Wednesday, 31 March 2010

Day 37 - Still the world Passes by

Wonderful evening last night spent at St Martin's in the Fields with a friend. The plan was to have a meal and attend a concert, but it all turned into much more. On arrival in the crypt our eyes were drawn to an exhibition deeper down in the basement. A Last Supper by Lorna May Wadsworth was the painting on display, along with various others of figures which formed the characters in the main painting. This picture is a modern Christian altarpiece, produced for St George's Church, Nailsworth in Gloucestershire and will be installed later in April. Not only was the painting stunning, it was interesting, with some of the characters set around the table, not quite as they appear in traditional works of art. 'This is a hidden treasure' remarked one lady looking at the painting.

A meal was followed by a Concert for Holy Week performed by the choir Vivamus. It included Faure's Requiem, Albinoni's Adagio in G minor on the organ and Allegri's Miserere. The gloomy subject of sin and death, being recast through beautiful music and soaring voices. It was a great opportunity to sit and ponder the depths of the passion, and how it connects with the depths of the human condition.

So there we were in the middle of one of the busiest places in London, being drawn profoundly into the love and passion of Christ. The noise of sirens pierced through the melodic sounds, tube trains rumbled below - and yet the centre was stilled, at that time, in that place for a moment and the world with all its pressures and frenetic activity were just distant echoes. Yet, life went it did the first Holy still goes on today. All our church politics, our hours spent in planning, our parish minutiae are totally irrelevant to the world outside, in the same way that what was going on in St Martin's was a million miles away from what occupied the minds last night of millions of Londoners.

Holy Week for me heightens that contrast, but it also convinces me even more of the need to break through the worldliness with the prophetic other. St Martin's does that very well - all those who enter into its prayerful surroundings, find themselves confronted by sacred art, or beautiful music, being served great food in beautiful surroundings, all in the name of a loving God. Churches in our land, contain so many hidden treasures which that lady discovered, and open their doors as an extension of the welcome that Christ gives. It makes me more committed to singing the Lord's song in a strange land. Often I do not logically know why, but something deep within convinces me of it. The path of the cross is often a lonely and misunderstood journey, but for those of us called to take it, it is a path we cannot help but walk and invite others to join with us in.

As Poulenc put to music last night:
Hear, O Lord, my prayer, for you are my refuge and my succour, all-powerful Lord and I invoke Thee: let me never be confounded.

Tuesday, 30 March 2010

Day 36 - Lessons to be learned

Brother Lawrence has been my inspiration throughout Lent, as I have attempted to practise the presence of God in my life, so it is to him I turn this Tuesday of Holy Week.

I am aware that his experience was certainly very different from mine. He would have known the joy of a supportive fellowship as he joined in regular worship in the Carmelite monastery. Each day would have ended with the plainchant of the service of Compline and that moving prayer 'Be present, O merciful God, and protect us through the silent hours of this night, so that we who are wearied by the changes and chances of this fleeting world may rest upon your eternal changelessness.' I compare this renewing rhythm of life to the frenetic lifestyle most of us attempt to live. Yes, Brother Lawrence had a bit of a head start!

Yet, he can teach us many truths for our own ongoing life of faith. Brother Lawrence was acutely aware of his own shortcomings, but they did not cause him to grovel before God or become introspective. Instead it drew from him songs of praise, awe and thanksgiving. Part of confession for him was to recognise that God's goodness is greater than our failings, so we need to accept his joy in loving and forgiving us.

Right up to the moment of his death Brother Lawrence was aware of the goodness of God strengthening him every step of the way. He encourages us to similarly feast on God's goodness. This he says generates faith, hope and love. All three constitute food for our journey. In his writing he makes this memorable claim:

Everything is possible to those who believe, Even more is possible to those
who hope
Still more is possible to those who love, More and more is possible to those who
practice and persevere

By his eightieth year Brother Lawrence had grown rich in faith. Such faith, he insisted germinates and grows in the hearts that are aware of the presence of God in the middle of the pressures of life. Two weeks before he died, while he was suffering considerable pain, we find rising from within him that same well-spring of confidence that cried: If only we knew how much he loves us, we should always be ready to receive from his hand both the bitter and sweet. Then we shall discover that even dark and difficult things would become sweet and pleasing.

Brother Lawrence encourages us to savour and worship God in the depths of our hearts, no matter what we are doing. He suggests that, no matter what is occupying our minds and our hands, since we know that God is with us - that he indwells us - we should pause from time to time to praise him, pray to him or offer him our heart in thanksgiving.

On his deathbed, as through life, Brother Lawrence was acutely aware of the presence of God who loved him. Even when in pain, his face and speech were filled with joy. He told those who visited him that although he was in pain, his spirit was happy and contented. After he had received the sacraments, his response when one of his brothers asked him what occupied his mind was ' I am doing what I shall do, through all eternity - blessing God, praising God, adoring God, giving him the love of my whole heart.'

So I leave Brother Lawrence with his dying words, when he wished he had known God sooner in his life. 'Believe me' he said 'you can count as lost each day you have not used in loving God.'

And for myself...I am drawn back to Psalm 27

The Lord us my light and my salvation; whom then shall I fear ?
The Lord is the strength of my life; of whom then shall I be afraid?

That's more than enough for me to ponder on and be challenged about today.....

Monday, 29 March 2010

Day 35 - Remember

We have now stepped into Holy Week. The changing mood of Palm Sunday is behind us and we set our faces towards the cross. It's an inbetween time, anticipating what's coming but we are not quite there yet.

Life has many inbetween times, times when we are not quite at ease with everything. Times perhaps when we know we are going to be moving on, but have to still focus on the work in hand; times when things that were once clear cut and understandable now feel less so; times when a crisis has occurred which still needs working through; the time between death and the funeral; the period of depression; the awful situation which we cannot get out of; the time between the appointment and the diagnosis; times when we know something is going to happen, but we are not sure what; times when it is extremely difficult to practise the presence of God.

These are waiting times with a difference - emotionally we cannot disengage, we have no energy for creativity, we are caught up in the turmoil of the moment. Two words often come to mind when thinking about how we handle those difficult moments 'Hope' and 'Remembrance'. The first, though often takes a degree of faith that many of us do not have in certain tough situations. I went through a couple of short periods of depression earlier in my life, and tried to cling on to the fact that one day the sun will indeed shine again, one day I will feel happier - yet found it almost impossible to do so. It takes every ounce of belief to convince oneself that everything will turn out alright. However, 'hope' can be kept alive by the second word 'remembrance.'

From Old Testament times God commanded his people to 'remember'. To remember their deliverance, to remember how God had provided for them, to remember the promises he has made. He knew that when things got difficult they would have to trust the future in the light of what has happened in the past. Time and time again, we read, that the people forgot. They forgot what God had done, and forgot him, turning to other means to rescue them. So in our bleaker moments, we are called to remember what God has done in the past so we can have hope for the future.

At a service tonight I am preaching on the passage chosen by the new Rector Isaiah 61 'The Spirit of the Lord God is upon me....' This important passage became Jesus' manifesto and it brings us a challenge particularly during Holy Week. Yesterday, I wrote about our interactive Bible study. Everyone involved - the crowd, the high priests, the disciples and Jesus - all expressed feeling perplexed after the events of Palm Sunday. Today I read these words from Luke ' As he came near and saw the city, he wept over it, saying, 'If you, even you, had only recognised on this day the things that make for peace.' Everyone had failed to remember those earlier promises in those difficult last days.

Hope of the resurrection does lie somewhere ahead...but for many is blurred by confusion, tears, doubt, paralysis and would be easy to turn elsewhere......but by remembering what God has done, or the good of the past, and trusting that for the future, we have all we need to keep going.

Sunday, 28 March 2010

Palm Sunday - Sensing the drama unfold

Holy week begins... strangely enough with a sudden shift an hour forward with the move to British Summer Time.... so already we are startled into something different.

Holy week isn't something we can just read about, it is rather about engaging all our senses in the sights and sounds, the tastes and smells, as we journey along. It begins with the triumphal entry into Jerusalem with donkeys, and palms and cheers. Yesterday Bishop John led members of the Bishop's Council in an interactive Bible study with small groups entering into the role of a particular character in that Palm Sunday scene, which included the turning of the tables in the temple, and Jesus healing the lame and sick. Not only did it get us to look at one particular gospel account, but helped us see the various participants in different ways, as we challenged them and asked them questions from our own particular perspective. We encountered the fickle crowd, looking for some exciting action, the high priests committed to an old order and not wanting it destroyed, the confused disciples - some wanting a revolution but not in the way it was played out, others perplexed by the change in pace, and then Jesus, doing his Father's will, draw to the city of the King and its temple.

Holy week for me as a parish priest was definitely the busiest week of the year - and has usually meant hours of preparation to ensure that others get the most from the drama from Palm Sunday to Easter Sunday. For many I know there will have been the ordering of palm crosses, the distribution of passion gospels, the setting up of stations of the cross, perhaps there are preparations for a Seder meal, three hours to prepare for Friday, then fires for Easter Eve before the eggs make an appearance next Sunday. Now, I am very aware of all that I don't have to do and am more than pleased to relieve some clergy of preparation for Friday and Sunday.

For the first time in many years for me Holy Week will be very different and as a deliberate act to sustain my sacred centre, and to counter the busyness that usually comes with this week, I have not booked any appointments in my diary for Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday. Instead I am going to participate in the drama myself, assisted by others I hope to discover new things as I awaken my senses to the most important week in our Christian lives.

An important question for all of us as this week begins is 'What part in the drama do we play during the course of this week?' It may be that we relate to one particular individual, or it may be that we move from character to character as the week progresses, whatever we do I am sure all of us on this Palm Sunday can already sense within ourselves something of the person in the crowd all too easily led, the confused and perplexed disciple, the high priest wanting to keep to some rules, all getting in the way of a commitment to do the Father's will, which in turn is often so misunderstood by others.

Day 34 - Getting the process right

I have just returned from a busy 24 hrs with the Bishop's Council, ensconced away at St Stephen's House, Theological College. My head is spinning with all that we have shared together, as well as process questions about where to go next. It's hard to know just what to write.

I confess that there has not been a deliberate practising the presence of God on my part over the last 24 hrs, however there have been plenty of moments when the presence of God was practised! That all seems part and parcel of ministry - being alert to the times when God is present, although it all seems quite routine, mundane and about God anyway.

So God was present quite explicitly in the worship - three different experiences over the 24 hrs. Although, for me in putting together worship for one of the sessions, I sensed God's presence more in the preparation than the delivery (again this so often happens as a minister); God was present through his Word explicitly in the Bible Study and times of prayer and reflection; and God was present in the Building, although some parts reflected that to me better than others.

Then there was the interaction - God's presence being manifested in all the conversations, the plans, the discussion, the aspirations and the questions. But, for me most importantly God was present in the process - it is by creating space for the thinking and the relationship building, with some plans and preparation built in, that brings about the moment in which encounter and transformation can happen.

So much of the God glimpses are about the Kairos moments, which can often only come about if we have an openness to them, or create a space for them. This last 24 hrs helped Bishop's Council have a moment to breathe - when so often it doesn't....and in that space significant movement happened towards God and towards an understanding of one another. My mind may be spinning but I sense God has been at work....hence my determination to continue to get the processes right.

Friday, 26 March 2010

Day 33 - Precious time

In an hour or so I am going to be driving down to Burnham Abbey It's more or less a monthly visit to celebrate the Eucharist with the sisters there, and has become a very special time for me. The sisters enjoy the services of local clergy, the Bishop and I who come each day to preside at their 9.30am service. It is also an offering of their generosity to me as, understanding that I do not have a regular 'altar', and they have given me theirs.

However, the madness of this regular visit, for a service that lasts half an hour, is the journey which takes at least two hours! It could, on a good day, take 45 minutes, however to get there for 9.30am I need to allow for traffic jams in Gt Missenden, Beaconsfield and Burnham and leave home by 8am. If I go straight back home I get in at about 11am. Looking at it rashly it seems a ridiculous use of my time ....

Yet, somehow this monthly trip has become sacred space, whether I go off to something else afterwards, or drive back home. Allowing time to get to the Abbey makes the journey far less stressful, it's like I am driving towards something. If the traffic is not so bad I have a good 15 minutes to prepare, as I sit in the vestry, the oldest part of the Abbey and ponder and pray. Then there is the service itself - it tunes me in to the liturgical year, sometimes it will be a Feast Day with incense and singing, sometimes there are guests and at other times it is just the sisters and me. The slow rhythmical pace of the liturgy slows me down, centres me with God, and helps me focus on my role as a priest. For me too, it is an enormously humbling experience and an absolute privilege - and in that particular setting, many of the words of the liturgy come alive in a new way. I was struck only the other month by the meaning, in that context of the phase 'God's holy gifts, for God's holy people.' for example.

Then there is the journey back - I get to hear many radio programmes driving around, but somehow driving back home listening to Woman's Hour has become something of a treat. It's a bit of 'me' time before getting into the post, the emails and the work of the day. So in a paradoxical way, what may look like time wasted, has become precious time.

I am so grateful to the sisters for their hospitality, and for their ongoing ministry of prayer and service. I know much of their prayer is for the work of the local church, the archdeaconry and the diocese and value knowing too that my work is their concern also.

How often, do we look rationally at something and dismiss it, without really noticing or acknowledging its true worth ?

Thursday, 25 March 2010

Day 32 - The significant 'yes'

Today we remember in our liturgical calendar the Annunciation of the Blessed Virgin Mary. Whilst it is set to slot in nine months before our celebration of Christmas, it does give us a chance to further ponder in Lent the significance of the word 'yes'.

Neither Mary's 'yes' or Christ's 'yes' feel like a reluctant 'yes'. Both give themselves wholeheartedly to what they have been called to do. It's interesting re-reading in Luke that encounter between Mary and the angel. At first she was much perplexed and pondered the words, then she asked a very understandable question 'How can this be?' and once she had received that all important explanation she gave the significant 'yes' and life for her was never the same again. We neither know what went on in Mary's mind, nor how powerful that encounter was. I would suggest that it was a very powerful encounter, touching her very deeply and moving her so much that her 'yes' was unequivocal.

So often in today's world we weigh up all our options, and usually want to keep them open. We break promises we cannot keep, or keep them only for a while. Our 'yes' comes with strings attached (pre-nuptial agreements comes to mind!), or our 'yes' remains very strongly on our own terms. It's interesting that only yesterday in our Morning Prayer readings we have been in Exodus with Pharaoh's determined 'No'! Yet, time and time again we can see through history, that remarkable things happen because people say 'yes' and mean it. It's as if God comes through the 'yes' into our world - the signs of peace and reconciliation, the long term commitments to a cause, or a relationship, the lives dedicated to him.

This morning I am reminded of a particular time in my own life, when I said a definite 'yes'. It was at Spring Harvest in Easter 1989. I had been working at Christ Church, Billericay for about six months, I had not yet thought about ordination. My 'yes' was not to a prayer, but a song which clearly articulated my feelings.

I want to serve the purpose of God in my generation
I want to serve the purpose of God while I am alive
I want to give my life for something that will last forever
Oh, I delight, I delight to do Your will
I want to build with silver and gold in my generation
I want to build with silver and gold while I am alive
I want to give my life for something that will last forever
Oh, I delight, I delight to do Your will
What is on Your heart? Tell me what to do
Let me know Your will
And I will follow You
I want to see the Lord come again in my generation
I want to see the Lord come again while I am alive
I want to give my life for something that will last forever
Oh, I delight, I delight to do Your will
That 'yes' gave God permission and for me life was never the same again. As I reflect on that, I am aware about how much I need to go on saying 'yes', to renew that sense of commitment, and reflect upon it's power. That does not mean that I never say 'no' - that would be irresponsible (and totally unbecoming of an archdeacon!), but means that I do say 'yes' in the way that enables, and commits, that is wholehearted and total. My prayer today, is that my 'yes' will always mean 'YES'!

Wednesday, 24 March 2010

Day 31 - You're all doing very well!

As clergy it is often down to us to do the encouragement thing. I have many examples of different ways this might be done.

One clergyman I knew, would distance himself from the congregation - playing the role of 'parson' extremely well, he would exist on a plane above the ladies who did the washing up, provided the cakes and set up the tables and would breeze through a room with all the work being done around him, a bit like Mr Grace in Are you Being Served? His part, as he saw it, was to say 'You're all doing very well!' before breezing out again without picking up either a tea towel or moving a single chair.

Another clergyman gave me some sound advice, at the beginning of ministry 'In the church, you have to remember Karen, that silence equals affirmation.' How true! So often, we do not even find the Mr Grace. A thing done badly is met with criticism, whilst a task done well is met Hence much is taken for granted, and people, whose self-worth is already low are still left wondering whether they are ok, and no one tries anything new for fear of being criticised.

Then there are the clergyman (sorry, but they always seem to be men!) who can only do flattery. The only way these clergy can exist is around a group (often small) of people doing lots of things only because they are told they are great doing them. This is every member ministry of a different kind. Usually lots is happening around the vicar, because people think he likes them as he keeps telling them how wonderful they are. Sadly, more often than not cliques develop in these churches, with one group being 'flavour of the month - for this month.' and then everything dissolves if things go wrong or the vicar leaves.

So much of this is about doing rather than being. People being rewarded with praise (or not), if they do something. Yet, the worlds greatest encouragers are those that affirm who we are, and not just what we do. In the gospels it is Andrew, one of the not too prominent disciples, who gives us the best example of encouragement. He just gentle affirms people - like the boy with the loaves and fishers, and draws out the best in them. What a proud moment it must have been for that boy! He spots the potential, is interested in it, raises someone else up and steps back.

Clergy licensings offer great potential for encouragement. Not only the person being licensed, but also the great range of people who attend those services - the churchwardens who have carried the church during a vacancy, the person playing the organ, those who have helped with refreshments, and the many other clergy who turn up. It's a great time for me to catch up with folk, see how things are going and hopefully offer some affirmation. Last evening in Beaconsfield was no exception, in fact I came home feeling affirmed too by my clergy brothers and sisters - thank you.

Being born on the Feast day of John the Baptist, I always come back to his words when I think about what encouraging others really means from a servant leadership point of view: 'He must become greater; I must become less'. Now that's a challenge for all of us...

Tuesday, 23 March 2010

Day 30 - Inside out

Looking out of my bedroom window I can see the inside of my new extension - yes, the walls have gone up, the insulation is in place, the floor is level and the builders are now waiting for the roof struts to arrive. I am also aware that, once the roof is on, it will be a view that will never be there again.

So much of what is on the inside of anything remains hidden and isn't exposed until a major catastrophe happens - hence we are shocked by pictures of earthquake damage, or lightening strikes, or surgery because of what they expose.

Yesterday was spent with our Area Team together with Area Deans and Lay Chairs, and we spent the day thinking about local ministry, the needs of the deanery and archdeaconry and collaborative ministry (what we believe it is and the blockages to it). So much of what we discussed came down to the all important values we hold. These, not only inform our vision but give us the energy for it. In my last parish I spent a lot of time with our Ministry Leadership Team discussing our values as a church. Once agreed they were displayed on the wall as you entered the building - such things as creativity, prayer, variety in worship and welcome. They reminded us of what we were about as a church, and acted as constants around which parish life was framed.

So what are my values for the archdeaconry? based on yesterday, here are a few starters:
  • Commitment to the deanery being an important unit for mutual support, affirming and resourcing parish life;
  • The flourishing of individual gifts and talents in the life of the church, and the provision of support in order for this to happen
  • Flexibility over the deployment of ministers based on the above
  • Creating a permissive enviroment for churches to take risks in doing new things, and having the freedom to fail
  • Enabling local response to local need (financially and practically), and supporting this where ever possible.

Values are what inspires and energises us, they are contained deep within and, for the Christian, come from theological conviction or belief - hence my own being based upon deeply help principles about service, sacrifice, freedom, generosity and love. What is inside is so important, and for the human being (unlike my extension!) is revealled in how we live our lives, not only when catastophe happens but each and every day.

As Christ said 'You can identify them by their fruit, that is, by the way they act. Can you pick grapes from thornbushes, or figs from thistles? Matthew 7:16 (New Living Translation)'

Monday, 22 March 2010

Day 29 - The Place where its hard to be

Great Transforming Conflict course last week. We were worked hard, not only thinking about the hard places where conflict is destructive, but also where it can be transformative and by using a variety of different methods, we were taught some skills to enable people to engage with what is happening and move on.

The key is discerning the right approach for the right occasion - putting across a firm viewpoint in a meeting, for example is very different to getting a whole church to engage with difference and change. But it is by addressing the discomfort, and talking about it, that people can begin to move together, rather than stay apart.

During the course, conflict was described as a crucible - a place of heat, which can be used for good. Standing in that place as a facilitator, or mediator is not easy, and takes both self awareness and self confidence. It can be the place which attracts most of the fire and anger, it certainly is an enabling place, and can be a liberating place. Most people have a natural tendancy to avoid conflict, but by working with it, instead of emotions being buried, they can be expressed and healing can take place.

As we approach Holy Week, I am aware how often Christ stood in that hard place, and how he stands in it still, with us, longing for reconciliation and peace. On the final day of the course we were asked to do something creative to express what we had learned. I wrote this poem:

Standing in the hard place,
aware of pain around
searching for wisdom
knowing that God heals.
Sensing the tension.
Naming it and letting it flow down
and along
and away
and so slowly people trust
you and one another
and move on....and on....
and together.
Until hands that once formed fists
clasp one another in love.
Standing in the hard place
and finally stepping away.

Sunday, 21 March 2010

The Hymns that we Sing - The Fifth Sunday of Lent

Once of the hardest tasks for me as a parish priest was choosing all the hymns at the beginning of each month. Not only did I have to think about the readings used for each service, and bear in mind the liturgical season, but was determined not to muddle the congregation by using more than one hymn book!

However, the more difficult task involved thinking quite hard about each hymn and its purpose. I often wonder how many of our congregation think about, not only the words of each hymn or worship song, but also about what we are doing when we sing. I remember readings some good books on worship in my early twenties which taught me to see hymn/song singing in worship as a movement towards God. Therefore what we do when we sing should become a seamless journey into worship and then out again into the world. So often that is not the case, and songs can become a disjointed amble through someones favourites.

The more traditional hymn books (Hymns Ancient and Modern (?)), do help us a little here - hymns arranged for morning and evening, as well as by season, so we do not sing advent hymns at Easter, or evening hymns at 10am. Yet, I have discovered that many hymns in traditional hymn books are declarations about God - drawing together a Christian community in declaring faith 'We have a gospel...', 'Fight the good fight..', 'At the name of Jesus..'. rather than addressing God directly. Whilst there is a need to affirm one another in faith, worship does seem incomplete without our song being addressed to the one we worship. So we move to the other extreme to worship John Wimber called ' love songs to Jesus.' A whole change in hymnody came about with charismatic renewal in the 70s and 80s with songs about love and adoration - have a look at Songs of Fellowship and you will discover a good many. Yet, a diet of repetitive chorus' so often fails to challenge personal faith, or vocalise a sense of commitment.

So what would my ideal be? - 1st Hymn (processional) a good entry song eg. 'All Creatures of our God and King', 2nd hymn - a song which reflects the readings (either personal or declaratory), 3rd hymn - a personal hymn of commitment for the offertory (also reflecting the readings), prayerful songs during the administration and a 5th hymn - a good going out song eg. 'All my hope...' or 'Crown him with many crowns..'

Hymns and songs can make such a difference to drawing people into worship and helping individuals to articulate their faith...and care does need to be taken in choosing them. As I now am going to spend some of the day preparing some worship for Bishop's Council for its meeting next weekend, I am all too aware that what I chose could make all the difference between helping people move closer to God, or leaving them totally disconnected.

Day 28 - Taking Time

A bit of a later blog today. The course finished after lunch yesterday, and I managed to carve out some 'sustaining the sacred centre time'. Lovely weather in Sheffield so I decided to drive out from Sheffield to Castleton - I was feeling absolutely shattered at the end of the course, but getting out of the city energised me before spending the evening with some good friends in Sheffield. Good food, wine, and conversation was the order of the evening.

It's hard for clergy to take time and nurture long term friendships, those who live in close proximity are a bit easier to maintain, however when friends live a distance away and you need more than a day or evening with them it's extremely hard to take time out. Hence, the evening being so special. Although I had seen my friends once in ten years, when they came down to my welcome as Archdeacon, I hadn't seen their children and so enjoyed catching up with them too. I stayed the night and this morning we had a cooked breakfast, a tour of Sheffield (including the cathedral) and coffee in town before I drove back.

I could have so easily attended the course and straight away returned home again....and am aware that I have chosen to do that on too many occasions. The moment I land in doors, I am into work again...juggling the unpacking with emails, opening post, watering plants, making phone calls, doing the washing etc. etc. So by taking time NOT to do what I normally do, I was able to re-energise a good friendship, visit a new place, have a lie in (and breakfast cooked for me!) before the re-entry. I need to do that more often, particularly when courses rob you of your day off, and I am aware that the drivenness has not been completely forgotten in a busy week (unlike taking a holiday).

So I have taken some time posting this blog too - allowing for the 'grace'ful things to replace the 'pressing' things for a refreshing change.

Friday, 19 March 2010

Day 27 - Knowing me Knowing you

If we are not careful we could all get labelled! Whether it is the Myers Briggs type indicator, or an Enneagram number, we each can appear as a certain type of person. I am like this….and you (if you have completed the same questionnaire) are like this….

Personality tests can be extremely helpful. The Myers Briggs Type Indicator certainly helped me, about twenty years ago, understand why I drew energy from being on my own for periods of time (‘I’), went with my hunches more often than not (being extremely ‘N’ for intuitive), love to be organised (‘J’) and was often in touch with feelings (‘F’). Actually, I probably knew most of that, but the Indicator affirmed me in who I am. It made me realise that others were different from me, but that it was ok to be me.

Then a few years later I was introduced to the Enneagram, which further helped me to understand who I am, but even more helped me to understand the behaviour of others. I began to realise why colleagues and friends behaved as they did, and how my understanding of them, and my own self, could help me relate better to them and their behaviour.

This week we have been working with another tool, the Gilmore and Fraleigh Friendly Style Profile. This profile helps us understand our preferred working styles in both calm and storm, and to see how, when working in teams, we can bring out the best in one another. I have gained a lot from understanding why I can be impatient with certain types of people – and to differentiate between those who analyse, those who direct, those who harmonize and those who perfect. It also has helped to clarify why I sometimes do all of these, in calm and storm, as, having completely the questionnaire, unlike most on the course, I have discovered I don’t have too many extremes but have a bit of everything.

None of these tests holds the total key to who I am, but each helps me to understand how my behaviour and tendencies differ from those of other people, and how we can therefore get the best from one another. The key to relationships is understanding, and so any help we can get to improve that can only be good. When so many relationships fall apart, become strained, or go stale, a little bit more self knowledge is a very positive thing.

The wonderful thing in all of this is that there is no such thing as a bad ‘Type’ – we can appreciate our diversity – knowing that each of us is loved and special. As the Psalmist writes we are ‘fearfully and wonderfully made.’

Thursday, 18 March 2010

Day 26 - Glimmers of Hope

One of the positive things about Lent is that sometime during it we begin to look forward to summer. I remember preaching once about the seasons of Advent and Lent and their relation to the days getting shorter and longer - Lent being the period when the days lengthen.

After such a long cold winter, signs of spring are particularly welcome this year, and having almost a week of sunshine is just wonderful. I think more people than ever suffered from S.A.D this winter, as snow turned to slush, slush turned to ice, ice turned to dampness, dampness turned to snow...and the cycle began again. I don't think I can ever remember a winter so cold and icy. So before we even begin to think of celebrating Easter things are starting to get more positive - smiles are returning to people's faces as the crocus blooms, and winter boots and fleeces are finally abandoned for another year.

Somehow it's easier to practice the presence of God when the sun shines, freed from the doom and gloom of a miserable winter. Yet, I am reminded of all those who, through no fault of their own, live with doom and gloom each day - the homeless, jobless, the refugee and hostage, the abused, the victims of war and violence, the voiceless and unloved. I pray that a different Son will shine on their lives, giving them hope in the darkness. In the same way that we allow the sunlight to transform our despondency, may the light of Christ expose some of the injustice around and bring transformation in other ways.

Wednesday, 17 March 2010

Day 25 - The company of being alone

'Aren't you lonely?' is a question I am often asked, mostly by married friends who have known nothing else but life with other people. Yes, of course there are times when I, like others, feel acutely alone - often when I experience exclusion from a particular group, or conversation, or activity because others don't think to include me; often when I feel vulnerable and exposed doing a lone activity such as preaching, or leading, or making a tough decision; often when I have no one to share the decision making and am dependent upon my own judgement. But, being alone - living alone - is not the same as being lonely.

The judgement is as if those who live alone must be missing out on something, are to be felt sorry for or must have a sad life. Loneliness is seen as something negative, joyless, something to be pitied. Yet, I have discovered being alone to be just the opposite. To be energising, enriching, and sometimes envied by others because of its freedom and autonomy.

I can chose to fill my solitude with noise, or to live with silence. Indeed for twelve years of living alone I embraced the silence quite significantly. Home became a place for an ongoing inner dialogue between myself and God, a place of creativity which was a springboard for an active ministry, a place of renewal and re-creation which prepared me to go out into the world. For the last two years however, I have had to adjust to a different setting, having a secretary in my home 5 days a week has meant I now have partial silence to resource me. Yes, I have a radio and a TV, but for a much of time, particularly during the day, they are switched off rather than on.

For some people being alone, and being silent is difficult practically and temperamentally; for others it is hard to settle into; the key is finding company in being alone. That may sound like a contradiction, but it is all about an inner relationship of body, mind and spirit connecting and finding companionship and peace together. Something hermits, monks and nuns can teach us. For some being alone may be a calling - and yes, I do believe for some singleness is just that, but for all it is a place of deep refreshment, to visit on occasions, which will refresh a weary soul battered by a noisy and busy world.

Aloneness is a counter-balance to togetherness, it is not a denial of company but an openness to it; it is not a selfish state but the acknowledgement that self worth and self knowledge only comes from embracing what's within and living with it. In fact it is about accepting and loving who we are, without finding our worth in what we do, what we say, or who we know. For me, it is summed up best by Richard Foster when he writes 'Loneliness is inner emptiness. Solitude is inner fulfillment. '

Tuesday, 16 March 2010

Day 24 - Developing New Skills

Taking stock, it has so far been a varied yet extremely demanding Lent. In between meetings there has been the all important ministry development reviews to conduct for clergy - a chance to take stock of the past year and look ahead to the next. The word development is important for us all. The Christian journey always brings challenges, and we all have to be equipped to meet the needs of a changing church and changing circumstances.

The problem with this is that clergy often do most of the teaching and resourcing for others, and so really have to plan to receive this for themselves. It is very easy, once the initial training is over, to carry on depending on past learning, the odd insight and the hope that a sabbatical will come someday. Hopefully though, with diocesan training becoming more responsive to clergy professional developmental needs, relying on text books purchased some 30 or 40 years ago might become a thing of the past. Incidentally, I well remember a colleague once remarking in a clergy chapter meeting 'Most people probably wouldn't have faith in their doctor if they saw only old text books on their bookshelves, so why should they take notice of some of us? ' which was quite a sobering prod for us to find time to keep up-to-date with our reading.

So, I find myself on this fourth week in Lent undertaking some professional development of my own. I am in Sheffield on a Bridgebuilders Course entitled 'Transforming Conflict for Senior Church Leaders'. Yesterday was great, honing listening skills, getting to know the other participants from various denominations and thinking about my own experience of conflict. On one hand, as I think about the in-tray, it's training I cannot really afford the time out for and I wished on Saturday I hadn't committed myself to, but, on the other, by booking it up a year or so ago and committing money to it, it's something I know will be well worth giving a week to. Besides, if I am going to encourage others to continue to develop their ministry, then I need to give time to developing mine!

Monday, 15 March 2010

Day 23 - A Duty and a Joy

One of the factors that makes full time Anglican ministry different from most other occupations is that a house is part of the package. The curates house, Vicarage or Rectory varies from place to place and part of the interview tour prior to accepting an appointment includes looking around the house. I have known only a few clergy who have turned down a job because the house is unsuitable for them and their family, because for most the calling to a particular place far outweighs the living accommodation. There is often little choice in the matter, except perhaps a new bathroom or kitchen and a different colour paint on the walls, so for most clergy the challenge of a new job in a new place is coupled by this dutiful acceptance to live in a house which they probably would otherwise not have chosen.

There are mixed blessings, most vicarages are large and so for many we live in houses we would otherwise not be able to afford to buy - families can be accommodated, and large gardens make great play areas for children. Those who like gardening can indulge their hobby, and the study can accommodate all those books we accumulate. Yet there is also a cost, large gardens take time to manage, large houses cost money to heat (no one pays for this), and the condition of each house varies from place to place and is dependent on a caring and responsive diocese. For the single person therefore the upkeep of a large houses can be an added burden. I have gritted my teeth on many occasion, spending each day off tending the garden, mowing the lawn, pruning countless rose bushes, just to keep on top of everything.

In a way, its all a mixed blessing. Like Brother Lawrence sought to find God in the busyness of the monastery kitchen, it is necessary to sense God in the things we are stuck with and feel constrained by. I am reminded here of those who act as carers for family members, those who have to cope with chronic or terminal illness, those who suddenly find themselves in tragic circumstances. There are often no choices. Yet, by offering these to God in gracious acceptance, somehow the light can shine through and be seen by others.

I am sometimes asked to pray with an individual or family in their new house, and I have prayed in each house I have lived in. We go into each room and ask God's blessing on all that takes place; that the house be welcoming, that people find hospitality, that friends are made and people comforted, and that all that is not good is kept out. I am sometimes struck by the warmth and hospitality found within a Rectory or Vicarage, particularly when the occupants have a desire to be good stewards of what they have been given and to turn the house into a home. God's light can indeed be found there.

Sunday, 14 March 2010

Savouring Scripture - The Fourth Sunday in Lent

I have been challenged twice this week on my knowledge of scripture. The first time was on hearing of an occasion when people were asked to name the words Christ spoke from the cross, and struggled to do so - in a spare few minutes I challenged myself to do the same. The second time was yesterday at Diocesan Synod when Bishop Stephen spoke about people not knowing the beatitudes, again during the next, more mundane business, I scribbled them down on a piece of paper. Two good mental exercises because today remembering Scripture is not high on our list of priorities.

I am extremely grateful for my evangelical background which has given me a good grounding in the Word of God - for Sunday School teachers, Bible reading notes, tutors at Theological College and preachers who have opened up Scripture to me in a very natural, yet deep way. I am also thankful for homegroup members, friends, colleagues and those who have participated in Bible study with me over the years, all of whom have brought new insights to my Biblical understanding.

One of my most formative times for growing in my knowledge and love of the Bible was as a Sunday School teacher in my teens and early twenties - the challenge of making connections for children between their own lives and the words on a page written thousands of years ago, taught me to ponder the stories, reflect on relevant passages and translate it into teaching. Weekly memory verses too, given to the children helped me retain texts from scripture - I needed to remember what I had asked the children to remember!

I am aware now, how important my sermon preparation is, because that is one of the few ways in my busy life I have some time to immerse myself into particular passages and come to new understandings. I miss the small group, and I have to try very very hard to draw something from Scripture through saying Morning Prayer alone. It's not easy and something now I have to continually work at, in fact it was quite comforting on completing both mental exercises successfully to realise that I do have within a well on which to draw.

Over the years the Bible has become many things to me - a Comforter, something to grapple with, a framework for life, to name but a few. One of the challenges for the Church is to continue to teach Scripture in a relevant and natural way, so Christians know it is an essential tool for their journey. I am sure we can do more in this area, particularly with our young families. For on this Mothering Sunday (and my father's birthday) I am very aware that it was their own commitment that sent me to Sunday School in the first place - the beginning of my ongoing journey of Biblical discovery.

Saturday, 13 March 2010

Day 22 - Dodos, aardvarks and other creatures

I spent some of my day off yesterday visiting the Natural History Museum at Tring. A wonderful place housing the fascinating range of animals collected by Lionel Walter Rothschild. Compared to modern museums, this one is distinctly hands-off and literally stuffed full of (or full of stuffed) animals, birds and insects. Yet the range of creatures on view is stunning - from a small flea to giant seals, from hummingbirds to Buffalo's and everything in between.

It was interesting to actually see what extinct animals and birds looked like in the flesh, as well as look close to at birds and animals only observed alive from a distance. How wonderful is God to give each its own distinct colour, pattern texture and characteristics! It has also made me ponder the word 'preservation'. Whilst I might cringe at some reasoning behind taxidermy, Tring Museum is a good example of preserving what something looks like for the good of science and history, in the same way as photography captures a moment in time of a person, or building, place or occasion. Yet not all is contained in the creatures I saw - only the outer appearance in the skin, or the shell - everything else has been removed.

Perhaps this is something for us to hold in balance when thinking about our church buildings, as ancient and yet living places? I think we are beginning to get the balance right, not preserving everything in them for all time, nor throwing everything out and losing their distinctiveness forever, but preserving what is good and unique, whilst continuing to make our churches functional sacred spaces. The beauty of those creatures I saw yesterday could be admired and attributed to the Creator, the same should be said of our churches.

Friday, 12 March 2010

Day 21 - A nice mug of tea

There have been a number of occasions where, as a parish priest on a pastoral visit, I have been ushered into a sitting room and greeted by the rattle of bone china tea cups and the sight of biscuits laid out exactly on a patterned bone china plate. Coming from a family where the bone china heirloom has never left the cupboard, I have been very aware on these occasions that as a woman of the cloth I was being afforded 'the very best'. A cup of tea and biscuits, or a cup of tea and cake have, over the generations, become the symbols of welcome and hospitality.

Each family, geographical region and country have their own customs around that cup of tea. Spending six years in Yorkshire I became accustomed to both the warm hospitality of tea in people's homes, and the treat of afternoon tea at Bettys. As a reminder of her university days in York my sister buys Yorkshire tea deliberately! I remember also a college mission in Filey which evolved totally around eating and drinking - mainly cake and tea, and yes, it was served in green cups after every church service.

At home in Billericay a cup of tea is served ten minutes before the evening meal, as well as at 4pm in the afternoon and 7am in the morning. This evokes even more memories, of waking up as a child at my grandmothers house, where there was no heating in the bedroom, to a yellow plastic mug of tea and a slice of heavily buttered bread. A real treat that warmed us up before getting out of bed.

I moved a bit into a coffee phase for a while, but have now become a regular tea drinker again - not before an evening meal however, but first thing in the morning, and during the day; not in cups but in mugs. Mugs in recent years have turned beverages from being symbols of hospitality and ritual, to drinks that bring comfort and sustenance. Perhaps that is why my childhood experience at my grandmothers remains with me? It is very rare now that the bone china greets the archdeacon in a home (although it is still rattling around in high places) and that is a good thing. Nothing beats pouring someone a mug of (fairtrade) tea, and sitting together discussing a concern, or a story, or sharing a task. A mug of tea helps a quiet time, somehow allows God in and makes whatever time it takes to drink it a special moment. So for me, in offering hospitality myself to other clergy, the phase 'more tea, Vicar?' has a very different feel.

Thursday, 11 March 2010

Day 20 - Lord of the Dance

On Tuesday I saw the film A Single Man, in it there is a wonderful scene when the main character George and his friend Charlie get up from the dining table, put on some music and dance. They first dance together to Stormy Weather and then Charlie replaces this on the record player with Green Onions by Booker T and the MGs and they, for a fleeting moment, become lost in the music as they dance as individuals.

It reminded me of music I have in the past loved to dance to. I miss sometimes not being younger and being able to lose myself in well known rhythms and music on the dance floor of a club or party. Even now driving along in my car, an inner joy can be created by a favourite CD, and I begin to tap the steering wheel. Sometimes it is the words of songs which take me back to a particular event or circumstance in life, sometime it is the drum beat, the tune which has resonated with me. The nearest I come to dancing now in company is the occasional family event, or lively worship, when a sway turns into a slight move of the foot!

It's not just living in the past, new music is interesting to me, although on occasions I do wonder how it would be possible to dance to some of it. For me, its as if the rhythm and movement takes you to another place - a place where the day to day reality seems a lot less daunting and a lot more manageable, a place where life is fun and the formalities of life can be left behind. This also takes me to Africa, where worship is as much about movement as it is about sound - being 'lost in wonder, love and praise' comes to mind. Dancing is many things, it is also unifying as it brings people into a common experience on the same level regardless of who they are, and we so miss out on that in the inhibited west.

I am very much looking forward to my next trip to South Africa to get caught up again in the vibrancy of worship. In the meantime I am gradually recording all my old cassette tapes onto CD and MP3, and what a great excuse is that for reliving some memories, and dancing around the room!

Wednesday, 10 March 2010

Day 19 - Poor Signal

I am currently at a theological college with the Bishop's staff team. It reminds me of being at Trinity, Bristol 15 years ago, with the bathroom and toilet down the corridor...and to add to the inconvenience there is very poor mobile Internet connection. Everything is taking an awful long time to come up on the screen. Perhaps that is not a bad thing for one day in Lent? It makes me realise how reliant we have come to be on checking our emails quickly and constantly, or making contact with the rest of the world at the touch of a button.

Internet wasn't around for theological students 15 years ago, nor were mobile phones. The inconvenience then was running along the corridor to answer the one phone...and then trying to find the person who was being called; it was spending hours in the library researching information from books; it was writing letters to friends and family. Did it make a difference? I would say no, it was only an inconvenience because now we have something to compare it with... like fast broadband and en suite facilities in rooms.

Modern technology is amazing and has changed life forever, today I am thankful for it. But, more thankful am I at having time to appreciate what we take for granted. In an age where things work quicker to enable us to fit more's good to take double the time blogging today.

Tuesday, 9 March 2010

Day 18 - Redemption TV

I have been particularly struck over the last five years by certain TV programmes. They are designed around a format, which introduces an unlikely stranger into a particular environment, where this 'stranger' then makes a difference to those around.

The most succesful of these programmes has been Secret Millionaire, another example has been The Choir. The joy of watching The Choir was seeing individuals doing something they otherwise would not have thought possible, seeing individuals become someone with something to offer, and seeing how environments, be it a housing estate or a boys school, can be transformed by a shared experience.

Last night a new series of Secret Millionaire began. Some may say the format is tired by now, but because of the individuals involved continues to be compelling and extremely moving. The wonderful thing for me is that the 'givers' ,those with the cheque books, are changed just as much, if not more, than the people they help (who very often have never seen a cheque for £100 yet alone £1000s). An affinity develops between unlikely people, which as earlier series have shown continues beyond the programme, and lives are made better. The willingness to be changed and to be emersed in a different (sometimes hostile) environment brings about change and a new selflessness, and transformation takes place.

I have termed these programmes 'Redemption Programmes' because they show me something of God in the world, of the transformative power of love and compassion and of new hope which can be brought to often hopeless situations. I am reminded of the Magnificat as I reflect on last night's progamme - 'He hath shewed strength with his arm; he hath scattered the proud in the imagination of their hearts. He hath put down the mighty from their seats, and hath exalted the humble and meek.' Maybe the success of such programmes is because we have largely lost this selflessness and community spirit....very few may be millionaires but we all have something to give to another.

Monday, 8 March 2010

Day 17 - On Tap

Since moving to Buckinghamshire I seem to have had a few problems with water! Fifteen months ago I came in to discover the tank in the loft overflowing, with water flowing down two floors and landing in my study, where the ceiling had caved in. A few months ago I called a plumber because of frozen pipes, and then yesterday I discovered the temporary stand pipe the builders had installed spurting out water into the air. That meant having to unbolt the secure fence which surrounds the building site and turning off the stop-cock. All have caused inconvenience in one way or another and some frustration being no fault of my own.

It's therefore quite sobering to reflect that the Christian Aid 'Count your Blessings' for the third week in Lent has all been about water. How much water has been wasted in my home over the last two years? Each time we flush the toilet we flush away as much water as we drink in a whole month! and a dripping tap can waste as much as 5,500 litres a year. Every 20 seconds a child dies from a disease associated with dirty water. What a thought? in the fifteen minutes it takes to write this 45 children will have died. How often do we turn on the tap and think nothing of it? Christian Aid asks me to give 10p for each step it takes me to go to the nearest tap. I think I need to give 10p for every step to every tap - because adding up I have 15 of them in my home (including the shower), oh yes and there's the stand pipe too!

Sunday, 7 March 2010

Authentic Worship - The Third Sunday in Lent

As an Assistant Diocesan Director of Ordinands in Canterbury Diocese, I produced a questionnaire for potential ordinands to help them reflect upon their experience of worship in a different tradition from their own. It contained questions like: What helped you to pray ? Did anything hinder your worship ? What surprised you ? Where did you sense the presence of God?

These questions have helped me over the years since moving from a charismatic evangelical setting to an anglo-catholic one in Hull in my twenties. This major transition taught me that no one tradition has a monopoly on God. I discovered Christ, not only in lively praise and worship, but also in the Eucharist, in silence and contemplation, in the lives of the saints and in gestures and symbols. This all helped me too to work out as a parish priest what opportunities I would create for others to worship, therefore St Paul's Maidstone was a mix of the Eucharist, All-age worship, periods of concentrated worship marking Holy Week and Easter, and developing new ways for contemplation like 'Sacred Space' with prayer stations and a labyrinth, and Cafe Church.

Now, without worship to create for others, I have to return to my questions for myself. I could be anywhere on a Sunday morning and worshipping in a variety of traditions. Last Sunday it was Sung Evensong at an Oxford College Chapel, this week I will be at a theological college, on another occasion I could be at Matins, or a lively praise service, or, more often, at a Common Worship Order One Holy Communion led in a variety of ways. Yet I continue to discover Christ in new ways.

In each service my questions help me, not analyse each experience, but to personally enter into it. The worship experiences vary greatly, yet I am often surprised by God, whom I discover in unlikely way and unexpected places. Authentic worship is a matter of heart rather than a matter of form, therefore it can often be through the simply scripted prayers led by a member of a congregation or the enthusiastic young drummer leading worship, rather than the familiar liturgy, that I find myself being drawn into and becoming part of a worshipping community - even if only for a short time.

Saturday, 6 March 2010

Day 16 Getting a bird's eye view

One of the highlights of the trip to Iceland was the journey. Short breaks force you in a strange way to make the most of the journey there and back, so browsing at the airport, the wait at the gate, the flight itself and the transit to the hotel take on a more pleasurable feel.

It was the flight that was most amazing. Flying to Iceland takes a route which goes directly north above England and out to the sea over the Hebrides, and on both Monday and Thursday the sky was clear. We left Heathrow heading for Buckinghamshire, where I was able to observe almost the whole of my archdeaconry before my eyes. Following the Chilterns I was able to recognise Dorney Rowing Lake, then High Wycombe, Princes Risborough, Aylesbury and up to Stowe, where we left familiar territory at Silverstone Racing Circuit. On the way back Scotland was a mass of snow capped mountains to the north as the plane flew over the Solway Firth and then back south over the Lake District, Morecambe Bay, Manchester, Birmingham and then Hertfordshire this time.

The landscape was stunning, and the higher perspective forced me to think of both the significance and insignificance of all the people we were flying over. It never ceases to amaze me how a God who created the heavens, chose to come as one of us; how God who is Lord of all cares about and knows every detail of my life. Awesome indeed.

Friday, 5 March 2010

Day 15 Let everything that has breath...

It is the Women's World Day of Prayer today. All across the world people will be gathering for a service written by a specific group of women. Today we think of the women in Cameroon, who have chosen words from Psalm 150 for their service 'Let everything that has breath praise the Lord!' The service conveys something of the struggles of women growing up and living in Cameroon - the low value placed on girls leading to their lack of education, the vulnerability of the country to the traffiking of women and children, the poor level of housing in the city slums and the hard work of living in rural areas where there is still a daily walk to obtain water. Yet these women put the most jubilant Psalm into our hearts today - what a challenge! When we have so much, it is almost hard to take time to count our blessings let alone praise God with all we have and all we are. Those who live in difficult places have so much to teach us about God and about worshipping God.

The Women's World Day of Prayer is the one service which succesfully unites people right around the globe in prayer and liturgy. I have always enjoyed taking part, knowing that women will be gathering in Africa, and Asia, in Europe and America, and in Buckinghamshire, and Kent and all the other places I have served, singing the same hymns, hearing the same stories and praying the same prayers. I have often enjoyed the thought that my mother will be attending a service somewhere, whilst I am at another. Today I shall be sharing in a service with her, as I have been invited to preach at her church in Essex and she has been asked to do a reading, so I will be thinking of those meeting elsewhere.

As I drive around the M25 I must remember the joy found in the ordinary, and the struggle. 'Let everything that has breath praise the Lord!'

Day 14 Surprised by Snow

Fantastic short break in Reykjavik. Hotel room with a sea view and central location, and some great culture. Art galleries abound - probably because, unlike us, they do not cram more than a few rooms in each gallery, giving visitors a chance to really concentrate on what is on show. But, alas the Northern Lights remained hidden behind clouds.

The best thing however was the snow! Quite strange, you may say, as we have had more than enough of the stuff in England this winter. But, snow in Iceland seemed different - it seemed cleaner for one thing, and didn't prevent people from getting about. It also moved fairly quickly - so a snowstorm was followed by rainbows and sunshine. The colours were fantastic, as mountains in full view one minute, disappeared the next. So sculpture gardens were explored ankle deep in snow and perfect snow balls could be made during a walk beside the sea. Above all though, isn't snow better when you haven't got to be somewhere, or do something ? We may have had plenty in Buckinghamshire, but it takes different snow to be appreciated. It may not have been the Northern Lights but it was a good second best.

Wednesday, 3 March 2010

Day 13 Taking a Short Break

Just a short blog today in appreciation of the short break.

A diary is key to the life of an archdeacon, and although sometimes the diary takes hold of me, I am determined to have control of the diary. That's been a particular challenge because as work and weekends blur into each other my public and private diary has to be one and the same thing. If someone else booked in all the requests that came my way, I would end up with little time for preparation, reading, house hold chores or days off, so instead I take control of the bookings so I can spread them out and can take a long hard look every few weeks or so to strike out particular time if I need it.

I have to admit not every week contains a proper day off - that is a full 36 hrs to recharge - and that is where short breaks come in. Looking ahead during a particularly busy time I can sometimes manage to strike out two or three days, and then enjoy looking at advertisements or articles in magazines to plan a bargain break. So far in the last few years these have taken me to Buxton, Rutland Water, Llanelli, and now to Iceland. So that's where I am at the moment - sustaining my sacred centre and trying to get a view of the Northern Lights.

For all those trying to get hold of me, don't worry I'm back tomorrow....

Tuesday, 2 March 2010

Day 12 Stopping and Looking

'Look it's a pheasant!'
Something I never would have said at any of my previous homes. Growing up in Billericay we used to have three pigeons that would perch on the garage...and the next door neighbour had a budgerigar, and a fox would occasionally walk up the path, but I didn't take much notice of anything else. Then as a Curate in Northallerton, living on a housing estate full of cats, I didn't really see much at all - only cat's. In fact none of the house actually looked out over the garden.
In Maidstone there were foxes, and squirrels and I had my first siting of fieldfares, who demolished by holly berries literally in one foul swoop.

But now...well yes, there are foxes, and squirrels, pigeons and fieldfares, but there are also pheasants and red kites, muntjac deer and moles. In fact my binoculars are a permanent feature downstairs. Just last week I think the postman was quite shocked to see me peering out of the study window as he approached. And this has all taught me to take some time to appreciate what is around. To be attentive to nature and to wonder at creation. I would never have chosen to live in such an isolated location, but God has blessed me with a whole company of creatures to share it with.

Monday, 1 March 2010

Day 11 Simply Ironing

It takes around 2 minutes for me to iron a surplice! Ironing, isn't one of those tasks that I can say I enjoy - but it has to be done nonetheless, unless like my sister, you can persuade someone else to do it!

My mother tells the tale of her domestic science class at school, where she was taught week after week how to iron a handkerchief. I give thanks for paper tissues! However, I find there is something satisfying in ironing a simple square, or oblong shaped piece of material and folding it neatly as you go. That was why I quite enjoyed the occasions, in my former parish, when the lady who did the linen was away on holiday and I could wash and iron the purificators! Spray starch and neatly ironed into three. So in my washing there always has to be something square to counter the awkward ironing of shirts and fitted sheets (I always leave those to last!). Ironing can be a time to practise the presence of God and to bring some uniformity into what is otherwise a very haphazard life. Back to Brother Lawrence....

Dearest Father in heaven, because of your grace, the infection of Jesus and the power of the Holy Spirit, a very ordinary domestic servant became extraordinarily aware of your presence. Grant me the grace to experience the joys of true awareness of your presence, that I may go about my daily tasks in joyful harmony with you. Amen

John Ford