Sunday, December 20, 2020

And Mary said....Sermon for the Cathedral Eucharist Advent 4 2020

Mary was perplexed… I’m sure she was. In fact, my guess is that her internal reaction might well have been expressed by a pithy "You WHAT?!" Or even WTF? The angel might have been sent by God – but that didn’t mean his arrival was going to make things easy for Mary. Not one little bit. Beyond the immediate dilemma of how to tell Joseph – and her parents too, this perplexity must have been the hall mark of her life from there on in. The Authorised Version talks about the way she “pondered things in her heart” - and that sounds lovely and reflective and very very holy….but I’m not sure it was always like that. I’m sure that on a good day she could and did treasure all the moments of joy…the time when John the Baptist, in utero, recognised Jesus and leapt for joy and Mary’s praise flowered into the prophetic wonder of the Magnificat ever noticed that the first person to recognise Jesus was a baby! What might that suggest to us about how we value the contribution of babies, toddlers, children in our life and theology?) That amazing night when angels sang and shepherds knelt…the day when strange visitors brought stranger gifts… Those were moments to remember and pour over on dark days… But my goodness – the dark days were many… Did she know about the massacre of the innocents? I’m sure she did – and maybe felt that mixture of relief and guilt that we know when someone dear to us has just escaped disaster by missing the train that crashed or staying at home from work because they had a bit of a migraine… Then there was the time when her first born son refused to see her because somehow the woman who had given birth to him was less important than the crowd who’d gathered to hear him teach. “my mother and brothers are those who hear and obey God’s word”… Particularly tough on Mary, whose obedience to God is celebrated… “Behold the handmaid of the Lord. Let it be to me as you have said...” But apparently that’s not good enough. WHAT?!?! At that point, I think I might have been tempted to storm in and give Jesus a lesson in basic manners. Oh yes, there were many many moments of perplexity – of that I am convinced. Think, if you would, about the statue of Mary in our Lady Chapel. If you’re a visitor and don’t know it, I’m afraid it’s a bit inaccessible right now – but let me tell you, it’s a statue that is placed facing away from those who come into the chapel. Mary’s eyes are only on her son – but this is not the baby in the manger whom she could cradle and keep safe but her adult son, and she is gazing at him as he hangs dying on the cross. If you follow her eyes – and indeed, if you stand beside her in the space, that is what you see. Just the agony and desolation. “Stabat Mater dolorosa” And you see, here’s the thing. Mary experiences the life of her son Jesus from a completely human perspective. She can do nothing else. She is inextricably involved in God’s plan to reconcile the world to himself – but she can’t see the big picture at all. Just as from the viewpoint of the statue, as it were, you are oblivious to the towering figure of Christ in glory that dominates the cathedral from another perspective, so she, highly favoured though she may be, is no more able to glimpse the overarching sweep of God’s story than any of us are as we travel through this year of storm and challenge. But her ignorance, her perplexity doesn’t matter at all. Her part in the story is to be the God is through the Holy Spirit AND the Virgin Mary that Christ comes into the world ...and the fact that she cannot see the way ahead in no way alters her significance in God’s work of love. There’s a song popular in some parts of the church “Mary did you know..” which takes Mary on a guided tour of the life of Christ, asking if she grasped the significance of all that was going on around her stage by stage. It is a bit too redolent of mansplaining for my taste...but it does clarify an important point. Despite the message of the angel, Mary DIDN’T know. Not for sure. She pondered things in her heart...but she dealt in faith, not knowledge. We’re in a different place as far as her story goes. WE know, from the perspective of 2 millennia, what emerged, against any human hope or expectation, from the foreshortened life of Mary’s son. WE are the ones sitting in the nave who can see Christ in glory on the tapestry and know that even the pain of crucifixion is swept up in the triumph of God’s love over sin and death forever. But Mary didn’t know. Mary just had to ponder – and weep and agonise...just as, in this year of challenge and loss and change we have watched and wept and felt utterly utterly helpless and sometimes hopeless It is not a coincidence that I’ve found myself praying the rosary more this year than ever before. It has helped me hugely, as I’ve tried to pray into all the pain and mess around us, to feel that another woman who had experienced times far harder, grief far greater, would pray beside me, with me, for me. As I prayed, each bead became part of a lifebelt, and on a good day I knew that the other end was held secure by God. On bad days, my prayers had more in common with a certain cartoon currently circulating online which shows a figure kneeling in prayer at bedtime. Above their head is a bubble “God. WTF” If that’s where you are today – you’re not alone From the perspective of the here and now, it’s almost impossible to see anything but anxiety, sadness and confusion. We just want the pandemic over and to stagger back to some of the things that seemed so normal only a year ago. But there’s something from Mary’s story for us here too. Regardless of how blinded we may be by tears, how wearied we are by the changes and chances of this fleeting world, there IS another perspective. Mary DOES know now. She sees the glory that was there from the beginning...the glory as of a father’s only son, full of grace and truth...and understands that her role as God bearer was essential, even when it seemed to be all folly. And, of course, each of us is to be a God bearer too – in a world that needs us to make God’s love real more than ever before. As to the big picture - We wont see that or understand our part in it very often. We may see very little at all. But we can nonetheless continue, whether in faith and hope, or in doubt and perplexity, rmembering that even in 2020, there IS a bigger picture and that the God who came into the mess and muddle of our world 2000 years ago, incarnate by the Holy Spirit and the Virgin Mary, will not rest til all is reconciled, all made new. If that’s too much to believe right now – let’s return to the message of the angel. With God, nothing is impossible.

So here it is....address for Carols by Candlelight at Coventry Cathedral, 19th December 2020

So many things are different this year. For one thing,it's tough to have a carol service without singing, and I'm guessing that for some of us even a song in the heart may be very hard to find. A just last when I looked out at the packed congregation for this service, it was like lookung at a colony of glow-worms – I couldn’t see any faces, but each person present was represented by the light of the candles they were holding. I reflected then that Christmas can make the ordinary beautiful – and I think thats no less true today. Even this evening, we are not left in the silent dark. But I cant deny that one way and another it has been a bitch of a year. As we closed the Cathedral and went into Lockdown in March, it felt like the end of so much that was beloved and precious. Would people even remember to come back, when we were allowed to? Would we be able to carry on worshipping together though apart? How would we manage to share and make real the message of God’s love? It all looked overwhelmingly dark and difficult – and yet, we found a way. We discovered the unexpected pleasure of online worship, where we connected not just with our regulars but with many who would not have found their way to the Cathedral in normal times. We made new connections with those living closest to us and took care of one another as best we could through difficult times, learning to share love in new ways, by phone, by zoom, from the bottom of the drive or through the window We adjusted to a simpler life and a slower pace and found ourselves able to hear birdsong in our gardens as the noise of traffic ceased. Of course, all these moments of blessing were set against a backdrop of hard news, of the reality of fear and loneliness, grief and death – but they were blessings all the same… And now we find ourselves confronted with a need to do Christmas in very different ways ...with different people, or altogether alone, in different places, without many treasured aspects of our own personal traditions, the things we always do It's not simply that the mistletoe market has crashed as a quick kiss in passing is strictly taboo Christmas IS going, to be different this year, and for most of us, that's not great news. I guess much was different about the first Christmas too. Though God’s people had been waiting for centuries for a Saviour, a Messiah, his coming was not at all as they’d expected. I’m sure Mary pictured herself giving birth at home, with mum and aunties there to support her – but found herself far away, without much of a roof over her head. Not what she would have chosen. The shepherds, rough, uncouth, were the LAST people to hear most things: they were among the marginalised and overlooked. You wouldn't dream of making them your confidantes – yet the angel brought the world-changing news to them. It was only common sense that those wise men from the east went first to the palace – where else would you expect to find a king…but he wasn’t there. Nothing looked quite right for the arrival of a Saviour – and yet nonetheless, there he was. God as a baby, born miles from home in a grubby corner of an occupied country. There he was – and here he is – Here among us, bringing light and hope into the darkest corners of our the fear-laden loneliness of the covid wards, where exhausted medics do all that they can to fight against disease and death to the families kept apart, and those weeping as they see an empty space at their Christmas table, to those collecting the basics of their Christmas meal from the Foodbank and those facing the cold reality of unemployment when furlough ends. God with us. Emmanuel. With us now as we come together in this holy place – but with us too as we go on our way, no matter what disappointment, what sadness we are going out to Whatever is different, unexpected, unwelcome this year – God’s love is unchanging...and though you may not carry a candle in your hand tonight , you can, and you should shine with the light of his love . That love is here as surely as it has ever been. Here to strengthen and support you Here to be shared so that each of us can make the ordinary beautiful – in our homes and on our streets, online and in person…. Because God is with us And that changes everything for the light shines ieven in our deepest darkness and the darkness has never put it out And it never ever will. Thanks be to God

Sunday, October 18, 2020

Some thoughts on healing in community. Isaiah 35:3-6 for "Welcome to Sunday" on St Lukes Day 2020

I love that reading so very much.Usually I read it hearing Handel in the background, every sentence pointing towards the coming of Jesus and the moment when "he shall feed his flock like a shepherd", but today, as we celebrate St Luke and the ministry of healing, I’m wondering how we might make it our mission statement too, what it would mean if we tried to live into it day by day. Because, you see, there are many different kinds of healing. We are far too apt to equate healing with cure...and then to feel defeated when we pray for healing for those whom we love, but see no physical evidence that anything has changed. It’s a mystery why sometimes, against all expectations, prayers are answered immediately and obviously – but at others, those same prayers, offered with the same fervent intensity, seem to fall on deaf ears. We beg God to intervene, - but our sick friend gets sicker...and it makes no sense. Sometimes, though, we can recognise healing even when we find ourselves disappointed in the specifics of our hopes and prayers. I think of Tony, the first person whom I was privileged to accompany through their final illness and on towards death. He was so very scared in the first weeks after his cancer diagnosis, that even the most general enquiry as to how the week had been would see him shrink in to silent despair...He couldn’t bring himself to talk to his two sons, or to anyone else for that matter, so the weight of unspoken sadness burdened everyone. He was a much loved member of the church family in my curacy parish, and so we all prayed...and prayed...and Tony grew weaker and weaker...but somehow along the way, his faith and his courage returned. He and his boys found ways to say what they needed to one another and on Christmas day they shared a bottle of champagne and laughed as much as they cried. He went into the hospice that evening, and died two days later – restored to himself, whole in heart and mind, his fear gone, and replaced by love and peace. That was not a cure but I’m sure, so very very sure, that it WAS healing. And right now, of course, there is sickness in the very air that we breathe...both the virus itself and the way that it has robbed us of so much joy and hope, set communities against one another as we are asked to make agonising choices between life and liveliehood, separated families, left loved ones to die alone… And yes, we can and we should use today to pray for our health service – to give thanks for all those who tend the wounds of body and spirit, to ask that God will send wisdom and insight for those seeking prevention and cure for the virus...but while that very specific work of physical healing may be the preserve of those duly qualified, we ALL have a vocation to heal as God’s people, inspired by God’s spirit. We may be sad and have fearful hearts – but if we can look beyond ourselves, we can be part of God’s work of healing even now. We are called to be a community of hope...people who can see beyond the even the apparently insurmountable challenges of life in a pandemic, the signs of God’s kingdom breaking in. Another story, of going with my supervisor to see a wonderful elderly lady while I was on placement during training. She was utterly crippled with rheumatoid arthritis, and her house was a perfect timecapsule from the 1920s when her parents had moved in,. She had always been an invalid, never been able to get about, , had only rarely been able to attend the parish church which my supervisor and I represented, and yet she had an incredibly strong sense of commitment to that community, as it did to her. Judy, my supervisor, asked her to choose a Bible passage to hear, and passed it to me to read...the words we heard just now,. As I read I could feel the sense of hope getting ever stronger. It felt as if God was using my voice, Isaiahs worda, to speak directly to her. We all recognised that we were standing on holy ground, and after Communiin Iris said You see, that's what the church does for me, It strengthens my knees so I can pray, opens my eyes and my ears so I can understand the truth, and the speaks it, God IS coming. We WILL be saved. I dream of being part of that kind of church...where we can support one another to find healing in community, recognising that truly we are journeying together, dependent on each other, that only in community can we become agents of Gods healing today. So, how might we live to set the world free from whatever binds and restricts , tying neighbours down to be less than their true, God-given selves?... How might we open one another's eyes,, to recover sight and regain perspective, as we try to regain perspective ourselves.? One day I will need you to speak those words of hopee to me , perhaps the next I can speak them for you We all need God's healing, for body, mind and spirit, and together we carry the hope that this healing will come. So as in community we celebrate the good news that God is still at work, we can join with that work of the Spirit, so we too become physicians of the soul through the wholesome medicine of the gospel. Strengthen the weak hands and make firm the feeble knees There is good news which can refresh our world, so that desolate places, desolate people can flourish again as water springs up in the wilderness. Healing is so much greater than cure, and it's is healing that our God offers to us and to all creation.

Sunday, October 11, 2020

Reasons to be cheerful? A sermon for the Cathedral Eucharist, 11th October 2020, Proper 23A

There is a cartoon doing the rounds on social media which really resonates with me. It shows a slightly anxious-looking couple walking together, one of whom announces "My desire to be well-informed is currently at odds with my desire to remain sane". It's a point of view with which I have tremendous sympathy. I am once again making sure that I head up to bed before the 10.00 news, as experience has taught me that hearing the latest Covid statistics at the end of the day is a sure recipe for a sleepless night. If you add in the grim findings of the Independent Inquiry into Child Sexual Abuse, published this week, which brings much that is broken in the Church of England into painfully clear view, the many cries for help articulated on World Mental Healthy Day and the lingering sadness of Baby Loss Awareness Week, it might be tempting to close the curtains and retreat under the duvet, waiting for better days. But for the most part, that seems a little impractical - and in any case we are supposed to be people of let's go in search of it. Our Epistle seems to have plenty on offer. First, though, I want to say loud and clear that there are seasons when, whatever Paul proclaims, we may find ourselves living our life and expressing our faith in the minor key of lament. There is nothing, anywhere, that says that it is somehow more Christian to pretend that everything is wonderful when the reality is very different. We are in no way failing God, or selling our faith short if we admit to vulnerability or sadness - quite the reverse. Being real matters. If we are followers of the one who is the Way, the Truth and the Life, then clearly personal integrity - being honest about the challenges as well as the blessings of life - is of foundational is having the courage to ask for help if life's struggles threaten to overwhelm you completely. PLEASE hear that! And yet - and yet - Paul exhorts the church in Philippi to see things in a rather different way...though he engages with messy reality too. I love that this passage starts with a quiet reference to a disagreement in the Christian community. Some things don't change, do they. The funny thing is, we have no idea what divided Euodia and Syntyche - simply that they are at odds with one another, and need the help of the wider congregation to sort things out. Whatever it was that seemed so important to them has long since been forgotten but they are remembered because Paul wanted the church to engineer their reconciliation. I suspect their issue wasn't so very important really...and it's always worth trying to take the long view. Some things may be worth falling out over, - but the majority probably aren't. I very much doubt if many of the causes of distress or faction in the local church are going to be on God's check list of hot topics when we stand before God on the last day. How we have DEALT with them just might be - if we have sought to silence or exclude others, or have turned them into commodities to suit our own needs, perhaps. But that's not for us to decide. It's all a question of perspective...and God's is always wider, more generous, than ours. And that's where this exhortation to rejoice comes in. Rejoice in the Lord always I mean it. I'll say it again REJOICE ‘Don’t you realise, Paul, how tired we are now? How much we’ve faced over the last few months? Has no-one told you about the closure of our churches, about the fear gripping the world, about the recession and the mental health crisis, about the risks of infection? Has no-one told you that we are not even able to sing? This is your message for us in the midst of a pandemic?…’ Nonetheless, says Paul, REJOICE. I'm not talking about superficial happiness, emerging from the pleasures of the moment. I’m not exhorting relentless cheerfulness in the face of all the evidence. I'm pointing you towards something richer by far. No, We are not being invited to thank God FOR our trials and tribulations, for the hardship, the grief, the death. We are allowed to name those as the struggle that they are, to be honest with God and with one another. But we are challenged to look see our lives founded on God and so to change our focus that we can see joy amid all the mess and pain and fear. In all of that we are not alone. THE LORD IS NEAR. We are never abandoned in a hostile universe. God is here - and that presence should be enough to help us shift our perspective, to keep us both from cynicism and from fear. The Lord is at hand, as the Authorised Version puts it...even now we just have to reach out and we can touch God...and though there may seem to be no rational grounds for peace or for joy, God's presence brings with it that peace that is beyond understanding, beyond logic... The invitation is to learn to take the long view - and as we shift perspective, to use our joy to power our rebellion against all the darkness and pain, to make it our own act of subversion against the powers and principalities that threaten our peace day by day. We aren't supposed to be relentlessly cheerful...God forbid! But we ARE to focus not on the darkness but on the pinpricks of light...and Paul gives us a strategy to enable this. Focus on the good things. "Whatever is is true, whatever is honourable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is pleasing, whatever is commendable" Do try to avoid the trap I just fell into of thinking, grumpily, "Well, that won't take long today." I'm not denying the darkness - but, with Paul, I'm inviting you to choose to focus on the stars, even if you do so lying on your back in the gutter. Because that turning towards joy IS always a choice, and sometimes it isn't an easy one Telling God if that's the case for you right now is more than fine. Don't worry - but let your requests be made known. Honesty, remember. Say it as it is. God can cope! I'm struggling with joy...and I really could use some of your peace...and to be honest, I don't mind if I understand it or not. I just want to feel it. But be alert for the signposts, those glimpses of joy that direct your gaze to God even now, even if it's very hard So, let's be practical. Where might you look? I'm confident that you can, without too much difficulty, come up with some ideas. Take moment to notice any prompts to joy around you now. Reflect on those things that are good and true for you. Turn them over in your heart as a miser might turn over his treasure by night. Let yourself luxuriate in their beauty and the hope that they represent. For us in the Cathedral this morning, a prime focus must surely be the gift of music that Kerry has enabled throughout his time with us - and which expresses the truth and beauty of God in ways beyond words again and again. I often talk about its power to open windows onto heaven - because that has been my own experience. The beauty of choral Evensong in a college chapel communicating so clearly the beauty of the God that inspired it that I could do nothing but submit to love and joy then and there... Something to remember with gratitude as the music of other places and other times performed that same work of blessing. So we can thank God for Kerry - and for the way that he has used his own gift to enable the gifts of others, to ihspire, encourage and transform, And we can look forward in hope to all the gifts that Rachel brings with her. As we think of our musicians - there is so much that is worthy of praise. And the music of joy that awakens in our hearts resounds long after the air is silent again...a treasure that cannot be taken from you. And if music isn't your first language, there are many many others. God wants us to know God is close...wants us to experience that peace beyond understanding. As we close, let me share the experience of a friend, who was driving back to a place she doesn't much want to be, having said goodbye to someone whom she struggled to leave behind. She was in no way filled with joy...but as she drove, she saw the most stunning sunset in her rear view mirror - and ahead, amid the gathering dark of storm clouds, a double rainbow of great beauty. That gave her the joy she needed to drive onwards - trusting that God was there ahead of her. Where might you glimpse him today? IN such things are are true, honourable, just, pure, pleasing....think on those things and the God of peace will be with you.

Tuesday, September 29, 2020

"Hark, hark my soul, angelic strains are swelling..." - a reflection for Michaelmas

It’s Michaelmas…the festival that celebrates angels, archangels and all the company of heaven - and for this part of my journey I'm based in cathedral dedicated to St Michael - but, sadly, not to "All angels"...though our building is awash with them, from the mad, dancing cohorts of the West Screen to the majestic Angel of the Agony, whose wings overshadow me when I preside in the Chapel of Christ in Gethsemane. I wish it were the other way round. Michael is hard to get a grip on. Did he really eject Satan from heaven for all time, or is there (as another Michael, Michael Sadgrove, who knows our building better than most suggests in a wonderful reflection on the Sutherland tapestry) a hope that he is not pushing him out but trying to grasp his hand and enable him to stay? And, of course, he is absolutely the right patron for us, with our calling to the ministry of Reconciliation "Send thine archangel Michael from thy presence, Peacemaker blessed, may he hover o'er us, hallow our dwellings". I love that when the medieval parish church of St Michael was built, the vocation of the cathedral that would replace it centuries later was already enshrined...and the angels, well, they are beings of poetry and wonder, pointing to something far beyond our comprehension, reminding us of the overwhelming beauty and mystery at the heart of God - though we often try to domesticate them, just as we try to domesticate Godself.
Matthew, Mark, Luke and John Bless the bed that I lie on Four corners to my bed Four angels there be spread One to watch and one to pray And two to bear my soul away In the bedtime prayers of my childhood there seemed little difference between the evangelists – Matthew, Mark, Luke and John – and the shining guardian angels whom I was certain were my overnight companions.... I loved those angels, believed in them implicitly – and still, as this feast day of St Michael and All Angels approaches, I find myself dreaming happily of wondrous golden beings, trying to glimpse them amid the golden light of late September as the leaves turn. ""Angels of Jesus, angels of LIGHT...this feast, just after the Autumn equinox, asserts that light will endure though the evenings are drawing in - and in this year of loss, anxiety, fear, we need it, need them, more than ever. Of course, even before the pandemic, angels have been hugely popular - angels divorced from any particular belief system. Gift shops can rely on selling any number of angel trinkets, books of angel stories walk off the shelves at a time when public interest in more mainstream expressions of faith seems at a very low ebb. People LIKE the idea of heavenly beings charged with taking care of us....a reassurance that we are not on our own in a hostile universe. But, you know, the Biblical experience of angels is really rather different. Often their arrival seems to be anything but reassuring – and perhaps that's why every angelic appearance in the New Testament opens with the words “Don't be afraid” Annunciation, Resurrection, Ascension... Heaven in all its dazzling splendour breaks into our world. Time is interrupted by eternity. Angel appearances are never remotely mundane - and their messages tend to stop us in our tracks as thoroughly as the angel stopped Balaam's ass. Just think of the most famous angelic appearance of all.....Gabriel's mission to Mary. Imagine yourself as that teenage girl, minding her own business in an obscure corner of the Roman Empire. Hear those words spoken to you. “Do not be afraid Mary – for you have found favour with God. You will bear a son” BEAR A SON! Me?!?! No wonder Gabriel feels the need to begin the conversation by speaking reassurance. “Do not be afraid...” Words that suggest that he knows he has already lost that particular battle! And so often that's how it seems. Angels break into our world as messengers of heaven – and their tidings turn the world upside down. Like a stone dropped into a pond, their messages ripple outwards, touching and changing many lives in ways we could never imagine. Well, at least that’s what they did in Bible times. But what of that persistent belief that God STILL sends messengers into this world, to remind us of God’s continuing commitment to humanity? Despite my eager searches, I’ve never seen a shining being clothed in white, with maybe the hint of wings in the brightness around them – but I have had to experiences of angels, I think. One was on Low Sunday in a little Cotswold church, part of the benefice where we lived when my children were small, the place that fostered my vocation to ordained ministry. It was a happy church, a church that understood community – but it was also a very elderly church. I and my children were generally the only ones present who were not well into retirement – and the last thing that would EVER happen there was dance… Except, on this one day, the recessional hymn was, wonderfully, Lord of the dance…and still more wonderfully as we reached the chorus at the end of the first verse, 2 strangers stepped out of the pew behind us, took my older children by the hand and pulled them into a wonderful, joyous grand chain that stretched the length of the aisle, and in which, somehow, we were all caught up without knowing how or why…so that when we reached the final verse “they cut me down but I leapt up high, I am the life that will never never die I’ll live in you if you’ll live in me, I am the Lord of the dance said he”…there was not a vestige of doubt anywhere in that church. It was, as I say, the Cotswolds. We were used to people appearing at the parish Eucharist while they were staying in the village – except that afterwards, these people seemed to have disappeared. Did they just slip out before the final Blessing? Probably…but…I’ll always wonder, because they rekindled the resurrection hope so very powerfully that day. Ten years later I was in my second year of curacy, loving so much of parish ministry but sometimes frustrated at the way the Church seemed to get in the way of simply introducing people to God’s love. My title parish was at the "friendly catholic" end of the spectrum – liturgy mattered, the Eucharist was absolutely central, and if was very important that we prayed the Daily Office no matter what. But Morning Prayer was always an insiders' service – not something to which I could ever imagine inviting one of the young mums from Toddler Church…I enjoyed praying the Office with my training incumbent but really struggled with it when I had to pray alone# That morning my TI was away so I went up to church somewhat reluctantly, and wandered into the Lady Chapel for the Office. To my surprise there was a young man there already, someone I definitely didn't recognise. We chatted for a bit, and he asked if it would be alright if he stayed for Morning Prayer. Alright? I was thrilled. We prayed together, and I offered many and repeated apologies for the need to dart back and forth, to follow the leadings of the multi coloured ribbons in a distracting maypole dance, to engage with a lectionary that seemed set, that day, to offer absolutely NOTHING to inspire or comfort at all. Despite this, to my delight, he stayed to the end, and afterwards he told me that just a few months before he, an atheist with no grounding in faith at all, had had such a powerful experience of God that he had been checking out churches ever since. He told me of his various visits around the diocese…and my heart sank as I imagined how we might compare with some of the more dynamic congregations he had encountered. "They are all SO DIFFERENT he marvelled …isn’t it wonderful….and I have met God in every single one of them. EVERY SINGLE ONE" If ever a message, a dose of unexpected good news was needed, it was that morning… And the angel departed from me – having sowed seeds of encouragement that I have returned to time and again in the years that followed. Once again, the angel (a very ordinary, if unexpected young man) brought good news… Perhaps my childhood self wasn't that far out in confusing the saints and the angels of that poem-prayer! Beings whom the light shines through...sent to encourage, to remind us to look up, to set our sights on God's wider landscape when we are in danger of getting bogged down in our own struggles with life and faith. Onward we go for still we hear them singing "Come, weary souls, for Jesus bids you come!" And through the dark their echoes sweetly ringing The music of the gospel leads us home. Angels of Jesus, angels of light, singing to welcome the children of the night

Sunday, September 06, 2020

Proper 18A A reconciled community?

Where do you go to find community? It’s a question that has been more pressing this year than for a very long time, as many of us have found ourselves locked down alone, isolated from friends and relatives, dependent our varied technologies, from telephone to iPad, to connect us to the others whose easy presence we had taken for granted just a few months ago. Some of us have been living alone for years, whether by choice or by chance – and may have expected to find it not so very different. Others are natural extroverts, who thrive on sharing the details of life with others – I’m one of those, and believe you me, my dogs and cats have had to listen to an awful lot of external processing of life’s trivia as the weeks crept on. But wherever you fall on the scale of introvert/extrovert, whether you live alone of have faced the different challenge of suddenly being confined for an extended period with partners or families whom you usually see only in the evenings or at weekends, “community” has looked and felt very different this year. I guess that was the genius in the Thursday night ritual of clapping for carers. It reminded us that we were living alongside our neighbours, whether we know them well or not...That despite the isolation that was necessary for our safety we were going through this whole experience together, and that, whatever our faith and our politics, when we fall ill we are all alike dependent on the skill and compassion of our health workers. It provided a moment of connection that was badly needed as days became weeks, became months. But what of the Church in all this? That’s a question that has many many different answers. In the early weeks I have to admit that I rather envied my colleagues in parish ministry, able to wave to their parishioners as they did their daily walk, to run errands for the housebound who lived just down the road, to throw open their churches for food banks to operate. It seemed much easier to maintain a community rooted in the local than one drawn together by a particular place, from whose beloved beauty we were all excluded for a while… But as the weeks passed I began to notice something else happening, something that was in no way dependent on the various attempts I had made to keep us all together by hook, crook or telephone tree. Something that filled me with hope, together with a degree of embarrassment that it had not been the first place I had looked to foster community. As we got gradually into the rhythm of online worship, our daily offering of Morning Prayer with Communion plus the Litany, I realised that the group who appeared there, cathedral stalwarts, friends from past parishes and total strangers from the diocese and beyond were really attentive to one another, and were really swift to respond if one of them shared that they were having a bad day, week or month...Strangers, drawn together by God, were experiencing the absolute truth of those words from this morning’s gospel, knowing God’s presence with us as we worshipped, physically apart but united in a greater depth of fellowship perhaps because we were having to do without our cherished landscape, and the aids to prayer that our building offers. Again and again, after grumpy, sleepy mornings or at frazzled midday, I experienced the truth that Jesus WAS with us as we met in his name, and that knowledge inspired us to lower our guards with one another, to try out in cautious stages the steps towards a deeper level of connection, so that we could assert with confidence that the Church was indeed alive and well despite the closure of our buildings. You could, of course, argue that it was easier to form connections in isolation, as it were. Most of us had no past history with one another, no sense that so and so didn’t quite approve of our attitude to such and such, or had disappointed us that time when we’d really needed a good friend...That made it easier to drop our guard but the truth is that if that online community survives, as I hope it might, we are BOUND to upset one another at some point, because, you know, the Church, whether in person or online, consists of fallible human beings who have an inbuilt ability to mess things up despite our best intention. BUT as Church we’re called to deal with those failures and disappointments in a different way. Rather than taking umbrage and walking away, to seek a better, more congenial or more holy community… Rather than clinging to an illusion of niceness by sweeping discord and disagreement under the carpet, we are actively invited to engage with our fractures wherever we meet them. We are to deliberately seek out those with whom relationship is damaged – to own the truth of the situation and to undertake for ourselves and IN ourselves the work of reconciliation that is so central to us here in Coventry. That can feel very risky – but it’s really not optional. Perhaps like me, you’ve been almost relieved that so much of our ministry of reconciliation was, in the past, carried out by experts, heading off to deal with broken relationships at a safe distance, but leaving the rest of us to celebrate the work without having to engage with it. I think that feeling is natural enough – but that doesn’t make it OK. Jesus doesn’t suggest that we appoint experts to resolve differences in other communities. On the contrary, he’s very clear that reconciliation begins at home...and that the tangled relationships of life may remain tangled in eternity if we don’t make the effort to address them. You see, as the Church we are called to keep short accounts. To own our past errors and seek to put them right...not to carry that baggage into our current relationships, within and beyond our community, but to seek, with God’s help, to wipe the slate clean, to cancel old debts and old enmities so that we can travel forward together as people renewed and restored. I believe that is what reconciliation could and should mean for us here and now. Coming to terms with our own failures (sometimes the work of reconciliation will be primarily within ourselves: this summer I’ve had to confront the inherent racism that creeps in, undetected, alongside the benefits of white privilege) Confronting the failures of our community. Finding the courage, by God’s grace, to name them and repent of them. Then helping one another to put that load down and re-imagine the future together. . 2020 has forced us to stop for a while, invited us to take stock, to reflect on where we are and who we are as individuals and as the Church. In the flickering light of pandemic uncertainty, we have reflected on what matters most, and what we can safely let go of. We may have been surprised at some of our discoveries, inspired to recognise and live by new priorities so that the things that had seemed so essential in January are of little account in September...or we may have come to a fresh understanding of why we value the things we cherish. Come what may, the one essential, the only debt we are to owe, is the debt of love. If we have learned nothing else this year, we must surely have come to realise that life is finite, time is limited, and that we cannot know how long we have to perfect our relationships, to love more and better day by day. The night is far spent and the day is at hand. Wake up, then. Smell the coffee, recognise that love must be the hallmark of our community...and let us use that love to shape and hold our community, so that, to quote the Collect, we may together proclaim the good news of God’s love and all who hear it may be drawn to him.

Sunday, August 16, 2020

Nevertheless, she persisted - a sermon for Trinity 10A at Coventry Cathedral, 16th August 2020

"Preach about what you know, about your own experiences of the life of faith", said one of our tutors an alarming three decades ago when I was training as a Reader. But todays gospel immediately puts me in a situation of which I have absolutely NO experience, and demands that I engage with it. I have never, to my knowledge, been excluded from anything that I sought on the grounds of my raceDoors have opened for me before Ive even noticed they were there. Encouraged by friends and family, Ive been able to pursue dreams almost effortlessly not because I am remarkably able but because I am remarkably privileged. That doesnt mean that Ive led a charmed life, with everything falling easily into place, but rather that as a white woman Ive never had to consider whether race might impede me in any wayAnd Im guessing thats true for many of you listening this morning. To quote one contributor to We need to talk about race, a book some of us have read this summer If youve never considered your colour, thatll be because youre white. Over the weeks since the Black Lives Matter movement took centre stage, I have become daily more conscious of the layers of white privilege that have protected me from so much in life from the risk of a stop and search, through the possibility of being denied a job interview, to the increased likelihood of my falling seriously ill with Covid 19 and much more besides. Whether we recognise it or not, it seems that our society is constructed to silently, imperceptibly benefit those of us of white British descent. We who are white are the unconscious beneficiaries of an far from level playing field and if I have learned nothing else from our reading, it is that attempting colour blindness does nobody any favours. All of which may seem to have little to do with todays gospel, with Jesuss encounter with this Canaanite woman, one of the first nations indigenous people who were supplanted when the Children of Israel reached and claimed their Promised Land. We need,then, to take a closer look at the dialogue between Jesus and that tenacious, outspoken woman who dared to cross cultural divides in search of healing for her child. Today, surely, shed be one who wore a t shirt emblazoned Nevertheless she persisted and her persistence achieved the unthinkable. Through her, Jesus himself received a lesson in the wildly inclusive love of Godthrough, unbelievably, a woman, one on the fringes, one who was pushing her luck in approaching him at allone he really should have avoided, for the sake of his reputation. Of course, we know that reputational risk is rarely a priority for Jesus he delights in spending time with outsiders, but as he begins to live in to the message of radical inclusion that lies at the heart of the gospel, its not easy, even for him. Today, Jesus is on retreat, seeking some down-time after his run-in with the Pharisees Here, in Gentile country, he might expect a break from the demands of ministry, but real people with real needs just cant be put on hold. His space, his silence is disturbed by a woman driven by that most compelling force, parental love. She will not hold her peace, demands a hearing, for she is intent on claiming the healing that she believes her daughter deserves. Like so many others, she throws herself on the mercy of Jesus. Kneeling at his feet she entreats his help. And what happens? If I were asking that question in a school assembly I can confidently predict the answer. What happens? “Jesus makes the child better Thats what wed all expect. Jesus goes about doing good, healing, rescuing,- surely thats the essence of his earthly ministry. Of course Jesus is going to comfort the mother and heal her child, without further ado. Except that he doesnt. It's as if he doesn't even see her. He looks away. He did nothing Not at first. First, we find ourselves thrown off balance, our expectations flouted by words that seem frankly racistwords of such staggering rudeness that they are almost unbearable. Jesus, JESUS of all people, tells that frantic mother that she and her child are no better than dogs.and I dont think were under any illusion that he meant much- loved and cherished pet spaniels. He is saying without compunction that as Gentiles, the woman and her daughter are not fully human. Ive encountered that approach too often in the chronicles of black oppression Ive been nervously exploring...Its the mindset that made it possible for the Church to condone slaverythat somehow black lives were of a lesser order, black pain less real, black freedom ours to command. But the one place that I would never look to encounter it is here, HERE, in the gospels Was Jesus a racist? And if so, what do we do with that? “Its not right to take the childrens bread and throw it to the dogs no blacks, no Irish, no dogs Whoohto meet those attitudes in Jesus is almost intolerable! This isnt our Jesus We long to hold on to our soft focus image of him Jesu, thou art all compassion and this abrasive stranger shakes us to the core. Nevertheless, she persisted This Gentile woman is made of sterner stuff than I, and refuses to go away quietly. She isnt bothered who she upsets. Like Jacob two weeks ago, she will not let go til she has received her blessing, and she responds to his put-down in like vein, picking up Jesuss words and turning them back on him in quick-witted repartee.. We may be dogs, but surely youre not so mean that you begrudge us even the left-overs. She refuses to take No for an answer And in doing so, she stops Jesus in his tracks. Against his own expectations he is forced into really seeing her, not an annoying, impertinent woman of another race but simply a human being, a child of Godand this makes him change his mind in a radical way. Is that idea too startling? Its tempting to believe that as Gods Son, Jesus must be perfect there is no shadow of turning with thee. But he is fully human, and surely learning is part of what that means. Even Mrs Alexander was prepared to accept that Jesus went through all the normal stages of physical development day by day like us he grew So too, surely, he learned and grew in relationshipHe learned, he grew, and sometimes he changed his mind. Theres so much more going on here than just an exchange of banter, for surely Jesus is forced to rethink the scope of his mission, to enlarge its scope, sent not simply to the lost sheep of the house of Israel after all. This should, I think, serve to correct our own tendency to arrogance, to hardness of heart. Its so tempting to believe that we dont need to listen to others, because we already know the truth, and our perspective is, of course, the right one..In that respect, perhaps, its hard not to sympathise with the Jews, who believe themselves to be the insiders, on a fast track to Salvation. In our society, and in our church, we can sadly identify behaviours that match theirs. The wideness of Gods mercy is sometimes just too much for us, so we shrink it to something we can deal with more easily. We enshrine those false limits long after the time has come for them to be deconstructed so we can rebuild on foundations of justice, in kinder, healthier ways, but if we take Scripture seriously, our limited view is inevitably challenged. Here we meet a God who listens and changes their mind, whose unlimited love almost surprises Godself. Here we encounter a God who is changed by relationships, a God who is moved by the prayers of Gods children, and acts in unexpected ways to answer them. Here, above all, we meet a God whose love and grace are inexhaustible. Of course, this particular gospel story lies behind the much-loved Prayer of Humble Access “We do not presume to come to this your table O merciful Lord Trusting in our own righteousness, but in your manifold and great mercy “We do not presume Well, thank God that sometimes we do! Thank God for those who dare to persist, who challeng and draw us into a landscape of larger hearts and wider compassion. Thank God for this woman, the outsider, the second class citizen who refuses to go away but demands that Jesus recognise her right to engage with him. Thank God that she stops him in his tracks, forcing him to see and recognise her humanity and forcing him to own that manifold and great mercy which is always so much greater than our worst inadequacies, our most glaring failings and faults. Here, as everywhere with God, love wins. The mothers love, a passion that drives her to take risks that she would probably never have contemplated for her own benefit. The Fathers love, Gods love, stronger than the divisions that scar society and church, the hatred that divides nation from nation, race from race, class from class. Stronger than unconscious privilege and all the institutional structures that support itStronger than our own fear of outsiders and our anxiety that we might find ourselves outsiders in our turn. So today, can we find the courage to look hard at ourselves, and at Gods Church, to ask Gods help to root out the unconscious bias that may sometimes hold part of our hearts and minds hostage and to ask that WE may be healed so that we can love more fully, and work together to enable the flourishing of all.

Saturday, August 08, 2020

Risky discipleship in stormy waters Matthew 14:22-33 for Welcome to Sunday, 9th August 2020

I grew up by the sea, and miss it dreadfully – both on the hazy days of high summer, when the entire world seems to be heading to the nearest shoreline, regardless of the need for safety and social distance, and if possible even more when the storms hit and the waves are high, breaking onto the promenade, flinging shingle onto parked cars, changing the whole shape of the beach overnight… My father loved the sea too – but, having served 6 years in the Navy, with the experience of Atlantic convoys for ever branded on his mind, his love was balanced by a sense oplayf great respect which he tried to pass on to me. I might treat the sea as a beloved friend – rushing down to talk to it if we had been away for a couple of weeks, leaping around in the shallows as if the sea were a kind of oversized family pet…but he had seen the full fury of Atlantic storms, had helped rescue men from the water after their vessel had been torpedoed…The sea, for all its wonder, was a place of risk…not to be trifled with. I never got to talk theology with my father…He died when I was 18, a long time before the God story began to be the most compelling story of all for me – so I don’t know how he felt about the gospel we’ve just heard. I’m certain that, as an introvert, he’d have been absolutely with Jesus on the need to take time out to regroup after over populated days…but what would he have made of the storm on Lake Galilee, and Peter’s foolhardy challenge to his Lord – “If it you, command me to come to you on the water”. I mean – what was that even about? Was it a desperate need to be sure that he really was an insider, able to do the very thing that he had just trembled to see Jesus doing? Was he trying to prove to himself that his decision to abandon his own work as a fisherman was not going to leave him high and dry? It all feels a bit bonkers, really – and I’m sure Jesus was tempted to respond “Do not put the Lord your God to the test”. But he doesn’t. He lets him take the risk – that step of faith that gets Peter out of the boat, and walking, incredibly, on those very waters that just a few minutes before had battered the boat so fiercely…And of course all is well, as long as he keeps his gaze on Jesus. When he’s distracted, when he notices the wind and the waves again, then it all goes horribly wrong again. And one perfectly valid reading of this passage would simply be to remind you to hold on, to focus on the things of faith, to hear for yourself Jesus’s words “Take heart, it is I. Do not be afraid”. That might be what you need today…if the week has been tough, if corona worries have kept you awake at night and economic anxiety perplexed you by day…then do just hold on to that assurance that Jesus IS there in the storms…that he won’t let you drown, but will reach out a hand to help you, and will walk you back to safety in the boat… But it feels impossible this week to consider those in danger in small boats on big seas without reflecting on the families who have taken a different kind of risk – in stepping INTO a boat, an inadequate rubber dinghy perhaps – and launching out on to treacherous waters. We know their motivation at least: they truly believe that what they are leaving behind is so bad that it’s worth risking their lives – and the lives of their children – in a desperate attempt to reach somewhere they believe will be better. That isn’t a decision anyone would take lightly. It’s a tremendous risk and we know that most of those travelling will have paid everything they have, staked their all on that journey. For them this small island, with its rising unemployment, denuded Health Service and increasingly inhospitable approach to immigration, still looks like the promised land. I cannot imagine anything that would currently make me take that kind of risk…so perhaps God is inviting me to notice that, however leaky my boat might seem, it’s still afloat and actually, I’m not really even slightly damp. In other words, as I pray for those braving the Channel day by day, I need to take time to count my blessings, to notice and be thankful that amid all the fear and frustration, life is beautiful and full of love. Perhaps, too, there is an invitation. If, as God’s Church, we are Christ’s Body here on earth, are there things that we should do – ways in which we should move forward to take those desperate travellers by the hand and walk with them to a place of safety? That’s a real question, not a rhetorical one – because I recognise that open borders look uniquely threatening at the moment, that on the whole there is no general will to offer hospitality no matter what it costs. But though it’s a real question, I think I’ve found the answer for myself at least. You see, the trouble is that I think we’re SUPPOSED to be counter-cultural…That if we’re serious about following Jesus, we need to remember where the road took him… It’s going to be costly – true hospitality means sharing til it hurts, and then continuing anyway… More, its going to be risky after all…though not in the way I’d imagined. It turns out, you see, that we are going to be taking exactly the same risk as Peter…in leaving our place of safety to get closer to Jesus. That’s what discipleship looks like. Taking the risk to stay close to our Lord. Scary, as the waves rise around us…but actually the only choice worth making. It may take a while to commit to it…And there may well be times when we fear that we’ll drown, but you know, it’s going to be OK. Truly, he IS the Son of God – and he will walk with us til we too reach safety

Sunday, August 02, 2020

Wrestling with God - a sermon on Genesis 32 for "Welcome to Sunday" and the Cathedral Eucharist, Coventry Cathedral, 2nd August 2020

Poor Jacob. He really does struggle to get a good night’s sleep! Two weeks ago we thought about his amazing dream – the stairway to heaven – and his unexpected realisation that God was there, even amid his wilderness experience. Now he is on his travels once again – heading homewards, with understandable caution, since at journey’s end he will meet the brother whom he last saw the day he cheated hi of his birthright. Knowing that HE is responsible for the broken relationship...knowing that it is up to him to seek forgiveness and is not perhaps surprising that he is suffering from insomnia. He has sent his family over the ford but stayed alone on the near side. The text is quite clear about that. Jacob was left alone and a man wrestled with him til day break You would think, wouldn’t you, that that one half or other of that sentence must be wrong. If Jacob is alone – there is nobody else there. If there is a wrestling partner – then Jacob is not alone. What are we to make of that? We can’t just imagine a virtual wrestling match...fightings and fears within, without… This is more than just the product of a guilty conscience and a healthy anxiety about confronting his own past. This is a real, physical struggle – one that marks Jacob for life. It turns out, indeed, that this is another point in his journey when, against all expectations, God shows up. Of course, Jacob shouldn’t have been surprised...and perhaps he wasn’t. God had said he would be with him right through until he had accomplished all God’s plans for him. This journey towards reconciliation is surely part of God’s plan – but they’re not there yet. Jacob still has work to do… And he starts with honesty. The last time he sought a blessing it was from his father Isaac – a blessing based on a lie, as he claims his brother’s name, and his brother’s place in the family. Now he admits to being himself, Jacob...and asserts his continued need for a blessing. The process of reconciliation is going to cost him – and not simply in the flocks and herds he already plans to send on ahead to deflect the wrath of his estranged brother. He knows the truth of this – the truth of who he really is...and now, beyond this – unlooked for – comes this experience of wrestling all night. Wrestling with God. His experience comes to define the nation of his descendants. Israel means one who wrestles with God – and so this is a description of all the People of God throughout the ages. They, we (the “new Israel”), are those who hang on to God no matter what...who will not let go until we receive a blessing. I don’t know how you’re feeling, but my experience of 2020 has most definitely been one of wrestling, both for myself and for the Church I love. Wrestling with fear – that I’ll die too soon to see my beloved grandchildren grow, that my children’s jobs will disappear in the inevitable recession and that I’ll be powerless to help and support them... With grief – that cherished plans have been obliterated, joyful celebrations cancelled, with no certainty that they’ll be recoverable at all With anxiety that the Church as institution will be so badly damaged by the impact of the pandemic that it won’t actually be around for me to retire from. With doubt, - that the whole faith thing might be a wild delusion, leaving me a child crying in the night with but the language of the cry... Much of that wrestling was not deeply rational – but it certainly led to a good few disturbed nights and weary mornings, when I may not have been limping visibly – but there was a definite lack of spring in my step spiritually and emotionally, if not physically. I wonder what you have been wrestling with through the past weeks and months? I wonder if you’ve found that God was part of the struggle after all? Perhaps, like Jacob, you are haunted by the past. By a failure or a sin, real or imagined, that we cannot forget...Reconciliation means acknowledging that; calling ourselves by our true name, with all the baggage of our history, and then offering that baggage to God for healing and transformation. That’s a good night’s wrestling – but if you get stuck, remember that the Church has a Sacrament to help you... Perhaps you’re wrestling with theology, with your understanding of God or of Scripture. Perhaps the faith you have relied on now feels like a boat that has sprung a not quite equal to your longing to make sense of our current predicament. Perhaps your struggle is with a threat of some kind: a real or imagined enemy, -the virus? Grief? Aging? Or a lost or broken relationship, an Esau in your life. In all of these wrestlings, the point is to hang on until the day dawns and the blessing comes. Do not let go. God IS there, your companion in the darkness...even if God’s presence feels not like a comforting arm round your shoulders but a relentless stranger whose legacy leaves you limping in pain. We know in Coventry, better than most, that to be reconciled – to ourselves, one another, to the reality of life on this beautiful, broken, transient planet – is a journey that involves pain and loss as well as hope and transformation. The wounds of history, collective and personal, are real and deep. Perhaps we cannot heal them ourselves – but we can limp on. We are here as the people who struggle with God. We may be limping, you and I...but we remain committed to the struggle. We will not let go, but wait in hope for the new name that God has for each one of us as we receive the promised blessing.

Sunday, July 26, 2020

Romans 8 for Welcome to Sunday, Trinity 7, 26th July 2020

  I’m not always the best of friends with St Paul. This may not surprise you unduly: there’s plenty in his writings that will never make my heart sing  as a woman believing herself called by God to serve as a priest in God’s Church, or as a passionate advocate for that Church to be fully inclusive, welcoming and affirming all who come through our doors. I love the story of his conversion – that amazing U turn from persecutor to proponent of the Gospel – but I am never comfortable when some Christians suggest that without such a conversion experience, you are somehow a second-order believer, not quite the real deal…and I really struggle with his certainty that he has got things right for God, has fought the good fight and finished the race. I think on the whole I’m just uncomfortable with his sheer, unbridled certainty, as the longer I live the more wary I become of those who know they are right.   But there is always an exception to every rule – and for me and Paul the exception is those words from Romans 8 37 -39 Let me share them with you once again – for they are the words on which I stake my all, the words which enable me to have hope even in times of grief or anxieity… I am confident that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor rules, nor things present, not things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in all creation will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord”.   Mindblowing, wonderful words. Words that remind us that however weighed down we are by our own shortcomings and sin However despairing we may be at the mess and brokenness of both Church and World God’s love is an unstoppable force.   When you look at the evidence around you, it may not look much as if all things work for good for those who love God…We all have our own stories of people of deep, shining faith whose lives have been beset by struggle and tragedy – and I can think of nothing more calculated to drive people away from God’s open arms than an insistence that even as they weep over a dying child “all things work together for good”…. With our current perspective, bounded by time, there are many things that do not appear to work for good at all. This year of grace 2020 would be an excellent example…   But – Paul is inviting us to a different perspective as he suggests that we take the long view. Here and now, there’s likely to be suffering aplenty…for ourselves, for people whom we love, for our poor beleaguered, mistreated planet. Christians cannot expect to lead charmed lives: our faith is not a get out of gaol free card, nor does declaring our faith in Christ guarantee us immunity from any of the changes and chances of this fleeting world, but – and this is important -  here and now is not the whole story. Of course this doesn’t dull the pain of parting with a loved one or alleviate fears that we might not, after all, be able to pay the mortgage or feed the family as jobs disappear and last year’s certainties crumble… These things DO matter – and God understands that…and grieves with us whenever our human love moves us to sadness for those things which are lost or broken in the world. I’m sure of that. Remember Jesus weeping at the grave of Lazarus..   But God stands outside time – and from there fresh patterns are visible. God knows that there is all of eternity in which to restore what has been damaged, to dry every tear, to make all things new – to see God’s perfect will fulfilled for each and every creature there has ever been. And what is God’s will? That each and every creature there has ever been should know themselves beloved of God…should experience for themselves the wonder that they are fully known, with nothing hidden, and yet, amazingly, they are fully loved.   God’s love will, in the end, find each of us – I’m convinced of that. Though for the moment we may find ourselves shivering in the darkness of our own doubts and fears, unable to believe that we will ever be reconciled to one another or to God, the love which impelled God, in Christ, to leave heaven for our sake , will ultimately ensure that we are gathered safely into those arms of love.   To glimpse the truth of this here and now is to save ourselves from all kinds of misery and terror along the way…but I do not worry about the eternal destiny of those who are driven away from God by the clumsiness of God’s Church or the complexities of their own life circumstances…because, like Paul I am convinced that ultimately nothing can separate us from God’s love. Not all the strength of human powers, not our own failures and disasters, not the things of time nor those of eternity… Nothing   God will never force us – but waits courteously for the moment when we recognise all that we are being offered and open ourselves to receive that love which has held us from the moment of conception, that love which will never, ever let us go.

Romans 8 for Welcome to Sunday, Coventry Cathedral in Diaspora 26th July 2020

  I’m not always the best of friends with St Paul. This may not surprise you unduly: there’s plenty in his writings that will never make my heart sing  as a woman believing herself called by God to serve as a priest in God’s Church, or as a passionate advocate for that Church to be fully inclusive, welcoming and affirming all who come through our doors. I love the story of his conversion – that amazing U turn from persecutor to proponent of the Gospel – but I am never comfortable when some Christians suggest that without such a conversion experience, you are somehow a second-order believer, not quite the real deal…and I really struggle with his certainty that he has got things right for God, has fought the good fight and finished the race. I think on the whole I’m just uncomfortable with his sheer, unbridled certainty, as the longer I live the more wary I become of those who know they are right.   But there is always an exception to every rule – and for me and Paul the exception is those words from Romans 8 37 -39 Let me share them with you once again – for they are the words on which I stake my all, the words which enable me to have hope even in times of grief or anxieity… I am confident that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor rules, nor things present, not things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in all creation will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord”.   Mindblowing, wonderful words. Words that remind us that however weighed down we are by our own shortcomings and sin However despairing we may be at the mess and brokenness of both Church and World God’s love is an unstoppable force.   When you look at the evidence around you, it may not look much as if all things work for good for those who love God…We all have our own stories of people of deep, shining faith whose lives have been beset by struggle and tragedy – and I can think of nothing more calculated to drive people away from God’s open arms than an insistence that even as they weep over a dying child “all things work together for good”…. With our current perspective, bounded by time, there are many things that do not appear to work for good at all. This year of grace 2020 would be an excellent example…   But – Paul is inviting us to a different perspective as he suggests that we take the long view. Here and now, there’s likely to be suffering aplenty…for ourselves, for people whom we love, for our poor beleaguered, mistreated planet. Christians cannot expect to lead charmed lives: our faith is not a get out of gaol free card, nor does declaring our faith in Christ guarantee us immunity from any of the changes and chances of this fleeting world, but – and this is important -  here and now is not the whole story. Of course this doesn’t dull the pain of parting with a loved one or alleviate fears that we might not, after all, be able to pay the mortgage or feed the family as jobs disappear and last year’s certainties crumble… These things DO matter – and God understands that…and grieves with us whenever our human love moves us to sadness for those things which are lost or broken in the world. I’m sure of that. Remember Jesus weeping at the grave of Lazarus..   But God stands outside time – and from there fresh patterns are visible. God knows that there is all of eternity in which to restore what has been damaged, to dry every tear, to make all things new – to see God’s perfect will fulfilled for each and every creature there has ever been. And what is God’s will? That each and every creature there has ever been should know themselves beloved of God…should experience for themselves the wonder that they are fully known, with nothing hidden, and yet, amazingly, they are fully loved.   God’s love will, in the end, find each of us – I’m convinced of that. Though for the moment we may find ourselves shivering in the darkness of our own doubts and fears, unable to believe that we will ever be reconciled to one another or to God, the love which impelled God, in Christ, to leave heaven for our sake , will ultimately ensure that we are gathered safely into those arms of love.   To glimpse the truth of this here and now is to save ourselves from all kinds of misery and terror along the way…but I do not worry about the eternal destiny of those who are driven away from God by the clumsiness of God’s Church or the complexities of their own life circumstances…because, like Paul I am convinced that ultimately nothing can separate us from God’s love. Not all the strength of human powers, not our own failures and disasters, not the things of time nor those of eternity… Nothing   God will never force us – but waits courteously for the moment when we recognise all that we are being offered and open ourselves to receive that love which has held us from the moment of conception, that love which will never, ever let us go.

Sunday, July 19, 2020

Trinity 6, Proper 11A 19th July 2020 for Coventry Cathedral

"God is here as we his people meet to offer praise and prayer…" I’m rather fond of that hymn (not just because it’s set to Blaenwern) and though we can’t sing in our worship at present, it has been going round in my head as I prepared my thoughts for today, when I will share them both at the online Welcome to Sunday and face to face at the Cathedral Eucharist. Two very different contexts to shape and form our thoughts about place, presence, engagement. The story of Jacob speaks loud and clear into our current situation. He’s really in trouble. He has fled from the family home to escape the righteous wrath of his brother, whom he has cheated of his birthright. Ironic, when you come to think of, that his theft of the privileges of the elder son has actually forced him into exile from the family altogether. We don't have to look far, either, for stories of family separation, of loss and grief...of sons and brothers stranded far from home in an alien landscape where nothing seems quite as was hoped or imagined. Jacob, our fugitive, finds himself overtaken by night in the wilderness. Things must be pretty bleak if picking a rock as pillow is your best hope of an easy night. Small wonder his sleep is filled with dreams…So many have reported vivid, extraordinary, troubling dreams during the pandemic…perhaps inevitable given the degree of collective anxiety abroad…but Jacob’s dream is of a different order. A ladder reaching up to heaven – the angels from our West Screen and beyond making their way ceaselessly from heaven to earth and from earth to heaven…a picture of an unbroken connection which exists whether we are attentive or not. And God. God standing there beside him, in that place of desolation and fear, to confirm the promise made first to his grandfather Abraham…a promise of homecoming and of future blessing. Amazing, baffling, wonderful words that spoke the comfort Jacob surely needed most “Know that I am with you and will keep you wherever you go and will bring you back to this land. And I will not leave you til I have done what I have promised…” Suddenly a barren place of exile and despair is transformed. Just like that. "Surely the Lord is in this place and I did not know it." Perhaps, like me, you’ve been on a similar journey of discovery in recent months. In the Cathedral there are so many cues, so many concrete reminders of God’s presence, the endless love affair with humanity, the divine initiative to reconcile all things and make them new…When we closed the doors on 23rd March there was such a strong sense of exile…I left the cathedral to take a funeral and as I said the words of committal that day, part of me was also laying to rest our old ways of being, our former practices of community and worship. Whatever lay ahead, it was clear that one chapter had ended. Then, of course, we had to find new ways of being Church…of gathering for worship together though apart…of singing the Lord’s song in a strange land. And at times, if I’m honest, it felt as if that ceaseless stream of heavenly beings travelling between here and there, between fearful broken humanity and the presence of the most high, had in fact taken the opportunity of lockdown to have a break. Were we still connected with God, as we anxiously explored ways of connecting with each other? What was God up to, in this barren, stony landscape that we’d never expected to arrive in? We started livestreaming worship from our homes and a new way of being emerged, as the cathedral family was enhanced by people we’d not met before, who began to engage with this new ministry, to ask for prayers, to share something of what was happening for them as we all began to find ways axross our stony ground. But it was bleak for all that, not a place to linger for the night if we could help it. It seemed, though, that we had no choice but to be there in the moment, regardless. Easter approached and we agonised about how we might celebrate it “properly” away from our beloved buildings. My dining table was all very well but…it wasn’t really church, it wasn’t anyone’s spiritual home. But in Holy Week, things changed for me. And like Jacob, it was as things were lost or laid bear that I discovered something really important. At the end of an impromptu Maundy Thursday Eucharist, shared online with a couple of friends, we read the Gospel of the Watch and then I stripped the altar, extinguished all my candles, took down each icon, removed everything that spoke of "church" and left it heaped to one side. I listened to Psalm 22 to the Wesley chant, as I do every year and as I unmade church that evening in the gathering dusk, that very ordinary dining room in my suburban semi became non-negotiably holy ground, as much church as anywhere I've been. I left the room in darkness at the end of the Watch on tiptoe - not wanting to disturb the deep layers of God's presence that I was suddenly and wonderfully aware of. And all through Good Friday and Holy Saturday I passed the dining room door reverently, removing my shoes, knowing that this was holy ground. Surely, the Lord WAS in this place – and I knew it not. Extraordinary. The bottom of that heavenly ladder propped up in my dining room. God’s angels heading up and down from my house, that connection as lively and unbroken as ever And, of course, what I found in my home is true of yours too. That traffic from earth to heaven, from sheltered flats and noisy family kitchens, from care homes and hospital wards where weary staff draw breath and pray to escape a second wave of the pandemic. And from the shanty towns where the virus is having its way. A constant stream of messages, pleas and praises rising to God, an unbroken flow of love coming down A reminder that there is nowhere – NOWHERE – where God does not stand beside us and assure us “I am with you and I will keep you. I will not leave you” For now, some of us are back in this precious, demanding, beloved building…and some of us need to remain at home. "Surely the Lord is in this place." And this one. And this. That traffic from heaven to earth is as constant as ever – its tides diminished neither by lockdown nor by the ebbing faith of humanity. Wherever you go – you are walking on holy ground. Set up a pillar if you like, to remind you – but expect to meet God as you go forward too, whatever our future landscape may suggest...God's love poured out unstintingly, transforming the ground of our desolation to a fertile bed of hope that heaven is at hand, that surely the Lord IS in this place that this, this very spot, be it kitchen or cathedral, is none other than the house of God and the gate of heaven. Wake from your dreams and see for yourself.

Sunday, July 12, 2020

Welcome to Sunday 12th July 2020

Reading the gospels,  there are so many times when I wish I’d been there. To have really got to know Jesus the man, to discover what made8 him laugh, or cry, whether he preferred lakeside or mountain-top, fish or vegetables, cats or dogs… But there are other times when my envy of the disciples is balanced by sympathy with their predicament ….They get it wrong so often and hearing that they’ve failed again, I’m kind of relieved that I don’t have to face the disappointment in Jesus’s voice, as he realises that i’ve missed the point once more. Because, his teachings aren’t always that clear are they!

Let’s think about that story of the Sower, we call it. Jesus seems to think it’s obvious….and that’s where I’m suddenly very very glad that I’m not part of the crowd. I'd feel so stupid
Let anyone with ears listen.
Are you listening, Kathryn?
What did I just say???
Cue shuffling feet...embarrassed looks...because honestly, I’m not sure.
That’s the trouble with parables.
When introducing Scripture to children, it’s tempting to say that Jesus taught in parables to make it easier for people to understand the huge and abstract concepts of the kingdom of God. Parables provide hooks on which we can hang concepts that are beyond our everyday the words of the old definition...A parable, is an earthly story with a heavenly meaning.
But the trouble is that parables don’t always have an exact one to one equivalent meaning….
If they are a code, well, sometimes the key isn't immediately obvious. Know what I mean?
Never mind.
Let's go back to the story.
The image of the prodigal sower, just chucking the precious seed to the four winds regardless is really attractive. It might seem a tad irresponsible but it’s his seed, and clearly he has full confidence in the harvest…
It's a wonderful illustration of God's reckless grace....
perhaps That could be something to hang onto, but it's not quite enough...It sort of prompts a “So what?” question
I guess in the original story we're intended to think of the sower as Jesus, scattering words of hope, love and transformation whether people are ready to hear them or not. He has just illustrated it, really, preaching to a crowd so huge that he has to take refuge in a boat to avoid being crushed as they surge forward to hear more...and we have no idea what they did with the words of life that were offered to them that day. Some people may have been changed in an instant...Some may have wandered off, bored, focussed on a beetle creeping over a rock...Some may have reflected on his words for many years before finally coming to a decision, for or against the gospel.
We don't know...and at that moment, I’m guessing, neither did he.

If you judge labour by results, it does sound as if our famous sower was a bit rubbish though. Three-quarters of the seed – 75% - is set fair to amount to nothing.
He has to sow – if he doesn’t, how will people be fed – but he’s not getting a great is this a good use of resources?
That’s quite a question for us to ponder in a season when the Church is wondering how best to use (“deploy” is the popular verb) HER resources – of money, yes, but also of people.
It’s so tempting to invest where there are likely to be measurable, successful outcomes. It’s just common sense, really and
I don't think that either farming or management gurus would think the sower was doing too well...for the ratio of return to investment seems pretty useless in some quarters, though there are signs of promise in that “30, 60, 100 fold”.
So – what are we to make of that.
Would a wise sower focus only on the most promising soil?
Perhaps he would…but I seem to remember St Paul saying something about the relative wisdom of God and humanity...

It might be tempting to smile and congratulate ourselves on being GOOD soil...We are here because we've heard God speak, even if we're not always certain exactly what He said....We're trying to live with at least one foot in the Kingdom. Maybe, on a good day, we think we're even bearing fruit for God.
Hooray for us!
But I don’t think that’s the point, do you?

Of course, this is our story – the gospel is ALWAYS our story - ..but it's not one in which we can just wait passively, content to be the soil
We're living in the age of the Spirit, and Jesus calls us to be his witnesses throughout the whole earth.
And that means, that we- you and me- are now cast in the role of the sower, charged with sharing the word of the kingdom.

So...what are we to do? As individuals and as a Church?

Well – SOW of course.

It's our turn...our turn to sow the seed, to squander the gifts of the kingdom, to share God's good news not just with a receptive audience but with those who will obviously ignore it, or reject it or even be openly hostile to it.
It may not be that telling them the good news in as many words is always the best approach – nobody likes being beaten over the head with even the most beautiful of truths...but we do have to make absolutely sure that they are aware of it, one way or another.

So – my invitation to you this week is to think about what difference it would make to your way of being if you were deliberately trying to show everyone you encountered something of that wild, profligate love that God lavishes upon might you change your behaviour if you were the only version of the gospel that your neighbour would ever encounter?

Because the truth is – you might be.

We're not told to be successful...
We can't actually control the soil (maybe that's up to God)...
All we have to do is to Keep. On. Sowing.

The danger is that we'll get discouraged - will say to ourselves, well, it's just not worth it..... the last time the birds descended...the place was overrun with brambles...nothing came of our efforts. Forget it...
If that's the case, then we need to listen to another voice...the one that says
“Yes, but this time might be different. God never gives up on how can we give up on one another?”

If discipleship is a process, then sharing faith isn't always going to be a one-off either.
So just keep going.
Look back along the route that brought you to this point in your faith. For most of us, there will have been many twists and turns..
Though you may have encountered God in an amazing Damascus road experience, you may equally have found yourself moving towards Him, almost without noticing, as the words of friends, the life of a faith community, the silent gospel of love at work began to have an impact.
And what was true for you will be true for others as well.
Seeds can take a long time germinating...and it's not up to us to judge the quality of the soil.
We're just called to keep on sowing, no matter what, because in the end it is God himself who brings home the harvest.

Sunday, June 21, 2020

Trinity 2 at Coventry Cathedral 21st June 2020

Once upon a time there was a wealthy man who enjoyed a special relationship with God – so special that they agreed that God had chosen HIM to be a blessing to the whole world. Like many men of his day, -the cultural context is really important – this man owned a whole retinue of slaves, who did his bidding morning, noon and night.
This man also had a wife – but no children.
This perplexed and grieved the couple. In conversation with God, the words “Father of a great nation” had definitely come up…but you can’t be a father without a child to call your own. What was this man – whom of course you recognise as Abraham – to do?
From our perspective, the answer is frankly shocking. His barren wife, Sarah, commanded one of her slave girls to take her place in Abraham’s bed, and to bear him a child. She deliberately set out to exploit another human being – treated a person like a thing, existing only to meet her own need…Those who know Margaret Attwood''s Handmaid's Tale will have seen a chilling development of this theme, and here too, unsurprisingly, trouble followed.
Of course, at first it seemed like an answer to prayer when Hagar bore a son – hence his name. Ishmael – meaning “God listens” – is born…At last a son and heir…a dream come true. And they all lived happily ever after.
Except – in this story many of the worst aspects of humanity come to the fore. Against all the odds, another son is born to Abraham, a child for Sarah, who was said to be barren. And, just like that, Ishmael’s value plummets. He is no longer the treasured first born but a threat to Sarah’s longed-for child. He is last year’s toy – to be discarded now he is no longer needed. Abraham – the father of a great nation – the revered icon of faith and obedience – opts for a quiet life and allows Sarah to manipulate the future, yielding to her demand that he
Cast out this slave woman with her son”.
Notice how Sarah has begun to dehumanise her. She no longer has a name. A line has been drawn and mother and child are placed firmly on the far side of it. They are othered…no longer Hagar and Ishmael, part of the family, but “this slave woman and her son”…You can almost hear the venom in Sarah’s voice
And Abraham…He’s a patriarch, revered throughout history...of COURSE he’s going to stand up for justice for his child…to recognise that Hagar and Ishmael are already disadvantaged, since Isaac is the son of his marriage. This is flesh of his flesh, bone of his bone, right? Right?
Well, it’s true that he IS perturbed, distinctly uncomfortable indeed. Not only is he dealing with a request to banish Ishmael and his mother, he is also coming face to face with an aspect of his beloved wife’s character that he surely can’t be proud of. Perhaps, like me, he goes a long way to avoid conflict...He knows Sarah’s attitude is unfair – but he hopes that someone else will intervene – and indeed, he is reassured by God that all will turn out OK. On that basis he is somehow content to send mother and son away with only a loaf of bread and a skin of water, banishing the source of his discomfort rather than deal with the problem. He has bought in to the theory that some lives matter more than others…that it’s fine to prioritise the needs of your own nearest and dearest and exclude others, hoping that someone else will sort out their situation.
Actually, both he and Sarah have fallen fair and square into that trap which our Cathedral challenges in its very bones…They have divided the world into us and them, those who really matter…those on the inside…and those we push outside as somehow less deserving.
Remember the power of the missing word?…We say Father forgive – not Father forgive THEM – and that’s not just about shared culpability for the issues of the is a clear reminder of our shared humanity – that there is NOBODY on the other side of the line because in reconciling the WORLD to himself, Christ has erased that line forever...
But we forget too easily, and when we do, we send Ishmael and Hagar out into the wilderness once again
We do so, too, when we deny the reality of racism, however unconscious, in our selves and in our society…We do so when we try to alleviate our discomfort and smooth over the passionate anger that is fuelling the “Black lives matter” debate by insisting “All lives matter”…Of course they do (no “us” and “them”) – but if you remember the parable of the lost sheep, the good shepherd could not rest til all was well for each and every one of his flock...and knew that at that precise moment he needed to pay particular attention to the one who was needed help..
We do so when we insist “I’m not racist” but refuse to recognise the layers of injustice that permeates our society, unnoticed and unchallenged. If you doubt their reality, there are many many statistics to make the point. This IS our problem, albeit in different ways from the experience in the States…
More widely, we do so when we suggest that there is no need to celebrate Pride month, because that battle is won – or even, perhaps, that “people like that” should not be free to celebrate their identity...When it takes a pandemic to make us aware of all those people who were not able to worship with us simply because they can’t get through our doors…
We are still adept at pushing those who make us uncomfortable out into the wilderness.
But, what happens to Hagar and Ishmael there?
They encounter God, who meets their needs and stays with Ishmael to see him grow up and find his place in the world...God who loves each precious child far too much to abandon even one...who will ensure that all that is covered up in our hearts and our lives and our society will be made known...who so cares for all his creation that he notices when a sparrow falls to the ground.
Our gospel reminds us that when we ally ourselves with God’s revolution, when we stand with the broken-hearted, speak up for the excluded, support the weak, it won’t make us popular. Here in the Church we have a tendency to try to be direct our efforts into upsetting nobody...It’s something I really struggle with myself...but it’s not the gospel invitation. Not peace, but a sword, because the struggle is REAL. We need to be ready to fight – to challenge injustice wherever we may see it, even within the hearts and minds of those we love...and to offer hope that God is already making all things new. Will you join me? Can we hold one another to account, so that we may come to live out the Magnificat wherever we turn, placing the first last, the last first and losing our own lives, with all their protective self-interest, to gain the life of the Kingdom?
The call is clear. Let’s pray for the courage to answer it.

Monday, May 18, 2020

A Journal from the Plague Year: when the foundations are shaken...some thoughts for Mental Health Awareness Week

Health warning: These are very limited and partial observations drawn from my own experience. Please, please, please if you are struggling do not be afraid to ask for help. 
You can reach Samaritans on 116 123 or text SHOUT on 85258

An optimist by nature, with a plethora of blessings to count every day, I've always taken good mental health for granted. After all, I reasoned, if I could survive the loss of two parents in six months while taking A levels, and later deal with the grief of several miscarriages, it stood to reason that my psyche must be pretty robust.
Even when I realised, as I grew older, that "coping" was not always the wisest strategy, that there were times when the sensible thing to do was simply to shout for help, I rejoiced that occasional grey days when tears were not far away were always remedied by a good night's sleep. 
"God's mercies never come to an end, they are new every morning." seemed to ring true for me pretty much all of the time - even if I rarely managed to attend to quite how fortunate I was that this was my lived experience. I don't mean that I was always blissfully happy - but I was, and am, content. My job and my calling bring me joy, and I have an amazing family whom I love beyond measure, and a wonderful collection of friends with whom to laugh, cry and wonder. Honestly, I ought to be content, and at peace with my world!

Only - we are now seven weeks (or is it eight? maybe nine? time seems to have lost its meaning) into lock-down, and I, an extrovert, albeit a shy one, have not touched another human being since mid March. The hugs that I gave my family on our last outings together have had to last me rather longer than I'm accustomed to. Plans for spending Easter together, for launching my sabbatical with fish and chips and prosecco have, like that much anticipated sabbatical, long since gone the way of all flesh, and what had looked in January like a year to celebrate has been changed into a season to endure.

And the worst thing is - it's open-ended.

We have no idea when it will end so I can't comfort myself with "only four more weeks and we can be together", or even the hollow confidence of "It'll all be over by Christmas".
We just don't know.
Even if, in some madcap universe, the lock-down were lifted completely tomorrow, we all know enough of the ways of the virus to recognise that this would not mean that the world was safe again so we would be torn between longing to see those we love and fear that in doing so we might be risking their health and our own. Day by day, we feel that we are under threat, confronting the reality of our own mortality in ways that we have not had to in my lifetime, and that is deeply unsettling.

And all of this has made me realise how very conditional mental health is, how contingent on the prevailing environment. 
When my external points of reference are in the right place, it's easy to manage day by day, to ride the waves of even the more challenging situations at work, specially if there is something to look forward to.
Right now, though, there really isn't.
We dare not make plans - because that simply opens the way for more disappointment and frustration.
Even the prospect of returning to the Cathedral for worship is horribly clouded by the realisation that we probably won't be able to sing...
My children are 80 miles away in different directions so I can't hope to form a "bubble" with one of their households.
All I can do is sit it out - and sometimes that's fine, and I feel calm and able to look for signs of God's presence, signs of hope in the moment.
But not always.
Not by any means!

It all came to a head for me ten days ago, as we negotiated the complex jollity of the VE Day commemoration, and I began to realise that celebration felt like a preposterous concept. The days were running into one another, each day vanishing at an alarming speed but each week a stretch of formless grey that seemed set to last forever. I was not uniformly miserable, indeed I was finding tremendous joy in small things - in time in the garden, and birdsong in the city, in the sheer delight my dogs take in my presence at home every day, in music and poetry, in the sight of little hearts and thumbs floating gently up the screen as I lead live-streamed worship - each one a sign that despite lock-down I remain connected with a web of wonderful people joining me in praise and prayer...Yes, the moments were fine - it was the overall landscape that seemed so bleak.
When I caught myself quoting Hamlet
 "How weary, flat, stale and unprofitable seem to me all the uses of this world" it was like a bucket of cold water poured over my head.
"I think that's what depression feels like" I thought.
"Might that be where I'm heading? Sliding downhill into the slough of despond? Gripped by accedie?" (a state of spiritual listlessness whose dangers have been recognised for centuries)

I named to myself what was going on, and for extra accountability, (and because I'm an extrovert, so why waste a good crisis?!) I named it on twitter. 
And somehow, even the act of naming, of saying "I'm not sure I'm coping very well" made all the difference.
In taking that tiniest smidgeon of control, I suddenly realised that I still had agency...that though I couldn't do everything I longed to, there were nonetheless decisions that were mine to make that would actually make many things easier, that while this was not the way I had expected to spend my time this year, nonetheless the fact that I am here to spend it at all remains a gift which I am free to enjoy.

So, I'm trying to work round that sense of contingency on external elements...but also to cut myself some slack when those elements aren't in place. 
Heavens to Betsy, this is a global pandemic! Something that hasn't hit humanity for over a century...It's a collective trauma in which nobody is going to feel utterly comfortable and secure. Emotional resources will be spread a bit thin, and perhaps the best we can hope for in human terms is that we can operate like those weather houses where one figure emerges on sunny days and another on dull ones, so that within our networks there's always someone in a better place to offer smiles and suggest recipes for banana bread when we're having a grey day.

Mental health is as much part of our overall makeup as the state of our bodies, and our experiences of frailty here are as valid and blame free as a broken leg, a tendency to migraine or any other physical challenge we might need to negotiate on our way through life. While past generation were dangerously inclined to see any trace of vulnerability in our psyches as a sign of moral weakness, we know better now.
The relationship between body mind and spirit is unutterably complex but the resounding message of this season for me is that we need to learn to be kinder - to others, of course, but also to ourselves.

That feels like a reasonable goal for this Mental Health Awareness Week. 
What do you think?
I know it would make God smile too.