Saturday, 30 March 2013

Busyness and the day the world changed

Today I am reflecting on giving up busyness for Lent. In fact today should be, for Christians, the least busy day of the whole Church year. Why? Well, with Good Friday over and Jesus in the tomb, we wait expectantly for resurrection joy. However, I predict that for many Christians today has been one of the busiest days in church - with flowers to arrange, brasses to clean, Easter gardens to prepare. No time to put your feet up ...just yet. What is busyness? That's something I have been trying to work out all of Lent, as I have tried desperately to give it up. I have concluded that it is not the absence of a full diary, or the avoidance of 14 hr days, or even the lack of a full 24 hr day off. Instead, it is a matter of heart and attitude. It is amazing how often I say 'I am so busy' or 'it's such a busy time'. Why? Usually because I want people to understand the pressure I am under and to have a bit of sympathy for the impossible task of being available to clergy and Churchwardens across a huge county, and a large diocese 24/7 for all sorts of advice and assistance. Yet, I enjoy being busy and I enjoy my work, so the challenge has been to embrace busyness in a new way. To not allow the sense of overwhelming, or martyr or heroine to take over. It has been good to enjoy in a positive way, the pauses when they happen, to make the most of the 'gifts' that come my way, be it a meal cooked for me, the invitation to join a 24 hr retreat with some other Archdeacons, the added 3 days in Jordan after the responsibilities of the Holyland pilgrimage. Time has not permitted me to read a deep Lent book, yet I found space to read a couple of books whilst in Israel, there has not been many free evenings yet I have enjoyed a couple at the theatre - including a great concert last week at The Stables with Hazel O'Connor. I have sat and eaten breakfast looking out at the garden, rather than at a computer screen, I have shared meals with friends and planned two holidays. Jesus found time to engage and retreat, to be with others and alone, and to be and do. I ended my Lenten reflection at Ludgershall yesterday, as we had reflected on the way we too let Christ down, with the words 'we wait to see whether we are worth him rising for'. The curse of busyness swamps our lives, and we need to make space for that resurrection, not just as we celebrate tomorrow, but in the spare moments and the pauses, no matter how brief, of our day to day lives, Lest we remain entombed by our own self importance and miss the Spirit as it passes by.

Sunday, 10 March 2013

The Promised Land

We counted them all out and yesterday we counted them all back ! The second tranch of pilgrims, Sarah Merrick, Ben and I all returned safely to Heathrow. We had a good time in Jordan, and following on from Petra on Thursday saw some more of the country on Friday as we ended our pilgrimage standing on Mount Nebo. The view into Israel, across the Dead Sea was misty, however the land did lay stretched out in front of us as we pondered the final words of the book of Deuteronomy. For Moses this was the end of his journey, as he had fulfilled his mission and Joshua would take over. For all of us we can live in the promise that whatever God calls us to do, God will go with us. The trip was not quite over as we spent the final evening on the edge of the Dead Sea in hotel luxury before leaving for the airport yesterday. Now it's back to emails and post for the archdeacon. But not quite business as usual, I now have someone to share The Rectory and that is new territory for me, and to have my supper cooked for me last evening it was definitely a Promised land of a sort.

Thursday, 7 March 2013


Had a really good closing Eucharist in Jerusalem before the group split with two bishops and the blue coach returning to Heathrow and the rest of us - Diocesan bishop, archdeacon and communications director going with the green coach to Jordan. We crossed over and have stayed near Petra for two nights. Today we all walked own into the site and had a great day exploring it all. Fantastic buildings and great weather too. Some of us entered up 800 steps to view the Monastery above the site. Well worth the climb with a freshly squeezed orange juice at the end. Tomorrow we make for Mount Nebo. It's been a good few days. The pilgrimage has ended with clerical shirts now in the bottom of the suitcase, but we continue to journey together until we touch down at Heathrow on Saturday.

Tuesday, 5 March 2013

The Streets of Jerusalem

Whilst I have been in the Holy Land I have been reading the latest book by Mary Grey 'The Resurrection of Peace'. She takes a journey through the land of the Holy One with the focus on the Israel/Palestine conflict. It has been good to read and reflect about the places we have visited whilst we visit them in a Lenten way. Today we walked, as three groups, the Via Dolorosa - the traditional route. It is through the old city in all it's hustle and bustle and ends in the Church of the Holy Sepulchre with all its religious chaos. It was a poignant reminder of, in a way, how little had changed, as Jesus took that journey and the world carried on, but at the same time how much should have been changed by the resurrection hope that is hours. That hope remains here - but is flickering dimly and trying its best not to go out. We have met some amazing Living Stones, determined for the light not to go out. The streets of Jerusalem are therefore a reminder to keep the light ablaze and the hope of the Resurrection alive in the Holy Land and in our own lives. We have it so easy, compared to the people of Hebron we met yesterday or the Christians in Bethlehem or the members of the Israeli armed forces trained to be occupiers. And if the death of the Prince of Peace means anything and that we really mean that through the resurrection Jesus is In our midst, then we need to take our prayers from the streets of Jerusalem into our Churches and homes that peace will someday come and the hope that is ours will not only be shared but experienced around the world.

Monday, 4 March 2013

The Cock Crowed

The cock crowed A pang of guilt and I knew immediately that I had let God down It had been easier to turn the other cheek, to say nothing, To keep my head down and walk away To pretend that I had not heard them and shrugged it off. The cock crowed My face reddened as I shyed away I had not spoken up, I had kept my light firmly under the bushel, Salt and light I had not been because I had other things to do, Kept busy with trivia rather than get involved. The cock crowed I felt shame deep inside as they looked at me. I had made a joke, laughed aloud, been one of the crowd Blamed the spouse, or parents or children Hid the evidence, blended in and hoped no one would notice. It had only been audible to me. That gentle yet powerful whisper, That every so often shouts to our conscience and awakens it. A tug of love, which makes us so ashamed that in the face our creator we either want to run away or fall on our knees in repentance. God's glory and our frailty, so far apart That God's tears and our own flow And we realise deep within that healing will only come through a compassionate and merciful Saviour.

Prayers and Praise

We have had a day of worship and prayer, beginning at the Anglican Cathedral with a Eucharist, mainly in Arabic. It takes some getting used to speaking the English equivalent of the liturgy whilst others are praying in another language with different line and paragraph lengths. Coffee outside in the garden before going to another place of prayer the Western Wall. The maleness of the society first depicted at the cathedral with an all male altar party and a woman deacon handing out the books, and came home further at the wall with many fewer men praying than women, but the women section less than a third of the size of the male one. Women literally had to jostle to get to the place of prayer and leave their petitions with God and in the wall itself. After another delicious lunch we made for the main Jerusalem Jewish Hospital to see the 12 stained glass windows by Mark Chegal in the hospital synagogue. The windows were stunning and depicted the 12 sons of Jacob (the 12 tribes of Israel) each was stunning in its own way and the viewing helped by the audio presentation which talked about the symbolism of each painting and tribe from its colour, to the depictions on the glass. Finally we climbed the hill to Ein Karem. The Church on the hill marking the visit of Mary to Elizabeth. The singing in the chapel reflected the praise on Elizabeth and Mary's lips as they rejoiced together in what God had done. After a male start to the day this place was a celebration of women, and as we worshipped paintings of all the key women in the Bible looked down upon us. Including Esther, Deborah, Miriam, and Rachel. Downstairs their is a great picture of Mary and Elizabeth greeting one another, with other women in it preparing the hospitality. With the Magnificat on our lips we climbed down to the coaches and back to the hotel.

Saturday, 2 March 2013

Setting our face towards Jerusalem

The sight of Jerusalem from the Mount of Olives is stunning. The old walls, the Dome of the Rock, the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, mosques and towers, spires and bazaars. The whole of life is there. Then along with us on the Way of Palm Sunday are tourist groups galore, all nationalities, revealed at the Paternoster Church as they pray the Lord's Prayer in their own language, gathered around the words displayed on the walls. To try and enter into the events which mark the beginning of Holy Week is hard, however murals in each of the churches help, as does reflecting on various points on the way - the olive branches at the start of the walk, the view of Jerusalem whilst thinking about how Christ must still weep over it, the olive grove in Gethsemane (the place of the olive press) which has stood there for hundreds of years. Personally I was encouraged by the determination of our group to make the most of the day, despite their own frailty. I was also struck by some of the worship going on around, and the words we too sang. The highlight of the day for me was however Bethany. We had the church to ourselves as we reflected upon priority and friendship. I was reminded of my own attempt to give up busyness for Lent and to spend time with God. The time to work and the time to rest, and the way that Jesus enjoyed friendship. We spent the rest of the day down by the Dead Sea. A new experience for some, and for those of us who had floated before, the chance of an ice cream and a rest in the sunshine. We are now in Jerusalem expectant as we enter into the final days of Holy Week, as a group and for ourselves.

Friday, 1 March 2013

Bridges not Walls

Today has been a day of contrasts. We began with shopping at a wonderful Christian co-operative - olive wood, icons, holy water, and olive oil, you name it you could buy it here! Followed rather more apiritually with Communion at the Bethlehem Maternity Hospital. Celebrating Jesus' birth in a place of birth. After a short talk about the hospital, and it's outreach into the desert and to the Bedouin tribes women we walked to the Lutheran centre. The wall loomed large at moments during the day, and this contrasted with the projects undertaken through the Lutheran centre - including leadership training, women's sport and activities for the over 65s. The determination is to build bridges and not walls. After a trip to the shepherds fields and some worship in both the church there and the cave chapel, we queued in the church of the nativity to see the 'place of Christ's birth' below in the crypt. With a surfeit of icons and hanging lamps we heard tales of priests fighting, which ended with us being hassled out of St Catnerine's church (my favourite) so the Roman Cathalic Arabic stations of the cross could begin. My aim is to get down to the crypt later and see the wonderful frescoes of St Jerome's mother and sister. I think some peaceful reflection is required. The Pilgrims are becoming great fun and there is a lovely atmosphere. We leave here tomorrow and set our faces on Jerusalem with a swim in the Dead Sea on the way.