Tag Archives: Epiphany

8 January: An Epiphany Celebration with L’Arche Canterbury Pilgrims.

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Six times a year a mixed gathering of L’Arche core members, assistants and friends meet as the Pilgrims’ Group to pray, eat, and enjoy each other’s company. Pilgrims? Well we are in Canterbury, where every footstep is on the traces of pilgrims to the Shrine of Thomas and saints like Alphege and Mildred from Saxon times, less well known now but great witnesses.

We make no claim to greatness but we do witness together with Scripture, prayer and fellowship at a shared table. This time we were remembering the wise men who made a pilgrimage to Jerusalem to meet an infant king – but found him in Bethlehem.

Our celebration – and we are good at celebrations – took the form of a mini-mystery play around the office and workshop. The wise men left their cosy way of life behind, to try another way: the pilgrim road, seeking for the new born King, and being pointed to Jerusalem.

pilgrims way

And they had to try another way to go home, after they all had the same dream. Here is the text we followed, and the figures that we used to act out the story. After that, we prayed around the table, made ourselves crowns, and feasted. We are good at celebrations!

The lines in blue are repeated by all; red for rubrics means stage directions, not to be read aloud.


The readings are from Isaiah and Saint Matthew.

Isaiah wrote about people going on pilgrimage to Jerusalem before Jesus was born.

Shine out, Jerusalem, your light has come! Kings will come to your shining light. They will bring gold and incense and sing the praise of the Lord.

All: Sing the praise of the Lord.

Our scented candle can stand for the frankincense and myrrh, and the flame is the same colour as gold.

candle

The wise men were pilgrims following the star.

Mark to take up star to first station where magi are waiting.

After Jesus had been born at Bethlehem in the time of King Herod,  some wise men came from the east.

 

Wherever they went they asked: ‘Where is the baby king of the Jews?’

‘Where is the baby king of the Jews?’

pilgrimscrib1

On the way they told people: We saw his star and have come to honour him.’

We saw his star and have come to honour him.’

Nobody else thought the star was special. They all said:

pilgrimscrib2

 

‘Go to Jerusalem to see the King of the Jews.’

Stop at  three ‘stations’ and repeat this scene.

At Jerusalem station we see Herod flanked by hid guards.

pilgrimscrib3herod

When they got to Jerusalem, they went to see King Herod. He was worried. He asked the priests and the teachers where Christ was to be born. They told him ‘At Bethlehem .’

At Bethlehem .’

‘for the prophet wrote:

Bethlehem! Out of you will come the shepherd of my people Israel.’

Bethlehem! Out of you will come the shepherd of my people Israel.’

Then Herod called the wise men. He asked them when the star had appeared, and sent them to Bethlehem. ‘Come and tell me when you find the baby, then I may go and worship him.’ They listened to the king, and they set out. And the star went forward, and halted over the place where the child was.

To final station, the crib.

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They saw the child with his mother Mary, and they fell to their knees. Then, opening their treasures, they offered him gifts of gold and frankincense and myrrh.

gold and frankincense and myrrh.

But they were warned in a dream not to go back to Herod, and they went home a different way.

they went home a different way.

Magi depart.

When I was at L’Arche Edmonton, I visited one of the activities where core members worked. The man in charge of it was a wise teacher. He taught me something I’ve never forgotten. Don’t tell someone they are doing something wrong when they are doing their best. Say, Try another way.

That is what the wise men did. First of all they left their home and their work to follow a star. And then, instead of going back to report to King Herod, they went home a different way. If they all had the same dream, they would have taken it seriously! Let’s try another way with the people we live and work with this year.

With thanks to Christina Chase who helped crystallise some of the ideas in this celebration, and thanks to Abel for the loan of his people.

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WT

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Review: The Methodist Art Collection comes to town.

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When we were first married we worshipped in a village Methodist Church near Margate; an austere little chapel it was, whitewashed walls and uncomfortable benches. Thank God we did not have to sit under hour long nineteenth century non-conformist sermons, but were fed with wise words from Fr Martin Symonds, of Ramsgate Abbey.

That was more than a few years ago, but the austere image of Methodism is fixed in my mind, which expects churches to be bathed in coloured light from stained glass windows and peopled by statues of the saints who have gone before us.

Not all windows or statues in English Catholic churches would merit inclusion in a travelling art exhibition.

The Methodist Church has built up a collection of modern art, largely looking at Jesus, in one way or another. You can view the works here: http://www.methodist.org.uk/prayer-and-worship/mmac/index . The website will lead you to videos and other resources around these images.

Instead of hanging on church walls, the collection is sent out to proclaim the Good News in its own way; through exhibitions around the UK and in the future to Dublin, Rome and beyond. Until Saint George’s Day 2017 it is in Canterbury’s Beaney Museum.

Not all the images inspire me to ‘prayer and worship’, but I am hard-wired to David Jones, represented here by a delicate woodblock of The Three Kings, passing a David Jones signature passion-resurrection image: a war-blasted tree-cum-cross, sprouting new growth. The Magi approach a starlit Bethlehem amid Welsh hills that bring to mind a woman’s torso and raised knees at the moment of childbirth: the star’s rays beam down like a searchlight upon the haven where the Child lies, under the hill within his Mother’s womb.

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Next to Jones’s tiny, monochrome image hangs The Dalit Madonna, a big, bright work by Jyoti Sahi. While this glorious work picks up themes from Eastern and Western European tradition, such as the sun and moon in the sky, and the Babe blessing from the womb, the artist integrates these with his own Indian culture. The sun is represented by a marigold; the moon by a crescent, including Hinduism and Islam in this birth. Then the Infant is seated within an oval reminiscent of the traditional mandala of Eastern icons, yet despite his foetal position and naturalistic drawing, he is clearly blessing the viewer; he is strong but clearly dependent on his mother, who bends her body in worship and protection, her breast ready to comfort and nurture. Many Catholic preachers would tell you that Mary, who conceived Jesus before her marriage, would have been considered an outcast; an untouchable like this Dalit mother, a radiant human being who clearly loves her son, the centre of her world and being. And how many unwed mothers were condemned by the Catholic Church in recent times?

The one Old Testament story on view here is that of Cain and Abel. We could be among Jones’s Welsh hills, or the Lake District, or even the Downs of the Isle of Wight where John Reilly lived and worked. Cain is a stocky, almost Calibanesque figure, at work within the pale he has set around his neat, well-ordered, smallholding. He pauses in his digging to stare up at his brother, a slim, radiant type of the Good Shepherd, who like Abel would be killed by his own. Suddenly that spade looks menacing: a ploughshare about to become a sword. And yet one cannot help a twinge of sympathy for one who wants his world to be under control, without any disturbing incursions from his brother’s nomadic flocks; that brother who stands nearby with eyes for the far horizon, not for him.

The Lord’s eyes, too, are on a far horizon in Christ writes in the dust – the woman taken in adultery by Clive Hicks Jenkins. In a nightmare of blues, Jesus is almost cartwheeling as, with arms outstretched as on the Cross, he looks away from the scene, away from the woman and her accusers, away from us bystanders looking on. The woman, with her Magdalenesque red hair, high heels and little black dress, is bound, as Christ soon would be, a halter around her throat.The light that glows upon her skin is reflected from Christ, apart from the tiny white triangle of her underwear, visible beneath her skirt which she cannot pull down with her hands tied behind her back. It takes a few moments to see that her accusers already have rocks in their hands, awaiting the moment when Christ’s assent to her killing is given. A moment that never comes. Would we back these men up, if we were there? Were these the men who stoned Stephen? Was Paul among them? Was this the first step on the road to Damascus?

Go and sin no more, Jesus told that woman. A good motto for the Christian life.

Even in the first two pictures reviewed here, the effects of sin creep in: the tree from Flanders, the outcast mother. We see the sin in Cain’s illusory self-sufficiency and his inherent jealousy; loud and clear in those shadowy, self-righteous stones, poised for murder. But like Jones’s three kings, each of us can follow the star, which leads us to a fleshly, humble place. The damage of our sinfulness will not prevent the Cross from being the tree of Life.

If you get the chance to see this exhibition on its travels, do spend some time with a few of the works. Others among them may speak to you louder than these four have done to me. Stop, look, listen.

MMB

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22 December: This birth was hard

 

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It’s easy to feel smugly indignant at the commercialisation of Christmas and attempts to create an official Winter Holiday instead. I wonder whether that is a greater threat to the truth of Christmas than sentimental carols, sung unheedingly? Christmas is, as Mary herself said when she met Elizabeth before their sons were born:

He casts the mighty from their thrones and raises the lowly;

He fills the starving with good things, sends the rich away empty.

Luke 1: 52-53.

Here is one mighty one, years later, most uneasy on his throne, cast down even:

 … this birth

Was hard and bitter agony for us, like Death, our death.

We returned to  our places, these Kingdoms,

But no longer at ease here, in the old dispensation,

With an alien people, clutching their gods.

I should be glad of another death.

T.S. Eliot, Journey of the Magi.

Clutching their gods? We are tattooed on God’s hand (Isaiah 49:15); he hold us, gently. May we know his presence  every day, seeing him in the eyes of every person we meet.

MMB.

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Ecce Puer et Mater- behold the Child and his Mother

Edward_Burne-Jones_Star_of_Bethlehem

My mother thanked me for a postcard sent from Birmingham Art Gallery. I visited the city on Assumption Day and set foot in the gallery: I  loved the Pre-Raphaelites there when I was growing up. And so did my mother during the 1930’s when money was tight, yet she would take the tram into Town to linger among the pictures.

I was glad I sought out The Star of Bethlehem by Burne Jones. It had made an impression all those years ago, but now I could sympathise with Mary, tired out of her mind, holding a fractious infant, wanting the Kings to get their business done and go, not knowing how to get her baby to be sociable.

My mind returned to the summer when I heard Assumption sermons in two French cathedrals. In Notre Dame de Paris there was a careful exposition of doctrine; in Embrun, dedicated to Our Lady of the Kings, the priest pointed to the mosaic of the Epiphany: that is Mary, he said, making her son Jesus known.

Burne Jones’s Mary is doing so to the best of her ability. This Jesus is a real human baby looking at the visitors askance. A baby who needs his mother to carry him through the next stage of life. As that French priest said, Mary was Heaven indeed when she carried him; it makes sense for her to be in Heaven still.

(https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Star_of_Bethlehem_(painting)#/media/File:Edward_Burne-Jones_Star_of_Bethlehem.jpg)

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