Saturday, 3 December 2016

ST FRANCIS

I must confess to a long fascination with St Francis and in particular where Franciscan theology might lead us today. I know little of it but am aware that the emphases will be on the natural world, the meaning of service, the importance of simplicity, the significance of silence. I think that most of all is the practice of faith spoken through deeds and not through words. 'Let your deeds be the talking and only speak when you have to'. I think that this particular interest is yet more evidence that I feel in an empty place.

So I have ordered two books today, kindly bought for my birthday by my sister. She does not know it yet as I am just using her cheque for the purchase. Both books are by a Franciscan Monk/Theologian. One is called 'Immortal Diamond' which is about the search for our true selves. The other has a title 'Eager to Love' which is about Franciscan theology and practice.

Another splendid book that came my way for birthday is called 'Holy Habits'. It is a lovely but challenging book including such habits as fellowship, prayer, giving, eating together, service, gladness and generosity, daring to dream. This is not as 'old hat' as it sounds because the book is rich in anecdotes of new ways of doing these things. Exciting, challenging and liberating.

In the book is a fascinating story from across the water. A group of Muslims bought a plot of land for a Mosque. It was on land owned by the Methodist Church who, after some discussion, put up a big notice to say how welcome the newcomers were. As the Mosque was being built the Methodist Church were asked for a room, and in response they found the biggest one. The Muslims discussed how they in turn could help the Methodists next door. 

Then one day the Methodist Minister received a call from Kashmir. A group of Muslims had seen the story on CNN television and been amazed at the kindness and love shown. They didn't believe that   Muslims and Christians could get on like that. They immediately agreed to care for their Methodist neighbours and proceeded to clean the church and wash the graffiti from the outside of the building, promising on-going care.

A lovely story of what true love can achieve.




Friday, 2 December 2016

BLIND SPOTS AND WIDER VIEWS

It has been quite a busy day and it is only 4.15. I have just counted my conversational tally today and it is 24. This is unusual simply because today was the Christmas Market in town and I was asked to help stand with the church's stall for an hour this morning. Add to that the church's Christmas Fayre tomorrow and today's preparations and you will understand why I have done a lot of meeting...mainly listening I must add!

Not that standing was good for my wonky knees. Yesterday I climbed 120 station steps which did neither (knees not steps) any good at all. Janet had been meeting a friend in Blackpool and travelled by train (£3.20 return taking all of 7 minutes). I walked with her to the platform (my decision not hers) which was 40 steps. Then I returned to meet her on her return so that we could jointly review a potential present for my sister I thought she would arrive at 12.30....another 40 steps. Then I thought 12.40....another 40 steps. In the end she was waiting for me at home. Stupid me had not allowed for her coming on the train that arrived at 12.20! Isn't amazing we can all have blind spots? Sometimes about our attitudes, perspectives or behaviour. We need to be watchful and to be aware of their existence can be useful.

As well as the Fair tomorrow we are going to the Marine Hall at Fleetwood to hear the local Choral Society. They are singing the first half of Handel's ' Messiah' and Vivaldi's 'Gloria'.I think it most appropriate to hear the first half of  'Messiah'  in Advent, but not the second half which surely belongs to Lent or Holy Week. I like to keep the season and not hear about Easter events when we have not yet celebrated Advent.

The venue for this music is quite appropriate too, at least to me. Not more than 200 metres away is the beach and the sea. Nature and art. Creation reminding us of greater things beyond it. The darkened glass of St Paul, the reflections in a cave from Plato, the things we see always pointing beyond. I could add Wordsworth to this list:

Hence it a season of calm weather, though inland far we be
Our souls have sight of that immortal sea
which brought us hither
Can in a moment travel thither....
and hear the mighty waters rolling evermore.

Advent can teach us not to mistake the images for the reality that lies beyond. Not to be so earthbound that we lose the sense of another dimension. After all we have those angels, surely  reminder enough of another time, another place, another reality and dimension. I think that sense adds greatly to the magic we all find as Christmas draws ever closer.


Thursday, 1 December 2016

THE ADVENT WAY ?

Last evening I attempted the impossible; to seek to explain the meaning of the Incarnation in this special season of Advent. I say impossible because we are dealing with unearthly and supernatural realities, but we make the best attempt we can. After all, it was because the mystery at the heart of all life was so impossible to grasp that the visit to Bethlehem was so necessary, indeed the only option available to those supernatural powers. As Charles Wesley says in the hymn:

Our God contracted to a span 
incomprehensibly made man

I do not know of a better description than that. But even the life of Christ could only offer us a glimpse. I referred to our family celebration last Sunday and outlined who we were and what we did. But those events told them very little about those networks of relationships. So the earthly life of Christ is a huge clue to the ultimate reality but only a clue because we are finite creatures limited in understanding.

I then progressed to another matter. How did all that impact on the individual? I had recourse to a carol that said that it should 'be born in us today'. In us. In us. In us. That inner radiance that comes again at Advent. As we approach Christmas the 'magic' grows with each day. But we should be challenged to link that magic to be more than associated with presence but to reflect the wider vision and magic of what God sent at Christmas.

We then progressed to how we handle the season- its pressures ,its distraction mixed up with its delights. Some things seem to emerge from what I said; turn our backs on the world in its unpleasant, noisy and superficial ways. Guard our minds from the invasion by alien matters. Live beyond ourselves for other people.

And what I hadn't planned to say came beautifully from the (reduced) attendance of 17 people present; listen more. To music. To the silence. To words read. (One was going home to find a book to take through Advent enabling her to listen). We even thought we needed to listen more in our Services to music, from choir or organ. Very convenient as Sunday's organist is a member of the Fellowship. But the message was...clear our minds to listen, because in that silence the God who came at Christmas will surely speak to our hearts.

Wednesday, 30 November 2016

ENCOUNTERS

Some people (probably unawares) do us no good. This morning I needed oil for my creaking bike chain and discovered it in a local shop (the oil not the chain). The fairly elderly man handed it to me and said with surprise in his voice "Are you still cycling?". OK, I might look past it but I certainly do not feel it. Two little lessons for everyone here: first take with the proverbial pinch of salt what people say about your age and appearance. They have no idea or accuracy. Some time ago Janet and I had a little competition when  members of a team of challengers on a quiz show gave their age. Before they had chance to say it we guessed the age of each. Our estimates were different (sometimes very different) and even more different than the stated ages!

The second lesson is this; what does it matter what people think? Sometimes it does but most times we are better to brush it off and forget it. Their views and comments bring no benefits to you and me. I would make an exception to this; the value of encouragement.

I brushed off the question very quickly, indeed turned it into a topic of humour. I was obviously in good mood this morning although I have to admit to one of my 'rebel' moods approaching. I will do more and mention one of them.I have a real sense of irritation about the news bulletins from our national broadcaster. First describing their reports as 'stories' and emphasising that with the words 'Our top story today'. Should we rename them 'Jackanory'?

Then what invariable follows the words 'A BBC investigation...'  a story of misery. Just as there are bounty hunters I think they have hunters of bad news, and we need to tell them they do not need to be clever because such miseries are always available. Try it yourself rather than believe me.. Very rarely do they lead with good news and our Northern edition is too preoccupied with the word 'murder' in the first sentence to include much good news.

We have all seen the tragic events in South America after that horrible plane crash. I remember what I was doing when news of the other air crash involving our then most famous football team happened. I was giving out wages around the printing factory where my first job was in the firms finance office. I am sure this one will be likewise rembered in Brazil.

But it is a comment made that caught me. "Why did God not stop this?" accompanied by another question "Where is God in all this?"We know where He was...in the middle of the tragedy. In the hearts and struggles of the rescuers. In millions of expressions of sympathy. But old fashioned religion makes God an individual, not the ocean of love that envelops everything there is and ever will be. To know this might help.We can never understand these mysteries and that is why they are such. But I do think it is possible to hold these ends together- God is a mystery that is everywhere, but he must not be made into human likeness.
Perhaps in this is the unfolding message of Advent

Tuesday, 29 November 2016

SEASONAL CHARGES

One of my well rehearsed mantras is about the different parts of our minds speaking to one another. The cream cake that looks very appetizing but will  do our weight campaign no good at all. One voice says 'Buy it' the other says 'Don't'. In the bigger issues of life there is our true self and our less true self.

I am only prompted to go back to this because I heard an interview that illustrated this very well. The world's fastest man was being asked about his long years of training, in particular how difficult it was to get up in the morning to train. And then came these words: " I had to keep telling myself that if I wanted success this training was necessary". Now notice these two words 'I' and 'Myself' were two voices in the same person. The recognition of this can influence in moods and decision making and much else.

Advent really is upon us now. One pleasant manifestation among many less pleasing is my 'Countryfile' magazine. It has only recently arrived but simply glancing at the contents is quite inspiring. Here is a selection: the holly being our favourite festive tree.; the opportunity to roast chestnuts, the possibility of visiting  Cathedrals for divine inspiration; country pubs with a warm fireside welcome after a country walk; festive vegetables that we can feast on at Christmas; lovely walks and seasonal books. What a choice of inspirational seasonal reading.

I quote this choice simply to talk to myself, a conversation you are welcome to listen in to. Here it is. This is a time to make careful choices of where we go, what we do, even what we think. It is important to make these choices for our own well being and that of others through carefully chosen acts of mercy and kindness.




Monday, 28 November 2016

PSYCHOLOGICAL RECYCLING

After a wonderful day yesterday we are paying the price today in our general tiredness and lack of incentive. But it was worth it many times over and sometimes we know before an event or arrangement that it will tax us. In one sense it is a return to the balance of cost and benefit and weighing one against the other. In our case, whatever the energy cost of today the benefits were so worthwhile.

I took my books to the coffee shop this morning and quietly put them on the table alongside the special money box for payments. I say 'quietly' but could equally have written 'shyly' demonstrating why I could never be a self publicist. To be that one needs so much confidence in oneself and I do not have that. Do I regret that deficit? well sometimes because it would allow me to push on whereas now I stop.But mainly I am pleased to be how I am because it is a position of open-ness to change, new directions and further enrichment.

Not entirely unconnected is a question that arises for me from a month of a birthday and a 'big' wedding anniversary. How have I changed with the years? I prefer that question to 'how have the years changed me?' Both are in different ways true but to simply put change down to what happens to us is to excuse ourselves from pre-emptive action. It would be a good excuse for failure to change. I prefer the more responsible question as to how much I have changed inside. If I remain a grumpy old man it would be easy to blame this and that circumstance. The truer position is that I should seek to change myself.

And the lesson from all this? To take the best perspective on ourselves and seek to get a grip and seek a change. Only this weekend I wrote to a good friend and suggested what I called 'psychological and spiritual recycling' by which I meant turning all the negatives we experience into positives. It is something we can all do and such actions are entirely generated from inside ourselves.

Sunday, 27 November 2016

SPECIAL DREAMS

Today has been a special one, and a busy one. Today it was our 40th wedding anniversary, a passage of time so hard to believe. We spent the day with our family and had a wonderful time. It makes me think of the wonder of family life in whatever mode we have it now or remember it from time past. I think most readers will be able think along those lines.

I have to say that I look with longing on our grandchildren. In their own ways  quite wonderful, but in no way angels. But it is not who they are now that engages me but what they will become as the years pass and society invades their hearts and minds. That scares me. I am sure you will have some inkling as to what I mean. I do mean more than each growing up to be decent and law abiding. Non believers excuse me for a moment, but I want the children  to be warmed by the Love of God. I want it to fill them, support them all their days.

I recall watching a television programme many, many years ago which was called 'The Brains Trust'. Eminent people were gathered to answer 'difficult' questions and on one occasion the question was about the wish each would give at a baby's Christening Service. Responses were given but it was famous Conductor Sir Malcolm Sargent who replied like this: " I would wish for the child a simple , working Christian Faith. That way however much they were knocked down, they would not be knocked out". And that is what I wish for the children- a victorious Christian Faith. I do not lose hope.

My book- short with 40 pages- about 'Journeys' will be on sale in the Coffee Shop tomorrow and I have purchased an expensive money box (79p) to take the proceeds which will all go to Cancer Research. I had to be persuaded that it was worth doing. I hope it is. I will let you know.

My next task is to prepare my mind for the Fellowship on Wednesday. Inevitably it will be on the theme of Advent, but the more sacred the mystery (which Advent is) the more challenging it is to make it plain to ordinary folk like me.