SILENT MUSIC

IS IT POSSIBLE to encounter “the silent music of God’s praise” in company, and / or on a regular basis? Well, the evidence seems to be that an ever increasing number of people in Bramhall are finding it to be so. Month after month people assemble for Meditation, arriving in silence, meditating in silence, and departing in silence – and the steady flow of poetry, prayer, inspired conversation and other forms of reflection that come my-very- privileged-way after each gathering are truly heartening.

This evening I recalled a wise priest I held very, very dear in the earliest years of my own priestly ministry. He’d lost his faith, once, he told me. A visit to the bishop to offer his resignation became the turning point of his life. The gently compassionate and non-judgmental stillness in the bishop, who spoke barely a word, facilitated a converting realisation:

I’ve been much too fond of the sound of my own voice!

With great excitement my friend returned to his parish, newly determined, encouraged by his own pastor, the bishop, to seek God in silence. He found God there – and went on much later to lead me and countless others to the same place. Preachers and pastors spend a lot of time talking and strategising – “it goes with the turf”, we tell each other. But the words we speak – and the faith we so rely on – are equally the better informed when we’ve become as fond of the sound of silence as we are of our own voices. And I’m looking at a mirror 😉

Thank you. Thank you to my quiet fellow pilgrims.

A CACTUS OF PANIC

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I WANT UPFRONT to grant that I may be a useless parish priest – plain idle, maybe. Uninspired, too tired, too old (at 54) or impractical – head in the clouds. In need, after 30+ years of “the ordained life”, of a zeal injection, a business management course, something to gee me up a bit so that I, in turn, can set about geeing-up others – get “a heart” for Mission (as though I’ve never had such a novel frame of mind – or heart – before).

All of the above are real possibilities. And of course I have noticed reports of the dear old CofE’s apparently being in steep decline. People have been talking about it, and agitating about it for years. (Though not half as many, I suspect, as the remnant church-folk have enjoyed imagining – because for contemporary talkers and agitators there are, it seems, so many other interesting things to talk and agitate about). Nonetheless, I find myself drawn to an unlikely hero, in company with Tania Ahsan …

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Yoda is my hero. Not because he’s a Jedi master or because he ignores the rules of grammar, more because Yoda is an oasis of calm in the face of crisis. When I’m hit by a crisis, I get flappy handed and shrill; I am pointedly not an oasis of calm, more a cactus of panic.

Tania Ahsan
The Brilliant Book of Calm

Flappy handed and shrill. Oh dear. I wish it wasn’t so, but that sounds too alarmingly like my belovéd Church of England for comfort. Too alarmingly like the jaded religious institutions – many hundreds of them – that have spent much too long spouting noisy hot air about who’s in and who’s not, whilst endlessly passing round either a “collection plate” or another invitation to a Jumble Sale to “keep the Church thermometer heading in the right direction”. Too much “mission planning” seems to me to have lost the plot. It troubles me that diocesan retreat centres up and down the land are being closed (even Gloucester’s glorious Glenfall, aaaarrrgh!) – whilst the Church pours millions into maintaining crumbling old Victorian barns whose dwindling congregations would be better equipped for Christ’s mission by a single weekend in a quiet retreat house.

We’re really going to have to let go of the dry rot. Sooner rather than later. And let go, too, of the embarrassing ecclesiastical talk of decline – as though said decline were a mildly irritating phenomenon just beginning to appear on our horizon. Less than 5% of the population of some dioceses attend Church at all. The rest of the population has moved on. Years ago now. One diocese reports the “loss” of 25% of adults and 60% of children during the 1990s. These people are just not interested in our crumbling buildings (with a few notable and worthy exceptions of artistic and historic merit and interest) – and our long past their sell-by-date and very embarrassing arguments and insistences. Some of our “growth planning” and mission talk makes this parish priest squirm, so heaven knows what it must sound like to a casual “outsider”.

Is the Church taking note of the large numbers of weekday visitors flocking to the “deep silence” of our ancient cathedrals? What’s their appeal? Should more of their “turnstiles” be cast out of the temple – thereby, incidentally, increasing both footfall and willing donations – as Chester has done? Could the Church clarify, please, exactly what is meant by throwaway garden-centre-advert lines like “we’re seeking to grow disciples of Our Lord Jesus”? What, precisely, is a disciple? And who is Jesus, let alone “Our Lord”? And what, if we succeed in growing disciple plants, is to be their purpose and function in our fractious world? Clarification please. Sharp, calm, clarification.

And yet it is obvious to me and to many that the Divine Oasis lives in, and through, and for, and all around all of us. Jesus stills models “the silent music of praise” and what it might mean for the world if all The One God’s children could work at their vocation to be “an oasis of calm in the face of crisis”. Surely the Divine Silence invites all humanity away from the flappy handed and the shrill. Surely a child of God, still less a whole institution, ought not to be a “cactus of panic”. How about a bit (or a heck of a lot more) of silence? How about a bit of sabbath (and weekday) stillness? Gardens, public parks, the trees and the fields are great – if not better than some “places of worship” – for that. Looking out over Ullswater I never feel that the Divine is in decline. And is that Jesus over there on the fellside? Wow, that’s quite a crowd of peacefully attentive picnickers. Isn’t this place gloriously quiet? Healing.

God can cope with losing a few more Church buildings. God loves outsiders – with a special affection, apparently, for those deemed unworthy by the religious certainties of the world. What God calls us to, now as always, is the ultimate Oasis of Calm – what might truly be called his “Kingdom”, and the sooner – for all of us in our currently brutal, brutalised and noisy world – the better.

O sabbath rest by Galilee
O calm of hills above
Where Jesus knelt to share with thee
The silence of eternity
Interpreted by love

That’s the real mission.

MOTHERING & UNION

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EARLIER TODAY, in the context of a celebration of the Eucharist, I enjoyed the privilege of admitting and welcoming Vivien Bell, Betty Bingham and Pam Price into membership of the worldwide Mothers’ Union – which pleasure gave a brief opportunity to reflect a bit on both “mothering” and “union”.

“Mothering” – whether that involves the “raising up” of children or of what Jesus thought of as the “reign of God” – requires a degree of listening and careful attention to the needs of another, and of all others, in order that they may thrive. And this kind of “mothering” is the proper work of both women and men.

“Union” is one of the chief life attributes that anyone at all concerned with “mothering” will want to encourage in ALL humankind. There’s a One-ness about God’s Creation that humankind tears apart only to its own great peril. There’s a union betwixt the Creator of all things and all Creation – a union simply but tragically hidden when our little (but persistent) sense of “self” (or the importance of “me” and “mine”) gets in the way! Humanly appointed separations can alienate. And alienation is dangerous for all of life, we’ve ample evidence all around us of its destructive power. Separateness will come to be seen as having been mere human illusion as God, the Source of all life (however you conceive of God), mothers and returns all things unto God’s eternally life-giving self, and to ultimate fulfilment.

A Mothers’ Union will work, rest, play and pray for: a holy communion, a “one body because we all share in the one bread”; and for a good religion (from the Latin, religare, binding as one).

And we ought to make no mistake about it, that’s the only kind of religion Jesus of Nazareth was interested in – and willing to surrender his own life for: that humankind of every race, creed or no creed, Jew or Gentile, gender or sexuality – “be one” – even as humankind itself is to be “at one” with all Creation. And Jesus’ “religion” was built upon his having a most decided penchant for those widely considered by others to be no-hopers!

But we don’t always quite “get it” do we? Somehow within the same few moments we can listen to Jesus speaking of his and our having to be willing to die for the cause of our One-ness – (“they will condemn him to death; then they will hand him over to the Gentiles; they will mock him, and spit upon him, and flog him, and kill him”) – and before he’s properly finished speaking we join ranks with James and John the sons of Zebedee, completely missing the tragic irony of our actions, as we set about trying to “fix” our own comfort and “status” in whatever it is that lies ahead – Mark 10.32-45

How can we be so dozey? How does our scrabbling after the best seats – the best respected positions and traditions – contribute anything worthwhile to “mothering-in” a new kind of dispensation, or to “union”? Even for the “Son of Man” – “to sit at my right hand or at my left is not mine to grant”.

I’m more and more convinced that “only one way” religion is bad religion; that noisy, distracting, “only one way” worship doesn’t actually give God the “worth” it purports to. The mothering union is to be a worldwide enterprise that involves innumerable blessed traditions and immeasurable diversity. So my personal plea is that we should stop trying (and failing) to “save” the world; that our “mission” be first concerned with having another look at what we each must do to “save” ourselves – making better, more humane human beings out of all of us, for the greater good of a very diverse whole. And that will involve a human mothering that begins with a “repenting” – a “turning” to pay attention to – and to rejoice in – a life sustained and growing and wholly provided for in the womb of a mother. Human mothering-in of Divine fullness continues as we pay proper attention to the Divine Life similarly present always in the “womb” – the very centre of each of us – man, woman or child. Turn around! What you seek has already been given you, already provided and ready to sustain. Be still (and quiet for a space!) – that you may know – (and maybe even feel her/him kicking!) We are One. And so, thank God, all of us belong to a mothers’ union.

ANOTHER VOICE

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WILD AND HOWLING winds swirling around the College of the Resurrection in Mirfield made for a reflective, elemental sort of a night. I’m a bit ambivalent about strong wind generally, on the one hand slightly fearful of its power and a tad resentful about its uninvited imposition, and on the other sometimes willing simply to “let go, let fly” – and the encounter with raw nature brings a fleeting sense of oneness with the swirling. With life.

Morning prayer in a gloriously quiet monastic environment lends the soul an opportunity to hear “another voice” – and oh what blessings are to be heard in the silent voices within – whether Divine or divine. Whether Love or loved ones. Connecting. Connected. Silently. Here in this moment. And in eternity.

It doesn’t have to be
the blue iris, it could be
weeds in a vacant lot, or a few
small stones; just
pay attention, then patch

a few words together and don’t try
to make them elaborate, this isn’t
a contest but the doorway

into thanks, and a silence in which
another voice may speak

Mary Oliver

Just pay attention Simon Robert. Only pay attention. The word of the angels is near. Breathe is the word. Breathe

WINDSAILS WITH WENDY

GREAT TODAY to have artist Wendy Rudd with us for the installation of her fabulously peaceful Windsails in our Lantern Tower. As with most artworks there’s a story behind this one. We hope that many will enjoy learning their story and a blessed time of peace, quiet and reflective meditation. The gentle, silent movement of the Windsails draws and leads willing souls into just such blessedness. Bramhall Parish Church is open on weekdays from 9-12 (join us for Wednesday Eucharist & Coffee afterwards at 10.30am?) & on Sunday mornings from 8am – 12.30. All welcome.