Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Michaelmas Triads

The feast of St Michael & All Angels - and one of those golden, autumnal days that make it easy to sense the presence of angels at every turn. I love this feast, which celebrates the constant proximity of heaven...the endless progression of angels up and down from there to here...wonderful.

Last night I was in the congregation to see a friend licensed to a scary but potentially wonderful new post...FabBishop, preaching, talked about three aspects to the angelic calling (to be reflected in the life of the Church)...
"Feet on the ground" - or at least, focussed on the earthing of God's self in the incarnation (so, a church rooted in, and not over against its community)
"Hearts in heaven" - (Where your treasure is....) and
"Lips that tell"....(and, for the churches, LIVES that tell as well...since our proclamation of Good News must be evident in who we are as in what we say)...

Today, at a quietly joyful Eucharist, I reminded the tiny congregation of the traditional attributes of each of the archangels...Michael, (meaning "who is like God") the protector...
Gabriel (the strength of God) bringing good news to Mary "The Lord is with you."
Raphael (the healing of God) and we talked a little about the ways in which we could share in the work, as well as the song of the angels

Later I came home and read in a post by Bishop Nick Baines of another Bishop (Jack Nicholls, late Bishop of Sheffield) He is a speaker at the Southwark Diocesan conference this year, and shared with the clergy a lesson he'd learned from one of his own personal angels, a nun long since gone to her rest...

there are only three things to be involved with as a priest:

* the praise of God
* the pain of the world
* the repentance of the church.

He went on to say that the place and purpose of prayer is to locate us at the place where the love of God and the pain of the world meet … which happens to be where the cross is to be found.

I'm excited to be reminded of this truth, which resonates even more now as I try to serve in these parishes than it did when I first encountered Bishop Jack some 10 years ago, while I was still trying to run from my vocation.

I wish that I had the courage to draw a line under any and every thing that does not, at the end, boil down to one of these three things...my hunch is that all that gives me life in ministry can be distilled into one category or another.
What do you think?

Sunday, September 27, 2009

The blogging future

Last week Cheesehead noted a decline in blog activity and the responses to her post confirm that many one-time enthusiasts are neglecting their blogs these days, though none of them seem to be glad about this.
And, of course, I'm in the same boat.
Despite my best intentions, regular blogging just doesn't seem to be happening.
Mostly, it's not a question of disinclination, or even of blogger's block - it's simply that I'm too. darned. busy. to do the sort of thinking that needs to happen to enable any blogging worth reading.
I'm more than a little embarassed by this.
After all, back in the carefree days of curacy (!), I managed to fill my days pretty convincingly, and rarely felt that I was short of things to do, - but somehow along the way there was always time to pause, to notice what God might be up to, to dig out the right quotation, to hunt the right image. and then to indulge in a little thinking aloud.

Now, though there is every reason to suppose that God is just as busy about the place, I seem to be too intent on galloping from pillar to post to actually reflect on this. That wouldn't matter too much if it was just the blog that was suffering - but of course, it's not. If I'm not reflecting here, I'm perilously close to not reflecting anywhere (the more so in the absence of WonderfulVicar and theological son to ramble to) - and that is positively dangerous.

It would be oh so easy to just pull the plug on this blog here and now. I could stop feeling guilty about my neglect of it, stop comparing my current contributions with the meatier posts of former days...So many of the things I might like to blog about are potentially complicated, and might cause distress close to home if misunderstood...while too much of my time is taken up with doing highly uninspiring things like...signing forms approving headstones, for example!
And yet...And yet...

While tweeting deals with my need to connect with the world beyond the parish, it doesn't constrain me to reflect on what is actually going on with God, these people, this place...or, of course, with me as I continue to try to fathom what being the priest for these parishes really means.
And there's the risk that if I don't look at it here, I may not do so anywhere,that I might have the experience and miss the meaning.

So, somehow, I need to return to the discipline of fairly regular blogging....
I'm not entirely sure where I might find the time for it, but there is simply no point in becoming a relentless activist...so much NOT what I was ordained for.
So, I need to have the courage to do my thinking aloud when I can safely do so...but I need to remember, always, that there are people reading my words whose stories, too, are played out against this backdrop, people whom I'm called to serve, people who are part of the reason I'm here at all.

Saturday, September 19, 2009

God in the gap - a sermon for St Matthew's Day.

When I was working in London in my twenties I always knew when the tube reached Embankment station, even if it was too crowded to see out of the window. You see, Embankment had a recorded announcement, which started the moment a train pulled in….. "Mind the Gap".
It was good advice if you didn't want to look very silly indeed, spread-eagled on the platform at the height of rush hour. Gaps can be hazardous things….

On the other hand, gaps can also be places of creative potential……where there is the space for almost anything to happen.
When I looked at our Gospel reading for today, I noticed a big gap between the first half of the story and the second. If you remember, we hear that Jesus calls Matthew, who gets up and follows him.
Full stop. That's it…
Then the story starts again, in another place: suddenly they are having dinner at the house. We aren't told which house….whether it’s the same day…we don't even know for sure if Matthew's a member of the party, though the references to tax collectors certainly make it seem likely.But it's not spelled out. We have to use the gaps imaginatively to try and get an overall picture of what's going on for Matthew, and what it might mean for us.
This isn't rare in Scripture.
It's often in the gaps that the Holy Spirit has the space to work….to draw us in to the situation, and to apply it to ourselves, perhaps by placing ourselves in the scene. There's an ancient tradition of prayer that works in this same way, by inviting us to enter the Gospels through our imaginations, so that the experience becomes our own.
Sometimes, this can be very fruitful.
So, can I ask you to brave the gap with me today?

Are you sitting comfortably?
Then we'll let Matthew speak for himself.

"I can't pretend that tax collection was ever a lifetime's ambition. I kind of guessed, when the school careers advisor talked about my problems relating to people that this might be the line he'd take…..after all, you don't have to be friends with people to relieve them of their money. In fact, it rather helps if you're not too popular beforehand, as you certainly won't be once you get started.
I've always been a loner.
On the fringes.
Maybe it's not so surprising that, with nobody else to like me, or care about me, I've rather tended to take care of Number 1.

OK, I'll be straight with you.
Sometimes that's involved some less than honest dealings with the tax payer, but if you have to go home each night to an empty house, it might as well be the most comfortable house that money can buy. With a moat. And a duck house.

I kind of hoped that feathering my own nest, if it didn't actually buy me friends, might at least soften the loneliness a little.

It didn't.

I hated my life.
I hated the way the holy people, the Pharisees and Scribes, looked down their noses at me.
I hated the way boys I'd been at school with crossed the road to avoid speaking to me.

I suppose, if I'm honest, I hated me.

All in all, not a good place to be.

Just this huge empty feeling inside, a gap which I didn't know how to fill.

Well…that was me as I woke up this morning. Another day….counting shekels, diverting a few here and there, passing the time till I could go home to the empty house. A day like any other, going nowhere.
Then, abruptly, it changed direction.
I heard voices……..loud voices……excited voices.
A crowd, coming this way, drawn by that wandering preacher man, the Carpenter……Jesus, his name is……
Well, I'd wanted to look into his dealings for quite a while. Not much tax coming from his group,
I can tell you though I'm sure that anyone who attracts that sort of crowd is raking it in somewhere…The mob were all around me, pushing against my table, till I was worried they'd knock it over, and some precious coins would be lost…
As usual, I only saw their back views.

No-one was interested in telling me what was going on.

No-one was interested in me, full stop.
I might as well have been invisible…
Or that's what I thought, till he spoke.

Just 2 words, but they were enough.

"Follow me".

Well, I knew he couldn't mean me.

I looked behind me, to see who he was talking to…. but there was no-one behind me.

And those eyes of his, they seemed to focus on me as if I was the only person there had ever been.

"Follow me"
Jesus, the man whose attention everyone wanted, seemed to want mine.

What else could I do?

I followed him……

I left it all.
The booth under the tree.
The tidy piles of coins (might as well forget going in to work tomorrow, then…….that's a sacking matter)….

no going back.
I followed him.
No idea where we were going.
What we were going to do.
Just knowing that, for the first time in years, someone was looking at me as if I might be worth bothering with, as if I might, after all, be vaguely human.

That's what we talked about, actually, as we walked. He told me wonderful things. That I was called by name, and precious to God. That God had more than enough love in him to fill my emptiness, and blot out my failure. That God didn't really mind that much that I'd failed all the official "tests" of the Law, that I never made it to worship on the sabbath….
When the Pharisees came bursting in, full of criticisms of my life style, and my friends (not sure I'd have
called them friends, really………just people I knew…..people no-one else wanted to know…….)
Well, when the religious right arrived, and started telling Jesus how awful we all were……oh, I
loved that bit.
Jesus wasn't rude or unkind………he just told them that
we needed him…
"It's not the well but the sick that need a doctor"
They couldn't exactly argue with that, could they?
They'd been so busy telling him what sick life-styles we had, and he simply pointed out that he was there to help us get better…..then, and this was the best thing, he used the Law and the prophets to prove his point.
He asked them if they really understood the words

"I desire mercy and not sacrifice!"

I wish you'd seen their faces. Even to a bystander, it was obvious that they didn't get it.
They were hot-stuff at all the sabbath observances, the purity laws, the showy things that marked them out as godly people, but when it came to anything deeper……..well……. They didn't know where to put themselves.

To start with, I just sat there enjoying their discomfort, but then the words started buzzing in my head too.

Mercy, not sacrifice.
Not sacrifice….
No need to go on bleeding people dry.
No need to bleed myself dry either.

Not too sure I really understand that....but I do know it means that things are alright between me and God.

Jesus didn't just tell me that. He showed me, too.
When he is around, I can somehow see myself as he sees me, in a whole new light. No need to condemn myself for the past, or even for the mess of the present.
he finds me loveable, I might just one day learn to love myself. Meanwhile, if what he says about God is true, then looking into his face is like looking into the loving face of God himself."

There we have it.
Matthew found God when He allowed Jesus into the gap in his life. He didn't try to paper over it, to tidy up the loose ends before he followed. He just came, as the broken, unhappy soul that he was, and found the love and acceptance which is on offer for us all. It may take courage to admit our gaps, but when we do, God can use them to do something wonderful.

Things they didn't teach me at vicar-school 2

Patient souls who follow my tweets may remember that 2 weekends ago I spent much of Saturday and Sunday at the bedside of a rather special lady, who was so frail that it seemed most unlikely that she would survive to celebrate her 85th birthday the following Thursday.
Come the birthday, however, she was not only still with us but remarkably with it in her wakeful interludes, and one week on she continues to confound the medics. Which is fine and lovely in many ways (though there will be hard decisions to be made in the future about how this most independent and feisty woman can be helped to live in her stroke-damaged body) but does pose a few problems about the correct tone for bedside visiting. Some are adopting the resolutely cheerful "Soon have you up and about" approach, others the hushed voices that seemed appropriate when we thought our time together was likely to be measured in hours, not days.
Neither seems right...But nor is there a liturgy for now.
Are we thankful? Of course, because her illness was sudden, and nobody was really ready to let go.
But what do we pray for next?
It seems to me that healing, of whatever kind, might be a long time coming...
So I'm opting for the briefest of visits, and the most general prayers in which I don't have to commit myself.
And that feels like rather a cop-out, specially to one who takes pleasure in finding the "right" words for most situations. I know that God knows what I should be praying for, - and that should be all that matters, but it's always a plus when the words I choose somehow help to make sense of the situation for other people too.
But I'm pretty certain that none of my books have resources for a time like this.
I guess I just keep praying, then...

Friday, September 18, 2009

Things they didn't teach at vicar-school 1

(thanks to Chris for suggesting this theme for a couple of posts - I'm bored with blog silence but needed a hook to hang things on)

Yes, believe you me I do KNOW that working on one's day off without finding another day in recompense is pretty much a mortal sin...but at times, there's no way round it. This week was busy anyway, and when a funeral came in for a family I know, who really needed the service on a Friday, I was never going to say "No".
After all, I thought, it would give me a bit more time to sort things out for Back to Church Sunday at St Matthew's.
The first indication I had that things might not run entirely to plan was when the administrator from a neighbouring cluster of parishes phoned to ask if I might have any spare priests on Sunday...As it happens, this Sunday is pretty much the first Sunday since I've been here when the answer had to be an unequivocal "No" as my Associate is about to become my former Associate and
is thus busy with farewells. I could, and did, pick up a funeral and an interment of ashes for early next week, but that didn't feel like enough, and I was (and am) bothered that there isn't enough give in the system to allow for a few rescue operations at times like these...

Assorted phonecalls, conversations and funerals later I was driving home, through my best-beloved of all woods - when a car approaching flashed its headlights and a slightly startled woman told me "There's a horse loose just around the corner".
There was indeed. A very beautiful chestnut, tacked up, tho wearing his saddle at a rather eccentric angle, BENEATH his body...Oh cripes! That must mean a thrown rider somewhere...
I stopped the car in the middle of the road (that was no other cars could get past and frighten the horse further) and tried to revert to Pony Club Mother mode, this having been a role I assumed every summer for several years, thanks to the combined determination of Hattie Gandhi and the Dufflepud. Catching the horse was a doddle as he was very keen to be rescued by any sensible human.Deciding what to do with him was more challenging as although we were right bestide a field where I thought I had seen him before, the gate of the field boasted a pretty hefty padlock. So, reflecting that there might be an injured rider anywhere, I phoned the police, explained the situation and our whereabouts and then did my best to murmur calming words to a very hot and bothered horse...

About 20 minutes later the rider appeared -shaken, bruised but not severely hurt as far as we could tell, and just hugely relieved that the horse was alright and hadn't caused any awful accidents. Nearly an hour on, the paramedic and police made it - the calm, collected and wonderful guy I'd spoken to when I'd dialled 999 had clearly a rather eccentric grasp of local geography as the location to which he'd directed the car had nothing to do with our conversation, or indeed our whereabouts. Fortunately nobody actually NEEDED medical help...
The poor rider kept on exclaiming excitedly
"I can't BELIEVE that someone who knows about horses should be the person to catch him"...and I was forced to conclude that all those miserable years of watching HG and a horse attempt utterly unreasonable fences, of hauling a trailer I couldn't park all round the Cotswolds, of breaking water in buckets to allow the horses to drink on frosty mornings, had finally proved their value.
I lost 2 hours that I didn't have to spare, and nobody has offered a method by which I can reclaim them...I am horribly aware of all that I have to do for Back to Church Sunday (this week at valley church, to tie in with our patronal), and that I have a wedding, and a long stint in the stocks at Hill Village fete tomorrow - but at least I knew how to catch and calm a horse when the need arose. A small think but my own!
Clearly, this is the week of all weeks for transport, in all its myriad forms, to play up. I expect to have a blister by bedtime...

Thursday, September 17, 2009

A feather on the breath of God

Yesterday we were invited to remember Hildegard of Bingen...
For my congregation at the BCP Eucharist, remembering wasn't really an option as I'm pretty certain that none of them had ever encountered her before. Not to worry.
We read the blurb from Exciting Holiness and I talked a little about the readings, with their emphasis on the life of the Spirit, - and the link between "ghost" and gast/geist = breath...
Then we had some lovely (and unusual) silence and it was good. VERY good.

I came away thinking of Hildegard's famous image of herself

Listen: 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 honour. 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.

As I lose whatever tenuous control I ever had on my timetable (shall I tell you what this weekend looks like? no, better not - you'll only tell me off, and quite right too) I'm pondering how it would be to be so entirely relaxed in God's presence, and so conscious of God's strength that I could just let go and be carried, floating on God's breath.

I'm also realising that retreat time is called for.



this is the week to celebrate the intransigence of inanimate objects (or perhaps semi animate, since I am one who anthropamorphises many sensible things like cars, computers etc in entirely silly ways)...I always find this hard to deal with...my grasp of things technical is about as loose as it can be so I have little hope of sorting out, or indeed understanding, problems when they come along, and am left feeling vaguely panicked and distinctly miserable.
Currently it's the refusal of the liturgy for Sunday to fall into a nice little booklet with page breaks in the right places and space for pretty pictures that is driving me mad. The insertion of the Eucharistic prayer seems to have wrecked the whole shooting match but it's hard to see how I can celebrate a Eucharist without one, so by way of diversion I'll keep my promise to tell you of the unlikely angels of yesterday...It might even make me feel better!

Yesterday was all about cars. The day began much earlier than normal, as lovely parishioner cum car guru arrived on his way to work to deliver Hattie Gandhi's car and take mine away for a service...The plan was that I would get through the day on foot/bike, and she would drive to Oxford in the evening to collect Hugger Steward from the Oxford Tube, the cheapest route home from London. All went well til mid afternoon, when the garage phoned to say that they wanted to do some more tests on my car, but wouldn't have the necessary equipment till the morrow...could I manage without a car a bit longer. Dismayed, but not distraught, I thought I probably could...but had better use HG's car before it vanished, in order to do some hospital visits. First, though, it needed petrol

HG's car is just a little thing - with a tiny petrol tank, so I guess I should have been suspicious as the pump whirred on, til we'd clocked up almost as much as I'd normally put in my Citroen. The penny didn't drop, though, til I noticed a large puddle at my feet. Petrol. As fast as I was filling up, petrol appeared to be leaking out of the bottom. PANIC STATIONS!

Phonecall to car guru, but he's already on his way home...His colleague is wonderfully reassuring but can't do anything instantly (not least as he's about 30 miles away...) I realise that I do at least need to pay for the fuel I've so generously contributed to the forecourt, and go in to explain the situation to the very young guys working behind the counter. They could not have been kinder. Or calmer.
While I went into freefall about stranded offspring and diverse alarams and excursions, they simply got on with sorting things out.
Not a word about my disabling one of their pumps at the busiest time of day.
No complaints about the considerable fire risk baby car was posing.
Just much action with buckets of sand and then...would I like a coffee?

And it went on.
Car guru's colleagues were kindness itself.
Random customers at the petrol station stopped and commiserated
A dreadlocked biker, who tbh looked a tad alarming, offered to ride to Oxford to rescue Hugger Steward.
Within only a little over an hour of the whole grisly business starting, Baby Car had been made safe to drive and taken back to the garage to be sorted out and I was back home, feeling as if it might be worth lying by the wayside once in a while, if only to discover how many wonderfully good Samaritans there are to be found. Or were they really angels unawares?

Saturday, September 12, 2009

Who do you say that I am?: sermon for Trinity 14B at All Saints, Selsley…Mark 8 27-38 & James 3 1-12

Sorry, patient reader...I've no idea where the week has gone, or what happened to my shining resolve to indulge in reflective blogging.
There have been some lovely moments along the way, but I'm not planning to go back and tidy up or I'll never keep up with myself. Instead, here's tomorrow's sermon for Church on the Hill - some of it a reworking of material I used for Petertide last year (so yet more apologies if anyone is still reading!)

Once upon a time, I’m told, George W Bush visited a home for those suffering from dementia.
He enjoyed a brief exchange with one of the residents, who seemed to be fairly lucid….so he risked asking
“Do you know who I am”
“No…” replied his conversation partner “but if you ask that nice nurse over there I’m sure she’ll be able to tell you”.
Of course, even on a bad day, George W wasn’t really in need of information…any more than Jesus is, in our gospel reading.
But that doesn’t mean that the question is unimportant.
Quite the reverse.
“Who do you say I am?”
In asking that crucial question, Jesus is doing all that he can to make the disciples think.
I’m sure you’ve met the old advice for teachers
First you tell them what you’re going to tell them. Then you tell them. Then you tell them what you’ve told them.
Put like that it raises a smile, perhaps – but adopted as a teaching strategy it’s unlikely to be successful. I’m sure we’re familiar with it, though…Teaching that is simply the passage of information from one person to another.
Teaching that relies on the expertise of the lecturer and the passive openness of the listener.
Teaching that, if we’re honest, demands very little of those on the receiving end and, I suspect, may not have much lasting impact.
It’s horribly easy to fall into that sort of pattern when you are the one “up front” – but it really won’t do.
Contrast this with the sort of teaching that engages you fully…
The teaching that begins by recognising the premise that to hear is to forget, to see is to remember and to do is to understand. Perhaps that isn’t the sort of thing you’d welcome week by week in your sermon slot but I’m sure you’ve noticed before that when Jesus wants his disciples to really learn something, he doesn’t give them the answer straight away.
Often, of course, he tells them stories, stories which leave things open, so that the hearers need to work out not only the inner meaning but also its application for their own lives.
Sometimes he asks them a direct question…as he does today. His whole ministry is a story that points to his identity…and now Jesus wants to see if his disciples have learned the central lesson he came to teach

“Who do you say I am?”

Who do you say I am?”
Imagine Jesus asking you….
I think it’s the most important question any of us will ever need to consider

“Who do you say I am?”

What would you answer?
Son of God?
Good man?
Innocent victim?
Colossal embarassment?
Disturber of my peace?

“Who do you say I am?”

This isn’t a question reserved for theologians, for priests, for the great and the good, or those who like that kind of thing.
This is a question aimed at each one of us.
It’s a question on which pretty much everything depends…for if we decide against Jesus, then there’s not much point in hanging around waiting to see what will happen next.

We can, of course, answer with our lips…like dear Peter, quick to leap in with his extraordinary insight
You are the Messiah –
but then as quickly disappointed when Jesus turns out not to be the kind of Messiah he expected and longed for.
That’s something I can sympathise with. I have my own preconceived notions of who Jesus is, based on childhood imaginings, on received wisdom, and some serious Bible study…
Sometimes I think I know…Often I get it very wrong.
I think Jesus should be over HERE doing THIS, when he is apparently over there doing something else, and I feel confused and at odds with him.
That’s when I’m specially grateful for Peter – so proudly and gloriously wrong, but redeeming his blindness with the warmth of his love!
Listen to him, rebuking Jesus for telling his friends exactly where his path was leading…
I wonder if you would have felt any different. Here’s that part of our gospel as it appears in theologian Eugene Petersen’s paraphrase, The Message

. But Peter grabbed him in protest. Turning and seeing his disciples wavering, wondering what to believe, Jesus confronted Peter. "Peter, get out of my way! Satan, get lost! You have no idea how God works! Calling the crowd to join the disciples, he said, "Anyone who intends to come with me has to let me lead. You're not in the driver's seat;I am. Don't run from suffering, embrace it. Follow me and I'll show you how. Self Help is no help at all. Self Sacrifice is the way, my way, to saving yourself, your true self. What good would it do to get everything you want and lose you, the real you? What could you ever trade your soul for? If any of you are embarrassed over me and the way I'm leading you when you get around your fickle and unfocused friends, know that you'll be an ever greater embarrassment to the Son of Man when he arrives in all the splendour of God, his Father, with an army of the holy angels.

Don’t run from suffering…embrace it.
You’re not in the driver’s seat. I am.


That’s not the sort of thing we want to hear, is it? We believe in self help, in independence, in clear rewards for effort and in prudent business practice…
In fact, this invitation to embrace suffering is indeed deeply embarrassing for us, - conditioned as we are to seek an easy path for ourselves and for our families. If this is what it means to be a disciple of Christ, then we want none of it?
Discipleship is so akin to discipline, and that’s something we none of us enjoy.
We would so much rather choose the easy way, the way of green pastures and still waters. The hard way is, quite simply, too hard.
Why go there?
We want Jesus to lead us to life, but we want him to clear the way and make it easy for us. We want to enjoy the glory, but skip the graft. But that is just where Jesus shone and where we must shine if we are to be his disciples. In the hard places…In the washing of feet and the carrying of crosses.
Christianity - not for the fainthearted!

So, though we might make a reasonable stab at answering that crucial question with our words, our actions too tell others just who Jesus is for us.
"Who do I say Jesus is when I cut in on someone in traffic?"
“Who do I say that Jesus is, when I ignore the Big Issue seller on the High Street?
When I fail to stand against injustice, at home or abroad?
When I put my own needs, or those of my family, ahead of the needs of my neighbour?
When I just can’t be bothered to go the extra mile?
When (to touch base just briefly with our New Testament lesson) my words are destructive and hurtful, not affirming and encouraging?
Who do I say that Jesus is, then?
If we are known as disciples, then our actions tell the world just who we say Jesus is as loudly as any declaration of faith…and sometimes they seem to be sadly at odds with our protestations here, Sunday by Sunday.
Think about that.

Of course, it’s fair to say that our understanding and our answer to the question will change and evolve through the years…
The Jesus of my childhood was above all a best friend, someone who shared my pleasure in creation, someone who understood when I was sad or hurting, someone who laughed with me at the strangeness of the adult world, and, quite often, of the adult church as well.
Today when I seriously engage with Jesus, he is rather different One who challenges me to a larger vision, a deeper commitment – though he’s also the one who scoops me up and loves me whole when the struggle with myself and with life threatens to overwhelm me, who laughs gently when I tremble on the brink of behaving as if it were down to me to save the world!
Most of all, he is the one I love, the one who first loved me.

Perspectives matter, and Jesus will have different words, a different call for you…so that your answer to the greatest question may be nothing like mine.
But you must HAVE an answer.
Jesus will not accept agnosticism from his friends.
He confronts us with the reality of his presence in our midst.
Coming among us, he invites us to be changed…
“Who do you say I am?”

He stands there, waiting for an answer…
There’s no time like the present…
We are each called to respond, and there’s no way to hide.
It’s such a deceptively simple question, really…but it must be answered not just with our words alone with our deeds as well,
A response of heart and soul
Of total commitment – for what will it profit us to gain the whole world and lose our life?

Thursday, September 03, 2009

Standing in the Long Now 2 - Stillness

The long now is, of course, the very best place to engage with God.

There were many many opportunities across the weekend – some obvious, some completely unexpected (but for the fact that Greenbelt is such a thin place, encountering God is never really unexpected).
God-filled moments for me included

sitting in Centaur on Friday night listening to Christopher Norton (Mr Microjazz – just think of that! - I used that with many a piano pupil once upon a time) and Robin Thompson-Clarke playing Arvo Part's Spiegel im spiegel

a window opening in my soul as +Gene Robinson reflected on Jesus words to the disciples
“There is so much I would like to tell you but you are not able to bear it…But when the Holy Spirit comes she will lead you into all truth”...a reminder that the sometimes unbearably slow learning processes of the Church have been expected from her beginnings

much of the Sunday worship, where I was surprised by tears as each member of our small group, among the thousands took it in turns to use olive oil from the Holy Land to anoint the hand of their neighbour and to pray a blessing on them.

the peace and holiness that I characterised everything I attended in New Forms, (always a wonderful place to be) specially Blessed’s Mass of the Trinity (I could have spent far longer just sitting with God before that blue lit altar) and the Long Worship put together by emerging communities Dream, Grace, feig, and Safespace

I found 2 stations here particularly powerful.
One consisted of many many cards, each bearing a single word…This was liturgy, the work of the people – and we were invited to arrange the cards to express our own prayers, our own situations and post them on the wall.
Elsewhere, we could write a letter to our future selves, with hopes, dreams, reminders of wisdom encountered, moments to cherish from this year’s Festival. The letters will be posted on to us in early March. I was quite tough with myself – so can only hope it doesn’t arrive on a difficult day.
Being told off by oneself if everyone else is feeling fierce might not be the best thing, though the substance of my letter (the ongoing question of time, boundaries and space to be human) is something I undoubtedly need to work on...

Tuesday, September 01, 2009

"Standing in the Long Now…" part 1 - Serendipity


Was the theme for this year’s Greenbelt.

What a theme for those of us caught up in feverish activity, in dreaming of 6 impossible things before breakfast and struggling to achieve them.
What a theme for a culture that still seems intent on instant gratification.
One of this year’s festival tee shirts reminded us “Now is all we have” so perhaps I was more conscious that usual of the need to take the festival gently,to savour the moment rather than hurtling with too much determination from seminar to seminar.
Whatever the reason, it worked for me.

I know that I missed some real gems.…
Somehow I failed to get to hear Nadia Bolz-Weber; doubly annoying as not only did she get rave reviews from all those who attended her sessions, but she really inspired Hattie Gandhi, - who normally claims that GB speakers are not for her, that she’s only there for the music and the festival vibe.
I queued fruitlessly for Rob Bell (once – then decided that life and Greenbelt were both too short), for Ikon and for Stephen Cotterel (deep deep fury, as his session was not recorded, but sounded particularly apt as I continue to struggle to achieve balance in my life and in my diary)
Indeed, Sunday was for me the day of standing in the long queues…and of discovering unexpected compensation.

After the service (which I'll hope to blog later) I waited for nearly 90 minutes outside, Centaur, the huge indoor venue where Rob Bell was to speak. It was fine. I had things to read, a spinach pancake to eat, and it wasn’t raining…but alas, when the doors were opened something really un Greenbelty happened as the crowd surged forward rather than proceeding decently and in order. In no time the venue had reached capacity – so I turned disconsolate away and headed for the Tiny Tea Tent to regroup.


But wait…

As many of you will know, while the speakers, the music, the theatre, the whole Festival atmosphere is very close to heaven, it’s the people above all that make Greenbelt heaven on earth…Every year, there are some wonderful meetings and happy reunions, and the days before the festival see many exchanges of mobile numbers, to enable these to happen.
Sometimes, though, it’s a bit harder -for example, when the person you are longing to see is coming from the States, with a phone that doesn’t work in the UK at all….
There are 20,000 people at the festival so it’s horribly possible not to glimpse people whom you DO know and recognise irl., still less find someone whom you only know via their blog.
Lilly Lewin and I have been blog friends for around 4 years now, and I was very excited when she wrote that she’d be at Greenbelt. We agreed that we must meet at the Tiny Tea Tent…We have a mutual friend who has my mobile number, - so I assumed we’d be able to fix something up relatively easily.
I’d failed to take into account the extreme busyness that overtakes this friend once the Festival gets going… He has Very Important Jobs to do and a scarily full agenda. A text to him yielded no results, and I was beginning to worry

Silly, really. I should have known.
Lilly is someone who prays – and isn’t ashamed of including some very practical requests along the way. She was as intent on our need to meet as I was and had reminded God of this that very Sunday morning so perhaps it’s not that surprising that I, who find it almost impossible to initiate a conversation with strangers unless I am in role as a priest, dared to ask the vaguely familiar American woman (does anyone actually look like their profile picture?) just leaving a likely table in the Tiny Tea Tent
“Excuse me, but are you Lilly…?”
and received the answer “YES”!

So, my grumpy failure to get what I thought I wanted led instead to an encounter that was exactly what I needed – friendship confirmed, exciting conversation, and some wise thoughts about a particular situation.
So often a “Greenbelt moment” is very much a God thing, and this one certainly was.

Another came later that same day, when yet again I was too late to make it into a venue – this time the beer tent for Beer & Hymns. I’m hopeless at estimating numbers, but there were surely a couple of hundred of us left sadly outside the picket fence, while the empty “beer garden” recalled the great gulf fixed between Dives and Lazarus, dividing us from the happy souls within, who could both drink and sing.
After a rather sadly ironic interlude during which a man near me decided to lay into the steward about the madness of the restrictions, and the unreasonableness of a festival that was trying to protect the safety of its visitor, while all around him the crowd sang “Praise my soul the king of heaven”, things looked up.
We might be beerless, but nothing could stop us singing. I was surrounded by good voices, who were quick to pick up parts and we had the time of our lives.
At one point a learning impaired adult left the crowd in the beer tent to leap on a table and conduct us
At another we sang my desert island hymn “And can it be”
That hymn has been part of so many important events for me – my farewell service at my sending parish, my first Mass, my licensing here – but singing it with all that I had, as I stood beneath the sign of the Jesus Arms, was maybe the best of all.
In case you hadn't noticed - I do so love Greenbelt!