Perfect Miscommunication

“T’ maister nobbut just buried, and Sabbath not o’ered, und t’ sound o’ t’ gospel still i’ yer lugs, and ye darr be laiking! Shame on ye! sit ye down, ill childer! there’s good books eneugh if ye’ll read ’em: sit ye down, and think o’ yer sowls!”

Thus spake Joseph, the lifelong erstwhile servant of Wuthering Heights in the broad Yorkshire dialect given to him by Emily Bronte.  Not my usual kind of book, but someone said I should read it and surprisingly, despite Joseph’s nigh on impossible to read speech, I am very much enjoying it.

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But having to read and re read the passages where Joseph announces his oft voiced disapproval set me thinking about the ways in which we are heard and the ways in which we are misheard, or misunderstood.

In the modern age, where communication is instant and digital, you may think that this brings a degree of accuracy.  But, sadly, no. Text messaging, Facebook messengering, Whatssapping, or whichever particular way you chose to send your missives are just as open to being misunderstood as Joseph in all his Yorkshire glory. Here’s an example….

CaptureThat’s a particularly bad example, the like of which a former Prime Minister also fell foul.  But it doesn’t even have to be that obviously disastrous.  A poorly chosen emoji, a misplaced comma or even a long silence can be misunderstood as a slight or as simply rude.

I wonder if there are any perfect forms of communication?  Any that are not open to being misunderstood?  Certainly the way digital instructions work, the series of zeros and ones in a  binary string (01101001 00100000 01101100 01101111 01110110 01100101 00100000 01111001 01101111 01110101 = ‘I Love you’ apparently) seems to be pretty infallible, but it’s only ever as good as the person inputting the data. Miss off a zero and you could just as easily be telling someone you’d rather they jumped off a bridge rather than declaring your undyng love and affection..

So it seems there are no perfect forms of communication.  We are even suspicious that prayer, our communication with our creator, might be imperfect.  We say the things we want to say, often not in the right order or in any kind of structured way.  We ramble on about our wants and needs, throw in a well-known prayer or two and hope that it all somehow gets through. We have heard it said that God hears and answers prayer, but do we really believe it?  Why does it take God so long to answer? And why, when he does get back to us, does he seem to answer in the least expected way?

I wish I knew.  But what I do know, from personal experience and from listening to many people talk, is that God does indeed hear and answer prayer.  You may think that prayer, like text messaging is not perfect, the long silences, the unexpected and unlooked for answers, but that is because we are expecting God to do what we are asking.  Prayer isn’t about persuading God to do something, like he is a curmudgeonly old man who will only help under sufferance. Prayer is about being in relationship, being alongside our creator in the most intimate way, bearing our souls and wants and needs and desires in abandoned hope that these wishes might come true through the power of God’s grace and through our own efforts and work (Don’t forget – you are often the answer to your own prayer).

During the last week of this month, as we approach Pentecost, we will be focusing with many other Christians on our life of prayer with the initiative ‘Thy Kingdom Come’.  We will be thinking together about how we pray, why we pray and exploring some different ways of doing it.  There are further details on our website:  http://www.parishofabe.org.uk/

This is a global movement of prayer and you can read more about it, and ledge your prayers here: https://www.thykingdomcome.global/

Sending a text message into the ether is a risky business.  It stands the risk of being misunderstood, misinterpreted or simply ignored by the recipient.  I like to think of our prayer to God as reaching out into the void with the firm hope that your hand is going to be held tight, grasped and not let go. For though we may often think that God ignores us, or doesn’t hear us, or misunderstands us, God knows exactly what we need.

Hold out your hand… it WILL be held.

P.S. Find the translation of Joseph’s words in Wuthering Heights on this useful website: http://www.wuthering-heights.co.uk/josephs-speech.php

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No Ideas But in Things…

‘No ideas, but in things’  W .C. Williams

As human beings, mortals of flesh, blood, time and space we are bound to the things that we see around us.  It is extremely hard to explain any idea other than by using the language of things.  Think of Newton’s apple, Schrodinger’s Cat or my personal favourite Ockham’s Razor – the theory that the simplest explanation of anything is most likely to be the true explanation.   The image of the razor, cleanly cutting out the deadwood to leave a simple truth, an example of how we use things to explain that which is hard to grasp.

Perhaps the greatest example of this is Plato’s Cave – a theory of ideas.  Plato theorised that humanity were like prisoners chained in a cave staring at the wall unable to turn around.  On the wall the shadows of great fire is cast before which a puppet show is performed.  Plato explained that the prisoners were literally bound to mistake the shadowy show for reality because, without turning their heads, they would know nothing of the actual form behind it.  So it is in this world, he suggests, the eternal truth of things is beyond our grasp when we are incarcerated in time and space.

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The irony is that the theory relies on things, fire, chains, shadows, a cave to reveal that ordinary things can’t reveal the truth.  It goes to show that big ideas only work when they are tethered to small ideas, or to put it another way ‘No ideas, but in things.’

We sometimes assume that God, who is (as Monty Python reminds us) sooooo big will always reveal himself in an unmistakably huge way.  A cataclysmic event or a huge revival.  A miraculous healing or a massive reversal of bad fortune.  But God more often reveals himself in ordinary things.  The stuff that lies around us all the time.  God reveals himself in (forgive the buttock clenching tweeness of this list), the birds, the trees, the sunshine, your nearest and dearest, the person who helped you yesterday, the kindness you received from someone etc etc.  

And it is in Jesus that God does this most visibly.  God appears in the particular in order to help us know the universal.  God appears in the stable at Bethlehem, in the streets of Jerusalem, by the sea of Galilee, on the way of the cross, at Golgotha, and at the Garden of Gethsemane, on the Road to Emmaus  to show us that God’s love, power, hope and salvation is for everyone.  Yes, the resurrection was a pretty huge cataclyismic event, but it came about through simple things, the wood of the cross, the iron nails, the crown of thorns, the stone rolled over the door, the abandoned grave clothes.

In his dealings with the world God is particular before he is universal.  His kingdom is constantly likened to things that grow beyond their size, a tiny seed that grows to be the biggest shrub, a pearl that you would sell your grandma for.  

So this Holy Week and Easter allow God to speak to you in the little things.  In the beauty of the Spring, the close love and care of those we cherish certainly. But also in the great times of worship we will share, tracing the way of the cross, washing feet, remembering and receiving the sacrament of the Eucharist, venerating the cross, worshipping with great joy and celebration as we recall the resurrection.  God can and will speak to you through these little things as your walk with Jesus this Holy Week and Easter

 

Mick’s March

To the strains of Iron Maiden and Alice Cooper playing through my Sony Walkman cassette player I struggled to place one foot in front of the other. The ground beneath my feet felt like it was spiked with nails as a cold drizzle trickled down the back of my neck.  Street lights threw foreboding crosses across the path and the darkness, which at first had seemed like a call to adventure, was now a unwelcome walking companion, like a slow sullen weight slowing me down.  After 6 days my feet looked like a butchers shop window.  After 8 days the first mile I walked like a man of 90, bent double with stiffness and fatigue.

The year was 1988 and I and three others were walking 1000 miles in a 10 day relay to raise money for a little girl called Hayley White who needed a life-saving operation on her liver.  At that time it was an operation that was only available in the USA.  A friend, Mick Shone, had organised it and had somehow roped me in.  We raised the money.  We even set a world record (241 hours 31 minutes and 34 seconds). My feet have never really been the same.  I lost two toe nails that grew back weird looking.  A permanent reminder of that once in a lifetime, never to be repeated, experience.

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Except… I am going to do it again.  Mick, a friend, an inspiration, a horse’s… sadly died last year.  To commemorate him and his influence on the lives of a great many young people (I would not be a priest, but for Mick) we are recreating that walk right here in Aldingbourne.  4th-14th July raising money for the Sussex Snowdrop Trust (Mick’s charity when he was Major of Chichester – twice) and Aldingbourne School PTA (where the event is being held).  You can read more about it, and see some horrendous photos of your rector aged 17 here: Mick’s March Website  Like this one…

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The reason for me telling you this is that I need your support.  Not only in terms of giving to the charities, but also in coming and walking with me.  I am doing the 12-3 slot – that’s am and pm by the way.  That graveyard slot is going to be pretty lonely…

I came to faith on a walk.  A pilgrimage, walking to Canterbury from Chichester with a group of teenagers from St Wilfrid’s Church in Parklands.  Mick had asked me to come and map read, I agreed, not realising that it was a religious thing.  The  Vicar was a cool guy, I made some friends. God had plans for me that  were beyond my dim witted teenage comprehension.  Faith came on that walk, a walk with friends – laughing , talking, picking each other up, helping each other along the way.

Perhaps you can help me along the way on this pilgrimage, perhaps we can help each other.  Walking together brings us closer.  A common endeavour, a shared task.

Jesus knew this.  He walked on the Road to Emmaus with friends.  ‘Were not our hearts burning within us, while we talked on the road’ they said.  (Lk 24.32).

Pilgrimage is a journey to a holy place.  This pilgrimage, round and round and round Aldingbourne School playing field is also to a holy place.  Not a great site of religious significance, or a place of healing and wholeness but a holy place within.  It is a journey of the heart.  Can you be my companion in the dead of night.  Can you walk with me?  Perhaps our hearts will burn as we walk and talk and share in this common endeavour.

You will hear more from me about this in the coming months.  I hope it is something that everyone, old and young can get involved with.

 

Love, Love, Love…

February is the month of love, here in the bleak grey flatness of winter we are suddenly surrounded by deep red hearts, crimson roses and red hot romance, Valentine’s feast day has arrived.

And we need to celebrate love in all its forms.  From the passion and excitement of lovers to the shared intimacies of brothers and sisters and best friends.  From the unbreakable bonds of parental love to the fondness we have for our four legged friends.

We know, don’t we, that love comes at a price.  Whenever we truly love someone else it means putting that person first.  It means sacrifice, it means heart-ache, it means making oneself vulnerable.  That is what true love is like – an openness to another that takes us over, heart and soul, body and mind.  That is why lost love or unrequited love is so painful and why you can die of a broken heart.  It makes us open to being wounded.

But we also know that love is so very wonderful.  It’s the greatest thing, as the song has it.  Being in love is exciting.  Being loved by anyone is a wonderful feeling, that another has you on their mind or written in their heart, your name on the tip of their tongue.  That they look forward to seeing you, talking to you, listening to you.  Loving and being loved is what makes us fully human and it needs to be cherished, fostered and encouraged in all its forms in our community.

At the recent contemplative prayer service, I was reminded of the writings of Thomas Merton.  A Cistercian monk, living in the USA.  Merton wrote many books that are were wonderfully profound in their observations of the world.  In his book ‘Conjectures of a Guilty Bystander’ he wrote:

“In Louisville, at the corner of Fourth and Walnut, in the centre of the shopping district, I was suddenly overwhelmed with the realisation that I loved all those people, that they were mine and I theirs, that we could not be alien to one another even though we were total strangers.  It was like waking from a dream of separateness…I almost laughed out loud…   But it cannot be explained. There is no way of telling people that they are all walking round shining like the sun.”

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 The same day as I read this for the first time, about 5 years ago, a woman on the tram called me a very nasty name (the clerical collar does provoke extreme reactions – you either get nice smiles and “Hello Father!” or you get a scowl or even outright hostility).   Try as I might on that day I couldn’t see anyone shining like the sun.  I felt quite the opposite.

It’s a hard calling to have to love everyone.  God calls to do it nonetheless.   Even that old bat that swore at me in the street is “…walking around, shining like the sun”.  Thank God for his lavish faithfulness and love when mine is worn thin.

I wonder what Merton’s revelation might reveal to us about our task as God’s church.  Perhaps the task of the church is to love the community we are called to serve. If we ask ourselves, ‘Why is it that we want to serve?’ the answer comes back because we want everyone to experience and know the abundance of love that a faith in God and Jesus brings.  It is our commission, our task set by Jesus himself, “Love one another, as I have loved you…” (John 13.34)   Without love, given as a reflection of the love of God for all people, we are nothing, we can achieve nothing.

I have been thinking a lot about this and have begun talking to people about a way of life for our Parish that people can make a commitment to.  The ‘ABE Way of Life’ will be part of a philosophy of practical love in action (in Greek ‘agape’ – the Greeks have many words for love) for our community which I have roughly labelled I ♥ ABE.

Showing and building love for our community in practical ways will be a lunch pad for all that we are called to do as God’s church.  Look out for more about I ♥ ABE and the ‘ABE Way of Life’ in the coming months.  It will, like all love, ask something of you, to make yourself vulnerable for the sake of the Gospel, but I hope it is something that can make a real difference in our community and to each of us as we seek to serve our living, loving God.

With love, Fr M   ♥

 

Thoughts from the Summer

The Hare leapt out into the middle of the road.  At first, because of the distance, I thought it was a rabbit, but as I drew closer, the wheels thrumming on the tarmac, I realised my mistake.   It’s long stringy ears and stretched back legs, coiled like a spring with tension underneath it’s body.  The legs were folded at an angle, sinews of muscle thin and rigid.  It put into my mind those string pictures that were so popular in the 70s.  Nails and twine stretched into a geometric shape both natural and unnatural.

It saw me, turned its head sideways and looked.  I slowed. Stopped. It was 15 feet from me. It’s eye was yellow, and it’s fur was almost blue in the pale morning light.  The ears now high and wary, looked soft and silky, the fur hanging like an evening gown cut on the bias.

The encounter lasted no more than 20 seconds.  It jumped up, sprang forward and into the hedge on the other side of the road, disappearing as quickly as it had arrived.

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Later that week I feel off my bike when watching a buzzard, high overhead.  Nearly home, speeding down Church Road, the large fan shape of the tail feathers caught my eye.  I slowed a bit, gazed upwards and watched as it looped slowly across the clear sky, wing feathers splayed like the delicate fingers of a ballerina. This was Elsa (or so my daughter Lyra has named her) a bird we have seen many times scanning the field and roads for prey or carrion to feed on.  Elsa was an apt name – Elsa the ice queen from Disney’s Frozen.  Buzzards don’t have the heat and fire and speed of the Peregrine or Sparrowhawk.  The Buzzard is altogether more slow and deliberate.  It is cool and steely in her pursuit of prey, her pale yellow eye seeing all with ice cold determination.  I was watching her so intently that I failed to notice that I strayed from the tarmac, and went over the handlebars into the wet ditch.

From my desk a flash of green and red makes me look to the window.  A woodpecker.  Sat on the log store not a foot away.  It fluorescent green feathers looking like a boiled sweet in the sun,  The red crown as if it had passed under a child’s paint brush as she paints a London bus. It hasn’t seen me through the glare of the window.  It ducks down and begins to bathe in a puddle on the drive, throwing the water over itself in a fountain of clear diamond droplets, before flitting off and up and out of sight.

The summer brings much to appreciate and enjoy, from the sparkle of the sun on the rolling sea, to the gentle rounded humps of the downs, green and high and shining in the sunlight.

Even when the sun deserts us, the grey clouds fill the horizon and the rain falls like a curtain  there is beauty.  I watched the rain sweep across the field near my house the other day.  It started on the far side, and as I stood I saw it, an advancing grey, like the clouds where descending slowly until it reached me, warm on my face and cold on my neck, languid, lazy, heavy.  Turning the ground dark.

We live in a most wonderful place.  God’s creation is a wonderful thing.  It should be safeguarded and honoured.  Even in small moments like these, arrow prayers of appreciation and wonder we can stop and marvel, show reverence for all that God has done in creating and recreating the world around us.

I hope you get some small times this Summer to do this. Enjoy the summer break. Enjoy a rest in the garden, on the hill, on the beach.  Find time to Sabbath.

 

I’m bored…

I’m bored.

I’m the chairman of the bored.

I bore myself to sleep at night

I bore myself in broad daylight.

I’m bored!

Thus wrote the great Iggy Pop, summing up the malaise of punk in the late 70s, intent on rebelling against anything vaguely establishment.

These days I wonder if young people actually know what boredom is.  Oh, they still say, ‘I’m bored!’, but they aren’t.  They don’t know the meaning of the word.  They don’t know the crushing boredom of a wet Sunday afternoon in the early 70s.  Nothing on TV (literally nothing, as the TV turned off at lunchtime, just the test card until tea time), no computer or mobile to text a friend.

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Even going out was boring.  There was nothing in Chichester for a growing lad.  The swimming pool, (now Carluccios) the cinema, (now Next) but you needed money for these things.  There was my bike, the countryside, the woods… and that was it.

Of course, Things have changed for the better for our young people.  There is so much more for them to get involved with, and families these days are much more conscious of the need for family time to be for all.  No-one these days would leave their children in the car with a bag of crisps and a bottle of coke whilst they went to the pub, but in the 70s they did, and it was OK (kind of)!

Modern humans spend virtually no time on inward-directed thought, and not solely because we’re too busy: in one US survey, 95% of adults said they’d found time for a leisure activity in the previous 24 hours, but 83% said they’d spent zero time just thinking.  In further experiments, older people, and those who rarely used smartphones, got similar results. Meanwhile, those given the chance to do something outward-directed, such as reading, enjoyed it far more. And when 42 people got to choose between sitting doing nothing and giving themselves electric shocks, two-thirds of men and a quarter of women chose the latter!

We often speak of emails, tweets and texts as if they’re annoyances that we’d eliminate if we could. Yet the truth, of course, is that half the time we’re desperate to be distracted, and gladly embrace the interruption.

If I sound like a moany old wot not, it is only because I genuinely think that we are missing out on something.  Being bored is not a waste of time, it is a doorway.  Having nothing to do is not a failure, it is an opportunity to be creative.

“All of humanity’s problems stem from man’s inability to sit quietly in a room alone.” Blaise Pascal wrote this in his theological and philosophical collection Pensées (literally thoughts) not in the 1970s but in the 17th century.  If only we could find the time to be bored, to be still, who knows where humanity could go.  Who knows where the journey to the inward mind could take us.

Of course, many of us Christians already feel guilty that we don’t spend enough time being still in prayer, and now I am suggesting you find time to do nothing at all.  ‘Chance would be a fine thing,’ I can almost hear you saying.  I suppose what I am getting at is that the nothing, the empty room, the boredom is merely the portal for thinking, thoughts, the inner journey, the place where ideas are given life, where fantasies are enjoyed and savoured, where we discover ourselves and our souls most fully, and, I would suggest, where we may most easily hear the still small voice of God.download

I was so delighted when Mother Theresa was canonised recently. I read a mantra that she used often used to repeat…

The fruit of silence is prayer.

The fruit of prayer is faith.

The fruit of faith is love.

The fruit of love is service.

The fruit of service is peace.

Go home, switch of the television set and do something boring.  Stare at the wall and think.  It is the path to peace.

Fr M

P.S. In case this is just too boring, why not watch Iggy Pop here…

The Perfect Wedding…

The wedding season is upon us in earnest.  Most weekends between now and the end of September, one church or other in our beloved Parish will be filled with strains of Give Me Joy In My Heart, Wagner, and the sound of bells rung out in joy.  When you arrive on Sunday mornings you will see the tell-tale signs of the celebration the day before; confetti like blossom littering the floor under lych gate, the church still filled with flowers and the overpowering scent of all that best perfume and aftershave (incidentally why churches burn incense, originally to cover the smell of the great unwashed, these days to mask the smell of Lynx, Pacco Rabanne and Charlie).

There is so much that goes into making weddings the great day of celebration that they are.  Chatting to wedding couples in the midst of organising the big day, I am struck by how complicated it all is these days.  I had a 15 minute conversation with a bride about ‘favours’ the other day.  I had never heard of them. She explained what they were and that she and her fiancé had decided to get personalised ones for every guest from Ebay and that they cost…  Phew!  Organising a wedding must create an administrative burden like that of running a small country.

I guess I am more conscious of this this year as my eldest daughter Katie is to be married in Aldingbourne Church next October to her delightful fiancé Matt.  They are making plans already and are very excited about it all, as we all are.

Every bride and bridegroom wants their day to be perfect and despite what the weddings on the soaps tell us, they almost always are.  Not in the sense that everything goes EXACTLY the way it was planned but in the sense that a celebration of love, a thanksgiving to God for the very gift of love – is always perfection.

As an example of what I mean I would like to tell you of a wedding last year where a page boy refused to get dressed.  Not get dressed in his perfectly matching suit, chosen to compliment the colour theme of the wedding you understand, but get dressed AT ALL.  He turned up to the wedding in his pants wrapped in a blanket.  It was brilliant, it was perfect. Because he was there.  He was a part of it.  The little boy was one of the things that made the day perfect, perfect and totally unforgettable.

In an age where TV shows like ‘Don’t tell the Bride’ and ‘Say Yes to the Dress’ encourage us to plan weddings as if there were written in the pages of a fairy story, the reality is so much better, so much more human and so much more wonderful.  From out of tune singing (mostly by your clergy) to fainting grooms, from horses that poo at exactly the moment the bride steps from the carriage to the page boy pulling faces at the camera.  Weddings are full of humanity and are perfect because of it.

Of course we all know one wedding where things didn’t quite go according to plan.  It would have been social death to run out of wine as the wedding couple did at Cana.  But Christ’s actions, in turning 150 gallons of water into wine show us that despite the mess we often find ourselves in, love conquers all.  No matter how imperfect the day itself turns out, the fact is that the couple get married, love is celebrated, two become one.  That is what it is all about, that is what is perfect.

God’s love conquers all the imperfections, and not just a bit.  150 gallons is excessive – that’s 680 litres of the best wine.  God’s love is extravagant, it is more than we need or deserve.  It wipes away our imperfections, redeems us, inebriates us and leaves us drunk.

Thanks be to God (hic!)

 

Fear of Failure

It may surprise you to know, but I was a late learner when it came to riding a bike.  My early cycling years were characterised by a great many attempts at conquering the art of forward motion on two wheels, blighted by a series of accidents, skinned knees and resulting in my frustrated parents giving up all hope of me ever ‘getting it’.

On one particular occasion we went to have yet another try, this time in a car park, at my Dad’s place of work – Bishop Otter College.  The car park was where the present library sits and was a vast tarmacked area, with a dip on one side.  It was the holidays – the car park was empty but for one car, in the far corner.  It was red I remember, a Ford Escort.  The reason I remember that one car so well is that despite starting off with my Dad holding the saddle at the furthest possible end from the one parked car, somehow I managed, at frightening speed and without even thinking of touching the perfectly operational brakes, to smash headlong into the side of the car, sending me spilling over the bonnet, in a kind of twisted, bone-crunching Starsky and Hutch manoeuvre.  That was it as far as I was concerned.  Bike riding was not for me.

Then, around my 8th birthday, fed up with my mates hurtling off round the block on their bikes while I timed the laps.  I went to the shed, pulled out my bike, dusted off the saddle, swallowed my fear of failure and went for it….  I didn’t even wobble.  It was like a dream, I was fast, smooth, I can remember distinctly the wind on my face, the thrum of the tyres on the tarmac, the near collision with a car coming the other way as I had forgotten what side of the road I should be on… It was, quite simply, freedom.  Fear of failing evaporated and I have never looked back.  A life-long love affair with two wheels began.  For me it will remain the best way to get around, even in the harshest of weather and despite numerous accidents with cars (stationary and moving) since.

For many years I was convinced that riding a bike was not for me.  I was so afraid of failing (again) and the growing ignominy of my friends that I thought it best not to bother at all.

Fear of failure is crippling.  It crushes creativity and stifles imagination.  When Simon Peter stepped onto the lake of the Sea of Galilee it was his fear of drowning that caused him to sink.  I am writing this just a few days before our Spirit of Pentecost event – and it is raining and we have never done this before and it is uncertain and new and it is bound not to work…let’s call the whole thing off!  Thus says the voice in my head at two in the morning.  The fear of it not working is palpable.  Then I have to remind myself, or have someone remind me, ‘What’s the worst that can happen?’  No-one comes, it flops, it just doesn’t work.

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But then what if we didn’t try at all?  It could be great.  It could be a great time of worship, witness and faith made real.  It could be the beginning on something big.  It could be amazing….

Every action we make, every plan we hatch carries two risks.  The first risk is that it might not work.  The second risk is the risk of not trying it. How is not trying a risk? You risk settling and continuing in the same direction in the same way, wondering about other paths and possibilities, believing that this is as good as it gets while discontent gnaws away at your soul.  Either way, do it or not, there is always a risk.

Failure when it comes, and it will, is not all it is cracked up to be.  The world won’t end if no-one comes on Sunday. When failure happens we need to ask ourselves, Why did I do that? What have I learned? How will I do it differently in the future?  What you would have called a failure becomes another opportunity for increased clarity about who you are and what you’re doing here.

If we all saw failure and risk in this way then we would be much happier, more fulfilled people.  We would be better at serving God’s church and our community.  We would be more together in the work of the Gospel to build the Kingdom of God and we would be unafraid to get back on that bike, pedal and fly off into freedom.

 

Latin, Greek, Logic or Eastenders?

Have you ever felt intellectually inadequate?  My guess is that all of us have, at one time or another felt just a little bit left out of a conversation, or mystified by something we are hearing on the radio, or simply left scratching our heads as the seemingly vast intellect of another astounds us with its insight and knowledge.  Think of watching University Challenge if nothing else springs to mind.

To be honest I am dreading my daughter Lyra getting to an age when she comes home with questions like this:

Solve X in the following equation:

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It is bad enough now when at aged 4 she comes home and tells me that the word she is reading is a split vowel diagraph (eh?) It’s a good job I am married to a primary school teacher.

Thankfully for me and for all of us intellectual inadequates there is a school of philosophical thinking that offers redemption.  Michel de Montaigne (1533-1592) in his philosophical thinking around the education of children drew a distinction between learning (in the category of learning he placed among other subjects, logic, grammar, etymology, Latin, mathematics and Greek) and wisdom.  For Montaigne, wisdom was a far broader, more elusive and far more valuable kind of knowledge, everything that could help a person live well.  He wrote:

“If man were wise, he would gauge the true worth of anything but its usefulness and its appropriateness to his life.”

For Montaigne knowledge was only useful if it was directly applicable to one’s own life – this application is what he called wisdom.

This is a huge relief to those of us who wish we knew the classics but do not.  Who can just about add up or subtract but who find long division baffling.  It is great comfort for those of us who sit down to read Keats and then decide to go off and watch Eastenders instead.  It is not that there is no intellectual value to Keats or to long division (or Eastenders for that matter), but that its value is only in how I am able to apply it to my life.

Thankfully there are others who know these things.  There are people who can do long division, who are able to work out the angle to cut a piece of wood to make it fit in that gap.  There are people who know about Keats and who can communicate the wonder and mystery of his poetry to me. Make it relevant for me and enable me to apply it to my life.

‘Now you are the body of Christ and individually members of it… are all apostles, are all prophets?., Are all teachers?’ (1 Corinthians 12.27, 29)

We each have differing gifts and each of us all called to use these gifts for the furtherance of the Kingdom.  I am no longer going to feel inadequate about the things I am no good at.  What’s the point?  As Christ’s body on earth we are here to help each other.  I am no good at accounts, but thankfully Neill our Treasurer most definitely is.  I am bored by paperwork, but thankfully Vera is a mistress of efficiency in our Parish Office… the list could go on.

Ask yourself not what can’t I do but what can I do to make my church, my community that little bit better.  Is there a skill, a wisdom that you have that others could share and from which others could benefit?  If there is, then speak up.  You are needed to serve God’s people in whatever way you can.

P.S. If you are still wondering what a split vowel diagraph is, check this link out: http://www.theschoolrun.com/what-magic-e

P.P.S. As for the equation… answers on a postcard…

 

Pray How You Can…

Over the past weeks a number of us have been thinking in some detail about the Lord’s Prayer as we explore the Pilgrim Course together. It has been a really interesting thing to do, to sit and thoughtfully examine, line by line, the prayer which perhaps more than any other trips off the tongue without a single thought. I guess that you like me know this prayer better than any other. It is our default prayer and the one that, if we have no other words, we can always return to.

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One of the discussions that has come up again and again is about how to build prayer into daily life. Many of the group start well and make a resolution to pray each day, but it drifts off and grinds to a halt. Prayer then becomes the thing we do only in church, or only in emergencies.

Perhaps we start from the wrong place. We see it as a task to be completed like the washing up or the ironing. Prayer isn’t yet another task to complete on your ever growing list. Prayer is relationship. Prayer is relationship with God. And this is partly why it is so hard. Because it is relationship it is about letting go and allowing someone else to be at the centre of your life. In so many ways the human spirit will recoil from this kind of loving. We like to be at the centre ourselves. But this is the most fundamental truth about Christian prayer. Prayer is relationship with God; it is the relationship we are made for.

“Pray how you can, not how you can’t”
Dom Chapman

Obvious isn’t it, and yet many of us are stuck in ways of praying that are not really us. We have ideas about how prayer should be done which we can never achieve ourselves, and so we become discouraged and give up. If we think it is the best way to pray in a silent room, lit only by candlelight, on our knees and for a least an hour, who on earth can achieve that? I certainly can’t and it’s my job! We often have unrealistic expectations about our life of prayer. And if we have unrealistic expectation about what is involved is it any wonder that we lose heart when we are unable to achieve them.

I want to start a movement within our parish to build prayer into our daily life and routine in such a way that it expresses this truth that prayer is relationship with our God. And I want to start by taking up the suggestion from Bishop Stephen Cottrell about saying a short prayer of grace before a meal. It need not be a long prayer, it need not be more than the shortest of all graces – ‘Ta, Pa’ – but it could be the start of putting prayer back into our busy and overcrowded lives in a realistic and achievable way.

So I am going to be talking and preaching about this during this glorious season of Easter joy as we ready ourselves for Pentecost. I am going to be giving suggested prayers, encouraging us all to take up the pattern of thanking the creator before you eat and most of all praying that we all might rediscover the joy of our relationship with God in prayer.

If we start with this one small thing, who knows where the relationship may take us as Christ’s body here on earth.

With much prayer
Fr M