Monday, December 31, 2007

That was the year, that was

If you read my response to the last Friday Five, you may have guessed that, for all its celebrations, 2007 has not been a year of unremitting joy in Privet Drive.
Last New Year's Eve, though I made no public pronouncements, I did make myself a promise as the evening wore on that in the year ahead I would take active steps to sort out those parts of my life I was least happy with.
At the end of the year, despite alot of very hard work from more than one quarter, actually nothing much has changed.
I'm not even sure if it can - and that's not a good thing to realise,- though as I type this I hear my Great Aunt May's voice "What can't be cured must be endured" - so perhaps this year's goal had better be an end to even my quiet internal whingeing.
Certainly the blog isn't the place for any necessary processing - so instead, I too will join the ranks of those reviewing the year via the first sentence of each month's posts. I hope this year's may be a little more exciting than its predecessor

Every now and then,I am filled with an unwarranted sense of my own importance as a communicator (this may be an occupational hazard for preachers) and specifically as a writer, and delude myself into believing that this blog has merit beyond the very limited reality.
As anyone reading this surely knows , I'm chaotic by nature and find it really hard to use time well and wisely, so I was probably hoping for magic answers, but was not unduly surprised to find them eluding me.

Llan was great: I'd not been there in stormy weather before, and in its position on the side of the hill the house felt very much like a ship breasting the waves, as the wind howled around us.
OpenHouse, our once a month informal family worship, is now 18 months old.
Apologies for the break in transmission, which crept up on me rather.
I’m getting slightly confused here.
If you're feeling weary, I suggest you just move straight on. I'm not quite sure why I'm blogging this - it's not, I promise, in an effort to claim the "most clapped-out clergy award" for 2007.
Hattie Gandhi remains the perfect person with whom to travel and our hosts at Tregithy were their usual hospitable selves.
I really
don’t want to bore you…but I do need to note some other highlights of Greenbelt worship this year, if only so I've a reference point when I need it.
One of the great compensations for losing both my parents when I was just 18 (honestly, - there
were some, I’m not just putting a brave face on things) was the number of friends who included me as extra members of their family, whose mums encouraged me to turn up for meals, to stay the night, or just hang around the place whenever I felt like it.
I must be dotty:with everything else that is currently going on in my life, I've signed up for a whole month of blogging every day.
World AIDS Day and I'm thinking about my friends in Tamil Nadu who are part of the AIDS Awareness and Rehabilitation project that opened while we were out there a year ago.

So - themes of blogging, of characteristic confusion, of worship and time out, and of some of the special people whom God has put in my way. Pretty representative of my life, I guess.
Time now to walk dogs and then make salads....New Year's Eve, with all its weight of expectations and scope for disappointment, stretches ahead.
However you're spending it, I hope it's kind to you

Friday, December 28, 2007

Auld Lang Syne Friday Five

It feels a little early still to review 2007, but with a Friday Five to inspire me I've been reflecting on memorable moments of the past 12 months. It hasn't been the easiest year I've ever lived through, and though it has seen some important resolutions there is still alot of stuff I'd love to have come to better terms with by now...but looking back, there has been so much to treasure. A year in which Greenbelt, in all its wonderfulness, isn't absolutely at the top of my Things to Remember is surely a year that has had alot going for it. I'd hoped "memorable" might also mean "photgenic", but the more I thought the more I realised that the sort of experiences I'll carry most decisively with me from this year aren't on the whole the stuff of point-and-shoot cameras, and some of them, indeed, aren't wholly mine to share...but this is at least a vaguely representative selection. goes

  • The shout of triumph with which Hugger Steward burst out of his room having opened the envelope offering him a place at Cambridge (echoed 8 months later as he opened his A level results)
  • Spending my birthday on board Polyphony with all my children together and the sun shining
  • Celebrating an Alt. Eucharist with Koinonia on Remembrance Sunday - sharing the Sacrament as Peirce Pettis sang "God Believes in You" (the Koinonia Birthday Eucharist in June isn't something I'll forget in a hurry either - specially "We want to see Jesus lifted high")
  • The Eucharistic Prayer at Midnight Mass - feeling as if I was somehow singing those words on behalf of everyone in the whole world
  • Anwering the phone an hour after getting home from the interview day to hear the Bishop say "We'd love you to come"

Thursday, December 27, 2007

Did I mention mayhem?

Somewhere amid all that seething excitement of children is mother holding her baby son.
On reflection, as a metaphor for most family Christmasses that's spot on.

Words, words, words

One of the snags of being ENFP, infinitely distractible and almost certainly trying to do too many things at once on any given occasion is my tendency never to notice details (unless they are what distracts me, of course - oh look - a Christmas tree!)
So it wasn't till I posted last night that I realised that I'd passed my 1000th post -
Ironically, I think it was the one I called Making a Mark

That seems an awful lot of expeditions into other people's lives. Thank you for the generosity with which you receive my words and encourage me to keep on writing. I'll hope to be awake enough to notice when I get to 1111 and we'll party then, OK?

Meanwhile, today the church is celebrating John, apostle and evangelist, and writer of perhaps the most perfect prose in the Bible. Since he quite reasonably didn't write his own collect, it's a bit of an anticlimax:

Merciful Lord
cast your bright beams of light upon the Church;
that being enlightened by the teaching
of the apostle and evangelist Saint John,

we may so walk in the light of your truth
that we may at the last attain to the light of everlasting life;
through Jesus Christ your incarnate Son our Lord...

Such a long journey - a reflection offered at the 8.00 Communion on Christmas Day

Light looked down and beheld darkness Thither will I go said Light
That’s the most important journey, of course…the journey we are here to celebrate…the journey that makes all the difference to everything…. But St Luke’s account of the nativity is full of journeys. Mary and Joseph travel to Bethlehem, The angels come from heaven to the shepherds The shepherds hurry to the manger. It’s as if even at his birth Jesus is intent on stirring us up, on moving us out of our familiar ways, taking us out beyond our comfort zones. Ironic, then, that we’ve transformed our celebrations of his birth into the epitome of traditions. We dream of Christmasses “just like the ones we used to know” and exclaim in distress if an “essential” carol somehow gets missed from the Midnight Service or too many features of our own ideal festivities are altered without permission. Ironic because that baby is born to challenge and to change us… The shepherds went on their journey – they saw the good news story with their own eyes – and then they had to go home and demonstrate that the baby’s birth really was good news for the whole world. Once the angels had stopped singing and gone on their way, the good news depended on them. Who would have believed their wild stories of a sky filled with angels if the events of that night had not changed the shepherds so that they began to live a new kind of life? They turned from people who had been on the receiving end of good news, - who had heard it and seen it, - to people who were good news themselves. And now we are invited on the same journey…called to travel even to Bethlehem We’re not there just to see, marvel and return home to the status quo. We go, just as we are, because we have no other option. That‘s the only way that we can go. No possibility of white-wash or self-deception here, since the Opne we go to visit is our God, our creator, a helpless baby swaddled against the night air. But though we are all of us welcome as we are…we are called there to be changed. There’s another journey to make…from self interest to love, from anger to peace, from despair to hope… As we stoop to enter the stable, that cramped space that contains Someone greater than the world and all that is in it, we are invited to change….to offer our poverty, our inadequacy, our disappointment, our fear and to receive back riches, strength, comfort beyond all expectation. We come as we are and are changed till we are as He is….

looked down and beheld darkness.
‘Thither will I go,’ said Light.
Peace looked down and beheld war.
‘Thither will I go,’ said Peace.
Love looked down and beheld hate.
‘Thither will I go,’ said Love.
So light came, and shone.
So peace came, and gave rest.
So love came, and gave light.
And the Word was made flesh, and dwelt among us.

Wednesday, December 26, 2007

Joy to the World!

I probably daren't admit this to my family, but this year the highlight of Christmas really was the "church stuff".
Not that I haven't been well and truly spoiled - some fab ear-rings which I kind of guided LCM into purchasing, together with a new watch that actually tells the time
(not that this is likely to have any impact on my own appalling timekeeping "skills"), and I had a whole heap of lovely shiney things together with nearly enough books to keep me happy for the holidays at least...And not that it hasn't been truly lovely to spend some time sitting around doing not much with all my wonderful children in one place....but this year,the worship really was extra special.
Midnight Mass was brimming over with mystery and marvel..a full church, great singing (and I did have the time of my life singing the Eucharistic prayer - those fantastic words in the Preface for Christmas and a huge sense of the presence of God among his people. In the morning, the 8.00 was calm and lovely and the "experimental" Family Eucharist was pure joy from start to finish. I'd adapted the liturgy in the desperate hope that the prospect of Communion wouldn't deter those fringe families who sometimes came to the 11.30 Family service in past years. Not sure in terms of numbers whether that really worked, but families were undoubtedly there and their presence completely changed the feel of the service...Instead of a slightly over-dignified procession to the crib, we had a journey with a purpose, as the children came with us and were interested and happy to see the babe lying in the manger...Instead of another attempt to think of something radically different to say about the joy of the Incarnation, I had fun exploring the difference between seeing and being good news, and anticipated any grinch-like comments about children running around the church by giving them a mission to do just that. It's very hard for anyone to remain obdurate when half a dozen under 7s are rushing around panting "Good News", I find!
Right through the service there was the happy buzz of children relaxed and glad to be there but I think my personal highlight was when the junior choristers produced tamborines during Joy to the World, and echoed each phrase of the chorus....The other children in church were possibly less rhythmic, but goodness were they excited and it became impossible not to smile from then on in.
As we were offering Communion from 3 standing stations, I got to look at people as I communicated them - and to see the joy in their eyes too and at the door the response was completely and overwhelmingly positive.
Another landmark on the way to a fully inclusive parish Eucharist safely passed, I think...thanks be to God!

Monday, December 24, 2007

At least 400 assorted children, angels, shepherds, stars and their parents at the Crib Service this afternoon - complete but happy mayhem...
Carol singing in the posh hotel where I'd hate to spend Christmas a huge success too....
Presents wrapped because my wonderful wonderful family undertook to wrap anything that wasn't actually intended for them personally
Sea bass cooking for supper
Lights lit on the tree
Peace now - and music and familiar stories until it's time to go up to church to lead in the retelling of the Greatest Story of All at Midnight Mass.

After the frantic shopping
The anxious road

After the office parties
The crowded inn

Before the quarterly bills
The stones gathered

Before the January Sales
And Stephen broken
After the carols and lessons
The psalms, the prophets,

After the gifts are wrapped
The swaddling clothes

Before the Queen's speech

A baby's cry

Across the morning suburbs

The Light of the World. (U. A. Fanthorpe- "Now")

So, my friends, may that Light shine brightly for all of you this Christmastide and beyond, bringing much love and great great joy.

Christmas Eve Dog Outrage!

Cancel all positive thoughts about Dillon.
He has just broken into the study while I was up at Morning Prayer and eaten the chocolate money which was supposed to be going into stockings.
Sadly he has left the tin foil.
This is a disappointment as he probably won't even feel slightly ill - unless, of course, he elects to be sick all over the remaining presents.
One dog now confined to the utility room for the forseeable future.
Bah! Humbug!!

Christmas Cat blogging

Tallis and Dillon are indulging in a practice that, depending on your perspective, could be seen as either sleeping with the enemy or a seasonal enactment of Isaiah's peaceable kingdom

Actually, ever since he saw the photos of Songbird's crib, complete with friendly beasts, Tallis has been pressing me to post this poem by the Gloucestershire poet U.A. Fanthorpe. So, for RevCatPals everywhere

Cat in the Manger

In the story, I'm not there.
Ox and ass arranged at prayer:
But me? Nowhere.

Anti-cat evangelists
How on earth could you have missed
Such an obvious and able
Occupant of any stable?

Who excluded mouse and rat?
The harmless, necessary cat.
Who snuggled in with the holy pair?
Me. And my purr.

Matthew, Mark, Luke and John,
(Who got it wrong,
Who left out the cat)
Remember that,
Wherever He went in this great affair
I was there.

Friday, December 21, 2007

A Merry Christmas Friday Five

One way and another, today felt high on frustration and low on achievement, so my supply of seasonal cheer was endangered, till RevHRod produced her Christmas Friday Five. Having contemplated the delights ahead, though, I'm in a far more mellow state. Thank you :-)

1. What was one of your favorite childhood gifts that you gave?
I used to plant bowls of hyacinths with E, my honorary mother...She would hide them away in the dark somewhere till they began to shoot and, in a good year, they were just ready to bloom to be given as gifts when Christmas came. I still feel vaguely unprepared if there isn't a bowl of hyacinths lurking somewhere about the place as December wears on.

2. What is one of your favorite Christmas recipes? Bonus points if you share the recipe with us.
Not strictly a Christmas recipe, but one that is inextricably part of childhood Christmasses for me was Aunt May's Chocolate Cake. Aunt May was the youngest of my Grandmother's sisters. She'd married late and was childless, so had spoiled first my father and then me for many a long Christmas the spoiling took the form of a tin of cheese straws for him, and The Cake(awash with chocolate icing, cherries and chocolate curls) for me. Thankfully I elicited the recipe before she died, aged 99 years and 10 months, and it is now the essential expression of birthday festivities for my children (though I've never made it as successfully as Aunty May did). Too weary to look it out tonight - but it's a goodie, truly.

3. What is a tradition that your family can't do without? (And by family, I mean family of origin, family of adulthood, or that bunch of cool people that just feel like family.)
Oh, so many. We are very traditional at Christmas. We all HAVE to be home before we can decorate the tree. On Christmas Eve, after supper, we have to sing certain carols...HG always does The Little Road to Bethlehem and all the singing Flemings take a verse each of "Now light one thousand Christmas lights". Hugger Steward plays descants on his flute..Then we read certain Christmas stories, always ending with The Good Little Christmas Tree, before heading out for Midnight Mass.
On Christmas morning, it's stockings before I leap up for the 8.00 Eucharist. If I'm lucky there might be be time for a croissant or pain chocolat before the main Parish Communion (which everyone attends...though it takes me alot longer to get home than the rest of the family). Once we're there, it's a glass of champage, and then just one tree present each before lunch...the others have to wait, and are opened in turn later in the afternoon...
Later on during the holiday, we have to watch The Box of Delights and play assorted silly word games. Mostly we just have to be together.

4. Pastors and other church folk often have very strange traditions dictated by the "work" of the holidays. What happens at your place?
There is just so much church between 4.00 Christmas Eve, when the Crib service happens, and the end of the Eucharist at around 11.45 on Christmas day that it's tempting to say that what happens is a pile of sleeping Flemings on the sofa for most of the afternoon...but last year I think we cracked this, thanks to the judicious substitution of cold salmon with yummy salads for turkey etc...No longer replete as well as exhausted, I actually found it possible to stay awake while we unwrapped presents. In previous years, we'd found ourselves opening the majority on Boxing Day, or even this feels like progress!

5. If you could just ditch all the traditions and do something unexpected... what would it be?
I don't think I'd really want to ditch any...Grumpy and panicky though I may be on this Friday before Christmas, as the "to do" list spirals out of control, I'm still not remotely tempted by alternative ways of doing it...though if it weren't incompatible with Advent I'd love to spend some time in Vienna visiting Christmas markets, drinking gluwein and crunching through real snow to the music of Mozart. Or something like that...But I'd need to be safely home in time for Christmas Eve, the best day of the whole year.

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

Dark nights

We've not yet reached the shortest day, but this year I'm conscious of so many friends who are finding it almost impossible to engage in any way with the mad partying of the world as it prepares for Christmas, or even with the gentler anticipation that fills our churches with wonder and longing as the days of Advent speed past.

This year, friends have been bereaved, have dealt with broken promises and broken relationships. This year, friends have suffered illness or, worse, have watched those they love suffering.
This year, for some, the promise of Emmanuel, God with us seems all but meaningless.
So when I found this prayer for the longest night, I had to post it for them, and for anyone else who really needs an assurance that the Light shines in the darkness.

Holy God of Advent
You became weak
So we would find strength in our moments of heartbreak;
you left the safety of heaven
to wander the wilderness of the world,
holding our hands when we feel hopeless;
you set aside your glory
to hold our pain so we might be healed,
even when there seems no hope;
you became one of us,
so we would never be alone in any moment,
in any circumstance..

So come now, child of Bethlehem
to strengthen us in these days.
May we feel your presence
in a way we have never known,
not just as one born in a stable
long ago and far away
but as the One born in our hearts.

You have promised to go before us:
into our brokenness, into hospital rooms,
into empty houses, into graveyards,
into our future held by God,
and you are here, even now,
waiting for each of us;
to serve us,
to hold us,
to comfort us,
to heal us,
to live us, now and for ever.

ETA Though I promise I do have other books on my shelves, this is yet another offering from the ever-wonderful Candles and Conifers

Monday, December 17, 2007

If you came in the Spring

I meant to read this at the end of my sermon on Great Expectations yesterday, but in the event it felt that I might already have spoken too many words, so instead I offer it here, another gem from the Iona Community's Candles and Conifers, this time from Thom M Shuman, which reflects further on the unexpectedness of the nativity

If you came in the spring,
we could expect newness,
bright yellow flowers
to soften your path,
the songs of birds
to herald your coming.

But you came in
winter's despair;
the chill of complacency
settled upon us.

If you came in summer
we could expect you
to be bronzed
stepping from the sea.

But you came
in a stable,
a wrinkled baby
with animals as midwives,
and angels for playmates.

Help us to set down
our parcels of expectations
to reach down and scoop
you up in our arms,
your laughing breath
giving us life. Amen

Advent 3

was extremely full and busy, but pretty good on the whole. Heavy frost did not deter the intrepid 8.00 congregation - bizarrely, numbers were actually up appreciably, perhaps because those parishioners who will be away for Christmas wanted to touch base with their church family before they depart.The sermon went down better than I'd feared at 10.00. Somehow I felt paralysed by the wonderful passages set for the day, which seemed in themselves to say all I might want to, rather better than I could hope that my best efforts seemed doomed from the outset, even with a little help from my friends - but it all felt much better from the pulpit than on the final read-through in the study.

Busy afternoon of domestic Christmas preps, Evensong and then time for carol singing with the youth group and a good proportion of the choir too. Never been, so cold, honestly, but the singing was good (and our first carols of the year, which made it extra real) and it all looked look very beautiful, with a heavy frost sparkling on the ground, mirroring the stars twinkling above us.
I was specially pleased to sing for a neighbour who is dealing with renal failure with grace and style (when I last visited her, she had just finished decorating for Christmas and insisted on opening a bottle of pink fizz in honour of this). It really
matters to be able to take little bits of Christmas to people, I'm certain.
In a little over an hour, we raised £76 for the Children's Society before admitting defeat and returning here to wine nobly mulled by Longsuffering Clockmaker (who is a bit of a domestic god on a good day :-) ) and as much hot food as we could muster...
Our tree stands waiting in Advent mode, lit but undecorated (since we need Hattie G home before that can be thought of), the candle bridges were alight and seeing our sitting room full of people I'm fond of, it was easy to believe that Christmas will soon be here, bringing with it the promise of light shining in our darkness.

Saturday, December 15, 2007

It's Saturday what better than a Friday Five?

Over at RevGals, Mother Laura says:

Can you believe that in two days we'll be halfway through Advent? Gaudete Sunday: pink candle on the advent wreath, rose vestments for those who have them, concerts and pageants in many congregations. Time to rejoice!

Rejoice in the nearness of Christ's coming, yes, but also in the many gifts of the pregnant waiting time when the world (in the northern hemisphere, at least) spins ever deeper into sweet, fertile darkness.

What makes you rejoice about:
1. Waiting? Waiting is great...I need lots of little stepping stones of happiness to aim towards, and the anticipation is an important part of the journey. It's why Christmas Eve is the most wonderful night of the year...Leaving the house dark but for the tree's lights, which hint the mysterious shapes of parcels jumbled beneath its branches and walking through silent streets to a church taut with candlelit expectation and deep stillness. In that moment, the experience to come is almost more real than when it truly arrives. I love it.
2. Darkness?
The restfulness of not needing to look out for faces, familiar and less so, who expect and need a greeting as I cycle up to church
Pinpoints of light.
Stars on a frosty night.
The candlebridge in the window welcoming me home.

3. Winter?
Hibernation by a real fire...Books, cats, children home, gentle creativity...

4. Advent?
Oh - real Advent is one great cause of rejoicing. This year started well, with the best Advent Carol service I've been part of since Cambridge, I think, - but since then I've blown it somewhat, for no discernible reason...The Advent book has not been followed daily, the pauses for thought have just not happened - but perhaps I'll pick up the threads when we reach the 17th and embark on the Great O antiphons - which carry the longing of centuries.

5. Jesus' coming? Adrian Plass tells a wonderful story of a hell fire preacher who placed an empty chair at the head of the nave in church and told his congregation to imagine that Jesus had returned and was sitting there..."Now aren't you fearful of his judgement?" the guy thundered and Adrian Plass sat there feeling excited and longing and happy all at once...That's where I am. Those Isaiah passages looking forward light up parts of me that could overwhelm me with longing at any moment. I feel always on the brink of tears of yearning as we wait on His coming

Friday, December 14, 2007

Making a mark

It's very odd to think that this will be my last Christmas at St M's, - but what a privilege to know this, rather than simply continuing in the everyday confidence that nothing will ever change (a particular feature of this season, with so many traditions in churches, schools and families to lull us into an illusion of unbroken continuity) - until one day, quite suddenly, change it does.

It's too early for serious stock-taking, and on the whole it's not up to me anyway to evaluate what difference my being here may have made...but there are things that I'm happy about, things I'll remember on wet Wednesdays when I'm really needing encouragement. I even have a special box (a brainwave from my very good friend the Canon, who seems to be too busy being wonderful to blog at all these days,) where I can keep tangible reminders of valued people, important connections made and recognised. The box itself was a gift from top daughter Hattie Gandhi, who found it, a splendid example of Indian carving, complete with secret catch, in the Fair Trade shop in Cardiff. I love the idea that these are my private confidence boosts, my secret evidence that sometimes I've been enabled to join in a corner of kingdom work.

I guess it's natural to want some sort of record. What else, after all, is this blog?
Recently I found myself in part of a much loved public building that isn't usually accessible to the public - and found alot of evidence from others who had been there before me. It amused me that though they wanted to make their mark, their public declaration "I was here" had been made in semi- privacy. Not quite the same as my "Kingdom box" but still...

Thursday, December 13, 2007

My s-i-l forwarded this to me, and I think it deserves as much coverage as possible, hence including it here

I just signed an emergency petition trying to save the crucial climate change talks in Bali, Indonesia right now by telling the US, Canada and Japan to stop blocking an agreement. You can sign it here:

Almost all countries have agreed to cut rich country carbon emissions by 2020--which scientists say is crucial to stop catastrophic global warming, and will also help bring China and the developing world onboard. But with just 2 days left in the conference, the US and its close allies Canada and Japan have rejected any mention of such cuts.

We can't let three governments hold the world hostage and block agreement on this desperate issue.

There's still 2 days left to turn this around - click below to sign the petition - it will be delivered direct to summit delegates, through stunts and in media advertisements, so our voices will actually be heard. But we need a lot of us, fast, to join in if we're going to make a difference. Just click on the link to add your name:


I have no idea if gathering names on a petition like this will actually change anything - cynicism says that it's unlikely - but it must surely be worth a go.
If you're unfamiliar with Avaaz, as I was, here's the info from the email I received after signing the petition is an independent, not-for-profit global campaigning organization that works to ensure that the views and values of the world's people inform global decision-making. (Avaaz means "voice" in many languages.) Avaaz receives no money from governments or corporations, and is staffed by a global team based in London, New York, Paris, Washington DC, Geneva, and Rio de Janeiro.

Over to you, blogmates

St Lucy's day

Given Hattie Gandhi's true identity, the fact that my very favourite Godmother has lived in Denmark for most of my life (where the St Lucy's day traditions are honoured to the full) and the fact that I've always, always loved the poetry of John Donne, I couldn't let today go without lighting some candles and reflecting on the gathering darkness and the Light that is to come. However, Donne's Nocturnall upon St Lucie's Day is considerably gloomier than I'm feeling at the moment, as I bask in the unfamiliar glow of having produced the order of service for Christmas morning a full 10 days in advance, so here's one of Ruth Burgess's lovely prayers for Advent instead (you'll find it and so many other resources in Candles and Conifers)

Bright star-maker God
travel with us through Advent
Shine into our dark corners

Lead us into ways of justice
Warm us with joy and wonder
Bring us to new birth.

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

Signs of the times

As I mentioned earlier, St M's is a popular venue for school carol services, and this evening we were packed to the gunwhales with parents and friends - and the children themselves, of course. Before the service, I helped hand out service sheets - and saw a pretty traditional selection of carols represented ; "Good King Wenceslaus" "O Come, all ye faithful" "Ding Dong Merrily on High" and "The Twelve Days of Christmas". Though the evening is always billed as a Carol Service in the past few years it has been more like a Christmas play with audience carols thrown in for good it was no surprise that tonight's offering began very firmly in a secular present. What was more startling was the fact that for the first year ever, there was not a single reference (beyond the carols, which were kind of incidental ) to the nativity itself. The play, which was very well presented, and featured some splendid singing from all the Y5 children, was based around a sort of treasure hunt to find the missing fifth gold ring, without which The Twelve Days of Christmas could not be completed...There were references to the qualities that might help to recover the ring - giving, being of united as one, listening and doing,- there were references to the elusive "Christmas gold" which seemed to represent the heart of the season - but there wasn't even a glance towards the child in the manger. I realise that this is a multi-cultural, post Christendom society - but Ch Kings is a pretty solidly middle England kind of place, where traditions have a great deal of power...It seems to me that we've maybe passed some sort of watershed - certainly my own perceptions have been challenged uncomfortably. I was further disconcerted by the fact that though everyone there was given a hymn sheet, and none of the carols were remotely obscure, very few of the parents actually joined in with the singing when they were invited to.

It is common knowledge that singing is no longer something that British adults choose to do - and this saddens me hugely....But Christmas carols, I'd imagined, were something different. They would surely be safe for a generation at least...but even to please their children, this group of parents was just not going to sing. Music, particularly singing, has for so long been one of my clearest windows onto God - so I came home decidedly pensive. Took this snap with my phone as we sang (or didn't) the final carol. The rood screen veiled in polythene is disturbingly symbolic of a gospel almost veiled by the competing pressures of a secular Christmas.

I'm not, as I hope you realise, in any way criticising the school or the excellent production. I'm just pondering sadly the gulf between where we currently are as church and where we might believe ourselves to be. I guess, really, I'm just learning the hard way.

Evidence that life continues...

Still here - thanks for asking! Just rather alot of life about the place at the moment and it's all rather manic...
  • Many schools in the parish means many Carol services, rehearsals and end of term assemblies (all trucking along quite nicely, I'm glad to say - and now that my own children are so ancient it's great to have opportunities to engage with small people in tea-towels..)
  • An 18th birthday means a party and many empties (but at least the domesticclimate is so green that there is no question of not washing and recyling)
  • Many services means many sermons (no of course I've not written them yet - but I think I can see where both Advent 3 and Christmas morning sermons are heading...and I have an outline for the brand new Family Eucharist for Christmas too so things are feeling quite positive there)
  • Many friends means much shopping (which I positively enjoyed doing in Cardiff with Hattie Gandhi - much much better as a shared activity) University life is working itself up to a frenzy of Christmas celebration even as I write: at the weekend I got to hear HG's choir sing a splendid concert - including some Lassus to die for - and even dropped in on the household Christmas of her best-uni-girl-friend [in the house HG will be sharing next year] where mince pies were being made without the aid of rolling pins and everything was very purry and contented)
So I think I'm fighting a losing battle with Advent. I'm still trying to think meaningful Advent thoughts, and will get back to you if any of them actually emerge, but meanwhile please say a prayer for all those for whom this is a painfully difficult time...particularly for two Davids, both of whom have very recently lost their life's companion, and for whom the light of Christmas is needed more than ever this year.

Friday, December 07, 2007

Butter wouldn't melt in his mouth

but it's my belief that he does it on purpose.
This afternoon I took my distinctly achey back to see the wonderful McTimoney chiropractor who cheers it so reliably.
T is wonderful - but her work doesn't come free, so it makes sense not to do anything that might strain, disturb or otherwise upset my back for at least a few hours afterwards.
But when I came home from Evening Prayer, it was to a Dillon who was black where he should have been white, and whose b.o. was unbearable.
So, I've been crouched over the bath washing a recalcitrant jack russell.
I know he does evil things all the time - but how does he know to tailor them so precisely?
Wretched animal. That's £35 he owes me!
He really has got to go....

Preparation preparation - an Advent Friday Five

Sally has had a difficult week, which has made her pause for thought in much the same way that my Indian experience last year made me stop and think before leaping headlong into the seasonal rush...
So her Friday Five is devoted to a topic I guess I barely understand - being prepared

1. You have a busy week, pushing out all time for preparing worship/ Sunday School lessons/ being ready for an important meeting ( or whatever equivalent your profession demands)- how do you cope?
If I don't have too much on, the chances are that I'll procrastinate until I'm under that sort of pressure anyway. Its fatal if I don't have too much on...This week, because most of the pressure is longer term, I feel that I've achieved basically nothing. Grrrr

2. You have unexpected visitors, and need to provide them with a meal- what do you do?
Seafood pasta. Frozen seafood. Jar of pasta sauce souped up with a glass of wine and a few tons of garlic. Creme fraiche if I've got any. Works every time, specially if we drink the rest of the bottle while the pasta cooks.
Send a child out to the late shop for salad, fruit and choccies...BINGO

Three discussion topics:

3. Thinking along the lines of this weeks advent theme; repentance is an important but often neglected aspect of advent preparations.....I'm mostly penitent that I've not even begun to engage with the themes...

4. Some of the best experiences in life occur when you simply go with the flow.....Absolutely. Couldn't agree more...In fact, I wasn't absolutely sure that there was any alternative direction.
Is there really??

5. Details are everything, attention to the small things enables a plan to roll forward smoothly...
You what?? Details? Are those the little bumpy things that roll around on the floor and sometimes trip me up...a bit like buttons but different? Hmnn....No. I don't do those.

Bonus if you dare- how well prepared are you for Christmas this year?
Christmas....being on what date exactly? Twenty fifth of what????
That can't be right.
I'll just carry on like this and have it in March, OK?
I did, in all honesty, order a couple of presents last night...but that's more or less it. Cards for 150? Services for rather more? Not so's you notice.
You see, with 2 weeks to go there's not nearly enough pressure to get me really focussed.
Got to keep on blogging onwards...

I've seen the daemon whom they think might be mine - and was rather overwhelmed by his sheer I'd be really grateful if we could establish whether or not he's really mine to keep!
Hattie Gandhi (a very stern critic where film versions of much loved books is concerned) reports entirely favourably on The Golden Compass (once she had got over the small matter of the change of title from the UK version "Northern Lights") - so I guess I need a daemon to accompany me to the cinema.

If you can't explain it with penguins

you're probably onto a loser.

When I first graduated and was having all kinds of fun working as a bookseller in Hatchards of Piccadilly Cardinal Basil Hume wrote a book entitled "To be a Pilgrim"
Since I was the person responsible for the religious books department, this was very much one of my babies and as it climbed its way up The Sunday Times bestseller list I got very used to fielding enquiries about it. So it was that one evening, just before closing time, I found myself embroiled in this conversation
Customer "I wanted to buy Cardinal Hume's new book...I can't remember what it's called"
Kathryn "You mean "To be a Penguin...."
(Well, it was a paperback - albeit not from that particular publisher)
I then went on to confuse the unfortunate customer still futher by assuring him
"You'll find it in the peppermint department in the basement"
No. I don't know what was going on in my poor fried brain either - but ever since, none of my family has been able to sing "He who would valiant be..." without finishing each verse with, at the very least, a brief and surreptitious mime of a penguin's waddle.

So it was a great joy to me when I first arrived here to discover that Marcella, who has long been the motive power behind my beloved Little Fishes, tends to present most of her theology in terms of penguins. Yesterday, for example, she gave us the parable of the wise and foolish penguins...with the added bonus opportunity to cuddle one of the penguin bridesmaids as the story continued. It was, as it always is, just lovely and I reflected that most things in life are improved by the addition of a few amiable birds. After all, the really important truths are on the whole encouragingly simple...and most of the more joyous insights of the past 3 years have come to me via Little Fishes. I think there's a Kingdom saying there somewhere....

However ever now and then a situation comes up which just doesn't lend itself to penguin theology at all...I had one last night, when a ferociously intelligent humanist came round to discuss life, faith and associated matters. I felt so deeply, deeply stupid. We had virtually no language in common as we tried to explore each other's world view.
F.I.H. was charming and the conversation was good - but I became horribly aware of how much I define faith in terms of felt experience....with occasional recourse to penguins.
All in all, not my finest hour.

Thursday, December 06, 2007

REALLY special

Once upon a time I only enjoyed classical music - and was incredibly (if silently) snobbish about this - as if somehow true virtue could only be found among those who shared my tastes.

Thankfully, God sent me 3 children who are bright AND musical - and whose horizons are infinitely wider than those of their parent.
He also arranged things so that Greenbelt (off our family map for many many years, since it's pretty impossible for a Bed & Breakfast business to close each year for the August Bank Holiday) should relocate to Cheltenham racecourse - absolutely on our doorstep, even before I became curate at St M's - and via Greenbelt practically every aspect of my life was picked up, shaken and put down in a new and exciting order, which included all sorts of wonderful new sounds.
Greenbelt is the perfect opportunity for even a cautious soul to explore different sorts of music, to hear bands that would have been completely off my map - and to fall madly in love with some of them.

Streets ahead of the field among my brand new passions is Duke Special. I won't even attempt to describe his music* - except to say that he is amazing...both as a writer and performer. I'd first encountered him very briefly at Greenbelt 05, and and this year was among the several thousand who were wowed by his mainstage performance. To find that he was playing in Oxford at a time when I really could get there was almost too good to be true, given the insistent demands of a busy Advent. So last night Hugger Steward and I found ourselves in the relative intimacy of the Carling Academy - and even more bowled over than we'd been at GB.
Stunning performance. Stunning performer.Towards the end of he had us all singing along at the top of our voices to "Love goes deeper than this" and bouncing off every surface...then held us spellbound with the intensity of "This could be my last day" - with an ad lib section "sometimes you have to be a little bit broken to let the light shine through" -
Maybe a little broken - isn't everyone?
Unmistakeably deeply deeply special.

ETA **At his My Space page I found this - which gives a slightly clearer picture but really you just need to go over there and listen:

"Using cheese graters, wardrobe doors, pianos, harps, brass, strings and an old gramophone to record the twelve-track debut, Adventures in Gramophone is truly a musical spectacular. Duke Special is one of a kind, a unique and talented young Belfast man whose bruised romanticism and soft Northern tinged vocals are at sharp juxtaposition with his wild dreadlocks, smudged eyeliner and unfeasibly wide trousers.
On stage, Duke Special explodes into musical mayhem the battered old trademark gramophone wheezes, huge cymbals clash, egg whisks and cheese graters break free from the kitchen, a stumpf fiddle screeches and the crushed velvet covered piano thumps and tinks in unison but its the very core of the songs, his heartfelt, passionate poems, that will remain in your head long after the lights have gone down."

Wednesday, December 05, 2007

A thing of shreds and patches

Back in the summer holidays (an unimaginably long time ago on this bleak December day) I posted a picture of our sitting-room covered in a heap of bright colours as HG and her friends worked on a patchwork for her student room. I promised photos of the finished article, but have only recently sorted out the bluetooth that allows me to upload phone pictures to the finally, here is the girl in her glorious nest - blandness fully transformed.

As the new vicarage has been decorated (and carpetted - how wonderful is that!!) in totally safe and neutral magnolia, I rather think I'll be needing ways to bring some extra colour into the rooms there myself. Hattie Gandhi, however, is quite clear that she isn't about to create further patchworks any time soon. I think that starting with a double quilt may have been just a shade ambitious. It's a shame. I fancy a patchwork throw just like hers, but different, for the sofa in the study! Such a good conversation piece -
"That blue fabric there is the curtain the dog ate...Oh, and there's a leper's costume from Jesus Christ Superstar".
On reflection, it might be a route to Too Much Information for unsuspecting visitors, who may be reassured by the calm of magnolia - especially when off-set by the joys of the fireplace to come....
In any case, it's quite rare to be able to see the sofa in here for the junk piled upon it.
I did say something earlier about doing some tidying...After all, it is my day off!

Monday, December 03, 2007

Waiting in darkness

Advent Sunday passed in a whirl of activity, which was nearly all good.
The irony did not escape me when I picked up my wrist watch having been woken by the alarm on my phone yesterday morning, to discover that the battery had died. My theme for the "Thought for the day" at 8.00 (borrowed with grateful thanks from Anne le Bas)
"You know what time it is".
Well, maybe not after all - and I certainly failed miserably to answer the challenge I invited the congregation to share, of spending just 2 minutes each day with an open agenda for God, asking Him to direct how best to use the time.My diary was far too full for such indulgences!

However, despite this, there were many God-moments in the course of the busy day. Chief among them were the sheer shiney-ness of the children (far brighter than the candles) at the Christingle service, the beauty of the choir's singing during the Advent Carol service and, as always, the throat-catching moment at the beginning of the service when clergy and servers wait in darkness at the west end of the pitch-black church and gradually the young people of Koinonia, whom I love so much, bring us the light while the choir sing "Sleepers Wake".

Almighty God, give us grace to cast away the works of darkness, and put on the armor of light,
now in the time of this mortal life in which your Son Jesus Christ came to visit us in great humility;
that in the last day, when he shall come again in his glorious majesty to judge both the living and the dead, we may rise to life immortal;
through him who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit,
one God, now and forever. Amen.

Saturday, December 01, 2007

and I'm thinking about my friends in Tamil Nadu who are part of the AIDS Awareness and Rehabilitation project that opened while we were out there a year ago. To fight the spread of AIDS with a few ancient Singer sewing machines seems laughably inadequate - but the issue of AIDS in India (as in so many other places) is the issue of poverty. It's very simple. Children are infected and dying because their mothers take the only route open to them to earn money for food. Nobody is going to produce anti retroviral drugs for them, because there simply isn't the money - and anyway, few around them care if they live or die. Out there, life is cheap. It's ironic, - the first AIDS funeral I went to was for D., a gay friend, a musician - and the celebration of his life and work was among the most beautiful I remember....The GBLT community and their friends gathered in force to support each other, to show their love in the face of death. Afterwards we drank pink champagne and wept and laughed and wept some more....and it was all so incredibly civilised. Now, as I pray on World AIDS day, I'm thinking about Anjali and her son...about Lili and Sushila and the other girls I met, whose lives are, on the whole, nasty, brutish and short. Who knows how things are for them now, - but not one of them is forgotten by the God to whom they cling.

O God of love whose mercy has always included those who are forgotten,
those who are isolated, those who suffer,

bless, we beseech you, all who are afflicted by HIV and AIDS.
Comfort them in their pain, sustain them in their hopelessness,

And receive them into the arms of your mercy in their dying.
Open our hearts to provide for their needs,
to take away their isolation,
to share in their journey of suffering and sorrow
and to be present with them so they need not die alone.
Bless those who mourn the death of friends and lovers;
may they not be overwhelmed by death

but receive comfrot and strength to meet the days ahead

with trust and hope in your goodness and mercy.

(A prayer from South Africa)

Friday, November 30, 2007

St Andrew's Day...

so NaBloPoMo is over and done with - and Ive managed it.

Let us not even begin to consider why it is so distressingly easy to achieve those things which I have no need to achieve...let's just rejoice that for once I've finished something that I started.

Doing almost anything regularly for 30 days has to be a record for me, so I'm rather pleased - though very aware that quality was sacrificed to regularity along the way.

Nonetheless, if you have been, thanks for reading :-)
Normal patchy service will be resumed with immediate effect.


Hot on my post yesterday about the sad demise of Advent, this week's Friday Five is full of the "joys" of the season - the ones that send you screaming from the room. If I didn't know already how much I love and appreciate will smama this would have convinced me :-)

Please tell us your least favorite/most annoying seasonal....

1) dessert/cookie/family food :
I hope it won't sound terribly snooty if I say that I utterly detest all of the commercial varieties of brandy butter/rum butter that I've ever tasted....Good home made brandy butter is the only possible justification for Christmas pudding - so to have to consume the one without the other is a miserable experience in my book.

2) beverage (seasonal beer, eggnog w/ way too much egg and not enough nog, etc...) I'm mostly spared yukky drinks...don't think anyone has ever even offered me eggnog (am pretty sure I'd hate it if they did)....and I really love mulled wine. When LCM and I were first married and spent our Christmasses at his parents, there seemed to be an expectation that all women would really enjoy a glass of green chartreuse at the end of Christmas dinner. Deeply, truly and unmistakeably revolting (think bad cough mixture and double it). Thankfully, that tradition passed when the in-laws sold the family home so nowdays I guess I really only dislike drinks that others consume in excess, leading to unhappy atmospheres at social events. (Lord, that sounds sooooo prudish and kill joy. Should I delete? )

3) tradition (church, family, other)
The good thing about being the only child of two only children (deceased) is that I've pretty much been able to set my own family traditions,- so naturally they are completely perfect!
There's nothing specially awful at church either, though at St M's, I've never got the point of fixing blue filters over the lights in the chancel for Midnight Mass - which then have to be removed by weary souls atop exceeding high ladders, before we can safely go home to bed...but that's more incomprehension than actual loathing.

4) decoration

Anything that is up already. It's not even Advent yet...(OK - that was yesterday's whinge; let me come up with something more original). One year we had the misfortune to win a fibre optic village scene in a raffle - which the rather young Dufflepud adored. Let's just say that he was in a minority of one.

5) Gift received or given
There was the year when my MiL produced a wincyette nightie AND some scented writing paper (though she also produced assorted far more desirable gifts - she is one for whom the expression Generous to a Fault was probably invented...)

BONUS: SONG/CD that makes you want to tell the elves where to stick it.
Absolutely no contest.
"Come, they called me, par um pa pa pa pum"
And then I put my foot Right through his drum.

And may all your grimble-tides be white!

Thursday, November 29, 2007

Losing our grip on Advent?

Ask the Matriarch this week is all about how we can hang on to Advent in a world that wants us to keep Christmas - and of course, this is the hot topic for clergy in late November. On Sunday evening at St Mary's we will have our Advent Carol service - moving through from Palestrina's Matin Responsary to the great shout that concludes "Lo he comes"..."O Come quickly...Alleluia, Come Lord Come".
We will celebrate our journey from darkness to light, will hear the readings appointed for centuries, together with those great collects that send shivers down the spine as they call us to "cast away the works of darkness".
It will be wonderful, moving and appropriate - but
I can almost guarantee that there will be at least one disconcerted family who slips away before the end, appalled to discover that, despite the candlelight, we won't be singing "Away in a Manger" at all...
Because no-one out there "gets" Advent. They may be aware of the name, because of the countdown element of their Advent Calendars - but these tend to major on a daily chocolate and a Disney theme, and even the explicitly Christian ones lead you straight into the Christmas story. Schools are breaking up early too, which means that the first school carol service (which will be well and truly Christmassy) takes place in St Mary's on 11th December - and my first Christmas dinner will be courtesy of the Mothers' Union on this coming Monday 2nd December. Advent, it seems, is a lost cause - and it's dotty to waste the opportunity that Christmas provides to welcome people into the church, to "tell them the stories of Jesus they love to hear"

At Greenbelt 06 FabBishop suggested that it might be wise to make the most of any common ground the church has with the Hallmark calendar of secular feasts - and it doesn't feel in any way helpful to go on saying, in a chill but holy way
"Advent is a time of preparation, of pondering the Four Last Things" while outside everyone else is already waxing sentimental over The Little Drummer Boy. We're supposed to be ministering in the world...not tying ourselves in knots because the world doesn't grasp the niceties of the liturgical calendar. On the whole, I'm not prepared to lose a golden opportunity to celebrate God's love -it's lonely up on the moral high ground!
So - do we have to abandon all hope of taking time to breathe, to put our spiritual house in order as we prepare to savour the wonder that is to come?
An article in last Friday's Church Times suggested a possible solution - that we move the "waiting/preparing" element of Advent back into November, into the "Kingdom season" which otherwise passes almost un-noticed. I think I might be up for that idea. You might be able to lure people to a study group at this relatively fallow point of the year (That's right -before the Christmas parties start!) - but Advent is, surely, a season for preaching to the converted. Meanwhile, with an eye to mission, one church in our deanery is holding a "crib festival" - an exhibition of some 100 cribs from various sources...another has a Christmas Tree festival....People will pour in to enjoy those, people who would be utterly lost and confused if confronted with the solemnity of Advent.
So let's be content to keep Advent for the "conoisseurs" - our core congregation - but to do everything we can, and more, to make sure that those outside are invited to hearing the message of the angels.