WHO AM I?

dietrich_bonhoeffer

TWELVE AROUND TABLE this morning, as of long ago, gathered for burning bush encounter the rabbi said all could and should know. With genius insistence on open hospitality, Jesus gathered people around – thankfully, eucharistically, speaking of God in the midst of them, in-their-flesh, in 'adamah, earthed and in touch, breathing ruach, God-breath, communion, in and through and for and all around them – in and on and of Genesis ground.

There are times, many times, when it seems that God's message for all of us is, as Fr Richard Rohr often reminds us: “Don't get rid of the pain until you have learned its lessons.” Hard though it be for us to grasp, desperately disinclined to undergo it, brokenness heals us into wholeness.

Unfortunately, Fr Richard goes on to reflect, “we have the natural instinct to fix pain, to control it, or even, foolishly, to try to understand it. The ego always insists on understanding. That’s why Jesus praises a certain quality even more than love, and he calls it faith. It is the ability to stand in liminal space, to stand on the threshold, to hold the contraries, until you move to a deeper level where it all eventually makes sense in the great scheme of God and grace.” (Adapted from The Authority of Those Who Have Suffered)

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And, of course, some of us have no other choice available to us than lonely grace and space into which to speak our prayers and our questions. For some, some of the time, as for Lutheran Pastor Dietrich Bonhoeffer, martyred in 1945, there's no other option available. But the life and witness of this pastor called our attention to the Jesus who calls people to round table, to pray and to stay and to question together – breathing the life of communion: a higher, lower, deeper, broader, wider dispensation, the kingdom of heaven.

WHO AM I? – Bonhoeffer asked … Thou knowest, O God, I am Thine!

Annunciation2014

WHO AM I? They often tell me I stepped from my cell’s confinement calmly, cheerfully, firmly, like a Squire from his country-house.

Who am I? They often tell me I used to speak to my warders freely and friendly and clearly, as though it were mine to command.

Who am I? They also tell me I bore the days of misfortune equally, smilingly, proudly, like one accustomed to win.

Am I then really all that which other men tell of? Or am I only what I myself know of myself? Restless and longing and sick, like a bird in a cage, struggling for breath, as though hands were compressing my throat, yearning for colours, for flowers, for the voices of birds, thirsting for words of kindness, for neighbourliness, tossing in expectation of great events, powerlessly trembling for friends at an infinite distance, weary and empty at praying, at thinking, at making, faint, and ready to say farewell to it all?

Who am I? This or the other? Am I one person to-day and to-morrow another? Am I both at once? A hypocrite before others, and before myself a contemptibly woebegone weakling? Or is something within me still like a beaten army, fleeing in disorder from victory already achieved?

Who am I? They mock me, these lonely questions of mine. Whoever I am, Thou knowest, O God, I am Thine!

Dietrich Bonhoeffer

The Church remembers Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Pastor & Martyr on 9th April

 

WIND IN MY WHEELS

Bridge_over_the_River_Caldew_Mosedale

WIND IN MY WHEELS (hat tip to Josie Dew). And barely another sound. 16 miles round-trip via Mosedale – headed for the quiet and lovely (and, of course, oh so simple) Quaker Meeting House for coffee, soup and sandwich, where, not for the first time, I wondered, awestruck, about the generations who’d waited corporately and silently for God’s Spirit in that dale, and in that house, for 311 years – since 1702.

1702

Memories, for me, for reasons I’ll explain, of boyhood church attendance and the – then rather novel – printed card bearing the words of Mattins from the Book of Common Prayer. I think that the words taken out of the book and set forth upon sheets of white card were the necessary qualifications for what was called the “Parents and Children Service”. I don’t think the BCP (even on a card) has quite the pulling power today. But I’ve remained glad of it.

Mosedale’s parents and children struck me as an inordinately peaceful community as I bowled along with only the sound of the wind in my ears, and a very occasional lowing. Brown cows, and some of the tiniest calves I’ve seen, lying peacefully in the shelter of miles of drystone walling, gazing through those hauntingly beautiful eyes, upwards to the high fell. Hence the memories of “Parents and Children”. Of mine, and of

I will lift up mine eyes unto the hills : from whence cometh my help. My help cometh even from the Lord : who hath made heaven and earth. He will not suffer thy foot to be moved : and he that keepeth thee will not sleep. Behold, he that keepeth Israel : shall neither slumber nor sleep. The Lord himself is thy keeper : the Lord is thy defence upon thy right hand; So that the sun shall not burn thee by day : neither the moon by night. The Lord shall preserve thy going out, and thy coming in : from this time forth for evermore.

Psalm 121

May God forever bless he or she who typed up that white card – that I can still see clearly in the mind’s eye, even, as then, without my glasses; together with the women and the men and the children who have waited and are still waiting upon God in the Meeting House in Mosedale. Memory, re-membering, quietness in green pastures “restoreth my soul”. They’re the Wind in my Wheels.

Mosedale MH

GLORY

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WATCHING GLORY unfold in every facet of life and death is the blessed occupation of all human beings. The opportunities I’ve been given for just such a seeing in 30 years as a priest have brought me incalculable blessing. Glory unfolds everywhere. And as though the glory unfolding in our own lives were not blessing enough, we get to see it unfolding all around us as well. If we have eyes to see. If we have ears to hear.

Today I’ve greeted and laughed and prayed and baptised and celebrated Eucharist and cried with a couple of hundred people. Our wonderful Youth Group provided a cooked breakfast mid-morning. A sausage and bacon bap at any time is good news for me, but served this morning by marvellously giving and lovely young people, in parish rooms literally buzzing with life and laughter, though the winds were howling and the rains were drenching, it was glory writ large. “Never been here before” said a young Dad at the Baptism. “But it’s like coming home.” A bit like some of Jan Dean’s poetry that, “like coming home”.

In an hour and a half in our local Hospice this afternoon I met Glory that’s touchable. Many years ago I met Dame Cicely Saunders, the Mother Founder of the modern Hospice movement. I thought her a Christ-figure par excellence. And I felt her Spirit present this afternoon, and in the midst of laughter and tears and lovingly proffered chocolate closed my eyes, in the quiet company of the smallest of assemblies, and simply breathed peace. “In life, in death …” Glory in the air. Glory in the living and in the sick and in the dying and in the young volunteers whose smiles lit up the room – and the faces of the people to whom they lovingly ministered.

Prayer. No words necessary. Just prayer in the air. Thank God for Dame Cicely. Thank God for Hospices. Thank God for giving young people. Thank God for our churchwarden Sue, for many years the Manager of said Hospice, and now, in company with a huge team, bringing something of the hospitality of Hospice right into the Heart of our parish church. Old and young. Old apostles and the newly baptised. Light. Song. Silence. Breakfast, lunch and dinner, giggles and nodding off to sleep in between. Glory.

And then a couple of hours in the cinema – Salmon Fishing in the Yemen. Should you find yourself there (and I hope you do) you may remember, in many a scene, that I suggested to you tonight that right there you’ll see example after example of … Glory. Unfolding everywhere, right in the midst of life’s mysteries and vicissitudes, joy, pain, growing, coming and going. Swimming upstream. Salmon leap. And it makes our hearts swell, and we glimpse a day when “All shall be well, yea, and all manner of things shall be well” …

MIRFIELD FOR ST MARK

GLORIOUS SOLEMN MASS for St Mark’s Day in the newly refurbished Church of the Resurrection at Mirfield today. Wonderful, wonderful singing, with a setting to the Lord’s Prayer that must have been composed in Heaven. Perfect harmony, all wonderfully understated and not a hint of musical me, me, me anywhere.

One of our ordinands, Paul Deakin (above right), is in training for the priesthood at the College of the Resurrection. Churchwardens Sue Taylor, Ralph Luxon, and Administrator Janet Ketteringham joined me on an encouragement visit. We were encouraged. Paul – and Mirfield – were the typically hospitable encouragers. Fabulous lunch … thanks to Sandra and the team.

Decluttering. I’m known for it in the parishes I’ve served. There’s quite simply nothing quite so useful as beautiful open space for facilitating beautiful open worship. The newly refurbished Lower and Upper Churches at Mirfield are models of spacious openness. There’s absolutely no mistaking what the Church was built for, no mistaking what the Community is about.

Praise my soul the King of Heaven in incense-laden atmosphere, heavy with prayer and the call to pay attention to the life and work of Evangelists, defies description. And I hope to hear the closing Organ Voluntary some day in Heaven where I imagine it will sound no less profound a note of celebration as it did today. An echoing silence enveloped the House after the closing chords and many simply sat in silence, in a renewed space, in a holy place. And then the aforementioned lunch! A proper Feast Day. My old and very spacious home church, St Mark’s Claughton, would have been proud.

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MARKET FORCES?

THANKSGIVING SUNDAY in Bramhall today (pdf here) – and the Gospel for the day ensured that nobody could be kidded into believing that Jesus thought church life was just about filling up the collection plates.

The Passover of the Jews was near, and Jesus went up to Jerusalem. In the temple he found people selling cattle, sheep, and doves, and the money-changers seated at their tables. Making a whip of cords, he drove all of them out of the temple, both the sheep and the cattle. He also poured out the coins of the money-changers and overturned their tables. He told those who were selling the doves, ‘Take these things out of here! Stop making my Father’s house a market-place!’ His disciples remembered that it was written, ‘Zeal for your house will consume me.’ The Jews then said to him, ‘What sign can you show us for doing this?’ Jesus answered them, ‘Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up.’ The Jews then said, ‘This temple has been under construction for forty-six years, and will you raise it up in three days?’ But he was speaking of the temple of his body. After he was raised from the dead, his disciples remembered that he had said this; and they believed the scripture and the word that Jesus had spoken. John 2.13-22

It’s a bit dangerous, I think, to put words into the mouths of a group of onlookers who lived 2000+ years ago. Slightly less risky, perhaps, to suggest that observers of this same scene today might be forgiven for thinking that Jesus was bonkers! – overwrought, consumed by zeal. For God’s sake Jesus! Everyone knows that Temples don’t grow on trees! Everyone knows that this edifice “to the Glory of God” has got to be paid for. And in the market-place, as Fagin might have it,

Charity’s fine, subscribe to mine. You’ve got to pick-a-pocket or two, boys, you’ve got to pick-a-pocket or two …

Nonetheless, there’s no avoiding it. In fact you could say that the anger building up in this scene would lead to his being crucified for it. But Jesus poured out the coins of the money-changers and overturned their tables. ‘Stop making my Father’s house a market place!’. Whatever the economy of God was going to run on it wasn’t going to be the market. And – chillingly prophetic – this Second Temple, forty-six years in the making, for all its heritage and glory, would be razed to the ground before another forty years had passed – whilst the body of Christ would be “raised in three days”.

Christ has no body now on earth but yours,
no hands but yours,
no feet but yours,
yours are the eyes through which Christ’s compassion
is to look out to the earth,
yours are the feet by which He is to go about doing good
and yours are the hands by which He is to bless us now.

St Teresa of Avila

Is our Thanksgiving then to be confined to celebrating the resurrection of the crucified, dead and buried body of Jesus of Nazareth? Or are we to thank God for our having been given hands and feet and eyes and ears? Are we to thank God for that Divine Commission – by the mouth of Jesus of Nazareth – that calls us to BE TEMPLES of Divine hospitality? Shall we thank God for the evidence all around us of gracious and Divine inclusivity? Isn’t it the Body of Christ now on earth that will offer up praise to God today?

God is surely to be praised for that measure of generous Love that welcomes ME – believing, encouraging, shaping, moulding, creating – so that I become all that I am intended to be. You can’t worship God by charging for access to his Covenanted Love, (Sunday Mass attendance and a couple of quid, or a couple of turtle doves in the basket) – still less by being perpetually absorbed in counting the funds in the Temple coffers. The Temple, the funds and the worship that Divine Life is interested in embraces everyone because God’s Temple is everyone. God’s “home is where the heart is, it’s our resting place”.

So what does Thanksgiving Sunday ask us to offer time, talents and money for? What are we seeking to uphold? What are we seeking to build?

Nothing short of fullness of Life, nothing short of an over-arching “Temple” for every child, woman and man upon the face of the earth. Nothing short of the reign of the fullness of Life that might be called “the reign of God”. Nothing short of clean water for all who are thirsty. Nothing short of enough bread and fishes for  those whose bellies complain of starvation whilst they strain to hear our stories. Nothing short of welcome for prodigals, homeless, refugees and outcasts, gay, straight, male or female, man, woman or child.

Fund raising, point-scoring religion is to be scattered across the floor of the Court of the Gentiles – “Take these things out of here”. Hospitality, inclusion, the shared bread and wine of the kingdom, healing, dignity for all persons, proper respect for all created things – including those honoured and beloved children of God for whom the Court of the Gentiles was built in the first place – these are the attributes of a living Temple to God’s glory.

Let no-one be coerced into an offering of time, talents or money unless they share some or all of such a vision. Let those who do share the vision make a joyful noise unto the Lord. Let them be consumed with zeal for such a house of the Lord. Let them offer hearts and souls and minds and bodies. Let them sing “Now thank we all our God”. And let there also be time for silent contemplation and reflection upon and within living temples.

FRESH EXPRESSIONS

OUR PARISH CHURCH has been taking seriously the need for fresh expressions in our shared life, worship and prayer. Ours is a relatively large church (the people, and the “house of the Church” too) and so there’s need for variety of expression simply because we’re comprised of a variety of people. Our life is shaped by daily prayer and space for silence and meditation, and by four main celebrations of the Eucharist in an ordinary-time week – three  consecutive celebrations on a Sunday at 8, 9 and 10.45am – each of these slightly different in make up and character, and by another on Wednesday mornings, and by a larger number in the various residential homes for elderly persons in the parish. For at least the past decade our liturgy has been almost exclusively taken from Common Worship and eucharistically shaped. We’ve used the NRSV version of the Bible. And we still use / do all of these things.

But we’ve also been engaged in diocesan-encouraged “Growth Action Planning”. And our usual Monday morning “Vicar & Wardens” meeting today involved (as it often does) a review of where we’re up to. And our variety of fresh expression currently involves

i) a burgeoning Messy Church ministry that is colouring not only our church life but also daily family lives; and

ii) the re-introduction, several times a month, of liturgy according to the Church of England’s ancient Book of Common Prayer (yes, we bought brand new copies), with readings from the King James Version (AV) of the Bible, including, most recently, an Advent Evensong. We have been freshly surprised that younger people are among those who’ve welcomed this initiative (not all young people elect for noise and high-octane action; more than a few express a real need for “space and place and silence”) and

iii) an exciting and very popular puppet ministry, which, fascinatingly, we’ve discovered, brings people of all ages together and enables conversations (by the mouth of the puppets – rather than by the mouth of the prophets!) that may very well not have taken place otherwise. And there’s lots of laughter, plenty of noise, and even some reflective silence involved in our Double Act say-and-pray-in-a-new-way performances. And then

iv) and perhaps, for some, most surprising of all, we’ve been enjoying a Monthly silent Meditation session on Monday evenings  throughout 2011 – with plans to continue through 2012 – which has attracted around 75 people altogether with 40+ people attending quite regularly and others reporting that they practice the Meditation whether they’re able to be physically present or not.

And then there’s the call to be apostolic: to baptise, to proclaim, to afford hospitality, to tend the sick and needy, and to “send out”. So our well attended and popular Baptism preparation evenings for candidates, parents and godparents are a priority focus area and all Baptism celebrations have been brought into and embraced by and in the context of Sunday Eucharist. Our Young Church team are engaging in well received contact with local schools. Our Missionary Giving co-ordinator is facilitating our active and aware involvement in the disbursement of funds allocation. And our now 2 year old link with the Diocese of Newala in Tanzania, having received and been blessed by the visit of Bishop Oscar to Bramhall, will lead to reps from Bramhall visiting Newala in 2013.

Preaching, teaching and learning, reading (a substantial and well-used new church library), Doorway courses and other study groups have all been further developed (what is the place of Christianity in the context of our 21st century’s pluralistic society? – which we want to celebrate); table fellowship is shared and enjoyed between groups of men, and between groups of women, and between men and women and youngsters all together.

Care of the sick at home and in hospital (a large lay pastoral-care team, some of whom are actively involved in local hospital chaplaincy), bereavement and funeral care are all part of our daily life – though as the work develops and becomes more widely known so the needs reveal themselves to be greater and we see more clearly where we’re not meeting some of those needs. This, in part, is what lies behind our recent communications review.

Thrillingly there are some quite specific vocations arising in our members. We’ve currently one of our number training for the priesthood at Mirfield, and another two in the early stages of the discernment / Foundations for Ministry / training process and in conversations with the Director of Ordinands and others. Over 200 volunteers are listed on our various rotas.

Major building works have taken place and continue apace. Fresh expression is further enhanced by the maintenance of contact, old and new, with artists, poets, painters and other creative partners to mutual satisfaction. Just today the Church was visited at dawn by someone who wanted “a last opportunity to sit in silence” in company with Wendy Rudd’s wonderful Windsails – now wending their way to a new host. Our lantern tower seems very bare without them tonight.

Fresh expressions – all of them designed and shared in so that we may REMEMBER God and re-member the Church of God. Fresh expressions – because we mean business when we say that the doors of Bramhall Parish Church are as wide open as is the Heart of God – the Heart that appears to us to thrive in Eternal Silence, so encouraging us, in the midst of all of our human expressions, to be silent too, sometimes, in the face of all eternity, knowing ourselves dearly beloved in that Divine Heart, too.

HE OPENED THEIR MINDS

HAVE YOU ANYTHING HERE TO EAT? (Luke 24) Jesus asks the disciples who are “in a state of alarm and fright” – notwithstanding that they’ve just been chatting away to their friends about his appearance to them, and their recognition of him, in Emmaus. Jesus recognises them as “agitated”. He calms them down a bit by asking them for something … a little more hospitality. “They gave him a piece of grilled fish, which he took and ate before their eyes … He then opened their minds to understand the Scriptures …”

What is it about Jesus and hospitality that helps learners (Latin, discipulus – a learner, scholar, pupil, disciple, student, follower) grasp who he is and what he’s about. Food for thought at Eastertide. Food for thought when we’re reaching out in gratitude and wonder to “New Life”. Hospitality … whose? And for whom?