Posts Tagged ‘God ‘n’ stuff’

Tomorrow’s “reflection” – Assumptions

Saturday, January 4th, 2014

Just in case anyone might be interested, here is the text of my sermon for tomorrow.
The readings are: Ephesians:3:1-12 & Matthew 2:1-12

In the interests of honesty, (& so he doesn’t get cross with me!)  I must admit that I have rather over egged Mr D’s use of GPS. He’s not really like this, but I thought it good to give a more “personal” tone to the anecdote.

 

 

I’m sure that many of you know the story of the devout Christian who was caught up in a terrible flood. As the flood waters rose, & edged over his front step, he sat in his living room prayed that God would save him. Shortly after, his friends came past in a 4×4 car

“Do you need a hand?” they called

“No, it’s fine! God will save me,” he replied.

The flood waters continued to rise, and the Christian retreated to his bed room on the first floor, where he doubled his prayers. The rescue services came past in their boat

“Come on, sir!” they entreated.

“No, it’s fine. God will save me,” came the reply.

As the flood got higher, the Christian was forced to climb onto his roof, still praying, still trusting that God would save him. A helicopter hovered above, a rope ladder dangling.

“Sir! Climb the ladder!”

“No, it’s fine. God will save me.”

Soon after, the man was engulfed by the flood, and drowned. Standing before God, he asked:

“Lord: I trusted you. I prayed and yet you did not save me from the flood – why ever not?”

And God sighed deeply, and said: “My child, I sent you a 4×4, a boat and a helicopter. What more did you want?!”

***

The problem was that the Christian had made an assumption about how God was going to save him, and when things didn’t pan out the way he expected he didn’t recognise that it was still God’s work. God’s hand was there in the 4×4, in the boat, in the helicopter, but the man did not see it. He wanted to limit God to saving him in one particular way.I’m sure we all do this: we assume that God will work in the way we expect, and in so doing our eyes are closed to all other possibilities.

 

Early Christians unfortunately fell into this trap: they firmly believed that the saving power of the Messiah, the Christ, was for the Jewish people only. All through their history, the Jews had lived, sure that they were God’s chosen people, and as Jewish people accepted Jesus as the Messiah, they had developed this conviction into the belief that to be a part of the early church meant that one had to be circumcised and follow the Jewish Law.

 

They tried to keep God’s love and grace in a box, tied up firmly with the label “Just for Us”. And on the other side “Not for You”. They wanted to limit God, because they were sure that God would only work in the way that they expected Him to work… Early Jewish Christians took it for granted that God-become-man would be the fulfilment of God’s promise to the Chosen People – and no-one else.

 

Paul however was convinced that this was incorrect: he was sure that God’s saving grace was open to all, Jew, Gentile, man, woman, slave and free. Paul was open to the limitless possibilities of God’s love. As verse 6 of the reading from Ephesians says: “The mystery (made known to me) is that through the Gospel the Gentiles are heirs together with Israel, members together with one body and sharers together in the promise of Christ Jesus”

 

Unfortunately, if we make assumptions about God and about what he wants there are usually consequences: for our Christian in the flood, the consequence was drowning. For the early church, the consequence was a rather ugly and unedifying dispute between Paul and Peter, with the early Christians taking sides and possibly not showing themselves in a particularly good light.

 

For the Magi, making their way to welcome the newborn King of the Jews, their assumption meant that they almost lost their way, and that the terror of a powerful despot led to the needless death of many children.

 

The Magi had started on their journey probably many months previously, having seen a strange star, or some mysterious activity in the heavens above. We know little about these men, save that they came from the East, that they brought three gifts and that they were Magi – though exactly what this means is a mystery. Possibly they were magicians; possibly they were astrologers who made their living through studying the stars. But whoever and whatever they were, they knew that they had seen something important, and they followed the star to find this King of the Jews.

 

So far, so good. But it appears that, wise as they were, they started to make assumptions about this King, and this led them into trouble. I can’t help feeling that if they had kept their eye on the star, and believed what they were seeing then they would not have got lost, but instead they decided that they knew better, and so they veered off track.

 

It sounds rather like my husband and the sat-nav system in the car. He types in the destination, and begins to follow the instructions; however, the GPS gives him a direction that seems to defy all logic, and so Andrew decides that it must be wrong, and he starts to go off on his own plan of action. Of course, within minutes he is either hopelessly lost, or caught up in a traffic jam that the sat-nav system, with all its technological wizardry and access to up-to-date traffic news knew all about and was trying to avoid.

 

So it was with the Magi: the star was taking them to some small, nondescript town called Bethlehem, but “Oh, no, that can’t be right. This is a King’s star we’re following; we must be meant to go to Jerusalem.” They didn’t believe what they had seen, they took their eye off what was leading them in the right direction and they ended up being duped and almost giving Herod the opportunity to kill the newborn child who he feared so much. And he feared the child because he presumed that anyone with the label “King of the Jews” must be a threat to his throne.

 

Herod, and the Jewish people, and the Magi and so many other people had all made assumptions and they had all got it wrong. Suetonius, a Roman historian wrote of the time “Throughout the whole of the east there spread the old and persistent belief that destiny had decreed that at that time men coming forth from Judea would seize power and rule the earth”

 

They all took it for granted that anyone born King of the Jews would be all- powerful, and for Herod this meant his reign was threatened. No wonder he was terrified when he heard the news that the Magi brought. No wonder he wanted to find out more about this child, and called all his advisors together to consult their knowledge. Herod made the assumption that this baby, foretold by prophets throughout history, was going to usurp him – and he was sure he was going to stop that from happening! So, he showed the Magi that they were mistaken, and set them on their journey once more. And, miraculously it seems, as soon as they left the palace, as soon as they accepted that they had made an error, there was the star again, the sign from God, showing them the way they should be going

 

And when they arrived where God wanted them to be, they found that all their beliefs and speculations about this child, born to be King of the Jews, were turned on their heads. Instead of a rich palace, hung about with silks and velvets, they found a poor house; instead of a prince, waited on by servants and nursemaids, and clothed in beautiful fabrics, they met a mother and her child, wrapped in nothing more than any other ordinary baby; but instead of turning away in disgust and saying “That’s no King” they fell to their knees and worshipped him. Once brought face-to-face with the Truth all their assumptions meant nothing, everything they thought they knew was turned upside down, and they recognised that being King of the Jews didn’t mean seizing power and ruling the earth, as Suetonius had imagined, but rather it meant something much more incredible: it meant God becoming human and living among us.

 

And this is what God does: he takes our assumptions and he challenges them. For the early church, so fixed on the idea that all who followed Jesus should also follow the Levitical Laws, God sent Paul to preach and to teach that God’s love was not limited to one particular group of people; for the Magi, believing that the King of the Jews could only be born in a palace, God led them to a mean house, and a baby by whom not just the Jews, but the entire world could be made whole – and on seeing this child, they fell to their knees in wonder and in reverence.

 

And you? And me? What assumptions do we make about God and his plan for the world? Do we look at other people and think that they don’t deserve our concern because they are poor, or drunk, or drug addicted? Do we imagine that because oppression, and violence and injustice are happening in another country then it is no concern of ours?

 

And what assumptions do we make about God and his plan for us? Do we try to limit God because we are scared, or because we don’t like the direction we are being taken in? Do we think that words from the Gospel that make us feel uncomfortable are not directed at us? Do we take our eyes off God, and imagine that we know what he wants of us – only to find that we have gone in the wrong direction?

 

If our flooded Christian had not been so sure he knew how God would save him, he would have been rescued. When Andrew finally accepts that his GPS is guiding him in the correct way, and trusts in its technology, we quickly find our way through the countryside to our destination. When Peter and the early Jewish Christians stopped trying to limit God, listened to Paul’s words and opened themselves to the truth of God, they understood that God’s love was not confined to one group of people, but instead was open to all. When the Magi followed the star to its resting place, without thinking that they knew better, they discovered the son of God in human form. When we keep our eyes on God, and listen to him, instead of assuming that we know what he desires of us, then that is when he can finally start using us to bring his Kingdom to earth. Let God challenge you, instead of you trying to limit God.

Emmaus Road

Sunday, March 31st, 2013

I always went to Jesus with my problems. It didn’t matter how simple, or how complicated they were: somehow he always helped me to get past my own feelings and to consider the other person. I remember a row I had with Cleopas about his mother coming to live with us: I was so concerned with how it would affect me that I couldn’t see how Rachel would hate the thought of losing her independence. Yet somehow Jesus gently turned my feelings around so I could understand her side too. It wasn’t just everyday problems either; when I had questions about God, about my beliefs, about the way he was turning my whole life around I could go and speak to him…there was the time I questioned him about the Kingdom of Heaven,  what it meant, Jesus reminded me of the time I’d lost a special coin from my headdress.

“Remember,” he said, “Remember how you searched and searched until it was found? Remember how you called to your friends with joy? That is how it is with God when one person turns to him. He rejoices. He laughs. He dances…”

So when Jesus promised us he was the Messiah and that he had come to free us from oppression we believed him. And we were ready to rise up at his word and fight for our freedom. But the word never came. He died and left us desolate. We didn’t know what to do, and he was there no longer. We couldn’t ask him to explain, to help us to understand. We sat, huddled together in our fear, in a tiny oppressive upper room, murmuring, weeping, staring into nothingness. Then two days after, Mary came rushing in, breathless, hysterical, crying about angels and empty tombs; Peter and John went to see what the matter was, to calm her down – she’d always been slightly overwrought – and they came back to tell us that the tomb had been raided and the body taken. They seemed confused, and we all became edgy and the atmosphere became more and more tense.

It was almost a relief when a message came to say that Cleopas’ mother was ill and that he was needed. He fussed about and tried to make me stay in Jerusalem, but I needed to escape. I couldn’t bear the undercurrents and confusion.

We bundled up our belongings and set off on the road, hurrying in the evening chill. It was lonely and darkness was creeping over the sky. Suddenly we were no longer two, but three on the road. A stranger joined us, but strangely there was no surprise or fear. It seemed natural. He walked with us in silence for a while, and then gently remarked that we appeared sad and distressed. I was about to rail at the man, but Cleopas gently touched my arm to silence me.

“We have lost a dear friend recently, “ he said “Our friend Jesus was killed by the Romans two days since”

“Who was this Jesus?” asked the stranger.

“Who was he?” I could keep quiet no longer. “He was our friend, a teacher, a prophet who promised us he was the Messiah, but who, finally was nothing!” All my pain, confusion, misery came pouring out as I wept for the betrayal of Jesus.

The stranger listened, silent yet compassionate, and then simply said

“Oh, Joanna. Where is your faith?” And he went on to explain the scriptures, and the prophecies right back to Moses; he spoke of how the Messiah had to suffer and die, not to free us from the oppression of the Romans but rather to free the world from the oppression of sin; how we could be brought back into communion with God, that death was conquered and the Kingdom of God had been made accessible to all. And as he spoke, with his forceful voice and eloquent hand gestures, it became clear, in the same way that things became clear as Jesus had spoken. We finally could understand; and we were comforted.

By then we had reached Emmaus, and night had fallen. As we paused at the house, the stranger made to continue, but, on impulse, I invited him to stay

“The road is long, sir”, I said, “and you have brought some light to our darkness. Stay and eat with us tonight.”

He smiled and nodded. Quietly he rested near the fire while Cleopas saw to his mother. She wasn’t really ill, just old and confused and worried about us both. I prepared a simple supper and when it was ready, I invited the stranger to say the blessing. And he took it in his hands, and raised it and used the same words to bless the bread as Jesus always had…

And I saw. It was him.

I breathed his name.

Jesus…

He smiled at me and then…he was gone.

I reached out and took Cleopas’ hand. Our eyes met and we realised that had we not invited the stranger into our homes and our hearts we would never have truly understood that Jesus was alive, that he had risen from the tomb, that he had, indeed, conquered the oppression of death. And that is how we live our lives now, remembering that as believers we need to constantly invite Jesus into our lives in order to truly know him.

That night we ran almost all the seven miles back to Jerusalem, eager to tell our news to the others, to recount our part in the resurrection story. And when we arrived we heard what others had seen too… and with them we rejoiced that Jesus is alive.

(Road to Emmausby contemporary Irish artist, John Dunne.)

 

And, back here as Dormouse, I am thrilled to have found this on YouTube. Listen and rejoice. Jesus Alive!

When it’s all been said and done…

Saturday, March 30th, 2013

Good Friday has passed. Jesus is dead. The disciples are heart broken with their hopes and dreams shattered.

The silence and incomprehension of Saturday. Empty souls. Myriad questions.

When it’s all been said and done

The words are beautiful. And challenging. And there is, finally, just one thing that matters…

When it’s all been said and done
There is just one thing that matters
Did I do my best to live for truth?
Did I live my life for you?

When it’s all been said and done
All my treasures will mean nothing
Only what I have done
For love’s rewards
Will stand the test of time

Lord, your mercy is so great
That you look beyond our weakness
That you found purest gold in miry clay
Turning sinners into saints

I will always sing your praise
Here on earth and in heaven after
For you’ve joined me at my true home
When it’s all been said and done
You’re my life when life is gone..

Eeeeep!

Thursday, December 6th, 2012

I had a bit of an “eeep” moment last week – as in “I don’t really know what to say to this”.

I haven’t been to church for over a year: I have been a bit “off” Church, though I couldn’t really put my finger on why. Partly, I couldn’t understand much of what was being said in the sermon, partly I’ve been a bit meh about the journey (okay, I know 30 minutes isn’t too horrible, but it takes a big chunk from the day), partly because I’ve been enjoying having Sunday mornings to myself. I’ve not been “off” God, exactly, as I’ve kept in vague contact with Him, but I’ve not been going to church, and I’ve not missed it.

I was a little disappointed that nobody from church, including the Pastor, had contacted me to see if things were okay. Not that I would have known what to say, particularly as neither I, nor Matthias (the pastor) are hot on the social chit-chat skills. I complained to Danièle about this, and was rather embarrassed to hear that Matthias had been having huge family problems, and here I was having a little whinge about not being contacted…Particularly when, in all honesty, I hadn’t really wanted to be contacted! (Yes, I know! Just call me Contrary!) So that was the situation…

Until last week, when, out of the blue, Matthias phoned me up, and (rather diffidently, it must be admitted!) asked if I would like a pastoral visit from him. Ooo-er and Eeeep. I didn’t know what to say! My French, what little there is, totally deserted me and I wittered away in Franglais for a while, before saying “Thanks but no thanks”. I struggle to explain to myself how I feel about Church/ God/ Faith so there’s no way I could explain in French to Matthias.

However, I think that in the new year I will start going to church again – partly because it is one way to improve my French, although I am aware that spiritual reasons possibly should come first! If I try to go once every two weeks, I won’t feel so “pressurised”…and I’ll see how it goes. Even if I don’t understand exactly what’s being said, I know that I do understand the Eucharistic section – I know what it’s about, I know the gist of the words, I know that that is where I meet with Christ at the very heart of What It Is About.

A new year. A new commitment. I suppose there’s no better resolution than that.

A Pause In Lent No.5: Humility (or Donkeys)

Sunday, April 1st, 2012

I don’t feel terribly inspired today…nor do I feel like I’m anywhere near “ready” for Easter. This week is due to be quite hectic at work (good for the pay packet, but maybe not so good for my sanity!) so I won’t have much time for pausing and reflecting. I’ve decided not to go to the Good Friday service at church, as it’s a talk by a preacher who is not of my persuasion (I’m not a very evangelical type of believer, and he is, I think). I’m hoping I may be able to visit some friends of mine who can share a short time of reflection with me on Friday evening…but maybe I’ll be so tired that I’ll just try to spend a quiet time by myself. We shall see.

So, I think I will just share a picture or two with you, and a poem that seems very appropriate for today. Make of it what you will…

The Donkey

When fishes flew and forests walked
And figs grew upon thorn,
Some moment when the moon was blood
Then surely I was born;

With monstrous head and sickening cry
And ears like errant wings,
The devil’s walking parody
On all four-footed things.

The tattered outlaw of the earth,
Of ancient crooked will;
Starve, scourge, deride me: I am dumb,
I keep my secret still.

Fools! For I also had my hour;
One far fierce hour and sweet:
There was a shout about my ears,
And palms before my feet.

According to this legend, Jesus rode the donkey into Jerusalem and to the hill at Calvary, where he was forced to carry the cross on which he would later be crucified. Being a beast of burden, the little donkey wished he had been able to carry the cross for Jesus. Upset at the tragic event that was taking place, the donkey turned his back on the sight, but because of his love for Jesus he could not leave until it was all over.

It is told that as the sun was setting on the day and on Jesus’ life, the shadow of the cross fell across the donkey’s back. Since that time, donkeys have carried the mark of the cross as a sign of love from God. The reward the humble donkey received has forevermore been shown for all to see.

A Pause In Lent No 2 – Generosity

Sunday, March 4th, 2012

So, here we have a rather frustrated Dormouse (see earlier post) trying to remember what it was she said, because, actually she was quite pleased with it……..and –BREATHE!

This week, I have been (on and off) thinking about the first chapter of “A Shepherd Looks at Psalm 23” which I’ve chosen as my Lent reading. I’m not sure I’m keen on the author’s style – although it is a little harsh to make such a judgement after just one chapter!

In the first chapter Keller looks at the theme “The Lord is my Shepherd” – he talks about how the demeanour of the flock can demonstrate what kind of shepherd it is who owns those sheep. A well loved flock are fat, and content, and not cowed by their surroundings; a flock with a shepherd who does not care are thin, down beaten and afraid. I’m not too sure that I am very good at showing what kind of Shepherd I am owned by – perhaps I am like a sheep who has been bought from a harsher shepherd, and I haven’t quite learned that my new Master is different. If I can learn to have more confidence in him, then I would lose my fear of what He might ask me to do.

Another thing that Keller mentioned was how it is customary for shepherds to mark their sheep in some way, often by clipping their ear. This shows who is the Owner of the sheep, who has purchased the sheep. I have been purchased with the blood of Christ – he paid a great price for me – and so I’ve decided that I will wear something that declares who is my Shepherd. I will wear a cross around my neck. Now I realise that this isn’t very radical, and many people won’t even notice it, because for them it is simply a piece of jewellery. But, at the moment, it’s not for them; it’s for me. It is to remind ME  who my Shepherd is, it’s to remind ME of the price that he paid so that I  might be part of his flock.

I am lucky enough to own many crosses, all with a different meaning for me, all special for different reasons. So I thought I’d share with you some of these.

I don’t wear this cross very often, as it’s quite large – 4 cm  – but it is special, because I bought it on the day I was licensed, in ChristChurch Cathedral, Oxford, as a Licensed Lay Minister in the diocese. This was in October 1996, and the cross was a birthday/Licensing gift from Mr D. I used to wear it when I robed to preach – rather like a Bishop’s pectoral cross! – but now, when I preach at church, I certainly don’t robe. And my License in the UK has expired…but it reminds me of a very important day and a special ministry that I had for 9 years in Milton Keynes.

And now we come to the second of Floss’s Cardinal Virtues – well, not hers, you understand (!) but the list that we are using as inspiration for posts throughout Lent. And today’s theme is “Generosity – the Pursuit of Charity”. Actually, I don’t really know quite what to write, but while I was “researching” (that is, trawling the Internet to get a good idea!) I came across a variety of quotations, which actually, I think, are thought provoking enough by themselves… (all the quotations are either from Wikipedia or from the website of The Science of Generosity )

  • Generosity is not solely based on one’s economic status, but instead, includes the individual’s pure intentions of looking out for society’s common good and giving from the heart.

SOURCE

  • Generosity is the habit of giving freely without expecting anything in return.

SOURCE

  • …more liberal giving could accomplish world-transforming change…

 

  • Generosity always intends to enhance the true wellbeing of those to whom it gives.

SOURCE

  • What exactly generosity gives can be various things: money, possessions, time, attention, aid, encouragement, emotional availability, and more.

SOURCE

  • The Quran states that whatever we give away generously, with the intention of pleasing God, He will replace it. God knows what is in the hearts of men. Say: “….whatsoever you spend of anything (in God’s Cause), He will replace it. And He is the Best of providers.” (Quran 34:39)

SOURCE

  • For Christians, to be generous is to be conformed not just to Christ but also to the loving divine Parent, whose sacrificial self-gift into the world makes possible human fellowship in the divine life; “For God so loved the world that he gave his only begotten Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have everlasting life” (John 3:16).

SOURCE

And there we are, back to the beginning: my demeanour should reflect that of my Shepherd.

 

Pause In Lent 1 – Valour

Sunday, February 26th, 2012

For this year’s “Pause In Lent” Floss and Ang have suggested a list of the Seven Cardinal Virtues for us to ponder. While I vaguely know about the Seven Deadly Sins (enough to recite them – I think!) I know nothing about the Cardinal virtues.

Floss gives us the list as so:

Valour: Pursuit of Knowledge
Generosity: Pursuit of Charity
Liberality: Pursuit of Will
Diligence: Pursuit of Ethics
Patience: Pursuit of Peace
Kindness: Pursuit of Love
Humility: Pursuit of Modesty

But – of course! – it seems that different commentators call these different things, and so I ended up getting rather confused by what they all meant!

Ang, over at Tracing Rainbows, has chosen to start with Diligence. However, I think that I probably need to follow the list in order. If not, I will choose the easiest to start with and then run out of enthusiasm! So I start with Valour. Which doesn’t appear on many lists!! However, “Prudence” does appear, and as one commentator says Prudence is primarily a virtue of the mind (intellect),  I guess this may be Floss’s “Pursuit of Knowledge”

I wonder if I was the only person, who when they saw “Valour” on the list, started singing the slightly out-of-fashion hymn “He Who Would Valiant Be”. The original words to this hymn were written by John Bunyan, and appear in “Pilgrim’s Progress”

Who would true valour see,
Let him come hither;
One here will constant be,
Come wind, come weather
There’s no discouragement
Shall make him once relent
His first avowed intent
To be a pilgrim.

Whoso beset him round
With dismal stories
Do but themselves confound;
His strength the more is.
No lion can him fright,
He’ll with a giant fight,
He will have a right
To be a pilgrim.

Hobgoblin nor foul fiend
Can daunt his spirit,
He knows he at the end
Shall life inherit.
Then fancies fly away,
He’ll fear not what men say,
He’ll labour night and day
To be a pilgrim.  *

I remember singing the hymn that is based on this at school. To me then, it was just another boring hymn from the little blue hymnbook that we all had, although I did enjoy the mental image of “hobgoblins and foul fiends”.

But now, as we enter Lent, I do think it is a poem worth considering again…particularly for me in my present situation. You see, I’m not being very constant towards God, and quite frankly, it only takes a bit of metaphorical wind and weather and I’m off, not exactly losing my faith, but doing very little to hold onto it! My intent to be a pilgrim, so strong in the past, has dribbled away, like sand in a sack with a tiny hole in it. Little by little, almost so you don’t notice that the sack is getting lighter, until there is almost nothing left.

It hasn’t been the hobgoblins, it hasn’t been “what men say”, it hasn’t been lions or giants. Perhaps if it had been, my faith would still be the most important thing to me. What I think has been missing, what has been the tiny hole in my pilgrim’s sack, is my lack of commitment to learning more about God and my relationship to him. Because I’ve not really understood much of the sermons/Bible study groups here in France, I’ve not had the regular teaching that I used to get in the UK. Because I’m no longer preaching, I’ve not challenged myself to think about God’s will for the world and for myself. Because I’ve never ever had a strong commitment to reading the Bible, or other “spiritual” books, I’ve not had the input from that.

So, I shall try…though baby steps are required on this pilgrimage, I think! If I make grandiose gestures (I shall read a chapter of the Bible every day) I won’t do it. So, looking on my bookshelf, I spy “A Shepherd Looks At Psalm 23”, a book I bought, according to what I’ve written inside, in Winchester, on 21st February, 1984, when it was wet and windy.

It is a slim volume, and perhaps it is a good place to start. I shall read a chapter of this every week (every day is a bit too much!). The introduction to this book reads: “I ask that the reader approach the pages that follow with an open mind and an unbiased spirit. If he does, fresh truth and exciting glimpses of God’s care and concern for him will flood over his being. Then he will be brought into a bold, new appreciation of the endless effort put forth by our Saviour, for his sheep. Out of this there will then emerge a growing admiration and affection for The Great Shepherd of his soul.” As “Valour” has been tagged “the pursuit of knowledge” then this seems an appropriate way to start!

Finally, to finish, a commentator on the hymn that started these thoughts says: “Bunyan’s burly song strikes a new and welcome note in our Hymnal. The quaint sincerity of the words stirs us out of our easygoing dull Christianity to the thrill of great adventure.” I need to be stirred out of my easy going, dull Christianity. But, at the moment, please God, stirred…not shaken!

 

Actually, that isn’t quite my “…and finally…”, this is. I have stolen the idea of another Lenten discipline from A Left-Handed Housewife. I’m going to write a letter or card to someone I know (or don’t know!) every day of Lent. The LHH sees this as a way of making space for people I’m not obligated by family ties to make space for. I know that it’s more traditional to give up something for Lent, but I did some research, and all sorts of spiritual disciplines may practiced during the Lenten season, not just fasting. In fact, an emphasis on hospitality is one of those disciplines, so writing a card or a letter every day will be my practice of hospitality.  So, the same for me. While I can write to some people that I know twice, I still don’t have 40 people in my address book. So if anyone would like to receive a card/letter from me, please contact me with your address, and I’ll try to fit you in!

* I’ve just popped back, as I forgot to add this link for anyone who doesn’t know the hymn. It’s to a version sang by Maddy Prior with the Carnival Band. A good “folk-y” version.

My final Pause In Advent

Sunday, December 11th, 2011

I want to apologise – my plan to have a “character” post each week has gone down the pan, as they say… I can’t find my book wherein I wrote several of my characters. I have some on my computer, but most were written by hand and I can’t find them. We’re going away on Friday, and I really don’t think I’ve got time to write another. However, I do have an Epiphany character – one that sends shivers down my spine when I read it, even though I  wrote it and I know the ending! I hope you might join me for a “Pause In Epiphany” round about 6th January.

Meanwhile, today I put up my decorations. Usually I do it on the second Sunday in Advent; I don’t know why I am a week behind. Maybe it’s because we’re going away I’ve not really been able to get into the “groove” of preparations, but even so, yesterday I did some baking (I’m delivering some mince pies to a friend today) and today I decorated. The presents are wrapped, and sitting on the dining room table, the cards are written and waiting till we arrive in the UK for a catch-the-last-posting-date dash to the Post Office on Saturday morning! I have to pop to Cervieres, a local village , today to buy a Santon for my friends. They have one King, I need to buy another. Then next year, they’ll get the last!

I love decorating the house. I particularly enjoy decorating the tree, as I hang decorations from our first tree when we were married, and the ones I’ve added each year. Each year I buy one decoration, either for the tree or for the house. This years is a garland of Norwegian style snowflakes which have got put up in my study, and I don’t think they’ll be moving! But for the last two years, with the Very Bad Kittens, we’ve not risked a tree. Pumpkin and Pomme used to regularly climb the tree; I think George and Milly would wreck it…but some of the decorations I’ve not put up this year are:

the blue and white china star I bought in Amsterdam in 2000

My "Peace" and "Love" star and moon.

The flying reindeer, bought at our first Lyon Festival of Light

The lop sided, one winged bird I bought for Mr D one Christmas

The olive wood carving that mum bought me from her trip to the Holy Land

The angel with pan scourer hair made for me as a Christmas gift when I was still teaching

The slightly manic looking cat, sent from Canada

 

And here are some of the decorations I did put up – mostly out of the ways of cat paws (although we’re not sure about the bells under the mirror!)

Not a very good shot of the Mexican creche

My little tiny Mexican creche has the addition of various animals coming to worship…a very mixed bunch of sizes – you can see the tiny lamb, the bull, the cats which tower over Mary and Joseph, and in the background the scary, earless, size-of-a-house donkey. There is an angel who really does tower over everything, but I think that’s OK. After all, I think angels are magnificent, huge creatures, so my shell angel fits.

Here is a view of the whole creche set-up

Candles and Christmas pot pourri. When I open my crate of decorations the cinnamon/cranberry smell of this wafts out. It's beautiful!

Mum gave me this decoration a few years ago. I love the way it stands out against the black of our mantelpiece

So, there we are. My decorations are done! Outside the house I have shiny stars on twisty wire, which I thread through our railings. Tre are strands of different colours – pink, gold, red, ice-blue and silver, but sadly, every year a few more stars drop off -some strands are looking quite bare. And unfortunately, the silver ones have a slightly bleak look of barbed wire about them! I sometimes have a wreath too, but that has disappeared into the chaos that is our cellar.

I think for my word of the week, I offer you the word that is on my star: “Peace”. Admidst all the last minute hustle and bustle may we all find time to pause and experience the peace that Our Lord can offer even the most troubled heart. And I ask your prayers for my friend Danièle, who is facing her first Christmas without her beloved Paul who died last January. May she truly experience God’s presence and peace in her heart.

My music for this week is the music I was listening to yesterday as I made my mince pies: perhaps a little early, as we are still in Advent, but who can resist the arrangements of the carols in Hely Hutcheson’s Carol Symphony The photos of the Lake District are beautiful too.

I’m leaving for the UK on Friday and won’t be near a PC until we return. So I won’t be pausing next week – in fact I will be plunged into the glory of clothes shopping, as a friend is taking me round the shops to “Gok Wan” me with my birthday money! No pausing there, I fear!! Our route goes: St Just, Calais, Dover, Canterbury, Milton Keynes, Liverpool, Scunthorpe and back to Dover. Then back home for New Year with friends. Judging by the long range forecast, we are happy that we went with the slightly more expensive choice of the tunnel.

I wish everyone who has been sharing in a Pause In Advent a very happy Christmas and a peaceful 2012. May God bless you richly

 

A second Pause in Advent

Sunday, December 4th, 2011

Remember, if you want to read other posts of other bloggers, as we “pause in Advent” please go to Floss‘s blog. There you can find a link to everyone’s posts. Also, as I have two blogs, I’m joining in twice. You can read my other blog at Fat Dormouse Getting Thinner if you should feel so inclined.

Today, I’d like to reflect a little on last week’s word: JOY.

What is joy? I’ve pondered this through the week, trying to decide how it is different to “happiness”. I’m still not sure! Is it deeper seated than happiness? Being happy is perhaps more fleeting?

How is joyousness connected to my belief as a (slightly wobbly) Christian? Floss commented that despite her everyday problems of ill children, dogs and so on, joy was still there in her heart. Maybe it’s like the Celtic Christians of old, who had prayers for every moment of the working day: prayers for when they were milking the cows, for when they were sweeping the floor, and presumably for when they were clearing up sick, as well! Perhaps, if we can “dedicate” everything we do to God’s service, then it becomes somehow more “joyful”. My sister used to say how her MiL, a devout Northern Irish woman, would speak about “offering up” her trials and tribulations (as though God would be happy to deal with them on her behalf, I guess. Do you think he sends troups of angels to clear up after sick children?!) but that sounds a little bit too like being a martyr. “Offering up” conjures up images of washed out young women, clasping their hands to their bosom, and rolling their eyes heavenward.

But being joyous in one’s life, in everything that one does reminds me of the George Herbert poem, which is well known as a hymn, “Teach me, my God and King”

Teach me, my God and King,
in all things thee to see,
and what I do in anything
to do it as for thee.

A man that looks on glass,
on it may stay his eye;
or if he pleaseth, through it pass,
and then the heaven espy.

All may of thee partake;
nothing can be so mean,
which with this tincture, “for thy sake,”
will not grow bright and clean.

A servant with this clause
makes drudgery divine:
who sweeps a room, as for thy laws,
makes that and the action fine.

This is the famous stone
that turneth all to gold;
for that which God doth touch and own
cannot for less be told.

If we look beyond the drudgery – or at least, the ordinariness – of our lives, then we will indeed find joy in what we do: joy because we serve God, we serve others, or just because, when it comes down to it, life itself is very often quite wonderful! It may be quite terrible too, or awesome (in the more original sense of the word), but it is the life that we have been given to live, and so perhaps we should try to seize it and to really live it for all we are worth.

And so, maybe we can apply this to Christmas and to Advent. As many of the bloggers are posting, we find the commercialism of Christmas can be quite distressing sometimes. We need to try very hard not to let our eyes stay on the “glass” of Yuletide, but pass beyond it to see the wonders of Christ’s Mass that lies beyond it all.

 

This week’s word: I’ve hummed over this. I have two words. one is and the other is

I’m not sure which I’ll end up thinking about this week. But my piece of music is one which, unlike last week’s, is not an “Advent” piece of music in any way. What it is is a beautiful song that reminds us that life is full of moments of pleasure and joy, and that we should hold onto these. It is Kate Bush’s masterpiece “Moments of Pleasure”. Please don’t think “Urgh, Kate Bush, she sang that squeaky song Wuthering Heights” and not listen. This is a poignant song which she wrote in the year following her mother’s death, and refers to friends and family that she has loved and lost.

Two parts of the lyrics I love. One, I am guessing, refers to her father, but it could be anyone:

…On a balcony in New York
It’s just started to snow
He meets us at the lift
Like Douglas Fairbanks
Waving his walking stick
But he isn’t well at all
and the other, well…

Just being alive
It can really hurt
And these moments given
Are a gift from time

I give you: Kate Bush, singing Moments of Pleasure

Remembering Paul

Tuesday, November 1st, 2011

For the last few weeks our weekly market has been more colourful than usual, because of the stalls selling both artificial flowers and real pots of chrysanthemums and winter pansies . Winter pansies are called Pensées here in France, which can also, I think, be translated as “Thoughts” – which is very appropriate – because the reason these have been for sale is in preparation for today: Toussaint, All Saints Day.

 

Here are the real flowers...



...and here are the artificial ones

Gradually the cemetary becomes more and more colourful as families arrive to lay flowers or  to put plants on the graves of their loved ones. Usually by 11th November, most of these have blown over in the Autumn winds, so before the ceremony at the War Memorial my friend, her children and I spend 15 minutes or so replacing them! We’re usually early for the ceremony of remembrance, as we don’t go to the Church service before, so uprighting all the blown-over plants keeps the children well-occupied.

Here's the cemetary from my study window

If you click on the photo to enlarge it you should be able to see the blobs of colour that are appearing.

I’ve blogged about this before here when I remembered my Father. But today, Mr D and I went up to the cemetary and laid a pebble each on the grave of our dear friend Paul. He died at the beginning of the year. Paul was a scientist, and in particular a physical scientist, with a love of nature and rocks. He was an incredibly generous man, with his possessions, his time, his heart, and he truly loved God. We rejoice that we knew him, but regret the time that we knew him was too short, and that so much of it was shadowed by the cancer that he bore so bravely and, although it sounds strange, almost joyfully. He never showed his fears to us – in fact, he once said to me “I’m not afraid of my death for myself. I’m only afraid of what it might do to Daniele” . A lovely, selfless man.

We didn’t want to lay flowers, or put a plant. For me, that is the family who does this – and, because Toussaint is really a Catholic “festival” and Paul was staunchly Eglise Reformée, I’m not sure the family would want this anyway – but both Mr D and I decided seperately that we wanted to place a pebble on his grave. It seems appropriate that a man who loved geology would like a stone. So we each picked one from my collection: mine was a biggish, orangey colour, about the size of a duck egg, with a hole which, I guess, another stone wore away over hundreds of years, while Mr D chose a small grey pebble, with stripes of white quartz. We walked up together, and stood for a few minutes remembering our dear friend…and then we went a shared a cup of tea with Gilles, another of our good friends here in St Just.

Thank you Lord for the love and friendship of friends and family, here and gone before. May we remember those who have left us with joy and gladness, and may we appreciate those who are our friends in the here and now. It is so easy to take them for granted. Help us to show our appreciation for all they have done for us, and all they give us.