Saturday, September 30, 2006

Waving, I think...but it might be drowning!

This weekend, St Mary's celebrates its Dedication Festival, with all the attendant pomp and circumstance. We have a whizzy guest preacher in the morning, though I'm presiding,-but in the evening the preacher, Lord help us, is the Curate. And I'm being brave, as the sermon more or less turned up without my say- so, leaving me with no option but to write and preach it.
I'll post it later,- when I'm sure its too late for of any of you to shriek in horror "But you can't preach that!"
We also have a special Open House: "All Creatures Great and Small: a pet blessing service for St Francis-tide" - which needs power point sorted, story finished, and all sorts of things still to be footled with.
What's more, I'm "on" again at that nearby church that is awaiting delivery of a new vicar, gift wrapped, any week now.
So one way and another, it's a bit of a killer really (still haven't looked at the material for Koinonia...but with any luck they'll have enough questions to keep me going anyway).
Still, it's not yet midnight and I do have 2 sermons finished, which is something to celebrate. What's more, Hugger Steward has just come in with an Indian takeaway. Definitely time to abandon the computer then.

Meanwhile, here's the 8.00 homily,- with thanks, once again, to Lawrence!

I wonder if anyone had the same sort of thoughts as I did on reading this morning’s Gospel.
Is it just me, or does John sound very much like a whiney, spoiled child telling tales?
“Teacher, we saw someone casting out demons in your name and we tried to stop him, because he wasn’t following us”
We’re the good boys. He ought to do it our way. He hasn’t got permission. He’s doing it all wrong. We’re on the right side of the line, - we know how to behave, how to do things properly, so nobody else can possibly be legitimate.”
That’s certainly how it reads to me ,- so what is really going on here? Are the disciples really being so smugly exclusive? What are they really objecting to?
The exorcist is using Jesus’ name to exorcise the demons (with apparently conspicuously more success than the disciples enjoyed!), but the disciples’ objection is not that he wasn’t a follower of Jesus, but of them!
“We tried to stop him because he wasn’t following US”
In other words, the disciples have taken upon themselves the role of “owning” Jesus, or policing his ministry. They think that they have the monopoly, so that for them “To follow Jesus is the same thing as belonging to our group. You can’t follow Jesus unless you do it our way! We make the rules!”
Does that sound in any way familiar, I wonder? I’m afraid it’s a story that we hear too often repeated in the church of today.
For so many people, there is no difference between discipleship of Jesus and church membership; between faith in Jesus and belonging to the institutional Church. We’re the insiders, we know what makes authentic Christian belief and we forget that if the church is a club at all, it should be one that exists to serve those who are not yet members…
So much for the church, and the disciples. In contrast, Jesus is having none of this.
He won’t allow the disciples to become gatekeepers, drawing confessional boundaries around him. His concern is not for “right theology” but “right practice”! The exorcist who is using Jesus’ name is good news for those whom he frees from possession, even though his ministry exists on the other side of the disciples’ imaginary line. …and it’s that liberating action that Jesus recognises and applauds.
“No one who does a deed of power in my name will be able soon afterwards to speak evil of me”.
But we’ve already heard that the disciples have struggled to perform deeds of power, and we know too that before too long they will desert the Lord to save their own skins.
They like the idea of owning Jesus, but are far less keen on the consequences of following him. His refusal to outlaw the “unlicensed” exorcist is a sign of the way things are for him…but the disciples see things rather differently. They want Jesus’ power, but not on Jesus’ terms. They want to be followed rather than to be followers, to be seen as the good guys, the insiders, the ones with the answers.
In contrast, Jesus won’t be limited to such a narrow view. “Whoever is not against us is for us”.
Elsewhere in the gospel tradition, Jesus says the opposite: “Whoever is not for us is against us”. In Mark’s context of persecution, not to strive actively on behalf of the oppressed Christian community is tantamount to joining in with the oppressors. Here, though, Jesus makes a different point. To act with compassion, to free the oppressed puts even an unknown exorcist on the side of the kingdom. That same compassion will be manifested in instinctive acts of caring and provision for the persecuted community: they will “give you a cup of cold water to drink because you bear the name of the Messiah”. To act compassionately to the disciples is the same thing as acting compassionately towards Jesus. It is to share in God’s character (compassion) and mission,- and praise God, those actions have never been limited to those within the boundaries of the church.


One little word.
I thought that in knowing its meaning I'd taken on board all its implications.
That was until I listened to Fab Bishop at the training day on Wednesday.
He rehearsed again the purpose of the Gathering rite at the start of the Common Worship Eucharist, that process by which a body of disparate individuals, coming to worship from hugely different contexts and in very different states of mind and body, settle gradually into their identity as the people of God gathered around His table.
He reminded us of the importance of allowing time for this to happen...the way the greeting reminds us of our purpose in gathering, the confession and absolution clear the way for worship to begin, the Gloria recalls the constant heavenly celebration which we will join during the Eucharistic prayer...
After all this, he said, we might just be ready to begin.
So, allow space, allow silence, and then into that silence speak those words of invitation which we take so much for granted
"Let us pray".
Not (Anglican readers please note) "Let us kneel" but "Let us PRAY"

Somehow, hearing him speak on Wednesday something shifted in my head and in my heart, and I realised for a moment what a wonderful door that key unlocks...Week after week we come with our own concerns, the pre-church rows, the anxieties about beloved children or ailing parents, the regrets of the past week, and the fears for the week ahead.
We come.
We are gathered.
And then, together, we begin to make Eucharist, to be thankful...
"Let us pray"

Friday, September 29, 2006

Eucharist now and then

It was very strange to find myself at a diocesan clergy day at the racecourse on Wednesday…so soon after Greenbelt, really, that it felt as if the Festival must surely be carrying on somewhere, just out of sight, if I could only catch up with it.

Strange to be in the Gold Cup lounge, with several dozen tidy clergy, all showing signs of recent bathing. Stranger to look out of the window and see an empty concourse, in place of the busy crowds which surge past during the Festival, and the racecourse itself clear of the rainbowed acres of tents that lend it life and excitement for a short time each August.
Strangest of all to realise that this group, no less than the Greenbelt community, provides much my sense of connection, of “home”.
So many friends who’ve offered love, laughter and incalculable support along the way.

Once the initial disappointment (it really wasn’t Greenbelt) was past it was a good day, with some excellent talks on the Eucharist from my favourite Canon, from Fab Bish and from someone with arguably one of the best jobs in the C of E…
Much of it was stuff that I’ve heard before, that is very close to my vision of what we are about during worship…that sense of sharing in something so much greater, that stretches through space and time…the experience that Fab Bish refers to in his book as “grasping the heel of heaven”.
David Hoyle shared a pre-Reformation perspective, as he spoke of the power of an “articulate symbolism” which filled the churches on the eve of the Reformation. The painted saints that decorated the screen cutting off nave and chancel in a pre Ref church were community saints, part of the family…sharing not only the same concerns but even the same names. (the paintings of St John and St Cecilia in Ranworth Church were the gift of a long dead John and Cecily…how must they have felt when the reformers arrived and literally defaced their gifts, so that the saints now stand faceless in their place on the doorstep of heaven)
As Eamon Duffy has pointed out, there was a much greater sense of ownership in the pre Reformation church than we might expect. David observed that, whereas sixteenth century worshippers were likely to be deeply engaged in the sheer spectacle of the Mass (even if they were occasionally bewildered by the Latin), - the screen serving not as we'd assume as a fence to exclude, but as a frame to emphasise the events taking place on the altar,- our congregations are typically engaging above all with the printed text in their hand, or above their heads. They might look around them, to engage with the community , but that focussed engagement with the transforming passion of Christ played out in the Eucharistic action is something different, which it seems hard for us to recapture.

Back to the sense of our minimal expectations, perhaps? We’re too wedded to the commonplace, without looking beyond it even as we approach the miracle of the altar…Diarmid McCulloch in contrast describes the way in which the medieval and pre-Reformation Church, "had a genius for building on the capacity of Christianity to invest the everyday with sacred significance. Worship might involve the distant, all powerful God, but God could be reached little by little through the familiar, the approachable….bread, wine and candles”. (I guess that brings us back to Greenbelt, with next year's theme of "heaven in ordinary", then? )

Thinking that through, it feels as if so little has changed. We assume that we need to pare worship down to its bare essentials in order to woo the unchurched…but perhaps it’s the very banality of so much that we offer that provides the greater barrier? Wesley’s description of the Eucharist as a “converting ordinance” was much to the fore in conversation, with an underlying implication that the church has somehow lost confidence in its power. As I posted earlier, my own experience supports this. Nothing, for me, creates sacred space in quite the same way, time after time, as the gathering of God's people around God's table..To find ourselves once again brought to place of total concentration on the death and resurrection of Christ is to find ourselves on holy ground, at the foot of the cross in the company of saints and angels.

Monday, September 25, 2006

"For Lancelot Andrewes"

It was very alarming to realise that when I delivered HG to Cardiff last week, it was a full 27 years since I’d driven up to the Great Gate at Trinity, at the start of my first year at Cambridge.
My parents had both died in the year before I went up, so in one way I was leaving very little behind when I began my student life.
I simply transported myself, my large collection of books and music and assorted domestic essentials from Sussex to East Anglia and got on with the business of being a student.
I'd dreamed of Trinity since a trip to Cambridge in early childhood when I’d fallen in love with Great Court and decided (unaware that there were no women in college at that point) that this was where I'd study when the time came.
In some ways it was disturbingly easy.
Suitable A levels, interview, Oxbridge papers and the letter offering a place and a minor award just in time for Christmas. My mother died in the January, confident that her only child was launched safely…and to all intents and purposes I was.

But I started at Cambridge entrammelled in one of those relationships which should never have happened, and which certainly shouldn’t have continued with our imminent departure to colleges in different directions. Not sensible at all, but then “sensible” and “student” rarely go together, it seem!

So I arrived in the city of my dreams, one of a multitude of shiney new undergraduates with a heart aching to be somewhere entirely different.
I was madly besotted and cried for my beloved in my room most evenings.
The phones in college wouldn’t accept incoming calls, so the only way we could speak was if he phoned the call box in the Market Place…so I would queue there for half an hour before the agreed time, desperate if anyone else showed signs of using the phone as 8.00 approached.
Phone calls were miserable, but the silence when we put down the receiver was worse….in the same way that our snatched weekends were only marginally less wretched than the moment when I crawled out of his warm bed in the early hours of the Monday morning to drive north again from his south coast college town.

What with hormones and bereavement, that first term was never going to be easy…but the one thing that kept me afloat was the post- grad student who was supervising me on Renaissance Literature. He lived in an attic overlooking Parker’s Piece, offered me Fitzbillies Chelsea buns and strong cups of coffee, and entranced me by lowering a basket from his window to collect essays.
He also found time to listen, week after week, as I sobbed my way through supervisions, dissuading me from abandoning the whole thing in favour of married life and a Ford Escort. He reminded me that I could do this subject,- heck, I might even be good at it, that a place at one of the best universities in the world wasn’t something to discard too rapidly.
His reading list for that term scared me witless when he handed it over. I’d barely heard of many of the names,- but 2 weeks into term, I was in love…this was my period, and I was enthralled. Bacon’s Essays, Puttenham’s Arte of English Poesie & Sidney’s Apologie…Suddenly the girl who only read novels and poetry was sitting up all night reading Elizabethan prose. Those words danced on the page and sang to me…I couldn’t get enough… It was utterly addictive.
Then, of all things, Malcolm suggested that I might enjoy the sermons of Lancelot Andrews.
Beyond the opening lines of Eliot’s Journey of the Magi I knew nothing of him….and why would I want to read sermons by anyone? It wasn’t as if I was particularly religious.
But Malcolm was adamant, so to Heffers I went to buy the Selected Sermons, (ed Storey; now why can I still remember that?)…and sitting at my desk I opened it and read
It is Easter day abroad and it is so in the text…."
A lifetime later, I can still quote almost verbatim that paragraph from the sermon “of the Resurrection preached at Whitehall before the King, Easter Day 1620”.
Reading it again tonight, its impact is undiminished…though I’m hard put to it to say why. It will probably leave you cold,- which is sad, but not perhaps surprising.

'but Mary stood.' In the autem, the 'but'--that helps us to another. But Mary stood, that is as much to say as, Others did not, 'but' she did. Peter and John were there but even now. Thither they came, but not finding Him, away they went. They went, but Mary went not, she stood still. Their going away commends her staying behind. To the grave she came before them, from the grave she went to tell them, to the grave she returns with them, at the grave she stays behind them. Fortior eam figebat affectus, said Augustine, 'a stronger affection fixed her;' so fixed her that she had not the power to remove thence. Go who would, she would not, but stay still. To stay, while others do so, while company stays, that is the world's love; but Peter is gone, and John too; all are gone, and we left alone; then to stay is love, and constant love. Amor manens aliis recedentibus, 'love that when others shrink and give over, holds out still.' The third in these, 'she stood, and she wept;' and not a tear or two, but she wept a good as we say, that the Angels, that Christ Himself pity her, and both of them the first thing they do, they ask her why she wept so. Both of them begin with that question. And in this is love. For if, when Christ stood at Lazarus' grave's side and wept, the Jews said, 'See, how He loved Him!' may not we say the very same, when Mary stood at Christ's grave and wept, See, how she loved Him! Whose presence she wished for, His miss she wept [7/8] for; Whom she dearly loved while she had Him, she bitterly bewailed when she lost Him. Amor amare flens, 'love running down her cheeks.'

Love running down her cheeks...
That phrase returns to me each and every year as I read the Easter gospel from John. Malcolm knew what he was doing when he introduced me to that long dead Bishop of Winchester, and I'm so thankful to him.

But today the Church remembers and gives thanks for Andrewes, and I needs must do the same.
That first foray into his work inspired a later dissertation, (I called it "Thy word is all, if we could spelle",- for Andrewes led inexorably to Herbert...) - with an inevitable focus on Andrewes’ work as a translator of the 1611 King James Bible. Hard to study that without reading it, really.
I spent one Easter vac feverishly leafing through all the books that Andrewes had been involved in, trying to trace the influence of his prose on the matchless language of the Authorised Version. It wasn’t an instant conversion experience, but part of the gradual process by which the embers of a childhood faith were gradually stirred to life again.

Last summer on the eve of priesting I found this prayer in the chapel at Glenfall…and it was really no surprise to read the details of authorship at the foot of the page.

Lord Jesus, I give you my hands to do your work.
I give you my feet to go your way.
I give you my eyes, to see as you see.
I give you my tongue to speak your words.
I give you my mind that you may think in me.
I give you my spirit, that you may pray in me.
Above all, I give you my heart, that you may love in me your Father and all humankind.
I give you my whole self, that you may grow in me, so that it is you, Lord Jesus, who live and work and pray in me.
I hand over to your care, Lord, my soul and body, my prayers and my hopes, my health and my work, my life and my death, my parents and my family, my friends, my neighbours, my country and all people, Today and always.
Thank you, Lancelot Andrewes…Your company on the journey has brought light and joy unlooked for.

Sunday, September 24, 2006

What is life if full of care....?

Life has been beyond busy these past few days. Lots of everything, both good and less good, little time to reflect (definitely bad) and still less time to blog. Now that the departure has been managed, together with follow-up visit to deliver everything that wouldn't fit in the car first time, and HG is happily installed in her student flat and adapting with no effort whatsoever to the manic partying of freshers fortnight (Cardiff have no intention of doing things by halves, clearly), I'm hopeful that things may return to whatever I call "normal". I hate it when I'm so pushed that I can't actually see what's going on. Standing and staring has been in very short supply. Even photos have only happened through the window of a speeding Volvo en route to Cardiff (no, I wasn't driving)...but the Severn bridge is a beautiful place to be, whatever the circumstance.

Wednesday, September 20, 2006

What's going on here...

  • Working oneself out of a job is, of course, an essential feature of parenthood,- but I'm not convinced that my emotional programming has kept up with the practical reality! Hattie Ghandi is off to Cardiff to begin her university career today, so the whole house is an amazing jumble of bags, boxes and musical instruments, topped off with distraught pets who all know that something untoward is in the offing. Mufti (the Australian terrier) who is actually HG's dog, is lying with her nose pressed against the kitchen door whimpering - and I'm half inclined to join her.
  • A dear lady in the congregation has lost a son suddenly,- and is having to cope with his wish for a humanist funeral, when she badly needs to hear the familiar words of comfort shared to transform the crematorium chapel into a God-place. She's feeling pretty wretched all round, and the service was arranged for today, when I'm essential as a driver - so I can't even be there as a supportive presence. I spent a little time with her yesterday, but there was a constant stream of people coming and going, and we didn't get to pray together, which feels like a fairly major omission.
  • Meanwhile, my psion has succumbed to old age, this time beyond resuscitation (recussitation? ressussitation?? they all look equally wrong) - so any illusion I might have cherished of being in control of at least my timetable has had to be discarded too. Once again, reminders of anywhere I ought to be in the next few weeks would be much appreciated. (I know I should have backed up, but the psion in question was too old to talk to any of the computers here, and the alternative backup strategies seemed like just too much hassle.) That's it for me with digital diaries. The filofax may be bulky but at least I can always open its pages.
  • But that's really nothing - a good friend in a deprived parish not far away has suffered 2 break-ins in 5 days, - the thieves returning to repeat the damage they caused by way of smashed doors and windows, and taking anything interesting they had missed first time round. I am so so angry on her behalf...She does so much for that community and the disadvantaged there; she runs a food cupboard for the homeless from the vicarage, for goodness sake...and they pick on her. I'm finding it very hard to be loving on this one (and I hate that she's out of email contact too, since the computer was an irresistable target)
  • In other news, Hugger Steward is fluting his way round Italy on tour with the school orchestra, and the sunflowers that LCM assured me were dead weeks ago have actually flowered. Not the largest blooms ever, but at least they're there! We have a very ignoble track record with sunflowers (our all-time worst being the year that a very small Hugger Steward entered a competition for the tallest sunflower at Beavers,- and his 10ft bloom was beaten down by a storm the day before judgement) so I'm quite excited about this.

  • Now, though, it's time to assume competent-mother mode and get on with loading the car. Normal service will be resumed a.s.a.p.

Tuesday, September 19, 2006

By way of a response

I guess both responses to my post below (the comment I deleted was simply a duplicate, and not the result of the curate indulging in a spot of censorship) highlight one of the dilemmas of ministry at the moment....
On the one hand, Caroline is so right that it would be utterly miserable to find myself so desk-bound that I had to pull out of all the human situations which give me such joy and fulfillment. I'll never be an enthusiastic administrator, (though I hope I may be a competent one in time) and I firmly believe in collaboration rather than any sort of hierarchical style of leadership....which of course brings me to the opposite horn of the dilemma,- the risk that in ensuring I don't "miss out" on the things I love, and feel called to, I fall into the "vicar does it all" model of ministry, which would be equally hideous. Having loved my time as a Reader and Local Ministry Team member, and grown hugely through that experience, I hope I always keep the priesthood of all believers and the essentially collaborative nature of healthy ministry always before me. Thankfully, I've a wee while longer before I have to work out this irl...but the opportunity to think things through is hugely helpful.

The other question, of course, is the one highlighte by Tom - what is likely to be the most helpful expression of church for this generation. I laughed out loud, because in my enthusiasm for the substance of Giles Fraser's words, I had totally failed to notice his insistence that it was what happened "on Sunday" that lay at the heart of parish ministry. The giggle was because I'm part of our diocesan team focussing on building up "fresh expressions" and spend much of my time reminding all and sundry that church does not have to be what happens within the four walls of St M's on a Sunday morning. I walked into that one with my eyes wide open, didn't I?!!
My defence of myopia would be that it's actually the act of offering the whole life of the community to God, in all the variety that Fraser describes, which lies at the heart of priesthood...Because that theology of Eucharist came spoke so clearly to me, I relegated the other implications of his words firmly to the background.

I think I'd want to question Tom's idea that breaking bread is perhaps not the best way in...In those embryonic Christian communities I have experience of (particularly the after school children's group that happened in our old benefice) the concrete nature of Eucharist seemed to provide a very accessible way for everyone to engage with God. The worship and conversation that happened apart from this always seemed to have less impact...and in terms of sheer numbers, it was the Family Eucharists that drew the largest congregations of non- regular attenders. Informal services of the word just didn't have the same effect at all. At St M's, my experience of worshipping with those outside the inherited congregation also supports this.
Breaking bread at Little Fishes and OpenHouse also seems to bring us straight onto holy ground.
I'd agree that it isn't the whole story, (though I am probably one of those whose views are sometimes derided as the "Eucharist and chips" brigade) but I really do believe it can work as a mission tool. Mass Culture seemed to support this view - and I'm looking forward to hearing Tim Sledge on the subject at a Praxis day later this year. Meanwhile, there's surely plenty to think about.

Monday, September 18, 2006

What it's all for.

Maggi has posted a link to a wonderful piece by Giles (inclusivechurch Super-hero) Fraser (I rather approve of him, in case you wondered) in the Church Times. Startlingly, that makes twice in one year when I've felt that my subscription is well worth the paper it's printed on, because the words that she quotes are so very close to the reality of priesthood for me.

Of course, the best things happen in parishes. Important bishops may stack up the air-miles travelling to important meetings, but it's really in parishes that the Church does its stuff: the assembly at the school; communion in the home for the elderly; going for a walk with the woman whose husband has left her; the funeral visits; the youth-club disco; fund-raising for the local homelessness charity; the bloke out walking his dog and stopping to tell you how long he has waited for his operation.

God flits in and out of the conversation. Then it all comes together on a Sunday morning, as the word is preached and the bread is broken....

This is the Church that many of us fell in love with. It's the Church that baptised us, married us, and will bury us. It's a Church that can accommodate a journey of faith that enters through periods of doubt and uncertainty. It's a Church that will hold our hand and listen to us cry.

The ministry that Giles Fraser describes is the ministry I experienced in South London in the early's the ministry I believe God called me into, the ministry I feel myself to be part of today, for which I thank God (though probably less frequently than I should!)

Recently the Church of England has driven me to the brink of I hear the pain of those feeling unwelcome, as I wade through buckets of managerial drivel, labour with turning dreams into PCC resolutions or contemplate the latest suit of new clothes that the Emperor has purchased. But beneath all that is the reality...
"it all comes together on a Sunday morning, as the word is preached and the bread is broken...."
God in the ordinary. God with us. Something to celebrate.

Sunday, September 17, 2006

I didn't laugh at the time...

but now I really have to!
Jonathan commented on my previous post that he'd felt a bit pressurised with two sermons to sort, but still a week away...and I had riposted that Friday was actually early for my sermon prep.
Fast forward to Saturday evening, when amid the usual wailings and gnashings of teeth, the curate was to be found beavering away at a sermon on prayer, inspired by Matthew 7.
We were going out for a family dinner (part of the process of sending Hattie on her way to uni rejoicing) but I left the sermon almost complete and departed in good heart.
Only, when I returned later to add the finishing touches, it had gone.
As if it had never been.was no more.
At this point, mindful of the need to rise in a fit state to preside at 8.00 I pulled the plug and went to bed...and have just now at 2.50, after spending all morning in church, finally completed the sermon for Evensong tonight. The theme? "Ask and you shall receive...? Really??". If you want it, it's here!

Friday, September 15, 2006

The thief of time

When I saw this at Songbird's place, I presumed it was an alternative to the Friday Five,- but in fact it's something different, invented by ppb. Never mind, it works just as well as a means to procrastination. And I can still do the Five later...if I need to waste more time!

We are invited us to list the bloggers we’ve actually managed to meet/recognise irl…
Here’s my list, which was fun to compile, though I can’t actually imagine it will excite anyone else madly. But hey, it’s another means of deferring the moment of truth when I either have to a)tidy the study or
b) actually begin the sermon for Sunday Evening
(I think I might found a small pressure group, Curates Against the Evening Lectionary) .

Unlike the original, my list isn’t in chronological order, because so many are people whom I knew well before blogging was invented, - so I can’t always be sure who came first.
I’m certain about the earliest meeting , which dates from way back before I was married (though I didn’t realise he was the author of his blog for quite a while) and the most recent one, just a month ago. In between, well, it’s a gift to have met all of you….and I’m both startled and delighted by just how many of you there are. Comes of living on a small island, I guess.

1. Recusancy at the Rectory
2. Steve – a blog less ordinary
3. One Pedestrian
4. Reach out and Touch the Screen
5. Maggi
6. Freedom Bound
7. On earth as in heaven
8. Nearly Time
9. hencity
10. Hopeful Amphibian
11. Justtherev
12. Jonny
13. Barefoot in the Wilderness
14. Anne
15. John Davies
16. Paul Roberts
17. A raid on the inarticulate
18. ME19four
19. All mannner of thing
20. Serena
21. Songbird
22. Chelley
23. Dog Collars and Rabbit Corpses

Addendum 1
24. What's for Afters?

There have been several near misses too!I couldn't actually see very much of TallSkinnyKiwi from the back of the seminar tent at last year's Greenbelt, so I'm excluding him....and I have designs upon Storyteller's World sometime in the new year, when I'll be commuting to Oxford once a fortnight.
If I've missed you from the list, it probably doesn't mean that you are in any way negligible, but rather that you are so definitely a real person that I've forgotten you are also a blogger...or something. Anyway, if I have missed you out, I'm very very sorry, and will buy you chocolate when we next meet.

Edit: One bar of Divine duly awarded to Cal....whom I met so very recently that I'm utterly appalled at my amnesia. Would you prefer Milk or Dark. Cal? or the yummy Divine orange, which alas only seems to happen in smaller sizes!
Addendum 2
25. TallSkinnyKiwi
(Since Andrew says I can count him, I will ;-)- though I'm mostly ridiculously over-excited at his having visited my blog at all....)

Now, what do I do next? Study, sermon or the Friday Five?

Time for a little frivolity?

Term has resumed with a vengeance, Hattie Ghandi's pre uni-shopping extravaganza is in full spate and WonderfulVicar has wisely taken the opportunity to disappear to furrin parts, so I’ve been a bit manic this week. Mind you, it's hard to see what I've actually achieved, beyond heaps of debris all over desk and floor...and a sort of generalised "time is short" grumpyness. Add to the mix some really miserable things happening to people I care about and I think the arrival of a parcel this morning was distinctly timely.

I first fell for them a year ago, but resisted temptation till I realised at Greenbelt that 3 Flemings (wth 6 feet between us) were laying claim to one pair of gumboots. The threat that wide fitting sizes were being discontinued provided the final catalyst. Even reduced, they were rather expensive,- and I'll feel pretty silly in them up at the yard but all the same, aren’t they FUN!

I feel like a toddler with first shoes,- very reluctant to remove them at all. I've just been shopping in them, but suspect they might be a Bit Too Much for this afternoon's interment of ashes.

Tuesday, September 12, 2006

A terrible thing...

to fall into the hands of the living God.

My earlier thoughts brought to mind this poem, whose author I don't know (so many many apologies if it's yours, and I'm infringing copyright...), which I used in a sermon for Pentecost a couple of years ago. It absolutely sums up the life and worship of most parishes I know...Time to pray some more, then.

“Dutifully we fill the pews
Hushed by the organ’s lull
Then animatedly share our news
Before the preacher’s entry
"They say he comes from Hull".

We chase the dust
From nooks and crannies
Do the flowers, ring the bell
Welcome strangers,
Transport grannies
Bear banners on special occasions.

Special Occasions?
Is this one today
With this and that
And so much more
We had forgotten
That flames
Might leap up overhead
And whirlwinds lift us off the floor.
Ron the Weary Pilgrim has a great post here , reminding me at least of how limited my expectations of God often are. I find myself praying for nice nebulous things, whose arrival is hard to assess anyway - that way, nobody gets to be disappointed. I hesitate to ask too much of God, in case his failure to act brings the whole edifice of faith tumbling down.
I content myself with living in the shadowlands, where life is muted, limited....where people too easily confuse symbols for the whole mind-blowing reality..where the Lion is reduced to a domestic kitten...where people politely murmur "delicious" as I offer them stones instead of bread.
I play that game, even though I know better.
I know the way God works to transform. I've seen it happening.
I know his power to sweep me off my feet, whirl me round in a mad dance and deposit me somewhere I never expected, but which I recognise as "home".
I know this, because I've lived it.
So, why do I allow myself to be content with anything less?

Monday, September 11, 2006

Harvest aftermath

Steve is back blogging, and with some interesting things to ponder! It's lovely to see him, ....though I did wonder whether the revival of his blog only days after I had finally removed the link from my side bar was in fact simply a complicated ruse to make me feel guilty about abandoning a friend. However, it also seems to mean that he is reading and commenting too, - and he was rash enough to ask for a report on my Harvest Festival service yesterday, so just for you Steve....
Verdict; not bad at all.
The chance to present harvest gifts while singing "We plough the fields and scatter" was balm to the souls of some, while the chance to write "environmental pledges" to God on leaves which were later mounted on a tree "For the healing of nations" suited others. And the reduction in number of readings and in length of intercessions probably pleased everyone, if we're honest!
The responses on the leaves were interesting...ranging from the almost comically pragmatic
"Fewer lights, less choc, more gardening" "I will waste less food, turn off lights and put on an extra jumper" "Holidays at home, smaller car (if at all)- less plug pulling- insulate old roof" to the over dignified "I will do my best to put back into life that which I have the privilege to take out of it" and the elegaic
"Unless there in united international planning, individuals will continue to believe their efforts are in vain".
I suspect that the last probably sums up the attitude of most of the congregation,- but there were at least 50 leaves on the tree, out of a congregation of 150 who are unused to being asked for any sort of measurable response to, as I said, "not bad at all".

No unauthorised entry

Unlike the writer of Psalm 84, I don’t like being a Gate Keeper in the house of God, because the trouble with gates is that they shut as well as open.

Lovely lovely youth group resumed last night, and it was wonderful to see them all again, after a summer of varied travels and exam successes…to be back in touch with a part of my congregation and of my ministry that fills me with the greatest hope and excitement, so that I'm energised even after a long long Sunday.

However, I have to say that I wasn’t flavour of the month with them last night, and I totally sympathise.
In June I wrote about the delight of their Birthday Service, and the reverence and joy with which those kids came to God's table.
I remain confident that each of them was there by choice, drawn by a genuine longing to engage with God and to receive the incredible grace that is on offer.
I have no doubt at all that in placing a precious fragment of bread into those open hands, I was honouring God and doing what I was ordained to do.
But last night I had to explain that, due to a change in Canon Law (which is, ironically, part of standardising practice in the Church of England, so that all dioceses must enable the baptised to receive Communion before Confirmation, if that is their desire) I would not be able to encourage them to receive the Sacrament again, unless they were willing to go through a preparation course, and be formally admitted, their details recorded in a register (another register, for heaven’s sake! As if we didn’t already have enough records for me to lose, confuse or fail to complete) and their baptism certificates inscribed with the information that they had been duly prepared and admitted.

I’m proud to say that they didn’t take it lying down.

They recognise the anomaly of a situation where a human institution seems to be intent on fencing round and restricting access to a means of God’s grace.
They have no problem with learning more about their faith – indeed, that’s something we’d already included in our plans for the term, as a result of their interest and enthusiasm.
We’re going to use some of the Youth Emmaus material and see where it leads us,- and I'm really looking forward to the sort of conversation that might emerge…(though the Footballing Fringe, God bless them, will struggle with the balance of manly cool and slowly germinating interest in God, -which may make for an interesting dynamic sometimes).

But they are not impressed with the institutional church and its demands…
I talked about the inevitable flaws in any human construction, but reminded them that I am bound by vows of obedience to WonderfulBishop (whom I really do love and respect) and assured them that whatever decision they made, they would be loved and valued members of the group.
But my heart tells me it’s all wrong.
There should be no need to draw lines like this.
On Maundy Thursday, it is this group that will stay awake and watch with Jesus all night long (indeed, after our first attempts to explain the new situation the first anxious question was "If we don't get admitted, will we still be able to do the Watch?")
It is this group that is alive to the questions, challenges, joys and demands of faith.
And I’m supposed to make sure they are duly “qualified” before they approach the table??
Sometimes the institutional church brings me to the edge of despair.

Sunday, September 10, 2006

On living generously

Some of you may have noticed and even clicked on the link to the Year of Living Generously which has been part of my side-bar for a good year now.
The Generous project was launched 2 years ago at Greenbelt, and has grown substantially since then. To quote the home page

…is an online experiment based on a shared hunch that looking after this planet and its people is what we are all here for and that if many of us can make small changes in our everyday choices then over time we can make a big difference for everyone.

The Hunch…
…is this. That the gap between rich and poor in our world should not be the way it is, that we only have one planet to share and that there is more to life than how much stuff we can pile up. It all started when a few of us began wondering what a community of people could achieve if they acted together to live more generously in the world? Maybe the Internet could connect us as we started to make those small everyday changes… and maybe keeping in touch with others might show us that the cumulative effect of our small lifestyle choices is more influential than we could imagine.

The theory is that you commit yourself to a couple of generous actions each month from a list of staggering diversity, and you're encouraged and supported by the existence of an online community which offers cheers and consolation along the way. This works really well up to a point, but as I pondered the whole stewardship question before Harvest Festival, I was very aware that the Good in Parts household has reached a sticking place.

Over the last year we’ve committed to at least try to
  • Shower More, Bath Less
  • Ban the Bulb! – doing all we can to encourage the disappearance of those incandescent bulbs that are so wasteful of resources.
  • Choose To Have One Meat-Free Day A Week In our Home
  • Get someone to join Generous
  • Perfect our Pasta (did you know that once it has come to the boil, if you turn off the ring the pasta cooks quite happily in the residual heat? It does work, truly)
  • Know our local political leaders
  • Phone a friend - someone who has sent a card this year who you don't see often
  • Recycle our Empty Inkjet Cartridges
  • Give our Unwanted / Unworn Clothes To Charity
  • Encourage Others To Undertake Living Generously Actions
  • Take A Mug To Work - don't use plastic
  • Unplug our Chargers - reduce your emissions (I'm really bad at this one)
  • Compost our Leftovers
  • Stop Taking Carrier Bags From Shops
  • Switch To Energy Saving Lightbulbs - perhaps set a target for your home this year
  • Recycle Greetings Cards
  • Give Thanks Before A Meal
  • Become A Blood Donor
  • Put Eco Balls in the washing machine
  • Plant A Tree
  • Sign Up Online To Become An Organ Donor
  • Buy Presents That Make A Difference
  • Slow Down, Calm Down - stick to the speed limit
  • Plant some bulbs
  • Give Something Away - and declutter life
  • Bank Ethically

That looks like a really good list, doesn’t it? but I’m absolutely not blowing my own trumpet, or that of my family here. You see, I think we’ve kind of reached a plateau. All of those actions were extremely achievable to a middle class family with a comfortable life style. They may involve a bit of thinking before we act, but fundamentally they’ve not really made us change anything radically. I wrote recently on the Generous website:
We recycle everything that we can locally, I’ve majored on Fair Trade food and clothing for a few years now,and we’ve recently joined a veg box scheme. We live in a clergy house, so there’s a limit to the things we can do to improve its generosity, but we use low energy bulbs, are careful with water and have a hippo in the loo . Though we each have a car, I cycle or walk round the parish. That’s all fine It feels to me as if the next stage will involve the whole family in moving up a gear…and I’m not honestly sure where to start.

Nothing we’ve done so far has really involved painful change for anyone…but I know that we’re light years away from having the sort of essentially generous outlook that I long for.
I have a horrible feeling the next step may be one that feels almost beyond me…one which involves real deep change, even sacrifice, one which I'm certain I can't actually manage on my own. And, as so often with these things, I'm not even sure I actually have the will to change, even though I know my children's world may depend on it.

Now, where have I heard that before?

Saturday, September 09, 2006

New kid in town.

A new school year always brings reminders of the alarming feeling of finding yourself the smallest possible fry in a pond full of sharks…but generally once past the stage of seeing your own precious offspring pass through the school gates for their first day in a new environment, these feelings are no more than memories.

Today, though, I had my very first experience of serving on the Gloucester Diocesan Synod.
I’ve been involved in ministry in this diocese for somewhere around 12 years now, and know, if not everybody who is anybody, then at least a reasonable proportion of those who are prepared to sacrifice their free time on a Saturday morning to serve on synod.
So, you’d assume there would be nothing unduly alarming about walking into a Cathedral that I’ve always claimed felt very much like home, to join assorted friends and acquaintances for that most uniting of experiences, a celebration of the Eucharist.

Unfortunately you’d be wrong.

To enter the quire at Gloucester Cathedral this morning turned out to be totally terrifying.
Even knowing what to expect.
Even acknowledging that I had every right to be there.
Even recognising and being greeted by lots of friendly faces.

Good experience…something to take home and remember when considering how to make visitors feel at home in the local church.

In other news, Special Friend Who Never Blogs was elected unanimously as Chair of the House of Clergy for the next 3 years of synod (we think she's the only woman currently holding this position in the whole C of E). I can't imagine how she'll find the time to do it, but I'm very proud of her...and I know she'll be great!

And the leaves of the trees are for the healing of nations

For some reason, something about the culture of formality that tends to dominate St M's means that even when I am quite sure that I'm saying exactly what I should be saying on any given occasion, I go through paroxysms of anxiety - unless, of course, it's so flipping 11th hour that there simply isn't time for any anxiety at all.

I've known all week what I needed to say at tomorrow's Harvest Festival service. I've devised a whole shortened Eucharist with an ecological theme. I've enjoyed sourcing material from all directions, and I'm confident that this really is what needs to be heard tomorrow. But right now, on Saturday night, I'm in sitting jittering, wondering what the impact will be of a whole adult sermon that doesn't have a recognisable and attributable origin in Scripture and which dares to ask the congregation for an immediate and border-line creative response.
Right now I wish someone would stop the carousel so I could get off and avoid the whole gruesome business. Harvest Festival is one of those services which everyone thinks that they own. At least this year they are getting to sing "We plough the fields and scatter" while the gifts are presented...and we all know that this is the most essential feature of a good Harvest Festival. Never mind the preacher...

We’re here to celebrate Harvest Festival…Even in a context where we are more likely to have gathered our food from Tesco than from a well tilled vegetable patch, Harvest is a joyful opportunity to reflect on and respond to our creative role within God’s creation and our responsibilities, under God, for all God’s creatures.
Harvest reminds us that we are part of an interdependent community living on this earth. We're a community that exists to praise and glorify God.
Creation does that without our intervention…If there were no human husbandry at all, the natural world would still offer a rich harvest as the summer comes to and end. Wild creatures enjoy the fruits of the season. With human co-operation, however, nature glorifies God through cultivated fields, including grain and grapes which make bread and wine. Human hands and voices represent the whole earth community, in Christ, to God. The transformation of the earth at harvest is a sign, the beginning, of the final transformation of all material creation in the resurrection when God makes ‘all things new’ and can once again look on his creation and say “It is very good”.
Meanwhile, though, our impact on the earth is not always beneficial….We interpret God’s request in Genesis 28 to “fill the earth and subdue it” as a mandate to exploit and pollute, rather than to tend and nurture.
We assume that we have the right to draw more than our share from the common treasury, no matter who else is damaged in the process. Recently, scientists set to to measure the ecological footprint of humanity and compared it to the “carrying capacity” of the planet. They defined the ecological footprint as the land area that would be required to provide the resources... and absorb the emissions... of global society. When compared with the available land, they concluded that human resource use is currently some 20 percent above the global carrying capacity.
During 2004, an area of Amazon rainforest equivalent to six football pitches was flattened every day; this amounted to 10,000 square miles during the year. The land was used for cattle farming, soy production and logging…necessary to fuel our apparently insatiable appetites.
Only when the last tree has died and the last river has been poisoned and the last fish has been caught will we realise that we cannot eat money.
It’s in this light that I want you to consider this parable of the Prodigal Race…
When I’ve read it, there will be a short period of quiet, in which you are invited to consider your own ecological footprint, your impact on the planet and to write an environmental promise to God on your leaf,- a pledge that you will try to take more seriously your own responsibility as a steward of creation. These leaves will be collected and brought to the altar at the offertory as a sign of our desire to act as agents of God’s healing grace to all the people of the earth, now and in the age to come.
There was once a ruler who had 2 sons. The younger son said to his father
“Let me have my share of the property”.
After a few days, the youngster took his share and got busy, releasing the assets to create wealth for his own use. He dug for coal, drilled for gas and oil and used the wealth released to go on a major spending spree…Fast cars, exotic holidays and food from across the world, in season and out. He denied himself nothing…if it was out there, he had to have it.
But the more he had, the more he wanted.
He was sure that there would always be more and better of everything, so each new gadget inspired in him a longing for the next one…and the next.
He went on grabbing with both hands – he called it progress, living life to the full…never pausing to think that the more he used, the inheritance he passed on to his children would change from a fruitful world to one laid waste.

If the story ended now, would he come to his senses before it was too late?

When one machine wore out, another was ordered and he amassed more and more until one day his oil well ran dry, his coal was exhausted and there were no trees left in the whole of the rain forest.
He realised that he had spent his inheritance and scarred the earth.
He sat amid the waste, thinking of the life that those in his father’s family had once enjoyed, and he wondered if it was too late to say sorry.

Thursday, September 07, 2006

Identity changes

To whom it may concern

I write to inform you that the former Teen Wonder, middle child of the Curate known as Good in Parts, has this day decreed that he wishes to be referred to solely in his blogging persona as Hugger Steward (oh, the influence of GB stretches far and wide).
Meanwhile, e DarlingDaughter aka TeaThaimGirl is now and for the foreseeable future our very own Hattie Ghandi.
Hattie because she is to millinery what Imelda is to shoes.
Ghandi because…well, it’s a long looooooooooooooooong story involving a baby, a white bath towel with a hood and a mishearing of Mahatma. OK? Got it now???
Meanwhile, alternative noms de plumes are urgently required for LoudBoy , who really can’t go through life as Willy Nilly………so please take pity on a poor addled Curate and her son and find him something more suitable.
And I'll promise to try and do some sensible blogging on the morrow.

Tuesday, September 05, 2006

Anyone would think I had a Harvest Festival service to plan!

So here I am, procrastinating again.Dr moose, bless him, has tagged me for the Weird Things meme whose rules run thus:

Once you are tagged you MUST write a blog entry about your 6 weird habits/things as well as state this rule clearly. In the end, you need to choose the next six people to be tagged and list their names.

Of course, weirdness is in the eye of the beholder. As far as I’m concerned, I’m never anything but entirely, even boringly, normal and predictable.
You think otherwise?
Well, in the maddening response of the playground “It takes one to know one”!
However, anxious not to let down a blog friend, I’ve racked my brains to come up with aspects of me that some might regard as not entirely mainstream

1. I sang before I talked ….apparently the theme from the last movt of Beethoven’s Pastoral Symphony (to which my father had fitted some lullaby words for me) was recognisable when my godfather visited the family around my first Christmas. My birthday is in June…

2. When entering the number on the keypad for a burglar alarm, I always use a particular rhythm, which involves allowing the alarm to bleep a certain number of times before I join in.

3. I sometimes know who will be on the phone before I answer it, even if I’m in no way expecting to hear from them.

4. Though I’m a definite Myers Briggs “E” I’m really terrified of parties and have to fight the urge to join the washers up at church events (about the only time that washing up is high on my list of priorities).

5. I talk about what I’m doing to any dogs or cats available…failing that I’ll talk to the kettle or whatever household object I might be interacting with (though having seen other responses that mention this, it might well no longer count as weird at all).

6. Though my brain tells me that an awful lot of rules and regulations are entirely pointless and pathetic, I’m a congenital keeper off the grass…The only reason I’m doing this meme (I believe I’ve been subjected to it before) is because of the word “MUST” in the instructions.

7 (more paradox than weirdness -) BUT I’m going to rebel. Not only by including the number 7 but because I refuse to tag anyone! If you want to play, let me know in the comments and we can compare our eccentricities ;-)

Sunday, September 03, 2006

Water of Life

OpenHouse this afternoon was a celebration of Baptism, with invitations for all those we've baptised since Michael and I have been in the parish and a very encouraging turn-out.
I talked about invisible labels (the cross traced on the forehead that proclaims "This person belongs to Jesus") and we passed round real ones with a similar message, but the real hit was when the children poured water into our paddling pool, and then we lit tea-lights to represent each child there...
The water, of course, represents God's love, which supports and surrounds us and enables us to shine for him. Whatever else they take away from the service, I think those children will remember that. They even came back to think about it again after tea!

Sunday ALL day!

Today began with an 8.00 Eucharist at a neighbouring church which is currently in an interregnum...a church whose traditions are very different from St M's, but where I'm given the warmest welcome imaginable. A real treat to be with them, and a lovely way to start the day.
One of the ways in which St L's is different is in expecting a "Word" even at 8.00. This is fine if you are preaching on the Eucharistic Lectionary at 10.00, as it simply involves distilling essence-of-sermon and offering it to them in a kind of homeopathic quantity. This week, though,I celebrated at 10.00 and preached at Evensong...different readings so 2 sermons (or rather 1 sermon, 1 sermonette*).Rather a shame, to be honest, as I'd have loved to say something along these lines to my home congregation, some of whom have been rather inclined to write off the entire youth of Charlton Kings on the basis of a few rather sad and silly incidents. However, it was not to be. The lovely thing was that simply telling the St L's people about the Greenbelt Eucharist gave me another opportunity to relive it and I came home feeling all warm and smiley. I said it was a good start to the day!

I spent last weekend in company with around 20,000 other people at the Greenbelt Festival on the racecourse. This year one of the Festival tee shirts bore the words
“One Festival, many faces” and there is indeed a huge range of worship, music, art, theatre, dance, and of course theology on offer so that nobody’s Greenbelt is ever quite the same as that of their neighbour.
However, I want to think for a moment a little more explicitly about the actual human faces I saw there…Faces young and old, faces framed by dreadlocks or looking out from shaven heads, or bald ones, faces adorned with piercings of lips, nose, eyebrows as often as ears.
I have to say that if the group of young people with whom I found myself breaking bread at last Sunday’s Communion had gathered in the precinct in Charlton Kings, most of my home congregation would probably have wondered why the police weren’t immediately acting on the infamous “dispersal order” which is in force there. Those kids looked different….Definitely not mainstream Anglicans! Of course, I don’t have any idea what their denominational allegiance actually is, or indeed if they have one at all- but I can certainly vouch for their commitment to Christ and their shining love of God and of neighbour. When it comes to walking the talk, they really knew what they were doing. But in my own church they would have looked like outsiders, and might well have been regarded with suspicion….

When we hear Jesus berating the Pharisees, we tend automatically to put ourselves on the other side of the line, to count ourselves among the good guys…but most of the Pharisees were good, observant, God-loving Jews…the sort of people who took their faith very seriously and did all that they could to live godly lives. People whom we might well aspire to be, in fact.
But, for all their good intentions, they had totally missed the point.
“These people honour me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me”.
They’d used their zeal for the law to inculcate a “them” and “us” culture of exclusion…. Jesus, though, operates from a very different perspective. He’s in the business of building an inclusive community. He rejects those categories that we too often enforce: class, “race”, wealth, and religious purity. He reminds us that for God such divisions are meaningless, that we will be judged on how we live our lives, not how clean our hands are.
Jesus will not allow us to draw lines of our own, and then attribute them to God…Nothing is to exclude His children from relationship with Him. Archbishop Desmond Tutu always used to say that the tragedy of Apartheid was its ability to persuade [black] children of God that they were not, in fact, children of God! We may not have to look terribly far in the church today to see other examples of a similar mindset…indeed, we probably need to acknowledge some traces of it within ourselves, and repent.
Meanwhile, Mark presents us with a Jesus who is alive to the deep-seated human tendency to exclude people who are “different”. The most effective way to do so is to declare them “unclean” – beyond the pale. But these are precisely the people whom Jesus turns to welcome first into the Kingdom…the second-class citizens, the outsiders, the excluded. He turns to them because this is the way of our God, God whose nature is compassion and love, and whose “holiness” is expressed not in disapproval but in loving welcome.
Last week at Greenbelt we sang words by Shirley Erena Murray
"For everyone born, a place at the table
For everyone born, clean water and bread.
For everyone born, a safe place for growing.
For everyone born, a star overhead.
And God will delight when we are creators of justice and joy
Yes, God will delight when we are creators of justice, justice and joy.”

*And I'm grateful to Lawrence for the providing a direction for my thoughts and the Desmond Tutu story...excellent stuff. I love Lectionary blogs :-)

Friday, September 01, 2006

One way street

I wrote this for the Ordinary Time book - the text of which is being blogged daily here. I guess most of you know all about this (you are probably contributors) and I'm slightly unsure about the etiquette of blogging my own work from elsewhere - but it's Friday and the weekend looms, large and unprepared for...And hey, at least it is my own work!

Those who eat my flesh and drink my blood abide in me, and I in them. Just as the living Father sent me, and I live because of the Father, so whoever eats me will live because of me. This is the bread that came down from heaven, not like that which your ancestors ate, and they died. But the one who eats this bread will live forever.” He said these things while he was teaching in the synagogue at Capernaum.

When many of his disciples heard it, they said, “This teaching is difficult; who can accept it?” But Jesus, being aware that his disciples were complaining about it, said to them, “Does this offend you? Then what if you were to see the Son of Man ascending to where he was before? It is the spirit that gives life; the flesh is useless. The words that I have spoken to you are spirit and life. But among you there are some who do not believe.” For Jesus knew from the first who were the ones that did not believe, and who was the one that would betray him. And he said, “For this reason I have told you that no one can come to me unless it is granted by the Father.” Because of this many of his disciples turned back and no longer went about with him. So Jesus asked the twelve, “Do you also wish to go away?” Simon Peter answered him, “Lord, to whom can we go? You have the words of eternal life. We have come to believe and know that you are the Holy One of God.”
John 6:56-69

I love Peter. I always have. The gospels make him such a vivid figure…again and again he stands out from the crowd of disciples clustered around Jesus.

I picture him as a great bear of a man, full of exuberance, quick to laugh and just as quick to lose his temper. Peter is always jumping in with both feet, often getting things wrong, promising the earth and then falling flat on his face at the next hurdle. Definitely more “Rocky” than “Rock-like”. Of all the saints, he seems to me the most human and I take huge comfort from his mistakes, his repeated misjudgements (which are, of course, so clear to those of us blessed with hindsight). When I think of the Peter of Acts, the respected leader of Christians, the one who is revered as the first occupant of the papal throne, it really helps me to remember that he’s the same guy who denied Jesus and wept - the one who on the mountain of the Transfiguration, tried to capture the glimpse of heaven by building three booths. I ask you! Talk about missing the point! But the best thing about Peter is that Jesus used and trusted him, despite all his obvious frailties, so there’s every chance that he can use you and me too.

Having written so much about his failures, the other wonderful thing about Peter is his sudden moments of illumination. It is Peter who just sometimes glimpses what is really going on, and on these occasions his words cut straight to the heart of the matter.

“Who do you say I am?” Jesus asks his disciples in Matthew 16, and Peter responds without hesitation “You are the Messiah, the Son of the Living God” (Matt 16:16) That’s enough for Jesus, who promptly entrusts him with the building of the Church (and on a bad day, you might argue that the church has continued to resemble Peter in jumping to conclusions, and making errors of judgement ever since!).

We have another one of those moments of brilliance here. There has been some pretty heavy theology going on, and most of the crowd have had enough. They came to see signs and wonders, to hear enthralling parables, but Jesus seems to be talking in code today. Small wonder that many turn round, baffled and disappointed, and head for home. It’s all too difficult, and who can blame them?

So Jesus turns to the twelve with another question “Do you also wish to go away?” and again, Peter’s response is one that says all that can be said “Lord, to whom can we go? You have the words of eternal life…”

That’s it.

There is only one route, however hard it may be to comprehend, or to follow.

I imagine Peter saying those words with a kind of weary resignation. There must have been many times when he longed to turn aside, to return to his fishing boat and the predictable life he had led before meeting the Teacher from Nazareth. Now he has no control over events, but is caught up in them despite himself, propelled in just a short time from a life of comfortable anonymity on the shores of Galilee to a dubious status as the known associate of a wanted man. I’m sure that there were a few unvoiced regrets along the way for each of the Twelve. But they have found themselves drawn irresistibly by the person of Christ, and even if they don’t always understand him, they know that he is speaking the deepest truth they will ever hear.

So, no escape. Nowhere to go. I’m reminded of the experience of the magi in T.S.Eliot’s wonderful poem The Journey of the Magi. As the poem ends, they return home from their visit to the Christ-child, but are unable to resume their former lives:

“We returned to our places, these Kingdoms,
But no longer at ease here, in the old dispensation,
With an alien people clutching their gods.”

Once you have really engaged with Jesus, nothing else ever compares.

Yes, for us as for Peter, the way may often be hard. There will be countless times when living as a disciple seems just too much effort. If only we didn’t have to bother about justice, freedom, mercy. If only we weren’t called to love so much. Couldn’t we just forget all about it and get back to normal?

But then we realise that we’re on a one-way street, with no u-turns possible. That we simply have to follow the road, for it is the only one that will bring us safely to our destination. In our own time, so many are seeking, so many longing to find some meaning to their lives, and there are many glimpses of truth to be found in unsuspected places. But, ultimately, it is the voice of Jesus who calls us - by whatever name we know him. It is Jesus who invites us to come to him. Jesus who speaks to us the words of eternal life.

Loving Lord
When the way seems hard
When our lives are full of noise and busyness
When our hearts and restless
And our minds confused
Speak to us your words of eternal life
And open our ears that we may hear and respond
For your love’s sake.