CONSIDER

candle-in-the-darknessFOR YEARS I’VE RETURNED, at some time in the course of cold and windy Advent evenings, to the same poem. I’m not usually expecting the remembrance. It’s something that just turns up, sometime, every year. William Stafford’s “inviting the quiet by turning the face” moves something in me deeply – over the beckoning hue and cry of the “last opportunity” cash registers. I’m waiting, the world – the whole world – is waiting for something to “touch us too from that other place.”

Listening

My father could hear a little animal step,
or a moth in the dark against the screen,
and every far sound called the listening out
into places where the rest of us had never been.

More spoke to him from the soft wild night
than came to our porch for us on the wind;
we would watch him look up and his face go keen
till the walls of the world flared, widened.

My father heard so much that we still stand
inviting the quiet by turning the face,
waiting for a time when something in the night
will touch us too from that other place.

William Stafford

Beneath the dome of the firmament, I consider.

SCATTERING DARKNESSES

I LOVE TO PRAY an advent blessing …

Christ the Sun of Righteousness shine upon you
and scatter the darknesses from before your paths

… and I also love Mary Oliver’s poetry, that knows the Sun so very intimately. “Why I wake early” speaks to the Eternal Warmth:

dear star, that just happens
to be where you are in the universe
to keep us from ever-darkness,
to ease us with warm touching,
to hold us in the great hands of light –

Here’s the Advent message! ha, ha! – intended for every living, breathing product of Divine Love:

Good morning, good morning, good morning

Thank God for the poets. Thank God for the poets. Thank God for the poets! And read them, and hear them, and be present with them, and pray with them, that every other living thing, whosoever they may be, and wheresoever they may be, and whatsoever their present circumstances – they may thrive both after and Before The Sun Rises (Stay put, just for a moment; click this link to share a good morning with one of my friends).

Good morning. Good morning. Good morning. Thank God for the poets in every time, and in every tradition, and in every place.

Jesus of Nazareth came to be known by some as Christos or “Anointed” – because God breathed in him, and because he both knew and prayed for dawning and good morning, for everyone, always, “on earth as it is in heaven”. The Life of the Life-Giver breathes in you and me too, we, the anointed in our day, who sing in every tongue to the sun of righteousness and –  learning to breathe as one – say and pray

Christ, whose glory fills the skies,
Christ the true, the only Light,
Sun of Righteousness, arise!
Triumph o’er the shades of night:
Dayspring from on high, be near;
Daystar, in my heart appear.

Dark and cheerless is the morn
unaccompanied by thee;
joyless is the day’s return,
till thy mercy’s beams I see,
till they inward light impart,
glad my eyes, and warm my heart.

Visit then this soul of mine!
Pierce the gloom of sin and grief!
Fill me, Radiancy Divine;
scatter all my unbelief;
more and more thyself display,
shining to the perfect day.

Charles Wesley

LITTLENESS

littleness

LITTLENESS. That’s how Jesus of Nazareth entered this world. What’s in the Word of littleness that ALL humankind could learn from? What kind of Word to the world comes from little mouths that haven’t uttered words? What kind of Word is spoken by littleness born to poverty and not to a shopping centre?

Isn’t the important littleness of Jesus of Nazareth the same kind of littleness we’re ALL born to? Isn’t his the very same Word that shapes us? Jesus lived littleness and loved littleness. What’s in the Word of littleness – in him or in us – that ALL humankind could learn from? How does such littleness act as prism for such very great light?

Steadfast love and faithfulness
will meet;
righteousness and peace will
embrace one another.

Psalm 85.10 (again)

WILL YOU COME?

Loyd-Fannins-Bethlehem-Nativity

FOR ST MICHAEL & ALL ANGELS BRAMHALL

One day you finally knew
what you had to do, and began …
Mary Oliver

IN NOVEMBER we’ll be remembering all the saints and souls who have lived and died before us – some of whom, whether by the hand of religious intolerance or other reason for war on a wider scale, “laid down their lives for their friends”.

IN DECEMBER we’ll turn hearts and minds to an advent, a coming – that of the infant Jesus who, born into obscurity in the smallest nation upon earth, grew up with the fire of God’s Word at the centre of his life – so much so that he came to be seen by countless millions as the Word of God Himself. Very God of very God. A Christos – someone anointed, someone history has recognised as Son of God (a familiar title since it was used of the Roman Emperor) – though Jesus of Nazareth himself was at pains to say that he was human – Son of Man – one of us. Just as his mother Mary suggested God had done in calling her to be Theotokos or God-bearer, Jesus turned his world upside down. Executed for that, his Spirit nonetheless lives today in billions – some of whom will die for his cause.

SO WE’VE A LOT TO THINK ON in the last two months of 2013, or indeed in any month in any year. Plenty to remember and to look forward to. There’s an advent on the horizon. An unusual, vulnerable bundle of energy in a manger. And it’s this Jesus of Nazareth – in, and with, and through, and for, and all around us, who’s going to be calling us to be changed “from glory into glory” for ever and ever. “Turn around and think again” – he cries throughout history. “Be open and vulnerable in your manger. Enter into your chamber. Listen. Be still … until you know what to do – and begin”.

THE LITTLE FELLOW in the cattle stall is going to be making some pretty persuasive demands of us all. Change. Change. Change. The world you’re living in today is not what God intended it to be at all. From the “garden of creation” until now God calls upon YOU for assistance. You’re made to be Christos, anointed, co-creators with God of all that a person might dream of as heaven …

… justice, righteousness, fair distribution of the world’s resources; co-responsibility; revulsion wheresoever a culture of ignorance, oppression and death is encountered; a thinking again about right order, whilst not being too self-righteous or self-indulgent; neither pain nor tears anymore.

Love God (primary task); Love your neighbour as you love yourself (second, or consequent, task). Put God and others first. But don’t shout! Notice that the message is a subtle one. The Word of God comes quietly – and initially only to a few – from a cattle stall, not from a marble hall – out of weakness, not out of bounty – or the church bank balance.

THIS IS THE REASON for the season. Re-member. Be thankful. Look for something extraordinary coming. Wise women and men have wondered before us at what they saw. Get down from your camel – or your high horse – and offer worship to the God who made us all. This is the “call” of a bundle of vulnerability in swaddling clothes – a “kingdom-building” manifesto quite unlike anything heard before. “Don’t be too proud to kneel down in straw.” Change, change, change.

SLEEPERS WAKE! Look! Look! Look! here’s a coming easily missed – some thing, some one, coming to us by way of a still small voice somewhere in the depths of us. Not a noisy coming. Not a religious coming. Not a triumphalist coming. Not a tyrannical or a democratic coming but a little Jewish coming, quietly, to everyone, born in Beit Lehem – “the House of Bread”, a little beating heart of a town named after a staple food – that also means “understanding”. This is a coming, this is a call for a change, this is a call to all, for all.

SO OF COURSE St Michael & All Angels is changing – as Charles Wesley has it – Changed from glory into glory, till in heaven we take our place, till we cast our crowns before thee, lost in wonder, love and praise. We’re being brought to our knees. And our 103 year old heritage as Bramhall Parish Church means that we’re being brought to our knees within a recognisably Anglican framework – and that recognition will continue to hold us together, as it has held those who have mothered us in the faith, even whilst we open our arms wide to embrace God’s beloved in all the world’s other faith traditions as well.

THIS CHANGING, this growing, is the life work of all human persons, the work of disciples or learners – like you and me. Often we feel we’d rather look on from the safety of our camels, or our high horses. But the cry of the demanding little fellow in the cave of us, in the quiet depths of us, won’t be silenced. And “our hearts are restless” as St Augustine prayed, “until they find their rest in thee” – until we’re quiet enough, still enough, often enough, to actually hear the still, small voice and – worshipping, privately AND corporately, just BE.

Sometimes the changes required of us are a return to former times and experience, (our choir’s just returned to the choir vestry of 40 years ago), sometimes change will involve the entirely new. Many things come and go in our lifetimes (this is the last issue of this Parish News in its present format and as I write this letter I am trusting that its passing will lead to some new “resurrection”) – but “Don’t be afraid for I am with you” is the word of the Lord who walks with us, and the call of the vulnerable Jesus will never pass away.

WILL YOU COME WITH ME? Will you “follow the star” with me to Bethlehem? There’s food for weary pilgrims to be found there. A sight for sore eyes. And understanding, too. This little vulnerable one (creator of heaven and earth) listens a great deal. He wouldn’t fare well in a Church Council meeting because he hasn’t learned to talk. And yet he / she will speak to us, does breathe “ruach” – vivifying spirit into us, right into the centre, right into the heart of us. And the little Word of God’s still, small voice will show us how to change.

Will you re-prioritise this November and December? Will you not so much SHOP for presents as BE present? Will you come? Will you BE St Michael & All Angels? – that the kingdom may come on earth – and in Bramhall – as it is in Heaven.

HOME TEAM

hometeam

HOME TEAM – it’s not often we’re all together these days. Left to right, with Fr Simon: Tracy Ward our pastoral co-ordinator is currently engaged in Biblical studies and on pastoral placement at Norbury Parish Church; Paul Deakin is studying and thriving at Mirfield, and we’re looking forward to his ordination to the diaconate in July, after which he’ll serve his curacy with us in Bramhall; Rachael Elizabeth is enjoying a break from her studies in Theology at the University of Wales in Lampeter. We miss them all whilst they’re away and it’s lovely to be able to share in ministry and worship together at Christmas. Pictured here after the Service of Lessons and Carols, 23 December 2012. Audio here

AND IT SHALL COME TO PASS

Bray

Advent 4 at 8am | Audio mp4 here | And it shall come to pass

Advent 4 at 10am | Audio mp4 here | Bray & Zephaniah

MARY’S DRESS

BANK HOLIDAY weekend affords a happy extension to “left brain time.” There are always more books I want to read, more paintings I want to paint, more photographs I want to make, more writing to be done, more poems to unfold, more prayer to be celebrated, more people to share some time and stories with, more songs to be sung, more colours to be marvelled at, more silence to be revelled in – than time ordinarily allows. And that very fact is cause for thanksgiving! Life is indeed a rich tapestry. The signs of the reign, the joy of God, are all around me. And I’m immensely thankful for the connections that blogging makes possible with people all around the world.

Today’s artwork is inspired, in Eastertide, by Mary Magdalene, beloved apostle of Jesus, first witness to new life in the Resurrection, loyal provider of intimate and loving support and sustenance, someone generous, open-hearted and giving, someone who just “knew” instinctively, what Jesus’ mission on earth was about, someone released, by God’s goodness, from the kind of prison every one of us finds ourselves in from time to time.

All human persons are “bedevilled” by “Legion” the perpetually underlying and taunting belief that somehow we’re failing to make the grade, we’re unlovable, bigger and better “failures” than anyone else, destined to be “alone”, faithless, heartbroken, misunderstood, wretched. All human persons yearn for the kind of release that Jesus’ love and acceptance brought about in Mary’s life; for the kind of release that she brought about in his.

Mary Magdalene: someone cruelly maligned and abused by religious patriarchy and misogyny across the centuries, but all the while someone I’ve admired and looked to as an icon of life’s richness and fullness, of life’s goodness and generosity, of life’s being – under the vivifying reign of God – a beautifully, colourfully, gorgeously dressed dance with our Creator.

Sydney Carter described Jesus as The Lord of the Dance. In my heart I think of Mary of Magdala as Jesus’ dance-partner and she is clothed, dressed, like the environment all around and about her, in colour and glory. And theirs is a partnership, theirs is a dance that, far from being exclusive and excluding, invites you and I to join. “Shall we dance?”, Mary asks. “And shall we sing?”, asks the Lord of the Dance. And sometimes the colours blur a little in the swirling. And sometimes they’re blended by our tears …

Have you seen the wonder of it? Have you seen Mary’s dress?