Thursday, December 24, 2015

Sermon for Midnight Mass at Wolvey, Christmas Eve 2015

Christmas and candles really seem made for one another.

For me, candles add a beauty all their own to this most beautiful night and in the days around the winter solstice, that period of greatest darkness, we are specially thankful for the warmth and light they bring.

They aren't always that convenient, of course...
One of the congregation at our Carols by Candlelight service on Sunday was so incensed by the lack of a decent light to read by that she produced a truly enormous electric torch, with which she so dazzled her neighbours that they struggled to see the words of the carols at all… 

We live in an age where light can just happen – at the flick of a switch – so perhaps we don't really grasp how frightening and oppressive darkness can seem, how alarming the longer nights of winter were to our ancestors. Perhaps the sun was gone for good.
Best make fires, then, to encourage it to return…

Looking at the homes of my neighbours over the past couple of weeks, you’d be forgiven from thinking that we haven’t actually moved on much – there are so many many Christmas lights, pushing back the darkness. From my house I can see a comet tracking across the house of one neighbour, a solar powered reindeer standing sentry beside the front door of a second, and  blue and white flashing icicles hanging on the house of a third. The candle-bridge in the Canonry window feels decidedly apologetic in comparison…a very junior player in the battle.
You see, even with childhood fears outgrown, most people still don't much enjoy the dark.
Who knows what dangers might lurk in the corners, how easily we might get lost, go hopelessly astray as we seek a way home...?

And so the darkness has, since the early days, become an image for all that is sad and broken in our world.
The grieving families of Syria, China, Paris feel it pressing very close, of course, and near and far there will be many for whom the comfort and joy that we sing about feel impossible.  

Terrible, tragic things happen – even at Christmas time. People mourn, believe that they will never be happy again... 

A Cathedral service on Monday, the longest night, drew many who felt unable, for whatever reason, to join in the giant party that Christmas seems to have become…They came feeling the darkness was real and oppressive in their own lives – but they came hoping that, somewhere, there might be enough light to take the next step, and the next, and the next… 

And somehow, as we gathered around the table and shared bread and wine, things DID change…
The grief and pain of the world did not miraculously vanish….but the candles that we lit through our prayers and our music, and by building honest community together may have flickered a little, but they did not go out,

So – despite the news headlines, despite the gulf between the reality of our own lives and the airbrushed perfection of a commercial Christmas, despite the fears and griefs that we all carry, still on this holy night we come to celebrate.

The light shines in the darkness and the darkness has never overcome it.

In this, the week of deepest darkness, we gather to rejoice in that gift of hope that Christmas offers. Born in poverty, a refugee whose birth was followed by violence and bloodshed, Jesus brought the Love of God into our world in a human life. From the beginning, he drew others – shepherds and wise men at first. And as they came close to him, they were touched and changed by that love which shone through everything that Jesus said, and did and was.

As he grew up, and told them wonderful stories that showed them the way to live, they began to learn to share that love with others, - fishermen, tax collectors, working men, women and children – a whole rag tag of humanity drawn to the light.

They told their friends.....who told their friends....who told their that down through the ages the light of that love was passed in a relay that puts even an Olympic torch to shame.

Of course – loving like that is costly. Remember, a candle destroys itself as it burns. It makes a gift of itself to shed light for others.

Loving like that cost Jesus everything...and on the 1st Good Friday, it looked as if the darkness of the world had won forever.

Jesus died – and with him died the hopes and fears of all the years.

But …...after 3 days came Easter, new life, new hope as the light burst forth again...

The light shines in the darkness and the darkness has never overcome it

So now, today, we have the choice and the chance to share that light with others.
We can share it with our words – as we remind others that Christmas begins with Christ, God's gift for the world forever.
We can share it by our actions – as we give love and care, time and energy, to those who need to know that there IS still love in the world.
It will be costly for us too  – at least, if we do it properly(to give enough, in the Kingdom of God, is always to give until it hurts) ...but it's a cost well worth bearing - and the rewards are beyong imagining.

Christmas is a good time for stories, so let me share one with you now before I close. 
A long time ago, a wealthy man decided to build a church for the tenants who worked on his estate. It was an exciting project, which drew crowds of villagers over the weeks and months as the building took shape. Finally, in the depths of winter, the church was finished and the doors opened for the first ever Christmas service. But oh – disaster – when the doors opened, the building was dark. There were no windows. The villagers hurried home and returned with candles, lanterns, whatever they could find.
One of them spoke to his landlord
“What went wrong? You must be so angry. How stupid of your builders. What an awful awful mistake”
“Not at all” said the landowner.
“I always intended it this way. I wanted you to bring your light with you…to remind you that God’s Church, without God’s people, is cold and dark and useless…And I wanted you to take your lights out with you, to remind you that THAT is what you are for…You are to bear the light of God’s love out into the darkest corners of our village and beyond”

Nothing has changed.

You’ve been drawn here tonight, whether you know it or not, by the light that first shone in the stable in Bethlehem – the light that is life for all people.

And as you go from here, carry that light with you – to guide you through all that lies ahead.

So, whatever you are going home to, take God’s love with you and show a troubled and hurting world the great truth that is at the heart of Christmas




Nearly there

Cathedral Christmasses are both greater and, in some ways, less than their parish equivalents.
I've been reflecting on this over the past few days - and trying to work out exactly why.
In terms of the sheer quantity of services, it's not dissimilar - though there are larger numbers involved, of course. I think the crux of it may be that we don't travel in community with most of those who visit us during Advent.
They come, with schools to the Christingle services - but these are not schools we visit weekly.
They queue for a couple of hours to join in the big BBC Coventry & Warwickshire Carol Service - and it's wonderful to think of the wider congregation who will listen to that service at home today or tomorrow - but in that huge crowd, there aren't many familiar faces.
They will come, please God, to share in the children's Journey to Bethlehem this afternoon, when several hundred of us tell the story together and discover once again why the events of 2000 years ago are part of our life today - but the hundreds of children present will not be part of our journey onwards into the coming year.

Cathedrals, it seems, practice vicarious religion even more than other places.

We are all about the big celebration, about providing space for all comers to bring their hopes and fears, dreams and sorrows into God's presence - and giving them a language to express that...often speaking or indeed singing for them.
But of all those people with whom we engage during December, only a handful will be friends and fellow-travellers at other times. - and that does change the dynamics rather.
As it happened, the Dean did not use that Bidding that talks of those "on another shore and in a greater light" at the Candlelit Carol service - but if he had, we would not really have known who most of the congregation were holding in their thoughts at that point.
Of course this is also true Sunday by Sunday.
The glorious eclectic mixture of people who appear for the Cathedral Eucharist varies so much from week to week that it's never easy to feel that you know what they are bringing with them to the altar, what joy or brokenness is to be gathered up for transformation by the touch of God's love...
But at a season that, at its best, turns outsiders into insiders and strangers into family, I'm extra conscious of it.

It's neither better nor worse - just different...and behind all this reflecting there is always the knowledge that we are there to make community for any and everyone...whether we know their story and their needs or not.
We are there to welcome them as God does...and it's a really helpful reminder for me that what matters is that they have a relationship with HIM...not me, as His priest.
I often talk about the need to get out of the way when I'm presiding - so, now I come to think of it, being here in the Cathedral is actually a gift that enables that.

Sometimes, you know, I can be distressingly slow on the uptake!

Time to gather myself for the Journey to Bethlehem.
See you there....
'Tis the year's midnight, and it is the day's,
John Donne's words from his poem "A Nocturnall upon St Lucy's Day" floated through my mind all day on Monday, the winter solstice, the deepest darkness of the year.
I was more than ever aware of it, not only because my own shiney Luci (who brings so much light into my life) is not at home yet - and will be striking out to have wonderful adventures on the far side of the Atlantic before the year is out, but because this year for the first time we were holding a "Longest Night" service here at the Cathedral.

I've offered something similar in other places - but was slightly anxious, here, that nobody would come, since the rarity of funerals in the Cathedral meant that I didn't have a ready-made pool of people to invite, whom I knew might be finding the season tricky.

But - come they did.
Somewhere around 70 of them, gathering at the front of the nave...Bringing all the difficult feelings that don't seem to fit into the expectations of the world at Christmas.
Because, you know, grief and hurt and illness and death don't vanish simply because we are approaching 25th December...
And the mounting frenzy of partying that is presented by the media, the avalanche of advertisements that demand more spending, more eating, more gifts that might yet drown us under a heap of those things that Betjeman refers to as "tissued fripperies" - well that just makes things harder.
We are encouraged to think that this is what makes Christmas...
A gathering of smiley friends and family around a perfect table, a glittering pile of wonderfully-wrapped presents awaiting under a designer tree...
And when our reality doesn't match...when we don't feel like celebrating at all....when we fall out over half nothing because we are stressed and tired from trying to achieve the impossible...
Well, then it's easy to despair.

And that's sheer lunacy - because the reality is all about a vulnerable baby born in poverty
About God giving God-self away in an expression of the boundless love that renders all over gifts unnecessary.
About the beauty of carrying that love to all the dark corners that most need it.

As the boy choristers sang " A great and mighty wonder, a full and holy cure" I realised once again that there is a cure for all the sadness of the world...
Not a cure that makes it disappear, but one that enables you to carry it, because you don't carry it alone.

As we prayed, these words became true once more

Holy God of Advent,
you became weak so that we could find strength
in moments of heartbreak;
you left the safety of heaven
to wander the wilderness of the world.
You set aside your glory
to hold our pain, so that we might be healed.
You became one of us,
flesh of our flesh, bone of our bone.
So come now, Child of Bethlehem;
you have promised to go before us
into our brokenness, into hospital rooms,
into empty houses, into our future.
to strengthen us through our longest nights.
Be born in our hearts, in our hopes, in our weakness....

WE experienced that reality very deeply on Monday night.
As we shared Communion, those words "The blood of Christ, shed for YOU" were unspeakably intimate...Jesus was meeting each person there, with whatever it was that they most needed.
And, unexpectedly, He met me too.

And I got to read the most wonderful piece as a prelude to the Blessing.
Just listen - and let it become real for you as well.

All throughout these months
as the shadows
have lengthened,
this blessing has been
gathering itself,
making ready,
preparing for
this night.

It has practiced
walking in the dark,
traveling with
its eyes closed,
feeling its way
by memory
by touch
by the pull of the moon
even as it wanes.

So believe me
when I tell you
this blessing will
reach you
even if you
have not light enough
to read it;
it will find you
even though you cannot
see it coming.

You will know
the moment of its arriving
by your release
of the breath
you have held
so long;
a loosening
of the clenching
in your hands,
of the clutch
around your heart;
a thinning
of the darkness
that had drawn itself
around you.

This blessing
does not mean
to take the night away
but it knows
its hidden roads,
knows the resting spots
along the path,
knows what it means
to travel
in the company
of a friend.

So when
this blessing comes,
take its hand.
Get up.
Set out on the road
you cannot see.
This is the night
when you can trust
that any direction
you go,
you will be walking
toward the dawn.

© Jan Richardson, from

Sunday, December 20, 2015

Sermon for Advent 4C at Coventry Cathedral. You can never have too many Marys

Once upon a time, not in a galaxy far far away but in a diocese just down the road, the local Home Education network held their Christmas celebration in my church. Imagine the scene. The children had written their own script based on the Biblical accounts, and the narrators proclaimed the gospel with grace and dignity while younger children took their part in presenting a kind of nativity tableau. Because all these children are taught by their parents at home, there had not been a chance to rehearse together nor indeed to plan every last detail. Of course that was not a problem – it enhanced the freshness and spontaneity of the story that is both old and ever new – but it did mean that we had quite an interesting cast of characters including no less than four Marys.

They sat there on the dais, each cradling an infant son – and it struck me you can never have too many Marys....for it is through her obedience, her faith and her fortitude that Christ is born in our world.
The Orthodox Church call her Theotokos, the God-bearer – and surely that is her principal calling - as it is for each of us too.
Like Mary, we are called to be obedient to God's word
Like her, we must allow God's Son to transform our lives from within
And like her we must share the impact of that transformation, and our experience of the One who brings it about, with a world that needs Him as much as ever today.

Again and again Mary is depicted with her child in her arms – slightly controversially he's there already in our Cathedral crib -...but we know that even as Mary holds him, she offers him to others, that they too may be touched by his Love.
Like any parent, her role is to work herself out of a job, to give her Child away to the world...As I contemplate the enormity of sending my first born across the Atlantic to Canada in just 10 days time, that seems remarkable enough in itself.
Mary, did you know...did you know how it would feel to let go of that precious child, when you and John waited at the foot of the cross...?

We often think of Mary bringing the Church to birth at that moment when Jesus says to her “Woman, behold your Son” and to John “behold your mother” and in that new relationship, based on their connection to Jesus, a new family is born – the Church of God, of which we are members.

But it seems to me that she brings the church to birth, too, at the moment of visitation which we hear of in today's gospel.
She takes her unborn child to visit Elizabeth – and the transforming grace of his presence within her enables Elizabeth to grasp the wonder that has entered her house
Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb. And why has this happened to me, that the mother of my Lord comes to me?

So - together the women recognise Christ – and worship him...and so make Church....For what else is the church but the community of those who recognise Christ and worship him, who live to rejoice in his salvation?
My soul magnifies the Lord and my spirit has rejoiced in God my Saviour.
And then.....then Mary proclaims the Kingdom in all its revolutionary power and splendour as she launches into that song of high revolt which we down-play and sanitise at our peril.
Mother of the Church, Mary shows her children what they are called to be and to do.

And her manifesto for the Church is a declaration of faith and of hope...
Blessed is she who believed that there would be a fulfillment of what was spoken to her by the Lord”
Yes – Mary needed to believe in the miraculous birth to hold on, in the face of reason, to the knowledge that her child would be all that was promised – all she and the world would ever need...
But there's more to look forward to as well...
She – and we - need to have faith that we, as the Church, can BE Church – can together become signs of that Kingdom that is both now and not yet.

Mary, Mother of God – mother of the Church...models this for us. She has faith that God will act – and act He does.
I wonder - do we expect God's action today – or is it something for other times and other places?
So often it seems that our faith is in a God of yesterday – not one who is active here and now in THIS place...
Of course faith can be hard in a world where grief and pain seem so often to have the upper hand – but keep your eyes open and there are more signs of the Kingdom than you'd dare to expect...

The Magnificat agenda is played out again and again – just open your eyes and see and then, with Mary, magnify the Lord...
The signs are there – here and now...
He has brought down the powerful from their thrones and lifted up the lowly”
When the powerful choose to accept Christ's invitation to use their power in the service of others,to let go and enable God to work in them and through make space for Him as Mary did.
That's a choice for us too...We can make space for God...become God-bearers..
Remember you can never have too many Marys

And the Kingdom revolution continues , its signs all around us...Open your eyes and see!
He has filled the hungry with good things and sent the rich away empty
See Christ sitting at the tables of the poor, where scanty resources are stretched by good will and love...Christ present as churches come together to create a Winter Night Shelter for those who are destitute amid the overflowing plenty of a western Chrismas, Christ where Foodbanks enable those with enough to share with those struggling, where empty retreat houses are offered as places of safety to those fleeing conflict we can barely imagine .
My soul magnifies the Lord
Here, here are signs....
Blessed is she who believed that there would be a fulfillment of what was spoken to her by the Lord”
You can never have too many Marys – to recognise God at work and to celebrate...
Are you in?
WE are to proclaim and celebrate the Kingdom and to live in ways that make it real...
WE are to share Christ with a needy world, giving him away again and again but realising that as we do so He is closer to us than ever

You can never have too many mother the Church and bring it to birth, to model and rejoice in the Kingdom life ..and to bear the Christ child into his world this Christmas time and always.

Monday, December 14, 2015

AdventWord: Accept

I've run out of reflective depths today (not sure that the remaining words in the list will get an illustration at all - they don't seem to be inspiring me unduly) I thought I would share something delightfully silly...

A very special elderly lady in the Cathedral congregation accosted me yesterday and gave me a plastic bag..
"I got this for my new great-granddaughter - but somehow it's not QUITE right for her. It does squeak though. Can you thnk of anyone who might like it?"

So I opened the bag - to see .........

"Ah yes" I said, accepting with gratitude "I can think of someone who would really REALLY love this"
And I can.
My own delightful Willow pup.
It is most definitely a dog toy - the clue is in those ropey legs.
However, slumped on my desk, it also represents the spirit of exhausted clergy, trying to remain cheery in the face of ordeal by mince-pie.

As a matter of fact, it's not the first time that I've benefited from a mistaken understanding of what a gift MIGHT be for.
As a small child, my godmother gave me a wonderful toy - a plastic ball on a length of thin elastic.
It had, she said, come free with a bottle of loo cleaner.
Only years later did I realise that it had been intended to help shift limescale.
It didn't matter. It was tremendous fun to a 5 year old :) 
ACCEPT gifts in the spirit in which they are intended, say I.

Sunday, December 13, 2015

#AdventWord 15 : Wonder

Tonight at "Breathing Space" we journeyed round a series of stations based on the great O antiphons...I had feared that nobody would come, as several regulars were away - but the group who gathered was the perfect size to allow intimacy and reflection without self-consciousness. Against all my least hopeful expectations, we found ourselves well and truly on holy ground. 

At the sculpture "The plumbline and the city" we considered O Sapientia, "sweetly ordering all things", we reflected on what was really at the centre of our lives, plotted our priorities on concentric circles, target- style, and asked God to help us re-order our lives where necessary. 

In the holy ground of the Chapel of Christ in Gethsemane, we reflected on O Adonai - and on Moses turning aside to view the burning bush. We wondered how often we fail to notice God in our world, and how often our own pressing agendas inhibit us from changing direction to meet with him.
The charred cross, made from the roof timbers of the bombed Cathedral, reminded us of the shoot of hope that grew from the apparently dead
"Radix Jesse"...just as the Coventry ministry of Reconciliation grew from the death and destruction of that November night 75 years ago.

The gates to the Lady Chapel were firmly shut as we engaged with the 
Clavis David who " opens and no one can shut -You shut, and no one can open."
We each took some keys from a basket and pondered those things from which we need liberation...There weren't quite enough keys, so some people used those they already had in their pockets...Sometimes we DO have all that we need in order to be free...Sometimes keys, and locks, are very small - but once they are unfastened, then we can move on to be the people God calls us to be.

O Oriens - bright and morning star, splendour of light eternal and sun of righteousness: Come and enlighten those who dwell in darkness
and the shadow of death.
Pausing by the Christmas trees, whose lights are reflected in the West Screens so we seem to have two extra trees outside, we recognised that Christmas hope can be hard to find if you are dealing with the dark things of life...Loneliness, bereavement, illness, anxiety all seem even harder to bear when the rest of the world is having a giant party.
But the whole POINT of Christmas is that God's light comes into our world, so that everything looks different. The hard things don't disappear. Sad things remain sad...but we know that light is always stronger than darkness...that all the darkness in the world cannot put out the light of even the smallest candle. So here we took a few moments thinking of people and situations needing God's light and left candles burning...There is one still lit or a dear friend, E, a dear friend who is going home too soon.

O Rex Gentium - the king is crowned with thorns, the sculpture made from the metal of a crashed car...In defeat and destruction, He reigns
O King of the nations and their desire
the cornerstone making both one:
Come and save the human race,
That you fashioned from clay.
Together we built a tower of jenga bricks, and asked God to help us to build our lives on the corner stone that is Christ, and his way of Love.

Finally we came to the altar and the crib - to Bethlehem, the House of Bread, where we were invited to participate in the wonderful exchange that the incarnation made possible. We brought, as we always do , the mess and muddle, failure and brokenness of our lives - and received in exchange Emmanuel - God with us...

And that is the wonder of it all
That God was man in Palestine, and lives today in bread and wine.


Saturday, December 12, 2015

#AdventWord 14: WAIT

As a family, we are quite well off for paintings.
To my surprise, I find I really REALLY enjoy buying them. The Rye Society of Artists' summer show as an unmissable part of Sussex summers when the children were small, and I always came home with a poster to fram at the very least. Meanwhile, OH's parents had an impressive, and eclectic collection in their home, some of which we inherited a few years ago.

As most vicarages don't have the sort of wall space that permits an expanding art collection, I've been under very strict orders not to buy anything for some years - but when we arrived here in May of last year it became obvious that none of our existing art works looked happy over the mantelpiece in the sitting room.
Everything else had found a happy home - but that left us with a serious gap.
Very serious.
So the chimney breast has been bare and void...waiting, waiting....without any of us having any idea what it might be waiting for.

Until November, that is, when these appeared.
Though I really hadn't expected to, I fell in love at once - and after some negotiation, it was agreed that if I never have another Christmas or birthday present ever again (or something like that - I didn't SIGN anything, so I'm hoping there may in time be room for manouevre ) OH and I could give each other a Piper print for Christmas.

So...the blank wall still waits.
But it waits in hope.
There will be something beautiful there before too long - and, for the first time since childhood, I am preparing to be beside myself with excitement at the prospect of opening my present on Christmas day.

Sometimes the waiting is pure joy, when you know that you are waiting for exactly what you need, want and long for.
That's kind of the point of Advent...


Friday, December 11, 2015

AdventWord 13: Shine

That's sometimes the hardest thing of shine.

The darkness deepens.
Days get shorter, nights longer - and the press of sadness in the world begins to overwhelm...or maybe I  simply get bogged down in the gap between my own reality and our aspiration to belong to the perfect church, the perfect family, celebrating the perfect Christmas.

Instead of thinking loving thoughts and maybe saying a prayer with each card I gallop through them just at that point when even posting them leaves me anxious. Will they arrive on time?
Instead of finding unique, creative presents which simply exude love and care, I revert to type and spend an evening shopping on line, using a company whose ethics I deplore.

But this season of Advent is my favourite ....because of the darkness...because of the longing to arrive somewhere I can only begin to imagine....because lions and lambs are not yet lying down together...and people do hurt and destroy....and yet we know that in ALL THAT MESS.......
the light still shines....and even my poor little efforts to love a bit more help the light to shine more brightly.
And the darkness cannot overcome it.

Now light one thousand Christmas lights
On dark earth here tonight.
One thousand, thousand also shine
To make the dark sky bright.


#AdventWord 12: DARE

Courage, risk, daring....has been very much the stuff of life for me over the past few weeks.
You see, my wonderful, shiny, best-beloved daughter has been offered a place to do a Masters in Library & Information Studies at the University of British Columbia in Vancouver - and (this is the scary bit) she is taking it up.
In 3 weeks time she will have landed on the far side of the Atlantic, and on the far side of Canada and be beginning to prepare for two years of adventure in a brand new country...
and that's fantastic.

She will love the course, with its specialism in the children's and young adult writing that is her passion.
She will, I'm certain, love Vancouver too. 
It's all good.
Except, that is, for the courage that's asked of us, to let her go.
It will be a wonderful adventure.
The Masters will give her the means to build the sort of career that she dreams of, working in school libraries to enable kids on the edge to find themselves and the courage they need for the future.
And - what a beautiful place to learn.

But - I didn't really like it when my kids returned to uni just a couple of hours away.
I've always found that the water-table rose dramatically in the last days and hours before their departure, and honestly, if there had been floods in the Midlands, rather than further north, they might ALL have been my fault.
I don't seem to have been fitted with the necessary rhino hide when it comes to saying Goodbye to those i love. Not even for a few weeks.

So, the question is not whether L will dare to fly - I know she will.
It's more a question of whether I dare unclench my mitts to let her go - and on that front I really have no choice.
I dare do nothing else.


#AdventWord 11: Ask

It's surprising how hard that is - at least as far as asking God for things for those I love most goes....let alone for myself. Don't let's even go there.

I'm brilliant at asking him to intervene, to be close to, to love and support those with whom I have a mostly professional relationship - but to ask him to get involved in the muddles and struggles of my own life seems somehow too demanding.
Which is nonsense.
I know that intellectually.
Ask and you shall receive that your joy may be full, says Jesus - and I know, when I actually make myself think about it, that this isn't just an offer for everyone else.

Also, I know how much delight it gives me to be able to respond when those I love ask - for anything.
It's even fun to give the dogs their supper...specially when they look at me like this!
They have no inhibitions about the process, do they?

Tuesday, December 08, 2015

#AdventWord 10:Surprise

It looked like a perfectly ordinary envelope as it rested in my pigeon hole at work.
I don't tend to get very excited about work post on the whole.
Often it's mailings from groups whom my predecessor supported.
Those make me feel slightly guilty.
Sometimes it's long long missives written on A4 lined filed paper in green ink.
Those tend to make me want to cry.
Usually, it's simply rather dull and innocuous.

But not this.
This was a complete surprise.
A card that makes me smile every single time I look at it
A card from lovely friends who have said some mega-encouraging things.
A card that even included an ELEPHANT.

What a wonderful surprise - a smile in an envelope to light up even the gloomiest winter day.

My friends are awesome - and that is no surprise at all. I hope they won't be surprised to know how much difference they make to my life here.


Monday, December 07, 2015

#AdventWord 9 BE

Be alert!
Be ready!
Be bold!
Be strong!

Being sometimes seems such a very active process and the Christmas countdown that has all but obliterated Advent is full of relentless activism as the world tries to persuade us to cram a life-time of shopping and consuming into the days that remain before The Birthday arrives.

The Church doesn't help, as we do everything in our power to encourage neighbours and strangers, unexpected pilgrims and exhausted passers-by to come through our doors and help us to celebrate. Candles flicker and pine needles drop. Clergy polish their brightest sermons and  choristers celebrate the events that happened ONCE in Royal David's City dozens, nay hundreds of times.
It's all rather wonderful - but very very frenetic.
We are so SO busy showing our love for God by all that we do for Him, that it seems almost impossible to stop and just BE with Him.

But sometimes it is given to us to step out of all that...

Exhausted from Holy Week and Easter 2008, with all the emotional highs and lows of the season compounded by the end of a wonderful curacy, I boarded a plane to spend a week with some amazing women most of whom I'd met only on line...the RevGalBlogPals, who were staging their first Big Event.
Together we floated away on a cruise ship, hearing wise words from our retreat leader, sharing hopes, dreams, tears, laughter and, delightfully, bags of SWAG.
Each one of us found in our bags a bracelet, whose beads included 2 engraved with the letters BE - for the Big Event was, for each one of us, a time to stop, to reflect, to play and to BE.

Sitting with special friends watching the wake of our ship carve wonderful patterns through the waves, it was wonderfully possible to obey that injunction.
Navigating my way through a cathedral Christmas and the departure of my first-born to Canada, it's a bit more challenging - so, having retrieved the bracelet for photographic purposes, I think I will keep on wearing it for a while.

You never know, I might manage to learn something.


Sunday, December 06, 2015

#AdventWord 8: Care

Advent 2 seems a reasonable day on which to begin to put up some not-yet-Christmas decorations.
Our crib lives in an elderly hat-box from Harrods, which still bears a label addressed to my mother, at my childhood home...
I've no idea at what stage of her life my mother needed to buy a hat from Harrods - but for as long as I can remember, the box has housed Christmas decorations of some sort, so its annual appearance pitches me headlong into the Christmasses of my childhood...a time when anticipation was huge and presents rather restrained by contemporary standards (though a couple of Puffin books and a new dressing gown seemed altogether splendid to me - and the addition of a ladybird torch so I could read under the bedclothes nothing short of genius).

"With care - Advent Crown" reads the instruction in my mother's handwriting.
The Advent crown, a precarious affair involving wire coat-hangers, silver tinsel and  4 glass baubles, as created by Valerie Singleton of Blue Peter, has long since gone the way of all flesh.
So, actually, has my mother.
It feels very strange that something as trivial as a ordinary cardboard box...should still be here, and still in use, while she, who was anxious that we should take care of the contents, has been gone almost four decades.
We try to safeguard THINGS - recognise that some of them are fragile, requiring careful handling...but a cardboard box from the 1960s is doing fine, thank you...while a beloved person, full of life and love and delight in the coming of Christmas, is now at rest - and the hand that wrote that instruction simply bones in the earth.

CARE for the people you love - and make sure that they know this.

Because you can't keep that love in a hat-box.


Saturday, December 05, 2015

#AdventWord 7 Believe

An instruction...Something to do at all costs?
Or a simple verb...
I believe
"Credo in unum Deum omnipotentem, factorum coeli et terra" I sing,  with Bach's music loud in my mind
This is the sound of certainty.
Bach has no room for questioning. 
This is the music of faith, not doubt.
I believe.

The light of faith burns brightly...on a good day at least!

But I doubt if I'm the only one who finds that some days belief comes more easily than others...that aspects of the historic Creeds can sometimes seem to strain credulity almost to breaking point.
The candles that write my word are all alight - but some burn with confidence while others flicker, glimmer, are almost extinguished.
Faith is not certainty. 
Faith is not knowledge.
It is both more precarious and more precious.
A gift.

Lord, You have always given
bread for the coming day;
and though I am poor,
today I believe.
Lord, You have always given
strength for the coming day;
and though I am weak,
today I believe.
Lord, You have always given
peace for the coming day;
and though of anxious heart,
today I believe.
Lord, You have always kept
me safe in trials;
and now, tried as I am,
today I believe.
Lord, You have always marked
the road for the coming day;
and though it may be hidden,
today I believe.
Lord, You have always lightened
this darkness of mine;
and though the night is here,
today I believe.
Lord, You have always spoken
when time was ripe;
and though you be silent now,
today I believe.

From the Northumbria Community