Friday, August 31, 2007

Greenbelt Worship (part 2)

Having been so inspired by Moot it was kind of inevitable that the following evening saw me back in New Forms, where Dream was exploring
A life more ordinary

Romans 12 Place Your Life Before God 1-2 So here's what I want you to do, God helping you: Take your everyday, ordinary life—your sleeping, eating, going-to-work, and walking-around life—and place it before God as an offering. Embracing what God does for you is the best thing you can do for him.

We reflected on the images we hide behind, those projections of ourselves that we somehow feel are more worthy, more admirable than the reality…and were invited to draw something on a mirror to represent this. I so often ponder where aspiration (the air brushed image) becomes deceit so this was both challenging and helpful – and when the mirror was smashed with a truly impressive crash there was no chance of missing the point! God engages with our reality...however much we might wish that God wouldn't!

There were a series of stations to engage us….a map on which we were invited to use a cocktail stick to plot our position…out on a limb….seeking guidance…..on the path of obedience….Having scored a hole on our sheet, we then turned it over to discover that right where we were, in whatever state, is where God meets us.
Simple but effective – the sort of hug from God that everyone needs more often than not.

Other stations included a graffiti wall on which we wrote places or situations where we had encountered God in the previous week and a string of paper people to cut out and label as people who showed us God.
There was also a rather exciting station “Heavenopoly” – where you could place yourself and those on your heart in the appropriate square on the board…Free Parking? In gaol – just visiting?Needing support from the Community Chest? Overwhelmed by the riches of Mayfair?
I didn’t use this myself but the friend I was with was very enthusiastic about it – and there were other stations too…all apparently creative and inspiring.

After some time to engage with these, we broke bread …each communicating ourselves in silence.

Wonderful! Just wonderful!

Greenbelt worship ( part 1)

comes in as many forms as the Festival itself….from Quaker silence, through the Franciscans Celebrating Common Prayer to the Underground Rock Eucharist and the many creative expressions of worship in the New Forms venue.
This year I felt drawn to far more worship than in the past (when the need to be educated and stimulated generally took precedence) – and it was all wonderful (too wonderful, it seems, to be confined to one post - I hadn't intended a series, but there's so much to savour I may just have to produce one! Apologies to those who either experienced Greenbelt directly, or who are heartily tired of my reliving it already...I'll be a while yet)

Saturday night saw me exploring Moot’s Divine Sense of Place…with its focus on the fear that lurks just beneath the surface of the urban landscape, the hositility to the stranger that the media love to cultivate.
The worship included some revised Beatitudes that I found very moving

Blessed are the single mothers….the homeless…the asylum seekers…the yobs…the excluded

and the reminder, from the parable of the sheep and the goats, that we meet Christ in the stranger.

Then the king will say to those at his right hand, ‘Come, you that are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world; 35for I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, 36I was naked and you gave me clothing, I was sick and you took care of me, I was in prison and you visited me.’ 37Then the righteous will answer him, ‘Lord, when was it that we saw you hungry and gave you food, or thirsty and gave you something to drink? 38And when was it that we saw you a stranger and welcomed you, or naked and gave you clothing? 39And when was it that we saw you sick or in prison and visited you?’ 40And the king will answer them, ‘Truly I tell you, just as you did it to one of the least of these who are members of my family, you did it to me" (Matt 25:31ff)

We looked again at our fears and tried to see the face of Christ in the stranger once more, so that we could say from the heart
“Stranger, no longer a stranger, I wish you well”

Towards the end of worship we were given the opportunity to go to one of a series of bowls and in silence have our hands washed, and wash the hands of another person….a stranger….
I was sitting on a bean bag very close to one of the basins and was enthralled by watching this sacrament of recognition and service again and again.
Finally there was just one person approaching, and I knew it was my turn…I was not prepared for the impact…When did someone last wash your hands? Not since early childhood,I’d guess…This was a far cry from the symbolic pouring of cool water that I receive before I begin the Eucharistic prayer -a thorough soaping…immensely powerful, - the silent contact, the loving care and then the moment when our focus changed from the hands to which we had each paid such total attention and we spoke to one another, Christ in the stranger, heaven in ordinary.
“When did we see you?”

Thursday, August 30, 2007

Greenbelt 07 Music

Greenbelt was launched (33 years ago) as an arts festival – and when I first visited it as a student in the early 1980s, the arts on offer were too far off my own exclusively classical map to appeal…so I missed 20 years of something that could and would have fed my soul.
When we first started attending the Festival again as a family, I was mainly drawn by the speakers - a tremendous range that appeals across the board whether you want theology, social justice or (most often) both.

This year, I did attend some excellent seminars, but spent more of my time elsewhere – above all the Performance Café, where you can hear sets by artists you (well, I at least) would never come across otherwise and enjoy good food and drink at the same time.
So it was that I came to hear and enjoy Lleuwen, Helen J Hicks and Esther Alexander and to meet again Lovers Electric….though I guess my own Perf Café highlight was hearing Maggi perform with In Camera. Time she returned to GB as a singer as well as a speaker, I’d say….

Centaur hosted an amazing classical concert – the work of John Tavener performed in his persence by the Greenbelt Orchestra with the ever stunning Patricia Rozario. I was running late and opened the door from the foyer to hear that amazing voice doing incredible things…and there she was, handed to us on a plate, without any advance publicity that I noticed. Stunning!

But the real excitement for me was really really loving 2 mainstage events – which could not have been more different.
On Friday, with GB07 only hours old, Hugger Steward (off duty after a busy day) and I sat on the grass on a perfect summer evening listening to Kathryn Williams while a hot air balloon drifted lazily overhead. Around us, there was the gentle buzz of happy reunions and a festival waking up. An hour of complete calm and contentment.

On Monday I was part of an excited crowd hearing Duke Special…who produced a stormingly good set. Amazing music. Amazing musician. An all-round incredible performance - my own musical highlight this year.

Thank you Greenbelt – once again you’ve widened my horizons (and extended my wish list alarmingly….but nothing is without cost in this world!)

Wednesday, August 29, 2007

As ever

Dave Walker puts it best.

I did actually see Dave across the bookshop tent...but at the time he was being overwhelmed by the son of a friend...who, at 9, is a much better bet as a fan base than a middle aged curate! Anyway, there is absolutely no doubt about the accuracy of Dave's observations of life post Greenbelt. Eat your heart out, Kubler-Ross!

"Heaven in Ordinary"

is always a pretty good description of the wonder that is Greenbelt - but it was also the theme of this year's festival.
Certainly the whole weekend was, from my perspective, pretty heavenly.
All the offspring are more than capable of fending for themselves these days (the Dufflepud, indeed, showed a promising tendency to worry about my welfare, and treated me to wonderous MochaMania hot chocolate with mind blowing quantities of squirty cream at the end of each day- which has to be a sign of a good upbringing, I feel). Moreover the LCM was kept busy driving contributors to and from the site...which left me free to chat with the people I most wanted to see (though as always it was frustrating to have near misses of proper conversation with some friends), to hear the speakers and music I most wanted to hear, and generally have a selfishly blissful (or blissfully selfish?) time.

I loved it.

It was one of those weekends when everything flowed perfectly. For me, there were fewer programme clashes than usual, and I never left a venue wishing I'd made a different choice.
The queues were mostly manageable and the one time I failed to get in to hear a speaker, I was with friends whom I only really see at GB, so we enjoyed some extra talking time instead.
I listened to some truly excellent speakers including Mark Yaconelli, James Alison and Lucy Winkett, who were all positively inspiring. As someone who struggles with a longing to do everything, to stand as advocate for anyone in need, to try and change the world even if I can't get round to changing my sheets, Lucy's advice to "Do what you can, when you can" was hugely liberating....I'm not coming home with a car-load of guilt at all the campaigns I'm not supporting, the times I'm silent, the times when I walk away from a possible battle.
"You'll know your moment," she said.

I found myself crying as I talked to Mark Yaconelli at his book signing about how the whole Festival missed his father and he told me how much it mattered to him that he'd finally come to see the place where Mike had felt most at home.
I cried again as Mother Frances shared the words of a child from Helen House, the children's hospice that she founded,
"Death is being born backwards".

Actually, I cried quite alot, but in a very positive way...during the Eucharist, surrounded by such a wonderful community...when I saw the sea of prayer balloons floating overhead, released by the congregation at Main Stage and then drifting over to join those we released from the arena.
The sky was full (this picture by no means does justice) and it was awe inspiring to realise that each balloon represented some 20 people...that is alot of people breaking bread together...and I loved the fact that our group was a mix of family, friends from St M's, online friends and people we only met that morning...another glimpse of heaven in ordinary. More on some of the New Forms worship later.

On Sunday afternoon I stood on the Grandstand, taking photos of the racecourse and breathing in as much Greenbelt as I could and a passer-by commented
"You try to take it all in - but there's so much that you can never manage it"
I guess that's a good observation in terms of blogging the festival too...and I need time to let it all sink in while I catch up with sleep and washing.
More posts in the days to come.

Thursday, August 23, 2007

Are we nearly there yet?

Thankfully, we've always been within easy reach of Greenbelt Festival since it featured on the family's map, so we've never had one of those endless journeys in a car stuffed with children and camping gear... That doesn't, though, mean we've been immune from the sort of desperate excitement that leaves everyone intently focussed on the glorious moment of arrival on site for the festival. HS has a counter on his computer running all year long and is already on site stewarding blissfully, while his father collects poor unsuspecting contributors from the airport (now they, I'm willing to bet, will be very busy asking "Are we nearly there yet"). I need to tidy the study enough to pull out the sofa bed to accommodate much loved friends arriving tomorrow...and I stop work after Evening Prayer tonight. We ARE nearly there. And why does it matter so much? It's hard to explain to those who've never tried it. I worked really hard to convince my good friend the Canon that she ought to come along. I'm certain she would enjoy it once there, but clearly my passionate enthusiasm had no impact in the face of the prospect of crowds of excited Christians on a racecourse (put like that, I can see why she might not have grasped it!) - though I wish that she, and everyone else whom I love, could be there this weekend. What's so special? Another dear friend has reminded me that it's easy to feel isolated and alone, even at Greenbelt, and fears she might not cope this year, which makes me very sad- but my own experience has always been that even when wandering anonymously among the crowd, I've felt myself floating on a tide of love and friendship, of faith and committment, of all that gives life and brings joy. I've been through sad times there too, - but always with this sure sense of love and care wrapping and holding us secure. One special friend (whom I wouldn't know at all but for Greenbelt) described it once as "God's playground" - which is pretty well spot on in my experience. Paul has written in terms that express so much of my own love for the festival here So here I am, as full of joy as a child waking on Christmas morning. Tomorrow I'll be fully at home...reminding myself of what it is to dance in the sunshine of God's love, even as a middle aged clerical mother!
Edit: currently that is by no means metaphorical sunshine....all shall be well.

Wednesday, August 22, 2007

On the Journey Towards Hope

This was the Weekly reflection from the ever- wonderful Henri Nouwen Society: the it's by Rabbi Albert M Lewis.
As more than one person I care about could probabaly do with an extra injection of hope right now, I'm posting it intact. When you're feeling that life's not great, following links hither and yon is probably just too much like hard work.

The journey towards hope is a deliberate and difficult decision, especially if hope is not a common part of our life and vision. The extreme opposite of hope is despair, and the middle ground is indecision or ambivalence. Ambivalence prevents us from seeing the mystery and hearing the music of life; all is gray, and sameness surrounds us. Despair causes us to see and feel everything in consistently blotted blocks of black. Hope, the consciously conceived child of the desire for more, is parented by the will to dream ever so slightly about a tomorrow, and to let go of what must be cast off from today. Moses, Jesus, and certain prophets wandered in the desert of doubt and despair for as long as forty days. Yet each of them allowed himself to be open enough to be delivered, and ultimately to become the deliverer.

Hope whispers to us: "You are alive and loved, even if you cannot fully feel it." The inhale and exhale of a breath, the blink of an eye, and the yawn of tiredness or boredom remind us that hope is part of the soul yearning to be fully acknowledged. Hope rises from the soul first as a rivulet and then as a great stream. It begins in the daring to sleep or nourish ourselves. Hope is rooted in the soul, watered by tears shed and shared, and given life by us and God. At any moment, therefore, you are at least halfway there.

Actually, the doldrum state of ambivalence that is described is very much the hall-mark of the dog days of late August after a dull, wet summer....but for many of us hope is more than in sight, in the shape of Greenbelt. I've just dropped off Hugger Steward to embark on his stewarding, the sun is shining and hope is surely just around the corner. I believe that...and pray that you do too, whatever your plans this coming weekend.

Sunday, August 19, 2007

Sunday, sweet Sunday with nothing to do

So ran a song much loved by my father. With all possible respect to his memory, I'm not completely sure I recognise the concept - but then, as we all know, Sunday is actually the only day we clergy here's the outline of today, both good and bad for your consideration

  • When reconnecting with ministry after a holiday, there's surely nothing better than an 8.00 Eucharist....30 people gathered in church for no other reason than that they want to be there to worship an touch base with God
  • On the other hand, a 10.00 Parish Eucharist in which one member of the congregation has to leave via ambulance is a tad too stressful....and tends to drive all thoughts of important post-holiday conversations out of the mind. I'm still not sure what I should have said to whom during the after service coffee....I just know I didn't say it, because I was in chuch with poorly parishioner and his wife.
  • I LOVE baptisms...specially when one of the candidates falls asleep in my arms between the actual baptizing and the final blessing. Ahhhh, bless.Her parents had pressed me to join the family celebration be greeted by an 11 year old with the words "Kathryn, I know you like pink....There's pink wine in the kitchen" is strangely encouraging too
  • The NHS actually is as short staffed as they say(no surprises there, then) Having been rushed off in an ambulance at 11.30, at 3.00 my parishioner was finally seen by a doctor and admitted for observation. The up side of the delay from my point of view was the opportunity to visit several other ailing members of the congregation - this seems to be a hard summer for the St M's church family. I'm glad to be back with them now that I've caught up with myself
  • It's amazing that the same sermon preached in two different contexts in the space of one day can feel such an utterly different experience. The service at the Congregationalist church tonight was sheer joy...lovely people, lovely atmosphere and the words which had limped this morning flew tonight. What's more, they sent me home with a lovely bouquet, - and flowers are the gift above all else that makes me purr.

One way and another, I'm properly back in the swing of things...maybe a full-on Sunday is the best possible cure for post-holiday malaise. Certainly today has left me thanking God once again for all that this calling entails. Oh..and if you want it, you can read the sermon here

Saturday, August 18, 2007

Here we are again

and true to form, I have returned to a sermon crisis.

Preaching at St M's in the morning and again at local Conregationalist church in the evening (I've made life easier by choosing to work with the Hebrews passage for both, and worked out the liturgy for the evening before I departed).
We had a pretty good time on the boat one way and another (I'll put some pictures on flickr later on), but everything else pales into insignificance beside the events of Thursday - a.k.a. Results Day

Despite his convincingly gloomy predictions, Hugger Steward managed comfortable A grades in all 4 of his subjects,- so is heading off to study in the loveliest city in England (no bias here, of course) in the autumn of next year. I am, qutie obviously, ridiculously proud of him. Made a complete fool of myself by bursting into tears when he showed me the contents of the ominous brown envelope - but then, he greeted the results with a yell of triumph himself, so maybe it's permissable, once in a while.

OK. Excitement over for the moment. Back to the cloud of witnesses.

Wednesday, August 08, 2007

Struggling with THINGS

No- this is not actually an announcement that my life is totally out of hand (though it might be) but rather a thoroughly literal comment on the way material obejcts in all their manifold forms seem intent on tripping me up at the moment.

It's fair to say that I'm distinctly stressed, as we're off on the family holiday tomorrow and I've just done the dreaded supermarket run. How is it that you seem to need more food for a week when on holiday than for a month at home? Even though you know quite well that as often as possible you'll be eating out in the evenings??

Now, of course, I'm wondering where on the boat we'll actually stash all those groceries...and how I'm going to smuggle the truly stupendous collection of library books on board...and whether or not we will have room for Hattie Gandhi's guitar...and it all looks so huge and insurmountable that I'm questioning whether in fact it's worth going at all. I am soooo bad at happens every time we go away together and leaves me feeling like a piece of chewed string...but this time tomorrow we'll be safely on Polyphony and experience suggests that all will be miraculously well.

Nonetheless, sitting here surrounded by half completed preparations and the habitual muddle of my study, I'm pondering my relationship with stuff. I definitely have too much of it, despite a major purge when we moved into Privet Drive 3 years ago. For example, there are boxes of glasses in the garage which we've not touched once in our time here, though I suspect that there's every chance that we'll take them with us, still unopened, when we move. It's not altogether my issue. My M-i-L believes in preparing for any eventuality (in the aftermath of the floods last week she was predicting food rationing and suggesting we stock up on any and every essential) and has passed this trait on to Longsuffering Clockmaker. But I have to admit that the endless collections of utter trivia about the place are almost all down to me.
Clearing my desk, which is always an eve of holiday desiderata, would be so much easier if there weren't all sorts of bits of assorted junk mingled with the unread books, endless post-its and interesting articles from last month's Tablet.
I was feeling rather trapped by it all anyway, when as I surfed I met a link to a wonderful post here.
As if that wasn't enough, Chelley is having a turn-out on the eve of her move and I have rather belatedly discovered Earthchick's Seven Things it's decision time. I hate the way the chaos in my environment effects my state of mind...I have no desire to be possessed by my possessions (perhaps I should have been preaching last Sunday morning, rich fool that I am)....and I know that I need only a fraction of the things that currently engulf me.
So, when I return from the boat I'm joining the declutterers.
I've signed up for the Seven Things ring, and hope thus to be held accountable forhaving more of less in my life.
Since visiting India, I've been much less acquisitive...whether I can actually become reductionist is probably open to debate, but I do intend to try.
Seven things a week, at least until we vacate Privet Drive (or, optimistically, we run out of things to shed)
It should be possible...surely.

In the short term, even with all the boxes of food and books, life on a narrow- boat is a good exercise in minimalism....and one I love.
Home at the end of next week...see you then.

Monday, August 06, 2007


Feeling slightly bored and random first thing this morning, I thought I’d have a look and see if that state of mind is a perennial August issue for me.
How was I feeling and what I was doing on 6th August last year?

So I discovered that it’s my birthday – or at least, my blog's birthday.

This, of course, set me thinking what I’m doing sustaining such a narcissistic exercise as a blog for 3 whole years.
After all, I’m not a great sustainer in many areas, but I seem to be intent on writing here, even when I have little to say.
In the beginning, this blog was a way of processing the countless new experiences of ministry, of thinking aloud (on the basis that I really don't know what I think until I hear what I say!) and recording some milestones too.
Then I began to make blog friends, some of them too far away to phone or visit.
I wanted to know what they were up to, what issues were concerning them, whether they’d read any good books lately – and my blog became a way of staying in touch and, as time went by, of meeting more and more wonderful new people. As the revgals webring developed, those connections became increasingly important and the delight of producing our two books gave fresh impetus to my blogging here as well.

As with preaching, I’m often surprised by the posts that draw the most comments. Sometimes I’ll present an idea that is really exciting me, only to find that nobody else even seems to notice. At others, a quick throw away reflection that I hesitate to post at all produces something quite close to a flood of comments…so I guess blogging is teaching me more about the unreliable nature of communication as well.

Would I still blog if I knew nobody was reading me?
I’m not certain.
I do journal (with a real pen on real paper, you know) though not as often as I used to in pre-blog days, and not with the same regularity that I waffle and witter here. I guess that for an extrovert a potential conversation will always be more attractive than secret thoughts whispered to the page. I definitely need to write though –it’s been part of my nature one way or another for long enough to be judged a non-negotiable fixture - so writing when there’s actually hope of a reader is a joy.
Another surprise pleasure of blogging has been the discovery that with a digital camera all sorts of things are possible. That really is sheer self indulgence,- but it’s MY blog so why not! I know the quality of both word and image is variable, - but surely the blog name gave that away from the word go.

Final thought…
I was tidying up my links recently and came across several blogs that are no more, because their owners are “too busy living life to blog it.” For me it works the opposite way. The more there is happening for me, the more I want to reflect on it…
I know that I have to be careful and remember that discretion is the better part of public blogging, particularly as I hatch from curate to priest-in-charge, when that change comes…but as long as my life continues to present me with the odd hint of God’s presence, or any even marginally engaging material, I guess I’m likely to keep on blogging it.

After all, if it weren't for the blog, I might not know you!
Thanks for reading thus far.
There’s chocolate cake over there on the table.

Sunday, August 05, 2007

In case you ever wondered..

God is really really good!

Having faffed, footled and generally avoided anything productive for most of Saturday, I managed to put together something for OpenHouse before bedtime - which left the minor challenge of creative evening worship largely unaddressed, little time to pursue it and a deep and depressing certainty that whatever I did there would probably be
a)no congregation whatsoever at OpenHouse (school holidays and flood aftermath, so I knew nearly all our regulars would be elsewhere) and
b)nobody really keen on participating in funky meditations with pebbles and candles at Evening Prayer.

You'll have seen the next bit coming, won't you?
It's only me that fails to, time and time again.

5 assorted families at OpenHouse, who really enjoyed the Transfiguration picnic in the churchyard (it did make sense, honest guv) and lingered chatting for ages afterwards...
and then lots of positive comments about the evening worship - in which everyone got involved with no demur at all. One lady with whom I've had little conversation over three years now came out wreathed in smiles saying "Brilliant", which is clearly something for my rainy day "kingdom box".

The thing that knocked me out personally was reading the Trevor Dennis story "Transfiguration" just before I invited the congregation to light candles
"as a silent prayer not only that our eyes may be open to recognise God’s presence in the world, but also of our longing to become reflections of his love and his glory, agents of his kingdom"....
One of the churchwardens took a candle and taper to a rather decrepit lady who was clearly not going to make it to the altar - and as I watched them, it was absolutely real. Both of them were lit up with that light of God's presence that the whole service celebrated.

Then together we affirmed our faith, using these words from Dorothy McRae-McMahon, whose work is always a joy - and it was all really rather wonderful
(photo courtesy of HG studios - with grudging permission!)

God spoke light into the void
And the light is in our hands against the darkness.
God clothed the world with sky
And we ride upon the wind
And breathe among the leaves.
God gifted us with earth and with water in between.
We dig and float and drink and grow
And know the power of earth and sea.
We paint and sing and work and dance in company with God.
We share the earth with all that is
In harmonies of warm and cold,
In green and desert, crowd and lone,
We feel the pain, we feel the joy.
God is our father and our mother,
Christ is our brother,
The Spirit is within us.
We celebrate our sharing in the recreating of the world.

I wish I could stop being surprised when it "works"....Since God is always longing for us to come closer, I really shouldn't be that surprised when God honours even our more faltering self conscious attempts. God doesn't want us to "fail" at worship - why do I seem to expect that we might? It really isn't all down to me.

Saturday, August 04, 2007

Cornwall was wonderful

thank you for asking.

Hattie Gandhi remains the perfect person with whom to travel and our hosts at Tregithy were their usual hospitable selves. Even the weather took a turn for the better, so that we could (and did) sit beside sparkling waves, watching the dogs swim for sticks and listening to the cry of the sea-birds.
We walked a fraction of the coastal path and talked about dreams and plans, about life and relationships and about God. And it was very good.

One thing, though. I think I'd question the wisdom of taking 3 days of leave and then returning for the inside of a week before a further break - rejoining is proving harder than usual and I'm sure that's because it is overlapping with the eve-of-holiday wind-down feeling...
Trying to plan tomorrow's OpenHouse and some creative Evening Worship - both tasks I really enjoy as a rule but closely akin to pulling teeth today.
Still, at least thinking about Transfiguration should allow me to recapture some of the holiday mood...Time apart to recognise God sounds rather a good idea to me.