Thursday, February 26, 2009

Exercises in letting go 1

Enforced disciplines are no easier to assimilate with profit, & there is clearly going to have to be a whole heap of negotiations between the Kathryn who is in love with her jobb& had determined that her parishes should have a really stunning Lent & Holy Week in compensation for not arriving til post Easter last year, & the fuddled, weary creature who knows full well that at the moment she can manage one sensible thing per day, after which energy runs out
I'm trying, really I am, but it's not going to be easy.

Yesterday evening featured a few bits of domestic stress that felt specially huge because I knew there was nothing I could do at all to make things better
. This in turn led to the worst night I've yet spent in my encampment on the sitting room sofa, which meant extra meds at 4am, which meant a woozy Kathryn waking with under an hour to dress & get to church.
in normal circumstances, I wouldnt need even twenty minutes but now??
Just not possible.

So, in a brief triumph of maturity over just about every instinct I possess, I phoned M, my lovely Reader colleague, & asked her to save the day.
Of course she agreed & as far as I can determine nobody died, left the church, or probably even turned a hair. It was quite OK without me. And then my phone bleeped to remind me that I'm receiving a daily text through Lent from blessed (you can find them on twitter too)

Here is today's

Frantic race 4 school? Stuck in traffic? In this busyness God has time for you. Make time for him..

So this Lent for me will be less about the developing relationship of priest & parish that I had intended & expected - and instead about the core relationship which brought me here in the first place.
It's all about Father & daughter


Walk or cycle a route you would normally drive

OK - so this may be cheating, but I'm adding a twist...I will try to walk the route down to hurch without resenting the fact that I can't cycle it as normal. If I can achieve that I will really have got somewhere.
I suspect I may struggle a bit with LLLL this year - the actions are quite active on the whole & I dont think the idea is for me to half do tasks that depend on others for completion. We'll have to see

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Love Life Live Lent 1

say something nice about someone beind their back

The Dufflepud rocks! If you have to fall over in your kitchen & break your arm , make sure he is there. I cant think of an way in which he could have been kinder, more patient & gentle. And this is a teenaged boy, remember. I am a very fortunate woman

What I have learned to-day - by Kathryn Fleming aged 48.5

* you can cope with one handed tooth cleaning if you put the toothbrush handle in your mouth while applying paste

*similarly, adding shower gel to the water in the basin neatly subverts the terrible tendecy of soap to slip awy from a predatory flannel

* the chasuble is a gift to sling-wearing clergy - though one feels a tad underdressed when wearing only a skirt (admittedly black) & a tee-shirt (Liturgically correct in purple) beneath it

* one-handed ashing is fine, ditto presiding....but proclaiming the gospel demands a sub-deacon about the place

* the Lectionary for Ash Wednesday has unexpected comic potential in Psalm 51
"make me to hear of joy and gladness, that the bones that you have broken may rejoice" & in the Gospel "let not your left hand know what your right hand is doing"

*while there is no good time for domestic godesses to abandon ship, now is particularly unhelpful

* having a child dealing with unbloggable misery hurts like stink, - specially when you cant even go and offer hugs

* good friends make even unbloggable misery better
(actually those last two were more reminders than new discoveries...but they are major conclusions to be drawn from today)

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

"You're never alone with an iPhone"

So said L during our recent & most excellent girly w'end.She was enthralling & delighting we owners of lesser phones at the time & I could see all sorts of enticing reasons why I might want to upgrade then and there (though given my current modest tarrif it would be not so much an upgrade, more a revolution....). For a wee while all of us sitting at supper poured over the screen - then we realised we had real live company there in one another, the phone went away and our evening continued.

A few days later I read a post (thanks to the meds, I now have no notion where...please say if you recognise it) commenting on the way our mobile phones can now protect us from that uncomfortable experience, being alone in a crowd, but may also discourage us from even trying to engage when we are in new or challenging situations. That gave me pause, as one who has used her phone to cover an exposed or awkward moment more than once...but what really startled me, as they moved my trolley from pillar to post in A&E, was the feeling of sheer joy when a sign informed me
"you may use your mobile phone here - but please respect the privacy of others".

Suddenly I could reach byond my cubicle, could tweet my situation to friends far and wide...and goodness, it helped. I can't imagine that anyone is that fussed by the trivial details of my convalescence but it seems to matter a good deal to me that when the meds wear off at 3 in the morning I can whinge about this to my patient friends in another time-zone. On reflection, I'd guess my family are pretty glad I'm not waking them with a childish wail
"I can't sleeeeeeeeeeeeeeep..." and however I know you, I'm so very grateful for your companionship on this unexpected Lenten journey.

The receiving end

I've been attempting to subvert my inherent tendency to last-minute sermon prep by posting the material to launch the Revgals lectionary leanings this month. Trying, through a druggy haze, to produce a launch-pad to-day I realised afresh that this unwelcome, unwanted gift of a broken arm might still be a gift if I can only let it...

I had been pondering a suitable Lenten discipline for a few days when, woomph, Sunday happened and I find myself saddled with one that will test not only patience, but my ability to let go and allow others to do the ministering...
So if I were preaching (or as I preach to myself) I guess my focus would be on the need to give up the need to be in control, the need to be relentlessly busy...
As I waited in A&E, I was completely helpless (trying to move was quite painful enough to put me off the idea conclusively) & around me were so many others with no power to help themselves in any way.
I had become the object of verbs and not the subject, relying on the care and gentleness of others. This experience of passivity is used wonderfully in Vanstone's The Stature of Waiting
as he considers the passion of Christ - but for me there is something striking about my involuntary solidarity with those who fond themselves the victims of their own lives....those made powerless by economics (very few choices to be made from the bread-line), by place or accident of birth.
For the moment I cannot initiate, I can only wait.

When I baptise, I love to share the Marcan account of the baptism of Christ that we are set for Sunday. I point out always that when Jesus appears on stage here, he has done nothing to earn God's love. The teaching, the healing, the utter obedience unto death all lie in the future
- but still God looks down and speaks the unconditional love that is always being poured on each of his children.
For relentless activists like me, learning to sit and allow God to love me through family, friends & congregation will be discipline enough as I travel, confined for my own safety, like Noah and his passengers through the six long weeks of Lent.

I guess six weeks is a pretty average time for bones to mend. I wonder if it will be long enough to learn this fundamental lesson in heart as well as head.

Monday, February 23, 2009

The art of one handed blogging - or be careful what you wish for!

Over the last few days I'd been getting seriously exercised about all I needed to do for Lent...there were leaflets to write & copy, courses to produce & publicise...& of course palms to burn! As parish life doesnt tend to stop to make space for these excitements, & as I was predictably determined that everything should be just right this first year as a grown up vicar, I was chasing my tail rather & caught myself wishing once or twice that it would all disappear & leave me to rest.
I honestly didnt say anything to anyone about broken arms, though...
However yesterday, after a tasty lunch with a good friend, nemesis struck! One second I was crossing the kitchen & about to open the dog gate, the next i was sprawled on the foor with my left arm lying what seemed to be some distance off, at a thoroughly unwholesome angle.
Lovely friend, Dufflepud & LCM take counsel while I swear a bit. NHS direct are consulted as to relative merits of taking me to hospital themselves or waiting for paramedics. At this stage my refusal to rather takes over. Enter delightful paramedic, who tries to get me high on entonox while failing to find a vein to inject something stronger (they couldn't find a vein last time I gave blood, so really not his fault). More discussions.
A real live ambulance is summoned & in due course appears. Still no morphine but it's time to leave the kitchen floor to its own devices. Who knew sitting up could present such a challenge ? - but after what seemed like several hours it is accomplished & we're off...along the route I had planned to take to visit a parishioner in hospital that very afternoon. I decide that a visit from a pallid vicar muttering small obscenities may be less than reassuring...maybe a phonecall will do?

A&E is predictably busy with weekend sportsmen, so we wait...for triage...for an x ray...for a doctor to interpret this & pronounce a spiral fracture of the upper arm...for a temporary plaster...for some PAIN RELIEF!!! Everyone is kind, competent, everything you could possibly hope for but by now I am exhausted, woozy & longing to go home. They decide not to pin the bone (apparently I am classes as young & fit...hmmmnn) and send us off with an appointment for the morning. On the way back I marvel at the impact of speed humps & reflect that it's going to interesting discerning which bits of work to attempt, what I can lay aside delaring myself "off sick" & decide that probably my arm will be a sufficient Lentern exercise in itself.

Saturday, February 21, 2009

No time, no space, no vision

So here's another version of my familiar take on the Transfiguration...Thankfully I'm only delivering the 8.00 homily and then I get to preside, so it will all be OK again. Right now, though, I have so much more to do than I have a hope of achieving, it's enough to bring me out in spots.
Aaaaargh - to put it bluntly.
Still, here's the homily!

How clearly can you see?
I’ve reached the point when I need to wear glasses for distance work, but struggle to read while wearing them. It’s all very irritating…but one way and another, I can usually work out some strategy to enable me to see what I need to with reasonable clarity, and that’s something for which I really am grateful…
So let’s think about today’s readings in the light of our need to see.

While reading "around" this week's texts I came across an evocative paragraph in Madeline L'Engle's The Irrational Season:
"Suddenly they saw him the way he was; the way he really was all the time, although they had never seen it before, the glory which blinds the everyday eye and so becomes invisible. This is how he was, radiant, brilliant, carrying joy like a flaming sun in his hands. This is the way he was - is - from the beginning and we cannot bear it. So he manned himself, came manifest to us; and there on the mountain, they saw him; they really saw him, saw his light. Now, perhaps, we will see each other, too."

It seems to me that a great deal of what Christian spirituality is all about is "seeing."
When Elijah was taken from him, the critical question for Elisha was “would he see it happening”
On that hung so much of his own future ministry …He would be given a double share of his Mentor’s spirit if he had eyes to see.
Recalling another moment of transfiguration, - in which Moses in his turn learned to see, Elizabeth Barrett Browning wrote
“Earth’s crammed with heaven and every common bush afire with God. But only he who sees takes off his shoes. The rest sit round it and pick blackberries.”

It's all about learning to see
About learning to to recognise the presence of God, - which sometimes overwhelms us with an un-missable glory but which can sometimes slip by unnoticed too.
How clearly can you see?

On the mountain, everything that Peter, James and John had begun to suspect about their remarkable Rabbi, became blazingly clear in the strong and mysterious light radiating from his body and face. The disciples were permitted a glimpse of God’s transcendent glory on the face of Jesus, and so glimpsed for one moment the point of it all. For that moment, the veil which separates the invisible from the visible, the future from the present, was lifted, and they saw their lives with Jesus from a whole new point of view.

Perhaps the task of priesthood is simply to help others to see…To see God’s presence in everything, and to see one another with his eyes of love…with no judgement, no comparison, no anxiety or fear…

Let me share an experience of transfiguration that came to me in a most unlikely place, at a diocesan conference a few years ago. At the time, I was working as a charity administrator 4 days a week, running a bed and breakfast business, indulging in a spot of piano teaching, serving as a Reader in our benefice of 3 churches,- oh, and I was in the second year of ordination training. Getting to Swanwick was the nearest thing to a holiday I could see happening for a very long time…I was circling on my treadmill in true hamster fashion, and was certainly not generating much light in the process.
On the second day of the Conference, I was aware that a relationship with another delegate was beginning to become far too dominant to be manageable. Wherever I went, I seemed to bump into this person, who was friendly to the point of smothering me, and it was driving me MAD. I found myself ducking into the ladies if she loomed in sight, and was pleased when I went into the main hall for the keynote speaker that day, to see that she was already settled, with no gaps anywhere near.
The speakers that morning were John and Olive Drane….and their talk touched places that nobody else had yet acknowledged during the conference. Olive has a ministry as a clown and after sharing her own story via a moving series of dialogues with God, she invited anyone who wanted prayer to come and have a cross painted in grease-paint wherever felt right…
"Hands, forehead, eyes..." she suggested.
Can you imagine? A room full of Anglican clergy, mostly of a certain age and a reasonable sprinkling of “approved” laity being invited to relate to a clown…in front of each other! There was a moment when it seemed that nobody would dare to move, but gradually people got to their feet. Some headed for the doors, but a long line began to form, and I found myself on the end of it. By the time I reached Olive, I knew what I wanted to pray about…
“I’m training for ministry…I have 3 children and too many jobs and I’m so busy I just can’t see the wood for the trees. Please paint the cross on my eyelids and ask God to help me focus on Him, the real purpose behind all this busy-ness”
Olive prayed, marked my eyelids, and I returned to my seat. The session ended, and we trouped out for coffee. I did feel better…as if there was at least some possibility that I might survive the next few weeks at least. Perhaps I was getting some perspective? I decided to take my coffee outside. But, oh dear, there was X only a few yards away from me, and I’d definitely been seen. I went over, and as I approached, X dissolved into a pool of tears.
Only afterwards did I realise that I’d spent almost an hour with her there, listening, praying, being the sort of friend she had believed me to be. And the amazing thing? It felt entirely natural, right, unforced…I was able to love…to see the real person with all the pain and vulnerability exposed, and not the bundle of irritations that had preoccupied me before. God had heard my prayer for clearer vision, but had not answered it as I’d expected. Instead, God had lent me HIS eyes…for a while, I was able to see as He does. And yes, while it lasted the world did look very different…It was, truly, transfigured…and I saw the truth of that love that floods everything, all the time.

Since then, of course, my vision has clouded…The disciples came down from the mountain top to deal with the unlovely realities of Holy Week, to lose confidence, to be terrified, to be all but blinded by their fears.
I guess that’s what often happens with transfiguration experiences.
We look again and wonder if the flames in the bush were just a trick of the light…
but I know it is possible for us to see.
I know that with God’s help we can sometimes glimpse the shining reality of God’s presence, blazing through the ordinary till there is nothing ordinary left anywhere…

So let’s pray that we will be able to keep our eyes focussed on that reality till the day dawns and morning star rises in our hearts.

Friday, February 20, 2009

Too busy to blog - a very dull update indeed

I can't think when I last went a whole week at home without blogging, but, despite the fact that this has been half term week, and I had tried to clear some space in the diary to enjoy time with the Dufflepud, I am quite simply run ragged.
I want to tell you all about Messy Church
I want to think aloud about churches, tourism & heritage V pilgrimage
I STILL have ambitions to blog about death & hope
But instead I need to tidy the study, flea the pets, write some parish mag material by yesterday and try and rescue Hattie Gandhi (who is equally frantic in the run up to a Shakespeare Festival she's organised at uni) from the aftermath of the imminent demise of Baby Car, who has been pronounced beyond economical repair.
But it IS Friday so before I get on with all that I plan on a large mug of coffee and, so help me, I WILL take the dogs up to the woods come what may.
Maybe catch you later....

Friday, February 13, 2009

PS This is not Maisie

who sadly died before we owned a digital camera...and I can't find a decent photo to scan either...but this is the most Maisie like image that google could discover

All creatures great and small - a celebration

Hot on the heels of my rather jaded post on "lurve" comes a Friday Five which invites us to celebrate the unconditional loving companionship of those animals who add so much to our lives. I was baptised on St Francis day, I would really struggle with a home that did not include at least one beloved animal, - so this is the perfect antiValentine's celebration for me.

Friday Five: Pets

Sophia writes My son's tiny beloved lizard, Elf, is looking and acting strange this week. His skin/scales are quite dark, and he is lethargic. We are adding vitamin drops to his lettuce and spinach and hoping and praying that he is just getting ready to shed his skin--but it's too soon to tell. Others in the ring have also been worried about beloved pets this week. And, in the saddest news of all, Songbird has had to bid farewell to her precious Molly, the amazing dog who is well known to readers of her blog as a constant sacrament of God's unconditional love.

So in memory of Molly, and in honor of all the beloved animal companions who bless our lives: tell us about the five most memorable pets you have known.

I was the sort of child that really REALLY needed a pet. My earliest memories of trips to the corner shop with my mother involve the dogs that I stopped to pet...A slightly timid child, I would always find the courage to ask complete strangers
"Does your dog like being stroked" and an affirmative answer would delay our progress for hours if I had my way. Things came to a head when, shortly after I started school, I attempted to unleash a black cocker spaniel who was tethered outside the newsagents, on the basis that clearly he wasn't wanted by his owner if she was willing to leave him outside...and I was so very ready to tell the world that he was mine, all mine.
A serious conversation with my father followed, and with it the promise that when I was six (SIX) I might just be old enough to have a dog of my very own.
Endless months crept past...My 5th birthday was marked with chicken pox, which was just as well as I was thoroughly miserable anyway. I had so hoped that my parents might relent and allow us to hurry things by just one year...but finally the day came when a parcel at the birthday breakfast table contained a small yellow collar and lead, and I knew that parents did, after all, keep their promises. Robin, a liver and white springer spaniel, came into our lives a few weeks later and was all that I had dreamed and more. He adored me and my father in equal measure...was constantly ready to share in whatever I was doing...took a leading (if non speaking) role in all the historical dramas which filled my childhood games (did YOU know that Mary Queen of Scots had a springer with her when she went to her death? Well, she did...honestly) and provided the perfect excuse for long Sunday afternoon walks with my father.
As a gun dog by breeding he was devoted to all the wettest and muddiest pools...and Daddy used to spend long hours combing out his tangles and dealing with the periodic infections that troubled those floppy ears. When I think of my father, it tends to be with Robin at his heels - for the dog was never sure which of us he loved best, and his death during the scorching summer of 1976 marked the beginning of the end of my childhood. The cancer that claimed my father began to show itself that same year...

After Robin's death and that of my parents I was a student, a nomad, clearly an unsuitable person to own a pet...I took a hamster called Antigone with me to Cambridge (necessitating, I was told, a special change in the college statutes, which had hitherto permitted only the Master's cat and Byron's bear)...which made her pretty memorable for her short life.

Next came Gerontius, (Grimble) the tabby kitten that shared my post grad lodgings in Durham, accompanied me to London and was part of the early years of married life. He was my first cat (Daddy had been a bird-lover, so pleas for a kitten fell on deaf ears) and I loved the novelty of a pet who claimed my bed as his right, who would be companionable on his terms, and who (atypically) seemed as happy as any dog to come out for the evening with me, attending all sorts of student suppers and, once, accompanying me to the pub of his own accord. When we were planning our move from London, he suddenly and abruptly disappeared. Frantic searching and enquiries finally revealed that, since the advent of Hattie Gandhi, he had been a frequent guest at our neighbour's house. As we were moving to a building site, and he was by then 10 years old, we accepted her offer of a new home for him...He would have enjoyed country life hugely, but not the disruption of a house filled with chaos for the next two years.

The departure of the builders and our rooting process at Lower Farmhouse involved a whole host of pets through the years. Cats, rabbits (oh Heather, the lop eared really were a treasure), hamsters, gerbils, guinea pigs...the lot. All were loved. All contributed to our family life and I could name and describe each of them had you but world enough and time to listen...
But five it next has to come Maisie.
It's my suspicion that each of us has one particular pet who, no matter how much we love the others, is The Best Dog Ever. For me, that was Maisie...A rescue terrier with a curly coat, an endlessly loving nature (her first reaction on meeting anyone was to lie down in order to encourage the rubbing of her tum) and an endearing habit of trying to walk on her hind legs, in a way that rather resembled a meerkat. She acted as nanny to the Dufflepud, sleeping beside his Moses basket or pram in the early days...She taught nervous visiting children that dogs could be friends...She attended church regularly, and loved and was loved by all the old ladies in the congregation. She was, I suspect, my Molly and her death through kidney failure in December 2003 was probably the beginning of the end of childhood for my teens, just as Robin's death had marked the end of mine twenty five years earlier.

Meanwhile my children were growing into teenagers, and horsey ones at that - so number five must be Nipper, the pony who saw the Dufflepud through the transition from primary to secondary school, who took him safely round the Cotswold countryside (and allowed me to follow, recalling those childhood walks with Robin and Daddy), kept him safe in all sorts of unlikely adventures but had most assuredly a wicked sense of humour all her own. She didn't turn a hair in thunder storms, allowed the big scary rubbish cart to pass her with only a quizzical glance, and in one "Family pony" class at a local show astounded the judges by allowing her rider to pull on a rustling nylon kagoul while riding along...coping with the combined excitements of no hands on the reins, the noise of the showground (where motorbike scrambling was going on in an adjacent ring) and Maisie trotting along beside her with no more anxiety than a bored commuter in rush hour. She was the sort of pony that every horse mad child dreams of, ...the one I would have loved for myself or for Hattie Gandhi...and I'm so glad that for 4 years she was part of our our lives, before moving on to teach another family how to ride.

All those lovely animals...Haven't I been blessed! And, though they are, thankfully, not yet the stuff of memories, I must also celebrate the animals who share the vicarage today...Teddy, the three legged pirate cat, Tallis the magnificat (left) , his fluffily handsome nephew, Mufti the gentle Australian terrier bitch and, of course, the irrepressible Libby.
I have friends, good friends, who cannot understand why I complicate my life so by the addition of so many animals, but for me, they are the greatest joy. I happily look forward to a batty old age spent chatting away to my cats! If I'm not too decrepit for at least a little dog, my joy will be complete.

Don't say it with flowers

The annual commercial jamboree of twee sentiments, chocolate overload and wilting red roses is almost upon us.
Across the western world, forlorn teenagers, dejected singles and unhappily marrieds will be dreading tomorrow's dawn.
Poor beleagured Valentine, martyr at Rome now suffering again as the occasion for so much pain and disappointment - and an anxiety among the happily-yoked, that their expression of love might not, somehow, be acceptable to the beloved.
Oh dear, oh dear.
It's a day when expectations can so easily be dashed...When breathless teenage hopes that "he loves me" might after all be the final verdict of the daisy's petals crumble as "he" walks past without a backward glance, when the arrival of the gas bill as sole offering on the doormat seems a deliberate cruelty.
Even the postman is committed to making the un-coupled feel more solitary.
And still the media hype continues.The local press is stuffed with adverts for candelit Valentine's dinners.Tables for two are de rigeur...

Against that tide, let me set two celebrations of another sort of love. Today says facebook, is FREE HUGS DAY ... rather a lovely idea, really, though I'm not sure it would be quite as welcome in the Co-op at Cainscross as it will be amid the student communities that my children inhabit.
But nonetheless, readers and friends, please consider yourself freely hugged.


And, (it was this that led me to begin these ramblings in the first place), the blessed Henri Nouwen does it once more.Listen
as he celebrates....

Words That Feed Us
When we talk to one another, we often talk about what happened, what we are doing, or what we plan to do. Often we say, "What's up?" and we encourage one another to share the details of our daily lives. But often we want to hear something else. We want to hear, "I've been thinking of you today," or "I missed you," or "I wish you were here," or "I really love you." It is not always easy to say these words, but such words can deepen our bonds with one another. Telling someone "I love you" in whatever way is always delivering good news. Nobody will respond by saying, "Well, I knew that already, you don't have to say it again"! Words of love and affirmation are like bread. We need them each day, over and over. They keep us alive inside.

While hearing those words from a friend or a child might not satisfy the romantic excesses of the serious Valentiner, they are more than good enough for me.
And, PS, I love you.

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

It's your choice

Lectionary reflections cross posted at RevGals

You'll find the readings here

There's a chorus that was very popular at our after-school club when my children were at primary school. You might know it. With assorted enthusiastic gestures it invites hearers to

“Take my hand and follow me, to see the sea walker, the blind man healer, the leper-cleansing man from Galilee”.

Great – except that for most western children, “leper cleansing” means precisely nothing – so that one child was heard determinedly singing about “the double glazing man from Galilee”. Given the bad press which those who sell secondary glazing seem to enjoy, this wasn't perhaps the most helpful image...but it's fair to say that the emphasis on leprosy in the Biblical healings can seem to emphasise that these are stories of long ago and far away, stories that don't have much to do with us - which is a bit of a problem, given the theme of two of this week's readings, two lepers separated by centuries. King Namaan, remembered by name even today, is certain that he knows how he will be healed...But he is disappointed, even affronted, by the simplicity of the act he's actually asked to perform. There's a moment when his pride threatens to prevent his healing...when he almost cuts off his nose to spite his face and goes home, refusing to believe that anything but a huge and dramatic gesture will really work. He sets the stage with his elaborate gifts for his brother monarch, and expects to remain in the theatre of grand designs...but, just as he used an obscure slave girl, a prisoner of war, to bring Namaan to Israel, God wants to bring about healing through the small, uncomplicated every day task of bathing in the river. It demands both faith and humility for Namaan to strip off the layers of royal dignity and get on with doing what he is told...and I'm wondering how often, in holding out for the huge miracle, we overlook the simple, straightforward daily acts of obedience, the tiny changes in ourselves that add up to something huge.

Equally, how often do we feel too small to make any difference ourselves – so we sit on our bottoms and do nothing – because that way we can't fail!

We have a choice...

And in the gospel it's Jesus who makes the choice. The leper approaches him, overstepping the boundaries of the law...and presents Jesus with two options. He can ignore him, and concentrate on preaching God's love in the towns and cities – or he can touch the leper, render himself unclean, and stay out in the countryside – placed on the wrong side of the tracks by his compassion.This will subvert his mission on one level even as it confirms it at another. It's another kind of choice...and one that we are often wary of making.

Jesus touches the leper, and so joins him in his place of exclusion and uncleanness – just another presentation of the truth of the Incarnation, God becoming one of us...but we, on the whole, seem still to prefer to remain in our clean Christian ghettoes – we encourage people to join us there, but we expect them to come on our terms, and to turn into people “just like us”...(oh dear, can you tell that I'm just a little concerned about mission at the moment I wonder?)

Jesus heals the leper...and then gives him back his community by sending him “through the proper channels” to have his healing confirmed by the priest. The pariah is to be welcomed home, a living sign of God's healing at work.

What will that look like for us. Are we ready to recognise and celebrate unexpected healing...and are we willing to be part of the process, by responding however unlikely the call may seem to be?

Sunday, February 08, 2009

Not about numbers (reprise)

Generally, try as we might, those of us in "the business" will assume that a colleague heard protesting "It's not about numbers" may well be in a church that is struggling, where there are a few too many empty seats week on week, where the spectre of closure is only just waiting in the wings. We know, all of us, that small churches can be every bit as healthy as their larger counterparts - but it's still all too easy to judge ourselves in terms of the "usual Sunday attendance" - a process that's not made easier by the fact that we have to submit annual "statistics for mission" - which have as their focus...yup, numbers at worship.

However this morning I can say with great and genuine contentment that it's not all about numbers. Though the roads in and around the valley are pretty well clear now, pavements remain disconcertingly icy and the decision to cancel the 8.00 Communion to encourage the older congregation to stay at home felt entirely did the message from the Wardens on the hill that nobody could possibly get down the steep driveway to the church - or, if they got there, hope to leave again. But the 9.30 at Church in the Valley looked viable even after the organist phoned to say that she didn't want to attempt the drive in from her village. After all, I said to the Wardens, if all else fails we can always have a said service in the Lady Chapel.

When I got down there, about 40 minutes beforehand,there were just two ladies waiting. By 9.15 numbers had swelled to around 10 but nonetheless the Lady Chapel seemed a more attractive option than rattling forlornly around the nave. So, we gathered there - and it was just lovely! 30 adults, 3 children on cushions on the floor, hymns unaccompanied (or with the vicar making a dash for the piano)...The warmth and intimacy of the Wednesday morning Eucharist shared by a larger group, who seemed entirely relaxed and content with this change to their established routine. Yes, many stayed at home - the frail, the elderly, those who live up unsalted roads - but we who were there were glad to be together, to wait upon the Lord in silence, to stand and hold hands as we proclaimed "WE are the Body of Christ", to receive the Sacrament and share that gift of love together. The contrast with last week's high excitements could not have been greater, but though this might seem the sort of sudden descent to ordinary time that might produce giddiness, I wouldn't have missed it for the world.
Two very different Sundays, but both full of blessings of the sort you just can't count.

Saturday, February 07, 2009

3rd before Lent Year B 8th February 2009- St Matthew’s, Cainscross

It’s been a very peculiar week... The run up to last Sunday was busy busy, what with the Bishop’s visit plans for the PCC away day, and the general run up to Lent…I seemed to be constantly rushing into the house, setting the dogs barking, waving to them apologetically and haring off again.
By bedtime last Sunday I was ready to drop…and rather wishing that the retreat I’m planning for early March could happen in early February instead.
Then, of course, came the snow – and I found myself catapulted into a week of enforced idleness, with meetings cancelled, roads too slippery to allow for any but the most essential journeys, and the familiar routes and corners softened and transformed by their glittering blanket.
And I loved it.
Time out
Time to be, without any guilt.
Time to reflect on priorities without simply having to get on with the next thing to hand.
Time to wait…to catch up with myself and also, as Isaiah puts it so beautifully, to wait upon the Lord.

I've never seen an eagle in flight, but I'll never forget reading someone else's account of watching one from above, while standing on a high cliff top. The great bird rose effortlessly, not seeming to move its wings at all, riding the thermals, the invisible air currents that bore it aloft. I'm told that without at least some level of wind or air current eagles can barely fly at all – certainly, they are not designed to flap and flutter. Rather they float and they soar…because their power does not come from themselves. What they have to do is open their wings and the air does the rest
Those who wait upon the Lord will renew their strength
They will mount up with wings like an eagle

So in waiting on the Lord, we are carried ourselves...lifted in a way that our own frantic flapping can never achieve.
Instead of wearying ourselves and those around us, Isaiah's words encourage us to look at the evidence of God's care in creation and know that our own struggles are noted by the one who counts each star and checks that they are all in the proper place.
That's not down to us...
Isn't that wonderful?
Creation can get along without our running ourselves into the ground to take care of it!
Do you know, it’s even possible that the parishes of Cainscross and Selsley might manage to continue along their appointed paths without my restless energy.
Fancy that!

Centuries after Isaiah, the German mystic Hildegard of Bingen had a similar insight
"Listen” she told her sisters “ there was once a king sitting on his throne. Around him stood great and wonderfully beautiful columns ornamented with ivory, bearing the banners of the king with great honor. Then it pleased the king to raise a small feather from the ground, and he commanded it to fly. The feather flew, not because of anything in itself but because the air bore it along. Thus am I, a feather on the breath of God."
A feather…moving not of its own volition but because God breathes and that breath carries it…floating on the current of God’s love.
It’s so tempting, when looking at our parish life together, to get things back to front.
I know there are many things we could and should do together.
Things that would build up our sense of community
Things that would help us to reach out to others…
And for some of them, the time may soon be ripe…because a church that does nothing to serve is a church that has lost sight of its calling to be Christ’s body, Christ’s hands and feet, in this place.
But before we leap into action, listen to Archbishop Rowan, speaking this week
He’s very clear that our top priority is not to be simply “busy”.

"Years ago I lived in a town where there was a very active church indeed. Outside this church was an enormous noticeboard.
It must have been about six feet square. It seemed every moment of the week was taken up by activity. But I've no doubt indeed it was a very good church and very careful and loving parish.
"And yet that noticeboard used to worry me and it still does. It seems to me it speaks of an idea of the church which supposes that the church is about human beings doing things. When you looked at that church you would have thought, what a lot of things they do there. But I'm still wondering if anyone ever asked, does God do things here? It seemed to be just a slight risk that there was hardly any room in the week for God to find his way in among all these activities."

So it’s not just about getting things done – even good, life enhancing things that speak of a God who so loves the world.
Consider our Gospel reading.
In it, we meet Jesus engaged in frantic activity...

And the whole city was gathered around the door. That evening, at sundown, they brought to him all who were sick or possessed with demons. And he cured many who were sick with various diseases, and cast out many demons; and he would not permit the demons to speak, because they knew him

Look at all those “ands” and all those's like a child coming in from an exciting day out “and then we did this...and then...and then...”

And then it all stops.

Jesus gets up early to pray...

It is HIS turn to wait upon his Father and renew his own strength – and we know that Jesus shows us the way to come into an ever fuller relationship with God.
It’s not about getting things done…
Jesus gets up early to pray.
He might not have felt like it, at least not every day…because he was, after all, fully human – and sometimes for us humans, the comfort of our beds is most attractive.
But, even after a day of heavy demands, a day filled with success stories – the sick healed, demons cast out, crowds gathering to celebrate these healings…Jesus forgoes a lie-in and shows prayer as his priority.

He waits upon the Lord and renews his strength.
Because prayer has to be the foundation of all that we do, as individuals and as a church.
When we try to fly without it, we get weary…we flounder…we may even plummet.
I’m so grateful that ordination lays on me the obligation to begin and end each day with prayer – the Daily Office of the church, a pattern followed by Christians across the world. I’m not always appreciative. I don’t always feel as if I’m communicating with God….but I mostly keep going…knowing that on days when prayer feels like empty words, brothers and sisters I have never met are praying with me…that together we are waiting upon the Lord and our strength will be renewed.

I'm struck by the fact that Peter's mother-in-law actually lives out the Isaiah pattern in reverse.
Healed by Jesus, she regains her strength and rises from her bed to wait upon the Lord...I'm wondering if that's what our healing – as individuals and as a church family should be all about.

As we are healed we are given the strength to serve.
As the hymn puts it
“Strengthen for service, Lord, the hands
That holy things have taken”

And what could be more healing for us than an encounter with the Living God in the bread and wine of Eucharist?
We wait upon the Lord as we gather for worship.
Together we focus on God.
We pray.
We meet God in one another as we gather.
We meet God in Word and in Sacrament,
We meet God and our strength is renewed. Thanks be to God!

Friday, February 06, 2009

Favourite things - a delightful Friday Five

My beloved Songbird posted thus
In a week of wondering how various things in our family life will unfold, I found myself thinking of the way Maria comforted the Von Trapp children in one of my favorite movies. Frightened by a thunder storm, the children descend upon her, and she sings to them about her favorite things, taking their minds off the storm.

So, let's encourage ourselves. Share with us five of your favorite things. Use words or pictures, whatever expresses it best.

1. Snow days - spent with someone I love, human or animal...ideally both

2. Floppy ears on golden retrievers

3. Walking by the sea

4. Singing - preferably choral, ideally pre 1850 (today was made almost perfect for me by the decision to listen to the Gibbons Short Service and the inevitable reaction of singing along)

5. Chocolate - Fair Trade if possible...maybe Maya Gold or Chocolate Ginger?

Time out

This has been a blissful week. After all the manic preparations for Candlemas and the Bishop (which sounds as if it might make quite a good book) I'd hoped for a gentler few days, but hadn't been expecting quite how generously those hopes would be satisfied.
Snow fell on Monday, - just enough to make things look pretty, but not to disrupt seriously, so that I was able to make it to Frampton-on-Severn where a new colleague was being licensed...From then on,things became progressively more exciting though as the BBC grew ever more hysterical about conditions elsewhere, we began to wonder if we were being sidelined completely.
The Dufflepud kept on going in to school - and kept on being sent home, as staff failed to cope with the drive from outlying areas...I took the unexpected step of cancelling the Eucharist on Wednesday morning, once I realised that the pavements were completely lethal and the likeliest result of going ahead would have been a crop of broken hips among the mostly elderly midweek congregation. I'm still pondering how I feel about this - and about my obedience to the rule that tells me that I cannot preside if I'm the only one present.
As Fr Simon pointed out, I'm always in the company of angels, archangels and all the heavenly host...I need to do some more thinking here, clearly.
Meanwhile, meetings were being cancelled in all directions and yesterday at last we woke up to enough snow to confirm that school was closed.
I achieved various bits of administrivia, had an exciting time planning the PCC day with our diocesan missioner (goodness, that man can pray - what a gift to be with him as he does so!) but generally it has been a time to rejoice in the company of my son and my animals, in evenings by the fireside and the beauty of a world turned white. A bit of enforced hibernation was exactly what I needed. Can you hear me purr?

Let's be shallow

I'm still hoping/planning to post some reflections from last week's Chapter residential, but in the meantime I've been tagged so often for the 25 random things meme that it was getting embarassing, so as the snowflakes dance outside the vicarage window, here we go... (cross posted at FB - don't we live in an entangled world?)

I suspect that almost 25 tags for this bear my name. Being naturally obedient I actually wrote a list after the first couple of people tagged me but being technicially inept, when I thought it was safely posted lo - there it was gone. So, here we go again even more random list because I can't remember which bits of randomness I offered originally. I have completely lost track of who has already just join in if you feel so inclined

1. I'm the only child of two only children married to a man with a large family, whose intricacies are minutely catalogued by my m-i-l...Nobody is ever "a cousin"...they are a third cousin four times removed and frankly I just don't get it!

2. I grew up by the sea, and feel the weather is wasted whenever there is a good storm in this strangely land-locked county. I so miss spray in my face...

3. When I was off school with flu at the age of 10 I taught myself to play the whole of Handel's Water Music on the recorder by playing along to the LP.

4. That was one of the first LPs I owned...The first was Vivaldi's Four Seasons, then daringly novel as it had recently been rediscovered by popular audiences. I still feel sad when I meet it as "call waiting" music.

5. I'm an adequate pianist, a bad cellist but quite a reasonable singer...I funded my own wedding largely by singing at other peoples' (thanks to the joys of the Greater London Choral Circuit!)

6. My first pet was an English Springer Spaniel named Robin, who arrived on my 6th birthday.

7. The 10 years between my father's death and our move from London to Gloucestershire were the only dogless time in my life: I hated it - my home is not properly a home without a dog in it.

8. This laptop is named Serafina Peccala - but I have yet to teach it to say "Norrrrrrway"

9. It took me 18 years to learn to like tea and coffee, nearly 30 to enjoy olives - but I've made up for that ever since.

10. I love extreme weather (or what passes for that here in the UK at least)...Torrential rain, blizzards (like the one I'm enjoying at the moment), howling gales, heatwaves, they all give me huge pleasure.

11.I love the theory of meeting new people but struggle with the reality as I never feel I have anything interesting to say. I suspect I'm a shy extrovert.

12. On the other hand, while we're talking Myers Briggs, my "F" and "I" functions are so strong they are pretty much off the scale.

13. This can make daily life with my ISTJ husband distinctly challenging.

14. My daughter is named after one of my best friends from childhood, the heroine of Ruth Sawyer's "Roller Skates". If I'd been allowed, I would have loved to call a daughter "Linnet" in honour of the "Green Knowe" books - but actually, her name suits Hattie Gandhi just fine.

(Please note...this is the wrong edition! It should be illustrated by Shirley Hughes. And I'd never realised till searching for the proper picture to post here how very much this matters with books one has loved as intimate friends in childhood. So that's blogger bonus random thing number 14.5)

15. I love the idea of being tidy and organised and always feel better if it is achieved - but find it well nigh impossible.

16. I had never travelled outside Europe till 2007, when I went to India. I think that has started something.

17. I have an only-slightly-secret longing for a tattoo on my foot. I wanted to get it when I was ordained priest and fear I may now have missed the moment.

18. I have been the happy owner of two Citroen 2CVs - Daisy & Skippy. They remain my favourite car and the day that I had to swap Skippy for something that started reliably was the day when I finally had to admit that I might be grown-up. I was 40 at the time :-(

19. I'm still 12 really though.

20. My two eldest children are older now than I was when my parents died. I find this really strange to contemplate.

21.One of the most amazing evenings of my life involved singing Bach's B Minor Mass in the chapel of Kings College, Cambridge.

22. I have inherited my mother's creative approach to elements of spoken English. Both "Heavenly caterpillars" and "Christmas daisies" are a regular response to being startled in these parts.

23. Apart from vicaring, my favourite job was bookselling at Hatchards in Piccadily.

24. In the pre-Christmas rush there, I once asked Princess Anne how she spelled her name.

25. Sloth is definitely my besetting example of the Seven Deadlies...I could sit here with duvet cat and laptop contemplating the blizzard all day, with deep contentment.

Thursday, February 05, 2009


‘If you want to build a ship, don’t summon people to buy wood, prepare tools, distribute jobs and organise the work: teach people the yearning for the wide, boundless ocean.’

A week or two past, a new visitor commented here. As is only polite, I visited Graham's blog in return and have been hooked ever since. Both funny and thoughtful - a good combination for sure. Anyone who has lived through the frantic media excitement over the recent snow (it's just because we get real winters so rarely here that we all turn into under 10s when snow actually falls) should smile at this.

However, the point of this post is not Graham's excellent blog but the quote he posted today. A few months ago, FabBishop disconcerted me by inviting me to join a group whose focus was something that, tbh, I felt and feel very uncomfortable about - viz Christian giving.

I'm uncomfortable for assorted reasons
1) because I hate asking anyone for money, ever - don't we all?
2) because I know that my own parishes do their best, but rely on the mutual support system of the diocese to cover their parish share
3) because it feels like a truly dreadful time to be considering how to increase giving, when people are poorer than they have been for decades
4) because I, personally, am really really bad at sacrificial giving. I definitely have issues about trusting that there will be enough to go round. I've been well and truly seduced by the culture to feel too often that wants and needs are the same thing, even though I know full well that they are not. And I'm an F, remember, so feelings always have the greatest reality for me.
All in all, only my admiration for FabBishop (and the fact that it's not that easy for very junior clergy to say No to diocesan requests in any case) enabled me to attend my first meeting.

However, the group has headed off in a direction that surprised me, so that its ethos could be summed up in this wonderful quote (originally from Antoine de Saint-Exupery, whose The Little Prince was one of my favourite childhood books, though I didn't begin to understand most of it till I notionally grew up).
No point in boat building if nobody wants to go to sea.

It seems to me that this is the reason that we struggle in the churches...why it feels so much harder to be a priest here in the comfortable UK than it did when I was in South India, for all the notoriously ceaseless work of the clergy there...Because on the whole we are still starting from the wrong place. We are inviting people to visit our churches, to listen to our words, to share our worship, to drink our coffee in pale green cups....When they don't seem excited, we try to spice things up. We offer different liturgies.
We swap pews for seats and seats for pews.
We plan Pancake Parties and messy afternoons.
And all of that can be good. It can even, sometimes, achieve its aim.
But not when it becomes an end in itself, as it all too easily can.
So our work within the group has become focussed on engagement. We are talking not about pounds and pence but about relationships, about connections, about mission. This won't provide a quick fix for all the financial issues of one charity among many in a very cold financial climate, but it might just do something far more exciting, if we can keep calm and retain our focus.

So I'm going to write these words in my very best writing, and post them over my desk. My father came from a long line of boat-builders, but I know that they would all have had too much sense to begin a project without the certainty that someone was intent on taking a voyage.
So my job is less to summon a workforce to sustain the church in all its complexities, and more to unroll charts and see if we can glimpse the wonders of the voyage to come. Now that I could sign up to - an irresistable adventure.

Monday, February 02, 2009

Shine a light!

So...that was the morning.
Yesterday afternoon was no less full of excitement, as it saw the launch in our diocese of "Children for a Change", our focus for the Year of the Child.
I would guess that something like 1000 people crammed into Tewkesbury Abbey for a festival service, so that the afternoon became a wonderful opportunity to glimpse friends from all over the diocese.The banner that my beloved Koinonia had made during a sleep-over 2 years ago now was carried in procession alongside banners from churches and schools from right across Gloucester diocese. The small contingent from Church/School in the Valley carried their banner with aplomb, and when the time came collected the special "Year of the Child" candle.We are commissioned to light this in as many different places as we can find children in the months ahead, as we pray a special prayer written for the occasion. I took it into school this morning and invited the children to help me think of creative places to take the candle over the next few months...was specially pleased that one little girl suggested it might go with her to visit her brother in hospital, "because then I could pray with him there".
We had a year of the child a while ago (maybe a decade - apparently this is the 30th anniversary of the UN Internation Year of the Child), with lots of excitements across the diocese and a real sense that the church was recognising the need to include and affirm the children in their midst. So it was very sad indeed that yesterday, when the vicar of Tewkesbury suggested that, as there was such a huge congregation the adults present might move from the chairs in the nave to enable the children to both sit and see what was going on, nobody moved. Not one. Of course the children were creative, crowing into the aisle, standing on parents' shoulders, making the most of the situation...but yet again, when invited to make them literally central, at a service created with children as the focus, the adults in the pews refused to give an inch. Said alot, I fear.
Still, let's not be bleak. The contingent from the Valley made me feel very smiley and the prayer for the year is emphatically one of hope.

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Jesus, Child of Mary, light from God,
help us in the Year of the Child
to share the gifts of children,
to recognise that every child matters,
and to bring hope to children in need,
so that every man, woman and child
may know your blessing
and shine as lights in the world
to the glory of God. Amen.

Sunday, February 01, 2009

From the crib....

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Today had the potential to be "interesting", and not in a good way.
Do you remember that in the autumn FabBishop nearly found himself hurled unsuspectingly into the middle of our first ever Pets service at Church in the Valley?
On that occasion, I diverted him up the hill, to celebrate their Harvest Festival - but he still had this date clear and wanted to come visiting...Candlemas. Lovely festival, with a great story and also one that lends itself to lots of beautiful liturgy and some rather wonderful music. The 1st Sunday in the month, though, is something quite different at Church in the Valley, as it's our All Age Eucharist,where the emphasis is very much on involving even the youngest children, and any liturgical niceties have to come second to an accessible, inclusive service.
FabBishop, however, is a Serious Liturgist (he wrote large chunks of Common Worship, for heaven's sake) - not someone you'd immediately think of in connection with an unspecified number of children, percussion instruments and candles.
You'll understand that all this had made me just a little tense in the past few days.
Liturgies were planned, revised, and submitted.New words were written for familiar songs.
My lovely lovely congregation, recognising that this felt a bit like an "OFSTED" for their vicar, rallied round, swept, polished and made Church in the Valley as beautiful as they knew how. Mountains of junk were shifted, "glory holes" disappeared overnight, and the linen was laundered and pressed to perfection.
And, on the day, it all came together.
Around 25 children and well over 100 adults filled the church delightfully.FabBishop was on splendid form, speaking from the nave and encouraging interaction for all he was worth, children from our school read lovely prayers we'd prepared together, and the final procession from Crib to Font was all that I'd dared to hope and more.
Over coffee, E (aged 8) awarded FabBishop a shiney teddy-bear sticker, and I have to say he deserved it.
Church in the Valley should be purring and preening itself for a while, I think - it was such a lovely morning.

To the font

In our prayers we remember the words of Simeon
'Lord, now you have kept your promise,
Let me, your servant, leave this earth in peace.
I have seen the salvation you promised with my own eyes.
He will be a light to bring light to everyone
And he will show us your glory'.

We thank God for the light of faith – and ask God to bless the Church across the world, and each one of us as we try to follow Jesus

We thank God for the light of hope – and ask that God will transform those places and situations in the world that are most dark and sad.

We thank God for the light of love – and ask that God’s love will shine to comfort all those who need it most…the sad, the lonely, the sick and the fearful

We thank God for Jesus, the light of the world, who came to show us the way to God and walks beside us every day

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We stand near the place of new birth.
Let us shine with the light of your love.
We turn from the Crib to the cross
Let us shine with the light of your love.
We go to carry his light.
Let us shine with the light of your love.