Tag Archives: change

7 February: Zebedee, Part III

Mrs Turnstone’s two little fish from Aberdaron, Wales. Reminding us of a pilgrimage.

Sister Johanna concludes her reflection on Zebedee. Thank you Sister!

For two days, we have been considering the call of James and John through the eyes of Zebedee, their father. If you are just joining us today, it’s advisable that you scroll back two days to see how we’ve arrived here. Today we’ll begin our reflection with the silence of Zebedee, as he acquiesces to what Jesus has just done. This is what Mark seems to wonder at, I believe – the text suggests this to me. If the evangelists had gone in for textual emphasis, then maybe the words, LEAVING THEIR FATHER ZEBEDEE WITH THE MEN HE EMPLOYED IN THE BOAT would have looked something like that, with everything else in lower case lettering. And I wonder at this, too: Zebedee himself was not asked by Jesus to follow him. Only his sons were asked. Zebedee, in fact, wasn’t asked anything – he was not even acknowledged by Jesus, and James and John didn’t even say good-bye. They all acted as though Zebedee wasn’t there. What does Zebedee think? How does he feel? He doesn’t say. He is silent.

But maybe this silence itself says something. Maybe Zebedee is silently saying, “I will not interfere with my sons’ relationship to Jesus”. This is remarkable because his non-interference involves the loss of something extremely precious to him – his sons. Their presence. Their help, Their daily expressions of filial love. But Zebedee doesn’t interfere,

either now or later. Whatever in Zebedee’s silence that could have been attributed to shock does not change once Zebedee gets over it. There is no record of Zebedee turning up at Jesus’ camp later and saying, “Hey! I want my sons back!” Zebedee’s acceptance of this strange turn of events is total.

Where does this reflection on Zebedee leave me? I suppose it leaves me with the recognition that sometimes Jesus’ actions toward those we love are unfathomable and leave us in a state of incredulity. We see that Jesus is requiring something of someone we love, and we see them responding. Maybe it looks crazy to us – looks contrary to all that they’ve been prepared for and to everything we expected of them. And, worse, maybe we’re required to give them up now, or change our relationship in a way that hurts us. What will we do? How will we manage? Nor do we understand Jesus’ actions – actions which leave us with a lot of very good questions, and no answers. We simply don’t understand what is going on or why.

How would I react if I were Zebedee? How am I reacting now to the unfathomable aspects of Jesus’ actions toward those I love? He’s not asking me for my opinion; he doesn’t seem to be taking me into account at all. Could I, can I be as silent and trusting as Zebedee? Could I do this long-term? Perhaps Zebedee is one of the New Testament’s greatest saints.

Knowing when not to interfere … that’s wisdom!

Here’s another look – or looks – at this story from the Visual Commentary on Scripture, ‘Fishing for People.‘ VCS is a free series of reflections through works of art.

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25 January: Week of Prayer for Christian Unity 2022, Day VIII.

Week of Prayer for Christian Unity 2022

Original photo of Nablus (CC BY-NC-SA 2.0): Dr. Michael Loadenthal

Day 8 “They left for their own country by another road”

Readings

Psalm 16 – You show me the path of life.

Matthew 11:25-30 – Because you have hidden these things from the wise and the intelligent, and have revealed them to infants.

Reflection

We do not know what the wise men thought – they who were experts in astronomy and navigation – when they were warned to return by another road. They may well have been very confused, but the same light that illumined their journey showed them that there was another road, another possibility. They were called to change direction.

We often find ourselves bound by our familiar ways of doing things and of seeing the world. When these ways or ‘roads’ are closed, we wonder how to proceed and continue the journey. We have to trust that the everlasting One who gave us the light, can always find a way forward when our ways and paths are blocked. A fresh start is always possible when we are willing and open to the work of the Spirit.

As churches we look to the past and find illumination, and we look to the future in search of new ways so that we can continue to shine the light of the Gospel as we journey by another way, together.

Prayer 
Gracious God,
when we only know one way and we think we must return to it,
when we think that all roads are blocked, and we fall into despair,
we always find you there, creating a new unexpected path before us.
If we search our maps and find no route,
nonetheless we always find you, who lead us by a yet more excellent way,
trusting that you will always lead us back to you
and forward in unity together. Amen.
Meditative Response
Journeying on parallel paths or often in opposite directions
We are called by ‘another way’
to become pilgrim companions,the people of The Way.
Compasses and maps orientated
route finding and navigating together
our backpacks not burdensome, our boots crunching on,
rediscovering ancient paths,
walking humbly together with our God.

Questions

Global: What other ways of journeying together could we explore that would lead us into a better future?

Local: What do we take for granted about our daily rhythms? What blessing might someone of another tradition receive from the worship in your church? How might the worship of your church be perceived by someone of another tradition?

Personal: How does it feel when your familiar ways or traditions are challenged?

Go and Do

(see www.ctbi.org.uk/goanddo)

Global: Find out how communities from all over the world joined in pilgrimage for climate justice in 2021. Plan as churches together to continue the journey to a better future for the planet and for us all. Find out more at christianaid.org.uk/campaigns

Local: Organise a local pilgrimage between the churches in your area, for example, you could walk to each of the church buildings or find your nearest pilgrim route.

Personal: Journey familiar routes by another way, for example walk 50% more slowly on your errands today, what do you notice? How do you see things differently?

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November 26: Winter overtakes Autumn.

Hoar frost at Nonnington, Kent.

Bitter for Sweet

Summer is gone with all its roses,
  Its sun and perfumes and sweet flowers,
  Its warm air and refreshing showers:
    And even Autumn closes.

 Yea, Autumn's chilly self is going,
  And winter comes which is yet colder;
  Each day the hoar-frost waxes bolder,
    And the last buds cease blowing."

From Goblin Market, The Prince’s Progress, and Other Poems by Christina Rossetti.

With a different title, this would have been a straightforward descriptive poem but maybe we should think again. Summer, Autumn and Winter; why no mention of Spring and the hope it brings? Because the poet is feeling bitter, or examining bitterness?

There are people today, Christian people, who seem to have lost hope and become bitter. It was not Christina Rossetti’s default position, but clearly one she experienced and understood. Disappointment in love, twice over, may have contributed.

Not for us to succumb to bitterness. There maybe naught for our comfort in the news about the climate and the future of our grandchildren across the world, but we must acknowledge the reality of the bitterness and the realities that contribute to it. Which of those can we make even the smallest dent or scratch in? What do we, can we, repent of?

I’ll be out litterpicking tomorrow. That’s two spiritual works of mercy, I reckon: to instruct (by example) the ignorant who leave rubbish about, and to bear wrongs patiently. It’s a start.

And if winter comes, can spring be far behind?

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14 November: Grief must be Digested, II

Elizabeth’s Rose

Here’s a story that follows on naturally from Dr Johnson’s wise words yesterday.

The first lady had just celebrated her birthday. ‘I always buy myself a present from my mother out of the money she left me when she died 14 years ago. This year I bought myself a red rose bush.’

Her friend’s reaction was quite different. ‘I can’t bear roses in the garden, they were my mother’s favourite flowers and I just can’t look at them now. And you remember that I gave you all my lilies of the valley for the same reason. Those pretty little bells and the gorgeous scent. It was too much for me. But they are creeping back in the corner by the shed. I don’t like to think of ripping them out again.’

The rose shown here has a story of grief and remembrance, which you can find here. You can find Elizabeth’s rose next to Saint Mildred’s church in Canterbury.

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5 November: Autumn.

As imperceptibly as grief
The summer lapsed away, —
Too imperceptible, at last,
To seem like perfidy.

A quietness distilled,
As twilight long begun,
Or Nature, spending with herself
Sequestered afternoon.

The dusk drew earlier in,
The morning foreign shone, —
A courteous, yet harrowing grace,
As guest who would be gone.

And thus, without a wing,
Or service of a keel,
Our summer made her light escape
Into the beautiful.”


 

We should perhaps have posted this earlier in Autumn, when Summer was still perceptible in the afternoon, but we were then in the season of Creation and listening to Pope Francis. But here it is now, a remembrance of the beauty of summer and a challenge to seek the different beauties of the present season. Emily is in a less fraught state than yesterday, inviting us to spend time in quietness, looking over Nature’s shoulder.

(from “Poems by Emily Dickinson, Three Series, Complete” by Emily Dickinson)

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20 October: Luke, a Nervous Evangelist, Part III

This is the third part of Sister Johanna’s reflection on Luke 18:1-8. In my mental picture of this story, the widow gathers her friends and neighbours to mount a demo outside the Judge’s house – or maybe he was sipping a hot chocolate in the Hard Rock Cafe when the widow’s entourage came by with their loudspeakers blaring and chanting their slogans. Embarrassing enough to make him give up. What next? What indeed: read on!

If you are just joining this daily reflections blog, I invite you to scroll back two days to find out what we are thinking about. Today, Jesus, in Luke 18: 1-8, gives us his third surprise. He seems to be saying that we must play the role of the feisty widow in relation not to a sinful human being, but in relation to God himself. No wonder St Luke was a bit nervous about this parable. For Jesus is saying to us here, “You’ve got to be like her with God. God’s not trying to make you a victim, but it might feel like that sometimes. And so you’ve just got to stay with it. Keep praying. No matter what happens or doesn’t happen. Just stay with God. Some things take time. God sees the big picture. Don’t give up and don’t switch off with God.” While we’re still taking this in Jesus gives us our fourth surprise.

Here comes Jesus’ curmudgeonly judge-God again. Jesus paints him as someone who can actually be intimidated by us and our persistence. Pace, St Luke. This is not systematic theology, it is a parable – something more like a poem or a song that tells us what it “feels” like, how things “seem” to be in our relationship with God. And the point is important enough for Jesus to take the risk of being misunderstood. He’s saying, with maybe a twitch of a smile, if you stick with God, God will eventually seem to cave in and to say, “Oh, for the love of Mike. This lady will slap me if I don’t give her what she wants. Looks like I’d better do something for her.”

This perhaps becomes clearer when we consider Jesus’ final words. At the end of this passage, Jesus resumes the gravitas that we usually associate with him, but his words seem enigmatic at first, and even self-contradictory:

And the Lord said, ‘You notice what the unjust judge has to say? Now, will not God see justice done to his elect if they keep calling to him day and night even though he still delays to help them? I promise you, he will see justice done to them, and done speedily. But when the Son of man comes, will he find any faith on earth?’

Jesus ends with a very un-playful plea for faith. A superficial reading of this passage might make its final words seem out of place. But we have been trying to go in deep over the last three days, and I think we can begin to see what Jesus is saying. He first says, in effect, that if such an unjust creature as this judge will eventually come round, will not God do so also? Seems clear enough. Yet, then, Jesus returns to the theme of God’s apparent delay, and seems to be trying to say two opposing things at once. In line eight, we are told to expect that God will seem to delay to help us. But immediately following those words, he seems to promise the opposite, that God will ‘see justice done, and done speedily.’ What does he mean?

I think Jesus is handing us a paradox – for this is the only way of describing God’s grace. On one hand, God’s help seems to be forever in coming, as we pray and wait in agony for a specific outcome to our prayer that never arrives. And then, time passes, and if we stay with our prayer and our hope in God, we begin to realize a few things. We see that as we have waited and prayed, we have changed. We see that as we have waited and prayed, other circumstances around us have changed – in ways that are surprising and that we had not asked for. It gradually becomes clear that we have been given the answer to our prayer – an answer that is not what we expected, but that blesses us more deeply than we could have imagined. And then we look back and see that God has, in fact, been answering our prayer all along, invisibly, yet speedily and unwaveringly guiding us to this particular moment when we discover his grace and healing.

‘When the Son of man comes, will he find any faith on earth?’ Jesus asks. What kind of faith is that? The widow shows us. It’s faith that, with feisty determination, clings to God as our helper; faith that refuses to take no for an answer. For, God is our helper, Jesus wants us to know in this parable. Just wait and see. That is reason for Jesus to smile, and even play a bit. He invites us to do so, also.

Thank you, Sister Johanna. There is a link between faith and a sense of humour that seems to start from infancy: babies and toddlers often seem to see the ridiculous side of life. And what, after all, is more ridiculous than the idea of the Creator of all becoming a human baby?

_________________________________________________________________

This was a crowd of pilgrims in Krakow for the World Youth Days, 2016. Follow the link for Ignatius’ impressions of this event at the time.


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8 August: the Revolt of the friars, Saint Dominic.

Fortified Gateway to Lincoln Cathedral.

Chesterton is discussing the impact of the friars mendicant upon the Church in Western Europe. A shock to the system that we can hardly comprehend when Franciscans and Dominicans are part of the establishment. We need to feel a measure of disconcert, a sense of our own lack of balance, before we can learn to get to our feet and move on. And who is afraid of Christ’s message today? Maybe we are, first of all.

It is highly pertinent to recall the modern revolutionists would now call the revolt of the French Jacobins insufficient, just as they would call the revolt of the Friars insufficient. They would say that neither went far enough; but many, in their own day, thought they went very much too far. In the case of the Friars, the higher orders of the State, and to some extent even of the Church, were profoundly shocked at such a loosening of wild popular preachers among the people. It is not at all easy for us to feel that distant events were thus disconcerting and even disreputable.

Revolutions turn into institutions; revolts that renew the youth of old societies in their turn grow old; and the past, which was full of new things, of splits and innovations and insurrections, seems to us a single texture of tradition. But if we wish for one fact that will make vivid this shock of change and challenge, and show how raw and ragged, how almost rowdy in its reckless novelty, how much of the gutter and how remote from refined life, this experiment of the Friars did really seem to many in its own day, there is here a very relevant fact to reveal it. It shows how much a settled and already ancient Christendom did feel it as something like the end of an age; and how the very roads of the earth seem to shake under the feet of the new and nameless army; the march of the Beggars. A mystic nursery rhyme suggests the atmosphere of such a crisis: “Hark, hark, the dogs do bark; the Beggars are coming to town.”

Roman City Gate, Lincoln.

There were many towns that almost fortified themselves against them and many watchdogs of property and rank did really bark, and bark loudly, when those Beggars went by; but louder was the singing of the Beggars who sang their Canticle to the Sun, and louder the baying of the Hounds of Heaven; the Domini canes of the medieval pun; the Dogs of God.

From Saint Thomas Aquinas by G. K. Chesterton; via Kindle.

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27 May: The Old and New Registers.

Earlier this month the regulations for recording marriages were changed; after centuries of pen and paper, it’s going digital. Rev Jo Richards of Saints Dunstan, Mildred and Peter marked the occasion with this post and special prayers.

Marriage Registers: There are significant changes in the Registration of Marriages – this will no longer take place during the marriage ceremony – be it in a church/chapel/registry office or licensed venue. Rather the couple will sign a Marriage Document (or Schedule) during the service. This is returned by the minister who conducts the service within 21 days, to the General Registry Office (GRO) – it is from there that the couple have to get their marriage certificate and where the marriage is now electronically registered, rather than being given the certificate on the day. The marriage certificate is also somewhat different with the inclusion  of mothers – since their inception in 1837 only father and father’s rank/profession were on the document. Now the mother’s details are included, along with their occupation. It was this that triggered the changes – along with the GRO going electronic.
Needless to say we have had training both by the GRO and CofE for marriages that will take place from today onwards. The other change is that the new certificate is portrait (previously landscape) and we can include up to 4 parents (e.g. step-parents) and 6 witnesses. We do however have to have a ‘register of marriage services’ book. This will be a special book, as we have for burials, baptisms and confirmations. This is just filled out by the minister, again as per other occasional offices.
This is also an historical moment, and I attach the prayers that I said in St Dunstan’s on Sunday, to acknowledge the closure of the two Registers there, and I will do likewise for both St Peter’s and St Mildred’s this coming Sunday. We are permitted to keep one Register in church for historical reasons, and the other returns to the GRO. We no longer provide replacement certificates, again all through the centralised GRO.
There is no change as far as Banns are concerned – what is called ‘marriage preliminaries’ remain the same, and the marriage service is the same – rather than ‘signing of the registers’ it will be ‘signing of the marriage document’ – and will be a lot quicker – one piece of paper rather than three! And we can still take photos!

At the Closing of the Marriage Registers

Introduction

The duplicate register books are placed on view, with the blank entries struck through as required by law. This or similar might be read by the minister.

The Church has been closely involved in witnessing and solemnising marriages since the 11th century, and from the Reformation parishes were required to keep written record of all those married in their churches, a requirement formalised in Canon 70 of 1610, which remained in force until the 18th century. The Marriage Act 1836 provided for the duplicate green register books with we are all so familiar, and whose use comes to an end today. For centuries it has been our privilege as a church, entrusted to us by the state, to keep these legal records of marriages. Herein have been recorded the acts of loving commitment made by successive couples, witnessed by their friends and family and recorded on their behalf by our clergy. In years to come the legal record of all marriages will be held nationally by the Registrar-General, but we shall still rejoice to welcome couples to marry here, and pray that God will bless and support them in their unions. Today we give thanks for the duty of record that has been ours.

A Prayer of Thanksgiving for Marriages

Almighty God, we thank you for the gift of love and remember the many men and women who have stood in this place to make their vows to one another, and whose names are written in these registers [and those before them]. We thank you for all the joy and fruitfulness born of their marriages. We remember: Those whose faithfulness was lifelong and who are now at rest. Those who were widowed and bore long grief, or who married again. Those whose marriages, begun in hope did not bring them joy, or which ended how they did not intend. We remember also the fathers, whose names are recorder here, and the mothers, whose names are not; the friends and relations who bore witness to the weddings, and the clergy who solemnised them. Give us grace to remember all that is past with thanksgiving and with love, committing to your care and healing sorrows which cannot now be changed in this world, but which will find peace through the grace of your Son, our Saviour Jesus Christ. Amen.

A Prayer of Thanksgiving for Records

God of order and peace, we thank you for the means by which the turnings of our lives are faithfully recorded, and for those who keep the records with diligence. For the means they offer for truth-telling and justice, and the record of memory of generations past. As we prepare to commit these records to the archives, help us to leave the past in your care, and renew our trust in your changeless mercy, that brings us life and wholeness in Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

The register books are closed.

A Prayer for Marriages Yet To Come

Loving God, we pray for those who will come to this place to declare their love in time to come; for those planning weddings here in coming years, those whose love is yet unkindled and the generations still stored up in your bounty that they may live and love in the freedom of your creation. May this place be to them a sign that their earthly love is a sign of your eternal love, that raised Jesus Christ from the dead and that holds us in life until we come to the kingdom prepared for us in him.

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18 May: Stirring It: II. (Shared Table XXVII)

Pope Benedict hosting Christmas lunch

Pope Benedict created a stir when he invited poor Romans and those living and working with them to a Christmas meal. Jesus caused a less comfortable stir when he was invited to dine with a leading Pharisee.

Jesus had just finished speaking when a Pharisee invited him to dine at his house. He went in and sat down at table. The Pharisee saw this and was surprised that he had not first washed before the meal. But the Lord said to him, ‘You Pharisees! You clean the outside of the cup and plate while inside yourselves you are filled with extortion and wickedness’

(Luke 11:37-38).

Yesterday we were looking at Luke 11:37-38. I recommend that you scroll back to yesterday’s post it if you weren’t here for it.

As I leave the surface level of this gospel and keep thinking about this scene, I find the text taking hold of my mind more fully. I begin to feel a sense of awe at what Jesus says, and at the courage and brilliance of his handling of the situation. I find that I want Jesus to “stir it”. So much really was at stake, and as I meditate, I become more aware of it. An opportunity was offered to the Pharisee who had invited Jesus for dinner. That dinner – and indeed, the whole of history of Christianity – could have been different had even a few of the religious authorities of Jesus’ day recognised the truth of Jesus’ message – and of his very person. If that evening’s host, for example, had allowed Jesus’ strong words to break through his defences, if he had responded to Jesus with an open heart – well, we don’t know what would have happened. But it’s obvious that the host of that dinner missed a crucially important opportunity that night.

Or, let’s look at the Twelve. Jesus, in fact, “stirs it” with them, also – but in a different way. He is forever challenging their desire to find out who among them is the greatest. He frankly and clearly tells the Twelve that they are missing the point: ‘The greatest among you must be the least,’ and ‘The first shall be last,’ and ‘He who loses his life for my sake will find it’: all of these sayings of Jesus – and many more – teach that the deepest self-giving, not self-aggrandizement, is the hallmark of the true disciple. This a lesson that the Twelve don’t seem able to grasp until much, much later – after Pentecost, in fact. But despite the fact that the Twelve must have repeatedly felt pretty stupid when Jesus lets them know that they are wrong-headed, they act very differently from the defensive Pharisee we see here. They love Jesus and keep on loving him. They recognise that he has the words of eternal life. They don’t understand everything he teaches, but they want to. They are seeking the truth and they know – imperfectly, but they know somehow – that he is Truth. Unlike the dinner-host Pharisee, the apostles keep trying to embrace Jesus’ teaching, and, with the exception of Judas, they stay with him. They must have come to expect that Jesus would stir it. I begin to see that he stirs it with nearly everyone in the gospels at some point.

What does this tell me, then, about my relationship with Jesus? Simply that I mustn’t be surprised when Jesus stirs it in my life. I have given myself to the Lord as well as I am able, but I am a fallen human being, and aspects of my life have not always been in alignment with the self-gift I have made. Jesus has not hesitated to stir this situation, and bring my fragmentation clearly to my awareness. He has done this many times. And I find, as a result of this meditation, that I do not want a compliant Jesus who will overlook immaturity in me. Above all, I do not want Jesus to be the urbane dinner guest who tells amusing stories and takes his leave politely at the end of the meal. Jesus’ meal, in fact, is the Eucharist, where his self-gift is total. He expects nothing less from me, and I expect nothing less of myself. He offers forgiveness, yes. But that does not mean he will look the other way when he sees that something in me needs to change. And I don’t want him to. I hope I continue to find Jesus “stirring it” in my life in order to make me aware that there are things in me that are not what they should be. It has never been easy to be a follower of Jesus. But I know he is Truth, and I pray that I may take full advantage of every graced opportunity for growth that Jesus offers me – stirred or otherwise.

Sister Johanna Caton OSB

Just to round off, here is a collect from the Anglican Book of Common Prayer, to be recited while stirring up the Christmas Pudding in November. WT.

Stir up, we beseech thee, O Lord, the wills of thy faithful people; that they, plenteously bringing forth the fruit of good works, may of thee be plenteously rewarded; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

Book of Common Prayer

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21 March: A modern parable for Lent.

We invite you to share this seafaring reflection from the Dean of Lichfield, a city about as far as you can get from the sea in England! He ends with these words:

Lent is a good time for self-examination on a personal and communal level.  How far have I or we mangled God’s image and likeness into my/our own limited image and likeness?  How far have my/our anxious needs for safety, belonging, esteem, or amounting to something deafened or blinded me/us to what God is putting before us?  And remember Christianity is a “revealed” faith, so it’s not so much a question of inventing the God we want, as understanding the God we have got and are getting.

Let’s journey on this Lent, personally and corporately, towards what God holds before us.  We can do no better than read and meditate on one of the Gospels – try Mark.  It’s short and punchy and lets us know why that, when the Good News is proclaimed, life isn’t settled or comfortable.

A prayer for us to say together:

We thank you, Lord Jesus Christ, King of Glory, that you have called us to be your people.  Help us to know the greatness of our calling, so that we, having one spirit of faith and love, may live in the world as a new and holy generation.  May your eternal and righteous will be always before our eyes, so that in soberness and vigilance we may await your time, and witness to your promises, until your kingdom comes.  Amen.

With my love, prayers and blessings

Adrian Dorber
Dean of Lichfield

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