SHALOM

SHALOM, SHALOM, SHALOM – this was the song of our packed Parade Service this morning. We were delighted to welcome Dr Lawi and Mama Molle Issa from our link Diocese of Newala in Tanzania and we sang ourselves hoarse – in my case with the 3rd big service of the day still to come!

Once again our “Bramhall Circle” celebrated being members of the world’s one great family of humankind. Young family members Ben and Isabella proclaimed the Gospel with confidence and clarity and we prayed for one of our own who’s away in Durham for the weekend in the vocation discernment process. Peace, peace, peace. Our work and our prayer.

SWIMMING IN MYSTERY

Swimming in the Mystery of God – please click photos to enlarge

TODAY WE CELEBRATED our Church’s Dedication Sunday. Wonderfully talented people have decorated the parish church on this day for 102 years – with flowers hand-picked from their own gardens. This year, having hosted Angels in 2010 and Windsails in 2011 (see Lumière below) our Lantern Tower is graced by the gently swimming presence of some of the most magnificent fish I’ve ever seen.

“We swim in the Mystery of God as fish swim in the sea”, said theologian Karl Rahner SJ – in an attempt to communicate the profound faith statement that human beings need no more consider themselves separate from God than we could consider ourselves separate from the air that we breathe. We’re all in this together: God, and everything created by God.

I often share Rahner’s little tale of the elderly, statesmanlike fish gliding past two tiddlers one morning. “Morning boys!” he greeted them. “How’s the water?” The tiddlers ignored him and – flicking their little tails – swam on. A little time later one looked at the other and asked “what’s water?”

Oliver John joined in the swimming with smiling enthusiasm as he was baptised this morning beneath and surrounded by the meanderings of many colourful creatures. And all present dedicated themselves anew to the works of Love in the coming year.

Meanwhile, General Synod prepares for major debate upon the morrow in York. Bishop Nick Baines of Bradford writes of Frustration and Joy here – pointing us (for which, hearty thanks) to an audio link to Archbishop Rowan’s fabulous sermon at the Synod Eucharist this morning. How glad I am, for him, that the good Archbishop will swim ere long in the quieter waters of Cambridge. How certain I am, however, that we’ll miss his gentle touch more than any of us have been able hitherto to imagine.

Still, he encourages us to swim on …

LIBERAL / RADICAL

BISHOP ROBERT ATWELL and I touched on the convergence of the words ‘liberal’ and ‘radical’ in a stimulating conversation the other day. Both of us were speaking of inclusiveness, accessibility, direction, purpose, of a church’s special charism or gift of grace – of getting back to grass roots. And “the Spirit is moving” it seems, because ‘liberal’ and ‘radical’ featured frequently and prominently in our excellent Church Council deliberations about Growth Action Planning here last night. (Where are we? What are we? Why are we? Where are we heading? Where could we be in 5 years? Where do we want to be in 5 years?)

Sandcastles and temples

It doesn’t take much effort to enumerate some of the ways in which church and society are changing before our very eyes, and at a rate of knots. Frenetic building (or perpetual ‘repairing’) of even our strongest sandcastles is – history shows us time and again – sooner or later to be inundated. Baptism. The ocean prevails. The proud are scattered “in the imagination of their hearts. He hath put down the mighty from their seat: and hath exalted the humble and meek”. (Magnificat – Luke 1)

Justice and peace

O Love that wilt not let me go,
I rest my weary soul in thee;
I give thee back the life I owe,
That in thine ocean depths its flow
May richer, fuller be.

O light that foll’west all my way,
I yield my flick’ring torch to thee;
My heart restores its borrowed ray,
That in thy sunshine’s blaze its day
May brighter, fairer be.

O Joy that seekest me through pain,
I cannot close my heart to thee;
I trace the rainbow through the rain,
And feel the promise is not vain,
That morn shall tearless be.

George Matheson

It’s no accident that ocean breeze and flow keeps blowing the words ‘justice’ and ‘peace’ back into the faces of a Church comprised of many who lived through the human turmoil of the twentieth century – during which more human beings killed members of their own species than at any other point in history. We simply MUST aspire to richer, fuller, brighter, fairer, tearless promise. And our Growth Action Planning last night had the current atrocities in Syria as a backdrop to concentrate the mind, whilst one of our Council reps teaches in a school in which over 35 languages are spoken amongst the small children.

Open plan … and the old glass ceilings

Oceans level sandcastles and temples and leave beaches washed clean. And golden. An invitation. Like fresh snow the shoreline swept clean invites new footprints. “And we therefore will not fear, though the earth be moved and the hills be carried into the midst of the sea” (Psalm 46). And we ask the question, “so where are we headed now?” Levelled, shaken up a bit and cleaned, both the ocean and the land are still here. Shall we build the same old castles or shall we have a rethink? Shall we go for a bit more “open plan”? Shall we leave out the old glass ceilings? Shall we thank God that all the Synodical and Parliamentary minutes about the difference between men and women, and straight and gay, and the world’s faith traditions, and political ideologies, and representation rules – got washed out to sea, whilst the ocean and the land and the better memories – one might almost say the “divine memories” – are still here.

Parables

Once again there’s a fabulous little parable in this week’s UK Church Times. The visionary and prophetic Bishop Kelvin Wright of Dunedin, New Zealand, is reported as saying

my diocese faces extinction … but I’m not losing any sleep over this. I think several other dioceses will be watching what we do with interest

We are. And thankfully Kelvin will be as familiar as I am with an older parable

unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains just a single grain; but if it dies, it bears much fruit. – John 12.24

What will it mean for the Church – “the Body of Christ now on earth” – and for the World of the future to be both liberal and radical? Bring on the ocean – an inundation worth learning to swim in, and that right early.

Jerusalem the golden with milk and honey blest beneath thy contemplation sink heart and voice oppressed. I know not, O, I know not what joys await us there, what radiancy of glory, what bliss beyond compare

WHAT’S GOOD NEWS?

I’M OFF TO A DAY CONFERENCE on “Catholic Evangelism” tomorrow. I’m not wholly sure whether it’s going to be about Catholic Evangelism (capital C, capital E) or catholic evangelism (small c, small e), and I’m rather hoping for the latter … hoping, that is to say, for a catholic evangelism that really is about good news (evangelism) universally applied (catholic), ie, for everybody – no matter their “faith tradition” or lack thereof – everywhere.

I’ve spent a very great deal of my life passionately pondering what exactly constitutes good news, and in particular why having some sort of acknowledged relationship to / with the Source of our lives might matter – to individuals, to communities, to nations, to our world, to the whole created order – some of these whole and healthy, some desperately broken, hurting, and in need of that Divine touch that brings healing. And I’m consistently finding that old definitions of what it means to be Catholic, or Protestant, or Christian, or shades in between all of these, don’t fit all sizes any more, if they ever did.

Christ everywhere …

What constitutes Good News in a ‘catholic’, pluralistic world? Where is an / our anointed Christ to be found? (as I’m sure such a Christ is indeed to be found, anywhere in the world, and across the world’s faith traditions). And the questions are so important to me because as a Christian priest, seeking always to live and learn – to be a disciple – after the pattern of Jesus of Nazareth, I have observed that some kinds of Catholic, some kinds of Protestant, and some kinds of “Christian” plainly do not represent very good news for many people at all. So catholic evangelism must be something quite different, something much more open, something prepared always to be held to account as to the reach of what it purports to be good news. Catholic evangelism will not, I think, be too prescriptive.

Feast of life for all

Catholic evangelism will offer the “feast of life” to people in the “highways and byways” won’t it? Catholic evangelists, personal and corporate, will have dismantled their drawbridges. Catholic evangelism will be less concerned (although not wholly unconcerned) with the Faith of our Fathers and hugely more concerned with Faith Being Received Today. When I’ve asked adults over the past thirty years whether they’d like to come to confirmation classes, so that they can be presented to the bishop, confirmed, and thereafter receive Holy Communion many have politely declined. When I’ve offered the Sacrament of Holy Communion “no questions asked” it has been the case, more frequently than I can count, that the recipient has ended up doing the asking, seeking to confirm a present and acknowledged reality – satisfied hunger – in their lives.

Let’s explore!

And I remember that Jesus was ever ready to go the extra mile for children, too. “Do not try to stop them for the Kingdom of Heaven belongs to such as these”. Catholic evangelists will work hard at becoming more, well … catholic – so that they’re more plainly seen to be, well … “Christian” or “Anointed”. Catholic evangelists will be interested in marginalised multi-tasking-capable women, tax collectors, prodigal sons, unimaginative but very opinionated men, quieter and more imaginative men, too, and in lost sheep. Catholic evangelism won’t chastise the lost sheep for having left the fold in order to “explore”, still less tell the poor creature that God forbids it. Instead truly catholic evangelists (like Jesus of Nazareth) will make the fold larger so that there’s the space for MORE sheep to engage in the business of exploration, to engage, that is to say, in their God-given Life!

The Sound of Silence

One of the biggest growth areas in our parish (liberal Catholic with blurry edges – a bit like my paintings!) – has been a call to shared and silent meditation in the parish church – arriving and departing in companionable silence. No coffee or handing out electoral roll forms afterwards. And numbers in excess of many a church’s entire Sunday congregation have responded to a call – we believe a Divine call – to dwell for a space, together in the “house for the Church”, to wait upon the Word that touches life in silence. (The Word – not words. There’s not “even” a Bible reading). It’s life-changing, say many participants. It’s the only occasion in my month when I’m really and deeply aware of the heartbeat of God, the pulse of life, say others. This silence, this “that’s not very Catholic” but absolutely catholic encounter is breathing into our common life new elements of what it means to bear good news in our lives today, what it means, first and foremost to BE the Body of Christ now on earth, what it means to be religious in the original sense of the word (religare) – reconnected, re-membered. Restored to what we’ve forgotten.

Old assumptions yield

So whether tomorrow proves to be slanted more to Catholic Evangelism, or to catholic evangelism, I hope we’ll be asking the same question – What is Good News? – at least sometimes. Because, remembering Louis MacNeice’s Mutations again:

… old assumptions yield to new sensations.
The Stranger in the Wings is waiting for his cue.
The fuse is always laid to some annunciation …

HOW SHALL I SING? ii

SOMETIMES OUR SINGING needs to be silent, simply a standing in awe. I love to use a camera, but I’ve never forgotten the delightful nun I companied with on a silent retreat, many years ago, who told me afterwards – “I take photographs with the lens of my heart”.

Anyway, standing in awe before tonight’s sunset I thought that whoever and whatever God is, God is indescribably generous, the Supreme Artist. The lens of God’s Heart lies beyond description – albeit that we see shining facets of that love in Jesus, who told humankind – through his own loved ones – that we may see more and more of that love in and through one another.

How Shall I Sing That Majesty? – probably primarily by being fully and consciously alive …

GOD’S FUTURE

ONE THING LEADS to another. The creation of one world leads to another. Questions and answers lead to more answers and questions. And so we grow towards the future. God’s future. Our future.

And I’ve returned again and again since yesterday’s Enough Nattering to Archbishop Rowan’s “question and answer” in a homily addressed to the General Synod on Wednesday morning – (text and video here)

What does God’s future look like? Well, one thing we can say is that it looks like Jesus.

So the fact that next Sunday’s epistle reading is to be from Colossians feels like a fairly substantial gift.

He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation; for in him all things in heaven and on earth were created, things visible and invisible – Colossians 1.15-20

We’re relatively more familiar with ‘things visible’ than with the ‘invisible’. And what we’re able to ‘see’ of Church, of God, of humankind, of future, can at times be rather depressing – or at the very least a bit slow and ponderous (“Like a mighty tortoise moves the Church of God; let’s preserve in aspic where the saints have trod”).

So I shall spend some time in the next few days remembering that there’s an entire universe of created order that lies quite beyond either my imagination or my sight. And that was in the beginning. And is still growing. We haven’t seen the End. So in the meantime we can cheerfully engage in being “changed from glory into glory” – confident that the author of the change is none other than the author of our life in the beginning, and that She looks and breathes life into adamah, mere dust like me. She looks and breathes life into the Body of Christ now on earth. Like Jesus.

I’m much taken with a line from a forthcoming film I’ll definitely be heading to the cinema to see; in The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel (Trailer) the would-be perfect hotelier and host says

Everything will be alright in the end, so if everything is not alright now it’s not the end!

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ELECTRIFYING

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IN A FINAL SERMON to London’s St Martin in the Fields in July 2011 Nicholas Holtam, the new Bishop of Salisbury, said

The various parts of St Martin’s are good but the mix is electrifying, as at the first Pentecost when the nations gathered in Jerusalem received the gift of the Holy Spirit and experienced communion at the deepest level. Few communities are as varied in terms of rich and poor, all ages, ethnicity, straight and gay, gender balance (do you know another church with as many men?), all making a welcoming inclusive community.

I wondered then whether the writing was on the wall. Did we have here a bishop who’d advocate in Salisbury the kind of Church the Body of Christ is called to be – truly inclusive community? Well, today The Times reports Bishop Holtam’s taking a brave and lonely stand – in favour of gay marriage. Good news then not only for the Diocese of Salisbury but also for a vastly wider constituency. May it be that some glad day the whole Church of God is able to agree, joyfully, that “the mix is electrifying”. Then, I believe, we’ll all experience communion at the deepest level.

Petitioning
House of Bishops and General Synod
(Allow priests in the CofE the freedom to bless civil partnerships)