This amazing opportunity has come through Sophie Hacker, the ‘artist-in-residence’ at Gilbert White’s this year. Sophie, who I knew through her connection to Winchester Cathedral, saw the wallhangings on my Instagram feed and wanted to know more. Chatting together, she thought they would make a great workshop subject in her ‘residential’ year, because it fits the ethos of Gilbert White’s; using traditional skills, natural fibres, and upcycled/preloved items, but to create something with a contemporary feel. With Sophie’s encouragement it has also been good to explore how my background as priest, amateur naturalist and occasional gardener also fits with Gilbert White’s own story.
I was privileged to spend time with Sophie in recent months as we’ve explored and shared some of our skills and the delights of Gilbert’s Garden, and I will be delighted to have her as my ‘assistant’ during the workshop. Since she first mooted the project, I have been able to develop some visual ideas based on the scenery in and around the Gilbert’s Garden, some of which I’ve shown here. Her initial conversation with me also came at a time when I was starting to explore the use of willow frames for some of my work, and has been the catalyst for me seeking to extend the range of natural fibres I use, including making twine from garden plants including Phormium (New Zealand Flax) and Rhubarb, more of which in a future post.
I will be leading the workshop in the wonderful barn of the Gilbert White Field Studies Centre. Participants will learn to weave a simple hoop of willow and be introduced to the basics of the tradition of Dorset Button making. Sophie will also help participants explore Gilbert White’s garden as they develop ideas for a small wall-hanging which they will be able to create during the rest of the day. Materials will be provided, including willow, threads, upcycled items and a variety of natural fibres. Participants are also encouraged to bring along any fabric and yarn scraps, ribbons or old jewellery that might be appropriate. Further details and a booking form are on the Gilbert White’s House and Garden events page.
Sophie Hacker works in a wide variety of media including stained glass and has in recent years produced works for Romsey Abbey (The Calling window, a memorial to Florence Nightingale) and Winchester Cathedral (the ‘Water into Wine’ altar frontal in the Epiphany Chapel). She was the first professional to describe me as an artist! I am indebted to her for giving me the confidence to extend my creative and presentation skills in this way, and to the team at Gilbert White’s who will I know make participants as welcome as they have made me. Do come and join us for what I’m sure will be a wonderful day.
When I was putting together my stock for the shop at the Sustainability Centre recently, I was asked to create some price tags for my items. Whilst it would have been relatively simple to use a photo of one of my items, I thought that could be a bit limiting in a weird sort of way, because there’s such a diversity to the stuff I produce, depending on where inspiration takes me.
So I’d been on the look out for something ‘Ramtops’ related – ideally a ram doing something creative, or similar. That’s the name we gave our house nearly 25 years ago, and comes from the name of one of the mountain ranges in the Terry Pratchett Discworld books. Being ‘Ramtopsrac’ has been my nom-de-plume ever since, across all sorts of social media. I’d kept my eye out, searched various label and stamp making companies, and nothing had seemed to quite fit the bill.
Then among an online network of creative clergy a lovely priest in the Nadder Valley in Wiltshire called Jo Naish produced a series of sheep related cartoons for ‘Good Shepherd Sunday’ (Fourth Sunday of Easter, when the reading is John 10:11-18)… one of which was a ram, on top of a mountain! I love it. I realise it doesn’t reference the ‘making’ process of the variety of items I produce, but it was suitably quirky and distinctive enough to fit the bill, at least as far as I was concerned. Whilst I wasn’t going to use it for the purpose it was shared, Jo was very happy for me to adopt it as my logo, for which I am hugely grateful.
So, here’s my logo, and the blurb I created to go with it. I hope I will get the opportunity to make more use of it in the future.
On Monday we had our kitchen ripped out. It wasn’t new when we moved in 24 years ago: now it wass falling apart in an increasing number of places, and in urgent need of renewal. Having a full kitchen refit is possibly one of the more significant upheavels any household can take on: we’re cooking on a hotplate in the spare room, and I’ve just washed up outside. Whilst this has been several months in the planning, the last month has to a significant degree been focused on this week, and what has turned into a bit of an epic project after significant electrical faults were identified at the end of May – we are fortunate that we’d not gone up in flames years ago.
All this has been tracked, almost exactly, by my emotional resilence and stamina developing significant faults – I had nearly fried myself completely. So, I’ve started to take myself apart too and stepped back from ministry (thankful for a supportive incumbent and permission-giving spiritual advisors). Ironically yesterday was the 8th anniversary of my ordination as Deacon, and I feel bad that I’ve had to temporarily step away so soon, but I had no more to give, so have slowed the pace of my life right down with the active encouragement of my husband. Now, having completed my main contribution to the kitchen project (there were an awful lot of boxes to be packed and put into storage), I can start on my own personal refit: mentally, creatively, spiritually and perhaps even physically.
It’s not the kitchen’s fault, nor the fault of the parishes I serve, though there are contributing factors in both those areas beyond anyone’s control. The menopause, and a slightly rocky start into HRT are also making significant contributions! I’m not sure it’s particularly my ‘fault’ either though my habit of doing to much has caused issues in the past – but never quite on this scale. However, it is a reflection that the balance of the ministry and administrative commitments I’ve voluntarily shouldered is no longer sustainable mentally and physically in combination with other important strands of who I am as a wife, daughter, mother and friend, combined with my calling as a priest and a creative. Having temporarly cleared some things out of the way, it’s time to work out what exactly it is that needs to be integral to rebuilding the fittings of my life, so that I can return better suited to how I make myself available in future.
I have some inkling of what I need to focus on, but not sure I yet have the strength (emotional and physical) to make them a reality. There are some things I can’t control (hormone levels and reactions included) and there are several things that I’ve tried, unsuccessfully, to sort out in the past; so I need to work out what things to accept about myself, and where I can realistically create better habits. There are several things I suspect I need to prioritise but first of those comes rest, something that has had to wait until now, when workmen start to take the weight of the kitchen refit. So in no particular order the things I need to include in my own personal “refit” include:
Mental rest from doing too much and from constantly ‘double-thinking’ for others as well as myself, a bad habit to have got into. I have a sneaking suspicion that part of this is being a woman and a mother – are we hard-wired to think for others as well as ourselves I wonder…;
Physical rest alongside developing a proper pattern of gentle exercise in the natural world I love and which can better sustain me during active ministry (sounds like an oxymoron but perhaps you get what I mean -and it would be easier if hormones weren’t causing me both pain and anxiety);
Renewing my personal prayer life – which has always been less than ideal – in a way that sustainably nurtures and has more integrity with what I seek to enable and encourage in others. My prayer life has become saturated with the public bits of ministry, rather than sustained by soaking myself in God’s presence;
Enabling the exciting opportunities that God has presented me with through the traditional and creative skills I’ve been developing in the last two years, so that they form an honoured part of the whole of me, rather than the hiding place that they had become, and more than just a way of seeking positive/encouraging feedback. There is a small project in the wings in this area that might prove important, but it’s not quite ready to ‘go public’ yet;
Continue the process of patiently grappling with my own particular experience of menopause and HRT and the physiological responses to hormone levels that I’ve had to adapt to and live with since I was a teenager – like all women, but we all have different experiences of and responses to this;
Give more time to family and friends who have been sidelined by my unerring ability to step in and ‘gap fill’ administratively and in other ways, just because I know roughly what to do after years of working in various capacities in the CofE;
Find joy in reading again, for pleasure and to inspire and feed my spiritual life – I haven’t read a whole ‘theology’ book since I completed my curacy essays 5 years ago, and have read very few of the novels and biographical style books I used to love. As a way of doing the latter I’ve started to re-read the Terry Pratchet Discworld sequence from the beginning – because at least I’ll get a belly laugh along the way;
Work out how to stop feeling guilty for… well everything, anything… doing too much, doing too little, having a body that’s a pain in the ass (quite literally at times), not praying enough, not loving Jesus enough, not letting my emotions out, letting them get the better of me… you get the picture;
Work out how to include the role/s I hold in the wider community that bring with them anxieties and workloads that are not necessarily helpful, but as significant and important to others; I stood back from one earlier in the year (as a committee member of a local village hall) but I will need to return to my responsibilities as a School Governor;
Renewing my working agreement in discussion with our long-suffering incumbent, to better reflect my particular calling as a part-time, non-stipendiary priest, who is most alive to the working of the Holy Spirit (and unsurprisingly most useful to others) in various forms of creativity – artistically as well as in services and sermons (something to address when I return from a much needed holiday).
That seems like rather a long shopping list I realise, and you might suggest I shouldn’t be baring my soul quite so publically; but writing it down like this is as much about trying trying to articulate the issues to myself, as it is about the fact that I believe we should be more open about the mental and spiritual health journeys we take – for our own good, as well as to encourage others.
Currently, I’ve agreed a three month respite with my colleague and churchwardens, which was today approved as a ‘starting point’ by my GP. It may take longer (which is probably not what the parishes want to hear) and any healthy habits I can develop must contribute to, and be realistically sustainable in the long-term as part of my ministry. Most of those bullet-points can’t be resolved in isolation from the advice, direction and prayer of others I may or may not know, as I seek to develop the sort of open resiliance (is that a thing) that will allow/enable God to rebuild and renew me.
If you have read this far as I’ve rather openly thought through where I find myself, thank you. Any words of wisdom or suggestions will be welcomed with an open mind. God (as well as the goodwill of others) is I sense very much enabling this break in ministry, and I hope that my own personal refit can be as helpful in the long-run as I expect our kitchen refit to be!
Shortly after Christmas I received a commission for “one of my ‘buttons'” in memory of Professor Michael Hattaway who died last year. The commission was from his widow (a friend), and the brief was a 12″ roundel on the theme of the ‘Forest of Arden’ from Shakespeare’s play ‘As You Like It’ – design to be my choice. No pressure then!?!
I had already got in my head a vision of a ‘forest’ piece, involving trees on both sides of clearing; this seemed to fit the bill. To me, this summarises what a forest is – open woodland with large areas of open land, which may or may not be grazed by deer or other animals. Think New Forest – it is after all where I come from!
The plot of ‘As You Like It’ (which I admit to not ever having seen, though now I really want to) seems to involve grumpy parents, young love, banishment, ‘The Forest of Arden’, disguises and at least one shepherd – what you might call a pastoral affair. An internet search for images related to the play emphasised that idea, but I knew that people and animals would not be my forte (with my current skill set), and the best I would be able to achieve would be some sheep.
So, I set to and created the outline that I had visualised, trying to bring together two trees (which because of the yarn colours I had were in my head a Birch tree (left) and a Beech tree (right). The ‘clearing’ was the most authentically ‘Dorset Button’ element. I had already sourced some lovely leaf shaped beads, which I augmented with further supplies of colours that seemed to fit the summer-y feel of the piece. There’s a list of suppliers below.
Once the embroidery hoop was blanket stitched, and basic outline completed with acrylic yarns (for strength), I used art-yarns to fill in the clearing, and wired additional branches into the two trees, with the leaf beads attached. Branches were then blanket stitched. The slightly hilarious bit was working out what size the needle-felted sheep would need to be, which involved cutting out shapes and laying them on the partly completed piece. These would be only my second attempt at needlefelting, but I had some lovely British fluff to work with (from another ongoing project) and felt the results were worthwhile. The only way I could infer the love stories that lie within both the play, and the commission itself, was to include two intertwined wooden hearts.
Further explorations of the text of the play by my husband suggested that a chain necklace featured as a love-token and created a desire to obliquely reference the famous ‘Seven Ages of Man’ speech that features in ‘As You Like It’. The chain I located from a collection of ‘upcycled items’, remnants of my great-aunts collection – she was artist who used plaster to mould sculptures (having had to leave Birmingham Art School for the family jewellry business in the 1920’s when her father discovered she was ‘drawing nudes’!) I referenced the schoolboy element of the ‘Seven Ages of Man’, by making a tiny school satchel using some upcycled suede patching from materials left by my mother. Other items used included modern seed beads, upcycled beads, and a piece of driftwood, probably from Shingle Street in Suffolk last holiday.
It ‘just so happened’ that I completed this piece on Valentine’s Day, and delivered it to my friend, the Professor’s widow on what would have been his birthday! I was very pleased, and not a little relieved that she was delighted with it, and gave me permission to share the details with you. I also discovered that one of the Professor’s ‘things’ about ‘As You Like It’ was his insistence on the concept of ‘forest’ involving wide open ‘lawn’ areas, just like those I grew up with in the New Forest! My only regrets are that I never met Prof Hattaway myself, and that I knew enough to have included at least a cast antler – or a visual interpretation of one – as his penultimate book, the 3rd edition of his work on ‘As You Like It’ published shortly before his death, features a stunning Fallow Buck, just the sort of animal I grew up watching.
A couple of years back, on a day out to visit a friend, we happened upon the old circus store at Weyhill, now (or at least normally) a wonderful community of craftspeople and their shops. Among them was Beaker Buttons where Jen and her crafting community specialise in the tradition of Dorset Buttons. Not having heard of this craft before, I picked up one of their wonderful kits, which I completed during a summer holiday – all of which tells you this was probably 2018-19!
More recently, I’ve learnt a bit more about this tradition, completed more kits, bought more supplies (Jen sells online, thankfully), and started to experiment. Many of the Christmas gifts we gave last month were based on the tradition, augmented experimentally with additional materials, including beads. It was an experiment that seemed to work.
Along the way I’ve found a use for some of the seashells and other materials I beach-comb, something I love doing when the opportunity presents itself, and learnt to work a few basic jewellery findings, including in stirling silver. I’ve even made suncatchers and wall-hangings! There’s some images here of what I’ve produced and given as gifts. Everything is unique and no two things are ever quite the same, even if I’ve used similar principles.
I’ve got loads of ideas for what else I can do with various remnant yarns in my collection (occasionally augmented with fresh purchases, because, well ‘yarn’!), but have run out of outlets for them and the backlog of other crafted items I’ve made in recent months and failed to give away.
So encouraged by my family, especially my son Chris who sells hand-made wooden spoons here, I’m officially launching an ETSY today: Ramtopsrac Creations. I’ve kept prices low whilst covering the cost of materials, and not charged overly accurately for the time they take to make as I enjoy creating them.
Please feel free to peruse this new mini-paradise of gifts for yourself or for friends, and make a purchase if you wish and are able to. All purchases will feed my creativity, and in the long-run hopefully help me to enthuse other local crafters, when that craft cafe idea I had gets the dust shaken off it!
I get excited about some strange things I guess – they include Hedgehog poo!
A couple of mornings ago (13th April to be precise), I found (and of course we then photographed) what I thought was Hedgehog droppings in 2 places in the garden. It certainly wasn’t the local moggies – they dig up my plants rather than fertilise the lawn! Graham then found a third lot.
I checked with the lovely Jayne at Happy Hedgehog Rescue in Yateley, and she confirmed it was indeed the poo of a healthy Hedgehog.
So of course we put the trail cameras out that night….. Nothing.
So we put them out again last night (14th – 15th April 2019)….. Success!! We have a Hedgehog in our garden again. Couldn’t be more delighted. Simple things.
Looking at the photographs more closely, I’m thinking it has the same ‘roughed up’ bit on it’s left rump as last years, so I’m wondering if it’s the same Hedgehog?
We’ve had two hog-houses in the garden over the winter, and I’d sort of convinced myself that neither had been used. But this chap disappeared toward the opening of the left hand one twice last night, under the second trail-cam. So, now I’m not so sure on that either.
We will re-site and re-set the cameras over the next few nights, and see what we discover.
OK, so I’m a bit behind the curve but I wanted to log this for posterity.
I always try and take part in the Big Garden Birdwatch, and some years I’ve managed to blog about it – usually when something notable happens. Which it did this year. In fact it’s still happening.
The usual suspects visited the garden in my hour on the morning of Sun 27th Jan (9am-10am before I took service) – see the list below. I wasn’t at all surprised to see increasing numbers of Goldfinches – they love the fact we’ve gone over to feeding sunflower hearts as the mixed birdseed was causing too much waste and weeds. What I hadn’t stopped long enough to notice up until that morning was that some of the flock of 20+ Goldfinches were in fact Lesser Redpolls!
We’ve had Siskin in the past (though not yet this year) but I’d never seen a Redpoll before, anywhere, ever, even though a near neighbour had said she’d had them about 10+ years ago. So a ‘lifer’ for me and a new ‘tick’ for our little suburban garden.
What’s more they’ve stayed among the flock of Goldfinches who arrive several times a day. I may therefore have spent more time watching the garden birds than I might normally do!
Big Garden Birdwarch 2019 – list
Goldfinch 21 (!!!)
Collard Dove 4 (on the increase)
Feral Pidgeon (another, less welcome addition to the list)
In other garden wildlife news, the little pond is now 6 months old, some the fish we never put in are still alives, and so is one of the backswimmers! Roll on spring-time.
I’ve been sitting on the patio for lunch in the lovely autumn sun this week, admiring our new pond and watching the creatures already living around it.
We’ve dreamt of having a wildlife pond for some years. However, in effectively twelve years of ministry training, it wasn’t a priority, and there was always the significant likelihood that we’d rent the house out and move on. However God had other ideas, and having discovered this year that we’re staying put for the foreseeable future, it seemed right that a few home improvements were in order. Ponds are so much more interesting than new bathrooms (though we’ve done that too)!
We only have a small garden, so it had to be a small pond. We also know the ground we’re on well enough that layers of builders rubble lie under our garden, and with a gravel-bed geology, digging even a small pond was going to be very hard work. So, I’m afraid we found someone younger and fitter than us for that bit. The lovely Matt (son of a friend and colleague in ministry locally) even provided a pre-formed liner he and his father had never used!
However, we wanted a pond that hedgehogs could live with, without drowning, that insects could drink at, that might encourage damselflies and dragonflies, and host interesting creatures. So it needed a shallow-end of gravel. So we sunk the preformed liner an additional 3 inches below ground level, under the edge of the house near the patio, and not directly under the trees. It was dug and filled with tap water on 16th July, and allowed to settle for a couple of days.
This was I guess the other part of our wedding anniversary present to ourselves – the first bit being a trail-cam to video the hedgehogs! So, on 18th July we were able to add plants, gravel and pebbles, and start to see what happened. On that very first day, we had a bumble-bee drinking on the gravel, and I was a kid at Christmas… the project was looking like it was going to be a success.
Over the next two months, various things have been added. Some plants came home from a holiday visit to RHS Rosemoor. The collection of rocks was added to with fossils we’d collected on visits to beaches, favourite hills, and other significant places in years passed. Tidying out the shed allowed us to use our son’s cast-off wood (he carves greenwood spoons) to create a small woodpile that was accidentally positioned under a drip from the guttering where it will rot nicely we hope. Effectively it’s a pond of memories as well as for the future.
Yellow water irisIris pseudacorus – put on the shelf of the pond one end; the wind kept blowing it over, so eventually it was weighted into place by having some ‘fairy-stones’ wired to it. Chosen for the lava of dragon- and damselflies to crawl up to hatch.
Water mint Mentha aquatica – very attractive to insects, and should give shade, nooks and crannies for the water creatures to hide in. Purple Loosestrife Lythrum salicaria – initially put on the shelf the other end, but it regularly got blown over too, and was really too close to the Water Mint. Dad has a plant in his flowerbed that has flowered endlessly this year, so we moved ours out into the ground surrounding to the pond. FrogbitHydrocharis morsus-ranae – went in initially floating on the surface, as a native oxygenator, but very quickly looked like it would take over in our small pond, and became home to a lot of snail eggs (see below) so that went after about a month. Water-lily (for which the label is still in the pond!) A small specimen recommended by the lovely lady at Maidenhead Aquatics for our size of pond. Initially on a shelf, and then moved down onto an old roof tile in the bottom – the tile is curvy so will also provide a home for water-creatures that need to hide. Lampranthus brownii, Coreopsis rosea ‘American Dream’, Dianthus ‘Whetmans Stars Supernova’, Agastache ‘Kudos Silver Blue’ and Ajuga reptans ‘Braunherz’ were all planted around the pond to attract insects.
We also imported some pondweed from a neighbours small pond, complete with two Great Pond Snails, from whence the snail-eggs came we guess. As it transpires, the weed (which has since vanished interestingly) may have contained fish-eggs. Another friend donated us some nymphs from their much larger pond, a couple of Common Pond-skaters, a Great Water-boatman (otherwise known as Back-swimmers), and one small fish that crept into their net.
As I’ve sat by the pond for my lunch this week, I’ve watched not one, but eight small fish (and no more mosquito lavae)!!! Our friends swear blind they’ve not been surreptitiously filling our pond with creatures, so we’re assuming there were eggs in the weed from the neighbour who also reputedly has fish. They will have to take their chance as we’ve not added a pump, as it’s not advised if you want dragonfly lavae – they tend to get stuck in it!
Water-boatmen apparently fly at night and are attracted to light, which is why we put four cheap solar-lights round the pond; this seems to have worked as we now have three water-boatman! A dragonfly did a circuit of the pond but didn’t stop, but a Hornet has been a regular visitor, joining the hoverflies that sit in the sun on the pebbles.
To say we’re thrilled that all this has been achieved in a little over two months is an understatement. The big test will be whether we get frogs and toads in the spring, who hatches, and what more wildlife we’ve had visit by this time next year. I will of course, log all the excitement here.
This morning 11th Feb 2018, it was announced that the Bishop of Winchester has appointed me on a permanent basis as Associate Priest in the Benefice of Eversley and Darby Green. My Licensing Service will take place at St. Mary’s Church, Eversley on Monday 9th April, rather appropriately the Feast of the Annunciation.
My husband Graham and I will remain living in our home in Yateley, my ‘sending’ parish, and the place with which Eversley and Darby Green has strong historic, social and economic ties. On paper it doesn’t look like we’ll be living in the communities I will be serving; but because of the way they relate to each other, and how the congregations are spread among them, I will be. I will also remain a Non-Stipendiary Minister – the accepted terminology in this diocese is Self-Supporting Minister (SSM) but I’m not self-supporting as I don’t anything from anywhere; and my ministry is enabled through the love and generosity of my spouse!
I will be honest, for a long while I didn’t think this was what God wanted. But, it’s not the first time I’ve been wrong, or been very slow on the uptake – my call to ordination being a fine example. Whilst some significant moments in my ministry have included instantaneous recognition of God’s hand on my life, sometimes I have been too busy trying the doors that fit my dreams and/or the recommendations of those around me, or burying my head in the sand, to notice or accept the calling God is trying very hard to make obvious. In this case, as Graham and I sought to discern where God wanted me next, he opened an unexpected new job for Graham in his vocation as a teacher at the same time as the door that logically fitted it for me, closed in my face. Then when we looked at another exciting door for me, and found it very willing to open, with heavy hearts we realised it wasn’t compatible with where Graham’s new job was being affirmed and confirmed, so we had to firmly close the door I liked so much.
Cryptic, well it has to be really. If you’re interested and meet me face to face, I can explain a bit more. But it seems appropriate that such painful decisions are acknowledged in the process of discerning a new ministry, role and context. The struggles are important in themselves, but sometimes we can get lost in our struggles, and ignore the calling, the welcome, and the work, that is staring us in the face. Such is the case in this instance.
The warmth of the welcome last year when I was deployed to St. Mary’s Eversley, and the encouragements I have received over the intervening months both there and more recently at St. Barnabas Darby Green, have been a significant in me coming to realise where it was that God has called me to serve these churches. Developing a great working relationship with the new incumbent has helped too!
So, here’s to Lent, the time of preparation and penitence that suitably for me starts this week on Ash Wednesday and will lead through to Holy Week, after which I will take a week’s retreat in the run up to my Licensing for this new work. I’m looking forward to it, and to seeing where God is leading both these communities in the months and years to come.
This morning as part of my placement in the North Hampshire Downs I was in All Saints, Odiham marking the end of the liturgical year with the Feast of Christ the King. My reflections start with the super-moon and a very small butterfly!
Epistle: Colossians 1:11-20 Gospel: Luke 23:33-43
I suspect few of us will have seen the full-extent of the super-moon on Monday, though on Sunday as I returned from a late afternoon service in Greywell I was blessed with a wonderful view of the apparently huge rising of the ‘nearly’ super-moon, in the glowing colour of autumn’s glory. But as there was no-where suitable to pull-off and capture the phenomenon in a photograph, it has to stay purely as a memory.
There was something so fascinating about this phenomenon of the moon being 30-thousand miles closer to the earth than usual, that images of it filled our news bulletins, our papers and our social media. Something we usually feel very far removed from, suddenly appeared closer (due to angles and orbits) and we were drawn into the detail of the moon, especially the craters and their impact ray systems. From a greater distance we normally just accept these by projecting onto them features with which we are more familiar: a man, or a rabbit, depending on our cultural context and physical viewpoint. Instead the different materials of which the moon is made were highlighted, emphasising for those of us that aren’t scientists that the moon is a far more complex thing than perhaps we realised. We understand more of the universe when we are able to see the detail of what we are looking at.
I originally come from the New Forest and have been fortunate to be surrounded by wildlife most of my life, learning to understand the differences in coat colour, markings, size and other physical attributes of some native animals and birds. But it took the discovery and accessibility of digital photography to bring to the fore the detail and significance in an insects eye, antennae, wing-case or legs. Did you know for example that some of the small, rare and beautiful Duke of Burgundy butterflies have only four apparent legs, the vestigial remains of the front two marking out such individuals as males?! It’s important to those studying the viability of butterfly populations to know whether individuals are male or female. We understand more of the world around us when we are able to see the detail of what we are looking at.
On this final feast of the Christian year, known as the feast of Christ the King, we are given the opportunity to understand in more detail the significance of our Servant King by drawing close-up to the cross on which he died.
In Luke’s account of the crucifixion the accepted view of Jesus’ pretentions to the role of a Messiah who brings salvation, inspire mockery and derision with the thrice repeated challenge to save himself. The Jewish leaders, the Roman soldiers and one of the criminals with whom he is being crucified see Jesus as-if only from a distance, and even then, perhaps only as what they want to see: not a man or a rabbit on the moon, or an insect with the usual legs but another defeated and humiliated trouble-maker put out of the way.
Yet the second criminal takes a much closer view. Recognising his own death as justified by the law of that time because of his own wrongdoing, his vision of the innocent next to him is enhanced, and he sees clearly in his character, words and actions, the truth of who Jesus is, and the power of which his crucifixion speaks. For the irony of the mockers demand that Jesus should “save himself” to prove he is “the Messiah, the chosen one”, is that in his crucifixion lies the means by which this King achieves his royal power and offers salvation not to himself, but to all humankind. As in so many other examples from his earthly ministry, it is an outcast from society who is capable of a unique insight into who Jesus is, the Servant King.
The early Christian Hebrew poem that we now read in English prose in Colossians, draws this image of Christ as Servant King still closer, like a telescope on a distant moon or perhaps the macro lens on the minute detail of a passing insect. Here is visible even more detail, highlighting the supremacy and sacrifice of Jesus, giving us a greater understanding of the nature of the God we too are called to serve.
Jesus, it highlights, is the first-born of all creation. In him all things hold together. It is easy to forget when looking in awe at a super-moon or the beauty of a butterfly, that actually they are, because Jesus. Jesus Christ wasn’t simply the person for whom the whole creation was made, it was his idea, his workmanship in the first place, designed for humans to enjoy and care for. He who flung stars into space, created us to rule with justice what he had brought into being (Psalm 8).
But, we’re told, he is also the first-born from the dead. Why? Because the evil and pain that came into that creation through humans wrongdoing, their inability to care appropriately for it and for each other, could only be healed by the very one who created it, the living God. Christ the agent of creation is also the agent of reconciliation, forgiveness and hope, which is why Christ the King, the head of the church, the fullness of God, is a crucified Christ, the Servant King.
As WE look in detail at these close-up images of God made man, refusing to save himself because of you and me, and the world we live in, we should also see something else: Jesus is the blueprint for the genuine humanness which is the gold-standard of what we are called to be as humans. The cross isn’t just about the perfection of love, grace, forgiveness, humility and sacrifice which Jesus made, it is a summons to find and exhibit that love, grace, forgiveness, humility and sacrifice in our own personal humanity.
Unlike the images we have of a super-moon, a butterfly or any other aspect of the world and life around us, whether purely in our memory or on a camera or computer chip, this close-up, detailed image of Christ, the Servant King, can only be retained in our memories, and, importantly, shared with others, IF we willingly admit our own wrong-doings, strive constantly to understand who Jesus is by being up-close to him in all things, and bring that image alive in our own lives.
JESUS withstood the mockery of those who really should have understood and recognised him, and rose with humility above the derision of those whose last laugh was at the expense of an innocent. In him, can we?
JESUS recognised in the words an outcast criminal condemned for crimes he really had committed, a hope and faith in God that deserved a place with him in paradise. In him, can we?
JESUS, first-born of all creation, brought the world into being as a place of beauty, in which the abundance of life was to be enjoyed, celebrated and cared for. In him, can we?
JESUS, first-born of the dead, brought healing and forgiveness to a broken world and to broken people. In him, can we?
In the image of Jesus we show to others in our own lives, can we welcome people into this kingdom of Christ, our King?
Theoreo means, in New Testament Greek, to wonder, ponder, or 'chew over.' Theore0's are my reflections on current issues, facing the Church and Christians. I frequently consider issues such as the relationship between faith and economic life, Christianity and leadership and, other ethical issues. Many of these issues are covered in a book I co-edited called Theonomics (available either through Amazon or direct from Sacristy Press). All views are my own. I aim to provoke and stimulate wider debate, for the common good and hope not to offend.