Being a Companion of Christ – the pain, the purpose and the Passion (Lent Reflections 2019)

I originally prepared the following material for Passiontide 2019 when I was asked to lead Lent Reflections for the wonderful local Mothers’ Union group that has nurtured and encouraged my ministry over many years. The reflections focussed on various items, most of which were in a small bag given to each participant.

Obviously this was a group that met ‘in person’ and could share with each other in their thinking, singing and praying, something which sadly this year isn’t going to be possible for most people in Lent. However, some of the material may be useful to the spiritual context in which we find ourselves currently, so I’m making it available in .pdf formats below. Hopefully all the items you’d need could be made or created from items around your home or could be found when out for daily exercise. They include:

  • hand or body lotion
  • two penny pieces
  • three lengths of (preferably brown) wool or string, knotted at one end
  • pieces of pitta or ordinary bread
  • a feather
  • piece of cloth
  • die (dice)

Some written material in this material is from named sources, unattributed elements are my own original material. If you use any of it, please could you credit the appropriate person, and leave an appropriate comment on this blog post.

I am in the process of preparing some Lent in a Bag materials for distribution in our parishes this Lent 2021, starting with ash mixed with varnish and applied to a nobbly stone/pebble. I will share these materials when they are finished.

The donkey’s tail – as one who was a companion of Christ

This year’s Lenten creativity was prepared for a local Mothers’ Union gathering in which we focused on being companions rather than simply followers of Christ. It included the following, which in response to Matthew 21:1-9 is barely original, but instead inspired, loosely and without honour, on a reflection I found referred to as being of Francis de Sales for Palm Sunday 1622, the more recent poem ‘The Donkey’ by G.K.Chesterton, and Janet Morley’s reflection upon the latter in her 2011 book of poetry for Lent and Easter ‘The Heart’s Time’.

I am a slow ungainly animal, a simple beast of burden,
hardly the appropriate mount for the King,
the one those crowds proclaimed their Saviour.
And yet, he knew this Balaam’s ass
would recognise and carry willingly
the one who came destroying pride,
in his great love and humility.
My girth may travel close by the ground,
and yes, some call me lowly,
but I was not beneath the dignity of
he who came as by his very nature, slave.

The Father’s equal in all things,
his wisdom and his witness ignored
for being as worthless as my braying,
because the mob knew better what his purpose was,
the burden of their expectations being
other than what either of us could offer.
So, we shared together
the inappropriate adulation,
refused to bite, or kick, or shy away
and trod the welcoming path
that parodied the purpose of our shared sacrifice.

It was not me who really bore the weight of obedience
without murmur or excuse,
but he on whose shoulders lay not
the rough-wove cloaks of those who half-understood,
but the guilt of those who
in weakness, pride and anger
would carve for him a fashionable death.
Yet, whilst claiming an equality of shared submission
with he who held the reins of creation,
I ask only that with them I might be forgiven
the ubiquitous sin of stubbornness.

Those who pass by – a short reflection on The Good Samaritan

We recently had an Away Day with the PCCs of our Benefice. In the opening worship I used a reflection on the scripture: Luke 10:25-37 The Good Samaritan “Called to be an Innkeeper” by Elaine Gisbourne from the book ‘Wild Goose big book of worship resources‘. This was particularly appropriate for St Barnabas Darby Green with a now disused inn next door, but left the need to for something similarly appropriate for St Mary’s Eversley, where a well-used footpath goes through the churchyard. So I wrote this:

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The footpath at St Mary’s Eversley – one of my favourite images of when the church is used by the local school. The footpath continues round the back of the church, through fields and up into Bramshill Forest.

I bring you the passer-by,
those in a hurry to get where they think they’re going,
or stuck on their high horse unable to dismount grace-fully.

I offer you the passers-by,
who see the future in some other sphere,
of learning, of leadership, of leisure,
and notice it not in the suffering of friend or stranger.

What will stop them in their tracks,
prompt them to turn round, come back,
pique their interest,
ignite their compassion,
calm their fears?

I give you the passer-by,
in the rainfall of their fears and anxieties,
when grief or hardship strike,
or they pause to acknowledge –
there is something beyond their sphere of influence.

Their path may seem a far-cry from yours,
and yet it passes close-by,
intersecting where needs are met,
hope is found,
and grace abounds.

Feel free to use if you deem it worthy and appropriate, with suitable credit please, and note in the comments if at all possible.

If Jesus chose to return today? An Advent reflection

p1090449cwI’ve been preparing some Advent materials, and in doing so found this old reflection, dated November 2006, so as I started Reader Training and before this blog was started!

It is by way of a response to the following questions:

If Jesus chose to return today, how would you react?
What might you say? How would you feel?

 

Why did you not come sooner?

Don’t get me wrong Jesus,
it is good to have faith rewarded.
But if you’d come last week those
four soldiers would not have died;
If you’d come last year those
bombs would not have shattered lives;
If you’d come twenty years ago
millions of children would not have suffered.

So why now Lord? Why here?
Why this room, these friends?

Is our pride, our business,
our self sufficiency and security,
really part of the pain you’ve come to relieve?
How can we be worthy of your interest?

Come to the kids loitering in our street,
our friend who lies in a hospice;
Relieve the bereaved, the prisoner
or hassled mother coping on her own.

Relive their pain, forgive their sin,
remove the evil from their lives.

And then, perhaps then…

consider me.

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I’ve missed the point:
I see it in your eyes and feel it in your touch.
You are there too, aren’t you Lord!

If you’ve come back, you’re here for all;
Each house, each home;
each hospital and prison;
Each tank, and battlefield;
each parliament and throne.

Your Majesty, now considers …
me;
Replays the video of my life,
freeze-framing those moments in the journey,
When I forgot to phone a friend,
to say a prayer, to comfort a relative,
To leave a space,

for you.

And now Lord,
on my knees,
At your feet
surrounded by your glory…

I wait upon you.

Photos by Graham taken at St. Mary’s Old Basing, December 2014

Ordination Retreat and it’s wildlife

Park Place Pastoral Centre, Wickham, Hampshire
Park Place Pastoral Centre, Wickham, Hampshire

For Winchester Diocese, like Portsmouth, ordination retreats are held at the beautiful Park Place and Wickham in the Meon Valley.  Last week was my Diaconal retreat, shared with those being ordained to the priesthood in our diocese. There were periods of silence, reflection and free time to restore the soul and focus on the role to which I am called.

Anna Norman Walker, Canon Mission of Exeter Cathedral was our excellent retreat conductor, and for me managed just the right balance of humour, Biblical reflection, personal stories, poetry, images and music. Using the ‘scaffolding’ of the Eucharist our 5 reflections focused on the words “take”, “thanks”, “blessed”, “broken” “shared”. I would particularly commend the poetry she used, which was by Gerard Kelly (“Spoken Worship” was the recommended title – something I shall be buying for future use).

Anyway, before succumbing to a lurgy that meant I would have to be nursed with prayer and paracetamol through the ordination day itself, I took a couple of lovely walks in the afternoon free time we were given, along the edge of the neighbouring Wickham Park Golf Course and down to the River Meon at the bottom of Wickham itself, before winding back along the disused railway line to the golf course and pastoral centre. The golf course, it’s bramble and grass lined edges and it’s water features in particular, were a haven for wildlife, and alongside the insects shown below, I also saw Ringlet butterflies, Beautiful Demoiselle damselflies in courtship chases by the Mean, an Emperor dragonfly and a Broad-bodied Chaser dragonfly that took a Meadow Brown butterfly on the wing over a pond before taking it high into a will to shuck it’s wings and eat it!

Unexpected update: delighted that this post appears to have inspired Archdruid Eileen to the most wonderful parody of the wild life to be had on ordination retreats; Ordination retreats and their wildlife

Poem: The challenge of your passing #RemembranceDay

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Royal Marine Adam Brown, 40 Commando. RIP

The challenge of your passing

I don’t know you, I never did.
When we met, you’d gone.
Then, I recognised you
By the Union Jack,
A uniform cap,
The young lover, brightly dressed.
Family brave faced, and broken;
Symbols of why you mattered;
Reminders of what it cost.

The War Memorial in Yateley, photographed after Remembrance Day 2010 showing the fresh wooden plaque with marks Adam's place among those whom Yateley remember each year.
The War Memorial in Yateley, photographed after Remembrance Day 2010 showing the fresh wooden plaque with marks Adam’s place among those whom Yateley remember each year.

Strangers brought you before me,
Hundreds marked your passage.
The honour guard and satellite trucks,
Riflefire and raw emotion,
A counterpoint to
The ripple of respect,
As a town stood,
Marking your passing,
One of their own.

Broken voices, your praises spoke,
And hymns of praise from land and sea
Filled briefly the cavern of broken dreams.
Touched by scripture,
Tradition and some hope,
The gathered host found, I pray
That where reason failed,
God’s grace and mercy
Rested where the memories lay.

A bit part, my role
In laying you to rest.
Yet yours, in plotting my path,
Significant;
The slow, military march past
Of a different sacrifice,
A calling I count as gift,
A burden, its fulfilment,
Yet to be deployed.

Commended you were, to Christ.
Yet you never knew, how could you,
What it was you taught me,
The challenge that your passing marked.
Now, each year,
I stand and weep,
Privileged to have met and served
In some small,
Your needs, that day.

This is my attempt to put into words some sense of the significance to me of a Royal Marine called Adam‘s death in 2010.  Many knew and loved him when he was alive. Many who know me, might see more of the significance to me of this man’s funeral than I’ve been able to articulate here. But as I stand at another war memorial this year, taking another significant step on the journey that Adam helped to start, it will be for him and for his loved ones that the tears will fall.

Adam’s Hoofing Hut, a beach hut retreat at Mudeford bought in memory of Adam is now open and supporting Marines returning from theatre, as they recuperate and spend time with their families. Donations to continue the huts refurbishment, and to create a purpose built facility in the future can be made via Adam’s widow’s ‘Just Giving’ page.

The Sky Dancers – an original poem

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Red Kite over Huntercombe Golf Club, Gangsdown Hill, Nuffield, Oxfordshire, 5th March 2013

Nothing is wasted, especially not my journeys to college. Driving back and forth I love watching for wildlife, and take particular joy in the Red Kites of Berkshire and Oxfordshire, which have previously inspired my Plough ‘Sunday’ grace.

I first fell in love with these birds in the 1980s as a teenager, holidaying with my family near Tregaron in Wales on land owned by Miss Frances Evans, who is attributed with saving the Red Kites of the Cambrian mountains. Since then I have photographed them at Gigrin Farm near Rhyader, been aware of and watched their spread back into the UK from captive release schemes, and now we sometimes even get them over my house in north-east Hampshire.

What follows is an original offering of poetry inspired of these beautiful birds.

The Sky Dancers

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Red Kite, Gigrin Farm, 2005

Sky dancers dip and rise
among the suns intermittent rays.
Silver crowning their russet mantles
they seek the breezes,
pirouetting between unkempt hedgerows
and struggling spears of grain,
tails like some well flighted
sickle-headed arrow
reawakened from among the dead.

Review is watchfully taken
among the rich tilth of worm-worn furrows,
or camouflaged in silhouette
among gnarled oaken fingers
rigid against winter’s stark horizon.
A piercing eye
scornfully regards its raptor relative,
regally disdaining hunched countenance
in favour of command.

The 'raptor relative' Buzzard, Gigrin Farm, Rhyader 2005
The ‘raptor relative’ a Buzzard, Gigrin Farm, Rhyader 2005

Such are lives rejuvenated
from Celtic soliloquies,
released to communal ascendancy
between the thoroughfares
of contemporary surmise.
Now among the ancient Wessex downland,
pinpricks of circling history
with fingers dipped in ink,
turn earthward
to distract the nearer gaze.

Though begrudged by some
a share of nature’s bounty
or stolen schoolyard pickings,
the gathering multitude,
lift, tack, yaw and jibe,
a twisting flotilla of eager appetites,
that frighten and mesmerise
with effortless beguiling.

Red Captive feeding, Gigrin 2005
Red Captive feeding, Gigrin 2005

As hypnotised,
we raise our eyes to follow
the constant tumbling
above the agricultural year,
let us celebrate
the sky’s dancing corps
of chestnut pilgrims,
and stop to praise the resurrection
of creation’ s call.

 

(Edited very slightly after reading it at our OMC review night, June 2013)