TODAY …

click on individual images to enlarge | slides here

I FIRST SPENT a lot of time in company with Josefina de Vasconcellos‘ Jesus 35 years ago as I was in the early stages of preparing for the priesthood. He gazes out across green fields towards Lakeland Fells and Ullswater, one of the most beautiful lakes in England’s glorious Lake District. He’s still the Jesus I know best, the one who gazes with compassion upon a Creation He’s willing to give absolutely everything to, a giving, a compassion and a perpetual gazing that encompasses every child, woman and man upon earth. This Jesus doesn’t belong to Christians. This Jesus belongs to everyone and everyone belongs to Him. This Jesus is an image of the God who is high above, beyond and deep, within and beneath every single one of the world’s religious traditions. This Jesus says to all humankind “Today you will be with me in Paradise”. This Jesus inspired Teresa of Avila’s

Christ has no body now on earth but ours;
no feet with which to run to proclaim good news;
no hands with which to reach out
to touch, to heal and to bless;
no ears with which to hear the cries of the poor;
no eyes with which to look out with compassion
upon this world, but ours.

Bodies, hands, feet, eyes and ears – to carry the watchful souls that are to stay close to their Source and eventually be at One. Compassion. The work of the anointed – of every shade and hue, of every nationality and tradition. The work of Christ now.

ASCENDING ALLELUIAS

I OFTEN SPEAK about life’s being, for me, a colour-full affair. I’ve read on several occasions that some blind people can “see” in their dreams. This doesn’t surprise me.

Anger, anxiety,
adoration and awe,
celebration, communion,
confession, consolation,
consternation, contemplation,
dying, fear, joy,
lamentation, loneliness,
longing, love,
Magnificat, meditation, mediation,
passion, poetry, prayer and prose,
sadness, sleepiness, silence, song

– any and all forms of worship – often translate for me into vivid and fluid colour. The movement is gentle and healing. And thankfully, for a minimalist like me, the colour sometimes involves shades of plain and lovely uncluttered white. Neither the movement nor the colours are loud or aggressive or overwhelming. But they are bright. And each represents someone, some emotion, or some thing. A bit of time spent with “Alleluia” above may reveal some faces and one or two particular spaces …

In common with many artists, pray-ers and writers I think of our ultimate Heaven as fullness of life expressed in colours hitherto beyond our wildest seeing and dreams, but utterly reminiscent, too, of experiences we’ve known throughout our incarnate lives, here, in “this world”. Our hymn book contains a (much too long) version of the Ascensiontide “Hail the day that sees him rise”. Printed service orders (our Sunday usage) allow for discreet pruning. Not so when we use the hymn book, as we did on Thursday. So lots and lots of alleluias! For me though the words sometimes become the means of transport to a different level of seeing and / or hearing.

This “Alleluia” developed whilst humming “Hail the day” on and off over a period of about 48 hours. Sometimes these paintings start out with canvas or paper, paint and brush, and are photographed and digitally developed later. For this one the “medium” has been entirely my miracle iPad with BoxWave stylus. Have a great Sunday-after-Ascension. And may your Alleluias be colour-full and joyful.

ALMOST SPELLING ‘HOLY’

WRITING ABOUT stained glass fragments “blown apart in wars” and haphazardly reassembled later, the priest poet David Scott, in the second stanza of his A Window in Ely Cathedral, tells of

A leering bit of face with twisted lips,
a bit of beard, and letters almost spelling ‘holy’,
a sheaf of corn, a leaf, and then the sun dips,
lighting Mary in her simple glory.

Piecing Together
A Window in Ely Cathedral,

stanza 2 of 3, page 29

In the economy of God there’s something afoot. I can feel it in my bones. The downtrodden, the dispossessed, the shattered, the fragmented and the forgotten, wherever they are in the world, are raising their voices. They cry for the reconciliation, resurrection and restoration of a humane humanity – for people of every race and nation, and of every creed (or lack thereof), or “class”, or colour. Too much has been blown apart by wars and for too long. But days wear on, the sun dips in her course, illuminating that which speaks of life’s real glory, and is thereby truly holy.

This is exciting. This is the stuff of the reign of the Source of all of our lives, to whom we have prayed, and with whom we have yearned, in every time and place, in every political and religious tradition, for so very long. Whether we’re speaking of ordinary Libyans standing up to be counted, intent on “occupying” their own entitlement to a bit of their own space as human beings; whether we’re speaking of Occupy New York, or Occupy London, or occupy-a-space-in-the-queue for fresh air, or clean water, or a bowl of rice, something is most assuredly afoot. The sun dips, lighting Mary in her simple glory, and because at evensong we’re rather quieter than usual we may hear her softly say and pray

he hath scattered the proud in the imagination of their hearts. He hath put down the mighty from their seat: and hath exalted the humble and meek

Come Christ-Mass this year the stable and the tent will not be featured only in hand-picked and glossy Christmas cards. Tents and stables are being raised up alongside cathedrals and churches. Tents and stables are being raised up in our dreams and in our slowly-awakening hearts. Here are opportunities to catch real glimpses for the possibilities of life’s glory, opportunities that are thereby truly holy. Some amongst us, nonetheless, will not look any more kindly upon such fragmented opportunities than they would ever have looked upon the teenage mother in the stable of Bethlehem.

But something of and from the divine is afoot. The leering bit of face with twisted lips, a bit of beard, and letters almost spelling ‘holy’, must give way to the sun’s dipping

lighting Mary in her simple glory.

MAXIMILIAN’S BAPTISM

THE FULL HOUSE for the joy-filled Baptism of Maximilian this morning gives me (another) opportunity to head up this post with my very favourite account, by a simply wonderful narrator, of Jesus’ Baptism! But more than that, it’s always such a joy when our House for the Church is full of people come to celebrate the goodness of God and the richness of the gifts we revel in. And there’s no greater gift to a family than that of an infant. Nor, perhaps, any greater responsibility laid upon older shoulders. Bringing infants to Baptism in and into the House of the Lord provides glorious opportunity for all of us to reflect upon the giftedness and gratuitousness of our lives, upon our hopes and our aspirations, what – in co-creating with, and in, and surrounded by God – we want to make of our world, our humanity, our society, our church – for Maximilian, for ourselves, and for God.

“I baptise with water”, said John the Baptist. One who will come after me will baptise with Holy Spirit. And so it came to pass. Today and every day humankind is baptised “new every morning” by the Spirit of Divine Grace and Love. Perhaps that’s why Maximilian and his wonderful parents were smiling so much in our sacramental celebration of the fact this morning. Perhaps that’s why people had travelled from far and wide to celebrate the gift and the treasure. Yes! – wherever and whenever humankind is “baptised” in the Spirit of God we can rest assured that the Source of our Life continues to turn the world upside down. “Whoever has seen (this human) me has seen the Father” said the anointed Jesus to Philip. And this morning he might have said “whoever has seen Maximilian has seen the Father”. What a joy, what a commission, what a responsibility – this living of the Life and Love of God in and through each one of us, dear created people.

DIVINE PARENT,
Mother and Father, Sister and Brother of us all,
in company with Jesus,
in the power of your Spirit,
with prophets, priests and royal leaders,
and with every woman, man and child
upon the face of the earth,
we bless you for the gift of life and of abundance.
And as we bless you we also ask
your blessing for ourselves that we may be
inspired, strengthened and encouraged daily
to share that life and that abundance
throughout the world.

THE POWER OF DOWNTON

ITV PLAYER CRASHED last night as thousands tried to watch Julian Fellowes’ Downton Abbey online. I don’t wonder. This is television at its best. Echoes have reverberated in me throughout the night and throughout a busy Monday. I think it’s something extra-ordinary and am apparently not alone.

Several conversations today have reflected upon Lady Mary’s being both a flawed character and utterly, utterly loveable at the same time. And I feel like that about almost all the characters – even the awful O’Brien calls forth a measure of sympathy in me. What a miserable existence her kind of spitefulness ekes out in the lives of anyone who harbours it. And the cowardice in young Thomas (God help him) rings painful bells.

Gazing upon a maelstrom of societal change that seems now, in 2011, as though it’s as familiar as yesterday, I’m deeply, deeply touched anew by the enormity of the tragedy wreaked upon countless millions of lives by warfare – between nations and between persons. There’s a power about Downton that – and I really mean this – renews my vocation as a priest. And I’m not talking here about being a parish priest though that’s my profession. But I’m talking about a renewed vocation to Christ-likeness, to compassion, to empathy, to a trying to see through, and learn to live with, the flaws that are a part of every human life, without exception, to that which is utterly, utterly loveable and – with only the slightest bit of effort and imagination on my (or anyone’s) part – understandable.

May we learn to swim and to thrive in the tide of change – each of us as flawed and in need of change (sometimes called “repentance”) as everyone else. May we learn to swim in the tides of life and of love. I don’t believe we were made in order to be overwhelmed, or to be drowned by life’s ebb and flow, nor constantly to be required to toe the line according to someone else’s beck and call. I truly do believe that we’ve been made and fashioned to be free. But we have to learn to live freely, and responsibly, just as surely as Lady Edith has to learn to drive a car, Lady Sybil to bake a cake and an entire human generation to come to terms with something of redemption’s arising out of one of the greatest ever human catastrophes.

Every generation has to aspire to a “Brave New World”. But surely to God we can learn to aspire, we can learn to change, without further recourse to such catastrophic human upheaval and distress. No classical painting of Hell ever quite envisaged what we now know was found by young innocents in the battlefields of the Somme. I can feel in my soul that Downton Abbey has some more important lessons in store for us, upstairs, downstairs and in unspeakable trenches …

Marvellous. And actually extra-ordinary.

AGITATION FREE?

THE STATE OF PERPETUAL AGITATION is one of the features of life in the early years of the twenty-first century, and perhaps a little too frequently in the Church as elsewhere. And we’re learning, fast, that this is not a healthy state: it’s not what we were made for. “Our hearts are restless until they find their rest in Thee” is how St Augustine of Hippo put it. And his was a prayer very dear to the heart of Mother Teresa – whose very great (and hands-on practical) love for humankind, and especially for the dispossessed, arose directly out of her love for silence in the presence of the God who created – and is still creating – all of us.

We cannot find God in noise and agitation.
Nature: trees, flowers, and grass grow in silence.
The stars, the moon, and the sun move in silence.
What is essential is not what we say but what God tells us
and what He tells others through us.

In silence He listens to us; in silence He speaks to our souls.
In silence we are granted the privilege of listening to His voice.

Silence of our eyes.
Silence of our ears.
Silence of our mouths.
Silence of our minds.

…in the silence of the heart
God will speak.

Mother Teresa of Calcutta
from No Greater Love

BLESS MY CHILD

A woman and her malnourished child in Banadir hospital in Mogadishu. Photo Reuters

ARCHBISHOP ROWAN spoke to the recent General Synod of the Church of England of his experiences in Eastern Congo:

Two weeks ago in Eastern Congo, listening to the experiences of young men and women who had been forced into service with the militias in the civil wars, forced therefore into atrocities done and suffered that don’t bear thinking about, I discovered all over again why the Church mattered. One after another, they kept saying, ‘The Church didn’t abandon us.’

The Archbishop is a shining example of a pastor continually willing to “discover all over again”. God knows how much we all need to. In common with many a clerical household, I guess, Church Times is usually to be found on or near the kitchen table in this vicarage. Mealtimes this week have therefore been especially chastened experiences. What, I’ve wondered, is this young mother praying for herself and her (beautiful) hungry little one?

And the hand of blessing laid with love upon the heads of beautiful, well cared for, well fed little ones in Bramhall Parish Church this morning was warm with desire to bless the mother and her child in this photograph – and the countless mothers, fathers and children who share their desperate plight, praying for the impossible, whilst laying-on their own tender hands of blessing. God help us: I’ve thought a thousand times this week that this madonna and her child in Mogadishu were praying together once in Bethlehem.

And the weeping for the children in Norway today is heard all around the world. Christopher Burkett has written, too, in that tragic context, about why the Church matters. God help us to widen our vision: to sing fewer songs of rejoicing in our own perceptions of personal salvation until we’re a bit surer in our hearts and minds that salvation has to be extended to each and all – or it is no salvation. Whilst I thank God for “looking after” me I must heed the Divine call to play my own part in “looking after” others. For each and every child of God is intended to be provided with a Bethlehem home, a House of Bread.

I pray for the day when, for God’s sake, sectarian divisions and some of the more nuanced religious certainties – of whatsoever religious tradition (or none) – may be set aside in favour of the one really important certainty, the one really important bit of “gospel” that Jesus alluded and alludes to again and again and again – that in the heart of God, at the heart of Life, the mother and her child in this photograph, and the hurting and grieving souls in Norway, and in every other nation under the sun, are of absolutely equal importance. With Archbishop Rowan I “discovered again” this morning why the Church matters, and why all men and women of goodwill, all over the world, matter: Christian Aid emergency envelopes “sold” like hotcakes, thank God, and we sang “We have a dream” with vigour. Dear God in heaven, help us to dream big … and to plant mustard seeds of faith and hope and real practical love wherever and whensoever we can.