Saturday, February 27, 2010

Into (small) silence

I spent the 24 hours that ended at 11.00 last night in total silence. Though it was a challenging experience, it was less horribly difficult than I'd imagined. 
When I arrived in school during Assembly, the Head described the day as an experience of resisting temptation for me - and in many ways he was right.
The first crunch came with my early tea, when I picked up the book I'd been saving for day-off reading, one of Susan Hill's Simon Serailler detective series, I was reduced to hysteria by its title, which I had quite forgotten. It was, really and truly, "The Vows of Silence" so I reached for my phone, anxious to share the delicious irony by twittering at once - but stopped in time!

Other times of trial included the moment when the Head launched us into the Lord's Prayer..."using the words Jesus taught us, we pray...".Instinct almost overwhelmed me - but not quite. I hated not being able to sing with the children, specially as they were making a really good job of "Colours of Day", but there were some really comic moments when I tried to help Y3 readers disentangle complicated words by sign language alone - though they were so pleased with themselves when they did work it out that this was as much joy as tribulation.

All in all, it wasn't as hard as I expected, though I found I didn't do as much as I'd normally have attempted on a day off. The prospect of negotiating Sainsbury's was way beyond me, and as for a foray to the picture framers with my Stations of the Cross, that will clearly have to wait til next week now...
Still, I've been hugely encouraged by the positive response both on-line and face to face and am looking forward to totting up the grand total in due course.
Thank you so much, all who've supported me financially, prayerfully or simply by NOT expecting me to answer the phone yesterday.

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Helpful information for kind people...

wanting to contribute to the great cause of silencing me for 24 hours.
Being utterly clueless, though I have used my PayPal a/c frequently when shopping I've never yet needed to take payments through I had to ask the LongsufferingClockmaker how it works.
Here's his reply
"All they have to do is log in to paypall, go to My Account, click on Send Money, put your e-mail address into the box & the amount they want to send you, choose 'personal' rather than 'purchase' below this and then select 'other' from the choices this gives you..."
Said email is available via my profile - so I think it should all work out, though it would be good if you let me know if you think you've sponsored me, so I can check that the money actually comes through and pass it on to school.
Thank you so very much.

Monday, February 22, 2010

Silence is Golden!

I've never posted anything like this before, - and am tempted to apologise, except that I do believe this is worthwhile, - so apologies are out of place.
But I won't be in the least offended if everyone chooses to stop reading before the end...

If you visit here regularly you'll know that one of the greatest joys of my ministry here is the Valley Church School, better known to the world as St Matthew's, Cainscross, C of E Primary....
I've removed that pseudo veil of anonymity because I need everyone to know what's afoot there.
It's a great school, with a visionary Head, outstanding and committed staff - and, of course, fantastic children...It's somewhere where Kingdom values really are part of the stuff of everyday life and where children who might not always have every material advantage are assured of their unique value again and again and again.
I love it.
However, the school building went up in 1980 and there are all sorts of essential repairs and desirable improvements to be undertaken...and for the past three years there's been an ongoing building programme. Because St Matthew's is a Church of England (Aided) School, the governors' (including the vicar) are responsible for repaying 10% of the cost of every capital project....a policy that works like a dream in parishes where there are generous endowments or historic funds, but which causes major nightmares in a place like Cainscross, where no such moneys exist and where the local community generally has absolutely no spare cash.
If that seems to you like a social justice issue, it must might be...but let's leave that aside for the minute.
The building work had to be done, and has to be paid for...So we're entrammelled in a fundraising programme that seems likely to stretch far beyond the lifetime of any member of the current governing body, committed to repaying £7k per year til all debts are covered.
Hence the curry and quiz night, hence the pamper evenings, and hence...........

I'm a compulsive communicator.
I chat all the time - if not to the family then to the dogs, cats, household appliances....
I also blog, text, tweet, FB....
My world is filled with words, and that's the way I love it.
However, for 24 hours this week, from bedtime Thursday onwards, I am attempting to be completely and utterly stumm.
I will spend much of the day in school, so that the children can see me suffer........and so that there will be witnesses to my heroic attempt.
I'd be so very grateful if any online friends felt inclined to pay for the peace that will follow when I suspend communications...and so would the generations of children who will begin their school lives in a building fit for purpose.
Sponsorship pledges, either per hour or for the whole period would be wonderful...Cheques to St Matthew's Primary School Trust could come to me at the vicarage or go directly to school.

If nowt else, your prayers would be valuable - I'm going to struggle to keep silence, specially as I know that many will be doing their best to catch me off guard. I'm terrified of accidentally answering the phone, because it's a reflex to do so - but I'm going to concentrate on those children and pray hard.
I can't say I'm looking forward to Friday in any way - but it will be well worth the effort if I can raise enough to make a difference.

Normal blogging service will now resume - though with an intermission on Friday! Remember, speech is silver but.........

Friday, February 19, 2010

Friday Five: Happy Lent

Sophia invited RevGals to explore the season ...
Each year you give us this joyful season when we prepare to celebrate the Paschal Mystery with mind and heart renewed. You give us a spirit of loving reverence for you, our [Mother]/Father, and of willing service to our neighbor. As we recall the great events that gave us new life in Christ, you bring the image of your Son to perfection within us.... (First Preface for Lent, Roman Missal)

1. Did you celebrate Mardi Gras/Shrove Tuesday this year? Any memories of memorable celebrations past?
We did indeed. Twice! During the week it's just The Dufflepud and me at home, and he was planning to be out with friends on Tuesday so we thought we'd have our pre-Lenten binge on Monday...Many a pancake, both savoury (mushroom & spinach, with cheese - sheer bliss) and sweet, a glass or two of FairTrade chardonnay and the last of the chocolates won in a recent raffle.
BUT we made enough batter for him to take with him to pancake party the following day -which he sadly left behind, so in the spirit of "waste not want not" we had a late night pancake snack all over again on Tuesday.
Don't even mention calories!
Meanwhile, I also observed Shrove Tuesday with a wonderful reminder that God sees our aspirations as well as our failures and loves us through them...As I posted below, I  find the process of confession, the time looking hard at myself and all that lies therein extremely hard and painful work; the process of naming my sins aloud is excruciating but the response - the perspectives, the wisdom, the assurance that "Jesus gets it" and that I am loved and forgiven "those things of which my conscience is afraid" is worth every second. I know that I have the opportunity to hear and experience God's forgiveness Sunday by Sunday - but in the busyness of leading worship it's not always easy to enter deeply into consciousness of sins and thus to really let them go and rejoice in freedom. The sacrament of reconciliation allows that - with trumpets!
I always emerge wanting to sing "And Can It Be?" at the top of my voice - though given the surroundings of a Cathedral Quiet Day, I have thus far resisted!
In my experience parish pancake parties are sometimes just a bit (awful wordplay alert) flat- though I loved the pre Lenten pancake extravaganzas with the youth group in my training parish.Valley church hall is used on Tuesday evenings, so I don't feel a pressure to stage pancake parties here and am happy to keep to an in house celebration!

2. How about Ash Wednesday, past and/or present?
My first Ash Wednesday after leaving university, I was just beginning to make my home at St John the Divine, Kennington, a church whose wonders I've celebrated on the blog before. Having spent my Cambridge years batting from Kings to Johns in an attempt to hear the Allegri sung twice in one day I was more than stunned to be asked to do the high soprano solo myself...No idea how well it went (I had a nightmare cold but was given some amazing elixir just before singing that cleared my throat sufficiently to make top Cs possible) the privilege of being able to sing those notes for a faith community that I was coming to love was, I think, an early step in the journey to ordination. I love Ash Wednesday, and have blogged about it every year I've been writing here. The two trips to the altar rail, to be marked with the sign of our mortality and then fed with the food of eternity make the Ash Wednesday liturgy so very powerful always.

3. Does your denomination or congregation celebrate "this joyful season"? Any special emphases or practices to share?
Not sure it's an occasion for joy, exactly, but we do have a Lent course running! (in fact it's all about welcome, so should be pretty joyful on reflection).As we move into Passiontide there will be more opportunities for reflective worship beyond our usual diet, the school trail and a whole lot more. The Lent leaflet (which was actually produced on time) carries details of everything we'll attempt...and yes, I did abandon all sorts of other ideas...I'm really not trying to do everything. Not ALL at once!
We are, of course, bare of flowers, and the high altar at Church in the Valley is stipped to its beautiful wooden bones.It's a large church building, so it's possible that people might not actually notice these differences - there's less liturgical awareness than I'm used to - but I'd hope that the cumulative effect might speak of something!

4. Do you have a personal plan of give-ups, take-ons, special ministries, and/or a special focus for your own spiritual growth between now and Easter?
The one discipline my SpirDir suggested was a daily walk with the dogs - space, stillness & exercise all in one. I'm abstaining from all the usuals (wine, chocolate, dairy products) too if I can - not really as a spiritual practice except in so far as caring for my body is a spiritual practice, and mine has never recovered from the 2 months of grumpy inactivity and chocolate compensation produced by last year's broken arm! 
I'm working on a few minutes of worthwhile reading daily, too, but am sitting light to these add-ons.
My ongoing struggle is with personal realism, -which includes manageable Lenten goals.
So, that's dog walking, then! 

5. What is your dream for the image of Christ coming to perfection in you, the church, the world? How can we support you in prayer?
Goodness. Big question to come across suddenly in the middle of a Friday Five, and one that deserves more time than I'm able or willing to give it right now..In one way it's quite simple, summed up by dear St Richard of Chichester
"May we know you more clearly, love you more dearly and follow you more nearly day by day".
If that were only true - for the me and for the churches I serve...then we might live our baptism commission "To shine as lights in the world to the glory of God the Father".
For me to know God more clearly would mean, of course, setting aside the need to ACHIEVE for Him...To sit still and be loved...Last week at Llannerchwen I remembered that if I want to reflect the image of Christ, I need to be more like a pool of water than like a mountain stream. I could pray round that, couldn't I?

Already blogged my definitive Lenten music and won't try to improve on perfection. I'll just listen to it once again, before engaging with the day!

Thursday, February 18, 2010

Keeping Lent

Yesterday's imposition of ashes was, as always, impossibly moving. For me, it's one of the most powerful experiences in public ministry, to speak again and again that reminder of mortality coupled as it is with the route to eternal life
"Remember you are dust and to dust you shall return.
Turn away from sin and be faithful to Christ"
To trace the cross on so many different foreheads, old and younger...
Always I'm reminded of those who knelt last year but whose faith is now rewarded at journey's end...Their faces are very real, their memories very close.

This year, still shining gently inside after the shriving of Shrove Tuesday, I found myself longing to talk about penitence and forgiveness.
As I listened to the Word, I was really struck by the contrast between the community's expression of sorrow presented in Joel, where all was activity - a very public DOING of repentance, trumpeted abroad and drawing in all and sundry, young and old, even if they were otherwise engaged ("Let the bridegroom leave his room and the bride her canopy") and the utter stillness of the encounter between Jesus and the woman taken in adultery.
As I read that gospel yesterday morning it seemed that the whole history of human sin and forgiveness had shrunk to one conversation with a woman so publicly condemned that she didn't even need to find the words to describe her own sin. The hubbub of the righteously indignant crowd stills as they become uncomfortably self-aware, perhaps for the first time, of their own shortcomings. They withdraw, slink away? - leaving two figures, alone as we are all truly alone when we stand before God.
For her to hear those words "Neither do I condemn you" must have been like a long drink of water on a scorching day...the one thing that changes how we see and understand everything.
Mind blowing!

It seems to me that perhaps our Lenten observance needs to include both elements. Maggi reminded me of the corporate nature of the Lenten fast in the medieval church - it wasn't a question of "What are you giving up?" because everyone fasted together, and in denying themselves a staple it was never a matter of casual self improvement but a daily reminder of our dependence on God. Today's culture, with its focus on self expression, self fulfillment, risks turning even Lent into another chorus of the popular song
"It's all about ME, Jesus..." - and there is surely a place for collective repentance, which we are all too ready to ignore.
But at the heart of it all there is that stillness as each of us comes before God, conscious of our fragile mortality but daring to trust in the Love that comes to meet us.

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Ash Wednesday

Almighty and everlasting God, you hate nothing that
you have made and forgive the sins of all those who
are penitent: create and make in us new and con-
trite hearts that we, worthily lamenting our sins and
acknowledging our wretchedness, may receive from
you, the God of all mercy, perfect remission and
forgiveness; through Jesus Christ your Son our
Lord, who is alive and reigns with you, in the unity
of the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever.

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Shrove Tuesday in Gloucester

means a Quiet Day in the Cathedral...

This is one innovation of FabBishop's that I always appreciate. 
Yes, the Cathedral is chilly.
Yes, the quality of the addresses is variable, though I always find something helpful to carry around with me through the day.
And always there's the joy of being able to spend a day in silence in that beautiful and holy space, surrounded by people whom I know and love.
Often (as today) there is good music at lunchtime, and there is, too, the opportunity for that most helpful of sacraments, the sacrament of reconciliation.

I know all the reasons why people fight shy of it, and it would be dishonest if I pretended that as I kneel to begin I wouldn't give almost anything to be a thousand miles away. I think that's right...soul searching should be a rigorous business, and looking at the truth of yourself head on is unlikely to be wholly delightful..but afterwards....well, afterwards, think Christmas, birthdays, spring mornings, all the joyful awakenings you've ever experienced - and then double them and add a few.

And today I was given Ps 27 to work with - a psalm that I love so much that I used verse 4 on my ember card when I was priested

One thing I ask of the LORD,
       this is what I seek:
       that I may dwell in the house of the LORD
       all the days of my life,
       to gaze upon the beauty of the LORD
       and to seek him in his temple.

Monday, February 15, 2010

Home again

Back in the thick of parish life after three lovely days of retreat.
I'd been right in originally booking four, as it took me until pretty much tea-time on day two to settle into things, and stop the carousel in my head from turning and turning...The problem with being the one with whom bucks stop, is that there is often a whole herd of bucks milling about and demanding attention, and though I had asked them to stay at home, they aren't often obedient to my will. I was particularly struck by the way they returned on the last night: I achieved fourteen hours of sleep on night one, twelve on night two but found myself looking my old friend 3.00 am squarely in the face and making lists again on night three. Bother!

However, given a view like this from the French windows of my prayer hut, the audible silence that engulfed me from the moment I got out of the car, and the fact that I had no agenda whatsoever, beyond listening as hard as ever I could, it was indeed very good.

Of course, I have come home with all sorts of wild plans for Lenten self improvement...including an internet fast one day a week, which fills me with such utter panic that I think I may just have to try it. Mindful of the words of a very wise confessor who once suggested that I should NOT turn building a better Kathryn into my latest Great Project, I'm still conscious that the way things have evolved in the past couple of years isn't necessarily the best, healthiest or indeed the most obedient. I'm very thankful for BestSpirDir ever, whom I'm seeing this morning, and for the amazing gift of some work consultancy with a very gifted woman, who happened to have just created a space in her over-full diary on the very day when I finally dared to ask her for help.

It will be interesting to see where we end up together - but meantime my main ambition is to hold on to the perspective gleaned on the mountain top.

Sunday, February 07, 2010

Where my mouth is...

At Saturday's diocesan synod, we were updated about the sad situation that is assailing one of the two C of E secondary schools in the diocese...a school that has struggled in the past as it serves a disadvantaged area, in a city where there are grammar schools to cream off the able offspring of pushy middle class parents...
We heard about the positive impact of a changed ethos, since it became a C of E school 3 years ago, about the wonderful work of the chaplain, and the warm responses this has drawn from parents and students of many faiths and none.
That's all the background you need in order to hear the challenge issued by one of my favourite people on the planet, a senior priest whose wisdom I value hugely...
Her contention is that, if we believe that we're called to serve and support  those on the margins, this should properly include putting our children into the sort of schools that nobody chooses...and that the presence of a group of parents whose agenda was the flourishing of all the children in the school would make a huge difference.
And I know she's right.
But I also know that I was so so glad, as I sat there, that even my youngest child is in his final year of school, that I'd never have to make that decision - because I can't be sure that the choice I would make would be the ethical one.

Breton Fisherman's Prayer - as printed for this morning's All Age Eucharist

Dear God, be good to me
The sea is so big
And my boat so small

Saturday, February 06, 2010

Absolutely not my sermon...

but a tribute to the wonders of the internet!
This evening I was attempting to write something real while at the same time trying to hold a fairly intensive conversation with a twitter friend who was in a bad place.
This was playing havoc with my concentration, and though I had a fair idea of what I wanted to say in the sermon, it just wasn't happening.
Enter RevGalBlogPal Nik - who, it just so happened, had preached on the same passage last summer....and who headed in the same sort of direction that I had intended when I set out. She generously placed her words at my disposal, so I followed her structure, lifted some paragraphs entire, and ended up with what you see below - which I'll preach at 8.30 & 3.00 tomorrow.

I grew up with on the Sussex coast, with a father whose happiest time had been during his service in the Royal Navy.
It follows, then, that the sea figures largely in most of my favourite childhood memories, be they of long summer days hunting fragments of the sea-polished glass that we called mermaids' tears, or of dodging the waves as they crashed on the promenade during the winter storms.
Daddy told me wonderful bedtime stories - and my special heroine was Grace Darling, who, with her father, dared to launch a small rowing boat amid towering waves to rescue the shipwrecked passengers and crew of the Forfarshire.
I loved that story, specially when I was snuggled beneath the bedclothes while the wind howled outside, and even now I continue to love storms and to miss the thrill of watching the grey winter sea roil...

All of which makes it hard for me to grasp just how frightening the sea was to the landlocked peoples of Israel...At the beginning of the creation story of Genesis, it is the sea that represents chaos and disorder. In the final vision of the new Jerusalem in Revelation, there is no more sea....
And in the middle – well, in the middle, Jesus calms the storm.

I'm told that lake Galilee, though landlocked, can stage a storm with the best of them...that the right conditions can produce a truly terrifying situation in a matter of minutes, especially if you find yourself in a small and traditional fishing boat.
Easy, then, to sympathise with the disciples, seasoned fishermen who knew the lake well enough to be fully aware of the danger...
Easy too to dismiss the story as deeply irrelevant to this landlocked county of Gloucestershire, where weather of any kind has to be pretty dramatic to have any impact at all.
So please, for a moment, imagine yourself in that small boat beside the disciples....Watch Jesus sleeping peacefully.
Isn't that amazing?
Mountainous waves. Strong men crying out in terror and there is Jesus, fast asleep! totally oblivious to what's going on. Though he may be physically present in the boat, there beside his friends, in every way that counts it seems that he's actually far far away.

Does that make you angry – or afraid? Quite probably both!
"Don't you care that we are perishing?"

Within the space of a few hours, the disciples' world had turned upside-down. They'd been caught up in the adventure of following Jesus, excited by the teaching and healings they had witnessed, looking forward to signs and wonders aplenty, to golden days, green pastures, still waters........
and then, suddenly everything changed... They felt literally swamped,all at sea, absolutely terrified
And so, they woke Jesus up...
Jesus whose deep sleep in the midst of the turmoil made the disciples feel even more afraid,abandoned,alone.
They woke him up, and you can almost hear them yelling at him in their fear:
'Teacher, don't you care? Don't you care that we're about to die?!'

They'd done everything within their power to weather the storm. They were at the end of the resources; at the end of their tether. They'd learned, as they had walked with Jesus, that he had extraordinary powers and abilities. They'd seen love and compassion. And here, on what felt like the worst night of their lives, they looked to the person they expected to help them...
and he was fast asleep.
'Don't you care that we're about to die?'

Now, you may never find yourself in a storm at sea – but you will be living a charmed life indeed if you never find yourself asking that question.
It may be an experience of illness or unemployment
It may be the death of someone special
It may be a natural disaster far away, or a train crash in the next town...
But one day, something will happen to shake your sense of security, something that makes you realise just how fragile this life can be, just how precarious the defences we build around ourselves.

At that point, as you are buffetted by the wind, drenched by the waves, you may look round and wonder where God has gone.
Was he ever really there?
Is he actually powerless?
Or does he, in fact, not give a tinker's cuss about what you are going through.
"Don't you care?...”
So many unexpected things come into our lives like storms creating chaos, and confusion... and like the disciples we feel scared, abandoned, and alone... as if Jesus is asleep at the back of the boat, while we're in turmoil.
And in the same way that the disciples did, we find ourselves almost yelling:
'don't you care Lord?'
and we might add:'are you so indifferent to all this mess, this stress, this pain, that you can sleep right through it?'

And yet, while the disciples felt - and while we might feel abandoned by God's seeming indifference...
we ... are... not.
Not for one moment.
And... it's absolutely in order to cry out to God - and even to shake a fist at him. In fact, God invites us to cry out: we're told to ask, to seek, to knock... to pound on the door of heaven.
Though Jesus rebukes the disciples for lack of faith, the very act of crying out demonstrates that somewhere, buried deep, there remains enough faith to know that they - that we - will be heard.
After all, there's no point in attempting a conversation if you don't believe that there is anyone around to listen.
So perhaps the underlying rebuke is more
'why didn't you ask me first?'..........Why do you turn to me when all else fails, when you're certain your own efforts are hopeless..
'why did you try to do everything you could under your own strength...
Did you really believe you could manage alone?

Because we do that, don't we?
We fool ourselves into believing that the even tenor of our lives reflects our own power...
We don't expect to need God.
Remember the Titanic – the unsinkable ship.
In so many ways our lives today resemble that masterpiece of marine engineering for we are insulated from many of the life and death immediacies of earlier times.
This makes it so easy for us to believe that we too are unsinkable...
WE don't need God...Faith is absolutely fine for those who like that sort of thing, for the simple, the inadequate...the disadvantaged....but we seem to be managing quite nicely thank you, - until the moment when we dont

Then we cry out...
And as we do, we find out that the God who we thought was absent, or asleep, has actually been there with us all along,
right in the midst of the storm,
right there in our boat
right there hearing our cries,
right there feeling our pain...
and even though he knows we're sometimes so very slow to understand just who he is, his love is both abundant and ever-present...

It won't always still the storm...but it will give us the security that we long for, the sure knowledge that come what may everything is held in love.
Mother Julian of Norwich had her own experiences of storm and terror.
She was close to death when she experienced her famous “Revelations on Divine Love” - and it that first hand knowledge of human frailty, of the precarious foundations of our worldly security, that gives authority to her words
He said not 'Thou shalt not be tempested, thou shalt not be travailed, thou shalt not be dis-eased'; but he said, 'Thou shalt not be overcome.'

Monday, February 01, 2010

The parable of the covered font

Yesterday we celebrated Candlemas (the feast of the Presentation of Christ) with a united service for both parishes up at church on the hill. Everything went smoothly, and while the congregation at a united service is rarely the same as the combined total from each church on a normal Sunday, enough people made it up from the valley to double the usual Sunday attendance. People seemed to enjoy the liturgical variety, which is still a novelty for these parishes, and were surprisingly co-operative about being asked to move during the Nunc Dimmittis so that we ended the service clumped around the font.

That, however, was the rub. 

When we reached the font the lid was firmly in place. 
Instead of a reminder of the life-giving waters of Baptism, or the daily miracle of forgiveness and grace we were presented with a piece of church furniture suitable as a flat surface for flower arrangements. New beginnings in all their joyful creativity were firmly hidden from view beneath the very solid oak...
Down in the valley I will drain the font when Lent begins, maybe fill it with sand, plant the Lenten prayer tree there...but up the hill it seems to me that there's already a potential risk of dessication. Baptismal water is only allowed to flow within carefully engineered bounds - maybe even trenches -  so instead this year I will try to help them risk a little, so that together we may discover life, joy, hope, love bubbling up in all sorts of unexpected places.
Those who drink of the water that I will give them will never be thirsty. The water that I will give will become in them a spring of water gushing up to eternal life...

When to the Temple Mary Went - Johannes Eccard

I first sang this in my teens, - and ever since have struggled to believe it's actually Candlemas without it. Sublime

Help now thy servants gracious Lord, that we may ever be
As was the faithful Simeon once, rejoicing but in Thee.
And when we must from earth departure take
May gently fall asleep and with Thee wake.