Thursday, 30 December 2010


GospelLuke 2:36-40 

There was a prophetess, Anna the daughter of Phanuel, of the tribe of Asher. She was well on in years. Her days of girlhood over, she had been married for seven years before becoming a widow. She was now eighty-four years old and never left the Temple, serving God night and day with fasting and prayer. She came by just at that moment and began to praise God; and she spoke of the child to all who looked forward to the deliverance of Jerusalem.
  When they had done everything the Law of the Lord required, they went back to Galilee, to their own town of Nazareth. Meanwhile the child grew to maturity, and he was filled with wisdom; and God’s favour was with him.

In Advent we recognised John the Baptist, in all his wildness and righteousness,  as the last of the Old Testament prophets. As chosen and as driven as he is by the Holy Spirit, there is still something of that tradition that calls him to look for reassurance from this man who has not come armed with lightning in chariots of fire. 

Yet Anna, born nearly a hundred years before John, immediately recognises the Messiah, held in the arms of his young mother and guarded by his artisan father; a child overlooked by the Temple priests; whose mother and father would have had to pay hard earned money for Temple sacrifice; for the privilege of entering the Temple. 

How does she know?

Perhaps she has learnt the true meaning of prophecy? To see what is real; because she had become real. 

I thought of Anna when I read this passage from 'The Velveteen Rabbit' - if you can't read children's books at Christmas, when can you?

The Skin Horse had lived longer in the nursery than any of the others. He was so old that his brown coat was bald in patches and showed the seams underneath, and most of the hairs in his tail had been pulled out to string bead necklaces. He was wise, for he had seen a long succession of mechanical toys arrive to boast and swagger, and by-and-by break their mainsprings and pass away, and he knew that they were only toys, and would never turn into anything else. For nursery magic is very strange and wonderful, and only those playthings that are old and wise and experienced like the Skin Horse understand all about it. 
"What is REAL?" asked the Rabbit one day, when they were lying side by side near the nursery fender, before Nana came to tidy the room. "Does it mean having things that buzz inside you and a stick-out handle?"
"Real isn't how you are made," said the Skin Horse. "It's a thing that happens to you. When a child loves you for a long, long time, not just to play with, but REALLY loves you, then you become Real."
"Does it hurt?" asked the Rabbit.
"Sometimes," said the Skin Horse, for he was always truthful. "When you are Real you don't mind being hurt."

Anna had not had the best of lives; a widow in her early twenties; presumable childless; one of the unwanted; the nonentities of the community.  Which is why she had had to turn to the Temple where she built a life. Maybe she had become a good listener; someone people would turn to for advice; someone people would ask to pray for them with an offering of a penny or two. Built a life that did not blame God for where she was but thanked him for it; who gave herself to him with all that she had. 
Which, to be honest, would have taken time. I would suggest that there was a lot of grief; regrets; resentment and ego that had passed through God's hands before she became Anna the prophetess. A lot of letting go and a great deal of letting God. To let go of demands that God make it right; that God change what has past; that God do something
Anna learns that it is up to her to allow God to do something.She has let God make her real; let God love her more and more as she becomes old and wrinkled and even, like the Skin Horse, loses her hair. To be loved as the world cannot love; for who she is; as she is.She becomes confident in that relationship of love; as a child is confident in love. She knows the strength of love. She has said 'yes' to that love.
When Anna sees Jesus, she recognises him; but she doesn't see a mighty God in a powerless child; she sees what is real - the God that belongs to her as she belongs to him; a powerless God in a mighty child; mighty because Jesus rests in the arms of two people who have also said 'yes'. 


Sunday, 26 December 2010

Wholly Family

Gospel Matthew 2:13-15,19-23
After the wise men had left, the angel of the Lord appeared to Joseph in a dream and said, ‘Get up, take the child and his mother with you, and escape into Egypt, and stay there until I tell you, because Herod intends to search for the child and do away with him.’ So Joseph got up and, taking the child and his mother with him, left that night for Egypt, where he stayed until Herod was dead. This was to fulfil what the Lord had spoken through the prophet:

I called my son out of Egypt.

After Herod’s death, the angel of the Lord appeared in a dream to Joseph in Egypt and said, ‘Get up, take the child and his mother with you and go back to the land of Israel, for those who wanted to kill the child are dead.’ So Joseph got up and, taking the child and his mother with him, went back to the land of Israel. But when he learnt that Archelaus had succeeded his father Herod as ruler of Judaea he was afraid to go there, and being warned in a dream he left for the region of Galilee. There he settled in a town called Nazareth. In this way the words spoken through the prophets were to be fulfilled:

‘He will be called a Nazarene.’

Christmas Day - five years later

The woman lifts her veil and settles it over her head trying to make a deeper shadow across her face; shelter from the unforgiving afternoon sun. Not the best time to be collecting water from the communal well- but then the sun was not the only unforgiving thing in this village.

The clay pot is now full, but rather than make her way home she stands with arms clasped around it; cradling its coolness to her as she watches and waits. Across the square, a man stands at a doorway; his shoulders set with a determination that she recognises; by his side a young boy doing his best to stand equally as tall and as still. At the door the silhouette of another man; she sees him shake his head; lowers her eyes and shakes her own.

'I have no argument with you, Joseph, but the other families will not accept him being taught with their sons.' the Rabbi gestured to the young boys already sitting within the cool room.

'Then your argument is with me, Teacher, because my son is now five years old and under the Law should be studying scripture. I am only asking you to do your duty.'

The Rabbi considers the man and boy standing in front of him. He remembers Joseph as a young and thoughtful student and feels regret for the life that he has chosen but also admiration for his loyalty and dedication.

'We both understand 'duty' in our own way, Joseph. I will do what I can. He can sit in the doorway, to keep the dogs and goats from joining us; whatever he learns, he learns. That's all I can offer.'

Joseph recognises the gift; 'Thank you Rabbi; just as well he has good ears.' He puts his head down to the boy's ear. 'Listen well, little man.' Then gently pushes him towards the threshold, turns and walks towards across the square.

As he passes the well; the woman lifts the clay pot onto her head and falls into step behind him.
'This is not right', she murmers under her breath, 'why should he have to go through this?'

Joseph answered 'If he is going to change the world then he has to see the world for what it is. He will meet people far less sympathetic than our Rabbi, far more judgemental than our village - he needs the skills, the knowledge, he needs to know the Law and what we have done to the Law. Even this day is a victory for him, for us. I wouldn't have done it if I hadn't believed in him.'

'You are a wise man, husband.' Mary commented. They both laughed and Joseph lifted the pot from her head and carried it the rest of the way to their home. After all, at this time of the day, there was no-one to see.

Just before supper, the boy flung the door curtain aside and stormed into the house. His mother looked up and saw the vertical frownline in the forehead, round eyes close to tears and the clenched hands; she said a blessing under her breath. He walked through to the workshop at the back of the house without a word. At the worktable he picked up a chisel and started gouging pieces out of a length of wood. Joseph called to him from his seat in the corner near the fire. 'How did it go today?'

Jesus dropped the chisel and walked across to stand at his father's knee; arms held strapped to his side.
'They asked me what the Seventh Commandment was,' he muttered 'I knew the answer - thou shalt not commit adultery. And they laughed - the Rabbi said 'at least I knew the Law' but I don't understand what he meant.'

'But it made you angry? Angry enough to take it out on that poor piece of wood?'

The words burst out; 'it wasn't fair; why would they laugh at me? They don't even know me. And there was another boy who came and sat at the doorway. His name was Eli; they wouldn't let him in because his father is a tax collector. They made fun of him too but he said he never shows that he is upset; that that gave them power over him and they have no right. I am going to try to be like Eli but I didn't like them making fun of me and you and mama. Saying we weren't a real family. That's not true; we are a real family.'

Joseph drew his son to him. 'We are a real family. Families aren't decided by rules. Family are made by love and belonging. I cannot imagine being without you and your mother; you know that you will always have the two of us and the tone in your mother's voice when she calls us in for supper tells the both of us that we belong to her. Love holds us together, Jesus, not blood, not tradition, not the Law, just Love. Remember that.'

On cue, his mother's voice was heard calling them to the table. Jesus laughed and his arms went around his father's neck. 'After supper will you tell me the story about when the angels came?'

'Of course I will,' Joseph replied ' I think it's the perfect night for that particular tale.' He lifted the boy onto his shoulders. 'As long as you remember to tell your mother you love her.'


Saturday, 18 December 2010

Like Father,

Matthew 1:18-24

This is how Jesus Christ came to be born. His mother Mary was betrothed to Joseph; but before they came to live together she was found to be with child through the Holy Spirit. Her husband Joseph; being a man of honour and wanting to spare her publicity, decided to divorce her informally. He had made up his mind to do this when the angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream and said, ‘Joseph son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary home as your wife, because she has conceived what is in her by the Holy Spirit. She will give birth to a son and you must name him Jesus, because he is the one who is to save his people from their sins.’ Now all this took place to fulfil the words spoken by the Lord through the prophet:
The virgin will conceive and give birth to a son and they will call him Emmanuel,
a name which means ‘God-is-with-us.’ When Joseph woke up he did what the angel of the Lord had told him to do: he took his wife to his home.

When Joseph woke up he did what the angel of the Lord had told him to do: he took his wife to his home.’

As simple as that? That is what the Gospel would have us believe.

That Joseph, an ordinary working man - not a priest or a prophet – would accept the memory of a dream of an angel.

 That Joseph, a hard-working man, living the life of a peasant; would believe that his God would ask him to be the father of his Son.

That Joseph, as much as he may have loved her, would see in Mary the Mother of his God.

As simple as that; but surely no easier; no less blest; no less full of grace for Joseph to say 'yes' than for Mary?  

In fact, for Mary the simplest proof, for her, will be the child growing within her over the next months; whilst Joseph must simply trust; must accept the word of an angel and the word of his wife to be.  And to trust it for the rest of his life. His, seemingly, very ordinary life. After all, how little we know about Joseph.

In earlier times, such a request would have come with a deal; a covenant; a promise or two from God that this or that would happen. There is none of that here. God asks simply for Joseph's help; to be a true father to this child; a true husband to Mary. Joseph - an  ordinary man living out an extraordinary promise. 

And the miracle is that he does.

How could he have possibly, absolutely known it was God’s Will.

I would say – he didn’t know. But he made a choice - he chose not to ‘know’; he chose not to judge; he chose to accept.

‘let it be unto me according to your Word’.

Mary, being awake at the time, was able to answer the angel in words; Joseph answered in action and acted with integrity. Despite the possibility that it was only a dream, perhaps from Mary it was only an excuse; but who was he to judge?

There would be years ahead of whispers and gestures made behind backs and under veils. He knew this - he knew all he could do was be himself; all he could be was a loving husband, a good father. Which is what he had planned to be all along – maybe why he had been chosen too.

We too are ordinary people. We may look at others -believing that in God's eyes they are better than us; believe others are reaching great spiritual heights; speaking with authority; working miracles amongst the poor and the homeless; being acknowledged by the great and the good.  And we will say that God is with them; but not only with them.

Joseph's son will be Emmanuel - God is with us.

Jesus speaks to all of us through Joseph; gives him his two great Commandments before he is even born. Asks him to love God with all his heart, soul and mind; asks him to love as he would wish to be loved– to believe Mary as he would expect to be believed, to love this child as any child deserves to be loved.  

And Joseph says 'yes'.


Tuesday, 14 December 2010

Godisnowhere - the Return

We have had the strange experience of starting and ending the year with real winters- snow, ice and cold; weather warning and travel restrictions.  

Last winter I had a series of blogs called godisnowhere - which translated to 'God is nowhere',  'God is now here' and, quirkier but relevant at the time, 'God I snow here'.  God certainly gets my attention with snow. Despite (in spite of) the inconvenience I love this weather; in this weather I know where I am or, rather, where I would wish to be. 

This weather makes me wish for well wrapped up walks with muffled blanket silences and ice-sharp cracks of sound followed by warm and peace-filled conversation or  'feet up with a book' evenings. At least that is what I have been wishing for - but have not been getting. 

The duty to work, the duty to shop, the duty to 'christmas' is weighing heavy - and heavier yet because, in this weather - it's just not right.  But duty has a way of getting its way; finding alternatives; putting on  the pressure to 'carry on regardless'. This 'carrying on' is a worldly concept -a stubborn attempt at not letting circumstances get one over on you. But if God has a hand in it then it is running away and it's dangerous to run in snow. 

 If I lived further north in the deeper cold or on an island measured by the changing tides then I would hear it more clearly -  it is time to join the land in rest; to treat the world with respect; to treat myself gently. 

Nevertheless, I hear it. 



Saturday, 11 December 2010

The Annunciation

Living in Hope

GospelMatthew 11:2-11 

John in his prison had heard what Christ was doing and he sent his disciples to ask him, ‘Are you the one who is to come, or have we got to wait for someone else?’ Jesus answered, ‘Go back and tell John what you hear and see; the blind see again, and the lame walk, lepers are cleansed, and the deaf hear, and the dead are raised to life and the Good News is proclaimed to the poor; and happy is the man who does not lose faith in me.’
  As the messengers were leaving, Jesus began to talk to the people about John: ‘What did you go out into the wilderness to see? A reed swaying in the breeze? No? Then what did you go out to see? A man wearing fine clothes? Oh no, those who wear fine clothes are to be found in palaces. Then what did you go out for? To see a prophet? Yes, I tell you, and much more than a prophet: he is the one of whom scripture says:
Look, I am going to send my messenger before you;
he will prepare your way before you.
‘I tell you solemnly, of all the children born of women, a greater than John the Baptist has never been seen; yet the least in the kingdom of heaven is greater than he is.’

Last week I was talking about how the Gospels allow different viewpoints to come across as the Good News is experienced by different people. How Mark’s simple and all encompassing message from the Baptist developed conditions and exceptions because of Matthew’s experience of trying to live the Gospel in the community that he belonged to.

This week we are with John the Baptist again, but now time has moved on. Jesus’ ministry is growing; John is in chains and, knowing the end of his life is nearing, sends a message to Jesus demanding to know if he is really the Messiah.

Or does he?

 Reading Scripture for and by yourself can open up many new insights and feelings.
Listening to scripture being read on Sundays, you begin to put a certain tone to many of the well-known chapters and verse.From the Sanctuary, the Gospel is read with solemnity, authority and clarity. Re-reading scripture assumptions begin to develop; assumptions that this was said in anger; that was said as an insult; the other was a condemnation. And, not to say that Jesus isn't fully able to express these emotions, but would a Gospel of Love not seek to speak in other ways?

This occurred to me some years ago, after a re-reading of Thomas, the doubter; where Jesus’ words are heard in reassurance; as to a child. 

Perhaps the same could be heard here?

There are voice games played in the theatre where a passage of text is read ‘in the style of….’ Why not try that experiment here?

We are told, we know with the benefit of hindsight, that John is the last of the Old Testament prophets; the last one who will come wielding threats and calling down fire and brimstone from an Angry God. He knows his scripture, this son of a priest; he knows what has gone before and for how long. He knows he is from a long line of prophets and holy people who have died waiting and hoping.

Perhaps, as part of his calling God has told him that he is the last; that there will be no more waiting after him. But does it seem that way?

But knowing that you seem to be following the path of many of the prophets; knowing that your life; your ministry; your chance of making a difference was about to end; wouldn’t you want reassurance? To be able to say to God as Simeon said ‘now your servant can go in peace’? Faith is a great thing but it does not belong in isolation – it needs relationship; it needs communication.

When John sends his message to Jesus perhaps it is not a voice of accusation that Jesus is not delivering the fire and brimstone as promised. Maybe it is asking for that reassurance that this is the change; this time it is different; that the Lord is offering forgiveness, healing and peace. That it has been worthwhile. 

And the message in return is Jesus' promise – yes, John, it is different; you have been a good and faithful servant; peace is with you; the Kingdom is here. 


Saturday, 4 December 2010

Turn again

Second Sunday of Advent 
Matthew 3:1-12

In due course John the Baptist appeared; he preached in the wilderness of Judaea and this was his message: ‘Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is close at hand.’ This was the man the prophet Isaiah spoke of when he said:
A voice cries in the wilderness:
Prepare a way for the Lord,
make his paths straight.
This man John wore a garment made of camel-hair with a leather belt round his waist, and his food was locusts and wild honey. Then Jerusalem and all Judaea and the whole Jordan district made their way to him, and as they were baptised by him in the river Jordan they confessed their sins. But when he saw a number of Pharisees and Sadducees coming for baptism he said to them, ‘Brood of vipers, who warned you to fly from the retribution that is coming? But if you are repentant, produce the appropriate fruit, and do not presume to tell yourselves, “We have Abraham for our father,” because, I tell you, God can raise children for Abraham from these stones. Even now the axe is laid to the roots of the trees, so that any tree which fails to produce good fruit will be cut down and thrown on the fire. I baptise you in water for repentance, but the one who follows me is more powerful than I am, and I am not fit to carry his sandals; he will baptise you with the Holy Spirit and fire. His winnowing-fan is in his hand; he will clear his threshing-floor and gather his wheat into the barn; but the chaff he will burn in a fire that will never go out.’

Last week I forgot to wish you a Happy New Year.

The Church chooses these weeks of Advent to begin again;to turn again.  You will notice that the mass books have changed and where we were once in Year C we are now in Year A. The years follow the three Gospels of Matthew, Mark and Luke. 

The Church doesn’t even try to fit all of John into one year but keeps his writings for special occasions. For some feasts we only ever hear John’s voice but the rest of the year we get to hear similar accounts from three different people.  Similar; but not the same. It seems that at no time could the Good News be constrained to a single account; the ministry of Jesus has never been reported through just one set of eyes; between the Gospels, Paul’s writings and the letters we have always heard the Good News in more ways than one.

Is this meant to confuse us; to keep us on our toes? Or does it reveal Jesus in a more human way? If any group of people were asked to talk about a friend there would be differences of opinion; of experience; of sharing.  

Which is what the Gospels give us; which is why they are worth reading; not just listening to on a Sunday when you have missed the rest of the week – like watching a soap opera with missing episodes – but sitting and reading them as full accounts. Or even reading two or three side by side and noticing the nuances in the voices. 

At Scripture we have started reading Mark’s Gospel which most scholars believe is Simon Peter’s memories of his time with Jesus.

 It is a short, energetic and deceptively simple Gospel, a bit like Simon Peter really.

Mark and Matthew seem very alike; perhaps because they are both Jews. Alike, but not the same.

Why am I talking about Mark when we are reading Matthew?

At the top of this page  there is Matthew’s reading. The part of the passage that is in bold is virtually the same as Mark.  Reading the other paragraphs; I would ask you - what has Matthew brought to the Gospel?

It seems he has brought anger and a need for retribution. Matthew’s people are suffering; they are being cast out of the Temple; they are told that they are no longer Jews. The Temple that has no more accepted Jesus after his death and resurrection than it did whilst he was standing before them. Matthew puts the words of his frustration into the mouth of the Baptist.  

Mark’s words offer hope for everyone whilst Matthew’s point the finger of accusation and warning against those that caused him and his community so much pain.  

And my question would be – are we ever guilty of using Scripture like that? Do we ever hear the Word of God promising forgiveness and grace and think about someone… ‘except for you’? Do we ever use the Good News as a weapon; to justify exclusion or judgement? 

Matthew's words give us an understanding of the early church; its fears and its trials.  He speaks up against those who have tormented them. Now that we are the 'organised church' which side of Matthew are we  standing on.  

At this time of Advent we listen to John calling us to ‘turn again’ – we all, always, live in need of God's grace - do we turn with joy that we are called by the Beloved or with a need to prove ourselves worthy of His promise? 

Maybe the only important thing is that we turn.


Monday, 29 November 2010

Advent - Being ready

The day I realised I was going to have a baby was just four weeks before the date that she was due.

Not that I was one of those women who don’t know they’re pregnant. I knew I was pregnant. It had been a miracle of my own, having had fertility treatment. I had had all the tests and the scans; had been to all the antenatal appointments, changed my diet; done the exercises. Even decorated the spare room.

And I had enjoyed being pregnant. Got used to moving in a certain way; felt full of energy; felt connected to the being growing within me – would have happily stayed eight months pregnant forever.

But that’s not how it works and four weeks before the due date I went om a tour of the hospital delivery suite and suddenly realised that I was going to have to ‘have’ this baby – and I did not feel ready.

I suppose it’s all about control – in pregnancy I was in charge –or at least I thought I was– I had lived my pregnancy carefully, haphazardly, healthily, hopefully but generally as I wanted. The last few weeks gave me just a few more boxes to tick - phone numbers, birth plan, bag packed, ready meals in the freezer.

But more and more it was wondering if I should go to work, visit my friend who’s had flu, take a weekend break, chance climbing into the loft or drive across town by myself. Instinct made me more and more reflective; absorbed in the division taking place within me; establishing connections that would outlast the ‘due’ date. Telling the baby ‘you are mine’ – but realistically, it was the baby who was now in control. The baby who will born when she is ready (two weeks late as it happened) and everything would then revolve around her. As much as I had prepared I did not feel ready and as much as I had planned I felt lost.

And that is true, because when a baby is born everything does change – the baby is born -and you are reborn – as a mother. And all around you, other people are reborn as fathers, grandparents, brothers and sisters, aunts and uncles. The house and the car become too small – the world too big - the future both exciting and frightening. The ripple effect of just one tiny new life.

And how can anyone possibly be ready for that?

St Luke has been trying to prepare us all year– the Gospel of Luke the Physician speaks to us of a practical almost pragmatic Jesus; a Jesus who wants us ready for anything. If we have listened; if we have taken the teaching seriously, then we will have taken opportunities to become more prayerful, to bring God further into our daily lives.

Romantically, the idea of spiritual preparation is often compared to going into battle, becoming one of God’s warriors – onward Christian soldiers.

But it is much more like pregnancy – what we are preparing for is a lifelong commitment; a relationship that will change; will change us; will grow, may waiver but will never go away; will never be without belonging; will never be without love.

In Advent even the Church changes; changes from being a mother to being a midwife - calls us in to reflect - nurses us towards our new beginning – moving our focus from ourselves to the One who is coming - from the Jesus we think we think is only ours – to the Christ who holds us all.

In Advent we are invited to share the last few weeks as Mary spent them; no fait accompli –but making ready, being ready; wondering and waiting; laying awake at night feeling uncertain and unsettled; anxiously journeying towards an event that would change her life; that would change the life of the world –the birth of the One who is the Light of the World.


Saturday, 20 November 2010

Save yourself?

Gospel Luke 23:35-43

The people stayed there before the cross watching Jesus. As for the leaders, they jeered at him. ‘He saved others,’ they said ‘let him save himself if he is the Christ of God, the Chosen One.’ The soldiers mocked him too, and when they approached to offer vinegar they said, ‘If you are the king of the Jews, save yourself.’ Above him there was an inscription: ‘This is the King of the Jews.’

One of the criminals hanging there abused him. ‘Are you not the Christ?’ he said. ‘Save yourself and us as well.’ But the other spoke up and rebuked him. ‘Have you no fear of God at all?’ he said. ‘You got the same sentence as he did, but in our case we deserved it: we are paying for what we did. But this man has done nothing wrong. Jesus,’ he said ‘remember me when you come into your kingdom.’ ‘Indeed, I promise you,’ he replied ‘today you will be with me in paradise.

‘Are you not the Christ?’ he said. ‘Save yourself’

Way back, at the beginning of his ministry, Jesus was posed a very similar question. It came at the end of his time in the desert after his Baptism. Not so much a question as a temptation. The devil had known that Jesus was now fully aware of the power that he held as God and Man. He may have considered that forty days in the desert would leave the human Jesus failing in strength, realising his weaknesses – and thought that this was an opportunity to suggest that Jesus uses his Divinity to his own end; that this was an opportunity to divert Jesus from the path his Father has chosen. And, after all, the Father has never been human; has never been hungry, couldn't know what it was really like to be one of us.

But Jesus was a strong, young man then; full of life; full of mission; full of the confidence that his Father and the Holy Spirit had blessed him with. Full with the belief that he could do this without rejecting either his humanity or his divinity. Confidence, Faith and Hope all sent the devil packing….then.

But now he’s back. And the circumstances must balance far more in his favour. He hides in humanity; in the weakness that sees us grabbing at straws to save ourselves; without accepting or realising that it can never be us that saves us.

Does the first criminal truly know Jesus? He throws the claim but does he believe? It may  seem ridiculous;  but for some, it is easier to believe in magic than to believe in mercy.

To the first thief; Jesus may be no more than a charismatic prophet; a rebel leader.  But there may be plans- friends conspiring to save the day and if so, why shouldn’t he be included? If Jesus can do this for himself, shouldn't he do it for everyone?

And how easy would it be, this time, to accept the challenge?

With the Mission behind him; abandoned by friends; rejected by the people he had come to save. His body stripped of all the strength and dignity of manhood; as his humanity withers away and the Father and Holy Spirit keep silent - the devil must have been rubbing his hands in glee.

If you are the Christ; you can save yourself.

Jesus is the Christ – but he can’t save himself - this is the relationship of Trinity  –-  mercy will have to come through the Holy Spirit and from the Father. Jesus, the Christ, must give himself up and put himself into their hands.

The sign says - This is the King of the Jews - a strange kind of king then that surrenders to the will of others. A king that places himself, not in authority but in solidarity with his people; with the lowest and most desperate of his people. Even knowing that a word, a gesture, could make this all go away; he chooses not to; he chooses to remain faithful to his humanity. After all if, at the end, he simply swept all this away then what was the point? Was it just a game- God playing Man?

Jesus proves his power by being powerless; his submission takes him out of the hands of those who jeer and tempt him leaving him in God's hands.
When the other criminal speaks up; he recognises this. He knows himself; he has accepted who he is; sees some sort of justice; knows that he now has no power over his future.

In his acceptance, he sees that there is a difference - Jesus is being sacrificed and is accepting that this needs to be done; is making himself the sacrifice. There is something bigger here; there is something more; there is a strength and a faith that even at the end; even for a few moments the man wants to be a part of.

 ‘Take me with you.’

And Jesus does; Christ, the king who will not save himself, will save this man.


Thursday, 18 November 2010

Saturday, 13 November 2010

Love, actually

Gospel Luke 21:5-19

When some were talking about the Temple, remarking how it was adorned with fine stonework and votive offerings, Jesus said, ‘All these things you are staring at now – the time will come when not a single stone will be left on another: everything will be destroyed.’ And they put to him this question: ‘Master,’ they said ‘when will this happen, then, and what sign will there be that this is about to take place?’
‘Take care not to be deceived,’ he said ‘because many will come using my name and saying, “I am he” and, “The time is near at hand.” Refuse to join them. And when you hear of wars and revolutions, do not be frightened, for this is something that must happen but the end is not so soon.’ Then he said to them, ‘Nation will fight against nation, and kingdom against kingdom. There will be great earthquakes and plagues and famines here and there; there will be fearful sights and great signs from heaven.
‘But before all this happens, men will seize you and persecute you; they will hand you over to the synagogues and to imprisonment, and bring you before kings and governors because of my name – and that will be your opportunity to bear witness. Keep this carefully in mind: you are not to prepare your defence, because I myself shall give you eloquence and wisdom that none of your opponents will be able to resist or contradict. You will be betrayed even by parents and brothers, relations and friends; and some of you will be put to death. You will be hated by all men on account of my name, but not a hair of your head will be lost. Your endurance will win you your lives.’

Sometimes you just don’t want to hear the honest truth – or if you do – you don’t want to believe it; or, you edit what you hear.

Luke is so straightforward, like it or not,  a plain-speaker. And, surely, after reading this Gospel you would wonder why anyone would have wanted to be a follower.
After knowing that history shows that these experiences have happened; continue to happen; you would wonder why, in these days,  there would be any point in being a Christian.

If the early followers thought they were living in the End Days – then where must we be?
It is passages like these that suggest that very little has changed. Man’s inhumanity to man continues, with only the evolving of weaponry and excuses to enter into conflict after conflict. The peace seekers are still the persecuted ones. Trying to follow the Christian message is likely to put you in the minority. And, even Jesus suggests, there is very little you can do about that.

Except – know that you are loved.

That’s where Jesus tells us our confidence, our endurance, our faith comes from.
In our relationship with God we have to know, in our mind, our heart and our guts, that as much as we love; we are loved so much more in return. We have to know; as the martyrs and the saints that have gone before us have known.

And how do you know?

You just do.

Have you ever loved and tried to explain it to someone else. It is a treasure stealing exercise; trying to deliver a list of qualities and experiences, attractions and commonalities that will prove a feeling that cannot be measured. Using words that sound banal once they are spoken. Making excuses for a feeling that will not be excused.

Trying to convince another person is an impossible task – even if the other is the one you love.

Parents with wayward children; partners who don’t seem to have anything in common; children with irresponsible parents tend to have the most honest answer –

I love them because I do - I love them because I cannot do otherwise.

And these are the words that Jesus puts into our mouths when we are asked to bear witness. Love is enough. Love is everything. Love is Godly.

Any other reason, excuse, debate is subject to the rule of the world; that says nothing is set in stone; that nothing is ever forever, that nothing is true. 

If the time ever comes when we are challenged or persecuted or betrayed; our confidence, our ability to stand tall will be fed by the Love that God has for us.  And if that challenge causes us pain or exile then perhaps Jesus will put his own words into our mouth.

‘Father, forgive them for they know not what they do.’


Friday, 12 November 2010


Having just come back from a retreat where the group was invited to make a commitment to several hours of silence and realising how unique and demanding an experience this became for some; I have spent some time thinking about what it was we were asking.

Paradoxically, we hear a lot about silence these days. In a world full of multi-sensory experiences, both actual and virtual, silence has become something of a panacea for the over-stressed and often overwhelmed psyche. Courses, classes, retreat centres even tv programmes promise silence as a cure for the busy-ness of life.

People seek the perfect silence –but our own physical presence creates sound – heartbeat, breath, blood rushing through veins. Noise, it seems, is part of the human condition; proof of life.

If noise is the human condition does this make silence divine? Is this why we regard it as something outside our natural abilities, that, in some way it is accepted as an ‘unreachable star’? Is this why we make the link between silence and the religious life? One place where we expect to encounter the silent space is the convent or the monastery. Unlike the media frenzied world filled with twenty-four hour multi-decibel distraction, even a religious community that is not dedicated to complete silence still actively timetables it into the day. It is the ‘place’ for prayer, for contemplation, for encounter with God.

There are those who recommend that we should be seeking silence as a positive addition to our lives, for physical, emotional and spiritual well-being. But is this just a bit na├»ve – silence is not enriching in and of itself – silence rather has a quality, a clarity that allows other emotional and spiritual experiences to express themselves; a space for opportunity - but like the Gospel story of the ousted demon, this space can be filled by angels or by even more demons.

Dictionary definitions of silence insist on the idea of absence; the absence of sound, the absence of communication, the absence of knowledge. It rejects society, community; it refuses to ‘share’ it connotes selfishness and secrecy. Silence has no positive attributes for a world that needs to know.

Silence is most popularly understood as absence of communication, absence of language. No-one speaks to you, you speak to no-one else therefore silence is created. Within everyday society the mere idea of this behaviour is abnormal. There is a perversity to silence that unsettles; that needs to be dealt with. People dread the awkward silence that can break up a conversation leaving both parties staring at their shoes desperately trying to fill the gap. There is the pregnant pause that suggests accusation or blame or asks for the unwilling reply.

In the classroom, where the modern focus is on stimulation and activity, silence has been become unwelcome. That we find the same students have problems when they are expected to sit for ninety minutes or more in silence in an examination room surprises us. Sitting in silence is considered a punishment, our inclusion room insists on silence – yet the students often remark on what a peaceful and productive day they have had – but as it was part of the punishment they don’t see it as something desirable in their school or home life.

The worst punishment I ever inflicted on my son was to tell him I was so upset with him I couldn’t speak to him (he was about 6). I didn’t hit him, I didn’t say I didn’t love him but for a sociable person who loved to communicate – I might as well have. I never did it again.

I try to make sure now if I have students sent to me that the ‘sitting in silence’ is to give them reflective and ‘letting go’ time - not a withdrawal of my (the school’s) concern or regard for them.
Lindisfarne Castle

Yet, spiritually and in faith, there is the belief that silence is the language that connects us to God; the Mother tongue. When I try to describe sacred silence to people I ask them what is the difference between being in their house by themselves and being with someone else – even when that person can’t be seen or heard?

Those who are loved immediately get it – they are comforted simply by the knowing of the other person being present.

Those that aren’t say they would rather be by themselves – a silence with another person in it is a threat.

And it can be. For some there is the unwelcome silence of going home,unwillingly, to an empty house; the grief-laden silence of a missed loved one; the resentful and abandoned silences of promises not kept; visits not made. For the lonely or emotionally hurt, silence can be a cruel reminder and a vacuum from which the hurt does not escape. Who wants to contemplate how hurt they are? This has to be something we are aware of – that before silence becomes a place of rest and growth; other healing may be needed.

When I read Sarah Maitland’s ‘Book of Silence’ about the search for this ‘vision’ that she had; I did wonder what what her problem was –it was as if she was seeking an elixir of life - making demands on silence that not only needed to fulfil expectation but made the search exclusive to those who have the time, money and wherewithal. The idea of going to a place of silence suggests that it is a rarity outside normal experience; that it is a luxury; a retreat. Whilst us humans do need to find a place away from distractions; the aim should be, as a desert father said, ‘to find silence in a foundry’. The ‘place’ of silence should only be the first part of the journey.

I wonder if the silent ‘outside’ is like a cosmetic – ‘rehydrating’ the self temporarily – a luxury- allowing us to slough away the deadening hurts, tensions and stress.

The silence ‘inside’ is drinking in the water to rehydrate the living body to allow cells to heal and to grow. The human body is 60% water; we know we need to replenish the water. An atom within the human body is 97+% space. How do we replenish the ‘space’; the spirit?
 Lindisfarne dawn

I suppose I do have to thank Sarah for drawing silence to my attention. Because silence is natural to me I had not quite realised how unnatural it is to others. Indeed, I had not, until recently, noticed silence as the constant in my life. It has, for me, meant many things from reclusive and barren to universal and grace-ful. It has been imposed on me physically, environmentally, and psychologically; in hindsight it has been a sanctuary and it has also been a prison.

And this I have come to accept because, in time, with guidance and God’s help it has become a healing and sacred experience; the grace to carry silence within, is one I would not do without. But that has not been an easy journey. The silence of contemplation requires courage. I have had to hear, feel, know that God loves me; I have had to admit more and more that I am who God wants me to be; I have had to let myself be healed; I have learnt to be content (more than content) sitting with God because I know he is there in the silence and sometimes in that contentment I do hear him.