Tag Archives: presence

18 September: Still here.

Sharp eyes, Kentish or not, will have seen the Tabernacle or Aumbry to our left of the Altar. Jesus is sacramentally present here. We were a little late in the day to be able to linger anywhere in Saint David’s Cathedral; the crowd was beginning to press, but we can sit quietly and ponder these words of Sion Aled Owen in his meditation on The Accidental Pilgrim. Sometimes it’s easier to have heart aflame in a quiet moment than a crowded one.

And here you are
diverted by curiosity from the Coastal Path,
seeking some solace on a vacation rainy day
or on a taster tour from your ship
granted an hour to inherit centuries.
Or coming with heart already aflame
to claim the shrine’s promise.

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30 June, Going Viral XL: God with us in the most challenging of times.

More reflection from Rev Jo Richards of Canterbury. I hope that by the time this is published the restrictions on people attending funerals will have been eased. Thank you again for allowing us to share your reflections, Jo.

Just back from another funeral, this really is tough with so few family and friends being present, to say goodbye to someone, and this morning reading Psalm 23 seemed to speak into the situation of being comforted by God’s presence in all that we are and all that we do. That sense of God with us both in the good times, and the most challenging of times. 

Psalm 23:

The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want. 
He maketh me to lie down in green pastures: he leadeth me beside the still waters. 
He restoreth my soul: he leadeth me in the paths of righteousness for his name's sake.
Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil: for thou art with me;
thy rod and thy staff they comfort me.
Thou preparest a table before me in the presence of mine enemies: thou anointest my head with oil;
my cup runneth over. 
Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life: 
and I will dwell in the house of the Lord for ever.

I saw this yesterday from the Mother’s Union prayer diary, which I thought was lovely: Trying to do the Lord’s work in your own strength is the most confusing, exhausting and tedious of all works. But when you are filled with the Holy Spirit, then the ministry of Jesus just flows out of you.’ Corrie Ten Boom 1892- 1983.  

Rev Jo Richards,

Rector of the Benefice of St Dunstan, St Mildred and St Peter, Canterbury.

The Good Shepherd statue in St Mildred’s, Canterbury.

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Going Viral XL: Eucharistic Fasting: Rev Jo’s Anglican perspective.

Good morning to you all, and hope this finds you well on this slightly damp morning, as we all are here.
Today, in the church year is Corpus Christi, also known as The Day of Thanksgiving for the Institution of Holy Communion. It always falls the Thursday after Trinity Sunday, and two months on from Maundy Thursday (what a lot has happened in that time). Corpus Christi is a festival that has been celebrated by many Christians, particularly the Catholic Church, in honour of the Eucharist since 1246. The name “Corpus Christi” is a Latin phrase that refers to the body of Christ. In this context it is acknowledging the ‘real presence’ of Christ in the consecrated bread and wine. I know in St Peter’s and St Mildred’s there has been a tradition of having services in our churches on this day, with a special liturgy, produced by the Church of England.  
Of course we all have our own understanding of what happens at the Eucharist, for some Christ’s presence is real in the consecrated bread and wine, for some it is a  memorial, and for others probably somewhere in between. 
During this lockdown, I am acutely conscious that many  have not been able to receive communion. Although each week as I celebrate here at the Rectory, I do so on behalf of you all, each and every one of you. and I do sense that you are present with me (which is why I live-stream and not pre-record). However I do recognise how difficult this must be, to be fasting from communion and something to reflect upon, particularly as we anticipate the opening of our churches for worship (no date set). I also recognise that for some even when we are permitted to open for public worship, you will feel it is too soon, and would rather stay at home – and I fully respect that. That is why we are looking to continue life-stream services, particularly from St Dunstan’s where there is some 4G, and the possibility of extending wifi from hall to church building.

Thankyou Jo, for showing us how feelings are very similar in our two church families.

Greyfriars is within Rev Jo’s benefice, either in St Peter’s or St Mildred’s parish, so it feels appropriate to use these two pictures today. You can read a little about the friary that was there if you click on the link: Greyfriars, our first home in Canterbury.

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30 March: What Do You Want Me To Do For You?

cross.cave1

Here is Sister Johanna once more, Welcome! We are following Jesus as he gets nearer to the Cross – the next chapter of Luke tells of Palm Sunday, but today he meets a blind beggar. In Sister’s reflection there is a question not unlike Woodbine Willy’s ‘Well?’ the other day: ‘What do you want me to do for you?’

There was a blind man sitting at the side of the road begging…. He called out, ‘Jesus, Son of David, have pity on me.’… Jesus stopped and ordered them to bring the man to him, and when he came up, he said to him, ‘What do you want me to do for you?’ ‘Sir,’ the blind man said, ‘Let me see again.’ Jesus said to him, ‘Receive your sight. Your faith has saved you.’ 

Luke 18: 35-43.

This passage from the Gospel of Luke tells me a lot about what it means truly to encounter Jesus in prayer. I’ve read this story many times, but this time when I read it, I was at first a bit taken aback by the apparently daft question Jesus asks the blind man: ‘What do you want me to do for you?’ Well, I thought, he obviously wants to be healed of his blindness. But then I realised that the blind man could have had other issues; his blindness might not have been the priority for him. Perhaps he had a son on the verge of death, or perhaps he had other illnesses that were not evident. It could have been anything. The question is a highly important one. Jesus wanted the blind man to state his wishes so that he, the blind man, would be fully aware of what he was asking and could take full responsibility for the encounter and for what might happen next.

Sir, let me see again,’ the blind man says. This in itself is impressive – and Jesus doesn’t miss the fact that the blind man expresses no doubts about Jesus’ ability to heal him. His faith rings out with clarity. Moreover, the blind man knows what he wants. He does not hesitate or appear to weigh alternatives before speaking. He wants to see again, and he knows that Jesus is able to bring this cure about. And Jesus’ answer? Direct, simple, almost off-hand. A modern-day Jesus might have said simply, ‘Sure! See! You are already half-way there because of your faith.’

So what does this tell me about asking Jesus for something? About prayer?

  1. The text says, ‘Jesus ordered them to bring the man to him.’ It is important, therefore, to go right up to Jesus, and have a real encounter with him, to be aware of him and to address my prayer to him. I should not just be talking to myself or dreaming. I must, in my mind and heart, stand before Jesus, and be in his presence, when I pray.

  2. It is important to be clear, to tell Jesus what I want and not, out of some misguided idea of abandonment to the divine will, go all vague. Moreover, I must take responsibility for my request. There may be times, perhaps many times, when we do not receive the specific grace we have asked for – but we can be sure that we always receive something, and usually it is a grace that goes much deeper than the one we requested. Eventually we will be able to identify that deeper grace as the real answer to our prayer. But unless we make that original request specific, and own it, this deeper grace would probably have gone unrecognized – and perhaps would not even have been bestowed.

  3. Jesus easily cures the blind man, without a laying on of hands or any other physical process. He merely utters the healing words. He is able to do this because the blind man trusts him completely – his faith saves him, as Jesus declares afterward. The blind man, presumably, had never met Jesus before; he knew him only from hearsay (rather like us). And that was enough for the blind man. Is it enough for me?

  4. Jesus’ question, ‘What do you want me to do for you?’ tells me a great deal about Jesus’ eternal ‘attitude’ toward us whenever we go right up to him, in faith, and ask him something. He is already there, saying, ‘Johanna, or Tom, or Annette, what do you want me to do for you?’ He places himself completely at my disposal.

  5. And what is my answer?

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November 2: Solitude

sjc. solitude hanging

The room is still but for the ticking clock
and like a snowfall stillness settles round,
and in come presences that needn’t knock,
familiar, homing souls, without a sound.

It isn’t always so – so calm, so quiet,
but now the gentle spirits take their ease
as afternoon melts into shadowed night
and birds seek shelter in the darkening trees.

As night advances, sky turns indigo
and slate-grey clouds in bundles fill the east.
I watch. I seem alone, but I’m with you –
my brothers, sisters summoned to the feast.

In solitude I know that we are one.
In solitude I hear the bridegroom come.

SJC

Definitely a poem for All Saints’ Tide. Thank you Sister Johanna! 

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September 25: Brownings XV: Hair 4, Robert’s response. Relics XIX.

st.pauls.from meynell
‘Relics’ seems not quite the right word for the ring with Elizabeth’s hair that Robert has just received, but it serves the same purpose of making her present in a special way. Of course they overcame the obstacles preventing their marriage, and were happier and richer as a result of their boldness.
December 2, 1845.
I was happy, so happy before! But I am happier and richer now.
My love—no words could serve here, but there is life before us, and to the end of it the vibration now struck will extend—I will live and die with your beautiful ring, your beloved hair—comforting me, blessing me. Let me write to-morrow—when I think on all you have been and are to me, on the wonder of it and the deliciousness, it makes the paper words that come seem vainer than ever—To-morrow I will write.”
From “The Letters of Robert Browning and Elizabeth Barrett Barrett, Vol. 1 (of 2) 1845-1846” Edited by Robert Browning

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19 June: real Presence.

 

 

We visited a few churches on the L’Arche pilgrimage: here is Saint Pancras, Coldred, possibly 950 years old, a simple two-room stone-built structure, almost hidden away behind its high hedge. Christians have worshipped here since Saxon times at least; the church is set within an ancient earthen rampart which may mark the boundary of a  much earlier settlement.

God is present here in the worshipping community whose representative made us feel at home; he stood for thirty or more generations of people, gathered about the altar in the church; God is also present on the altar when the Eucharist is celebrated, and in many Anglican as well as Catholic churches, in the sacrament reserved for the sick and for visitors to focus their prayer as they kneel or sit and pray.

The icon was sent by one of our contributors – Brother Chris I think, and represents another real presence of the Lord: as a baby in the womb of Mary, but also in this world with us who witness this icon. It invites us to carry Jesus in our hearts and reveal him to the world: we are to be the image and real presence of Christ.

Tomorrow is the feast of Corpus Christi.

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3 April. Before the Cross XIX: The Presence.

rupert.red.image

“The Presence” is a reflection on God’s dwelling among his people down the ages, and upon how, wherever he truly is might be regarded as a “temple”. John’s Gospel records Jesus referring to his own body as the temple. It was only through the destruction of that “temple”, and its being raised up after three days, that the dark powers of this world could be brought down.

The chains keeping us bound to those powers and to their dehumanising influences have been broken, and so we, as we respond to him, find ourselves becoming “temples”; God chooses to dwell in our own lives. It is when we turn our faces towards him in thankful praise and true worship (as would be appropriate in a temple of God) that “the blessing”, once given to the Israelites in the wilderness, becomes for us a healing, present reality.

The Presence

Where Presence filled each sight and sound

With harmony and life,

And one who, fashioned from the ground,

Delighted in his wife;

Where grace and kindness filled their days

And joy was in the air,

As all creation joined in praise

To Him who’d set it there.

 

To Him, who walked the very space,

Who knew and loved his own,

Where they could gaze upon his face

And wouldn’t feel alone.

The One who spoke as loving friend,

Who shared his perfect will,

Was pleased to dwell where all was well

And everything was still.

 

Then all was lost to pride and death

And sickness, lies and shame;

The very ones he’d given breath

Now trembled at his name.

And fear and hate and hate and fear

Would hold the nations bound

To lifeless idols, sword and spear,

And blood upon the ground.

 

If love with love could be revealed

And life with life remade,

And broken, hurting souls be healed

Because a debt was paid;

And those forgiven could forgive,

And angry hearts could mourn,

And if the dead began to live

Because a veil was torn –

 

The Presence on an ancient hill,

Beaten, nailed and speared –

But stubborn will rejects him still,

And sneers as once they sneered.

The Presence, whose ways and thoughts

Lift bitterness and care:

Better one day in his courts

Than a thousand spent elsewhere.

Rupert Greville

Image: Worship by Jun Jamosmos

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18 March. Before the Cross V: An Absent Presence.

'Still', a major work by Scottish artist Alison Watt, is installed in the Memorial Chapel

Psalm 46:10 ‘Be still and know that I am God.’

A mysterious and endearing quality of art and music is that they can open a door within us to a stillness in which we can inwardly sense the knowing of God. For ultimately this knowing is not a theory in our heads, but the kind of knowing that ripples through our being in a way in which we most probably don’t understand and yet we can say of it ‘I just know’.

‘Still’ is by the Scottish painter Alison Watt OBE (b. 1965), and is hung behind the altar in the Memorial chapel of Old St. Paul’s Episcopal church in Edinburgh. If ever you have a few moments free in the centre of Edinburgh, or arrive by train to the central Waverley Station it is conveniently just across the road from the back entrance to the station. The church is usually open for visitors, offering a respite from the vibrancy and noise of the city centre by the contrastingly silent and poignantly serene space which is this chapel – dedicated in memory of those fallen in World War 1. It is a dark space which holds both the sadness of the memory of those who gave their lives, and the light of hope through the risen Christ.

This unique work somehow expresses the sense of beauty and light and continuing movement of the spirit, through its enigmatic focus on folds of fabric. The work is a quadriptych (a work in four parts) 12 ft by 12 ft, and so naturally echoes the cross in its layout, a reminder of the ultimate sacrifice taken by Christ. The theme of the painting is hanging drapery. The implication is that the cloth is that of the shrouds of Jesus, though what hangs behind it is only alluded to. Certainly the subtle implication is of a body beneath, causing the shaping and the folds. Watt says of the work: ‘‘Although the body is not explicitly represented, it’s still echoed in the landscape of the cloth. The paintings are about an absent presence.’

An absent presence – something we can’t see or physically perceive and yet we know and sense is there. And so it was for those who experienced that first Easter morning – the confusion of a mysterious absent presence. It is that very quality which, without words or analysis, settles within me as I sit with this work of art.

When I first saw this painting I felt mesmerised by the beauty and the impact of the white simplicity of the hangings amidst the stark silence of the chapel. It stills me, and yet the stillness is not rigid but full of gentle movement and flow. The meaning is not obvious and yet in my unknowing it offers me opportunity to sit and just to absorb. It offers that doorway to ‘Be still and know that I am God.’

I often like to pop in when I am back in my home town; By stepping aside from all that energises the centre of town into the entrancing beauty and stillness of being in that place, I experience a way into the serenity of prayer which settles and recharges my inner resources through this beautiful work of art.

Janet McDonald

Alison Watt is the youngest artist to have had a solo exhibition at the Scottish National Gallery of Modern Art (2000) and to serve as an Associate Artist at the National Gallery, London (2006-8). For Still, she won the ACE (Art and Christianity Enquiry) award for a Commissioned Artwork in Ecclesiastical Space in 2005. See:

 

Janet McDonald is a member of the L’Arche Kent Community.

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16 January 2019: ‘January’.

snowgapcropped

Sure as new snow,
below,
believe green leaves hide.

Sure as grey skies
we rise
when first they are spied.

Sharp tips awake:
hearts break –
a pain strange and wide,

as hard earth’s pierced
by fierce
green growth from inside.

As sure as ice
new life’s
leaf shoves death aside.

Sure as chill fear
God’s near:
deep down death’s defied.

SJC

‘Deep down death’s defied.’ Thank you Sister Johanna!

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