Tuesday, January 30, 2007

Reflections on a reflection.

One of the great pleasures of the blog world is, of course, becoming good friends with people whom you have never actually met...and every now and then, discovering tastes and circumstances in common that make you feel this might just be a long-lost relative. Jo(e) and I have found so much in common,- not just the presence in both our lives of a Shaggy Haired Boy,- but it seemed almost uncanny to read her latest post.
Still hampered by a knee injury, Jo(e) has been exploring self-portrait photography, and considering the person she sees. As part of the spiritual direction course, I recently spent half an hour (3o whole minutes...believe you me, that's an incredibly long time) looking at myself in a small mirror and...yup...considering the person I saw.
I hated the process.
I'm not unused to looking at myself.
I'm pretty well used to the idea that I'm now middle-aged, that my face is not going to stop being round, that some lines are now part of the deal, no matter how assiduous my use of moisturisers.
That's OK.
I like most bits of being me, in the here and now.
I can even deal with my face when it is animated, responding to another person.
But at rest, it seemed hardly alive....reminding me that I only really feel like myself when I'm relating to another person.
Dammit. That's exactly the sort of thing this sort of thing is supposed to make you consider.
I rather wish it wasn't.

Never work...

with children and animals!

The well-worn adage rings very true for me today....I came home early this afternoon to discover that dogs and cats had conspired to knock over 2 of the large pots of geraniums which are currently evading the frost just inside the French doors in the dining room, scattering earth everywhere, which the cat(s?) had elected to use as a litter tray.

No time to deal with this, as I needed to shoot straight back out to the Junior School, where in the course of decorating jam-jar lanterns in honour of Candlemass, one delightful child elected to thrownavy blue glass-paint all over the pale grey library carpet....

I know, I know. Life just is messy sometimes - but I do wish it wasn't. Still, viewed more positively, this may be the escape route from my "What do I do with the JAFFA Club" Tuesday afternoon panics!

Sunday, January 28, 2007

Surprised at Synod!

There, that has a suitably unlikely ring to it, I feel!
But it truly does describe the process that took place at yesterday's diocesan gathering, where the theme for the Eucharist before we got down to "business" was Holocaust Memorial Day. To start with, there was the rite of penitence, which definitely hit the right (ie most uncomfortable) places for at least one of the congregation.

For sins which we ourselves have committed, and for sins of omission
For sins of our hands and sins of our hearts
For the hurt we have caused you and our neighbours through ignorance or indifference
O God of Abraham we ask your forgiveness.

For failure to see your image in someone is who different
O God of Sarah we ask your forgiveness

For putting our own welfare and social comfort above the basic needs of others
O God of Jacob we ask your forgiveness

For our reluctance to get involved
O God of Rachel we ask your forgiveness

For being grateful that we are in some way superior to another
O God of Leah we ask your forgiveness

For teaching that it is better to receive than give
O God of Sinai we ask your forgiveness

For the failure of your Church to be light in the darkness
O God of Calvary we ask your forgiveness.

Having recovered from that, there was another moment of unsettlement during the Offertory hymn...It is set to Rhuddlan, a comfortably familiar, four-square tune, and you're singing away cheerfully when suddenly caught of balance by the third line, which jolted me with an almost physical shock.

God of freedom, God of justice,
God whose love is strong as death,
God who saw the dark of prison,
God who knew the price of faith:
touch our world of sad oppression
with your Spirit's healing breath.

Rid the earth of torture's terror,
God whose hands were nailed to wood;
hear the cries of pain and protest,
God who shed the tears and blood;
move in us the power of pity,
restless for the common good.

Make in us a captive conscience
quick to hear, to act, to plead;
make us truly sisters, brothers,
of whatever race or creed:
teach us to be fully human,
open to each other's need.

I was not at all surprised to discover that it is by Shirley Erena Murray, who was responsible for my hymn of the year last year "For everyone born a place at the table". It seems to me that she has a real gift for that sort of holy disturbance that we all need to experience. For me, in a week of rather unpleasant self-absorption, this was just what I needed to move me on.
It's so horribly easy to become overwhelmed by one's own issues, so the reminder that I'm part of something so much bigger, both for good and ill, was timely.

Friday, January 26, 2007

I think I should get out more.

When trying to describe the setup that family pony long enjoyed as part of a herd of horses having free rein over most of a Cotswold valley, the words that emerged from my mouth referred instead to a hoarde of hearses...
This may have been a heavy week for funerals, but still!

(btw, does anyone know if there's a name for that sort of "semi spoonerism" that happens when you switch the vowels in a pair of words, rather than the initial consonant? If not, any ideas??)

Thursday, January 25, 2007

About my course

One or two people have asked to hear more of the Spiritual Direction course,- what’s it’s all about and (I guess) what it’s doing to/for me…As you would expect from this type of thing, there are hefty walls of confidentiality built, quite rightly, around the actual sessions, though I’m sure I’ll find myself blogging things that have arisen in me as a result of them. I’ll have to tread with caution, though – the story of the group is not mine to tell.The official details of the course are here – and pretty well every second Monday till July I’ll be heading out of Charlton Kings to spend the day with this new community.

It feels, as I said earlier, vaguely presumptuous to be doing the course at all. The first exercise we did involved talking to one other person about how and why we were there and I found that, not atypically, my initial impetus had come from being obedient to someone in authority. This has been a bit of a thread in my ministry thus far. I find myself offering to do something which feels beyond my competence, at the suggestion of someone I respect…and events have a way of supporting their judgement, though not always without a struggle.
In this case it was WonderfulBishop (pretty clearly an authority figure in the life of a junior curate) , who during my pre-priesting interview back in 2005 had suggested that if hearing people’s stories and trying to pray with them were highlights of ministry for me, spiritual direction might be an area to consider. I’m hugely aware of my debt to those wise and wonderful people who’ve accompanied me in this sort of relationship, - and it still seems potty to consider that I could ever be as effective as they are…but almost the first thing we were reminded of last week was that we should only aspire to be ourselves.

OK Point taken.

We spent a bit of time on our own considering (none too comfortably) who we felt those selves might be,- and one or two glimpses of the blindingly obvious arrived as a result…but perhaps the most powerful image I took away from last week’s session was the model of spiritual direction the course leaders offered in the form of the painstaking and gradual unknotting of a huge and perplexing tangle of black and yellow wool. The wool belonged to one, but was held by the other as her companion teased at the one loose end, and was slowly enabled to create something resembling a neat skein with at least some of the wool…It took a long time, and definitely looked worse along the way, but she was at least left with something she could handle, though a great mass of wool remained tangled on the floor between them, work for another day.

Wednesday, January 24, 2007

And now for something completely different

This morning we woke up to a light dusting of snow on Charlton Kings. I use the phrase "light dusting" advisedly. When we bought our home at Great Rissington 16 years ago, we moved in at the end of the first week of December. LCM and the furniture arrived on the Thursday, and I followed with Hattie Gandhi and Hugger Steward the following day, arriving just before suppertime. S-i-L and her family, who lived a few miles away, invited us to eat with them, so we happily set out...but during the meal, snow began to fall heavily and in the end we were stuck there until the following Tuesday lunchtime. The weather forecast for that weekend? "Perhaps a light dusting of snow over the Cotswolds..."
This time, however, the light dusting was just exactly that. Enough snow to make things look pretty, but not to inconvenience anyone, which was a relief as we had plans for the day.
For some time, we've been considering whether buying a narrow boat would meet the need of the Curate for a bolthole for days off and mini retreats, LCM for a project (to replace ongoing maintenance of our old home) and the offspring for somewhere that feels like their very own space, to take their friends. Several weeks spent on hired boats, in all sorts of weathers, have confirmed that this really does seem to tick all the boxes for manageable family holidays...so when friends here spoke of selling their boat at bargain price, and invited us to have a look, how could we refuse?
And it was such a good day.

Driving across country was a pleasure in itself, and to be on the waterways at a time when the rest of the world was at home by their fires was a real delight. I missed the kingfisher that the others saw, but the winter emptiness of the skyline and the quiet of the towpath made an appealing mixture. The boat herself would suit us beautifully - so now we have to do some sums and see if this might be a practical possibility.
Meanwhile, what a lovely winter mini holiday!

Tuesday, January 23, 2007

Gloomy Day?

According to various ologists quoted on R4 at regular intervals, yesterday was supposed to be the gloomiest day of the year. The combination of imminent Christmas credit card bills, tax returns due by the end of this month, failed New Year resolutions and biting cold apparently knocks people down like nine-pins.
In Ch Kings, however, it was a remarkably good day.
Could be something to do with the fact that both morning and evening were spent in the company of people I love dearly, and the bits in between featured people rather than paperwork too.
I received another gift from the dear man in hospital .His family had taken a break from their vigil, as he's now deeply unconscious but not yet really struggling...so I sat with him for an hour. I prayed a bit. Chatted a bit. But mostly just sat and held his hand.

It's interesting the way people react to a dying patient. To some nursing staff, he represents failure, and, perhaps, fear. They avoid your eyes and engage busily with the responsive occupants of the other beds.
One visitor came over to talk to me, briefly, about her memories of sitting with her dying dad.
Other nurses are so comfortable around death...their voices are gentle, their eyes warm.
When I had to leave, I spoke to one of those, and she promised that she'd find time to sit with D herself later on.
I'm sure she did...Like me, she knew this was holy ground, and an opportunity to spend time there is not to be dismissed lightly.

Sunday, January 21, 2007

By way of encouragement...

If, like me, you've found rather alot of this sort of stuff around the place recently
it may improve things if you shift perspective.

I found these at my feet during the same walk

Sunday morning

For assorted reasons, this past week has been quite hard work.
I’m sure that everyone in ministry sometimes has the sense of innumerable miles travelled between one Sunday and the next, between one gathering of God’s people, and another. I’m increasingly aware of how much I rely on being fed Sunday by Sunday, of all the strength I draw from that gathering, and the privilege of presiding, and naming the presence of God among his people.
For me, it’s what keeps me earthed if anything does, though as an “F” Im always susceptible to the ups and downs of my own inner life…
Anyway, this morning was an almost incalculable blessing.
FabVicar was away celebrating Christian Unity with our URC friends, and the rota declared me preacher, with a much-loved retired priest presiding. But he, poor love, had been unwell this week and so I found myself both presiding and preaching and, oh, it was so lovely!
Dylan had launched me on a sermon that felt utterly right in its direction for these people on this day…and because I was presiding I was able to pick up the theme of the Body of Christ again and again throughout the service.
Then our organist spontaneously added a second anthem during Communion, David Ogden’s
“Christ has no body now but yours…”
and I found myself placing pieces of that body in hand after hand after hand.
And it was very good.

Saturday, January 20, 2007

"Thanks for the memory..."

This afternoon I’ve been sitting with a member of our congregation who won’t be here much longer.He was diagnosed with leukaemia a year ago, but kept remarkably well until the past two weeks…Now it’s obvious there will be no recovery.
He’s calm and, I think, pretty comfortable, and his family are at his side, his wife anxious about the next few hours, but determined to be there for him right to the end. We went outside briefly for some fresh air, and she told me how hard it was for her, adding
“But I know you’ve been here…”

And then I remembered.

It was 28 years ago today that I woke to a silent flat.
The painfully laboured breathing from my mother’s room had stopped.
Was she sleeping peacefully, after struggling through the previous day?
From this sleep, there would be no wakening.
The six months that separated her death from that of my father had been indescribably hard for her. Just 18, I knew nothing of the processes of grief, was absorbed in my own life, my own needs. I was fuelled by the selfish survival instincts of the very young,- intent on fulfilling our family dream, that I should win a place at Cambridge, sing in that chapel, conquer the world….
I came home from school at weekends to piles of unopened post, to red bills spilling over the kitchen table and I didn’t understand.
I was impatient…anxious to move her on to some semblance of normality.
But for her, nothing was normal. Nothing could ever be normal again.

So, once she knew that our dreams were on their way to coming true, she turned her face to the wall.
She’d been ill all through my childhood. There was no reason why that chest infection, rather than any other, should finally have provided an escape route…but that day in January, with snow on the ground and the rubbish of the winter of discontent piling up on our streets, she found an exit strategy.

I was an only child, and so many people worried that I would be lost, unable to cope with my overnight precipitation into adult independence.
It felt heartless to explain that things were actually easier now, that I no longer felt torn in two, forced to choose again and again between the windows onto a new world that beckoned me and the need to stay beside Mummy in the darkness that was all she could cope with.
Gentle, self effacing, with an inimitable way with words, Mummy spent so much of my life in and out of hospital…
Tempting, if pointless, to wonder how things would have been if she’d escaped the rheumatic fever that she suffered at some point during her childhood in China. There were impossibly glamorous photos of her about the place, (none of which, of course, I can find today: she'd hate my posting this, the one picture I can lay my hands on) and she and Daddy loved to tell stories of their young married days, and the fun they had during their 11 year wait for my arrival.

They were always ridiculously, delightfully in love…
Little notes by the sink, a couple of chocolates left on the bedside table, flowers bought on impulse…Every day they basked in complete contentment in each other’s company, and their love warmed everyone with whom they had contact.

It wouldn’t have been reasonable to expect Mummy to linger long in a world without Daddy, and I guess that she knew, too, that I’d not be free to live the dreams we’d all dreamed together if she’d stayed on, in her brokenness.
I'm always conscious that I talk about her less than about my father. He, after all, was the “prime carer”, the rock on which our family life was built.
But for him, she was the sun, the moon and stars, always young, always beautiful.

When I was very young, little more than 2 years old, I had a run of bad dreams, and Daddy would carry me around my room, rocking me and singing old Jerome Kern songs, which were somehow always expressions of his feelings for Joyce, the woman with whom he shared his life for just short of 30 years.
Laughably sentimental, until I remember the look on his face as he sang

“And when I told them how beautiful you are,
They didn't believe me. They didn't believe me!
Your lips, your eyes, your cheeks, your hair,
Are in a class beyond compare,
You're the lovliest girl that one could see!
And when I tell them, And I cert'nly am goin' to tell them,
That I'm the man whose wife one day you'll be.
They'll never believe me. They'll never believe me.
That from this great big world you've chosen me!

That sense of incredulous delight in each other lasted until the day he died...
Small wonder that she felt herself lost here without him.
That final Oxbridge term at school I wrote essays on Shakespeare's Cleopatra, and briefly glimpsed the route my mother was taking. She would surely have giggled gently at my comparison of a banker's wife in St Leonard's-on-Sea with a great tragic heroine, but I know, too, she would have recognised the feelings

Noblest of men, woo't die?
Hast thou no care of me? shall I abide
In this dull world, which in thy absence is
No better than a sty?--O, see, my women,
The crown o' the earth doth melt.--My lord!--
O, wither'd is the garland of the war,
The soldier's pole is fallen: young boys and girls
Are level now with men: the odds is gone,
And there is nothing left remarkable
Beneath the visiting moon.

Growing up as part of a relationship like that was a huge privilege. Thanks to my parents, I've never doubted for a moment that Love is the foundation of everything.
I tried to share that certainty beside the hospital bed this afternoon.

Feeling grateful

Recently I’ve had cause to reflect again on how very blessed I am to be training here with FabVicar…
Reverendmother is just one of my friends who has had a recent disappointment inflicted by the senior pastor at her church. I know some others, at home and abroad, who have a really tough time.
So I wanted to say thankyou.

I’m glad to say that FabVicar is not the Perfect Priest (that would be both too intimidating, and too unreal to cope with) but as boss and colleague, he’s a pretty close approximation.

Do I want to try something new? – He’ll roll up his sleeves and join in, or, if it’s more appropriate, will leave me to get on with it, helping me make adjustments to my other commitments to accommodate it.

Am I stuck with something?- He won’t take over, but will help me to disentangle the threads so that the situation seems more manageable

Out of my depths? He’ll listen, pray, throw me a life belt or give me space to seek the help I need…

What he never EVER does is play the “I’m the vicar” card.

He apologises that the final lesson in the Festival of Nine Lessons and Carols is listed in the order of service as belonging to the vicar. Other Festival services are shared equally. 2005 I presided at Midnight and he preached, reversing the order on Christmas Day…2006 we simply switched the pattern. Last Easter I presided at the Easter Vigil, while he did Maundy Thursday and Easter Sunday…but at both of those, I preached and this year, we’ll doubtless switch roles again. He quite simply does everything he can to allow me the best opportunities to learn and grow while I’m here, recognising that as colleagues we bring different gifts and different failings to our ministry here. (Our poor congregation, specially A in the Office, will affirm that advance preparations are not among our natural giftings- but perfection would, as I say, be boring!).

The first time we walked into Evensong after I was ordained priest, he changed the order of procession so that we now walk side by side – something that I suspect nobody else even noticed, but which speaks volumes about his attitude to our ministry here.
Readers outside the institutional church may think that all of this is simply commonsense, but I assure you that it's by no means the universal experience of curates and assistant clergy.
I have so many reasons to be grateful - and I really, really am.

Thursday, January 18, 2007

ENFP shopping

After Little Fishes this morning, I popped into the local supermarket to buy some milk.
15 minutes later I unpacked my basket at home to reveal...

So, I've just whizzed out for some milk. Other personality types, simply rejoice, OK!

Of course, I then discovered that I'd lost my purse, necessitating a glorious attempt at tidying the study in case it was lurking beneath the deep-litter which covers the floor. In fact, I turned out to have left it in the shop,- after the first visit.
One way and another, by the time we made it to Evening Prayer I was pretty well incapable of coherent speech, succumbed to uncontrollable giggles and virtually had to be carried out...not that FabVicar helped,- he has a very good sense of ironic timing, which never fails to hit the spot.
All this on the day when Marcella forgot the tune to "Twinkle, twinkle little star". Perhaps we've all been suffering from an (ostensibly) adult version of the condition that hits primary schools on stormy days. I think I'd best postpone attempts to explain the Spiritual Direction course to another time...

Still here

Lots of miles travelled this week – literally and figuratively. I cant say much about the figurative, internal ones, save that I’m OK, and (as ever) hugely blessed in my friends.
The Spiritual Direction course started on Monday, and is going to be Very Hard Work (no surprises there) but well worth doing. It feels presumptuous to be setting out on this particular journey, but the reality is that as people seem increasingly disposed to trust me with such important parts of themselves, it’s the least I can do to try and improve my chances of being there for them. And of course, the prelude to the essential “getting myself out the way” process is recognising where that same, all-too-familiar self is most likely to intrude. Hence lots of (non-liturgical :-) ) processing.
The group is largely women, and many at least a of decade older than me, (though, to my huge relief, for once I'm not the youngest there by miles...at 46, that really should stop happening soon, even in the Church of England) . There's a sprinkling of men, (all clergy) one of whom makes my own considerable propensity to natter resemble the verbal excess of a Trappist with laryngitis. I'm a rank amateur in comparison to him. Naturally, he was my partner for one mutual listening exercise,- a very helpful learning point. He even fed back on his own speaking….Methinks I need to consider ways of reclaiming the initiative, just in case it’s ever necessary. The course is held near Oxford, and by the end of the week I’ll have made the trip to that city 3 times, not to mention the familiar half-way house of Burford. Considering that one of my hopes for the year was to use my car less, this isn’t something to be proud of, but it looks set to be part of life for quite a while.
At least the A40 is a good road to travel, specially the stretch the far side of Burford, overlooking the Windrush Valley. When I remember the sort of school run I’d have had if we’d continued to live in London, this really makes me smile. Wish I were able to take photos there myself, but as the driver I promise it's not going to happen!

Sunday, January 14, 2007

Red letter day

Lucinda (Latin) bringer of light
And also of music, poetry and story, friendship, joy, and so much love...Teenager no longer.

Happy birthday, best-beloved daughter.

Friday, January 12, 2007

India - some final thoughts

I've been home now for longer than I spent in India.
After all, 4 weeks is no time at all in the grand scheme of things, however large it loomed beforehand, and however lasting its impact.
Time, then, to write something for the diocese about what I've learned from my experience. I know I've been changed but to evaluate those changes is another matter.
People ask me "How was your trip" and I respond with something vague "Amazing..." and, if prompted further "The people have so little and give so much." "I've left part of myself behind there"
It all sounds worthy and appropriate, but what does it actually mean?

In part, the experience of stepping outside my own life for a month gave me a new perspective on what I value most, in terms of relationship and of ministry. While in India I found myself freed to be a priest in ways that too easily get squeezed out while grappling with the realities of parish life, of meetings and rotas, lost keys and bruised feelings. The inexhaustible hospitality of my hosts left me with no responsibility for my own day-to-day needs, nor was I concerned with any of the mechanics of church life in the places that I visited. Instead, I could spend my time looking for God in those people and situations, and was privileged to articulate God's presence through prayer and preaching. I was expected to be, above all, a "God person" - that was, it seemed, my main purpose - and it was a source of real delight for me.

Of course, spending time in a culture that has developed in such different ways from that of western Europe raised other questions too. I've written already about the wonderful women from Zion Church, whose faith seems to be the only thing of value in their lives, but who are nonetheless rich beyond any conventional understanding.
It's not just the elderly who leave me feeling vaguely wistful though.
The children, too, are wonderfully unencumbered by the sort of material expectations I'd never considered a burden till I went there. We met so many children, in such different contexts...
The privileged middle-class students at St John's or the Cathedral School shared the familiar concerns of exam success that dominated my own teens, but seemed less intent on challenging authority than their counterparts in UK schools.
But it was the underprivileged, the street kids, who taught me most.
The AIDS babies in Hosur, the beggar girl in Mysore, who was so excited that I had taken her photo that she insisted on giving me some of the flowers she was supposed to be selling…and whose smile I’ll never forget.

The tiny girls, newly brought in off the streets, to be bathed and dressed in their matching cotton prints for the launch of the “New Life for Girls” project , who sat patiently through endless speeches in many tongues, one all the time stroking my feet with intense concentration…
The tiny scrap of humanity, born that morning, that I cuddled in the CSI hospital, the children I baptised in Channapatna...
As I reflected on their lives, I realised that my preconceptions of privilege or deprivation were being challenged irrevocably.

I was most aware of this in the company of the boys of the Makkala Ashraya Kendra project for children in crisis, who gave me one of my happiest days in the whole month.
Before we visited the centre, just off Hudson Circle in Bangalore, we were given an idea of the situations from which these boys had been rescued. Living and begging in Bangalore station or beneath the city fly-over; working as slave labour in the kitchen of an international hotel; locked up in the shack that their parents called home because there's nowhere safe to leave a child while you work as a labourer...It all sounded truly grim. We expected to have our hearts wrung, and certainly the facilities at the project were enough to make anyone who spends time in British schools weep. 70 boys, with 70 small tin boxes containing all their possessions; no toys (and no space to play, had there been playthings in abundance); a television (which, I suspect, is switched on more than most western parents would feel healthy) ; meals in tin bowls reminiscent of the workhouse scene in Oliver!; communal living at its most basic.
But set against that, oceans and oceans of love and care for each one of them as individuals. The project’s leaflet includes among its aims “to shower with love” – and goodness, they succeed.

The result, of course, is that boys who would have every right to be traumatised and damaged beyond belief through their early experiences seem instead to be some of the most loving and loveable children I’ve ever spent time with.
When I first visited the project, I came away saying that I longed to adopt all of them…
Then I realised that this might be open to misinterpretation.
I longed to adopt them not to deliver them from a life of poverty and deprivation, but because I yearned to take home with me some of their joyous warmth and delight in the everyday…in ad hoc games of cricket and blowing bubbles, in action songs and lollipops. They seemed to see these things as symbols of an underlying benevolence, to live in a state of open-eyed gratitude that has nothing to do with servility or oppression, everything to do with recognising the real value of things.
Young people from Gloucester have visited Bangalore since 2004 to help renovate the building that houses the project. Among the fruit of their visits is a wall in the centre, painted with handprints of the children and the visitors, side by side...a lovely symbol of the diocesan link at its best.
On an adjoining wall is one lesson that I hope not to lose sight of, however skewed priorities sometimes become

So, what did I learn? Perhaps something more of the person I'm called to be, and of what is really needful to achieve this. And what it means to be thankful.

Thursday, January 11, 2007

On hearing the first cuckoo in spring

Nothing to do with that rather pleasing bit of Delius, but I wondered if this was in fact the first sighting of Hot Cross Buns in the UK this year?.

I found them yesterday evening, 10th January, at the Co-op in Bourton-on-the-Water, where the promotion stand was right beside the reduced price Christmas puddings etc.
It would suggest that my "when to celebrate Epiphany" dilemma is nothing but self-indulgence. Let's leap straight from birth to crucifixion, because that's the way of the shopping basket.
I'm wondering (with maybe half a grain of seriousness) if there's scope for some sort of "fresh expression of church" based entirely around the retail calendar, with foodie stations scattered around the store, and through the year. After all, these reminders of Good Friday are the very first thing shoppers encounter as they go through the supermarket doors. Maybe I ought to approach the Co-op with a suggestion that their display includes an explanation of the cross...

Wednesday, January 10, 2007

Having posted this morning's offering, it was time to drive Hattie Gandhi back to her favourite city for a blissful reunion with her university and her friends. She was like a champagne cork popping with joy and excitement as we followed the road through the Forest of Dean and south from Monmouth, so I really couldn't indulge in soggy-mother behaviour - a great relief all round, I'm sure. Though it has been blissful to have her company for the past 3 weeks, it's even better to know she is so happily settled at Cardiff, and her pleasure in life there lights up the rest of us too.
I guess I knew I might need a morale boost on my return home (so an "amnesty" for lurkers could have spelled triumph or disaster). In the event, it was lovely to find such positive responses, - so I now feel all warm and smiley. Thank you!

I might have gone in for alot of slightly silly "I can't imagine why you bother" noises in the light of those friendly comments, were it not for to-day's Henri Nouwen offering.

One of the greatest dangers in the spiritual life is self-rejection. When we say, "If people really knew me, they wouldn't love me," we choose the road toward darkness. Often we are made to believe that self-deprecation is a virtue, called humility. But humility is in reality the opposite of self-deprecation. It is the grateful recognition that we are precious in God's eyes and that all we are is pure gift. To grow beyond self-rejection we must have the courage to listen to the voice calling us God's beloved sons and daughters, and the determination always to live our lives according to this truth.

Nouwen's writing so often says exactly what I feel, (or more often don't feel, but do need to be told), and another friend said something that struck a similar note very recently, so perhaps I'd better try to listen. Self-belief is not the same as arrogance, and clearly God believes I'm worth it...

Narcissism unbounded

According to Tony, we find ourselves in the midst of International Delurking Week. I've never ventured into this before, but having been in India during the equivalent RevGals fest last November, I guess it would be quite fun to know who, if anyone, is reading undetected.

For an inveterate chatterbox like me, blogging is a wonderous thing, protecting my nearests and dearests from a flood of verbiage that they couldn't possibly hope to attend to in full. It even allows me the illusion that I'm communicating with all sorts of unguessed at visitors,- so in one way I'm reluctant to shatter the dream by inviting delurking. On the other hand, if other bloggers are brave enough, who am I to demur? And unless I play, there's no way to use the image helpfully provided by Sheryl.
"So, " (deep breath) "If you have been, thanks for listening. Do sign the visitors' book by the door!"

Monday, January 08, 2007

Winter sky

Driving back from a visit to LCM's sister just over the border in Warwickshire on Saturday, we watched the sky go through the most amazing transformation in a few short miles...
From this

to this

and finally, before ten minutes had elapsed,
we just had to stop driving to marvel at this.

All this on a familiar stretch of road, on a very average sort of afternoon. Just stunning!

Another glimpse of the blindingly obvious?

When do you celebrate Epiphany?
This year at St M’s we celebrated on the “correct” day, i.e. 6th January, - even though this was a Saturday.
We had a festal Eucharist, complete with smoke, procession (albeit a short one) guest preacher, - and a final indulgence in mince-pies and sherry afterwards. It would all have been great, had the congregation been just a little closer to our usual Sunday figures, instead of numbering rather less than half.
(Repeat after me "It's not all about numbers, It's not all about numbers...")
The congregation was nothing like so small that it was embarrassing, - just small enough to raise a few questions for me.

St M’s, let me remind you, is a church that considers itself to be catholic in tradition and practice. We keep the saints. We have an almost daily Eucharist (though the assumption seems to be largely that this is offered by priest on behalf of community, with no obligation on said community to actually attend and make Eucharist themselves).
“Decently and in order” would probably be the phrase that is closest to the collective heart of the place (though of course there are an almost infinite number of interpretations of this).
However, if ever a church seemed a candidate for non-negotiable adherence to the liturgical calendar, it must be us, surely?
Well, no.
People didn’t come. Not even with the lure of decent refreshments afterwards (no weak coffee in green cups - it must have been a feast!) , and a very popular preacher.
Worse, there was a fair bit of grumbling on the following day from those who wanted to know why they were being deprived of a lovely festival by the clergy’s unreasonable insistence on keeping the feast on the right day, rather than transferring it regardless.

And I don’t know what I feel…

Ascension and Corpus Christi, after all, are never transferred, and, as my s-i-l once memorably exclaimed “Ash Wednesday is on a Wednesday this year” - but the lectionary does make provision to shift Epiphany, in the same way as it does All Saints.
A bit of me (right but repulsive?) feels like drawing myself up to my full 5`4” and pointing out in a holier- than- thou sort of way that 6th January is the Feast of the Epiphany and that a full celebration of that feast did indeed take place in our church on that date, thank you very much.
But perhaps that’s just shooting myself in the foot.
Another, probably less obnoxious part of me suspects that there’s little point in clinging to the liturgical high ground if in so doing you alienate your congregation. Since there's but the slimmest of chances that either date in any way matches the actual historic arrival of wise men from the east (assuming those wise men arrived historically at all), why disgruntle people for a point of dubious principle?
It’s quite ironic that I, who spend so much time explaining to members of the congregation that church doesn’t have to be on Sunday morning to “count” am now anxiously defending the place of Sunday. I suppose it’s really a question of knowing your constituency, and clearly ours, veering as it does towards the elderly, isn’t going to turn out on a January evening, no matter who is preaching.
So I’ve not really come to any useful conclusion as I wonder how to do it when such decisions are mostly up to me…but the church in recent times has done herself no good by insisting on carrying on regardless of the needs and desires of those she exists to serve, so perhaps I do know really. It’s a pity, though…

I’ll never keep track of the right day to take down the decorations, if I’m celebrating Epiphany the following Sunday.
Does it matter?
Course not!

Sunday, January 07, 2007

Some words for Epiphany

I expect I posted this last year, but I'm not going to apologise. As someone who loves all the candlelit joys of Christmas, I really struggle with packing it up and putting it away for another year, and reading these words before I do so makes it all more manageable. Our preacher at last night's Epiphany Eucharist made the same point, telling us it was high time to take Christmas out of the church and into the places which need it most. I guess I can go with that.

When the song of the angels is stilled,
When the star in the sky is gone,

When the kings and princes are home,
When the shepherds are back with their flock,

The work of Christmas begins:

To find the lost,
To heal the broken,

To feed the hungry,
To release the prisoner,

To rebuild nations,
To bring peace among brothers and sisters,
To make music in the heart.

Howard Thurman

Friday, January 05, 2007

How not to manage the diary.

I'd determined not to attempt New Year resolutions as such this year, as my record with them is as ignoble as the next girl's - and I'm spectacularly good at beating myself up about my failures. However, there is, as my great-grandmother would say "always room for improvement" and I do have a few ideas bubbling gently which might make for a more fruitful and happier life, and demanding attention before I turn to Sunday evening's sermon...

The on-going issue of procrastination is clearly one of them!- but that's such an engrained habit that I'm currently at a loss (and any suggestions that abandoning blogging might help will be greeted with howls of derision, however accurate they may be).
More manageable thoughts would, though, be very welcome.

I have managed to submit my expenses for the last 6 months and sworn (yet again) to be more regular about this,- but though I'm enjoying a rosy glow of virtue, it's not really a life-changing achievement.

Meanwhile, though, I'm trying to build at least a monthly reading day into my life...I have a pile of theology books teetering reproachfully on my desk, and people keep recommending titles to add to it, - but bitter experience suggests that simply owning the book is no substitute for actually reading it! WonderfulVicar and I had even thought we might manage to discuss books we'd read on a regular basis (though I'm not holding my breath on that one).
I know I need to do this, it should enhance my ministry and in any case I always feel more alive if my brain has had to work seriously, so this appeared to be a win/win resolve.
"So", I thought happily, "first week back at work, diary nice and empty...now would be a good moment to get the monthly slot written in."
Except that it isn't. Already, looking at January, it seems impossible to find a single clear day that I can really use , unless I dip out of something I've already said agreed to. I guess if I were to suddenly become capable of preparing sermons well in advance (see issue no 1 above) , there might be a chance on Friday 19th - but if my life proceeds as normal, then I'll undoubtedly want to spend much of that day on the sermon for 21st...and I'd hate to waste a precious reading day fretting that I ought to be doing something else entirely.
I could carve out a morning here, an afternoon there quite easily, but being so emminently distractible I really want to get out of the house, away from phone and computer, as an aid to concentration...which means that it really does need to be a full day. So, what do I do?
I can't let this go in the very first month of the year...
And, as a supplementary question, how on earth do I choose which book to start with?

They are all so enticing...and have hung around waiting for attention for too long already.
Hot contenders include Timothy Radcliffe's "What is the point of being a Christian?"

Judy Hirst's "Struggling to be holy", any amount of Eugene Peterson and something I really want to read before I start the Spiritual Direction course (which begins on 15th, so I've probably blown that anyway)...
" Holy Listening" by Margaret Guenther.
(An interesting twist here is that I'm absolutely sure that I didn't buy this, nor do I remember having been given/lent it...yet here it is, indisputably present and just what I'll need, I'm sure).
Christmas, of course, has only compounded the problem, as there's now John Eaton's "Psalms for Life" and Teresa Berger's "Fragments of Real Presence" also calling to me seductively.

How to choose?
And when shall I do the reading?
Help! Pleeeeese!
Hints, tips or even a bit of bullying really welcome!

Thursday, January 04, 2007

Being silly

Following a link from Serena's blog this morn, I've been issued with some New Year resolutions generated just for meee...
These 3 were too good to remain in obscurity

Get back in contact with some old books

Buy new ancient churches

and, best of all,

Give some dogs to charity.

So there you have it, Dillon...It's only a matter of time (though if computer generated resolutions are anything like the Kathryn-generated variety, you may after all be quite safe).
I promise I'll try and switch my brain back on for some decent blogging before too long...unless I've sent it to the charity shop along with the bags of cast-offs, Jack Russells etc.

Wednesday, January 03, 2007

Thinking aloud

Last night I had supper with a friend whose arrival in my life is one of the greatest joys of the past year...We were talking about the way the friendship had developed, pretty much from nowhere and about early impressions (wildly inaccurate!) -which led me to wonder, as I drove home, just how much these are coloured by our own ideas of ourselves.

I know, for example, that there are some things that I am really good at.
I know this mainly because I have lovely people around who tell me so, though every now and then I realise that actually, deep down, I know it because it is true .Generally, though, my own version of myself is of some rather helpless incompetent, who is nothing if not well-meaning, but who (in the manner of my godfather's black labrador when I was a child) is quite likely to overturn the furniture with one unconsidered wag of the tail...That anyone might ever take me seriously enough to trust me with their inner selves, as does seem to happen in ministry, is a source of almost as much surprise as delight. I know I'm loved by a galaxy of truly splendid people (you might be one of them) - but quite why they should do so remains a joyful mystery.

Maybe I'm right, and they are all just deeply deluded.
Maybe my own version of myself isn't as accurate as it might be.
Maybe even people who are quite bright and otherwise perceptive can have their blind spots.

Actually, today the evidence is weighed in favour of this third possibility.
Last month HS had an interview at Prestigious University, from which he returned disconsolate, convinced that he'd impressed no-one, least of all himself. He had good, achievable offers from his other universities, so we tried our hardest to put dreams to bed and reflect on just how happy HG is at her "other" university - clearly and unmistakeably the perfect place for her. We knew that he would hear for sure sometime in January, and this morning an envelope arrived with a tell-tale franking. Being a teenage boy, HS was of course fast asleep, so mother and siblings indulged in a frenzy of dithering on the landing...
Do we wake him, which seems cruel if the answer is "No"?
Do we allow him to sleep (but I'm supposed to be going out, and won't be safe to drive while my mind is taken up with the contents of an unopened letter at home)?
Will we actually manage to refrain from steaming open the envelope if he sleeps for much longer?
Our deliberations were halted when the slumberer awoke...and shortly afterwards a mighty shout rent the air of Privet Drive.
He shall go to the ball after all, and at his first-choice college too - provided he gets the grades. Clearly, when it comes to incisive self knowledge, HS is about as good at recognising his own worth as ....oh, far too many of us, really!

Monday, January 01, 2007

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. Then I am rash enough to engage in an exercise like the "Review of the Year" which seems to be doing the rounds, and am brought back to earth with a bump. Below are the first sentences of my posts in 2006. Confronted with them, I'm more grateful than ever that anyone ever bothers to visit here. Thank you...I will try harder in future!

I received this as the first email of 2006 from the Henri Nouwen Society and thought it deserved sharing. All Ordinary Time reflections done and posted, Tax Return completed and submitted on the due day, second (and far more entertaining) stage of Emergency Management training completed...And so the Lenten journey begins. Sorry about the break in transmission...I'm fine, but life has been alarmingly full of all sorts of totally unbloggable things,- and as we gear up for Holy Week, I'm not sure the next few days will be much better. Just to say thank you, really, for the many different ways in which all of you, my real and virtual friends, show me love and care, - and thus show me God. So this is the week to date.I'm just home from the ordination of priests in Gloucester Cathedral, - one of those splendid occasions that the C of E does really well. Home again to a new address from a wonderful 3 days...so much happened that it felt far longer and was wonderfully relaxing and purr-inducing. I wrote this for the Ordinary Time book - the text of which is being blogged daily here. To be honest, I’m still in two minds about “All Creatures Great and Small: a Pet Blessing service for St Francis-tide” which was our OpenHouse offering yesterday. From India via Cardiff comes the news - the mother has ARRIVED! Having spent most of yesterday light-headed from exhaustion, and talking gibberish to all who came my way, I fell asleep delightedly at around 9.00 pm...(which meant I wasted a whole evening of Hattie Gandhi's company, as she is on a flying visit home,- but I wouldn't have been much use to her even if I'd been awake).

On the 7th day (and the 8th too)

I enjoyed the slightly strange experience of driving past my own congregation as they headed to St M's, while HG and I were bound to the Cathedral...Sundays off are a glorious thing - and Cathedral worship did us both good, specially when combined with a meet with a uni friend of HG's, who happens to live but a stone's throw from the west door.
It was a good opportunity, too, to spend a bit of time with God, taking stock of 2006 and handing over my hopes and dreams for 2007.
Later HG and HS departed by coach to party in London, while we spent a more sedate but happy evening with friends closer to home...Walking home with GK as fireworks popped all over Cheltenham was a good way to begin 2007.

I'm back to work today, - and the time is right. I'm ready to re-engage,- might even start the year with a tidy study (though I know better than to resolve to keep it that way)!
Meanwhile, here's one more extract from Hay and Stardust. This one is a Blessing as you journey into the New Year, and is by Lynda Wright. It comes with my best love to all of you for the year ahead.

May your eyes be opened to the wonder of the daily miracles around you
and your sense of mystery be deepened.

May you be aware of the light that shines in the darkness,
and that the darkness can never put it out.

May you be blessed with companions on the journey,
friends who will listen to you and encourage you with their presence.

May you learn to live with what is unsolved in your heart,
daring to face the questions and holding them
until, one day, they find their answers.

May you find the still, quiet place inside yourself
where you can know and experience the peace that passes understanding.

May love flow in you and through you to those who need your care.

May you continue to dream dreams and to reach out into the future
with a deeper understanding of God's way for you.