through Wistley Wood. I did discover that Mufti, the Australian terrier, has clearly been so conditioned to suburban life that, though she will behave like a proper country dog and pursue rabbits with the best of them, she definitely prefers walking on tarmac to grass..which is kind of sad! As we made our way back down the Cirencester Road, she was intent on dicing with death by sticking to the road, though there was a reasonably wide grass verge, which I tried to encourage her to share with me and Dillon.
The said Dillon, on the other hand, has clearly been subject to another form of conditioning. Having had a wonderful time chasing about in all directions in the wood, the moment we found ourselves back on The Beeches, our very local recreation ground (and the scene of most of his work-day walks) he started barking for a ball…because that’s what we do on The Beeches. Even if we have spent 2 hours or more exploring far more exciting possibilities. When on The Beeches, we play ball. Full stop.
After dog walk, had yummyy lunch at The Vine,(our ecumenical Fair Trade Coffee Shop) with S., one of my best friends from vicar-school. So good to have time to talk properly and engage at more than superficial level…We went for a stroll after lunch, sharing whinges and joys of parish ministry. Had just about concluded that it would all be truly wonderful, if only it weren’t for the people, when God sent us a very real person, an elderly lady who wanted to talk and talk and talk some more…We sat in the sun together and practised “mmn”…and it was rather lovely really. Reminded us both of what we are for!
Not having the 3.00 end of school deadline, the day felt wonderfully spacious, so there was time to cook, do a bit in the garden (the mower is still working, praise be!) and even the odd bit of housework. Bought lots of tulips and daffodils, so the house feels better in any case…The Curate feels absolutely wonderful!
And tonight was the last of the Lent course “A Taste of Prayer”…and, despite the absence of shiney experts, our discussion on Problems in Prayer went smoothly and nobody evinced huge disappointment that the problems had no magic and instant solutions. On the whole, I think the course has gone well. People have been exposed to other possibilities, and even if these have only confirmed them in their established practice, they are at least doing so from a position of knowledge rather than ignorance. But never, ever, EVER again will I try to set up 4 groups plus a talk, and expect to get to all of them. This Lent has been an exercise in exhaustion…which is fine, as long as I learn its lessons. Watch this space.

Tuesday, April 04, 2006

Knowing me...

Sorry about the break in transmission...I'm fine, but life has been alarmingly full of all sorts of totally unbloggable things,- and as we gear up for Holy Week, I'm not sure the next few days will be much better. However last week, Katie asked what ENFP was all about…so I guess in the absence of anything else that I can safely blog, now is as good a time as any to attempt to respond.
Most straightforwardly, ENFP is my personality profile thanks to Myers Briggs Type Indicator….E – extrovert; N iNtuitive; F Feeler; P Perceiver (the opposites being Introvert Sensing Thinking and Judging…You can read more about MBTI here and do an abbreviated version of the test online here.
It’s a good 10 years since I was first introduced to this, …the C of E rates it quite highly and it has certainly been useful in various contexts where I’ve been working as part of a team. Knowing the profiles of other team members at least makes you understand why Mrs X always drives you bananas, or why Ms Z has refused to be in the same study group as you ever again. It’s also made me very aware of just how I work myself…that MBTI prayer in my sidebar is quite breathtakingly appropriate for my approach to life!
Along the line, I’ve also become disturbingly adept at superficial reading of people’s types.
"Oh, he’s ISTJ” I’ll say, airily…as if that explained everything, including, of course, why I am right and he wrong! Poor LongsufferingClockmaker was thus neatly boxed and labelled way before he did the indicator tests, and all was revealed (actually I was right that time….but then, it’s pretty obvious much of the time that we tend to work from opposite extremes, so no prizes may be awarded).
I’m aware that there’s a real danger that I might use Myers Briggs as a justification for being as I am, and never address the opposite poles which would enable me to be a more balanced, less irritating individual. Get my services for Holy Week sorted this week while there’s still time? Couldn’t possibly…I’m ENFP and we are last minuters…
Commit myself to booking a family holiday? The “P” bit of me hates closure….the road not travelled might involve more exciting scenery
Observe healthy boundaries between work and “life”…? My “F” demands that I empathise till the cows come home and beyond…so much so, that I feel quite startled when I realise that the parishioner to whom I’ve been so totally committed isn’t in fact my dearest and only surviving relative….(trouble is, the F is much admired in pastoral types…the pre programming to sacrificial love tends that way…)
Take what someone says at face value? Surely not....there must be more to it than that. At least, that's what I intuit...I've got to point Z when they've only just left A...and maybe actually that's not where they were bound...
OK, so I’m exaggerating somewhat…MBTI is good stuff, really,- it’s just that I suspect I don’t always use it as wisely as I might. As we’re so often reminded, “It’s just a tool”……and a tool, in my hands, is usually something to drop on the toes…
There you are Katie...see what you've been missing!