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Thank to you to all our contributors to Thought for the Day who have provided some fascinating thoughts and thank you to all of you for reading them and corresponding with us. We hope they have helped in these dfficult days, we are now bringing the series to an end but who knows, with inspiration rekindled we may be back!
Each Day this week we will be putting up a Thought for the Day from one of the ministry team:
Wednesday 23rd December
By William Holman Hunt - http://www.bg-blog.ru/comments.php?id=555 [dead link], Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=3400556
Hanging in Keble College chapel Oxford is Holman Hunt’s well known painting ‘I am the Light of the World’. It portrays the adult Christ in darkness, holding a lantern as He knocks on a door. This painting is linked with the Book of Revelation chapter 3 verse 20: ‘Behold, I stand at the door and knock; if anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in to him and will dine with him, and he with me’.
As Henri Nouwen observed, God in his great goodness and mercy came to dwell among us so that we are no longer alone on our journey. ‘This is the great mystery of Christmas that continues to give us comfort and consolation. The God of love who gave us life sent his only Son to be with us at all times and in all places so that we never have to feel lost in our struggles but always can trust that he walks with us.’
But when Christ the Light knocks on our door, we have to open it to let him into our lives. He does not barge his way in, it is up to us to invite him in if we are to experience all he offers.
In this final Thought I am struck again by the relevance of the wisdom of Nouwen to our situation today. ‘I must resist the temptation to let the forces of darkness pull me into despair and make me one more of their many victims. I have to keep my eyes fixed on Jesus and on those who followed him.’ Amen to that.
Tuesday 22nd December
My first Thought for the Day was written for Tuesday March 31st. Now, after what my computer tells me are 10,412 words, this is the last for the time as we have a break for a while. I’m writing this one just after hearing the news of Tier 4. It’s really hard not to just feel weary and defeated by all that is going on.
Christmas reminds me that Mum and Dad got married on Christmas Eve 1939. Dad went off almost immediately for the RAF. They suffered a long period of anguish, uncertainty, and separation before being able to set up home properly at the end of the war. They had faith in each other and in a future beyond the horrible circumstances they found themselves caught up in. Right up to their 60th wedding anniversary Dad gave Mum a card, even if he had eventually to ask someone else to choose and buy it for him, and Mum was not able to understand very well or respond to it.
Stuck for a Thought for the Day which isn’t trite amidst the bereavements and dire circumstances facing so many in our communities, I think of Mum and Dad’s enduring faith in each other and in the future. I look at Christmas cards in my sitting room and reflect on how lucky I have been to encounter this diverse range of people who have sent greetings for now and hopes for that future.
We may not be able to understand how we got into this state this year or how we should respond, but in the relationships we have, the cards are signs of enduring friendship to hold onto. The new life we celebrate at Christmas, as we do at Easter is all of a piece. It inspires us with the Good News that transformation is possible. It encourages us to ’Keep On Keeping On’, a phrase of Alan Bennett’s, which I see I used in that first Thought for the Day back on March 31st, 10, 412 words ago!
Monday 21 December
We always send out Christmas cards from The Shipwrecked Mariners Society although the cards are produced not by the sea but by Noel Tatt up the road.
We got involved about fifteen years ago because when we were doing some family history on Clare’s great greatgrandfather, Charles Giles, we discovered that he was involved in the society in the 1860s and as these things happen that week a leaflet fell out of the Church Times giving details of their cards.
Charles Giles got involved because he had been shipwrecked while he was a paymaster in the Royal Navy. It wasn’t exactly Robinson Crusoe but the ship ran aground on a deserted island and the crew had to wait for another ship to rescue them. So he and his brother got involved.
The society was founded in 1828 following the loss of 26 men from Clovelly when the fishing fleet was caught in a storm off North Devon. Today they continue to help Merchant Seafarers and the fishing community, as well as their dependents, if they find themselves in need, making grants of nearly £1.5 million each year. Very few are shipwrecked but the sea is still a cruel place to be, for many mariners.
At Christmas I like to see all the different charity cards that come through the letterbox- we get them from all sorts of good causes for example supporting families who have lost a premature baby, Jockeys who have fallen on hard times and organisations in the Middle East like Amos Trust or Embrace. There are lots more I could mention, too, just as deserving.
Christmas Cards are not what they were as we live in the days of social media, e-cards and concern about whether they are environmentally friendly. I still like to send them to keep in touch but also to keep the flag flying for seafarers who have fallen on hard times and those who help them in the 21stcentury, as all of us depend on our Merchant Navy and fishing fleet, which is sometimes forgotten even though we live on an island!
Friday 18 December
A fellow clergy person posted this video on facebok the other day. It is a funny look at what it can feel like at this season – but it could honestly be about any of us at this time of year I think. Most of us feel pressured at this time of year whether it is about presents, cards, family, work, money, shopping….. and that is before you add Covid into the mix. The Christmas season can feel like one long exhausting race where there is no way we will ever be able to jump all the hurdles placed in our way.
I don’t think the answer for any of us is more training, or more preparation. I think the answer is we need to be running a completely different race, at a pace that is suitable for us where we are right now. Christmas is about the gift of love from God, about peace on earth, and about God coming into the mess and unpredictability that is life. When the world puts hurdles and expectations in our way we have choices – we don’t have to run and try and clear these expectations if we don’t want to. We can slow down and climb over the hurdles or we can even just ignore the hurdle and walk round it or go a completely different way!
Everyone needs a card? - Why?
You have to cook the perfect meal? - Who defines perfect?
The first Christmas was about a family, in a messy situation, following God and doing their best. If it was good enough for them I think it is good enough for me this year too! So not everything will be perfect, either at church, or at home – but there will be space to reflect, time to show love, and a chance to bring some peace.
Here is to a peaceful Christmas time for us all..
Thursday 17th December
Picture Credit: Pixabay
A fingertip exegesis of the Thursday Thoughts for the Day might reveal a certain chronological thread. Partly that is because I am a history nut, and partly that Wikipedia’s entries for dates provide an easy starting point for a theme. Today is is no different, although there are so many possibilities that I have found it hard to make a choice. It was on this day in 497 BCE that the Romans first celebrated Saturnalia. Once Christianity became officially recognised in the 4th century,
Saturnalia may have been replaced by the feast of Christmas, which may be one reason why Christmas is celebrated in December. (Another reason for holding Christmas in December relate to the death of Jesus’ death and resurrection at Passover, but there is not space to expand it here).
There are many examples of human thought and creativity linked with today. It is the birthday of Sir Humphrey Davy, and the anniversaries of the death of Lord Kelvin and Joseph Henry; all three were tremendous scientists and the SI units for temperature and electrical inductance are named after the later two. In medicine, it is the anniversaries of the deaths of Dr Henry Heimlich, him of the famous manoeuvre, as well as Elizabeth Garrett Anderson, who was the first women in
Britain to qualify as a physician and surgeon. She also co-founded the first hospital staffed by women and was the first female mayor in Britain. In the creative arts, it is the anniversary of the deaths of Dorothy L Sayers, who was a good supporter of the early Canterbury Festivals, and of the musician Peter Warlock. In mathematics, it is the anniversary of the death of Dame Mary Cartwright, the first woman at Oxford to get a first in mathematics and who for 20 years was the Mistress of Girton College, Cambridge. In engineering, today is the anniversary of the first heavier than air flight by the Wright brothers. In theology, it is the birthday of His Holiness the Pope – happy birthday, Pope Francis! And, my favourite one of all, on this day The Simpsons was first broadcast in 1989.
Of course, not all human creativity gets its reward. Today is also the anniversary of the first performance of Schubert’s Unfinished Symphony. That was in 1865, some 37 years after Schubert had died – he never heard it performed. Likewise, the six Brandenburg Concertos by JS Bach, some of the finest music ever written IMHO, was sent by Bach to the Margrave of Brandenburg, who promptly ignored them and they were left in a library undiscovered until 1849, more than a century later. Again, Bach never heard them performed.
Yet in these dark days of December, it is good to be reminded of the many manifestations of God-given skills and to thank God for all that He gives us – today, and every day.
Happy Birthday The Simpsons! Photo Credit: Fox Studios
Wednesday 16th December
I am cheating this week and submitting a psalm, one of my favourites, Psalm 139 verses 1-18. A version rewritten by Margaret Harvey 2001*
O Lord you have examined me , you know me through and through
From far away you grasp my thoughts and everything I do.
Working or resting, you are there, you know the paths I tread;
You know what I intend to say before a word is said.
On every side you keep close guard, protect me with your hand
Such knowledge is so wonderful, too vast to understand
If I climb up to highest heaven or treat the realms of death,
I’ll find you there; your presence is as close as is my breath.
If I fly out beyond the east or live in farthest west
You’d still be there to guide my way, your hand would hold me fast.
If deepest darkness covers me and day turns into night,
The darkness is not dark to you; the night is filled with light.
You formed me in my mother’s womb, you know me through and through.
And all that is in store for me no secret is for you.
O God, how precious are your thoughts, how many and how deep,
Beyond my counting. I’m still yours when I awake from sleep.
*(taken from “Quiet Spaces” the BRF prayer and spiritual journal)
Tuesday 15th December
Given a book token, I am deciding on a Christmas read. Perhaps some high profile person’s
autobiography or diary? I enjoy dipping into these and indulging my curiosity about other people’s lives. There can be very personal thoughts in autobiographies and diaries. Reading them could be an intrusion except that if you really didn’t want anyone to read them you wouldn’t write your autobiography or you’d order your diaries to be destroyed after your death, like Philip Larkin.
In the Gospel record of Jesus’s ministry we can read speech and actions attributed to him but we
don’t have his thoughts. We have some motives and reactions of the disciples, but to get thoughts and meditations from the early church we need to go to the epistles. Letters are the nearest thing we have to understanding what is going on in the minds of early Christians.
In the epistles there are three letters collected under the name of John. Their authorship is
uncertain. J. B. Philips in The New Testament in Modern English comments that they were possibly written in old age by John, one of the original Twelve, or John the Elder, a close companion of his. They are warning against the heresy of denying Christ’s humanity, but in doing this they go beyond just intellectual argument. You can hear the great concern which the writer has for the local churches, he addresses them as ‘Dear Children’, and how he continually emphasises life in the light and joy that faith and fellowship can bring.
So I need something just as uplifting for my Christmas read. Perhaps Barak Obama’s The Promised Land might be the thing (and still have some left over for a Tudor who dun it).
What would you choose?
Monday 13th December
A couple of weeks ago, I wrote about our Christmas CD collection which we’ve continued to play
since and even added another one by Jamie Cullum. We’ve started to use our Christmas china, glasses and placemats which are stored away until December each year. We don’t have a lot but most of it dates from when we lived in Wingham.
One December in my time as Vicar there I had a number of parishoners in QEQM who I was visiting in the hospital. One lady was in for a while but otherwise they were only there for short spells although they all were keen to have a visit during December from their Vicar.
It was about the time that Debenhams at Westwood Cross opened and Clare and I had seen their Christmas range which we liked. Each time I drove back from Margate I popped in and bought another item and as the month went by the price fell until everything was 75% off. When Clare came home from school she would get an update on my parishoners and on our china collection.
This year I haven’t visited anyone in hospital since March and recently it was announced that
Debenhams were in administration and likely to close down. I suspect people will miss Debenhams (I always buy my socks there) and for the staff it will terrible for them to lose their jobs but I guess shops come and go, today’s retail experience is tomorrow’s nostalgia.
As I stare at the Christmas plate in front of me, I look beyond the Debenhams logo and remember the people I visited all those years ago, the pastoral contacts made and the human relationships. I hope one day soon, clergy and lay people will be able to visit hospitals and care homes again. God made us to be social people and the pandemic has inhibited our sociability, our ability to reach out.
The model of the trinity offers us the social nature of God and the relationship between Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Being in the image of God is to be in relationship with those around us.
Zoom, e-mails and masks have helped maintain contact but as we look ahead, I look forward to
being there pastorally and socially for others especially those in hospital or in our care homes, as I believe God called me, and all of us, to be.
Saturday 12th December
The city seems to be getting busier, more cars on the road, more people in the marketplace and in the shops, moving about laden with bags and many looking grumpy. I remember as a child going shopping with my mum. In the pram were the latest baby and the toddler and hanging on the sides my sister and another brother whilst I walked behind with yet another brother. That was one thing we were never short of, brothers! But I also remember the anxiety that surrounded my mum, the need to ensure that she could make the money stretch as far as it possibly could.
The “man from the provi (Provident)” who called every week to collect his dues and whilst the rent man could be ignored occasionally, he had to be satisfied every week. There are many families who are in such situations this year, struggling to make ends meet and having to borrow from family and friends to get through. Its true that Jesus said that the poor will always be with us, but he also said that we have a responsibility to help them.
There are many ways in which our churches do help, but when and how do we get across to people the message of hope and salvation. It could be said that we have diluted that message each Christmas with our nativity plays in church and in school.
The children remember that Jesus was born and that he was given presents but how many of the parents see that the birth of Christ meant liberation and salvation for everyone. That this story is not historical but as true today as it was then and whilst they may coo over the small children as they prattle through their parts, the baby was born with a mission to fulfil. In 2021 we must work together as the Christian Community in Canterbury to give to all that message of hope and the knowledge that everyone is loved by God.
Friday 11th December
A parent was telling me this week how our advent pack that they have has raised questions in their house. The first question was what colour to colour in Mary and Joseph, and then this week it was about what colour angels are (after using the stickers that you can see in the photo above). This child had only ever seen images of a white Jesus, and white angels, the way our society has pictured them for so long.
But Jesus was born in a time and a place, one that wasn’t white, and we have no idea about angels. Jesus was born for everyone and I do believe that there is nothing wrong about imagining Jesus in a different context to him original birth to convey that point to people. What is wrong however, is showing Jesus or biblical images in only one way (usually in our churches as white). Jesus entered the world for every one of every race, tribe and tongue, so let’s use our creativity to show that great love and great acceptance of all. Lets challenge ourselves this advent and Christmas with different images and see what new things they can teach us about this old story.
José y Maria by Everett Patterson of Portland, Oregon
Thursday 10th December
Ordnance Survey surveyors in the 1870s. Photo credit: Ordnance Survey
Since the early 1970s, the government has been trying to get the property industry to adopt metrification - with somewhat mixed results. Architects have produced plans to a metric scale for decades. Yet many surveyors, such as me, have conversion scales to measure such plans in feet and inches. Nearly every valuer I know still thinks and talks and carries out valuations using square feet – a square metre is too big to be helpful. That is not to say that I am opposed to all metric measurements; when cooking, knowing that a litre of water weighs a kilogram can help greatly if adjusting between liquid and solid measurements. Following Brexit, will we perhaps revert to chains, bushels, and foot poundals…
I was reminded of this because today, in 1799, the French adopted the metre as the official unit of length. Really, it does not much matter whether one uses metres, or feet and inches, or hands and cubits, as long as one has some system for measurement. Without measurements, we do not know where we are or how we are doing or whether we have erred and strayed like lost sheep - whether we are trespassing. The prophets knew this. They often used an image of measurement to show either judgment or the promise of renewal. Random examples are: 2 Kings 21:13; Amos 7: 7 - 9; Isaiah 28: 17; Lamentations 2: 8 - 10; Ezekiel 40:1 - 48: 35; and Zechariah 2: 1-5. And there is an image of surveying near the end of Revelation (Rev 21: 15-26).
Perhaps it is time to run a ruler over my life. Many of the saints knew of the importance of regularity, especially in irregular times such as we have today; St Martin, St John Cassian, and St Benedict – as well as course as St Paul himself – are examples. I wonder how I shall measure up when it is my time for a spiritual structural survey?
13th century image of God as Creator. Image credit: Wikipedia
Wednesday 9th December
Do you believe in miracles? You may say ‘Well, it depends, I mean, how can you possibly feed thousands with a few fish and some loaves?’ If we recite the Apostles Creed Sunday by Sunday with conviction, then we state our belief in two extraordinary miracles. First, that Jesus was ‘conceived by the Holy Spirit, born of the Virgin Mary’. Secondly, some thirty years later Jesus died, and three days later he rose again from the dead. Modern sceptics seek to ridicule such beliefs.
Several years ago our parish Lent course was based on the excellent BBC TV series ‘The Miracles of Christ’. It was skillfully presented by Rageh Omaar of a Muslim family background. It was a balanced examination of miracles such as Christ’s turning water into gallons of excellent wine, and several healing miracles. In our secular times, who can believe such things? After a full examination of the greatest of all miracles, Jesus’ resurrection, Omaah’s concluding view was that if this God can bring a dead man back to life, all else is possible. He might have added - even a virgin birth.
Generally, I am not too keen on one liners, often used by advertisers and politicians. Party politics aside, they can be effective such as ‘Let’s get Brexit done’; and ‘Don’t give Grandma Covid for Christmas’. Being in a vulnerable age group, we reluctantly decided not to spend Christmas with family members! Although I understand the questioning of miracles, belief in them is central in my Christian faith, as they were crucial to Jesus’ ministry. I appreciate the recent one liner by a Christian blogger who, commenting on the headline ‘Christmas is saved!’, replied ‘Christmas doesn’t have to be saved, because Christmas saved us’. This sums up what Advent and Christmas is really all about.
Tuesday 8th December
‘A sad tale’s best for winter’, says Shakespeare in The Winter’s Tale. Dark, cold and grey days bear this out. TV adverts try and cheer us up with folk having a wonderful time in the midst of all-singing, all-dancing, all-eating and drinking Christmas festivities where you can be the life and soul of the party. For me they have the opposite effect!
In Matthew 24 Jesus uses the image of the fig tree to speak of hope. “From the fig tree learn its
lesson: as soon as its branch becomes tender and puts forth its leaves, you know that summer is
near. So also, when you see all these things, you know that the coming of the Son of Man is near, at the very gates”.
One of the great challenges of Advent is how to acknowledge the darkness, the ‘sad tale’, and hold onto and share a realistic hope in a future which creates the kind of world which Jesus taught about in the picture of the coming of the Son of Man.
How does the Christian narrative convey such a hope when we are bombarded by powerful
cultural images insisting that alternative realities are both achievable and desirable? The life and soul of the party is one thing, but Christianity offers real transformation of life and the healing of the soul.
The answer seems to be one of patience in presence in our communities and persistence in making our story real again and again in the lives of individuals and those communities. And visibly enjoying ourselves when appropriate along the way! No pantomime this year but we can look forward to the online parish Christmas Show at 10. 00 on the morning of Christmas Eve. And by then we will be past the shortest day!
Monday 7th December
I have a famous relative. His name is Adam Porter and he is my second cousin, as our grandmothers were sisters. Adam is a newsreader and a reporter for the BBC. If you listen to the Today programme on Radio 4, he is sometimes the last report on the news and the presenter will have to get their tongue around “That was Adam Porter reporting” which is not easy to say. He is more often the newsreader on Radio 2 where he presents the news at lots of different times but most often on the Zoe Ball Breakfast Show.
Adam has always been a good person and although I haven’t seen him for a number of years, I like to hear him read the news because he has a very gentle but very engaging voice. I like to think too, that is my relative reading the news.
When I did vocations events as an icebreaker I would ask people for an interesting fact and mine
would always be Adam and sometimes people would say I’ve just heard him reading the news or he is my favourite newsreader. I suppose I like the reflected glory but more importantly I like to see him do well and to be glad in his achievements.
Yesterday I preached about John the Baptist and I often wonder what John thought of his famous relative- they were probably second cousins as well. He clearly lays the ground in the early chapters, acknowledges Jesus messiahship at the baptism but when in prison seems to wonder about who Jesus is. I like to think, though, that as John listened to stories about Jesus and what he was doing and saying, he had his faith in him renewed and saw his own part in enabling Jesus message of salvation.
Saturday 5th December
As I write this December weather is lashing the windows, and the wind is blowing but at 7a.m. as we set out for our walk it was mild and calm. Lottie is now walking about 12Kilometres a day and then wants to play ball when we get in. I feel energised by her exuberance as she explores the verges for mice and then runs across the field for the sheer joy of running. It has made me think about how I view my faith, am I enthused and eager to live out the tenets of the Christian faith; or am I just plodding along, same old same?
Lockdown has made me reflect on what is really important in worship and what is enjoyable but not entirely essential. It may be useful for all of us to try to separate the two and begin to think more deeply about the nature of “church”. We know that after the resurrection the disciples met regularly to pray and to worship, initially in homes but also in synagogues. The important thing was to be together and to be distinct from those of other faiths. But Paul reminds us that it was in the way in which they lived on a daily basis that really separated them from others in society. During lockdown and now with the present restrictions, efforts are being made to ensure that people are kept in touch and should they have practical needs that these are being met. Zoom meetings, videos, telephone calls, e-mails have all played a part and will continue to do so but face to face contact continues to be restricted.
I wonder if it is that face to face contact that really sustains so many in their faith. We all know the story of Thomas who declared that he would not believe unless he saw Jesus for himself and Jesus response to him:
“Because you have seen me, you have believed, blessed are those who have not seen, and yet have believed”
As we walk through Advent may our faith be energised as we seek to offer to others the joy of the risen Lord Jesus.
Friday 4th December
We are now in the season of Advent and this week I have been reflecting on Mary and Joseph and their journeys. Mary and Joseph have been active in the parish this week – you can follow their posada journey online (on Facebook or here on the Posada page of our website) and our advent packs for the 1st Sunday of Advent also included Mary and Joseph. The advent packs challenged us to think about how Mary and Joseph knew what it was like to have their lives disrupted in strange and scary ways. In their lives they knew what it was like to face fear and uncertainty about the future and what it feels like to step into the unknown.
These experiences make them a great example to follow and reflect on this season. Our posada photos of their traveling through advent are a bit of fun, but also hopefully can help us think about what it means to live without security, what it means to be vulnerable and far from all you have known. They can remind us of the strength shown by Mary and Joseph and the example we can follow in these strange and uncertain times. And they can also help us reflect and gain compassion for those who this season are in even scarier and precarious situations than we are.
Thursday 3rd December
An MAG worker clearing a landmine. Image credit: ©MAG/Sean Sutton
Some years ago, when I was working at the Cathedral, there was an exhibition in one of the transepts by a charity called MAG – the Mines Advisory Group. The exhibition highlighted the devasting effect of landmines, especially for rural communities who had to deal with the aftermath of war for decades even once the fighting had stopped. There were rather gruesome works of art featuring parts of landmines and prosthetic limbs, as well as details of how landmines work, and stories from communities where farming carried on in areas riddled with landmines.
The way these dreadful devices have evolved – for example, to maim rather than to kill, as a maimed soldier needs four others to carry him to hospital, whereas a dead soldier does not – are a horrific testament to our fallen ingenuity. There is more information about the Mines Advisory Group at www.maginternational.org.
The reason for mentioning this is that today is the anniversary of the signing of the Ottawa Agreement in 1997 (formally, the Convention on the Prohibition of the Use, Stockpiling, Production and Transfer of Anti-Personnel Mines and on their Destruction). It is the first treaty to try to limit the spread of landmines. Of course, the Agreement has many faults and weak areas; not least is that the USA, Russia, and China have thus far refused to sign up to its terms. Yet the Ottawa Agreement is a start and a welcome one at that. In these dark days, we can thank God for glimmers of hope such as this.
At this time of Advent, many of our readings come from Isaiah, so here is another.
“He shall judge between the nations, and shall arbitrate for many peoples; they shall beat their swords into ploughshares, and their spears into pruning-hooks; nation shall not lift up sword against nation, neither shall they learn war any more” (Isaiah 2:4). Micah 4:3 is very similar - and it was Micah who told us “What does the Lord require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God?”(Micah 6:8). What can we do this week to help bring these words of prophecy to pass?
Swords into Ploughshares.
Picture from: kingsenglish.info/2016/05/21/swords-into-ploughshares-3/
Wednesday 2nd December
I have been turning out my bookshelf and I came across a retelling of Pilgrim’s Progress which I had used at some time in a school assembly. It was an easy read and I had forgotten the impact of the story. It is a Christian allegory written by John Bunyan while in Bedfordshire county prison. It is presented as a dream and tells the story of a journey from The City of Destruction (this
world) to the Celestial City (heaven).
Christian, the teller of the story, is burdened by sin as he sets off on his journey. He first meets Evangelist who points him in the right direction. He tells him to take the straight path and keep his eyes fixed on the light.
On his journey he met many people, some helpful and some not. Some were even a bad influence, leading him astray. He went through many places, both pleasant and unpleasant. But finally he reached The Celestial City. He woke up and found it was a dream!
We are going through some difficult places at the moment. But amongst them we do come to some good places. We also find ourselves meeting some very helpful people and some less helpful people, trying to lead us astray. But in the end, if we keep our eyes on the light (Jesus Christ) we will come out of all this, having learnt many new things and, hopefully, stronger spiritually. Keep plodding on, the prize is in sight! (wouldn’t it be nice if we could wake up and
find it was a dream!)
(Pilgrim’s Progress retold by Tim Dowley published by Candle Books)
Tuesday 1st December
Instead of meeting at Church House, Westminster, General Synod was on Zoom last week and I
settled down for three days of worship, presentation and debate in front of the laptop. The strange thing was that after the first hour or so and after getting used to moving around screens to access documents and learn how to vote, it felt quite friendly. Faces that I recognised and the same procedures as normal.
One of the things that unfortunately didn’t work were the breakout rooms. After the Archbishop of York introduced us to the new Vision and Strategy initiative, we were meant to be put into breakout rooms in our Diocesan groups to discuss what we had heard. I was looking forward to chatting with the other 6 Canterbury folk but the technology failed and on the main screen people just stared at each other, perplexed and a bit bewildered.
How the church moves into the future is perplexing. Here is what the national Vision and Strategy Group have come up with. The vision encapsulates the Church of England’s calling to be a Christ-centred and Jesus-shaped church that is simpler, humbler, and bolder.
It identifies three strategic priorities for the Church around being
- a church of missionary disciples,
- a church where the mixed ecology of many forms of church are the norm,
- a church which is younger and more diverse.
Watch the video on A vision for the Church of England in the 2020s | The Church of England.
We may be perplexed and bewildered but we have to unpack this. What do these adjectives and
phrases mean in practical application? What would be mine and your main 3 priorities for the
Church of England, our Diocese, Deanery, and Parish?
Monday 30th November
Clare and I have a very extensive collection of Christmas CDs- we didn’t start out to collect them but we just seemed to add a few each year. They come out annually for a few weeks in December and tell their own story - our Andy Williams has a sticker which reminds us that it was bought in Safeways at Wincheap, one was a gift from my brother many years ago that is probably our favourite and one by the singer Clare Teal, as a reminder of the time we went to her Christmas concert in Maidstone one snowy December evening and were the seven swans in the twelve days of Christmas.
One thing that you notice quite quickly is that there are basically only so many Christmas songs in the world but everyone has their own take on the familiar lyrics of say, White Christmas or I’ll be home for Christmas. Each singer looks to find something distinctive and sometimes particular
versions suit different moments – there are times for the Muppets singing Silent Night and other
times when Frank Sinatra’s version is preferable or a Cathedral Choir singing the much loved carol.
This advent we’ll be revisiting familiar songs and carols- although more listening perhaps than
singing in this very strange year. Perhaps it is a good time to listen afresh to the lyrics and to really hear what is being said- some of it sentimental and schmaltzy undoubtedly. At other times new insights come to us about the season sometimes from hearing a fresh interpretation or even sung to a different tune or occasionally finding a new song.
A few years ago we were given a Dolly Parton Christmas CD. On it Dolly sang Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer- however she did a short extra voice over. In it she talked about how God had made Rudolph as he was, for a purpose which only he could do and this was the time of his calling. In a moment Dolly established the point of the song and the theological basis of vocation. Who knew that a song about a reindeer could be turned to make a profound point about how God calls.
Saturday 28th November
These last few weeks have meant many of us were looking forward to a return to some sort of normality in our social interactions but as news came in of the rising numbers of infected people in Swale and Thanet so our hopes dissipated. But how realistic were they? We know there will be a vaccine, we’ve known that for some months, and now this has become a reality as Pfizer and AstraZeneca have announced. The logistics are challenging, to even the most dedicated spreadsheet analyst, and the demand for people to give the injections means many more people will require training. With a neighbour, who is also a retired nurse, I am considering whether, or not to volunteer. Some may welcome having a former vicar giving them the jab but I probably should not pray aloud as I do it.
The majority of volunteers in the UK are retired and many of them retired many years ago. Are they volunteering because they feel some sense of obligation, or are they the last remnants of Sunday School children who were fed on bible stories and exhorted to “do as Jesus did” and care for others. There is a younger generation of volunteers, those involved in Extinction Rebellion and Greenpeace but their desire to help others is generic and much more geared to changing society’s approach to issues rather than meeting individual needs.
We need to bring both approaches together, to seek to meet the needs of individuals in our communities and towns and to persuade those with authority and power to change the current direction of society so that all creation is protected and cared for.
We speak of worshipping a relational God who loves each one of us and all that he has created. We must begin to take this seriously in our daily lives and take action when and where we can to register our concern and our expectation that change can and must take place.
Friday 27th November
There is something to be learnt from children and their excitement about advent calendars I think. They get so excited over such a small thing, even when they know exactly what is behind the door each day! They can find joy and hope in small things – something that often us adults have forgotten how to do.
Advent starts in church on Sunday, for people outside the church and with advent calendars brought in the shops it starts a couple of days later, on Tuesday 1st Dec. We even have a church advent calendar this year that starts on Tuesday – if you walk past the parish centre you will see it in the window (or for a preview see the picture below).
I am hoping that as we countdown on the church advent calendar, and at home with our own advent calendars if we have them, we can be reminded that we don’t simply wait in despair. I hope that we can be encouraged to follow the example of children at this time of year - to look for and embrace the small signs of joy, light and hope that are all around us.
Thursday 26th November
President Barack Obama, Malia Obama, and Michelle Obama serve
Thanksgiving dinner at Friendship Place homeless centre in Washington, on
Wednesday, 25th November, 2015. Photo credit: AP/Evan Vucci.
Today, many in the USA will be celebrating Thanksgiving. (In Canada, they hold their Thanksgiving on the second Monday in October, so are well ahead of the game –presumably harvests happen earlier in Canada). Bill Bryson, in his Notes from a Big Country, says that an early Thanksgiving was held in 1621 by new settlers to thank local Native Americans for help in getting through that first year. However, the feast did not become established until 1777 when George Washington proclaimed it to give thanks for victory over the British at the battle of Saratoga (and only became an annual event during the 1860s. Since 1941, it is held on the fourth Thursday in November and is marked by feasting, sports, parades (but perhaps not this year),
thanksgiving services, and acts of charity.
We Brits may be a bit uptight to want to hold a Thanksgiving day but St Paul was keen for us to give thanks: Eph 5: 4, 20; Phil 4: 6; and Col 1: 12 are examples where he encourages his readers to give thanks – and in most of Paul’s letters, he himself gave fulsome thanks to God for his fellow Christians and their witness. He was also quite cross with many of them for various things but that is another story…
2020 has been a tough year; and it continues with the lockdown and millions suffering poor health, or money problems, or fear of no food, or housing hassle, or relationship issues. Yet the sun still shines; hopes for a vaccine roll-out next year are high; and we know that Christ is our King. Thank you, God; now, what can I do to try to show you a bit of my gratitude?
Photo caption: drawing of Christ the King from the 11th Century Benedictional
of St Aethelwold. Photo credit: British Library
Wednesday 25th November
As a child, one of my great treats was to be taken to a travelling circus with their clowns, sword swallowers, performing animals and high wire trapeze artists. All great fun until we discovered animals were often ill-treated in training; so traditional circuses ceased.‘Circuses’ now are a different experience such as the international ‘Cirque du Soleil’.
Currently I am reading an engrossing biography of Henri Nouwen (‘Wounded Prophet. A Portrait of Henri J M Nouwen’ by Michael Ford) an internationally renowned Roman Catholic priest, a prolific writer, teacher, and counsellor who attracted followers from all Christian traditions. I gain much spiritually from his writings as he combined a deep compassion for and understanding of humanity, together with a faith centred on God’s unconditional acceptance and love for us.
Nouwen was fascinated by circuses, especially the daring trapeze artists in whom he saw clear elements of the divine. ‘Nouwen came to understand that the key star is not the flyer - the figure who soars through the air and trusts - but the catcher whose hands are always there to receive and welcome home. As Nouwen said ‘I can only fly freely when I know there is a catcher to catch me...If we are to take risks to be free, in the air, in life we have to know there is a catcher. The great hero is the least visible. Trust the catcher.’
Belief in God is frequently described as a ‘leap of faith’, a trust in the presence of the catcher. At times in our individual journeys of faith, our complete trust in the waiting catcher wavers, so that like Peter, when Christ invites him to walk across the turbulent water, we too are in danger of sinking. But as Peter, the trapeze jumper and we find - the catcher is there. No wonder Nouwen was so enthralled by the circus.
Tuesday 24th November
Freight traffic to and from Dover is topical news at the moment. Thinking of looking to France from Dover reminds me of Matthew Arnold’s great 1867 poem Dover Beach. I read that he composed it on honeymoon, looking out from a hotel by the harbour.
Mediating on the image of the ebbs and flows of the sea of faith, Arnold viewed the challenges of modernity to faith: particularly scientific understanding, evolutionary theory, and what one
commentary describes as ‘the collapse of morals, harmony and peace’. In our bewildering times this image may strike a chord.
…the world, which seems
To lie before us like a land of dreams,
So various, so beautiful, so new,
Hath really neither joy, nor love, nor light,
Nor certitude, nor peace, nor help for pain;
And we are here as on a darkling plain
Where is the hope we need to confront the poem’s sense of ‘eternal sadness’ when somehow what we value seems to be slipping away? Arnold speaks of being true to each other in personal terms in the face of this sense of loss. Our parish community gives us relationships to hold on to and while I was reading the poem news appeared on the television of the possibility of a vaccine enabling us to meet up again.
These are glimpses of light. Advent is a solemn time for reflection on the ‘darkling plain’, however we interpret that in our own time. But Christmas tells us that the light shines in darkness and is never extinguished.
We could have a Parish outing to Dover beach come the spring. Hopefully we will see the lights on the opposite coast by then!
Monday 23rd November
Recently I wrote about Witley Court, the ruined stately home in Worcestershire. This morning I want to tell you about another grand house, Croome Park, which is very close to Malvern and in fact from our flat we can see some of the temples and the church built as landmarks in the park. The architect was Robert Adam and the parkland was developed by Capability Brown, so in many ways it is a fine example of a Georgian house and park.
However in the 1930s it was sold and had a number of uses. It became a school and that resulted in changes, it then became a centre for the Harekrishna movement who redecorated the dining room in eastern style and set up a recording studio in the service wing where George Harrison recorded some of his solo albums. After that it became a country club and a bar was put up in the drawing room, the fixtures of which remained in place until recently. Finally it was owned by a property developer who installed numerous baths and toilets, turning some of the bedrooms into massive en-suites. Then the National Trust stepped in and it was made subject to compulsory purchase.
The issue that the National Trust had was what to do next, complicated by the fact that much of the original furniture had been sold and in some cases the decoration of rooms had been sold as a complete sale. For some it should be recreated in its purest form and all later additions removed, for others there is a whole story of a house reflected in the changes and additions, which enrich and broaden the narrative .
It is an ongoing debate at Croome and in conservation generally both in stately homes and in
churches. Should buildings be returned to a purity of a particular period or should they tell the whole story, should they be static or should they evolve? Do they reflect our belief in the seemingly unchanging nature of God or the fluidity of the Holy Spirit? Are they about yesterday or tomorrow?
Friday 20th November
I saw this beautiful rainbow during my week off recently – it made the heavy shower that I was caught up in all worth it. I have also seen a lot of rainbows this week in peoples windows as I have walked around Canterbury on my daily exercise. The rainbows that I have seen in windows though have looked old and faded – many of them were probably made at the beginning of the first lock down and have now been up for months. Looking at these faded symbols of hope reminded me of a movie I watched on TV once as a kid. Some children manage to find a way to pinpoint the end of a rainbow and when they go there they get swept up into the rainbow. All is lovely until one of them decides to take some of the jewels that are floating around in rainbows (it’s a movie – go with it). At this point colour starts leaving the world, people become hopeless and angry and violence erupts everywhere. The only way this can be stopped is for the kids to return the jewels to the rainbow.
I think I feel a bit like that at the moment. The symbol of the rainbow feels faded, as though the hope has been taken out of it. What was a symbol of hope in April now seems faded and old, and hope is hard to hold onto. But that, I feel, fits in well with this season in the Church. As we come to Advent it is tempting to jump into Christmas, but Advent in the church is not about celebrating the birth of Jesus – but about waiting. It is about waiting and longing for something. It is about reflecting on the promise of God to come as Messiah, and also to come again.
This year as we sit in lockdown with anxiety and fears looming large and no end to the current crisis in sight, where our rainbows of hope seem faded and cold let us embrace this season. Let us sit with our confusion and pain and learn with the prophets what it is to wait for something we cannot understand or see. Let us reflect on the example of those in the Bible who show us what it is to wait patiently with hope, even in the darkest times when colour and hope seem to have gone from our world.
Thursday 19th November
Winston Churchill visiting Coventry Cathedral after its bombing 80 years
ago in November 1940. Photo credit: Library of Congress.
‘We shape our buildings and afterwards our buildings shape us' said Winston Churchill when debating how the House of Commons should be rebuilt following war damage. I was reminded of this because today is the anniversary of the death of Sir Basil Spence, who designed the new Coventry Cathedral, which also suffered from extensive war damage. When it was first opened, the new Coventry Cathedral was seen as radical and a departure from the neo Gothic tradition of buildings such as Liverpool’s Anglican Cathedral. Now, it seems a comfortable building – not edgy or trendy - and is a fine frame for several wonderful pieces of art. Quite rightly, it is Listed Grade I (the highest grade possible) as being of Special Historic or Architectural Importance.
With the current lockdown, we cannot enter our church buildings, and that is a loss for us both as individuals and as a community. Yet the potential of vaccinations against Covid gives cause for hope that this exclusion is but temporary. And we can remember the prayer of King Solomon when he dedicated the first Temple in Jerusalem. ‘But will God indeed dwell on the earth? Even heaven and the highest heaven cannot contain you, much less this house that I have built’ (I Kings 8: 27); we may find church buildings helpful to discover a sense of the presence of God - but God does not need them…
Coventry Cathedral can remind us that good can triumph over evil. It allows us to appreciate human skill, artistry, and endeavour - and to give thanks to God for them. It encourages us to say, with all the saints and the whole company of heaven, ‘it is our duty and our joy, at all times and in all places, to give you thanks and praise, holy Father, heavenly King, almighty and eternal God, through Jesus Christ our Lord. All things come from you and of your own do we give you’.
This Sunday will be the Feast of Christ the King. So, we can end with an image from Coventry Cathedral of the Graham Sutherland’s tapestry of (the wounded) Christ in Majesty and I hope be inspired to have confidence that God’s will shall be done in His own good time.
Christ in Majesty. Photo credit: Photograph: David Jones/Wikipedia
Wednesday 18th November
I was very impressed this weekend to see how the Hindu, Sikh and Jain communities were celebrating Diwali despite the lockdown restrictions. They accepted the fact that things could not be as normal. They could not meet in each other’s homes, have large gatherings or go to their place of worship. They found new ways of sharing. Posting videos of their dancing, their food and using social media to “meet together” and make things together.
Then came the disappointment that an Evangelical Church, The Angel Church in Clerkenwell, had defied lockdown rules and held a service in its building including a baptism. (It was closed down by the police) They pointed out that if Garden Centres and shops were allowed to
open then it was discriminatory to ask them to close. As a church they were meeting the mental and emotional needs of their community.
That made me feel quite ashamed to be a Christian. I know (I hope) that was a one off, but it made headlines for all the wrong reasons. As Christians we should be working together, accepting restrictions because we care for the safety of one other. I know that it is difficult not being able to worship together, at Christmas it will be particularly hard, but if that is what we have to do to stem the tide of this pandemic, then that is how it will have to be. We cannot, in this day and age, single ourselves out as “a special case”. If one religious community can adapt then so can we.
Let’s find new ways of “doing” Christmas this year and set an example to the wider community as we share the love of God who came into the world to give us life, life in all its fullness.
Tuesday 17th November
Recently I needed to find two documents. One, a paper copy of the 1997 play about St Martins, ‘A Small Place’, for quoting in a Martinmas sermon. The other, a document on the computer, the
parish responses to Bishop Rose’s third question, what do we want to hold on to and let go of for the future.
In each case I knew where the items should be but in neither case were they there, really
annoying! Losing things is such a waste of time. By the end of lengthy searches I was more angry
with myself for the lack of methodical storage, than I was concerned about the need for the
Jesus told a parable about the woman who lost a coin. She lighted a lamp and swept the floor. She remained entirely focused on what she was looking for and didn’t get hijacked, like me, into a bad temper about her own inefficiency, making the chaos worse.
The woman in Luke 15 is persistent in her search. She not only rejoices but calls her neighbours
and friends to rejoice with her. If I had found what I was looking for (which I didn’t!) I think I would, by then, have been too fraught to rejoice by myself or in company.
In the parable of the woman and her lost coin, Jesus paints a picture of a love which affirms the
need of each individual to belong and the value of the community to which they belong recognising and celebrating each other. It’s easy to waste our energies on resenting the carelessness which has made the quest for this state of affairs necessary. The value of what is found is what really matters.
Monday 16th November
This year Clare and I decided as we couldn’t go out for a meal for our wedding anniversary and didn’t want to hit the shops looking for gifts, we would treat ourselves to a companion seat for the garden. A companion seat is one of those that has two chairs joined together by a table and feels a good thing for a wedding anniversary.
It arrived a couple of weeks ago and as it was flat pack, it needed to be put together. Unfortunately one of the pieces was broken, so we’ve had to wait until the replacement part was delivered to finally assemble it. Last week we got going with screwdriver and Allen key and fairly quickly we had a very smart companion seat which is now in the garden and ready for use.
The first evening it rained hard, afterwards a bird had left a message on one of the chairs and the walk across the lawn continued to be very damp. It still stood though but now with a covering of leaves. I suspect that we will probably not be able to use the companion seat very much in the weeks and months ahead as the weather gets colder and wetter. Perhaps we should have left buying it until the spring when we might use it more often but we decided that we wanted it as a reminder that one day we will be back out in the garden and sitting in the companion seat on a bright sunny day. Throughout the winter it will be a sign of better times to come when the chair will be in full use but even in these cold months we know that day will come. The seat is a gift of hope standing in our garden and we need those signs of hope in planning for the future.
As human beings we like to plan and look forward but that has been difficult in recent months as we’ve lived more day to day. As Christians we are people of hope, looking forward in trust and like the companion seat we need to take that to heart in these dark wintry days.
Saturday 14th November
This week has been one of remembrance. Remembering those who have died in conflicts across the world. Remembering those who have died from other causes amongst our family and friends. Yesterday we shared memories of Anne Seller who died in a road traffic accident on Wednesday evening. We and her family were shocked to hear the news of her death but the memories that we shared were of Anne’s wit and humour, her love of music, her artistic abilities, her love of nature and cats and dogs. These memories will linger long, and we will continue to share them and pray that others are able to share their memories of loved ones who have died.
Many of those who are homeless or in unsuitable temporary accommodation are former service men and women who have found the transition to civilian life unbearably difficult. For them it has been the loss of companionship and structure which enable them to cope with the conflict situations in which they found themselves. This week I met Hari and his family, he has forged as life for himself and his family after losing both legs in Afghanistan. Next year he is planning to climb Mount Everest in support of service charities; he is positive and cheerful but very aware of the suffering of others.
I believe Christ has asked us to be aware of the suffering of others and to respond in whatever way we can. We must take every opportunity to show to others (albeit behind a mask) that we are listening to their stories, that we care for them and to offer a prayer for them as we go on our way.
Friday 13th November
This time of year is a time where we cannot help but look back. We have All Souls and then Remembrance Day close together and we find ourselves in another lockdown, many of us with more time on our hands at home when it is all to easy to slip into memories. I am reminding myself though that looking back does not have to be sad. The picture at the top of this thought is of me and my older brother that I found while going through old photo albums while preparing a Christmas present for my grandparents. I remember hearing once that remembering good times through photos or music could make you feel as good as eating chocolate (and is better for you!). I am not sure how scientifically accurate that is but going through the old family pictures did make me smile multiple times as I remembered so many things and hopefully it will make my grandparents smile when they see all of the old pictures from when me, my siblings and our cousins actually used to be cute!
So as we remember this month let us look back with grief and sorrow for what we have lost, and what we can no longer do. But let us also use our memories to remember those good times we spent with our friends and family, those times when we laughed so hard we cried, the moments when we went wow. And when we get down thinking about lockdown lets remember all the amazing things that came out of the last lockdown – the way people came together, the creative ways people found of connecting, the skills we learnt and so much more. Whether it is through old photos, favourite old books or movies or music albums lets use our memories to find joy and comfort this week. I leave you with a reminder of the creativity that lockdown brought about earlier this year, and one of my favourite first lockdown videos, the song Memories covered by the One Voice Children’s Choir:
Thursday 12th November
The Hospitality of Abraham (which can also be seen as a representation of the Trinity)
by Andrei Rublev, in the Tretyakov Gallery in Moscow. Photo credit: Wikipedia.
During the year, we have become used to the government’s publicity machine getting its message over in soundbites of three phrases. “Stay at home. Protect the NHS. Save lives” was used during the Spring. The latest is “Wash hands. Cover face. Make space” for the Covid crisis; but, if you are bored with that, there is “Check, Change, Go” to explain what to do about Brexit. I find this reduction of complexity to three simple phrases somewhat irritating.
Problems in life are generally rather more complex than mouthing a simplistic three phrase mantra. That said, they can still have a place. The old saying about “location, location, location” still applies if you update it to “convenience, convenience, convenience”. And there is also good religious precedent – the Trinity has three elements and I for one still wrestle with its implications.
Yet one three-part dictum still carries weight. “Three things in human life are important. The first is to be kind. The second is to be kind. And the third is to be kind”. It was ascribed to the author Henry James by a biographer Leon Edel; apparently James’ nephew, Billy James, heard him say this - but we do not know to whom or in what circumstances. However, as we continue to use three-part phrases, Henry James’s saying will be my choice. Imagine if we took it seriously…
Henry James OM aged 70, painted by John Singer Sargent in 1913.
Photo credit: National Portrait Gallery
Wednesday 11th November
Recently we walked in a wide, open country area. My eyes had to adjust to this landscape, being used to the confinement of walks in Canterbury. It felt strange. This is what lockdowns have done to our lives, feeling constricted with shortened horizons. Inevitably we are concerned about our personal health and that of family and friends. Greatly reduced contact with others, with fewer normal activities means we live in smaller worlds, despite TV and radio. Churches have had to become more inward looking, faced with the challenges of new ways of providing worship and other services for their congregations.
So it’s good to broaden our horizons a little. I think of two people far away in Africa and connected with the parish. Lisa Muerasse and her husband Orlando lead a small, vibrant Christian mission and charity in Mozambique. Lisa’s family home is in Canterbury - Valerie Taylor is her cousin. Their mission ‘Pastos Verdes’ combines sharing the gospel of Christ with local people, together with a range of welfare and health services in the area. Much of their work is with children and young people. The mission is funded mainly by donations, including from our parish. Lisa and Orlando have preached here several times when back in Canterbury. See Pastos Verdes excellent website for full information.
The Revd. Pierre Nyongere is known to us from his short study time here some years ago. He also preached in the parish. Pierre comes from Burundi but he and his wife and children are now living as refugees in Kampala, the capital of Uganda. Pierre has been supported by the parish and some individuals. He has no paid work nor any state benefits. Frankly, it is difficult to know how they manage financially. Pierre and his wife minister to fellow Burundian refugees in Kampala. I am in regular contact with him.
In Acts we find that the early Christian church was strong on support for one another as Chrisianity expanded across countries. Today, Lisa, her colleagues and Pierre in far off Africa value our prayers, interest in their work and - if we are able - any donations we feel able to make. Do ask me if you want further information. Our lives feel quite constricted now so it is good to stretch our eyes much further afield.
Tuesday 10th November
Watching a television advert promoting a product (anonymous, no product placement on Thought for the Day!) as ‘sponsoring escapism’ in its funding of a programme, I thought of my own current choice of escapism, visiting Anthony Trollope’s Barset and enjoying the series of chronicles.
What does our choice of escapism say about us? The settled communities in the towns, villages
and parishes in the county and around the town and cathedral of Barcester conjure up a tranquillity which seems far removed from life at the moment. This must be what I secretly long for.
Does religion sponsor escapism? At a recent Zoom discussion with members of churches of various denominations from all over the country, there was some disquiet about the lockdown of public worship. Is our disquiet linked to a wish to have at least somewhere that we can escape from the outside world for at least a short while each week? I think for me there is certainly an element of Barcester in wanting this option just now.
One contributor pointed out that a permanent veto, if there were no public health emergency,
would be serious and unacceptable. This lockdown, they pointed out, is expected to be temporary and private prayer and broadcasting from inside the building are allowed. We may be called on to be sacrificial, said the speaker, and share the deprivations of the community around us, many of whom are suffering immediate and possibly long term consequences.
So can religion be a sponsor of escapism? Most folk seemed to disagree with the opinion that in
the matter of public worship closure we should accept it as a sacrificial contribution to being ‘all in it together’. What do you think?
Monday 9th November
Last week I was going to write about Witley Court until lockdown needed some commentary- but seven days later here it is.
Witley Court is a ruined stately home owned by English Heritage and open to the public normally. It is in Worcestershire and not far from Malvern. In its heyday it was owned by the Earls of Dudley and using their extensive royalties from their coal mines, was extremely opulent and fitted out in the most luxurious styles. It is said that at Christmas diamond jewellery was hung from the tree and the Dudleys entertained the rich and famous to the highest standard.
Eventually the house was sold, following a fire many of its fittings auctioned off and afterwards what was left was stolen or vandalised. The shell remains without a roof but with little pieces of the decoration in place and photos to show you the court in the 1920s. These photos allow you to imagine the building as it was but contrast the beautiful decoration all gilt and marble with the brickwork that still stands.
Witley Court is an evocative place but one which is a reminder of how temporary things are and how the decoration and the glamour was short lived, really only on the surface but the thick walls behind it were built to last and survived the fire and the vandals.
We love going there but to me as I walk through the ruins I’m reminded that things change very
quickly in life even in a glamorous stately home and how it is not about what is on the surface but is about the foundations that are built.
Lessons for life especially the Christian life as well as in a ruined stately home, perhaps.
Saturday 7th November
Thought you might like this by Pam Ayers:
The wonderful Pam Ayres...now 73 years old and penned her latest ode ~ to coronavirus...
I'm normally a social girl
I love to meet my mates
But lately with the virus here
We can't go out the gates
You see, we are the 'oldies' now
We need to stay inside
If they haven't seen us for a while
They'll think we've upped and died
They'll never know the things we did
Before we got this old
There wasn't any Facebook
So not everything was told
We may seem sweet old ladies
Who would never be uncouth
But we grew up in the 60s -
If you only knew the truth!
There was sex and drugs and rock 'n' roll
The pill and miniskirts
We smoked, we drank, we partied
And were quite outrageous flirts
Then we settled down, got married
And turned into someone's mum,
Somebody's wife, then nana,
Who on earth did we become?
We didn't mind the change of pace
Because our lives were full
But to bury us before we're dead
Is like a red rag to a bull!
So here you find me stuck inside
For four weeks, maybe more
I finally found myself again
Then I had to close the door!
It didn’t really bother me
I'd while away the hour
I'd bake for all the family
But I've got no flaming flour!
Now Netflix is just wonderful
I like a gutsy thriller
I'm swooning over Idris
Or some random sexy killer
At least I've got a stash of booze
For when I'm being idle
There's wine and whiskey, even gin
If I'm feeling suicidal!
So let's all drink to lockdown
To recovery and health
And hope this awful virus
Doesn't decimate our wealth
We'll all get through the crisis
And be back to join our mates
Just hoping I'm not far too wide
To fit through the flaming gates!
I thought you might enjoy this and remember all that we treasure as we age and give thanks that we have enjoyed so much and will do so again.
Friday 6th November
There are some truths that everyone knows and one of these is that some mistakes are too big to recover from easily. One such mistake that I learnt in school was that if you write on a whiteboard with a permanent pen it doesn’t come off without specialist cleaning equipment and a vey grumpy cleaner. There was always at least one teacher each term who would make this mistake, and the evidence of that mistake would be up in a classroom for everyone to see for weeks before it would finally be able to be removed, and even then you could often still see a faint remnant of the pen left behind.
This was a truth I learnt – always write with the right pen or your mistake will be visible to everyone and might never be removed! However last week I found out that this is not true – I was scrolling through Facebook when something caught my eye. Someone said that their 5 year old had taught them how to removed permanent pen from a whiteboard. I figured it must be clickbait but I was intrigued enough that I succumbed to temptation and clicked. And there it was – the answer. The very easy answer. If you want to removed permeant pen all you have to do is write over it in whiteboard pen and then rub it out as normal. I didn’t quite believe it so I tested it on a whiteboard at home that I had written on in the wrong pen months ago and it worked.
This reminded me of two different truths – 1. How often we can be so so sure something is true when actually we just do not have all the facts, and 2. How often we think our mistakes are big and irreversible when actually forgiveness is available to all of us and no mistakes are too big for God.
Thursday 5th November
Image caption: a 17th Century engraving of the Gunpowder Plotters.
Bonfire night: “Remember, remember, the 5th of November, gunpowder, treason, and plot”. Whatever ones views on the current or previous administrations, trying to remove the government by assassination is definitely going too far. Fortunately, only one British Prime Minister has been murdered in office - Spencer Perceval in 1812, who seems to have been rather a mild mannered and well-behaved person. He was thus somewhat different to the Roman Emperor Nero (37 – 68 CE), during whose reign both St Peter and St Paul were probably executed. The writer Suetonius, in his The Twelve Caesars, gives several examples of Nero’s excesses – I cannot possibly expand further in a church blog! - and I do not imagine that either Peter or Paul thought of Nero as a ‘good’ man. Yet Paul (or someone soon after his death writing
in his name) wrote that ‘supplications, prayers, intercessions, and thanksgivings should be made for everyone, for kings and all who are in high positions, so that we may lead a quiet and peaceable life’ (1 Tim 2: 1-2). Likewise, Peter (or someone soon after his death writing in his name) wrote ‘fear God, honour the emperor’ (1 Pet 2: 17). And this despite the possibility that 666, ‘the number of the beast’ mentioned in Rev 13: 18, may well refer to the emperor Nero…
So, at this difficult time with Covid and Brexit and many other policy decisions, despite all the gloom we feel about another lockdown, let us pray for our government and all who give it advice, that they may have wisdom and courage to make right decisions for the good of our country, and the integrity to carry them through without fear or favour.
A goldcoin showing the head of the emperor Nero. Image credit: The British Museum
Wednesday 4th November
My life fell apart on Saturday when Boris announced the new lockdown! Selfishly I didn’t mind the bars and restaurants closing – I don’t eat out anyway. Gyms and churches, now that was different. Five days a week I go to one or other of them. It gives me a purpose for going out, I meet people, socially distanced of course and it fills an hour or so of the day. Now I’m back to wondering what I will do each day.
Then I began to think positively. Yes, relationships with other people are important, but I still have the phone and can reach more people that way and some of them may be more lonely than me. During the first lockdown I turned out a lot of cupboards, how will I use my time
constructively this time? There are still things I can do, and I still have some books I haven’t read.
Terry Waite was locked up, in isolation for 1763 days. He had nothing, no books, no pen and paper, no phone yet he found ways of coping. He didn’t waste time on self- pity, he realised there were many people far worse off than himself. He lived one day at a time. He still took pride in his appearance (folding his trousers and putting them under the mattress every night to press them). He used the restrictions as opportunities. He wrote a book in his head. And most importantly, his faith gave him resources to draw on.
We are not going through such extreme times and we have our faith to draw on, including the privilege of reading the scriptures. Let us use the next 4 weeks wisely and turn the restrictions into opportunities.
Tuesday 3rd November
Today it’s the American presidential election. Tomorrow morning we shall know the result.
Television coverage often alludes to the religious affiliation of various groups of voters. How is it
that people reading the same gospels come to such widely differing views about casting their vote, in America and elsewhere? Why do people of the same faith reach different conclusions about the values behind social and economic affairs?
An All Saints hymn describes characteristics of saints. It includes the line ‘Some march with events to turn them God’s way’. Casting our vote is one way in which we can all march with events and hope to turn them the way we think they should go. We trust that our reading of the decisions and choices that have to made is consistent with the values which Jesus referred to as the Kingdom.
How do I know that my political convictions are not self-interest lurking behind what I have
convinced myself is a just and compassionate agenda, whatever party I align myself with? Do I really want my comfortable existence to be shaken up by change and questioning of the whole basis of local, national and global values?
Other lines of the hymn describe saints like this.
They shame our complaining, our comforts, our cares;
What patience in caring, what courage is theirs!
In living, in loving they prove it is true:
The way of self-giving, it leads Lord, to you.
Fred Pratt Green (1903-2000)
Why can’t people of faith march in the same direction? It’s the challenge of All Saints. If we are
looking for people aspiring to this to lead us, then it’s only fair that they should be looking for people aspiring to this to vote for them.
Monday 2nd November
I was going to do my Thought for the Day today on Witley Court a ruined stately home near the
Malverns but in our fast changing world that will have to wait until next week.
Instead it felt right to comment on the on the new Government guidance and the lockdown starting on Thursday. As so often in life, we have learned from past experience and from being technical novices, we’re now ready to return to a totally online presence again and our pattern of services will grow again with details coming out during the week. The Government, too, has learned and so although there won’t be services, funerals, private prayer and broadcasting are allowed.
It feels sad not seeing each other or having our services in church, but we draw on the resilience of the spring and the concern that we have for each other. All of us know that although the lockdown is essential in keeping us safe, with darker evenings it will be a time when there will be greater anxiety and other side effects of the restrictions will be apparent. I know we’ll all help each other through.
As someone said to me yesterday the guidelines and situations change but God is the same and is here with us throughout it all. We’ve all found ourselves relying on God more and more, in these unprecedented and bewildering times, as many of the certainties of life have been taken away and that reliance will see us through however long the lockdown lasts.
So we look to each other and to God in these days ahead and hope and pray for better times in the future, knowing we are equipped by God with all we need to face the challenge of the new
For an older generation the words that I finish with, come with a great resonance and brought great comfort in difficult days. So I end with the words from Minnie Louise Haskins poem “God Knows”
And I said to the man who stood at the gate of the year:
“Give me a light that I may tread safely into the unknown.”
And he replied:
“Go out into the darkness and put your hand into the Hand of God.
That shall be to you better than light and safer than a known way.”
So I went forth, and finding the Hand of God, trod gladly into the night.
Saturday 31st October
Halloween is being celebrated tonight and regardless of the restrictions we can be sure that children (in groups of six of course) will be out collecting their booty. The celebration of All Hallows has been lost in the pantomime of Halloween. Several years ago, I was in Florida with Chris, and the receptionist at the hotel was keen to point out where we should walk to see the best decorations. We took her advice and in the early evening set out to be met by skeletons hanging from trees, lanterns, and ghostly faces on porches and plenty of carved and candle lit pumpkins. The children were dressed in all manner of costumes from popular Disney films. The adults accompanying them pushed wheelbarrows to collect the spoils. Clearly this was an occasion to enjoy as a family, but it held no spiritual significance whatsoever.
There is a gap in many people’s lives because the spiritual aspects of holidays (Holy days), has been lost and there is little to replace it. In schools it has been suggested that children are taught meditation to encourage them to slow down and calm down and thereby be receptive to teaching and learning. Adults are encouraged to take on the practice of mindfulness to overcome the stress and tension of work or lack of it.
As a community of faith, we need to find a way to reach out to those who have come to realise there is a gap in their lives and are seeking answers. We know that during the height of the pandemic many people watched the services that were available on-line and clearly these were a source of comfort and support. The issue now is how do we encourage and support others in exploring more deeply so that they can be supported spiritually as well as physically and emotionally. There is no single answer that will satisfy everyone, but it is essential that we pray and listen to God to seek a way forward that will be helpful.
The Street Pastors begin their patrols on 7 th November and welcome your prayers for them. They will be going out from 7.30 to 11.30 pm on alternate Saturdays until the end of the year. They need your prayers as they seek guidance as to how they reach out to those on the streets of Canterbury and how to develop the service. Often, in the past, we have been stopped and asked to pray for individuals and situations and no doubt this will happen again. Please support us in prayer especially on Saturday nights.
Friday 30th October
Looking around us
For me this is a time of year where I normally try to put my head down and just get on with things. I do not like to think about the fact that the days are getting shorter – that soon it will be dark by 4pm, that the temperature is getting colder- that I will have to find my hat and gloves again soon, and that the sky is more likely to give us rain than sunshine – or even hail as in the case on Sunday where I started my bike ride to church in glorious sunshine only for the heavens to open and hail to pour down on me when I was only half way there!
However – by keeping my head down I can miss out on what is happening around – the beauty of creation as the leaves change colour, the wave from a friend on the other side of the road, the smile from a stranger. Even when things seem dark and dingy there is still beauty around – we just have to keep our heads up and look for it. This is true for a walk into town (the picture here was taken along Wincheap last week) and for life in general. There are things of Gods beauty and grace taking place all around us. They may be small and seem hidden, but they are there if we look. So let us keep our heads up and be on the look out for these moments of Gods beauty this week.
Thursday 29th October
Chartwell in the autumn. Photo credit: National Trust.
The clocks have gone back and the nights are drawing in. This time of year seems somewhat sad and solemn, aided possibly by the Feast of All Souls next Monday, and then Remembrance Sunday soon after; and the falling of the leaves, and the rain and the wind, and the daylight vanishing by 4.30 pm – let alone this year the prospect of Brexit and more Covid lockdowns and the other horsemen of the Apocalypse. Reasons to be gloomy, one two, three…
Yet if this is how you feel, think of Admiral John Byng. He was born on this day in 1704 and went to sea with the Royal Navy aged 13. He served in several actions and by the mid 1750s had become an Admiral of the Blue. In 1756, at the start of the Seven Years War, he was ordered to sail to the Mediterranean to deal with the French fleet at Toulon and to protect the British held island of Minorca; but his fleet had only six ships and was severely under-manned, especially of marines to fight the French, who had landed troops on the west side of Minorca. There was an indecisive naval battle off Minorca on the 20th May 1756, following which Byng was relieved of
his command and ordered to sail back to England. There he was tried by a court-martial.
Although acquitted of personal cowardice, he was held to have failed to do his utmost to engage or destroy the enemy and so was sentenced to death. After sentence, “Admiral Byng had been detained aboard HMS Monarch in the Solent and, on 14 March 1757, he was taken to the quarterdeck for execution in the presence of all hands and men from other ships of the fleet in boats surrounding Monarch. The admiral knelt on a cushion and signified his readiness by dropping his handkerchief, whereupon a squad of Royal Marines shot him dead” (Wikipedia).
Byng's execution was satirised by Voltaire in his novel Candide. In Portsmouth, Candide witnesses the execution of an officer by firing squad and is told that "in this country, it is good to kill an admiral from time to time to encourage the others" hence the expression, ‘pour encourager les autres’.
So, if you are feeling gloomy, think about that poor scapegoat, Admiral Byng. Things could be an awful lot worse! Perhaps find a clip of Ian Dury and the Blockheads singing ‘Reasons to be Cheerful, part 3’. And, to quote from last Sunday’s epistle, ‘let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts … and be thankful’ (Col 3: 15).
The execution of Admiral Byng, 14th March 1757. Photo credit: National Maritime Museum
Wednesday 28th October
The question has often been asked : ‘Where is God in the pandemic?’ There have been various attempts at answers but, not surprisingly, certainty is hard to come by.
Many people find this poem by Malcolm Guite* is a different and deeply encouraging approach to the question. He wrote the poem for Easter when churches were locked but as Malcolm reminds us, Christ is present and working amongst us at all times of the year, here and now. We need to hold fast to this Christian hope in the midst of the pain, fear and anxiety of the pandemic.
Not lost in our locked churches, anymore
Than he was sealed in that dark sepulchre.
The locks are loosed, the stone is rolled away,
And he is up and risen, long before,
Alive, at large, and making his strong way
Into the world he gave his life to save,
No need to seek him in his empty grave.
He might have been a wafer in the hands
Of priests this day, or music from the lips of
Of red-robed choristers, instead he slips
Away from church, shakes off our linen bands
To don an apron with a nurse he grips
And lifts a stretcher, soothes with gentle hands
The frail flesh of the dying, gives them hope,
Breathes with the breathless, lends them strength to cope.
On Thursday he applauded, for he came
And served us in a thousand names and faces
Mopping our sickroom floors and catching traces
Of that corona which was death to him:
Good Friday happened in a thousand places
Where Jesus held the helpless, died with them
That they might share his Easter in their need,
Now they are risen with him, risen indeed.
*Malcolm Guite is a poet, musician and a motorbike enthusiast. He is married to Revd. Canon Dr Margaret Guite, Rector of Linton parish church, near Cambridge.
Tuesday 27th October
A favourite television detective of mine is Inspector Montalbano. He lives in Sicily, in an apartment from which he can go swimming in an impossibly blue sea every morning, there is constant sunshine and he enjoys sumptuous Italian food and wine. A bit of a contrast with Inspector Morse’s gloomy roaming around Oxford or Wallender’s infinitely depressing life in Sweden, but I also enjoy visiting these via my television screen.
These characters live by a system of integrity and moral values in the nasty, violent and corrupt contexts in which they exist. They exhibit these qualities in specific locations which we automatically identify them with. Character and environment seem inseparable.
Sunday School, RE, stained glass, films, illustrated Bibles handed down or more recent, fix Jesus in my mind in the Holy Land as depicted. His words and actions are bound up with such representations. The Jesus of the New Testament existed in a specific time and a specific place, but could it be that traditional locations remove his teaching from our reality, setting it firmly in a context remote enough to be at a safe distance?
If the TV detectives swopped places you feel they would take their compassion and values with them in the fight for justice as they encounter various manifestation of destructive behaviour in their daily work.
We face the task of bringing the hope of the Gospel narrative into our own time and place. This is exciting. By listening to where people outside Christian communities are we recognise with them signs of the compassion and values which contemporaries recognised in Jesus. We’re on the case!
Monday 26th October
Five years ago this week, Clare and I went on a European trip to celebrate her birthday. We went to Salzburg, Munich, Vienna, Florence and Rome, traveling around by train and taking in the sites as we completed our “Grand Tour”.
There are many stories to tell and I fell in love with Vienna- going back there for my own big birthday, but in many ways it was Rome that made the greatest impression. Seeing all these iconic buildings like St Peter’s, the Coliseum and the Vatican was mind blowing but what fascinated me most was the church of St John’s Lateran which was near our hotel.
Part of St John’s is the sancta sanctorum which was the private oratory of the Pope from the 8th Century. This small room is reached by the holy steps which legend said were brought by Helena, mother of Constantine from Jerusalem and are supposed to be the steps from the Roman headquarters which Jesus walked down to his crucifixion. No one can walk on them but people have to go up on these knees, although there are other stairs and a lift for the less devout.
In the sancta sanctorum is an icon which tradition has believed was painted by St Luke and finished by an angel, although it is more likely several centuries after St Luke. It is kept covered up as it was a prized possession of medieval popes and so very valuable. You can see the sancta sanctorum and the icon by paying two euros and being allowed into this little room, said to be based on the holy of holies in the temple in Jerusalem.
I’m never quite sure about relics or some of the trappings of Roman Catholicism but like St Martin’s there was something very moving about the room, the stairs and the icon. The stairs and icon are probably not what tradition has suggested but they are testimony to the pilgrims who ascended on their knees because they thought Jesus had used those steps or who looked at the icon and believed Luke had painted Jesus from life. They may not be genuine but my feeling was that these relics had pointed people to Jesus, his life, death and resurrection and that it is what it is all about.
Saturday 24th October
Assuming you have all kept your heads wrapped in a cold towel as you pondered once again the revised regulations concerning the pandemic; I’m sure you now feel confident that you know exactly what is expected of you in the coming weeks. That being the case there are several chief constables of notable constabularies who would welcome your help because they find that they can’t keep all the requirements in their heads!
Jesus challenged the Pharisees and the Sadducees on this point, they had devised so many additional requirements to the Ten Commandments that it was inevitable that someone, somewhere would inadvertently transgress and, as Jesus said, they’d missed the point of the commandment in the first place. Rules are fine for guidance, but it is necessary that people understand their purpose if they are to follow them.
Many of us remember the childhood game of avoiding cracks in the pavement because if you trod on a crack you would break your mother’s teapot. I decided that would not work in my house, we had a metal teapot, and I could not think of a way to break it. It seems to me that unless people really understand how the virus is spread, they are in danger of unwittingly spreading it through ignorance. The situation with the students is a case in point, its not being spread in lecture halls but in drinking and socialising situations. Like it or not after a few drinks everyone is a best friend and social distancing flies out of the window. But the real casualties are those in nursing homes and care homes who have been denied visits. A fellow dog walker, despite having had a negative result from a Covid test is still denied access to her seriously
ill daughter because the nursing home is unable to distinguish between different levels of risk.
That is where Jesus demand that the spirit of the Law is observed really needs to come into play.
Sadly, there are too many of those in positions of authority who like Lottie below have dug themselves into a hole and don’t know when to stop digging.
Friday 23rd October
I like living in Canterbury but I like it most when I am on foot or on my bike. Like many cities it is balanced on a knife edge when it comes to traffic, all it takes is one small blockage or just a small amount of extra traffic and the whole city comes grinding to halt. This week it was work on Wincheap railway bridge that brought the city to a standstill for a few hours – a fact that was very apparent as I walked to church on Sunday and saw the many cars trying to make their way through the small back streets of Wincheap.
This made me reflect on how our lives are often like this. We can be going along fine until one small thing comes along and disrupts everything. It doesn’t need to be something big but, because we are often so busy, we are like the city - filled to capacity and balanced on a knife edge. That one thing, small as it might be, can bring everything crashing down. But God wants us to live lives of peace and contentment, not fear and stress so maybe we can work on being slightly better at planning then our council is? Maybe we can work out some ways to alleviate some of the stress in our lives, some of the business, some of the many demands. For many of us the past few months have taught us about our priorities and what we need to make time for. Hopefully this will translate into better balanced lives where it takes more than just one small thing to grind us to a halt.
Thursday 22nd October
Candice as a baby with her mother and father. Photo credit: Candice Mama
Last Sunday, I saw an intriguing headline on the BBC News website: ‘I hugged the man who murdered my father’. You can read the full story at https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/
It concerns a lady in South Africa called Candice Mama. When she was eight months old, her father was brutally shot and then burned alive by a group of white supremacists led by Eugene de Kock. Candice was nine when she discovered what had happened. She internalised the horror which led to such stress that, by the time she was sixteen, a doctor said 'You know you weren't having a heart attack, but in my over 20-something years of experience, I have never seen stress symptoms so severe in someone your age'.
To quote from the BBC’s article:
“Before long, she concluded that she needed to do what for some would be the unthinkable - she had to forgive the man who had taken her father away from her.
‘It started as a revenge in some ways, because I thought to myself, “Every time I think of this man it's like he controls me, I get these panic attacks. It's like I'm not in control of my own emotions”. I was like: “No, he already killed my father and now he's killing me too”. So for me, forgiveness wasn't so much something I could just think about doing, it was something that was crucial for me’."
And thus in 2014 Candice, her mother and other members of her family took part in a victim/perpetrator dialogue and met Eugene de Kock in prison; and that meeting ended with Candice asking whether de Kock could forgive himself for his crimes, a question which really disconcerted him. The meeting ended with Candice giving him a hug.
Candice has written about all this in a book titled Forgiveness Redefined. The article does not say whether Candice is a Christian but her whole attitude is a remarkable carrying out of Jesus’ directive for us to forgive our enemies (Matt 5: 20–48, 18: 21–35 – other gospels are available). Yet ‘by their fruits ye shall know them’ (Matt 7: 20). I am not sure that I could have shown such forgiveness as Candice – my faith has plenty of leeway to become fruitful.
With thanks to Candice, her family, and the BBC for this story.
Candice and her family at the meeting with Eugene de Kock. Photo credit: Candice Mama
Wednesday 21st October
Sunday was St Luke’s Day. Luke wrote his gospel and the Acts of the Apostles, which together take up nearly one quarter of the New Testament. He was a physician and there are many healing stories in his gospel.
The healing ministry is very close to my heart, partly because without prayer from members of the church I believe (and the medical profession would probably agree) I would not be here. Also I have been very involved in the healing ministry in most of the parishes I have been in. Increasingly it is being recognised that this ministry, which expresses the healing compassion of Jesus, is not an optional extra for those who have a particular interest, but rather that it
needs to be integrated within the ministry and pastoral care of the parish.
Jesus said to his disciples, “I have come in order that you might have life, life in all its fullness.” (John 10:10) This is shown in the gospel accounts of his teaching and healing ministry
Bishop Morris Maddocks writes, “Christian healing is Jesus Christ meeting you at the point of your need.”
That, to me, sums it up very well. Whatever our needs Jesus is there to meet us and support us and bring a new perspective to the situation.
Jurgen Moltman wrote, “Health is the strength to live, the strength to suffer and the strength to die. Health is not a condition of the body, it is the power of my soul to cope with varying conditions of the body.”
There is so much more I could write; but these are just two thoughts for today!
Tuesday 20th October
Having a coffee in Palace St I thought of cafes in places in Europe I’ve visited, eg Ypres when the
choir sang at the Menin Gate. I tried to look at Palace St as a tourist might view it, buildings of some antiquity, the Cathedral behind. We are fortunate to live in a city with such character, yet how often I take it for granted and don’t see it afresh.
The Gospels have reached us through the eyes of those who experienced Jesus ministry, the oral
tradition which passed on information and interpretation and the Gospel writers. Each of these has seen the significance of Jesus afresh.
As someone brought up with regular church, in Sunday School and then in the choir, it’s very
difficult for me to keep refreshing my perceptions of biblical texts or to imagine how they appear to someone with no church background, without the continuous exposure I had. One of the greatest challenges we face is to articulate what seems to many an irrelevant message for their lives.
This brings to mind Carl, one Sixth Former I taught, who said grumpily that he hoped I wouldn’t
bring RE into a General Studies lesson as he didn’t want to be brain washed. I sympathised entirely with this and pointed out that RE was about exploring the beliefs of religious and non-religious life stances. He might find some wisdom to think on. Carl was not impressed. “All that stuff in the Bible, so what?”, he replied.
The question ‘so what?’ is a legitimate challenge about communicating the Gospels today. So, at
each reading of a passage of scripture at home, in church or online, imagine Carl asking ‘so what?’
Do we have convincing replies?
Monday 19th October
In one of my former parishes, I was told a story by a couple about their honeymoon in the late
1930s. They were young and decided to go to Germany in the days after their wedding. This was
probably not advisable as at this time the country was under Nazi control but I don’t think the
couple really knew the situation and what was happening.
Their arrival soon brought interest from the authorities. After breakfast on the first day, they were summoned to reception where an SS officer in full uniform stood waiting. With a clicking of heels and a raising of his arm, he introduced himself and said that he had been assigned as their tour guide for the extent of their stay. Everywhere they went he went and they felt like celebrities. On the final day he saw them off and put them on the train.
As they told me it all seemed very exciting at the time but in the years afterwards they wondered
whether the authorities had thought they were spies posing as honeymooners. They wondered too what happened to the dashing young SS officer- the death of how many Jews was he complicit in? How many atrocities was he part of? What did he think of the regime he served?
To them it was a reminder of the banality of evil- that ordinary people seemingly charming and kind were able to be willing participants in the machinery of murderous cruelty that committed genocide and brought terrible suffering in their own lifetimes.
When I heard that story and their take on it, my reflection was that although we are in the image of God, we are flawed people and those flaws can lead to devastating effects. Not just in the 1940s but throughout history and in our own age, which is why we remain vigilant and aware sadly of what human beings are capable of doing to each other.
Saturday 17th October
This week I made a delivery to Operation Sunshine which supports a community in Zambia including a school and a hospital. They are asking for duvets, sheets, pillows, duvet covers, curtains, towels, and similar items. These are then adapted and re-used. The duvet covers are made into dresses and skirts, men’s shirts are altered to fit local people and towels become nappies and sanitary products. The aim is to support local workers and encourage local enterprise. The couple who are behind this charity met in Zambia in 1966 and have continued to maintain close links with the people there. They have involved many others in their mission, a school in Wales donated materials and uniforms for the primary school. Empty containers (the large blue drum in the picture) are re-purposed. Donations of respirators, masks, and dressings from a hospital in Scotland will be welcome at the hospital.
It seems to me that Lynn and Ian have taken the parable of the Good Samaritan to heart and acted upon it in a very positive, and life affirming way. Many of us are involved in activities which support and encourage our neighbours both far and wide and I’d like to think, that as a church community, we never stop reaching out to our neighbours beyond the U.K. We may be limited in the amount that we can give, but whenever we give, we are saying to those struggling in other countries, that we care and want to share the love of Christ with them.
Should any of you be sorting out your linen cupboards or thinking of replacing towels etc. do let me have the old ones and I will take them to Operation Sunshine. Winter is coming on here but sending some warmth to others makes it better for us all.
Some pictures from Zambia
Friday 16th October
Ralph Waldo Emerson
It’s been a strange year so far. Unexpected, scary, frustrating, quiet, confusing, educational. Full of uncertainty and hope, tragedy and reflection.
In amongst the myriad of emotions we all feel about the current situation, there is both sadness and gratitude. Sadness for those who have suffered, and at the unimaginable burden placed on our key workers, and regret at all the things we feel we have missed out on. I regret that I didn’t make more of the freedom I had before it was restricted, and that I often spent too much time rushing around to enjoy any of my day. But there is gratitude too, for the NHS, for our neighbours, for our friends, our community, and for the scientific advances that will hopefully find us a way out of this.
Everyone’s experience is different, but for many it has been an opportunity to reflect on what works in their lives and what doesn’t. I know people who have quit their jobs, changed their hours, taken up exercise, or reconnected with family. With all of this reflection, we have undoubtedly learned a lot as a society, and as individuals. For me it has encouraged a smaller, quieter life.
I have learned to find excitement in a ‘nothing’ day. I never would have thought to take my children on a virtual tour of Paris (YouTube), to sit in the garden and read at 6am during a heatwave, to let the laundry pile up because there are always clean(ish) clothes to be found if you don’t care what they look like, to let the children go an entire summer barefoot. I have learned the importance of sleep and fresh air, and accepting help from others when I need it.
I wish that Covid-19 had never happened, but given that I don’t have a time-machine, I look instead for the positives. I am grateful for the extra time spent with my family, and in particular my children - and for the lessons they have taught me. They live in the present, they accept things they have no control over, and they make the best of things. These are qualities I am keen to encourage in them, and learn to be better at myself.
I asked each of them when preparing to write this what the best and worst things were about the lockdown, and their responses were as follows:
Best: Sharing family birthdays at home, getting to spend more time together
Worst: Not being able to go to school, not getting to see friends and extended family
I was surprised that day-trips, holidays, meals out, parties etc. weren’t top of their lists. I know they have missed those things, but for them, having parents who are not rushing from one thing to another, cleaning the house or dragging them round the supermarket, was really important. I am glad of the opportunity to write this down, so that maybe once life has returned to a more normal chaotic rhythm, I can look back at this and remember to slow down sometimes and live in the moment. Today I am healthy and loved and I have all I need, and for that I am enormously grateful.
Thursday 15th October
Possible image of St Teresa aged c 61; it is a copy of an original 1576 painting. Photo credit: Wikipedia.
Today is the Feast of St Teresa of Avila, a most remarkable woman who lived in Spain during the 16th century Counter-Reformation and who has recently been recognised by the Pope as a Doctor of the Church. Only four of the 36 Doctors of the Church are women, so that means something! Although she suffered from much illness during her life, she was very active in establishing new religious houses – indeed, a whole new order of Carmelites – as well as reforming bad practice in existing ones. This new order was called the Discalced Carmelites (a posh phrase for shoeless), which gives some idea of her attitude towards religious discipline and practice… She did not have it all her own way; one papal legate described her as a "restless wanderer, disobedient, and stubborn femina who, under the title of devotion, invented bad doctrines, moving outside the cloister against the rules of the Council of Trent and her prelates; teaching as a master against Saint Paul's orders that women should not teach".
This is not the place for a full biography. However, if you have a chance, it is well worth finding out more about St Teresa of Avila or reading some of her writings; her Life of St Teresa of Avila by Herself is published by Penguin paperbacks and is very readable – not at all stuffy. And in these days with the nights drawing in and the Covid virus doing its worst, some words of hers may help lift the spirits:
Let nothing disturb you.
Let nothing make you afraid.
All things are passing.
God alone never changes.
Patience gains all things.
If you have God you will want for nothing.
God alone suffices.
Sculpture by Bernini of St Teresa in the Cornaro Chapel of the church of Santa Maria della Vittoria in Rome.
Photo credit: Wikipedia.
Wednesday 14th October
I wonder how many daily ‘Thoughts for the Day’ are second rather than first thoughts? If our political leaders have second thoughts they are accused of a ‘U-turn’, a sign of weakness, and incompetence. Actually, it can be an act of political courage to recognise that a situation has changed, requiring a change of policy.
Would you and I want to be in government now, having to make critical decisions about how to combat this new surge of Covid-19, faced with conflicting advice from scientists and competing interests? I think not! As someone once said in a rather
heated discussion on hugely difficult questions facing our leaders: ’The most difficult decision many of us here will have to make today is what clothes to wear or what to have for lunch’. Point taken.
Does God have second thoughts? In the Garden of Gethsemane when Jesus knew the horror of what awaited him, he asked his Father ‘take this cup from me’. But his almost instant second thought was momentous for the future of the world: ‘Nevertheless not my will but yours’.
In Acts 9:16 Paul had second thoughts about his travel plans following a vision from God that he should instead go to Macedonia and take the gospel into Europe for the first time - another momentous, God-directed U-turn.
We all face a very difficult time ahead. People of faith need to turn to God in prayer perhaps as never before, to seek guidance from the Holy Spirit for wisdom - including second thoughts - for decisions our leaders have to take, and for decisions we will have to take in our own lives. As Proverbs 3:5-7 reads in The Message version
‘Trust God from the bottom of your heart; don’t try to figure everything out on your own. Listen for God’s voice in everything you do; everywhere you go; he’s the one who will keep you on track. Don’t assume that you know it all.’
Many people are puzzled as to why there seems to have been no initiative from our leaders for a national day of prayer, given what we face as a nation. There was such a day before Dunkirk in World War 2 - and look what happened.
Tuesday 13th October
There is a lot of comments on the news at the moment from people complaining that they aren’t
told of COVID restrictions either far enough in advance or are told too far in advance. Like the
restrictions themselves, the big issue is one of balance. How do you get both measures and the
announcement of them right for the greatest beneficial effect. Thankless tasks for national and local politicians of all persuasions and public health administrators.
The series of parables in the Gospel readings from Matthew in the last Sundays of Trinity show
vividly how Jesus attempted to deliver an urgent message of immediate action and future warning. As we sit in church or at home watching online with the necessary practicalities of ‘Hands, Face, Space’ in the back of our minds and predictions for the future life of the virus in the media, the Gospel readings take us to scenarios of vineyards and banquets.
I find parables exciting. I remember from Reader training being taught about ‘parabolic hyperbole’, just an academic way of saying that Jesus often used exaggeration to reinforce the urgency of his teaching. He, too, was concerned with timing as well as message, hence some seemingly brutal elements in the stories.
Through these parables Jesus emphasises that we can take immediate actions of generosity and
inclusiveness which will be good news for our world and our local communities. He warns at the
same time that we are diminishing and will diminish the common good if we persist in resentment and exclusion.
What might be an equivalent message from the parables to the slogan ‘Hands, Face, Space’ to
guide the present and be advice for a positive future. What about ‘Faith, Hope and Charity’?
Monday 12th October
One of the things about leading Morning Prayer online has been the chance to remember some of the names commemorated each day.
The commemorations are a mix of New Testament figures, pre reformation saints and post
reformation figures. While the Roman Catholic church has continued to make new saints up to the present day, the Anglican church has added important figures of all denominations to the calendar remembering a wide variety of figures who are linked by their faith and their commitment. They are international and span the nearly five hundred years since the reformation, including both men and women.
That last point is important because the focus has often been on men over women. Today redresses that imbalance a little. Although Wilfred of Ripon is the main person remembered, the lives of two courageous women are in the calendar- Elizabeth Fry and Edith Cavell.
Elizabeth Fry was a Quaker who lived in late 18th and early 19th century. She was committed to prison reform, visiting prisoners and campaigning for better conditions for female prisoners and their families. She was also an early pioneer of night shelters for the homeless.
Edith Cavell was a nurse in Belgium in the early 20 th century. She helped British soldiers escape in the first world war and for that she was captured by the Germans and shot by firing squad on this day in 1915.
For both women what they did emerged from their sense of Christian service and that drove their actions. For these two women showed great bravery in how they lived and for Edith Cavell in how she died.
Edith Cavell and Elizabeth Fry are reminders of how God calls us to put our faith into actions in how we live and what we do. So remember them today and how their faith gave them the strength to follow God’s call.
Saturday 10th October
Lottie looking to make friends with the world
Walking this week has been most enjoyable, Lottie has decided that it is her sole purpose to greet everyone we meet, both people and dogs. She has terrified a girl from the grammar school by dancing in front of her with her tongue out. Poor child thought a wolf had appeared and clearly shades of Little Red Riding Hood were in her mind as she ran quickly to join other friends who were some way ahead. Whilst those of us who know Lottie may be puzzled by the girl’s behaviour, her response was that of many of us when faced with the unexpected, run for it!
Time and again when faced with situations we want to escape rather than engage but it seems to me that Jesus did the opposite. He touched the lepers, the blind man, the woman with the haemorrhage, the children, all of which, as an observant Jew, he should have shunned. When and where do we engage with those who are on the fringes of our society, do we hurry past those in the shop doorways or do we acknowledge them and give them a greeting? If we are to be the radical Christians we can be, then we have to challenge societal norms and there are many ways in which we can do this. Contacting our councillors and M.P.s, signing up to petitions
and supporting calls for justice. There is no way we can support every appeal but if each one of us select the ones closest to our own hearts than as a congregation we can reach many and demonstrate our concern and our righteous anger and our passion for people who are vulnerable and need our support.
Maybe we can imitate Lottie and approach everyone with a smile and an obvious desire to hear their story. As my neighbour at the gym said “I think we ought to be kind, that’s what I taught my children and I’m so glad when they tell me things that show they’ve been kind to others.”
Friday 9th October
Autumn is most definitely upon us and I have been reminded this week, as I have been out and about, how depressing it can be. The other afternoon I was drenched in just a few minutes in a sudden downpour, and I have spent entire days just looking at grey, dull skies. The trees around us are slowly dying and everything thing seems like it is ending.
But I have also been reminded of the beauty of this time. The patterns of trees and leaves dancing in the air as the wind sweeps through. The rainbows that appear as the rain and sun battle for space in the sky. The beautiful colours of the leaves as they change. The sound of children giggling as they kick their way though piles of fallen leaves.
Things are so rarely just one thing - however much we wish things to be simple. Autumn is a time of death, but it is also a time of beauty. It is a reminder of the rhythms of life, how things change over time, but also how we cannot simply simplify things into easy to understand boxes. Autumn is not simply a time of death and destruction. It is also a time of beauty and power. In that same way 2020 so far has not only been a season of death and grief but has also been a time of growth and finding beauty in new places. We need to learn to embrace the complexities of life and this season can help us do that.
I end with this, that I read today in my morning prayer:
“Lord, as the seasons turn, creation teaches us of grief, patience, and renewal. Make us good students of these rhythms that we might not hurry the work of grief but receive the gift of your presence in our time of need. Amen”
Thursday 8th October
Clement Attlee with King George VI in 1945. Photo Credit: Imperial War Museum
With apologies to Archbishop Justin, I suspect most people in this country would see our national religion as the NHS rather than the C of E. The NHS started in 1948 when Clement Attlee was Prime Minister. Attlee died on this day in 1967. Many at the time thought that Attlee was too grey a figure to be a leader but he was admired by Margaret Thatcher amongst others. “He was a serious man and a patriot. Quite contrary to the general tendency of politicians in the 1990s, he was all substance and no show" she wrote in her memoires. Attlee himself answered his critics with a limerick:
There were few who thought him a starter,
Many who thought themselves smarter.
But he ended PM,
CH and OM,
an Earl and a Knight of the Garter.
According to Wikipedia, Attlee was not strongly religious - in an interview he described himself as "incapable of religious feeling", saying that he believed in "the ethics of Christianity" but not "the mumbo-jumbo". Of course, it is not just Christianity that has ethics; Judaism, Islam, Sikhism, and many other faiths seek to improve the lot of people suffering hardship. This striving to make the world a better place may be something found in a phrase from the beginning of St Augustine’s Confessions that forms part of this week’s collect: “Almighty God, you have made us for yourself and our hearts are restless till they find their rest in you…”.
If you feel restless this week, is God trying to encourage you in some way? You may not end by founding another NHS - but you may find yourself.
St Augustine of Hippo as imagined by Sandro Botticelli. Photo credit: Wikimedia Commons
Wednesday 7th October
We have just celebrated the feast day of St Francis of Assis. We usually think of him surrounded by birds and small creatures, as in the hymn All creatures of our God and King.
He was the son of a cloth merchant and took part in the war between Assis an Perugia. He was taken prisoner for almost a year and fell seriously ill. He had a dream which led him to a life of solitude and prayer so that he might find God’s will for his life. He renounced worldly goods and family life to live a life of poverty and lived by the words of Matthew 10:9-11. He gathered 12 men (brothers) to share his life from where the Franciscan Order comes from and the Order of St Clare (the Poor Clares) for women.
Some people will have had a life changing experience, often called a Damascus Road experience, after Paul’s encounter on the road. Others will have gently experienced Christ in their life. Some will go rushing off to Peru to become a missionary, while others will share Bible stories with their grandchildren. Some will go and work among the poor in Calcutta while others will serve the community at home by serving coffee. We all have a role to play in spreading
God’s love in the world. No task is too small if it is done with sincerity. Let us pray that God will lead us where he wants us to be and use the gifts he has given us.
Tuesday 6th October
Newspaper headlines this week have been mostly gloomy, reminding me of Don McLean’s great
musical account of rock and roll and politics in America from the 50s to the 80’s, the song ‘American Pie’. A paperboy reflects ‘Bad news on the doorstep, I couldn’t take one more step’, referring to the death of Buddy Holly in a plane crash in 1959, ‘the day the music died’.
In one paper was an article by a hospital medic describing the emotional and physical toll taken on him and his colleagues during the pandemic. I thought of the verse ‘The faithful few fought bravely to save the nation’s life’ from the hymn ‘Your Hand, O God, has Guided Your Flock from Age to Age’. So many people have fought bravely so far in all occupations and in their daily lives. Now, it seems, this struggle must continue.
E. H. Plumptre (1821-1891), the hymnwriter, was at one time vicar of Pluckley and of Bickely in Kent. A 1907 hymnology describes the subjects of his hymns as ‘mainly those associated with the revived Church life of the present day’. Revival was obviously a concern in 1907. Today Diocese, Deanery and our Parish are all asking us to think about what the church’s witness might be after these extraordinary times.
‘American Pie’ is a lament for the decline of rock and roll as a vibrant, spontaneous expression of optimism and for a certain end of innocence in American politics. Decisions on preserving , letting go and reviving are radical and painful. Plumptre’s hymn encourages us not to get stuck feeling that now is ‘the day the music died’. We have to work out how we can make real the conviction that ‘Your mercy will not fail us nor leave your work undone’.
Monday 5th October
Last Tuesday was the feast of St Michael and all Angels –commonly known as Michaelmas and one of the four quarter days with Lady Day, Midsummer and Christmas Day, when rents are due.
It is one of the feast days that the prayer book marks and is given a prominent place in Common
Worship but is celebrated less these days. In the past many clergy were ordained at Michaelmas but this year with ordinations cancelled at Petertide it has had a comeback although I suspect this is an aberration in a long term trend.
St Michael, the archangel, is a rather overlooked figure. One of my contemporaries at college blames this on the decision by Marks and Spencer to stop calling its own brand “St Michael”, but I think it has more to do with the fact that we are often uncomfortable with angels (apart from those in nativity plays) and the warlike nature of Michael overcoming the devil and his fallen angels in the book of Revelation is not easy to fit with our Christian practice in the 21 st century.
The most famous image of the archangel is the Epstein statue on the West wall of Coventry Cathedral, with Michael spear in hand standing over the bound and defeated Devil.
So where do angels fit in our Christian faith today? They have become very prominent in new age beliefs and they seem to be part of the wider spiritual culture as mystical creatures who are
guardian angels or simply extra terrestrials appearing at opportune moments.
So angels tend to be avoided and yet the root word “angelos” means in greek messenger and
angels appear numerous times throughout the bible. I tend to be sceptical about angels myself but for me the mentions of angels as God’s messengers or as heavenly figures in the bible are a
reminder that much as I may want to pin everything down, there are many things I don’t fully
understand and are ends that remain loose. I have to live with that uncertainty and while I may
remain sceptical, who knows what is in the mind of God?
Saturday 3rd October
It’s begun to feel as though winter is closing in, the wind and rain have alerted us all and we must begin to batten down the hatches. But unexpectedly nature has surprised two of my dog walking friends, in the past week they have been picking pounds of runner beans! Having had a meagre harvest in the summer they have a bonanza crop in the autumn. Bramley apple trees have been cracking under the weight of the crop and I have been a very happy beneficiary of their bounty. Nature has been good to us all and so despite all the effects of the pandemic we have been rewarded with birdsong and an abundance of flowers and crops in and around
We know we have to prepare for the colder months but let us not forget all we have been given in the preceding months. It is too easy to moan and look downwards, we need to look up and outwards. This is a trying time for all organisations, but our children are back at school, our students are off to university and our hospitals are urging us to make contact in respect of illness and disease apart from Covid 19. We have so many reasons to be grateful and we need to look at how we can support others for whom this time has been so difficult. Catching Lives and the Foodbank continue to operate at full speed. A neighbour has hit upon a novel way to help the foodbank. She is making face coverings and pot and bowl covers and asking for donations to the foodbank rather than cash for each item. The food covers mean that there is no need to use clingfilm to store items in the fridge and they and the face coverings are washable and therefore reusable.
We have all been given the gift of creativity so a question for each of us is, “What is God asking me to do to support others at this time?” That is something each of us can pray about as part of the Christian and the multi-faith community of Canterbury.
Friday 2nd October
I was reading about St Therese of Lisieux recently. She lived from 1873-1897 in Lisieux, France. She entered a monastery aged 15 and dies 9 years later of tuberculosis. She is remembered for the memoir she wrote, The Story of A Soul. In it she talks of her passionate desire to give her whole life to Christ by living the ‘Little Way’.
The Little Way is about putting the focus on God, recognising that we are not big but that we are small. It is about focusing on doing the smallest actions with the greatest love – bringing God into all the tasks we do, not just the ones that we see as big and significant.
This raises questions for me and for all of us. How can we bring God’s love into everything we do? Do I see all tasks as worthy of that effort and love or do I subconsciously rate things in order of what I consider important? Do I think of myself humbly recognising how small I am compared with the greatness of God?
What would my life look like if I lived this Little Way of love this week?
Thursday 1st October
Part of a stone circle at Avebury. Photo credit: Visit Wiltshire
Last week I was staying in Wiltshire and we were able to visit Avebury. Built c 4,500 – 5,000 years ago, Avebury is a massive circular bank and ditch which includes three circles of stones. Nearby is West Kennet Avenue, an avenue of stones1½ miles long and the brooding Silsbury Hill, as well as long barrows and other Neolithic enclosures. Within a few miles, there is Woodhenge and Stonehenge. The whole area is awe-inspiring and full of mystery. Why were these great monuments built? How did those people move the massive stones over great distances? How were those ancient societies organised?
With no written records, we shall never know even a tenth of their story. However, there may have been some dark aspects to life then, as the presence of human remains at many of these sites may be a sign of human sacrifice.
I wonder what our successors in 5,000 years’ time will think of us. Who knows whether any written records from today will survive till then? (Until 2015, Acts of Parliament were printed on vellum, as that was seen as the most durable material; now, archival paper is used instead). I have known a couple of cases where data stored on old ‘floppy’ discs could not be accessed because of changes in computer technology; and those records were only 20 – 25 years old!
What will the buildings that we create today say about us to our successors? Will they be a fair reflection of our society and its values? If not, how can we improve them?
Floppy discs – for those too young too remember them! Photo credit: George Chernilevsky
Wednesday 30th September
There is a trend for mobile phone owners to install a ‘Step Counter’ app to see how far they have walked on a daily basis. I installed one for my walks during the height of lockdown. The results were quite encouraging until, much to my annoyance, the app didn’t work on the day of my longest walk. I uninstalled the app.
Just imagine if Jesus and St Paul had mobile phones with Step Counter apps. Paul in particular went on countless journeys, sometimes on donkeys or by ship but frequently on foot. The Israelites must have walked vast distances to and from Egypt.
I admire people who are using the prolonged extra time at home to learn a new skill. I have not done that yet but have started on a project to recall and write ‘My personal journey of faith’. God first came into my life seriously about 62-63 years ago and has stayed with me through thick and thin. Christianity began to be real to me through a godly headmaster at the grammar school who taught religious education (RE) to us 6th. formers, using C.S.Lewis’ s book ‘Mere Christianity’ as the main text - brilliant.
Previously I and others had suffered very poor teaching of RE by a master whose idea of punishment for minor misdemeanors was to oblige a culprit to write out a Psalm several times after school - hopefully not Psalm 119!
My journey of faith will include, for example: those Christians who have had a big influence on me; churches and clergy where I learned much, had opportunities to serve and grew as a disciple; outstanding books and other such resources; and, particularly, times on the journey when God has been very close and direct with me.
Maybe you have done something like this or might like to do so. Giving thanks to God can be something of a ritual at times but reviewing my journey of faith really does make me thankful to God, including for steps on the way I had forgotten.
Tuesday 29th September
The season of party political conferences is here. This year, instead of by the sea, which I always
enjoyed, Autumn Conference has been online with debates and fringe meetings. One fringe meeting was with the Christian Forum of my particular party.
The topic was, should Christians ever support civil disobedience? In a democracy, how does faith
inform our relations with laws made by those who have been elected? How do we protest if we feel laws are unjust? What does the life and ministry of Jesus say to us about this? During the discussion I thought of two stark instances of this question.
Archbishop Romero and his priests in El Salvador spoke and worked for justice for the poor.
Romero eventually appealed to soldiers to stop obeying the orders of the vicious regime. Dietrich Bonhoeffer finally reasoned that it was legitimate to overthrow Hitler. Romero was shot while celebrating Mass. Bonhoeffer was hanged just before the end of WW2. In the face of their immense courage we need to be silent before reaching for superficial conclusions.
Bonhoeffer said ‘If I sit next to a madman as he drives a car into a group of innocent bystanders, I can't, as a Christian, simply wait for the catastrophe, then comfort the wounded and bury the dead. I must try to wrestle the steering wheel out of the hands of the driver.’
How do we reconcile civil obedience with our faith? Romero and Bonhoeffer paid with their lives for wrestling with working out what they thought loving your neighbour as yourself means. We are not living under the circumstances they encountered. But how do we, living in our own contexts, work at this reconciliation, personally and in church and society?
Monday 28th September
When I started reading the newspapers, I used to read only the sports news, then I began to read
obituaries, then reviews, then politics and now I read most things though I always give medicine a wide berth.
I tend to scan the death notices, occasionally knowing someone in there but basically because I’m nosy. This week I did know someone – Barrie Griffiths OBE- in fact I knew him twice – once as a fellow resident of Sevenoaks but secondly from many years ago.
My first encounter was when I was nine and he was the first violin and leader of the Royal
Philharmonic Orchestra. My whole year at Primary School were taken to a concert put on by Kent County Council where we were introduced to classical music. I had never been to a concert before and had never heard an orchestra play- I was fascinated by the sound and the whole experience. The RPO performed the concert and Barrie was prominent in several pieces, and I never forgot that concert as I grew up. It didn’t inspire me to play but instead to listen and enjoy the musical gifts of others.
When I went to Sevenoaks I inherited a weekly music recital from my opera singing predecessor.
One week the soloist was local resident Barrie Griffiths and after he finished I told about him our
previous encounter across the Central Hall Chatham, the influence that it had on me. He told me about how important those concerts had been to stimulate interest in music and to inspire young people, who had never heard music live before.
That chance encounter gave me an opportunity to thank him for the concert. Presumably he will
never know how many people have been influenced by his playing, the number of lives changed by his gifts.
None of us know how many lives we influence by using our gifts, but we all do that as we go about our lives. As we give thanks for people like Barrie who have shaped us, so we rejoice that others are shaped by our gifts and the effects we have on those people, often unknown to us. So that makes us appreciate how we need to use those gifts wisely and how God uses our talents to build up our brothers and sisters, mostly without us realising, like Barrie on his violin in 1977.
Friday 25th September
Because I live outside of our parish during lockdown my daily exercise and walks were all done away from the streets where I usually walk for work. This meant that when I headed up to Howe Green a couple of weeks ago it was my first visit up there since spring time. Not only have new houses appeared but there are entirely new roads that have sprung up.
This got me thinking about the journeys we take and how often we go on autopilot, never deviating from our courses, never seeing anything new. How often do we discover new roads? I think the same is true in our spiritual lives too – we do the things we’ve always done how often do we try new routes? How often do we allow new roads to be built in our lives?
Our final Bishops question that we will be pondering as a church soon is, “What might we let go of so that we may enter a new future with God?” But I think we might also want to add to that question and say “What new roads do we also want to build in our spiritual lives and in our churches so that we may enter a new future with God?”
Thursday 24th September
Autumnal Mists in Wiltshire. Photo credit: VisitWiltshire.co.uk
Tuesday last, when the Prime Minister made his grim speech about the latest Covid restrictions, was the autumn equinox - the day when the night and day were both 12 hours long. For the next six months, the nights will be longer than the days, which seems a fitting metaphor for the government’s message. It was also the last days of warm weather. What lies ahead seems to be cold, dank, and dreary; and even the hope of jolly Christmas parties seems to be fading.
Undoubtedly the perils we face are all too real. Yet one of the hazards we have is an issue with appearances. Thus, according to the government, so far in this year 41,825 people have died within 28 days of a positive Covid test; and each one of those deaths is a tragedy for the individual and their families; may they rest in peace and rise in glory. Yet, every year, there are up to 48,000 deaths in the UK from sepsis (according to the Sepsis Trust) and about 80,000 people suffer life changing after-effects - but most of us do not worry about sepsis on a day-by-day basis. So, we should not let the long winter evenings fog our judgment and darken our moods more than we can help. We live in hazardous times but it has ever been thus. Our life expectancy is still much better than that of any of our ancestors.
The book Ecclesiastes in the Bible is not known for being overly optimistic – remember “vanity of vanities” and “those who increase knowledge increase sorrow” (Ecclesiastes 1: 1 and 18), let alone “Of making many books [and Thoughts For The Day] there is no end, and much study is a weariness of the flesh” (Ecclesiastes 12: 12)? Yet it also says “Two are better than one, because they have a good reward for their toil. For if they fall, one will lift up the other; but woe to one who is alone and falls and does not have another to help. Again, if two lie together, they keep warm; but how can one keep warm alone? And though one might prevail against another,
two will withstand one. A threefold cord is not quickly broken” (Ecclesiastes 4: 9-12).
We are social animals; we need each other. In these difficult days, what else can we do to strengthen our community and support each other?
Eeyore without his community. Photo credit: @V_and_A on Twitter
Wednesday 23rd September
I see from the lectionary that today is an Ember Day. I wonder how many people know what that means. Ember Days are four sets of three days in a calendar year roughly around the start of the four seasons. These days are set aside by the church as a way of marking the seasons with prayer and fasting.
The days are Wednesday, Friday and Saturday. Wednesday, the day Jesus was betrayed; Friday, the day Jesus was crucified and Saturday, the day Jesus was entombed.
Spring: the Wednesday, Friday and Saturday after Ash Wednesday, a time of thanksgiving for rebirth of nature and the gift of light. It is the season when we begin to see the spring flowers popping up and the evenings beginning to get lighter.
Summer: after Pentecost when we give thanks for the wheat harvest.
Autumn: after Holy Cross Day (September 13th ) when we give thanks for the grape harvest.
Winter: after the feast of St Lucy (December 13th ) when we give thanks for the olive crop.
The rhythm of life comes from the natural world: light and dark, day and night, the phases of the moon, the ebb and flow of the tide. It is good to have a rhythm in our own lives. The past few months have not been easy. Our rhythm has been put out. So much has been cancelled, so much has changed and many people have found it difficult to cope. But there is one constant in life and that is God. God never changes. He is there at the beginning and the end. We may have felt at times that he was missing, “Why was he allowing this to happen?” But that is not the question. The question is “Where can I find God in all this?” Because He has been there all the time seeing
us through and He will see us through to its end if we can trust Him and work with Him. Let’s keep up our rhythm of prayer as the one constant in our lives as we connect with the one constant God.
Tuesday 22nd September
At the weekend there were folk in the city dressed in Harry Potter costumes. Dressing up as a
character from even my favourite book and walking about in public doesn’t appeal to me, I’d hate being stared at! Seeing them reminded me of a new father in the family, so excited by the birth of his daughter that he spent the first few days wearing a very large badge with the words ‘Ask me about my daughter’.
It would certainly be novel if members of churches in Canterbury choose a disciple or another
character in the Gospels who encountered Jesus and went around with such a badge proclaiming ‘I’m …Ask me about Jesus’. This would probably just reinforce the idea that Christianity is a faith of eccentrics, but some might be intrigued.
Who would you choose to be and why? I’d choose Thomas. I’ve always admired his enthusiasm
yet bewilderment. Thomas is the one who wants to know what ‘the way’ actually means in John 14 and famously demands to ‘see’ Jesus, wounds in the room where the disciples were sheltering in fear in John 20.
The implications of ‘seeing’ Jesus’ wounds but realising that transformation into a new ‘way’ of
being was possible, had a profound effect on Thomas. We desperately need a new way of
transforming wounds today. We are aware of the continuing implications of events in our history
and of the inequalities of our own making which have come into the light due to recent
So how would I answer an enquirer who approached me and said, ‘OK, you’re Thomas, tell me
about Jesus’? And who would you be and what would you say?
Monday 21st September
Great excitement this week as a newly released DVD hit the Rectory door mat. For a Doctor Who fan like me this was a big moment for “Fury from the Deep” had arrived, for everyone else I guess a case of “What is all the fuss about?"
Fury from the Deep was made in the 1960s and starred Patrick Troughton as the Doctor in a six part story. A few years afterwards believing that it would never be repeated and was cluttering up the shelves, the series along with many others was destroyed. For many years film hunters have travelled the world looking for lost episodes everywhere from bootfairs to African TV stations. Some Doctor Who episodes were found but not Fury from the Deep. Some intrepid fans had recorded the soundtrack when it was first broadcast and so this year the six episodes were animated to fit with the audio. So now for the first time since 1968 it can be watched again.
Although the series was destroyed, some small clips survived. They were found in Australia where Doctor Who was shown in the early 1970s. The clips comprised the cuts that were made by the Australian censor as they were deemed too frightening to be shown and were taken out of the broadcast version.
This seems rather ironic- that the only bits of Fury from the Deep that still exist are the bits
Australians weren’t meant to see.
In life we often find ourselves weighed down by the things that we have done wrong. When we look back in amidst all the good things, there are the negative things- the hurtful action, the cruel word or the wrong path taken- which can come to dominate and obscure everything else.
In our faith we rightly talk of “those things we not to have done” but Christianity has at its heart the mechanism to address that- the cycle of confession and absolution, repentance and renewal, which allows us to bring to God all that is wrong and find forgiveness.
Doctor Who fans are glad those clips exist but perhaps they should have been destroyed. Our faith is one which allows us to find forgiveness, to acknowledge our wrong doing and move on to newness of life rather than dwell in the past.
Saturday 19th September
What a glorious week we have had! Afternoons in the garden drinking tea with friends and making sure there is only six of us maximum. One morning there was a cache of dog walkers up at the farm, the dogs thought it was great fun; and then someone said “ There are six of us, we’d be in trouble if there were any more. What if Priti Patel should appear?” The reply was instant, “We’d have to report her as she’d be breaking the law!”
We all know the rules and the vast majority of people are still following the safe distancing and the hand washing and masking requests but they are finding it hard to manage the restrictions on meeting up with such limited numbers especially when it includes children. Grandparents are finding it especially hard. One neighbour, in the light of the restrictions, will have to miss her grandson’s first communion and there will be no family celebration afterwards. It is the loss of spontaneity in meeting up with family and friends that is especially difficult.
The Canterbury Street Pastors are planning to resume the Saturday night patrols in the near future, but this will be subject to all the guidance which the has been issued. The biggest concern is for the homeless, those who have felt unable to respond to invitations from Porchlight and Changing Lives to leave the streets. Their welfare when winter comes will exercise the compassion and creativity of all those involved in helping them.
Our prayers for them, for the migrants and refugees, for the lonely and those suffering mental health and physical illness must continue unabated as must whatever practical help we can offer.
Jesus asked us to be his hands and feet in caring for all and with his love and
compassion we are asked to reach out to all in need. Let us pray for the stamina and
strength to do that.
Friday 18th September
I went to a library last week.
Not an out of this world statement I realise, however this was the first time I have been in a library since March and as an avid bookworm and self confessed library addict that has been a loooooong time for me. Even this was a bit of a trek and not just a case of popping into town as I had to make my way to Dover to get this experience and had to learn how to navigate the one way system in the library building.
For me this has been one of those experiences that I didn’t realise how much I missed. The simple pleasure of being able to browse and pick books, and the feeling of getting home with a whole bag full of brand new worlds to explore. I am hoping that I remember this feeling, even when things get back to more normality, and that I continue to appreciate the small things.
I hope that I can take this thankfulness for the small parts of every day life and continue the practice of it long into the future.
Thursday 17th September
One of the finest glasses of white wine I have ever had came from Santa Barbara in California, from a grower called Au Bon Climat. The wine was named Hildegard in honour of one of the wives of Charlemagne, the first Holy Roman Emperor. It was she who allegedly replanted many vines - and the mix of the grapes used for this wine (50% Pinot Gris, 40% Pinot Blanc, and 10% Aligote for the wine geeks) reflects some of the old European varieties of grapes that were wiped out in the 19th century by phylloxia.
When I first came across the wine, I assumed it was named after St Hildegard of Bingen, whose feast day falls today. She lived between c 1098 – 1179, close to the river Rhine in what we would now call Germany, then part of the Holy Roman Empire (which, as Voltaire remarked, was not holy, nor Roman, nor an empire). As well as founding two monasteries, she was a visionary, mystic, and writer who is perhaps best remembered now for her music. At a time when Holy Roman Emperors and Popes were having macho fights about power (known as the Investiture Controversy – you really wanted to know that), she more than held her own: "woman may be made from man, but no man can be made without a woman" she stated. Like Julian of Norwich, Eleanor of Aquitaine, and St Catherine of Siena, she is well worthy of a few minutes’ study.
Her music is some of the oldest in the western tradition and has an ethereal, unworldly, spiritual quality – all rather different to that other early piece, Sumer is icumen in, which this week’s warm weather has brought to mind. And if this talk of music reminds you sadly that we still cannot sing in churches, cheer yourself up by finding Sing, Sing, Sing on Youtube. That masterpiece by Benny Goodman should set your feet tapping, hands clicking, and face smiling; let’s not let this virus grind us down…
Wednesday 16th September
The new football season has started! If you are not interested in football you may be unaware that a top international player was close to being sold to another club for about £248 million - probably more. No, this is not April 1st. A player from the same club was sold for £194 million. That’s not all. Players who are ‘valued’ and bought for such incredible amounts can then expect to be paid well over £200,000 a week to play football! A certain Lionel Messi ‘earns’ around £500,000 a week with Barcelona.
We all hope and pray that when the pandemic is over the ‘new normal’ will include major changes in our values, particularly how people are valued and rewarded. The pandemic has revealed just how poorly we, as a society, value and pay people whose work is crucial to our daily existence. An experienced care worker earns around £400 a week. The comparison with the top footballer’s pay is simply shocking, an indictment of our societies’ distorted values.
The Bible has plenty to say about what we should value and the price we may have to pay to live as disciples of Christ. God asked Abraham to sacrifice his son Isaac as a sign of his obedience. Abraham was prepared to pay the price but mercifully, Isaac was spared. However, God valued us so highly that he paid the highest possible price to bring us back to him ‘For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him, will not perish but have eternal life’ (John 3:16)
Remember the parables of the prodigal son and the pearl without price? All else pales into insignificance in terms of value and price. In what ways do our values need to change as we gradually move towards a new normal? Treating all people equally is just one, if tough to achieve.
Tuesday 15th September
In the Westgate Gardens people enjoy being punted along the river. It’s relaxing just watching them gliding along through the green spaces we are so fortunate to enjoy in Canterbury. Green spaces, from domestic gardens to local parks, are a release from immediate pressures. They are vital in providing the environment for the relaxation which is a part of re-creation.
At a time when circumstances are so fluid and uncertain we have to find space to feel secure and simply be for a while. A feeling of security and the ability to access natural space are denied to those who live in overcrowded housing, are fearful of homelessness and who cannot access parks and gardens. Andrew Bradstock’s biography of Bishop David Shepherd, ‘Batting for the Poor’ describes the origins of the 1985 Faith in the City Report on urban priority areas where affordable housing and access to green space can be problematic.
Homes for those on low incomes with access to recreational green spaces are desperately needed in town or country. This is a priority for the re-creations which needs to happen after the pandemic. In Canterbury, even though there is community access to our open spaces and some of us may be shielded from the tension of insecure housing, we need to keep faith with our city by being vigilant for fair and sustainable development.
Shepherd was ‘a brilliant and passionate man who helped break down divisions.’ As well as
moments of relaxation, (wouldn’t it be wonderful if the punts could meander to Fordwich and
beyond!) this passion and vision are vitally needed from us as Christians in our city today.
Monday 14th September
Last week Dame Diana Rigg died in her early eighties. She was a very prominent figure on stage, film and television since the 1960s, probably most famously in The Avengers but in a host of other roles.
She didn’t write her memoirs but wrote a wonderful book called “No turn unstoned” which collected together some incredibly unflattering theatrical reviews. Glenda Jackson was described as “the face that launched a thousand dredgers”, Richard Briers as “playing Hamlet like a demented typewriter” and Rigg who appeared naked on stage endured the comment “she is built like a brick mausoleum with insufficient flying buttresses”.
The book is incredibly funny but not if you are the one on the receiving end. Cutting wit has been a staple part of civilised society for centuries and the well directed barb can puncture pomposity but sometimes these comments are the writers way of looking funny and clever- showing off at someone else’s expense.
Perhaps this has become more of an issue in the days of social media and the internet where we all can vent our opinions and withering assessments of other people’s characters and abilities. Add to that the fact that online content is always available years after it was written and you have a potential for harm.
We are called to be honest but also kind in what we say and write. There was a period where the
phrase “said in love” was used by Christians to excuse some poisonous comment but supposedly
made alright by being “said in love”. Paul writes several times about what comes out of our mouths being more dangerous than what goes in. A rebuke to those who wanted strict food laws but were less scrupulous about things said.
What we say is always important and the power of words is such that they can easily wound.
This reminds us that we need to be careful in our choice of words and kind in our intentions when we speak of others.
Saturday 12th September
Bishop Rose has asked us all to start thinking about the future. What a splendid idea! We have been mired in demands and requests for the past six months, all of which have been in response to that which has happened and none of which have given us an inkling of future plans, and ideas. Now we are asked to look at our church and reflect on where we have seen God’s hand and think together about how we can learn from this and use that which is good for the future. It’s time to lift hearts, minds and feet out of the mud and murk and see the sun in all its glory as the future beckons.
It will not be an easy task, there are those who are grieving the loss of loved ones, the loss of jobs, the loss of relationships but we are able to offer hope and support to those in that situation and to each other. We serve a God who is in relationship with us, Father, Son and Holy Spirit. I love the icon that shows the three figures bound to each other but also looking out because they are bound to us as well. As church we can reach out, we know that many people have followed services on Facebook and through streaming. For some that has been enough whilst they consider how to begin to emerge from shielding but for others it will have awoken a hunger to know more. We have to think of innovative ways to encourage and support them and enable them to fulfil the potential that God knows they have. Our future is exciting, demanding, and joyful; lets work together to share that with everyone in our community.
Friday 11th September
I met my newest nephew for the first time this week. He is three months old and very cute! Thanks to the joy of technology and many, many pictures, videos and facetime calls I already knew what he looked like and what he sounded like but none of that could compare at all to finally getting a cuddle. It was a reminder of how much we have all missed is these past months and what we still continue to miss.
We have learnt a lot and discovered new ways to communicate, we have new relationships with our neighbours and a stronger sense of community. We have discovered how resilient we are and what we can cope with if we put our minds to it. We have slowed down and revaluated our priorities. But we have also lost things and it is ok to mourn those things.
I missed out on three months of seeing my nephew and his older sister and given that I only got to see them because I was a safe entity after having been quarantined for two weeks who knows when I’ll get to see them next? I also had a niece born during lockdown who I still haven’t met and, given the geographical borders between us, probably won’t get to meet for a long time to come.
So this week I am celebrating and enjoying meeting Bailey and getting to play with his older sister. But I am also lamenting for the time lost and the niece I still haven’t met. It is ok for us to feel sadness and lament. It is ok to feel joy and happiness. It is ok for us to feel any mixture of emotions that might seem contradictory. God is big enough for all those feelings and understands what it is to lose, to feel pain and to feel joy. These emotions are not surprising or threatening to God and can all be brought honestly to God in prayer without any fear. So whatever you are feeling this week about life and lockdown I encourage you to take it to God in prayer and know the comfort of being understood, just as you are.
Thursday 10th September
Part of the Tyger from William Blake’s Songs of Experience
The number of Covid-19 cases is rising and more restrictions on our movements and meetings will be introduced next Monday. As I write, the details are not clear but the general tenor is; and so, for example, the plans discussed on Tuesday for a Tea Time gathering for Sunday week will have to be deferred. It is all a bit depressing and tempting to ask: “Where is God in this?”. Concerning this wretched virus, and to quote from William Blake’s famous poem The Tyger, I am left wondering “Did he who made the Lamb make thee?”.
The problem of evil in the world has no easy answer – sorry about that! – and my take on it is certainly full of holes. However, as far as I can understand, the universe has emerged from a Big Bang c 14½ billion years ago arising from surprising few physical laws; and they have allowed the evolution of innumerable stars (and presumably planets) as well as forms of life on our own planet – and the most numerous and varied of those life forms are viruses. Our own lives would not have happened without having developed from much, much, simpler life forms. So, we
should not really complain about viruses doing their stuff as, without them, we could not do our stuff.
Where does that leave God? I believe He or She is still supporting us, offering love and support in ways we cannot understand but can see in action. “The eternal God is thy refuge and underneath are the everlasting arms” (Deut 33: 27 AV). And so, despite the set-backs that we are facing, I hope we can stay optimistic. Although life may seem chaotic, I think we shall still find ways of serving God and our neighbour, and of having life more abundantly (John 10: 10). At the foot of this piece is an image showing a bellringing method called Bristol Surprise Major. At first, or even second, sight it looks a complete muddle: an utter mess. But there is order there under the surface that can produce a cheerful noise; and, one day, I hope Our Lord shall show us all the pattern of our own lives as we hunt and dodge around each other, and as together we can create something beautiful.
Today is World Suicide Prevention Day. The strains of the last six months or so have taken their toll on many, causing much stress and even suicide. Today, can you think of a way to help support someone who may be feeling depressed or suicidal because, if so, that would be a splendid way to help counter the virus and bring a bit more order in someone’s life? That would a way of praying “Your will be done”.
A diagram of Bristol Surprise Major, showing the working of the bells for one lead
Wednesday 9th September
Church has changed – or has it? It looks different – the chairs are all spaced out. It sounds different – there is no singing, except what has been recorded. It feels different – there is no socializing until you get outside, no hand shaking, no hugging!
But that begs the question “what do we go to church for?” To sit next to our friend for a chat? To sing? To give and receive a hug? To listen to a sermon? To pray? To receive communion?
Well I guess your answer will include some if not all of these. But do you expect to come away from church changed by your experience? What expectations do you have of your visit?
If we read the Acts of the Apostles, the life of the early church, we will see that the building was not important, in fact there wasn’t a designated one. The group of people were important. But the most important element seems to always have been the presence of the Holy Spirit! I looked up “Spirit” in a concordance and found that it was in the New Testament 284 times, 57 times in the Acts of the Apostles. (other concordances may differ!)
Acts 4:31 “After they had prayed, the place where they were was shaken. And they were filled with the Holy Spirit.”
Acts 9:31 “The church throughout Judea, Galilee and Samaria enjoyed a time of peace. It was strengthened and encouraged by the Holy Spirit and grew in numbers.” I hope you go to church with an open mind ready for the Holy Spirit to fill you, to strengthen and encourage you, and to change you. It may come through the sermon, the prayers, the music, or interaction with a friend, or just being there, but don’t miss out because you are not expectant.
Tuesday 8th September
Recent unsettled weather encouraged me to consult the Canterbury weather forecast online.
Believing the forecast or not affects plans for being outdoors in the week ahead. Heavy, sudden rain, forecast, but not happening when you set out, can leave you soaked through without warning. Do you take the weather each day or hour as it comes, or make plans according to the forecast?
Planning for the immediate future is complicated. Risk assessments in church, school, office, shops, public transport etc, need to be done. Everyone benefits from the dedication of those compiling these. How does this need to be vigilant comply with Jesus’ statement in Matthew 6 not to be anxious about tomorrow?
This teaching isn’t implying a reckless attitude to necessary practicalities but an understanding that they sit within a wider debate of what we are anxious about and why. What are our priorities and choices? Who do we trust with the power to influence international and national decisions? How do we influence present and future as consumers and locally as part of our community?
The latest magazine, online in Publications on the parish website, invites us to consider faith,
choices and power. International situations, climate change, the local plan, the church of the future, our APCM, all raising our awareness and challenging what faith has to say in these situations.
At the moment I shall still go out with a face mask, hand sanitiser and disinfectant wipes. The
solution to the weather problem is to take an umbrella! But lurking undercover isn’t the long term answer to struggling with how the Christian story relates to my power as a human being in
relationships and as a voter and consumer.
Monday 7th September
Welcome back to Thought for the Day, which will be running again very much as before from today. We hope to have some new contributors to boost the team but we will be with you six days a week with thoughts about “life, the universe and everything” to quote Douglas Adams.
A daily rhythm is a useful thing. The church especially in monastic establishments and cathedrals has always followed a pattern of services and activities to regulate the day and sometimes the night. That rhythm is about the whole community, not just the individual, doing things together and plugging into long years of tradition.
During lockdown many of us found ourselves adopting a rhythm. For me it was centred around streaming services and food- beacons during the day and a regularity from day to day. You may have felt the same and built up a structure, perhaps even reading these thoughts at the same time each day.
As things have changed in recent weeks, as I’ve got more engagements and Clare is out more, that need for a structure to the day seems to be less important although some of the previous rhythms are returning as regular activities come back. I even found myself having lunch one day last week at 2.30 and thought this would never have happened in lockdown!
I miss some of the rhythm because I realise afresh how things can get shut out and skimped on when things are a little busy. They always did but I never realised it.
I’m trying hard to spend time with God, with Clare and with the things that nurture my faith- all
parts of life that are easily lost, giving space and rhythm in the midst of all the calls on time and
You may feel the same, which I know is why many people enjoy these thoughts giving them a regular space to reflect each day. I’m heartened that people have been keen to write and read them. You, like me, may be intentionally keeping the new insights from recent difficult months and make them part of your life moving forward. There is a temptation to simply go back to what we had but the important challenge for me is to keep those new things in place which make me a better disciple of Christ, a better husband and a better rector.
Monday 31st August
For our generation, the story of our lives will always refer to covid 19 and the events of 2020. It is an unprecedented occurrence and lockdown and its aftermath will be topics of conversation into the future. Generations yet unborn will want to know what happened and how we coped. History books will reflect on how we changed and how we coped.
As a parish we have a collection of services livestreamed and recorded which will be an archive for the future showing what we did and how we reflected on the pandemic around us. We also have a treasure trove of thoughts for the days- seven people’s perspectives on the world, faith and God. Each different in style and in perspective. When I read back they are so rich in reflection and thought, so many subjects covered and pointers to the moods and changes over the last five months.
I’m not sure about my fellow contributors but I have not only enjoyed reading the words of others, I have found writing them to be a very profound activity. As many of us experienced, being in lockdown was a time when we thought about deep things and expressed them in different ways, when we disclosed our hopes and fears in the face of a life threatening pandemic. The opportunities to talk about God and faith were taken in a new way and many clergy found in the darkness of the lockdown, a desire to speak openly about why we are Christians and what that means in a difficult time.
Today marks the last of the original series of Thought for the Day and I’d like to thank our
contributors and our followers on the website. It is not though the end of TFTD- I will be writing each Monday for the rest of the year my Thought for the Week (TFTW) and other contributors will be offering their thoughts over the months- so watch this space for more details and enjoy the Bank Holiday.
Saturday 29th August
Lottie settling in with Rolo's squirrel
For me this has been a week of surprises. On Monday I took Rolo’s things to the Lord Whiskey Sanctuary. They were very pleased to accept the dog basket and the dog food and very happy to send me home with a four month old Jack Russell puppy who had been brought in just 48 hours before because she “chewed everything”. Lottie is a normal little puppy and of course she chews but already she knows her name and comes running when I call her. She, like Rolo, Bob and Bitsa before her had been thrown out and of course she came home.
For many people finding faith in God is like coming home and as knowledge of the love of God for each, and every one of us and His Son Jesus grows so the sense of home expands. It truly becomes the place where we feel safe and we want others to share that place and that is what being church is all about. As we welcome everyone to join us in any, and all, of our church related activities, so we help them to grow safely and securely in faith and in knowledge that they are truly loved by God.
This week also saw the most beautiful rainbow over the farm on Pilgrims Way, it was
glorious and seemed to me to be signalling a new start for everyone. As we pray for
the children and teachers returning to school next week, for the office and retail
workers returning to town and city centres, may we also pray that the spirit of helping
each other, so evident in lockdown, will continue to permeate all our lives.
Friday 28th August
This week I have been pondering on the frustration of going nowhere. After a lovely holiday with family in France I am now in quarantine for two weeks and while most of the day while I work is no different to what I normally do, my exercise time is. I am finding myself walking in circles in the garden or going nowhere on an old exercise bike. Normally I can walk or cycle for hours, no problem. Here I find it hard to motivate myself for more than a few minutes.
In thinking on this I realised it is because I am not going anywhere. There is no changing scenery, I have no need to pay attention to the terrain to make sure its not changing, no need to look for obstacles to avoid, there is no sense of possibility or excitement about what I might see next. I know what is coming, I know exactly what I will see. It might be easier to do what you know and not have to think, but it is very hard mentally because we are made to go and explore and grow.
This is the same in our spiritual lives. It might seem easier to stay where we are in the safe confines of what we know and what we expect. But actually that limits us – there is more for us to see and experience and while it may be harder and we might get lost along the way occasionally, it is more than worth it in the end. God is always bigger than the box that we have put her in. So let’s not stay in the safety of one place where we will find our motivation lagging. Let us be brave as we head into a new school year and head out into the unknown to explore and grow in our faith.
Thursday 27th August
A holiday quiz: for today’s Thought, see if you can recognise the Bible quotations…
I have been staring at the screen for hours, seeking some inspiration for this Thought For The Day. The creative juices have not been flowing. Like many an Old Testament complainer, I muttered “Oh, that my words were written down!” 1 but it was to no avail. Joining the psalmist, my mouth has been dried up like a potsherd 2 and I have been in a dry and weary land where there is no water 3 - indeed, my tears have been my food day and night 4 (but I have put on weight during the lockdown, so this may not be a bad thing). It is all very well for Monsieur Henry Marie Joseph Frédéric Expedite Millon de Montherlant, who was never knowingly under-named, to write that "Happiness writes in white ink on a white" but that does not encourage anyone towards love and good deeds 5. Job could try to get away with speaking only once 6 but, thus far, I am dumb like a sheep before the shearer 7. The book of Proverbs may recommend quiet 8 yet also approves an apt answer 9 - so that was no help.
Eventually, of course, God provided the answer: “Be still and know that I am God!” 10 . That is a sufficient message for today. Oh, and that “God is love” 11 . Pass it on.
Christ in Majesty from the Benedictional of St Æthelwold, photo credit British Library
1 Job 19: 23
2 Ps 22: 15
3 Ps 63: 1
4 Ps 42: 3
5 Heb 10: 24-25
6 Job 40: 5
7 Is 53: 7
8 Prov 21: 23
9 Prov 15; 23
10 Ps 46: 10
11 1 John 4: 7
Wednesday 26th August
If anything goes seriously wrong in some parts of our bodies, the consequences for our whole body and daily life can be severe. I refer to the brain, heart, spine and probably the lungs. I and others in the parish have certainly experienced this with spinal problems. Medical science has made huge advances but still has a long way to go with major problems of the brain and spine.
For many, lockdown has raised the question of just what is crucial to the health of our Christian faith. For weeks so much that we value as Christians has been impossible: the Sunday Eucharist, hymn singing, congregational prayers, reading of scripture, and informal fellowship with others. Many weekday parish activities have also been put on hold. For those - by no means all of us - with access to the internet, churches have streamed services, prayers and have become increasingly inventive in doing so. The parish is well served in this respect. We are still some way from returning to ‘normal’ church life, with uncertainty about what the autumn and winter may bring.
What do you regard as vital for the health of your faith as equivalents of the heart, brain, spine and lungs for the health of your body? For many, the long term loss of worship in church with the Eucharist may have major consequences for our faith. An elderly Christian man in residential care was asked if he needed more reading material. His answer was ‘No thank you, I have all I need - my Bible’. if I was denied the Bible it would increasingly threaten my spiritual health and well being. In North Korea, possession of a Bible is illegal. In some other countries such as China possession of a Bible can be made very difficult.
Our personal relationship with God is fundamental to the health of our faith. Covid-19 and lockdown raises the question of just what is most important to each one of us to maintain our faith in a healthy state.
Tuesday 25th August
I have so many passwords for various websites, it’s easy to get confused. One passwords I forgot
recently was for a portal, a website which then offers you entry to other sites. Portal is a threshold or gateway.
This connects to my favourite window in our St Pauls, the reproduction of Holman Hunt’s ‘Light of the World’, based on the I Am saying in John 8 v 12 and Revelation 3 v 20, ‘Behold I stand at the door and knock.’ The painting was hugely popular at home and abroad and was known as ‘the sermon in a frame’.
What does it teach? There are two lights in the painting. Outside the door Jesus carries a lantern
symbolising conscience. The other source of light, his halo, indicates salvation. Conscience and
salvation are the passwords which will open the door from the inside.
Can these two concepts help us to share Christianity today? Conscience reflects on where, as
individuals and society, we put other priorities before Jesus’ direct message of human dignity and the sharing of resources. Salvation is the healing which takes place when this message is
implemented. Both are powerful forces to open the door and let the light in.
What is the fairest way to arrange our social and economic system? How do Jesus’ teachings
translate into individual and collective action? Some of us met on Zoom to discuss ‘Buying God:
Consumerism and Theology’, in the St Pauls Cathedral Sunday Forum talks online (no password
A version of Hunt’s painting hangs in St Pauls Cathedral and you can investigate it here:
We don’t need to hesitate on the threshold and rest the passwords of conscience and salvation , we just need to work out what these existing ones are telling us.
Monday 24th August
One of the most enjoyable parts of streaming our services has been reading the scriptures aloud
during the daily office. The names in the Old Testament are often tricky but generally they are a
good chunk of scripture and allow readers and hearers to follow the story over the weeks- for
example this week we have followed the story of Saul and David in 1 and 2 Samuel and the early
chapters of the Acts of the Apostles.
It has been good because often when we hear the bible in church we get snippets with no sense of context or continuity, especially with the Old Testament or epistle. With the daily lectionary because it follows on from chapter to chapter day by day, you get a sense of the story and how it develops. Sometimes there is the sub theme of discovering why a chapter is skipped over by the lectionary writers and at other times there is the challenge of the reading being hard to understand or being easy to understand but difficult to accept. Often in our bible reading we can easily focus on the ones that suit us rather on the full breadth of the bible.
There is something about reading sequentially as we would read another book but there is also
something about reading aloud. For many centuries our Old Testament was passed on in an oral
tradition before many people wrote and even at the time of Jesus although more was written down people couldn’t read silently in their head, even in libraries every reader had to speak aloud. So hearing the scriptures was very common.
It is good to read the words aloud especially the psalms as you feel the intensity of feeling in praise and lament but scripture is good spoken. Even in translation many passages preserve the sense of having been recited.
A number of people have signed up to record themselves reading the bible as our parish project and there is always room for more. However even if you don’t want to be so public, why not try reading
some passages aloud at home and feel the scriptures as they were intended originally, to be read
out and spoken. Perhaps they will say something new to you!
Saturday 22nd August
Rolo visiting a residential home and listening to an elderly lady
This has been a week of reminiscence. Rolo died last Saturday and my days have changed. Throughout lockdown we went out for our walks, one resulted in collecting the paper and the second one was our exercise walk. It has brought to me afresh how so many people must be feeling, having had loved ones die during this time. They have been unable to visit prior to death and unable to celebrate the life with the funeral.
For many there must be feelings of desolation and anger at the way in which events have apparently conspired to prevent them being present with those they love. Yet God is at the centre of this and alongside all those who mourn. We have only to cry out to Him but how often do we do that? Very often we find it difficult to go to God with any matter which exercises our hearts and minds, or if we do, I for one will confess that I often take it back again. There hasn’t been a swift answer and I want it now! But we live by God’s grace and if we can only remember that then we shall know His peace in our turmoil and distress. It is not a panacea and it does not
mean that we will avoid suffering but we do and will know we are not alone but are
held in His love.
Friday 21st August
As I have walked about Canterbury, especially since lockdown has eased and I have ventured further afield, I have seen some big changes that, because I have not been there, seem to have happened suddenly. Walking to church I walk past the old St Mary Bredin School buildings that I remember as a car – that has now been demolished. And in our parish the Chaucer School, which has been closed for the past 5 years has also finally been demolished. Whatever our views on city planning, these very visual changes to the landscape that I see each day in the city are a stark reminder to me of the fact that change is always occurring around us whether we realise it or not.
As time goes on cities grow and shrink, and needs and taste change, and as that happens our landscapes change – sometimes for the better, sometimes not. But the changes always come – that is a part of life that is inevitable however much we sometimes wish it wasn’t. The loss of buildings and the changing of our city can be hard sometimes, especially when memories are attached to a place. If even an external change like buildings can be hard, how much harder then is it to change within ourselves. To look at what we are and decide what is a product of an old time, what needs to be developed to fit with a new stage of life, and what is dangerous and needs to be replaced. But just like with our cities this constant evaluation and change needs to be done and for many of us lockdown has been a time when some of this process has been brought to the surface. I challenge us all this week to embrace this and actively work at it rather than trying to hide it away and get back as quickly as possible to our ‘normal’ life. The external landscape of our lives has changed and we need to make sure we are changing internally as well.
Thursday 20th August
Jonathan Daniels. Photo: Episcopal Church Archives.
On this day in 1965, Jonathan Daniels (who was training for the priesthood in the US Episcopal Church) was murdered by a special county deputy wielding a shotgun in Hayneville, Alabama. Father Richard F. Morrisroe, a Roman Catholic priest, was also wounded. The two of them, together with two black women, were part of a group of 24 protesters who had been held for six days in prison following a protest outside of a whites-only store in the town of Fort Deposit and had just been released.
The four had gone to a shop for a cold soft drink while waiting for transport home from the prison. When they got to the shop, which did serve all races, the way was barred by Tom L. Coleman, an unpaid special deputy who was holding a shotgun. To quote from Wikipedia:
“Coleman threatened the group and levelled his gun at seventeen-year-old Ruby Sales. Daniels pushed Sales down and caught the full blast of the shotgun. He was instantly killed by shot. Father Richard F. Morrisroe grabbed activist Joyce Bailey and ran with her. Coleman shot Morrisroe, severely wounding him in the lower back, and then stopped firing.
Upon learning of Daniels' murder, Martin Luther King Jr. stated that ‘one of the most heroic Christian deeds of which I have heard in my entire ministry was performed by Jonathan Daniels’".
Jonathan Daniels is commemorated in many places, including in our own Cathedral, in the Chapel of Modern Saints and Martyrs: as he should be – “no-one has greater love than this, to lay down one’s life for one’s friends” (John 15: 13). Re-reading once again the story of his courage, I wonder what I would have done in those circumstances. 55 years after his death, Jonathan Daniels’s memory is rightly revered.
We still have to be reminded that Black Lives Matter. Yet the witness of people like Jonathan Daniels will ensure that the call of the prophets down the centuries will be heard, that justice will “roll down like waters, and righteousness like an ever-flowing stream” (Amos 5: 24). Heavenly Father, may Your kingdom come.
Ruby Sales aged 17 Ruby Sales in 2019, Facebook
Wednesday 19th August
It’s been a difficult few days for those receiving their A level results and this week will be the same for GCSE results. I have a grandson who was very disappointed with his A level grades which did not match his predicted grades at all. Now my granddaughter waits with trepidation for her results on Thursday.
But what to do? Well, there was no point in sitting down and crying! Life has to go on and life is full of disappointments. And what could I do? Nothing? Pray, “Thy will be done.”
That’s easier said than done. But don’t we say that every time we recite the Lord’s prayer.
However sincerely we pray that God’s will may be done, a part of us believes that it is up to us to find a solution to our problems. All I could do was go to God, empty handed (he knew the problem already I didn’t need to explain) with no answers, no policies, no solutions, but just focus on God alone. The problem didn’t change, but as the day went on perceptions changed, confidences grew and there was hope. Decisions could be made and out of what seemed an
impossible situation, clarity and optimism emerged.
God can bring good even it what seems to be the worst situation. If we invite him in, his presence and his love will never fail.
Help us to truly say “Thy will be done”
Tuesday 18th August
A recent conversation turned on having a clear out. What to keep, what to get rid of? This decision is about now, about history, keeping items from the past, and legacy, what do we pass on. What from our lives is or will be of value to whom and why? Do I need that for now, for history or legacy, if so why?
‘De-cluttering’ suggests that what we cling to can be mere clutter. Behind history and legacy are
fundamental decisions of value. In Matthew 6 Jesus advises against storing up treasure in stuff or status. He goes on to connect this with exploring what our heart focuses on. The word for heart in the text implies our inner lives and our emotional states. Clues to these can be seen in both actions and possessions.
My downfall clearing out stuff is might. I might want to read that book again, I enjoyed it so much. I might need that sometime. The next generation might feel, like me, that items are a valuable part of family history.
Unpacking our actions to distinguish the need for status from the genuine wish to being part of
transformative change, is the more complex part of Jesus’ challenge. What might be our motive?
Does this question make us hesitate?
Jesus’ challenge to recognise the activity of the kingdom now and work to bring it about, is urgent and ruthless with no scope for the procrastination of mights or value based on possessions or outward show for its own sake.
Matthew 6 asks us to consider treasure and ask what clearing out is necessary, never mind the
mights, don’t put it off.
Monday 17th August
Today would have been my grandmother’s 112th birthday. She died in 2008 having reached 99, so had a long innings without quite reaching three figures.
I look back on the world that she saw in her ninety nine years and all the changes that went on
around her – she lived through both world wars and remembered Asquith and Lloyd George, figures to me from history. She lived to fly by plane, to finally in her 90s have a television and to skype her grand-daughter in Canada, although she was unsure how that worked. She was in service before she married, lived in the same house for 70 years and was a widow for 62 years.
She was an unremarkable woman in many ways but she had her own story that was important in its own right. The story of the events of her own life and the story of the wider world which influenced her own life and moulded who she was. I admired her wisdom and her ability to cope with all that came her way, which I try to follow as I journey through life.
One of the greatest privileges of my life has been to hear the stories of other people’s lives, often families talking about a relative who has died and telling about ordinary things which have influenced the teller or touched the lives of others. Those stories are important because each of us are special and unique, loved by God and an amalgam of talents and skills- each person is a gift, although it may not always feel that way and all are to be valued.
The great increase in family history has allowed stories to be re-discovered and shared- to know
more about those who went before us and whose DNA we have inherited. In the bible genealogies were important as were stories of individual lives-often we learn that x was the son of y who was the son of z, keeping alive the name and passing on the story to future generations.
So pass on your stories and the stories you inherited that those names may be household words and memories rekindled. As I stood at the altar yesterday and things went a bit awry with the Gloria and the psalm, I remembered my granny who would have said “Worse things happen at sea” and I thought how right she was! So I thought I would pass that on.
Saturday 15th August
“Who is my neighbour?” Jesus was asked and it is a question we must ask ourselves with all the fuss over the influx of refugees from Calais and Dunkirk. It might help to consider that both Germany and France have accepted more refugees and migrants than we ever have. France has taken three times more and Germany four times as many as we have. Their systems are different, identity cards are required of all those living in the country and, without that, access to housing, schools and health provision is unavailable. It is said that the black economy absorbs those who come here, and it therefore makes exploitation of individuals easy and sustainable. Surely the question we must ask ourselves is “who is supporting the black economy?” Do those who use nail bars, car washes, purchase very cheap clothing from fashion labels ask about those who are working in or providing such services?
As a society we have becomes used to cheap clothing, cheap food, cheap cleaners in our houses, cheap tradesmen who are paid cash in hand. Many of them are migrants and refugees, and whilst we continue to operate in that way, we are not treating them as ‘our neighbours’ but congratulating ourselves on our success at saving money. Much as we now frown on those who smoke, we need to show that we do not agree with this approach to life which is so destructive for others. To start such a movement in society takes courage but it is not about us and our egos; its doing what we have been asked to do.
Christ told the story of the Good Samaritan, not to glorify the Samaritan, after all we
still do not know his name, but to illustrate what it really means to love our neighbour.
It was costly for the Samaritan, it delayed his journey and may have meant he lost sales for his goods, he had to find an innkeeper willing to take care of the injured man, and he had to pay him to do so. Our neighbours are the people we have not yet met, they are those who need our help, our compassion, our time, and our money. It is right to prevent them from drowning in the Channel, like the Good Samaritan we cannot leave someone in need to die alone if we are to show the love of Christ in our lives.
Friday 14th August
I am a massive fan of superhero movies – especially ones made by Marvel – and I have used that love this month by making the August holiday club activities all be based around the theme of heroes. I have organised a hunt around Canterbury and outside 13 churches there are posters with different heroes from the Bible. The aim is to go to all the churches and find out which hero is outside which church – completed maps can be sent to me and there will be a prize draw at the end of the month (adults are allowed to take part if you want! Its quite fun and you can find the map here: www.martinpaul.org/holidayclub.htm).
Preparing the hunt helped remind me of just how many hero stories we have in the Bible. The characters are not usually perfect and they mess up and make mistakes – but they also take greats leaps of faith and courage and show us many different ways to follow God and be faithful. We often hear about the ‘main’ or ‘famous’ heroes like the disciples of Joseph or Moses. But while these stories are great there are also so many other examples we can learn from in the Bible. I’ve tried to pick a mixture of well known and not so well known heroes for this months church hunt, and so hidden around Canterbury we have: Sarah and Abraham, Gaius, Stephen, Abigail, peter, Anna, Jairus, Esther, Bartimaeus, Priscilla and Aquilla, the woman at the well, Elizabeth and Mary and Mary Magdalene. If you don’t recognise all the names have a look for them in the Bible and see if their story inspires you.
These examples of faith are important to hold onto and draw inspiration from in troublesome times when faith seems hard. They can help to inspire us and give us hope – just like IronMan and Captain Marvel do for their fans. So if things seem hard this week remember the examples of those people of faith who have gone before us and draw inspiration and encouragement form them.
Thursday 13th August
Doris and Warren Buffett, photo credit www.thetimes.co.uk
Yesterday (Wednesday), The Times had an obituary of Doris Buffett, the elder sister of the investment king Warren Buffett. Although she was rich in the end, she was raised in poverty and had a domineering mother, who always put her down. In 1951 as a newlywed in Colorado, she was trying to learn about good housekeeping. An older neighbour, Josephine, taught her many useful skills, giving her some self-esteem for the first time. “What can I do for you?” she asked her teacher. “Nothing at all” said Josephine – “but someday, when you are able, help someone else”.
It chimed with something that her father Howard, a stockbroker, had taught her. “You are not required to carry the whole burden, nor are you permitted to put down your share”.
Not many of us will be able to give away millions of pounds to help others. (Nor will we perhaps have to flee to London, dressed as a nun, to avoid an ex-husband’s lawyers wanting to serve a writ, as she did in 1983…). But Jesus reminds us, when he praised the widow who gave her pittance to the Temple treasury (Mark 12: 41-44 or Luke 21: 1-4), that all of us are called on to help each other. Saint John Chrysostom says: “God does not appreciate the smallness of the gift, but the greatness of the affection with which it is offered” (Homily on Hebrews 1: 3-4,
https://www.newadvent.org/fathers/240201.htm). Many already give with great affection and thank you for all that you do; thus, the Kingdom draws a bit closer.
The Widow’s Mite from S Apollinare Nuovo in Ravenna, photo credit: www.fathervenditti.com
Wednesday 12th August
Kate Davson’s funeral will be held today in Rye where she lived before coming to Canterbury. When conditions allow, a service of Thanksgiving will be held in the Cathedral.
Kate was a talented person, internationally known and active in two quite unrelated fields - fine porcelain and ecumenism. She became very involved in the world wide ecumenical movement and was elected as President of the International Ecumenical Association. She recounted how gaining agreement at certain international meetings was as challenging as it must be with United Nations gatherings!
Lock down with increased streaming of church services across the Christian denominations has served the cause of ecumenism to some extent. I have Baptist friends who are great fans of streamed Morning Prayer with the Dean and his zoo. I gather this service now has an international following across denominations.
Do we take ecumenism - shared Christian faith across the denominations - seriously enough? I am not sure we do. Before lock down members of our Bible Study group planned individually to worship in a church of a different denomination followed by group reflection on these experiences. Sadly it was not yet possible. A few years ago I was present at adult baptism in the summer sea in Tankerton - a great experience.
Not everyone knows Baptists have only adult baptism of believers. There is so much to be involved with in your own denomination that regular contact with and learning from Christians in other churches is not a high priority. In Canterbury there is a bewildering range of churches, many meeting in schools and colleges. There are ‘Christians Together’ activities in Canterbury such as the Good Friday service, Street Pastors and more.
Kate was an outstanding person, a distant relative of William Willberforce MP who played a huge part in the abolition of the slave trade in Britain. As part of the legacy of Kate’s tireless international work in ecumenism it would be fitting if at our local grassroots level we find ways in the ‘new normal’ to learn more about and engage with fellow Christians in other denominations in Canterbury.
Tuesday 11th August
I enjoy trying the concise crossword in my newspaper but avoid the cryptic one. It’s too frustrating. I stare at the clues but can make no sense of them. I haven’t got the patience to persevere. Would I succeed if I didn’t give up so easily but persisted in trying to get into the mindset? Is there a mindset which finds this type of puzzle easier, and if there is, is there any point in trying if you haven’t got it?
The disciples were understandably puzzled by Jesus’ ministry and teaching. Why follow? What
would the outcome be? What should they do as those who somehow had to stick with this
enigmatic figure? Despite being often bewildered, they and the crowds were compelled by his vision of the potential for human society and individual relationships to be life giving rather than destructive of human dignity. The resurrection narratives, themselves a mystery, express the belief that this vision and potential survive beyond his physical presence.
We could ask what Jesus saw in each of the disciples. Is it a question of a curious disposition, a
mindset, a bit like the cryptic crossword solvers who are prepared to persevere and find a meaning in the strange clues?
The desire for justice and dignity is a mindset which most people share. Christian communities
reach out to this, sharing the diversity of where we are in our attempts to puzzle out the response of faith to all manner of events around us.
It doesn’t matter whether we try concise or cryptic. The urgency is to give the puzzle a go.
Monday 10th August
Our recent visit to Malvern gave us the opportunity for plenty of socially distanced walks across the Malverns themselves and also Bredon Hill across the Vale of Evesham an outlier of the Cotswolds.
The countryside in Worcestershire has influenced many writers, artists and musicians but when you are there it is very difficult not to be moved by the beauty of the scenery as you look down on the views and the sweep of the countryside. You are supposed to be able to see three cathedrals from the highest point in the Malverns – Worcester, Gloucester and Hereford, although you need good eyesight to do that. Yet it is the undulating landscape and the natural phenomena like the Welsh mountains or the River Severn that catch the attention rather than man made structures.
The landscape of the Malverns was formed millions of years ago with rock forced up out of the
earth’s core through the sea to be part of the first land masses in the country. It is very old but still very precious, in a sense unchanging but liable to change as the climate warms up. It was God’s gift and yet easy for us to take it for granted. When I stand at the top looking down, I wonder whether future generations will still have the same view- last time we were there the floods had caused worse damage than had been recorded before, even allowing for improved flood defences.
I could leave my thought reflecting on God in creation but while we were there we heard the news of the explosion and devastation in Beirut. Hundreds of people killed and many more injured, homes and livelihoods devastated, apparently due to chemicals left in warehouses. Nobody presumably set out to kill others but human actions led to devastation and death in a moment. We have that power to destroy and the ability to change the world around us. Mostly it is more slow and unnoticed but Beirut is a reminder of how fragile things are and the responsibility that we have in our actions- how fertiliser becomes an explosive and how what helps crops grow has left a city in ruins.
Saturday 8th August
This week has been, for me, one of delight and horror. Delight at being able to spend time with my grandson whilst his parents moved house. We spent over three hours walking on Clapham Common. There was so much to see, and George had decided that he was not going to sleep so we burbled and cooed our way round the ponds and past the children’s play area and under the avenues of trees. Of course, he did fall asleep on the way back. The pleasure was doubled for me as I gazed at the trees and the ducks and talked to George who is very vocal and responded as I spoke to him. I was reminded of the time, as a health visitor, when I met one of my mums on
Stamford Hill and spoke to her baby. The four month old responded gurgling as the mother tapped me on the shoulder and said “You do know ‘e can’t talk don’t ya?”
Whilst I was enjoying my day Beirut suffered an absolute disaster with many killed and injured. As the stories emerged there was desperation in the voices of the survivors. My friend Judy was a trustee for Embrace which works in Lebanon and she had been there on a visit to some of their projects. She said that conditions were poor then with hospitals in dire straits and this situation has worsened with the Syrian war and the rise of so many militant factions in that part of the world. We are onlookers in the face of such destruction and we must applaud the action of the
French President Macron in going to visit so quickly after the event. There are many who are asking “Where is God? Why did He let this happen?” But we know that God is there with all those who have been affected. This disaster is manmade but through our prayers and giving whatever support we can, the people of Lebanon will know they are being held in love and compassion before God.
Christ has asked each one of us to see with his eyes, to help with his hands, to care as he does for all peoples throughout the world. We are coping with a pandemic in safe homes, with access to good healthcare, and to easily available food so let us reach out and love our neighbours as ourselves.
Friday 7th August
Living in tension
These past weeks for me have been all about tension. Practical tension like trying to balance good sound in church with good sound for people joining us online at home, like trying to balance my dislike for wearing masks for too long with my need to do things. But I have also been very aware of the theological tension that we live with, a fact that came up in our Bible study this week as we thought about how God balances forgiveness and justice. We can see good things happening at the moment and encouraging signs of growth, community and love. But we do not need to look far to also see devastation, grief and pain. We live in the tension between feeling the hurt and despair of the world and knowing the hope and love of God.
I do not have answers of how to live well in this tension, of how to make sense of it. But it encourages me that the Bible is full of people struggling to live this tension of knowing God but still questioning how bad things can happen. Of trusting God but seeing crooked people succeed over the honest ones and not understanding it. People in the Bible and people throughout history have had these struggles and knowing I am not alone in these tensions encourages me and helps me keep going – I hope it helps you too. A poem by William Brodrick that was part of our early morning Monday Zoom prayers summed this up for me and I leave you here with his words to ponder:
Once you’ve heard a child cry out to Heaven for help,
and go unanswered,
nothing’s ever the same again.
Even God changes.
But there is a healing hand at work
that cannot be deflected from its purpose.
I just can’t make sense of it, other than to cry.
Those tears are part of what it is to be a monk.
Out there, in the world, it can be very cold.
It seems to be about luck, good and bad,
and the distribution is absurd.
We have to be candles, burning between hope and despair,
faith and doubt, life and death,
all the opposites.
Thursday 6th August
Nikola Tesla (1856 – 1943) was one of the pioneers of researching the transmission of electrical power without using wires. One of the curiosities of this idea can been seen when a neon tube light is brought close to a high voltage power cable. Suddenly, the neon tube will burst into life without the usual starter motor, wiring, or light switch that would be needed in a domestic setting. The tube will glow and give light in what might seem to be a miraculous way – or course, what is happening is that the tube is making use of the electro-magnetic power given off by the high voltage cables. A few years ago, the artist Robert Box ‘planted’ a field near Bristol, that had overhead power cables, with 1301 neon tubes; these tubes glowed just with the waste power from the cables. The picture at the top of this piece is of that installation. It must have been quite something!
Today is the Feast of the Transfiguration, when we remember how Jesus took Peter, James, and John (His closest disciples) to a high mountain. There He was transformed and spoke with Moses and Elijah. You can read about it in Matt 17: 1-13, or Mark 9:2-13, or Luke 9: 28-36. Moses and Elijah represented the Law and the Prophets, and Jesus of course is greater than both. All three are described as shining like the sun and being as white as the light. They were filled with some special power, a bit like the neon tubes in the field near Bristol. It was a foretaste of the Kingdom, where we trust that God’s power will be revealed in wonderous ways.
None of us knows what will happen to us after we die. However, I wonder whether the new life which we hope will be ours will be like the neon tubes and the power cables. Despite the death of our earthly bodies, we will have new life because of God’s love for us - and for all people. In some way, the gracious and generous love of God will allow us to have life, just as a dead neon tube comes to life near a high voltage power cable. I hope that may be the case; it would be wonderful. Yet, even more wonderfully, that new life does not have to wait until our death. Today, and every day, we can draw on God’s energy (if we choose to do so) to help His Kingdom come, His will be done on earth as in heaven. We can be transformed in our lives if we get close to Him through prayer. Then, similar to the neon tubes, we may be able to draw on the power of the Holy Spirit to enable us to give light to His world.
The Transfiguration, by Theophanes the Greek, who was noted as the teacher and
mentor of the great Andrei Rublev. It may be found in Preobrazhensky Cathedral.
Photo credit Wikipedia.
Wednesday 5th August
Next Sunday, 9 th August, is Mary Sumner Day.
Mary Sumner founded the Mothers’ Union in 1876. She was born Mary Elizabeth Heyward, the third of four children. She married a clergyman and after the birth of her first grandchild, set up a group to support mothers, rich and poor, in bringing up their children. This spread to other
churchwomen who set up similar groups in their own parishes. By 1892 there were 60,000 members in 28 diocese.
It is now a world wide organisation with groups in 83 countries. It’s vision is of a world where God’s love is shown through loving, respectful and flourishing relationships. This is to be
achieved by focusing on Christ’s teaching on the nature of marriage, the nurture of children within the faith and life of the church and helping those whose family life has met with
As a group they are also involved in women’s rights; campaigning against gender violence, trafficking of women, women’s rights in the workplace to name but a few.
Members are not all mothers, or even all women, single, married, parents, grandparents and young adults are all welcome.
We have a flourishing group within the parish who meet every month (in normal times!) and have a monthly corporate Communion service. The Parent Toddler group which meets on a Monday and Wednesday morning supports families from the local area.
Covid 19 has curtailed much of what we usually do, but we have not been idle. Throughout the pandemic we have kept up networks of support for one another and those families
and individuals in need.
Read more about Mary Sumner and the Mother’s Union on the website.
Tuesday 4th August
Visiting family in Cornwall in the Eighties I remember how at midday there was often a boom in the sky, beyond the clouds. It was Concorde passing over. Recently I watched two programmes on the development, history and eventual grounding of Concorde. The pilots had an obvious affection for the aircraft, as if it was a living entity. The aircraft, they said, ‘just wanted to fly’.
I’ve never had this perception of a machine. Machines are functional items. I just want them to
function. To the Concorde pilots and design engineers their creation was not just a flying machine but a work of art which they had a relationship with. Many of our relationships now happen via technology. This is part of the ‘new normal’ that we hear about and are trying to comprehend.
Jesus disregarded all boundaries of ‘normality’ when people were in need. He encountered many individuals personally but also In Matthew 8 v 5-13 his ministry went ahead of him, although physically he was not there, bringing relief to the household of the Roman centurion who recognised the power of the message of compassion.
Being fascinated by Concorde, I hope to tour one in its museum. As someone petrified of flying,
sitting in a plane which isn’t going to take off appeals to me! However, I shall need more courage than this to explore the Christian faith in this new world. ‘Norms’. of being together in communion in the Church family, the community and everyday relationships have comprehensively changed.
How can we spread good news which heals the dis-eases of individuals and our society? An
exciting mixture of the actual and the virtual is a good place to start.
Monday 3rd August
As traditionally the first Monday in August was Canterbury Cricket Week when the St Lawrence
Ground and the City generally were decorated for the festival and the pitch circled with marquees and flags, my thought today is about cricket.
One of the legendary names in cricket journalism in the 20 th century was EW Swanton, the Cricket correspondent of The Daily Telegraph and BBC commentator, who was also a big figure in Kent Cricket. Swanton was seen as a somewhat pompous figure and Brian Johnston said he was too posh to travel in the same car as his chauffer.
He was a churchman too, in younger years as Churchwarden at All Saints, Margaret Street in London and latterly at St Clement’s Church, Sandwich.
I, like many people, thought him someone rather distant and not really my type of person. Two
pieces of information softened my heart. First that he had been a POW of the Japanese after the fall of Singapore for four years, in one of the most notorious prisons. Second that he had opposed playing cricket against Apartheid South Africa (unlike Johnston) and promoted black cricketers around the world. A brave man and one who defied conventional views on cricket and politics.
As a curate I was loaned out to churches in the deanery including Sandwich to cover services. Here I met EW Swanton, who I was still not sure about as we shook hands for the first time. Yet each time I went he welcomed me warmly and commented on my sermon at the end of the service (especially any mention of cricket) and always said “See you next time” and “Well preached” in his deep, booming voice.
I learned an important lesson in those days- never judge a person until you have met them and God calls us to try to work with all people whether they are like us or unlike us. Perhaps what they said about Swanton was right but in those moments in Sandwich I saw the image of God in him, just as we are called to look for it in everyone we meet.
Sunday 2 August
A new month lies ahead as we plan our “staycations”. I look at the garden and am reminded of the nursery rhyme asking, “how does your garden grow?” Well there are no silver bells or cockle shells blooming in mine, but the plants are rampant. The tomato plants are rather like triffids with numerous bunches of green fruits, if they all ripen the whole street will be eating tomato sauce for ever! But I am not complaining, its been a pleasure to have the time to plant and tend to the garden which was never possible when I was working. It seems to me that nature has reasserted itself over these last months, and I’m reminded that God knows each sparrow that falls and how much more he cares for each one of us. Its an incredible concept that we, despite all our shortcomings, are so precious in the eyes of God.
We are entering a new normal, life won’t be the same as it was pre-Covid, and we shall all have to adjust to that. There are times when I feel frustrated to be unable to do the things I used to enjoy so much. As a street pastor or at the foodbank I felt I was contributing in a small way to the life of us all in our community but at present both activities are on hold. So, its time to put my thinking cap on and find other ways to play my part. I am sure that is the same for many of us. There are those who find worship more difficult because we are no longer singing together in church but keeping our distance and listening to a pre-recording of our choir. We,have to find new ways to share the joy of the risen Lord for ourselves and for others, and we will.
We have a choice, we can bemoan that which is no longer available or we can, with varying degrees of enthusiasm, participate in all that is new and work together to contribute to the normal that is emerging. Exactly what the disciples had to do after Jesus left them, they were frightened and fearful and excited at the future which lay ahead and we can be thankful that they did forge ahead and share the good news of the gospel.
As you can see below, a new Rolo has emerged, his first haircut since February!
Friday 31st July
I have been looking forward to the end of lockdown for ages, but now that we find ourselves slowly seeming to emerge from it I find myself struggling more than I thought I would. I realise that it is the uncertainty and the constant change that is making me uneasy. The initial lockdown was comparatively fast and hard. The rules were quite certain and it was easier to know the right thing to do – even if you found it hard to actually do it! Now as we edge out of a hard lockdown it is all so much more uncertain and there seem to me to be so many more grey areas about what you can and cannot do, what you should and should not do.
We look around and we see different people doing different things – which way is right? Is there a right way? What is best for me and my family?
We are now in a time of massive transition and I would guess that I am not the only one feeling this unease and worry about the many different decisions we find ourselves having to make each week – should I go here? should I do this? is that two metre?, is a mask needed here? ……
The questions are endless. I often find myself having to take a deep breath, remind myself that I am not alone and say a quick prayer for God’s peace as I make my decisions.
One thing I have found very helpful is this prayer that I found in one of my books (Common Prayer) and I leave it here with you in the hope that some of you may also find it a helpful prayer in these turbulent times of choices and changes:
“Lord, help me now to unclutter my life,
to organize myself in the direction of simplicity.
Lord, teach me to listen to my heart;
teach me to welcome change, instead of fearing it.
Lord, I give You these stirrings inside me,
I give You my discontent,
I give You my restlessness,
I give You my doubt,
I give You my despair,
I give you all the longings I hold inside.
Help me to listen to these signs of change, of growth:
to listen seriously and follow where they lead
through the breathtaking empty space of an open door”
Thursday 30th July
Thomas Gray, National Portrait Gallery
“The boast of heraldry, the pomp of power
And all that beauty, all that wealth e’er gave,
Awaits alike th’ inevitable hour:
The paths of glory lead but to the grave”.
Thomas Gray’s Elegy written in a County Churchyard is one of the most famous poems in the English language, and has given rise to many well known expressions: far from the madding crowd, full many a flower is born to blush unseen, the noiseless tenor of their way, and read their history in a nation’s eyes are just some of them. Apparently, in 1759, during the Seven Years’ War, before the Battle of the Plains of Abraham, British General James Wolfe is said to have recited it to one of his officers, adding, 'I would prefer being the author of that poem to the glory of beating the French to-morrow'.
Today is the anniversary of Gray’s death in 1771. It is also the day that the C of E commemorates William Wilberforce, Olaudah Equiano, and Thomas Clarkson, all of whom were active anti-slavery campaigners and who eventually were successful in outlawing slavery first in the United Kingdom in 1807, and then throughout the British Empire in 1833 (apart from India, where it continued in many areas until 1861). Even today, the fight against slavery continues, and the call of the Hebrew Bible’s prophets for justice, mercy, and freedom for every man, woman, and child is just as relevant as it was millennia ago. However, the work of these three anti-slavery campaigners is a reminder that, although the paths of glory lead but to the grave, we have an opportunity before we reach the grave to help each other and build a community based on love and mutual respect. If we want the words of the Lord’s Prayer to come to pass – “Your kingdom come, Your will be done on earth as in heaven” - then we, like William Wilberforce, Olaudah Equiano, and Thomas Clarkson, have to play our part…
First Day cover from 2007 portraying anti-slavery campaigners. The first class pair of stamps shows William Wilberforce and Obaudah Equiano, the 50p pair Granville Sharp and
Thomas Clarkson, and the 72p pair Hannah More and Ignatius Sancho.
Wednesday 29th July
It is clear that Covid-19 and the lock down has been very damaging for people’s mental health. Recent figures show that 65% of people report feeling worried about the future, while many others say they now have mental health problems for the first time. This is hardly surprising given the personal, social and economic effects of the pandemic, with great concerns about the future.
We all tend to worry and feel anxious at times, part of being human. It can affect our mental and physical health if we find ourselves dwelling too much on our past - “If only I hadn’t made that decision..”; or we too often think about all the things that could go wrong in our lives in the future.
In his Sermon on the Mount Jesus warned about the futility of worry - it cannot add a single moment to your life. Christ’s teaching about worrying can be misunderstood and probably led to questions by the disciples. Jesus was making one main point that remains hugely important to us today. As the King James version famously puts it: ‘Sufficient unto the day is the evil thereof’.
My modern version of Matthew:6:34 reads: ‘So don’t worry about tomorrow for tomorrow will bring its own worries. Today’s trouble is enough for today’.
A key to good mental health is to take Jesus’ teaching seriously and work at living one day at a time. Of course, it’s easy to say this but not always easy to practice. Something called ‘Mindfulness’ has become prominent in tackling serious anxiety. It relates directly to Jesus’ teaching about worrying and is a well worked out practice for concentrating on one’s life today, reducing or avoiding unhealthy anxiety that is prevalent during the pandemic. I have used the NHS approved online course ‘Be Mindful’ and found it clear and very helpful. The daily practice of deep breathing is part of a mindful approach and familiar to many.
For Christians, a deep faith, trust and close walk with God day by day is fundamental to our mental health. We also need to make use of resources such as Mindfulness as needed, not just for ourselves but possibly for others whom we know where there are signs of mental distress.
Tuesday 28th July
On my computer I watched the Queen virtually viewing the unveiling of her new portrait in the
Foreign Office. I thought the portrait looked both dignified and informal and I liked it. The Queen, at least in the extract I saw, was careful to pass no opinion on the quality of the portrait itself.
Perhaps royal personages don’t comment on portraits. Still, in the video and the portrait the
Queen is smiling. In Mark Chapter 10 v 17-22, a man runs up to Jesus explaining he has tried to keep the commandments all his life. What else should he do? Jesus sees behind masks of insecurity and deviousness but this man merits compassion, a genuine question, grounded in sincerity. I can imagine Jesus smiling at him before issuing the ultimate challenge to sell all his possessions and give to the poor.
Wearing masks, we rely on eye contact to receive compassion and to reach out. How do we view
ourselves and others without seeing facial expressions, a state we are not familiar with? How do we know if someone is smiling? I don’t enjoy wearing them so I am most likely looking grumpy under the mask anyway!
Perhaps someone will paint a portrait with a face mask as a historical record of the pandemic.
When we can eventually take them off we will have something to smile about, while we have them on we can remember the story in Mark. Encouraged by Jesus’ compassion for the man who really tried to do the right things, we persevere and maybe even smile behind the various layers that hide our faces.
Monday 26th July
I was recently lent a book about the history of Whitefriars in Canterbury. I was fascinated to see the pictures of the blitz and the old St George’s Church before its destruction and in its ruined state, but most interested in the pictures from the 1970s and 1980s. They showed how the area was before the redevelopment. It was how I remembered it when I was a child coming down to Canterbury but before seeing the pictures I couldn’t really think what it looked like all those years ago. Some things came back quickly like the multi-storey and the walk way past Morellis, but some of the details took a while to work out. It was also a reminder of how much things had changed even in a relatively short time in the city.
Books of old photos are always fascinating whether it be places or people. There is even a series of books called “Then and now” which show historic photos paired with a current view of the same spot, which sell very well because people tend to forget what places were once like and enjoy being reminded. “Of course” we say when we see them “that’s how it was”.
Church life has changed over the years although we sometimes feel it doesn’t but when we read in Pilgrim Post about church life forty years ago we see how different parish life is- our purpose, our geography and some of the people are the same, other things have altered.
One of the things that we know is that change has always been happening- whether twenty years ago or forty or eighty. Change continues to happen. We’ve seen through the lockdown new ways of working forced on to us in an unprecedented situation but we’ve adapted and learned. Now we are back in St Paul’s and soon in St Martin’s, we’re discovering about what has changed temporarily and what has changed permanently- how we might use technology in the future and how our faith goes beyond the buildings are just two things to reflect on.
When I came to the parish three years ago Christopher Gower wrote a beautiful anthem based on the psalmist’s cry “Sing to the Lord a new song” and in the present when we can’t sing and in the future when we can, we will be working out what that new song is and how things have changed but how they always have.
Saturday 25 July
I have experienced my first haircut for four months. It was a strange experience, me in my mask and the hairdresser with a full - face visor and no-one else in the salon. It made me think that anyone observing the scene who didn’t know about the pandemic, would be very confused. Why were both parties masked? In an operating theatre, whilst those who are standing are masked, the person having the scalpel used on them would not be wearing a mask. What ritual was taking place in the hair salon that required both parties to have their faces covered?
For many people coming to church before the pandemic for the first time there would have been confusion. They would have been unsure as to what was expected of them and even more unsure about the reaction of those around them if they made a mistake and sat down or stood up at the wrong time. Clergy are very familiar with the anxiety and uncertainty of their congregation especially when they are conducting weddings, funerals and baptisms. Its at these times that most people are grateful to be told what is expected and are given clear instructions at each stage of the ceremony. This sometimes, has to start before the service when people have to be advised to put their cigarettes out before coming into church. But the important issue on these occasions is that the congregation should feel accepted, supported, and able to participate in all that occurs.
The current advice to everyone is that the wearing of masks will be necessary within church buildings and that means that our service on Sunday will involve hand sanitisation, social distancing and wearing a mask. That should encourage those who are unfamiliar with church to come along. If they make a mistake no-one will be able to recognise them behind their mask. But the most important point will be that we have come together to worship the risen Lord and to share fellowship. We can smile at each other at the Peace but its probably better to wave gently as nobody will see our smile. Nevertheless, let us continue to care for each other and for our neighbour and to have joy in knowing Jesus Christ our Lord and Saviour.
Do wave gently if you meet the person below.
Friday 24th July
There is something about just being together, and chatting together about anything and everything, with no pathway marked out and no agenda on the table. It is something I have been thinking about this week as our Wednesday zoom chats came to can end this week (with lockdown easing and old routines coming back into play my Wednesday evenings are now taken up with kickboxing again – I am looking forward to getting back in the gym!) These Wednesday chats have been an open time to talk about anything and everything – like the coffee time at the end of church but done over the computer screen – and they have been invaluable to many of us. Because we need to talk and communicate and we need to be able to chat about what is on our mind the big and the small.
This has had me pondering how I communicate most with God – is it in set times with my agenda of what I want to get through and ask for? Or do I allow myself time and space just to be with God and bring to her all the things on my mind, big and small. It’s great when you chat with people how the conversation ebbs and flows and meanders from topic to topic – it feels so natural. There can be silence and laughter and frustration and its all ok, it is all part of being together. How often do we do that with God? Spend time just being? Without worrying about times of silence or wondering thoughts. Maybe this week I can find some extra time just be with God and tell God what’s on my mind, the big and inconsequential – just like I would if she joined in one of our Zoom chats!
Thursday 23rd July
“He is who is near me is near the fire; he who is far from me is far from the kingdom”.
One of the sections in John Barton’s A History of the Bible (published by Penguin books) discusses what came to be included in our Bible – and also some of the writings which talk about Jesus which, for whatever reason, did not become part of the canon. Many of these writings probably were composed centuries after Jesus’ earthly life and have a limited appeal except to scholars. However, the gospel of St Thomas (which was re-discovered only in 1945 in Egypt) is a collection of sayings, a few of which may go back to Jesus himself. The quote at the top of this piece may be one of them – it was included in a sermon by Origen on the book of Jeremiah, so was known in the early 3 rd century CE. For more details about these non-Biblical
writings, please see Barton chapter 11, pages 264 – 284.
Those who dip into the contemporary version of Morning Prayer will know there is a prayer near the start which says: “As we rejoice in the gift of this new day, so may the light of your presence, O God, set our hearts on fire with love for you, now and for ever”. This used to worry me. I have never had great dramatic flames of faith. Yet fire can take many forms; and sometimes a fire is at its hottest when it has just glowing embers. Fire can be more than flames. So too, our witness to the power of God in our lives can take many forms.
“God proved them and found them worthy for himself. As gold in the furnace hath he tried them and received them as a burnt offering. And in the time of their visitation they shall shine, and run to and fro like sparks among the stubble” (Wisdom 3: 5b – 7).
Opening ourselves to God can be pretty incendiary…
A detail from Pentecost by El Greco. Photo credit, The Prado Museum, Madrid
Wednesday 22nd July
Today is the day on which we remember Mary Magdalene. She came from Magdala on the western shores of the Sea of Galilee and should not be confused with Mary from Bethany or Mary, the sinful woman, who anointed Jesus’ feet with oil.
Jesus had cast out seven demons form her and she travelled with him as one of his followers. It seems that she was relatively wealthy as she helped support him in his ministry. She is mentioned by name twelve times in the gospels, but the story I like best, and probably the best known, is her encounter with Jesus after the resurrection when she mistakes him for the gardener.
She was so upset by the fact that Jesus’ body was no longer in the tomb that her eyes were full of tears. She only recognises him when he says her name, “Mary”. She wants to hold him, but he will not let her. This is a familiar situation at the moment. We long to hug our loved ones but we
cannot. We can only greet them from a distance. Jesus would not let her hold on to the past.
That is something we often want to do. We talk about how good things were before the
lockdown. How we were able to do so many things. It is now time to move on. We were told last week that things just may be back to a “near normal” by Christmas! So we have to learn to live another way. The followers of Jesus had to learn to live without his physical presence. We must embrace what we have now and accept that things will probably never go back to how they were, but that life can still be good if we trust.
Tuesday 21st July
Recently in the High St an enterprising character was selling face masks, anticipating the new
guidance. I thought about medieval Canterbury. Hawkers selling Becket mementos must have been a common sight. These were a cross between souvenirs and reminders of the powers of healing associated with pre-Reformation shrines. In the case of both masks and mementos, the hope of individuals is and was for health and well-being.
On the same day, walking past St Augustine’s Abbey and wondering to myself when life was likely to resemble anything like what it was before the pandemic, I thought of the huge impact in Henry V111’s reign of the destruction of Becket’s Shrine and the Dissolution of the Monasteries.
The inhabitants of Canterbury must have felt overwhelmed in the middle of a massive upheaval
when the Shrine, the Cathedral Priory, the Abbey and the various friaries around the city were
dismantled, literally before their eyes. This meant that the fabric of society, places of devotion,
hospitality, provision for the poor and the sick and shelter for the homeless had to be imagined
We are living through our own seemingly overwhelming upheaval. What will the future fabric of
society look like? Health and well-being for all are still a concern. Our predecessors moved forward and struggled with solutions in their circumstances. Still wondering about our future I got to St Martins on my way home. Where better to be reminded of the hymn
One the object of our journey,
one the faith which never tires,
one the earnest looking forward
one the hope our God inspires.
Monday 20th July
One of the books I studied for my English A level was The Great Gatsby by F Scott Fitzgerald – the famous story of the Jazz Age and the shady millionaire Jay Gatsby. It is a short book but a lyric one and is a classic of American literature.
It hit the news this week as Fitzgerald’s books will be coming out of copyright at the end of this year and plans are underway for new editions of his works as well as prequels to The Great Gatsby, sketching the lives of the characters before they came into the novel.
I’m never quite sure about “sequels” or “prequels” to classic books, written long after the death of the original author. It always seems to be piggybacking on the famous author and their characters and plots, familiar to readers who find their curiosity aroused by the latter day versions of favourite novels.
I wonder what Jane Austen would have thought about PD James writing a sequel to Pride and
Prejudice or Fitzgerald about his characters being resurrected?
In the years of the early church people wanted to know more about Jesus and the apostles. The gospels told the story but there was a thirst for more details about Jesus as a child or the adventures of St Peter, and into that gap came the many gnostic or apochryphal gospels that we still hear about today.
If I were an author I would guard my stories and characters because that was the story that I was
wanting to tell and all details the readers needed. The same is true of the gospels, where the
evangelists used the eye witness accounts to tell the story of salvation giving the listeners and
readers from then to now all that we need to know.
Our focus ought to be on the words of the New Testament and the stories that we have, rather than speculating on the gaps and the missing details. We tend to like biographies with the full story told and all the details given but the gospels are documents of faith and need to be
studied for what they do say, rather than what they don’t say.
So I’ll be avoiding The Great Gatsby –the early years but keeping the bible open!
Saturday 18 July
A week of waiting and decision making for us all. Should I return to my Yoga classes? They take place in a sub-basement with windows but very little airflow. The teacher is excellent but performing yoga moves in a mask and keeping safely distanced from others will be difficult to say the least. Trying to do sun salutations without perspiration is beyond me and I can hardly wear a mask which covers all eventualities unless I attend in PPE. From now on I can use public transport, but the senior scientific adviser remains unconvinced as to the wisdom of such advice.
I remain “confused of Canterbury” and so will continue to take precautions and keep my distance from others. There is good news about a possible vaccine and that should cheer us all, but it is evident that the present state of affairs will continue for a considerable time. Talking to other dog walkers is enlightening, they advise going to the supermarkets either very early or very late in the day. Hairdressers for men are in operation but some ask that the customers wear masks, so I am not sure how the hair round the ears gets cut. Vets seem to be managing well, the dog goes in on a lead, and the examination takes place. Well Rolo has never been able to describe his problems so I guess the vet works on the assumption that if he looks hard enough, he will find it.
But I think we may all have to live with ongoing uncertainty, and this can prove to be stressful for many people. Most of us like to know what is expected of us and our desire to please others means that we conform to accepted norms of behaviour. The disciples exhibited much the same response as we do. In John’s gospel Jesus tells the disciples that he is going to His Father and will prepare a place for them and they know the way to the place He is going. Thomas is the first one to question this, “We don’t know where you are going so how can we know the way?” When Jesus responds saying He is the way, the truth and the life Philip chimes in with “Show us the Father and that will be enough for us” In our frailty we demand concrete answers but we know by faith that Jesus is the answer.
Now faced with uncertainty in the pandemic we are once again questioning. We want concrete answers, fool proof solutions and a salve for our anxieties but like the disciples we have to wait. They finally understood and felt certainty after Jesus resurrection and his gift of the Holy Spirit. Waiting is hard for all of us but during this time there has also been the opportunity for us to explore different ways of worshipping together, of connecting with each other, of being church in new ways. So, whilst we wait let us thank God for all He has provided and let us continue to support and encourage each other.
Rolo is still waiting for his haircut, its been five months but patience will win out!
Friday 17th July
This week in the Zoom Bible Study we looked at the idea of Sin. This is a word that sounds old fashioned and odd to our twenty first century ears. The words translated in our Bibles as sin are Khata and Hamartia, and mean to fail or to miss the goal. So sin is simply a failure to meet the goal of loving God and loving others.
There is so much that you can think about on this topic but for me the conversation that we had around this idea on Monday was interesting in two main ways:
Firstly there was a challenge. The main challenge for me was to think of what failures am I blind to? Often in the Bible, and we know from living life, you can see that people are unaware that they are committing a sin. What am I not aware of in my life, especially things that I have grown up with in my culture and my family that is so ingrained within me that I have not even thought to question? For me this has made me think about, and question, my attitudes to consumerism, race and gender. Am I missing out on the goal of living a full life of loving God and others because I cannot see where I am going off track?
Before you get too dispirited though, as I was the other day, I had my second revelation.
Secondly – there was a gift – the gift of grace. Grace is another one of those Bible words that can sound outdated and confusing. I remember being taught that grace is Gifts Received At Christs Expense. It is free kindness from God that is not deserved and does not need to be earned. This idea I think we need to take along side the idea of not meeting the goal of living the way God wants to at all times. Failure is part of life but God’s love and forgiveness is all encompassing and covers our failures.
So while so many of us wrestle with our failures and times when we do not meet the goal of being loving, whether we know it or not, we can do so in the arms of grace that tells us that we are always loved, accepted and forgiven.
Thursday 16th July
It has been six months since I retired and I am still very grateful for the privilege of being able to stop work. Waking in the morning and having time to read a newspaper leisurely, rather than rushing to work, still fills me with joy. I like calling my time my own – although conscious that really it belongs to God. So, it was with some horror that I read a newspaper report on Monday about modern slavery in Britain. It said that there may be over 100,000 slaves in Britain today! I had assumed that slavery in this country was abolished over two centuries ago, so I was stunned to read about its modern manifestations; and all this despite the passing of the Modern Slavery Act in 2015. You can find a copy of the report from two charities - the Centre for Social
Justice, and Justice and Care - at https://www.centreforsocialjustice.org.uk/core/wp-
Slavery involves British citizens just as much as people trafficked into the UK from abroad – in some ways, the report says that British citizens suffer more. “Across the country we found that British victims of modern slavery are in many ways worse off than foreign national victims when it comes to available support, as frontline agencies tend not to refer British suspected victims to the NRM [National Referral Mechanism] (pg 48 of the report).
Slavery can involve drug trafficking, car washes, agricultural work, personal services, and of course the sex trade. With the current lockdown hitting profits, there are stories of traffickers becoming more brutal to get their income.
What can you or I do about this issue? The brief answer is I do not know. However, trying to find out more about it will be a start. Secondly, reading through the report, it recommends that the voluntary sector has a definite role to play, even though many measures are down to the police and the courts.
The fourth of the Five Marks of Mission of the Anglican Communion is “To transform
unjust structures of society, to challenge violence of every kind and pursue peace
and reconciliation”. Do you think modern slavery in this country matters? If so, what
are we as individuals, as a parish, as a deanery, and as a diocese, called to do?
Wednesday 15th July
In recent times, Christians were prevented from worshipping in churches because of the real dangers of Covid-19. Even if church worship had been allowed many might not have attended because of the fear of infection. With the easing of restrictions people are not yet rushing to eat in restaurants nor enter busy shops. Many elderly and vulnerable Christians may be cautious of returning to church services for a while, despite the great care taken to minimise risks of infection.
We can now appreciate just a little of what life is like for Christians in what is known as the ‘Persecuted Church’, countries where Christians are discriminated against and persecuted simply because of their faith. In Saudi Arabia and North Korea it is illegal for Christians and people of other faiths to meet together for worship. This was the case long before Covid-19. China is just one country where the state places severe restrictions on churches and other aspects of the practice of Christianity. In others where churches are permitted and services held, churches have been attacked and Christians killed by terrorists.
Despite the limitations we experience because of Covid-19 we are very blessed to live and worship in safety in Canterbury. If I hear someone arriving after a service has started I do not feel alarmed. In Syria or Afghanistan I certainly would be. I often reflect on the accident of birth.
Our parish supports the excellent international Christian charity ‘The Barnabas Fund’ that provides a wide range of support and care for persecuted Christians worldwide. If you feel that our experience of living under the threat of Covid-19 brings us just a little closer to the plight of Christians supported by Barnabas, then do find out more through www.barnabasfund.org Email is email@example.com They provide a bi-monthly magazine and daily prayer diary. The latter is a great aid to regular prayer for our persecuted brothers and sisters in desperate situations.
Tuesday 14th July
It’s frustrating not being able to get into certain websites without verifying that you’re not a robot by clicking on a photo divided into squares, clicking on the squares that include any part of cars, motorbikes, traffic lights etc. The photo is often indistinct. I have to peer at it to see which squares have what I’m looking for. Is that a car, a bush or pedestrian?
How do we verify being a Christian? Is it what we say? Jesus remarked that not everyone who says ‘Lord, Lord’ will enter the kingdom. Is it what we do? Jesus reminds us that outward actions don’t necessarily reveal what’s in the heart.
At my Reader licensing, our tutor handed out the declarations and promises; the beliefs we were
signing up to and the commitments we were making. The ceremony was imminent. ‘I can’t do this’, I said. ‘Look, Rosemary’, he replied with some exasperation, ‘just get on with it.’ And that’s what I’ve been trying to do ever since, just getting on with it, grateful that all the churches I’ve been part of have been prepared to accept doubts, muddle, failures, questions and discussion; Christian communities open to wobbles in faith, exploration of texts, doctrine and church history, with the will to struggle with what they say today.
So do we need an ecclesiastical equivalent of squares to peer at and click on correctly to verify
Christian credentials? Perhaps we can learn from Lewis Carroll’s Alice, trying to share a looking glass cake. ‘Hand it around first’, she was advised, ‘and divide it up afterwards.’
Monday 13th July
When clergy get together they often talk about funerals. It is probably a form of catharsis, as
funerals are the occasion when we most want to do things well and get it right for those who are
gathered . It is definitely a sense of shared experience, a bond which allows us to understand the
emotions that are common to taking funerals and the pitfalls we face.
One of the issues in the lockdown has been that funerals have been very badly affected with
numbers of mourners limited and families often not being able to travel to a service. Add to that the social distancing at funerals and the inability for people to comfort one another in the ways we have always taken for granted, and you realise the hurt and pain that is around, which will have to be dealt with.
It has been a great hurt for many clergy that ministering to the dying and to the bereaved has been so difficult over these last three months. It has been a struggle as we reflect on the vows we made at our ordination and our wish to be alongside people in a moment of need.
Knowing what to say has been hard. Nearly twenty years ago I took the funeral of a young man who died in the twin towers in New York and who was laid to rest in the churchyard at Elmstone. I really didn’t know what to say at the funeral to the family who had lost someone they loved so tragically and in such a public way without sounding trite or uncaring.
In the end I just talked about the church building and how it had stood for eight hundred years
through the many events of history and how generation after generation had found comfort in its stones in difficult times, pointing to the God who had sustained them through their troubles.
I’m not sure if it helped and it was probably as trite as everything else, but through the lockdown
although separated from our churches, we have known that they are there and have stood through history, in the case of St Martin’s a lot of history. Buildings accompany the big events in our history - war, civil war, pandemics but also the individual events of our own lives- baptisms, weddings, funerals- they are a “friend” and a place of encounter. I’m glad we’re beginning to open our buildings again but glad, too, that they are there and offer those who come in and those who pass by a reminder in the historic stones of the God who was with us in the Norman Conquest, the Black Death, the Reformation, two World Wars and now the lockdown.
Friday 10th July
In this weeks Bible study we explored the theme of the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit is in the very beginning of the Bible. The original word used in genesis is ruakh which has different interpretations and means wind, energy, breath – it is used to describe Gods personal presence with us. It is invisible, powerful and life sustaining. It is the Holy Spirit that empowers people throughout the Bible, and it is the Holy Spirit which Jesus promises to all of his followers, including us today.
Sometime though, it can seem so dark around us that we struggle to see the Spirit at work in our lives or the in the world around us. We asked ourselves the question in our Bible study, of where we have seen the Holy Spirit bringing life into the darkness that we see around us in the past few months. All of us could name numerous instances of seeing places where the Spirit, life and light has been evident in these hard times – neighbours helping each other, community links strengthening, phone calls from friends, strength to get through each day, and more. These might only be small things, but they are signs of light and hope that all added together show an amazing amount of life-giving activity happening all around us. I was encouraged, and I hope you are to, to be reminded that the Holy Spirit never leaves us and is always at work in this world even when we are not paying attention to what is going on and do not see it. If we look we can always see evidence of the Spirit at work in the world.
Thursday 9th July
Stephen Langton depicted in a Victorian window in the Cathedral’s Chapter
House. Photo credit: Canterbury Cathedral.
If you suffer from cold feet in bed, spare a thought for Stephen Langton, who died on this day in 1228. One of the earliest British cardinals, Archbishop of Canterbury, a ring-leader of the Magna Carta nobles against King John, theologian, and brother of Simon Langton (who is perhaps better known to us in Canterbury), Stephen Langton has three other connexions with us this week.
First, our churches have been closed for several months because of the Covid-19 virus; the last time this happened was in 1208, when King John refused to accept the Pope’s appointment of Stephen Langton as Archbishop of Canterbury. The Pope retaliated by placing England under
an interdict, so all the churches were closed until 1213. In the words of 1066 And All That: “no one was to be born or die or marry (except in church porches)”. So, things were even worse in the 13th century than today…
Secondly, Stephen Langton was probably responsible for the great ceremonial of the Translation of St Thomas Becket, which took place 800 years ago on the 7th July 1220 in the presence of King Henry III and all the good and great of the realm. The Translation involved moving the body of St Thomas Becket from the Cathedral’s crypt up to the Trinity chapel, which had been designed especially to house the remains. The great chair of St Augustine, still the seat of the Archbishop that sits between the High Altar and the site of the shrine, may date from the Translation ceremony. The Translation must have been quite a bash!
Thirdly, Stephen Langton is credited with dividing the Bible into chapters. Until his time, the books of the Bible were copied onto long rolls or vellum parchments and the words flowed relentlessly. Having chapters allows us to make better sense of the Scriptures, and to try to reflect on how they can influence our lives. So, next time you read or hear a passage from the Bible, think of Stephen Langton and give thanks to God for Langton’s inspiration to make the Bible better understood by me and by you; and also for all the prophets, writers, apostles, editors, and translators who have been inspired to produce the Bible as we know it today.
Why the connexion with cold feet? Stephen Langton was buried in the Cathedral in St Michael’s chapel, which originally had an apse (a semi-circular wall) at the east end. In the 15th century, the chapel was chosen to house the bodies of Lady Margaret Holland and her two husbands in a humungous tomb. It was given a make- over in the latest Gothic style, and the eastern wall of the chapel was made flat. And so, for nearly 600 years, the archbishop’s feet in his tomb have stuck out of the eastern chapel wall, exposed to the cold and the rain, awaiting the day of
resurrection; they must be very cold!
The tomb of Stephen Langton in St Michael’s chapel of the Cathedral.
Photo credit http://canonianblack.blogspot.com/2015/06/head-in-chapel-feet-
Wednesday 8th July
Since my thought for the day a fortnight ago everything has changed! The Cathedral is open for visitors now and it seems that you have to book to go in but I got in by telling them I just wanted to pray! So I can still walk up there every day if I want to.
I have just reread John Pritchard’s book “How to Pray” I knew John Pritchard when he was Archdeacon of Canterbury and have most of his books. He has a way of writing which meets people where they are; and his little illustrations bring a touch of humour! It is a very practical book and I have tried many of his ideas at one time or another.
Praying in special spaces speaks directly to the heart. It may be a church, it may be a bench by the river. Praying in the silence gives space for God to speak. Praying throughout the day may have to be done on the run but is no less prayer. We can punctuate our day with wonder and surprise; questions and reassurance. We can start the day with “putting on the Lord Jesus”
(Romans 13:14) and end the day by winding down with God as we review the day. We can pray with the Bible, The Ignatian Way. We can pray with the community, the Benedictine Way. We can pray with the emotions The Franciscan Way or we can pray with everyday life, the Celtic Way.
The possibilities are endless. It doesn’t matter how, where or when we pray. The important thing is that we do pray!
Tuesday 7th July
‘The play’s the thing’, says Hamlet, ‘wherein I’ll catch the conscience of the King’. Except that just at the moment it isn’t. Canterbury’s Marlowe Theatre stands empty. Quite apart from the proximity of audience seating, it seems totally unrealistic to expect actors to social distance in their roles. Think of the Parish Pantomime!
Liturgy is the construction of worship as a powerful drama encompassing all present. Recently
participation has been through our individual internet devices. Being part of a drama in this way is a different experience but confession, which catches our consciences, and absolution, which moves us to a fresh start, remain a vital part of liturgies, remote or in person.
The definition of the word ‘liturgy’ reveals that it originated in Ancient Greece and did indeed have connections with catching consciences. Leitourgia (a sacred ministering that always impacts those who witness it), was set up by the city-state. Citizens and residents were expected to contribute voluntarily to the finances of their state from their personal wealth, on the premise that personal wealth comes from the resources of the community as a whole and is only delegated to its inhabitants, not owned exclusively by them.
The Greek origins of the word and the working out of the drama of worship, including confession and absolution, whether live or recorded, have implications. Worship is the thing wherein we catch our consciences. If we are impacted by public worship, we reflect on what is wealth and what is our public duty to both church and state? After all, serious decisions, including supporting Christian ministry and funding community obligations such as social care and the arts, now have to be made and paid for.
Monday 6th July
This week in our Bible Study we looked at the book of Ecclesiastes in the Bible. It’s a book that speaks about the meaninglessness of life. What struck me this week was this idea of meaninglessness and how it is not that life hasmeaning but rather that its meaning is never clear, it can be confusing and disorientating. The video describes it as a fog that we are walking through in our lives.
I have found this a useful way of thinking about life in this past week – that as we live under the sun on this broken world, full of messed up people, our way can seem uncertain and murky, like walking through fog. This does not mean that we give up or stop going, but it means that we have to put effort in to see through the fog to see part of real picture slightly more clearly. This follows on well from last week where we looked at hope – the idea of hoping for things that you can see no evidence of and might never come to be in your life time. You do not stop hoping, just as we do not stop living and trying to find our way through the fog.
know life here on earth now is hard and unfair, and at the moment it can seem
like we are surrounded by the fog of illness, lockdown, grief, racism and more.
But we can live within the fog and work to find moments of clarity and light
where God shines through. For me one moment this week where I have seen that at
work was on TV! Chanel 4 has an amazing documentary on catch up called The
School That Tried to End Racism (https://www.channel4.com/
Saturday 4th July
American Independence Day, an occasion to celebrate all that has been achieved since the Boston tea Party. Sadly, it’s taking the British Ambassador to Washington and our armed forces to demonstrate how to make tea properly without using a microwave, pints of milk and half a pound of sugar.
Whilst there is much that unites our two countries there is also much that divides us. We can laugh about the tea, but we are dismayed by the racism that we have seen and heard about in American cities. But this should make us all think about our own responses to those of another
race or culture or creed.
We know from our own history within the church that missionaries did not always bring only the good news of the Gospel but demanded that those in other lands also accept our culture in all its aspects. There have been books and stage plays, which demonstrate this but how much do we consider our present society and cultural norms?
We have moved on since the times when there were public notices which refused accommodation and jobs to “Black and Irish” people. In 1973 Alfred Marks Employment Agency was still accepting requests for staff which stated that the company would not accept any black person for a position.
We see much less overt racism, but we still see stereotyping. More black teenagers are excluded from school than white students; they are often seen to be aggressive and teachers respond by sending them from the classroom. We need to deal with these issues positively wherever we encounter them. When I was teaching I demanded the same commitment from all my students but I would be the first to acknowledge that it is often difficult and draining especially when students do not feel that the future will be positive for them.
Jesus valued everyone he met for themselves. He never differentiated regardless of their colour or culture; the parable of the Good Samaritan tells us that. We need to cultivate that frame of mind ourselves. It is easy to move from stereotyping to patronising and that is not what is needed either. We must urge our politicians to make good their promises of training and apprenticeships for all our young people, regardless of their background and especially those young people who live in impoverished communities. We need their brains, their creativity, their desire to improve life on the planet and in society so that their grandchildren have a better
future. We need green initiatives and they can make them happen if we encourage and support
them and their teachers in the months and years ahead.
We know that God charged Adam and Eve to care for the world that He had created, and we know that God continues to create and desires all that is good for all people.
We, as His church, have the responsibility to enable the present and future generations to continue that duty of care for all the earth and everything that lives and moves in the sea and on the land.
Friday 3rd July
In the early 1990s I worked as a lay assistant in South West London, for a year. It was not far from
Wimbledon, so near I was offered touted tickets for the men’s final on the way to buy my Sunday
paper and was able to respond that I had to take evensong.
The reason my time in Wandsworth has come to mind is not just because of tennis but because as a young ordinand it was the first time I had worked with black clergy in the deanery. Although I had been at college with clergy from Africa, it was an important part of my growth as a Christian and in my training for ordination.
While I was there I went to a deanery training day where I was greatly excited that I was going to go to a voice projection workshop led by the actor who played Davros in Doctor Who (long term
readers will understand that). It was good but it was the next workshop that was really life changing. It was led by a black priest who worked for the diocese who spoke about how he had faced verbal abuse and racial discrimination as a black man and as a clergyman. When we went into groups, I was the only white person in mine and it was soon clear that his experience was shared by the others, not said in a bitter way but in a way that talked of that reality and also of the desire to change things now.
As we came back for our plenary, I was not sure how to fully process what I had heard but the leader said two things that looking back truly changed my life.
“People talk of racial tensions and different races, but there is only one race- the human race and we are all members of it”.
“If being in the image of God means anything- it means that we are equally in the image of God
whatever our ethnicity and equal in the eyes of God”.
Once you hear that, you can never unhear it or understand why anybody doubts it is true.
Thursday 2nd July
Feeding500: photo credit Victoria & Albert Museum, London
The other day I wanted to check the precise wording of a Biblical quotation about a miracle of Jesus feeding a vast number of people. So, I reached for a handy Bible and turned to St Matthew’s gospel. No, it was not there, not in the feeding of the 5,000 (Matt 14: 13-21) nor in the feeding of the 4,000 (Matt 15: 32-39). It was not in St Mark’s gospel (Mark 6: 34-44, the 5,000; or Mark 8: 1-9, the 4,000); nor was it in St Luke’s account (Luke 9: 10-17 for the 5,000; the 4,000 miracle is not mentioned). And so, eventually, I found the wording I wanted in St John’s gospel (John 6: 1-14).
As an aside, this exercise reminded me that my knowledge of the Scriptures is not as strong as I hoped – and remember, here I was dealing with one of the most well-known of Jesus’ miracles; this was not a recherché part of Numbers or Lamentations! Also, I had thought that in the various accounts about Jesus’s life up to Holy Week, the only one common to all four gospels was the cleansing of the money changers from the Temple (and even then, the dating differs between the first three gospels and that of St John). Yet here, with the feeding of the 5,000, we have another miracle in all four gospels. More humility and study on my part I think!
An interesting book about miracles was written twenty years ago by Jeffrey John, the Dean of St Albans; it is called The Meaning in the Miracles. He suggests that the feeding of the 5,000 is a way of showing that Jesus had resonances of Moses and Elijah, the figureheads of the Law and the Prophets; yet, of course, Jesus was greater than both. It chimes with Jesus being the Word of God that can feed us daily. And it has echoes of the Eucharist, where Jesus gives Himself for us and offers us salvation and peace. This is seen especially in the account in St John’s gospel where the miracle is followed by a long section about Jesus being the bread of life (John 6: 24-58).
What where the words I was seeking? In St John’s account, at the very end of the feeding the disciples are told to pick up the leftovers ‘that nothing be lost’. That phrase I find very comforting. At times, we all can feel abandoned, or useless, or sad, or depressed. We can think we are no better than something that has been thrown away, something of no value. Yet we have Jesus’ assurance. He has and will continue to act so ‘that nothing be lost’ – and that includes you and me. Thank God.
LoavesAndFishes: One of a series of 26 mosaic panels illustrating the life of Christ in
Sant'Apollinare Nuovo, Ravenna – a church older even than St Martin’s! Photo
credit: Holly Hayes / Ed Stock Photo.
Wednesday 1st July
For those of us able to get out in recent weeks, the singing of blackbirds has been a real pleasure. It is most noticeable early evenings when a male sits on a rooftop or TV aerial and delights us with its powerful, beautiful song. It is particularly noticeable now because very sadly one rarely hears a song thrush whose numbers have declined dramatically. The male blackbird may be singing to attract a mate, assert its territory, or just for the sheer joy of singing.
But July will be a poor month for singing. The blackbird stops until next spring, together with the cuckoo who flies off to winter in Africa. When I played golf at Canterbury we were enthralled by the range of melodies of a colony of nightingales each spring. But nightingales stop performing in June. And to make things even worse, we are strongly advised to avoid singing when church services resume in July!
Birds feature frequently in the Bible. A raven was the first creature to leave the ark. The Reverend John Stott, former Rector of All Souls church in central London, wrote a lovely book ‘Birds our Teachers: Biblical lessons from a lifelong bird-watcher’. Each chapter has a biblical theme he associates with a particular bird. Inevitably he refers to Jesus’ mention of birds in the Sermon on the Mount. ‘Don’t worry about everyday life….Look at the birds, they don’t plant or harvest or put food into barns, for you heavenly Father feeds them’ (Matthew 6:26). Stott says this text can be misunderstood. God does not feed birds directly - they have to forage for what he provides through nature and through human bird feeders.
Similarly with us, we cannot sit back and do nothing, leaving God to do it all. Neither manna nor quail will drop conveniently from the sky. Where would we be without supermarket deliveries in the prolonged lockdown? Jesus warns us about the futility of worrying, not a known characteristic of birds’ behaviour. Meanwhile, we can enjoy the variety, colours and songs of some birds this month and, as Stott says, what they can teach us about some great biblical truths.
Tuesday 30th June
I’ve joined an adult education online course, ‘The Road Not Travelled’. This takes 5 pivotal events in history including the Battle of Hastings, the assassination of President Kennedy and the end of the Cold War and discusses what would have happened if the outcomes had been different.
I like the idea of this hypothetical history because you can speculate on how lives, circumstances and decisions can affect the course of events. You can also gauge the impact of events which did happen by considering what didn’t.
The Gospel reading for this Sunday recounts Jesus describing the inconsistencies of his generation who were restless and dissatisfied. They criticised John the Baptist as too aloof and Jesus himself for being too sociable (and, horror of horrors, with tax collectors and sinners!). Jesus then makes the very profound statement that ‘wisdom is vindicated by her deeds.’
We are now investigating serious inconsistencies in the lives of individuals and societies past and present. Seen in hindsight the magnitude of some of these inconsistent attitudes to human life, flourishing and the natural environment, are truly dreadful. The consequences are far reaching in destruction of the environment, misery, injustice and tragedy.
Ways forward will be our own legacy. How will we be assessed? Which decisions in a ‘The Road
Not Travelled’ session fifty years from now will be assessed as the vindication of wisdom? I shall
enjoy discussing the five topics on the course but there are pressing contemporary matters. How do we fill in the ending when Sunday’s Gospel says to US, ‘Look at this generation, ’they are like…’
Monday 29th June
Clare always keeps a diary to record the things that we have done – things have been pretty quiet recently but it is interesting to look back and see what we did in past years. Did we really do that we ask each other or was that really 15 years ago?
Last week the diary reminded us that last year we had gone to the Isle of Wight for a few days. We went primarily to go to Osbourne and to Farringford, home of Alfred, Lord Tennyson but also to visit one of our favourite pubs, The Spyglass Inn, in Ventnor. While in Ventnor we went to Bonchurch just along the coast on a quest.
My parents went to Ventnor for their honeymoon in 1965 and visited a pottery where they bought a dish. Forty years later they went back for their Ruby Wedding and bought a white lion from the pottery. When they died and we cleared the house out, the dish and the lion came to live with us, because of the story behind them. The lion now lives on the window sill in our lounge and looks very splendid.
When we got to Bonchurch we looked for the pottery. It was to our surprise still there – a large shed with one man making pots on a wheel. As we bought two mugs, I told him my story and he told me about how he had been the potter there for over forty years and how his father had been there from the 1950s until the 1970s. It was strange to think of these two stories coming together- of him meeting my parents and his father meeting them in 1965- that he had made the lion and his father the dish in that very spot where we were standing.
As I came away I realised I had made a pilgrimage to a spot which was very special to my parents and now that became part of my own story too.
In our lives we all carry our own stories, inherited or lived, we all have our places of pilgrimage. It is part of what it is to be human to make these connections, these spiritual links. The lockdown has made more aware as we are cut off from these special places and more understanding of those who will be keen to make pilgrimages as the easing continues, to churches and other sites that have great meaning to them.
I look at the lion, the dish and the mugs and play the story in my mind of three trips Ventnor and of the story of the pottery on path to the sea.
Friday 26th June
This week in our Zoom Bible study we were looking at the idea of hope. Hope is interesting in the Bible because for so many people that we read about, their hope is something that they do not see the outcome of in their generation, or even in their children’s generation. It is something that helps them to wait and to not fall in to despair when things are hard, but it is not the promise of a quick rescue or a happy ending. Indeed, hope is only possible in hard times or trouble, because it is about looking forward and waiting for something different.
What struck me most in the video above was the difference between optimism and hope. Optimism (or pessimism- which is often my natural state of thinking) is something that is based on possibilities and odds. We are optimistic, or not, based on what we think is likely to happen. Hope, however, is deeper than this and is not based on what we see as possible or probable, but is rather based on God. Hope comes not from circumstances but from the character of God. So whether we are optimistic or pessimistic about the lockdown restrictions and the news we read or see, our hope is based on a loving and faithful God who is always with us. Our hope can stay strong whatever happens in the near future.
Thursday 25th June
“Our long national hibernation is beginning to come to an end and life is returning to our streets and to our shops” said the Prime Minister on Tuesday. Hurrah! That is certainly good news. But do we want just to resume the old way of life and forget the lessons we have learned during the lock-down – such as the importance of community, the preciousness of life, the need to ‘fill the unforgiving minute’ (to quote Kipling) - for we may not see tomorrrow’s minutes? Certainly, hundreds of thousands have done their best to support neighbours; all the volunteers who signed up for the Royal Voluntary Service alert system are a symbol of widespread community spirit.
Yet we know that millions are in fear of losing their jobs, or their homes, or both. The call on food banks has increased sharply;. and the Black Lives Matter protests show that BAME people feel ignored and undervalued.
There is work to be done. Rather than just going back to the old ways, we have an opportunity to make a fairer society. In the confession of our weekly Eucharist, we quote the prophet Micah (who lived roughly about the same time as Isaiah) when we talk of wanting to do justly, love mercy, and walk humbly with our God (Micah 6: 8).
To mash together two quotes attributed to Gandhi, “Be the change that you wish to see in the world” and “whatever you do will be insignificant, but it is very important that you do it.”. So, what can we do both as individuals and as a parish to use our recent experience to bring God’s Kingdom a little bit nearer?
The prophet Micah as depicted in Chartres Cathedral. Photo © Dr Stuart Watling, www.medievalart.org.uk.
Wednesday 24th June
As someone pointed out the reopening of churches for private prayer coincided with the reopening of Primark! Excitement for many people! I haven’t missed Primark but I have missed being able to go into a church building to pray.
Of course we do not have to go to church to pray. We can pray anytime, anywhere, and I do. But on Tuesday last week I walked to the Cathedral and was allowed In, to sit quietly and pray.
I love living so close to the Cathedral and in normal times regularly walk through the precincts on my way to St Paul’s. I also used to pop in to the building to wander round, marvel at the beautiful architecture and lovely stained glass windows (there are none in the nave!) and just soak up the atmosphere.
What a different experience it was on Tuesday. No tourists, no wandering round, just the silence of the big empty building. Yet it didn’t feel empty. It was full of the memories of past pilgrims, past events and most of all the spirit of God.
I sat quietly, listening, thinking and praying, thanking God for all his many blessings and remembering all those who need the peace of this place in their lives at this time.
As Jesus prepared his disciples for the time after his death when he would no longer be there for them he said, ”Peace I leave with you, my peace I give to you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid.” (John 14:27)
(The Cathedral is open 4.30-8.00 weekdays and 10.00-4.00 Saturday and Sunday, entrance via the Christ Church gate. It is well managed and very safe.)
Tuesday 23rd June
Race, ethnicity, equality and justice have a high profile at the moment. A powerful experiences of teaching secondary history was studying the origins, evolution and practices of apartheid in South Africa. Innovative textbooks on current topics provided comprehensive documentation and photographs, continually challenging perceptions and encouraging the pupils to think for themselves about morality and values in the light of the evidence.
The class were very angry when they realised that the whole basis of apartheid was discrimination. This was before the end of apartheid and some wrote letters of protest to politicians urging sanctions to end the regime. Preparing lessons, I found the song ‘Freedom is Coming’ which impressed me with its conviction, dignity and hope. The lyrics of the second verse are ‘Jesus is Coming’.
How does Jesus’ life and ministry connect with the freedom in the first verse? How does the coming of Jesus through the life of Christian individuals and communities bring freedom today? Jesus’ words and actions bring freedom from fear, the fear that somehow whatever we see our identity as, it is so insecure that we perceive all the identities around us as threats. Jesus’ words and actions dispel this fear as they display the uniqueness and value of all humanity.
This is liberation, in this equality there are no boundaries or exclusions. This freedom implies building just structures and opportunities for all. Perhaps those history lessons of the eighties will prompt me and the then pupils to connect what we shared with the belief that action, accompanied by conviction, dignity and hope, can transform society today.
Monday 22nd June
A few years ago Clare and I went to Tanzania as part of a visit from Rochester to two link dioceses
At the end of our trip we stayed in a game reserve where we encountered giraffes, elephants and
When we got back we played the film and watched the two weeks caught on camera- visits, meetings, services and finally the game reserve. We got to the lions and were amazed at how close
In life our attention is often held by one particular thing to the exclusion of others. We sometimes
It is part of our faith that we see God as having the full picture- we see only partially and our minds