Sunday, October 28, 2007

Journey On

This evening, for the 4th year running, St M's opened its doors to the families of those for whom we've conducted funerals over the past 2 years (who all received a personal invitation) and anyone else who wanted to come. They met for "A service of thanksgiving and remembrance" - something quite different from the traditional All Souls Requiem, with its list of names and general air of heavy solemnity.
People cry at this service, but they sometimes laugh too. Afterwards they share a glass of wine and talk about how they are making their way through their own particular valley of shadow. It's a huge privilege to see the courage and fidelity that keeps so many struggling onward - and the small miracles of hope that each person there represents.

It's a short service...barely half an hour of liturgy and at its climax comes an invitation to light a candle not only for the obvious losses that have brought them there, but also for any other experience of loss or disappointment, a baby never born, a friendship lost or broken...
This year I also offered the option of taking a seed away as a sign of hope - and to my amazed delight it seemed that everyone chose to do so.
We use words so much in the church. I love them - and they work for me - but tonight though my reflection seemed to hit the right note, it was the rituals and the music that spoke the greater truth.
All in the end is harvest.

Saturday, October 27, 2007

You need to read this

John Davies, a Greenbelt friend (and the author of one of these which look to be a thoroughly Good Thing) has been following the M62 across England from Hull to Liverpool for the past 2 months. He's a fine writer and his walking blog has been well worth reading, with much to ponder - but nothing more so than today's post.

The more I have been pummelled in the tumult of motorway ghosts speeding past me on my slow journey, the more I have become convinced of the deadliness of the disconnections our society has accepted. A people who can no longer move at walking pace, a people who must wall out children or run them down, a people radically disconnected from each other (whilst sharing the same spaces), a people radically disconnected even from our own bodies... I think we either have already died or are in an irreversably critical condition.

Go and read the rest here - I think that it is both important and beautifully written.

In conversation recently I concluded that perhaps the priestly task is, quite simply, to help people to see. What we should do and be once we have seen is another question, and a challenging one.

Friday, October 26, 2007

Friday Frivolity - It's a Pumpkin/Apple Five

Singing Owl over at Revgals writes: All Hallows Eve (Halloween) is near. As a child, Halloween was one of my favorite holidays. We didn’t yet worry about razor blades in apples or popcorn balls or some of the other concerns people have with Halloween these days. Halloween was a chance to be mildly scared, and better yet, to dress up and pretend to be something we really weren’t. Let’s talk about that a bit, but then let’s add in some food ideas for this year. Where I live the leaves are falling, the temperature is chilly and pumpkins are for sale everywhere, along with many kids of apples. What's more, the "Holiday Season" will soon be upon us. ACK! I could use a new idea for dessert. So, here we go…

1. How did you celebrate this time of year when you were a child?
Halloween as a festival has only really hit the UK since I grew up. When I was small, I loved the idea of telling stories by the fire (come to think of it, I still do) so I would try and organise my parents into doing just that somewhere around 31st October….and if I had a friend over, we’d maybe bob for apples (catching them in your teeth as they float in a bowl of water) and raid the dressing up box for long skirts and make sugar-paper witches hats. When I was a teenager, there was one year when I had a sort of low key fancy dress party and put candles all over the house….You see, I was longing for stones and tea-lights even then. But that’s about it.

2. Do you and/or your family “celebrate” Halloween? Why or why not? And if you do, has it changed from what you used to do?
Nope. Partly because the way the festival has arrived here is mega-commercial and slightly unpleasant. Instead of being about small children looking sweet dressed up as cats, it is apparently rather too often more about teenagers frightening the elderly with the nature of their tricks…There’s also a lot of confusion around as to whether we are celebrating the dark, and encouraging people to play with dangerous things, so some churches get very anxious about the whole caboodle. I'm not fully of their persuasion, (it seems to me that most of the activity is harmless fun) but it does mean that it would feel rather incongruous for a clergybird to be actively encouraging the festivities - just in case they go bad.
When we lived in the village, we used to run a Light and Laughter party in church, which went down a storm. Gave kids a chance to dress up and play traditional games with apple; gave them the opportunity to be pleasantly scared by torchlight tag in the churchyard -but sent them home with a message of celebration of the light that no darkness can quench. It worked for us then.
A couple of years ago the diocese organised the most fantastic
youth event in the Cathedral – again setting out to reclaim the Christian foundations of All Hallows Eve…I'd love to celebrate like that with 500 teenagers singing "Light of the World" on a regular basis.

2. Candy apples: Do you prefer red cinnamon or caramel covered? Or something else? I’ve only ever had the “toffee apple” variety – which I used to love, but suspect would make my teeth fall out nowdays ;). They weren't a Halloween special, though. I used to buy one when the fun fair came to town each summer - I wasn't allowed candyfloss, as my mother thought it too unwholesome to tolerate, but toffee apples might not quite count for your "Five a day" but they were technically fruit, so all was well. As to a cinnamon alternative - well, it is one of my favourite tastes, so who knows?
3. Pumpkins: Do you make Jack O’ Lanterns? Any ideas of what else to do with them? Deeply inept at such things. When I was a child, it was supposed to be turnip lanterns that you carved – and frankly a turnip is so jolly hard to carve that I decided the whole thing was Too Much at an early age and have never aspired to an alternative viewpoint, even now that the cult of the pumpkin is taking a firm hold on British society ;-)

4. Do you decorate your home for fall or Halloween? If so, what do you do? Bonus points for pictures. Fraid not – we once got a rather cute ceramic pumpkin designed to hold a tea light free with some purchase or other – so that sat on the kitchen window cill at our old house till it got broken…and that was it.

5. Do you like pretending to be something different? Does a costume bring our an alternate personality?
I'm useless at clever craft ideas (see above re pumpkins), so hated fancy dress parties in my youth, as I could never create anything that matched the scope of my imagination. On the other hand, I used to really love it when I was duty parent for school trips to a Victorian school room . We first went the year we celebrated the centenary of the village school. The children had to dress appropriately, take a suitable lunch (hunk of bread and cheese) in a suitable package (that meant a brown paper bag) and staff and helpers were in costume too…and got bonus points for talking in 19th century English. Having done The Victorian Novel as a special study in my final year, I entered into the spirit of this with embarassing fact I could probably have made a good shot at taking on the role of the school mistress had the need arisen. But that was pretty much the exception...though perhaps I'm pretending to be something different all the time? I certainly wear a strange costume - but I get the feeling that I'm mostly being allowed to be my truest self.
Whether robes based on the everyday wear of the 1st century Roman contribute much to this I really don’t know…If I were a trad. Catholic, I guess I’d be aiming for obliteration of self by my vestments – but as it seems to me that my self is about all I can bring to the worship, that’s not too helpful (though please, Lord, don’t let the me-ness of Kathryn get in anybody’s way…)

Bonus: Share your favorite recipe for an autumn food, particularly apple or pumpkin ones. Aaargh…..There is a yummy apple cheesecake that I used to make to use up the glut of apples from our mini orchard at the old house. Can’t disengage from the computer enough to go and hunt it now, but this one is pretty close
Apple Cheesecakes
Short crust pastry (sweetened if you prefer)
225g (8oz) Stewed apple 110g
110g (4oz) Caster Sugar
110g (4oz) Butter
4 Egg Yolks 2 Egg Whites
1 Lemon, rind and juice

Peel, core and boil sufficient apples to make 225g (8oz) when cooked.
Add the sugar and the melted butter.
Add the beaten eggs, grated lemon rind and juice.
Stir the mixture well.
Line patty pans with pastry
Add the mixture.
Bake about 20 minutes.

Thursday, October 25, 2007

Two more "disconcertions"

  1. When I arrived at the hairdressers yesterday, the staff were very busy discussing a recent funeral....which, they assured me, had been held at the pub down the road. Further discussion established that there had indeed been something in the church beforehand but as far as those women were concerned the real funeral was what happened by way of a party afterwards. Despressing but probably salutory for someone who spends so much time preparing funerals, weighing every word, trying as best I can to make a twenty minute slot at the crem helpful and meaningful. It's quite possible that I could actually read through the Yellow Pages with equal effect - because the pub's the thing.
  2. I heard an ad promoting a "Sponsor a Child" scheme - which had as its basic incentive not the huge difference that sponsorship would make to the family concerned but, dear Lord, the feel-good factor for the sponsor. The punch-line of the campaign was "What will you feel as a child sponsor?" What I feel, is slightly queasy. Leaving aside all the ethical questions about whether child sponsorship is a good idea, selling it as the latest means to self gratification is, in my book, really rather horrible. What do you think?

Half empty or half full?

Recipe for a-less-than-perfect day off…

  • Forego lie-in in order to go for bad haircut (usual stylist away – Curate a congenital wimp when it comes to challenging any sort of expert – result, a trim that became a complete and startling re-style, shorter than I’ve ever had it before….tolerable now I’ve washed it myself…but still not good)
  • Watch the dangly part of lovely amber ear-ring that HG brought back from Poland disappear down plughole (again – redemption followed via LCM and a quick disconnection of the U bend, but there was a prolonged state of grief and shame-at-stupidity before this happy resolution)
  • Attempt to recycle plastics and cardboard three times before suceeding. First of all the plastics bank was absent and the cardboard bank full, then plastics was there but cardboard missing - and finally they were both there in all their glory. And no, I didn't go out of my way 3 times in order to achieve this, - which would surely have been counterproductive in green terms - but it was irritating nonetheless. Indeed, if I'd not been hugely committed to environmental concerns I would probably have dumped the whole lot in the wheelie bin after the second attempt, rather than teetering around like a bag-lady on a bike for much of the morning.
  • Sally forth to collect HS from work TWICE because his hours were changed at the last minute and he couldn’t get to the phone till too late
  • Plan and head off on trip to enjoy autumn colours on nearby wooded hill – only to be thwarted by notice advisiing “Hill closed due to erosion” (Actually, we drove on and found somewhere nearly as good, where we could and did run down steep slopes through carpets of leaves in the approved manic fashion)

The slightly disturbing thing is that, give or take the hair (which will assuredly grow again), all of these minor whinges were redeemed by bedtime…but the impact of the initial frustrations meant that when I was asked how my day off had been, my first thought was a grumpy one.
I guess all the stuff that we’re told about the power of first impressions holds good for experiences too. I forgot the things that had worked first time in favour of chuntering about those which had been frustrating...
Since I’m generally ridiculously positive about most things realising that I’d been in a “half empty” frame of mind yesterday was a bit unnerving.
Guess there could be a reason for this - but it's still something to watch.
Maybe I'm expecting too much of days off, so get unreasonably disappointed when they bring with them their own crop of average realities. Who knows?
The working day today has been pretty much positive all round...and as there are 6 of those to every 1 of the other, I guess I should just cease my mutterings.

Monday, October 22, 2007

Just thinking

The experience of preaching last night was definitely less than uplifting. Words that had seemed just right on even the final read-through fell heavily on an unresponsive air and I wondered whether, in fact, in the process of preaching to myself I had actually excluded everyone else.

In fact I had 3 positive comments at the door - each of them from a woman in one or another form of ministry. So I'm wondering whether the struggles with letting go are particularly intense for us as a group? Is that the shadow side of the longing to nurture?

I know that it's part of almost every aspect of my life right now, as I prepare to move on in ministry to a new place, and as I watch my children stepping out into the world. So much of me would like to freeze time, - indeed, to put the clocks back to the comfortable days of primary school children, whose needs and crises could be solved so easily with hugs, hot chocolate and a really good book.
But there's so much joy, too, in watching them grow into their new worlds...and I know that actually they will "go" whether I release them gracefully or try to hang on with clenched fists. But if I let go willingly, then the evidence shows that they are more than willing to return.
So, I make the choice to open my arms to receive the future, for them and for me as well.

Sunday, October 21, 2007

So, I wrote my sermon mostly with real live pen on paper as I sat on Hattie Gandhi's beautifully patchworked bedspread in her student room in Cardiff...and it was an infinitely smoother process than being here with all my props around me and the lure of the internet only a mouse click away. Mind you, I couldn't have finished it without reading Paul's thoughts (or without an encouraging chat with Songbird along the way)...Moderation in all things, I guess. I just wish I could exercise more self control over online temptations. Have you discovered the rice game yet? Good news for some (assuming that the site is as good as its word - I haven't actually checked credentials) but for a procrastinating curate, I'm not so sure...
3,900 grains on Friday....
If you have no idea what I'm talking about, go and see ;-)

Friday, October 19, 2007

Public announcement

Ladies, gentlemen, boys, girls and especially dogpals...I thought you should know this. As I came home from the 7.30 Eucharist this morning, none of the children heading for the junior school were wearing uniform.
I bumped into a group that I know, and asked what was going on, and was told, with beaming smiles, that
"Today is MUFTI DAY"

Mufti wishes to thank her devoted public for this sign of recognition of her central importance in all things, and will be giving audiences in the Curate's study by appointment throughout the day.

Edit; explanatory note for More Cows and others....Mufti = British Raj slang for "
Civilian dress, especially when worn by one who normally wears a uniform. "...It was chosen by HG as the name of her puppy-with-a-posh-pedigree and kennel-name to match, so that on state (uniform) occasions the dog concerned might be known as Wyafon Kawarra but the rest of the time, in her everyday clothes, she's "Mufti".

Wednesday, October 17, 2007

A quiet evening in

So last night I prayed the Michael Leunig prayer and prepared to turn off the lap top and go back to sleep.
One way and another I spent alot of yesterday sleeping - and expect today to be rather similar.

However, I'd just snuggled down with a cat helpfully positioned on my toes when there was an anguished shout from downstairs "I need help!"

Passing swiftly over the inevitable comments from family members that anyone living here undoubtedly needs all the help they can get, it's pretty rare for LCM to voice any such request. Fury at the intransigence of inanimate object?Yes. Frustration at the plethora of smallish animals underfoo? Certainly. Frustration at the foibles of wife and children? Of course.
But "need" and "help" in the same sentence- well this was the first time I could recall hearing such a thing in 22 years of marriage - so I shot downstairs expecting little short of fire, flood and haemmorhage (sp???)
Actually, I wasn't that wrong. Not flood exactly but a steady trickle of water from the trap door that leads to the loft over my study.
The loft that is home for boxes of books for which no shelf space offered. Back at our own house just before we moved, there was a minor tragedy when all my music, which had lived in a loft next to the header tank for our hot water system, somehow got damp and was mouldy and unsalvageable before we got to it, - and that sort of memory lent wings to our rescue mission.
LMC and HS were up the ladder and passing down boxes before I'd even got my slippers on. Inevitably at least one box disintegrated in transit, spilling theology all over the study floor, but it looks as if this was new damp, caused by the afternoon's constant rain, so once dried and spread out all over the sitting room, the books seem quite happy. And the curate's collection of terry nappies, preserved long beyond their official working life, has once again come in extremely useful. Maybe Michael Leunig should write a prayer about them? Maybe I should??

Meanwhile, though,the mystery remains, where did the water come in? There is apparently quite a large area covered, though not to any great depth - but no obvious hole in the roof anywhere. Time to phone the poor guy at Church House who deals with property. After 2 sets of real floods and lots of all round bad weather, he emailed all clergy a few weeks ago to say that the housing budget for this year was basically spent...I guess storm and water damage to clergy housing is just one more inconvenient truth to be dealth with as the global environment crisis continues.

Tuesday, October 16, 2007

In time of kleenex

God bless those who suffer from the common cold.
Nature has entered into them;
Has led them aside and lain them gently low
To contemplate life from the wayside;
To consider human frailty;
To receive the deep and dreamy messages of fever.
We give thanks for the insights of this
humble perspective.
We give thanks for blessings in disguise.

Michael Leunig from The Prayer Tree

Small selfish footnote
(And, if it's not too contrary to the spirit of the above, we pray for a total recovery by tomorrow..)

Tread lightly

Question: if you don't know about something till after it has happened, are you still late?

I've just discovered, via Julie at One Hand Clapping, that yesterday was Blog Action Day for the Environment.

At our conference last week, the theme was "Pressure Points" and our first keynote address was "The Earth under Pressure" - with Clare Foster, the Archbishops' Advisor on all sorts of ethical and environmental concerns,- so I'd kind of planned an environmental post some time this week.
If I'd only known....
However, true to my tradition of coming in late whenever possible, I thought I might as well write it anyway - because, actually, this stuff really matters.

Clare was excellent - really inspirational (and how exciting to know that some of the national voices of the C of E are so eloquent) and her theme was sobering but never depressing. She took as her starting point the Anglican Communion's Fifth Mark of Mission
"Strive to safeguard the integrity of creation and to sustain the life of the earth".
(Good, eh? I wonder if I'm the only person who didn't know that either there were 5 Communion wide marks, or that they included such wisdom. Guess I'd maybe better research the others)

Her presentation hang on several key theological points
  • The Covenant nature of creation - an interdependent web
  • Creation as Sacrament - every footfall of ours lands upon the body of Christ
  • humanity as "second Adams" with the task of tilling and keeping, serving and conserving the earth - not dominating by right (even the concept of "stewardship" implies a measure of control that we cannot apply in our relationship with creation)
  • (My favourite) The Sabbath Feast of escape from the assumption of endless economic growth, of more as better, in favour of an economic model based upon perhaps a tree, which has limits to its growth...and then simply gains in maturity, though (as with the human body) renewal is constant throughout its lifetime....We need to recognise, against all the cultural impetus in the opposite direction, that we and the material world alike have limits...we cannot extend anything forever
She went on to talk about the practice of sabbath not only in ecological terms (reminding us of the jubilee principle, which leaves the earth fallow to rest every seventh year) but in personal terms...speaking of the way ceaseless hurry turns her into something less than human, someone who views everything, everyone as an obstacle in her need to get there on time ("Me too" cried the curate who never leaves for anywhere before she should actually be arriving)
OOoooh - and there's a book - slight but practical, with ideas to implement and a moral and theoloical rationale to support them

Clare left us with the delightful invitation/challenge to pursue little sabbaths - being in the moment when delayed at traffic lights, while waiting for the computer to boot up, whenever, wherever the pauses come.
Later in the conference, during one of the (stunning) homilies preached by "ordinary" diocesan clergy, this point came home as he told of watching a woman at a cash point so intent on her next task that she didn't even wait to collect the money she was withdrawing...Apparently each year thousands of pounds are abandoned in the mad rush for the next thing. Quite incredible!
I'd rather stupidly not made the connection between personal and ecological balance - but it's something I'm pondering today, an unexpected sabbath enforced by the Common Cold.
Now, there's a lovely Michael Leunig prayer about that somewhere...if I can find it, I'll blog it later.

Monday, October 15, 2007

Fresh perspectives

Arrived for me this week in the form of Rev Rachel, a wonderful woman ordained in the Church of South India, whom I met at the furthest tip of India 11 months ago. Now it was her turn to visit England, and she too arrived for a clergy conference – though I hope and believe her journey to High Leigh was rather less stressful than ours to Kanyakumari.

The first wonderful realisation was just how natural it felt to be walking up the road to church here in Charlton Kings with my friend beside me. Just this time last year, I’d been full of trepidation as departure date drew near, - hating the thought of leaving my children, anxious that I might not appreciate the adventure I was being offered. Now, I know that a part of me will always feel connected with India, even if by some misfortune I never return there. I know that I have sisters and brothers out there – and I know too what joy it is to try to return a little of the hospitality they offered so generously.

So – it was just lovely to have Rachel staying here this weekend.
It was good to talk more about our contexts, now that we’ve both had a little experience of the life and ministry of the other.
We agreed that the driven nature of clergy life in CSI is as unhealthy as the comparative apathy of much of the church here in the UK.
We speculated about the role of affluence in dulling our sensibilities, so that it becomes possible to believe we are self sufficient, even invincible, in contrast to those Christians in the developing world who realise that nothing in life can be taken for granted.
Rachel suggested that part of our torpor here is simply the result of being a very old institution…I’d just not thought of that, but I suppose when something has been part of the mental (and physical) landscape for centuries, maybe familiarity does breed complacence, if not contempt.
We commiserated about our mutual uncertainty about the future. She will go home to hear whether she has been posted to a new parish, and if so where – a process in which she has no say whatsoever, and in which the needs of her family are unlikely to be taken into consideration. Remembering this made my own anxieties shrink rapidly
For me, driving Rachel around Gloucestershire on a day full of autumn mist and mizzle was grounds for apology and lament. I’d so wanted to take her to see the trees at Westonbirt ablaze with colour…but it just wasn’t going to work out that way. I wished I had something more to exciting to show her…but she was too weary after the conference and 8 days of concentrating on using English non stop to make jaunts to Oxford or beyond in any way attractive. Instead we mooched around gently…where I saw boredom and greyness, Rachel marvelled at order, quiet and the care that people take with their gardens. Where I lamented the sterility of a supermarket shopping experience, after the colour and variety of the markets of Bangalore, Rachel was bowled over by the range of products under one roof and the way the shoppers seemed able to handle the choices before them without melt down.
It seemed to me that in our exchange, I’d had the far better deal – but to share my home and a tiny fragment of my life with Rachel reminded me of just how special the experiences of November 06 remain for me.

For her feast day

a prayer by Teresa of Avila

May you be blessed forever Lord
For not abandoning us when we abandoned you.
May you be blessed forever Lord
For offering your hand of love in our darkest most lonely moments.
May you be blessed forever Lord
For loving us more than we love ourselves.
May you be blessed forever Lord
For continuing to pour your blessings upon us
Even though we respond so poorly.
May you be blessed forever Lord
For drawing out the goodness in all people
Even including us.
May you be blessed forever Lord
For repaying our sin with love.
May you be blessed forever Lord
For being constant and unchanging amidst all the changes of the world.
May you be blessed forever Lord
For all your countless blessings on us and on all your creatures.

Friday Five on a Monday: B-I-B-L-E

I know, I know...I'll be late for my own funeral one day.
After nearly a week away from the blog I've lots of half-worked-out posts to share, but neither time nor space to get them sorted immediately, so I'm taking refuge in the structure provided by the Friday Five just to ease me back into the swing of things once more.

1. What is your earliest memory of encountering a biblical text?
My first conscious encounter was with Psalm 107, the passage that begins – “They that go down to the sea in ships, that do business in great waters…”
For some reason, I was told to learn this section of the psalm by heart to recite during worship in my nursery class at the rather nice AngloCatholic Convent school I then attended. I was all of 4, so quite what my teacher imagined she was doing I really don’t know, but it turned out to be a delight for me.
The child of a sailor, growing up on the stormy coast of the English Channel, I was reared on stories of great sea farers of old, and the romance of an island nation. So I was entranced by the rolling rhythm “They mount up to the heavens, they go down again to the depths” and knew, even then, that
He bringeth them to their desired haven” was the most perfect closure.
Once I’d learned it, it was a resource to shout into the waves as they hurled spray and shingle onto the promenade during the winter months…Even now, alone on a beach, I can’t resist.
Soon, it was the passages set in “Messiah” that filled my head.
Church? Well, I was there most weeks, but have no memories of hearing Scripture there till much later. I guess I was too busy watching the thurifer fill the sanctuary with smoke,and wondering whether Fr Ogden knew that the whole place was on fire!

2. What is your favorite biblical translation, and why? (You might have a few for different purposes).
Not being a Biblical linguist, I’m in no position to query accuracy,- so tend to judge translations on the wisdom of others and my own stylistic preference
In common with many respondents, I prefer the NRSV for study (also because it was the Bible given to me at my ordination) and that’s also the translation we use for the Old Testament readings in the Daily Office. I’ll often consult the New Jerusalem too, during sermon prep. For the New Testament readings in the Office, we’re following The Message, where the sheer freshness shocks me into hearing familiar passages clearly…and in some of Paul’s longer sentences, clearly for the first time! I wouldn’t use it often for public worship, but just sometimes it seems to unpack layers of meaning that had been all but forgotten. Of course, there are some passages that need to be heard in KJV. I’ll never forget the day when Hattie Gandhi, aged about 8, threw a major tantrum because she had been invited to read one of the Nine Lessons during the village carol service – and, thinking to make it easier for a child, her reading had been taken from the Good News Bible. She was livid. When it came to shepherds on a hillside, only the Authorised Version would do!

3. What is your favorite book of the Bible? Your favorite verse/passage?
Oh dear…this is where my personal anxiety that I don’t “know” the Bible well enough, that I don’t have the right sort of “relationship” with it, really begins to bite. This is an ongoing neurosis of mine…Will my response reveal the depths of my ignorance? Will my friends still want to play with me when they know? Only one way to find out..
I love huge chunks of Isaiah (thank you, G F Handel)…and the prophecies of Micah. John is my favourite gospel…but my favourite passage? Umm
Romans 8 For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor rulers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depths, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.

4. Which book of the Bible do you consider, in Luther’s famous words about James, to be “an epistle of straw?” Which verse(s) make you want to scream?
See above…I’m too insecure to tell you, in case I’ve managed to omit a jewel in ignorance…I certainly don’t spend a lot of time seeking comfort and sustenance from Leviticus et al….but what I’d love to obliterate immediately if not sooner is the noble sentiment expressed in psalm 137
How blessed will be the one who seizes and dashes your little ones Against the rock.
Ummm…yes…I know it is important to be real with God. I don’t have a problem with the psalmist telling it like it is, - I just don’t feel comfortable praying those lines (and others like them) as we make our way through Evening Prayer.

5. Inclusive language in biblical translation and liturgical proclamation: for, against, or neutral?
I think it’s really important, a matter of basic hospitality, to use inclusive language where it is possible, but I’m not keen on the clunkier attempts that sometimes rear their heads. It is those, of course, that set a congregation muttering about political correctness gone mad – when they have actually not even noticed the gentler revisions
“To ask on behalf of all [edit: “men” is deleted] such things as their well being doth require”

Bonus: Back to the Psalms–which one best speaks the prayer of your heart?
Psalm 121 – just reading it puts me into a calm space where I can see God and know the constant love and protection that surrounds me.

Tuesday, October 09, 2007

Put not your trust in technology

On Sunday afternoon, as I was saving the powerpoint for OpenHouse, my mouse curled up and died.
Last month at OpenHouse the projector deserted us
This time it was the turn of my trusty laptop - which had been fine and happy when lent to LCM on Saturday evening, but which, on arrival at church, refused to respond to stern words, kindness, bribery or anything else (including threats with a screwdriver). The general concensus is that it is pretty conclusively dead.

It was an e*b*y bargain, and has given me a year or more's service - not bad for £90, so I'm not reckoning on paying anyone to plumb its depths for signs of life.Replacement is in order. The question is, (given that I'm no longer having to pay livery fees or insurance for the horse) whether I restrict myself to another bargain basement offer, or invest a little more. At the moment, I really only use it for OpenHouse and the odd foray into alt worship with the youth group - but of course things may look quite different in my new context.
So, you say, wait till you get there and see how the land lies....but I've got used to having the flexibility of a lap top and I want it (toddler moment) NOW!!
In fact, I'm already sulking gently at the prospect of not being able to take it to the diocesan conference which starts tomorrow - even though I'd almost certainly have nothing I really needed it for there (not one of the cool kids who take notes on their laptops yet..though I do type faster than write these days).

So, what to do? Any thoughts?
I can't afford to pay much more than, say, £300 unless it's something truly amazing - so please don't try to tell me I need a Mac. I know I do, but it'll just have to wait...

Just thought you'd like to know

that our second annual pet service went very well. Again, a preponderance of dogs, all of whom behaved beautifully (perhaps in awed response to the one cat who appeared to ensure that standards were being maintained.

What's more, I managed to put my money where my mouth is, and to bless Neville, whom I'm assured is a rat of great charm and distinction. I do claim to belong to an inclusive church, after all (but am so thankful that P's snakes remained at home, as they might have pushed me further than my theology can go).

Sadly, though the Evil Dillon was duly blessed and behaved impeccably for the duration of the service, it seems to have had only minimal effect once he left the building. Preachers' kids are one thing, preachers' dogs no less troubling on occasion. He raided the laundry basket again this morning...Honestly, you'd think he had shares in M&S, the rate he is destroying my underwear. St Francis, where are you when I need you?

Monday, October 08, 2007

More things....Part 2

One of the strangest aspects of yesterday for me was the experience of presiding at the 10.00 with my ears in such a state that I could barely hear myself much of the time, let alone any sort of congregational responses. (Fortunately, the pulpit mic is designed with the seriously hard of hearing in mind, so I didn't miss out on J's sermon). It is very very strange leading worship when you are apparently completely on your own...(and probably under water at that)....It concentrated the mind wonderfully, because I simply could not carry any responsibility for how the congregation were in the worship...I simply had to focus on where I was with God.

I possibly spend too much time worrying that leading liturgy can become a performance...that my relationship with the congregation has more importance than is helpful or desirable. Yesterday, from my perspective, I might have been the only person there when I stood at the high altar - but the reality was in no way diminished. It was a good morning, really good.

(In writing this, of course, I'm very conscious that this is every day normality for some...I'm not presuming to comment on the experience of real deafness, simply on how my (presumably) temporary state impacted on me yesterday)

Things to think about...part 1

Yesterday wasn't just Sunday, it was the day on which St M's celebrates its festival of dedication. We are 817 years old (and sometimes, I feel that way)...Interesting to celebrate while we are once again in the grip of a building project. Work on the removal of pews front and back has already given us a taste for how lovely it will be once the space is fully ours to use...but meanwhile the mess, muddle and disruption is beginning to weary some people, and yesterday was the first Sunday when the main west door was inaccessible, so that our traditional procession, with assorted banners (not all of them belonging to living groups in the church today) just couldn't happen.
And of course, this saddened many people - specially those who are unconvinced that the changes will really be worth it in the end.
2 years ago, FabBishop preached at Dedication - and commented on the slightly questionable symbolism of a procession that is actually more of a circulation, since it doesn't lead you on to a new place, but brings you back to where you started.
Yesterday, my good friend the Canon preached a stormingly good sermon - and likened the sounds of St M's gearing up for worship to a locomotive getting up steam...The question was, and is, whether this train is going to be simply another exhibit in a "Living Steam" museum...lovingly polished but never allowed to actually travel anywhere ( - or worse still, a model locomotive on one of those elaborate indoor layouts, doomed to go round and round in circles forever -)...or whether we might after all be heading off in search of the Christ who has already gone before us into...Galilee, the precinct, Beeches Road - wherever we least expect to find him.

Meanwhile, the changes so far are encouraging people to sit closer to one another, and they also enabled us to share cake and wine in the church after the service - which felt great to the curate, at least!

Saturday, October 06, 2007

A late arrival at the thankfulness ball

A Friday five on thankfulness is too good to miss, specially on a slightly sad Saturday (see below) when I could usefully practice a quick exercise in "Phillipianisation" (think of such things as are true, honourable, just, pure…)

List at least five things/people/places/graces….whatever…for which you are thankful

  • My wonderful children each of whom has made my heart sing since the moment they were first placed in my arms…each of whom has developed gifts and talents I would never have expected while sharing enough with me to enable us to take delight in the same things…each of whom expands my horizons as they expand their own….…each of whom, as they grow, remains as huggy and affectionate as even their most soggy mother could wish…
  • The seaside…where no matter how troubled or despondent I feel, things always regain perspective…where I can sing at the top of my voice and never worry that I'm disturbing anyone…where I connect with my own father, who loved the sea above all things apart from his wife and daughter…and with my heavenly Father, whose love is just as boundless
  • My work…the endless wonder of being welcomed into peoples’ lives, of hearing their stories, celebrating with them, weeping beside them….being given words that sometimes make a difference…knowing that what I try to do each day really matters
  • Children…in church, at Little Fishes, in school, at youth group (yeah, OK, they are only loosely children, but I am hugely thankful for them)…who give me so much and show me God in countless countless ways
  • Books…somewhere to escape, since childhood…poetry…fiction….more recently travel…but the truth is that I would always rather read the Cornflakes packet than not be reading….
  • Animals...those in our family, my madly exhuberant dogs and the dignified and cuddly cats...Nipper, Truffle and other ponies along the way...Bill who has single-pawedly persuaded me that lurchers are charming after all...and all the other dear dear pets I've known and loved
  • Music…to listen and to perform…singing was the first route to God for me and remains one of the surest…when I get to heaven, there will be the B Minor Mass …unless, of course, it’s Spem in Alium…or some Dunstable Motets…or it might even be U2.
  • Hot baths with lots of bubbles - and the first cup of tea, in bed on a chilly morning
  • Perfect autumn days, like yesterday (though it would have been wiser of me to seize the moment and head out for a walk then, as today is chill and grey once more)
  • My friends….old and new, near and far , virtual and real-life…which of course includes you.
(I know..that's not five in any possible sense of the word - but the rubric did say "at least" - so that's my excuse and I'm sticking to it! Anyway, it has cheered me hugely to find more than 5 things for which I am seriously and deeply thankful, even with ear-ache and without a horse to my name)

So that's it, then

this afternoon an era ended for the GoodinParts family as I exchanged a horse passport for a moderately large cheque, and handed the delightful Dales cross Trufflehunter on to an excited 10 year old, her Mum and the all-important small sister.

It's a move that makes perfect sense. Hattie Gandhi is simply not around enough to justify a horse, and the Duffelpud's weekends are increasingly full of other things, even without the little matter of our having no idea where we might be living this time next year...So, when the dream family appeared, living right next door to his current yard, and asked if we might want to sell, how could we say no? They really are the best possible home, - since there's every chance that if M grows out of him (unlikely), or loses interest (no, I never thought it would happen either), her 4 year old sister will take over,- and their mum plans to ride and enjoy him too.
It might, in other words, be that desiderata a home for life.
Could not be better.

What's more it's October...
Evenings drawing in. Mist and mizzle.The joy of early mornings removing freezing mud from hooves before anyone can even think of riding out. I ought to be dancing the can-can all round Privet Drive.

But horses and ponies have been part of our family one way and another for all the past decade. Add to that my own unfulfilled childhood dreams, and you've got a pretty large chunk of my life in which things equine have been highly significant.
Now it's over. Just. Like. That.
So, here, for old time's sake, is the horse and his boy.

We did have fun.

Friday, October 05, 2007

St Francis’ Day today

Part of my personal calendar for as long as I can remember…

When I was a child, I used to try and arrange special treats for all my assorted pets, and any other animals I could lay my hands on, in honour of their patron saint.I would also wait hopefully for a treat or two to be directed my way, for St Francis' day is also the anniversary of my Baptism.
A baby born long after my parents had abandoned hope,-one who would, like any child, turn their lives and their world upside down .
They brought me joyfully to the church where they had married, to the priest who had married them 11 years before…and so I was baptised.

Years pass, and now when I stand at the font preparing to welcome a little one into the Church, to affirm our common identity in Christ, I often ask those present whether their own Baptism made a difference, whether the promises that were made on their behalf have been lived out to transform their lives.
But I also tell them something that I know directly to be true…that Baptism IS a Sacrament, that it works despite us…
That though on the day when they bring their child to the church, full of hopes, they have every intention of making those promises live…sometimes, with the best will in the world, life will get in the way.
I tell them that, actually, this is not the end of the world, that God honours our intentions, however imperfect their outworking in our lives.
Our Baptism service has parents and godparents answer questions about their intention to nurture the child in the faith with the response
With the help of God I will
and that’s what I believe in.
I believe in it,because I know that is how it worked for me.

Though my parents had the best of intentions, to worship together as a family, week on week, the reality was that my mother was so ill, for so much of my childhood that I can barely remember any times when our whole family went to church together. Instead, my father went quietly to the 8.00 Communion and it wasn’t till my singing committed me to the musical life of a faith community that my baptism began to be real to me within the congregation of God's faithful people.
So now, so many many years later, I stand as Canon Poole once stood holding me. Now it I who receive those little ones, I who pour water over their heads and baptise them in the name of Father, Son and Spirit…and I know that what was begun for me that day has made all the difference to what has come after…so I am thankful.


When I saw the opening of the Common Worship Collect for today, I was sad for a moment that Ellen's service had happened already. Her life was most truly and beautifully modelled on the ideal it presents to us

O God, you ever delight to reveal yourself
to the child-like and lowly of heart.
Grant that, following the example of the blessed Francis
we may count the wisdom of this world as foolishness
and know only Jesus Christ, and him crucified,
who is alive and reigns with you,
in the unity of the Holy Spirit,
one God, now and for ever.

Thursday, October 04, 2007

A thank you post

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.

Some, of course, had been part of my life forever. E. has always been my honorary mother – a guaranteed source of love, understanding and encouragement through all the ups and downs of childhood and adolescence, and every bit as special to my children as well…
Then there was gentle L, whose son and I dated for a little while. L was one of life’s extrovert’s who knew only too well how long evenings can be when you come home to an empty flat.…For 2 summer vacs I spent at least 3 evenings most weeks at her home round the corner; she took huge delight in having someone to cook for, and together we would watch tv, do our nails or simply chat about nothing much….
Another was B., whose 2 daughters were among my closest friends at uni (one at Cambridge, the other when I moved to Durham for post grad work) – who opened her home to me for Christmas and made me feel hugely involved and included.

And there was Ellen.
I met Ellen’s daughter on my first day at Trinity, when we were being organised in alphabetical order for the freshers’ photo.
Two Ws, side by side…
Both reading English.
Both with few contacts in Cambridge.
Both ever so slightly out of our depths.

The friendship that began that day survives still. My beloved god daughter is M’s oldest child, while M’s husband stood god-father when the Dufflepud was baptised.There have been times when we’ve seen less of each other for a while, preoccupied with our own lives, our own concerns, but the ties are there. We’ve survived a good few crises together. She’s definitely on my short-list of people I would phone to help bury the body…And when I became friends with M. I was also adopted into her family.
Her parents were among the least assuming, most gentle people I’ve ever known.
Their small house in an unbeautiful town (which was nicely en route from Cambridge to St Leonards-on-Sea) was a real haven…
I first spent a holiday there when M . – who had wisely added touch-typing to her portfolio of marketable skills,- offered to type up my Part 1 dissertation. So for one week over Easter 1980 I was made welcome- and when I left I was told to return whenever I wanted.
So I did. Often.

Nobody ever made a special fuss – I was just included in the general blanket of care and kindness that was part of life there.
I never allowed to help round the house…”Mummy Watts” was very clear that nurturing her girls and their friends was her role.
Nurturing everyone, actually.
Ellen was someone who made a difference.
She was always collecting waifs and strays, stopping to be kind to little old ladies who were struggling with shopping, befriending the sad child on the edge of the playground in her years working at school.
She was a Deacon at her Baptist church, which had been her spiritual home from birth (and remained so even when she moved some distance away). Yesterday, someone said of her "Her life was her sermon" and certainly faith was woven into every aspect of life in that house…
We never talked about it (I would probably have described myself as an Anglican Agnostic if we had). We didn’t need to.
On my 21st birthday (the sort of date when my parents rather made their absence felt) there was a parcel, a copy of The Oxford Book of Children’s Verse, with love from E & D W (but to me they were always Mummy and Daddy Watts)…

One summer she had a detached retina, and was rushed to Moorfields Eye Hospital for surgery - where she shared a room with Gitel – an Orthodox Jew from the East End of London. Between those 2 women, of such different backgrounds and experience, a warm friendship grew – and it was a joy to visitors to come and be warmed by it in our turn. Ellen simply did not understand, did not recognise, why there might be any divisions, any discomfort engendered by their contrasting beliefs.

Yesterday I was back in that slightly run down little church, in a part of London where many colours and creeds have come together.
I was there to thank God.
I was there to listen to stories and memories of E, from her own community, the people who had known and loved her for a lifetime.
I was there to hear M speak bravely about the mother who gave and gave of herself to any and all who might need love, to share in the thankfulness and the resurrection joy through tears.
M described her mother as someone who “knew where she belonged and knew where she was going.”
Go well, then, Ellen, with every blessing on your arrival…and thank you for your mothering along the way.