Songs of salvation #RIPAretha – Ephesians 5:10-20 and John 6:51-58

Swing low, sweet chariot
Comin’ for to carry me home
Swing low, sweet chariot
Comin’ for to carry me home

I looked over Jordan, and what did I see?
Comin’ for to carry me home
A band of angels comin’ after me
Comin’ for to carry me home

Swing low, sweet chariot…

If you get there ‘fore I do
Comin’ for to carry me home
Tell all my friends, that I comin’ there too
Comin’ for to carry me home

Swing low, sweet chariot…

The brightest day that ever I saw
Comin’ for to carry me home
When Jesus washed my sins away
Comin’ for to carry me home

Swing low, sweet chariot…

I’m sometimes up an’ sometimes down
Comin’ for to carry me home
But still my soul feels heavenly bound
Comin’ for to carry me home

Swing low, sweet chariot…

(Original words as noted in 1873 as sung by Wallace Willis)

“Be filled with the Spirit,…” writes St. Paul.

“As you sing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs among yourselves, singing and making melody to the Lord in your hearts, give thanks to God the Father at all times and for everything, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ.”

There is something deeply appropriate about the fact that this morning, we have in our Epistle, the words of scripture that gave rise to the term ‘spiritual’ as a musical term. In fact Ephesians is thought to encapsulate within it, poetic language drawn at least in part from early Christian hymns and liturgies. In this case, the writer of Ephesians is pointing out that when we’re fighting evil, when we’re trying to shine light in the darkest places of life, when we know we’ve got an addictive personality and need to shut out the cravings, or when we’ve been taught that indeed you must make the most of every opportunity or you’re going to be deemed a failure (Eph 5:16), then actually what we really need is to rest in the presence of God, and music, will help us overcome those things and bring us to that place of healing and hope. Music, sung, played or even participated in from the comfort of your armchair, can lift our hearts to God, giving us a strength to carry on in the face of adversity, and helping us give thanks to Jesus for the good things he has given us.

Music has the power to deliver a powerful spiritual message. We know for example, that Moses and Miriam his sister led the Israelites in singing as the means of celebrating their freedom immediately after they’d walked through the parted waters of the Red Sea. Purposefully and rightfully they give the credit to God:
“Your right hand, Lord, was majestic in power.
Your right hand, Lord, shattered the enemy.”
(Exodus 15:6)

When the slaves of the British colonies of the 17th century first received and accepted the Christian faith, seeing the links between their own plight and that of the Israelites enslaved in Egypt, it was with simple songs that they too shared those scriptures, and their yearning for freedom, giving birth to what we know as “the spiritual”. There are theories as to other uses for these spiritual songs in that some people think they contained hidden references to the means of escape via the ‘underground railroad’, crossing over their ‘Jordon’ from the wilderness of slavery via the network of safe houses to the free-states and Canada; but nothing is proven. However, the very fact that those theories exist, gives us an idea of the spiritual strength gained from making sense of their own reality through singing of the difficulties which others had suffered.

That is why I would describe music is being ‘alive’, because through the experiences, words and phrases of others, it helps us to make sense of our own reality. But, it also has a life of its own which means that its use can change over time only keeping a tenuous grasp on its original meaning or context. For example, some of us will associate the song ‘Swing Low, Sweet Chariot’ with the England Rugby Union Side, but it first gained that association via a group of boys from the Benedictine school at Douai Abbey. They sang it in 1988 each time Chris Oti scored, overcoming a two-year England try-drought with a hat-trick against Ireland. In the context of rugby, the song’s use has changed dramatically; the Christian message has been lost; only the idea of overcoming difficulty and hardship to gain victory has remained. Without the message of hope being contained within the context of the salvation that sees God intervening in the lives of his people, the song has perhaps lost some of its power.

Salvation, being saved from a situation of hopelessness, sometimes of our own making, makes no sense without the flesh and blood Son of God having lived and died for us. The Jews would have found the idea abhorrent because of their strict laws about blood, but they would profit from the shedding of his blood because it was the means by which the prophecy of the Messiah bringing hope to the whole world was to be fulfilled. Like yeast being the raising agent that brings bread to life, we gain life by taking Jesus into our very souls and bodies. We can do that in the sacrament of Holy Communion this morning because the words that at the time fell on the stony ground of many hardened hearts, were treasured by those who held them safe in their memory and then understood them in the light of the cross and resurrection of Christ. Jesus’ words about his own flesh and blood did not come to life until they could be sung as the song of eternal salvation.

I’m going to finish this morning with another spiritual song, this time one adopted and adapted into the genre ‘spiritual’ from a very different back ground. This was written in 1855 by a gentleman in Canada called Jospeh Scriven, as a poem to his mother in Ireland, when news reached him that she was critically ill. Published anonymously, and only attributed to its writer after it had been made popular when someone set it to music, the spiritual ‘What a friend we have in Jesus’ was also about overcoming adversity, the adversity of illness in this case, by finding refuge in Jesus through prayer and in the promise of eternal rest with Christ. With the help of a darn good tune, the words also hold the spiritual truth that in and of itself is a memorable prayer about the hope we hold in salvation.

It seemed appropriate today to use a recording of a spiritual song sung by Aretha Franklin. If you’ve read or heard anything of Aretha’s life in the few days since her death, you may know that she was well acquainted with abuse, addiction and illness. However, despite these she appears to have continued to retain her faith in God, in the salvation that Jesus brought, and most definitely in the power that “psalms and hymns and spiritual songs” have in bringing our faith alive. As she enters her eternal rest, let us pray that we can continue to sing “thanks to God the Father at all times and for everything, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ.”

What a friend we have in Jesus.

 

I’ve never before sung the opening to opening to a sermon as I did this Sunday, but in the context of the Epistle from Ephesians, and following the very recent death of Aretha Franklin, it seemed appropriate. Despite the less-than-perfect rendition of ‘Swing Low’ feedback was also unexpectedly positive, I think because people were moved to join in, for a variety of reasons. The unexpected testimony for whom ‘What a friend we have in Jesus’ is a special song, was a great encouragement…. sometimes music enables God to reach us in the way other people and prayers and can’t. 

If you can bear it, there’s an audio of the whole sermon (with the readings first) here.

 

 

 

 

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Harvest prayers #VisitorChaplain #WinchesterCathedral

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Harvest at the Nave Altar of Winchester Cathedral, October 2017

One of the particularly lovely bits of my monthly cycle of ministry is acting as a Visitor’s Chaplain at Winchester Cathedral. My normal pattern of activity during a shift is to perambulate the Cathedral, chatting to fellow volunteers (often guides) and staff like virgers, any visitors who want or need time to talk, and sometimes members of Cathedral Chapter or Diocesan staff. 

I make a habit of sitting quietly for a few moments and writing fresh prayers that are pertinent to the moment: the activities in the Cathedral that day, the liturgical season, and world events. These I then use when I lead the ‘Prayers on the hour’ that punctuate the Cathedral day and remind visitors of the purpose and significance of the building.

And lastly, I tend to keep my mobile phone camera to hand, to catch the light through windows, the Cathedral decorations or community displays, or anything else that strikes me as significant or important ‘in the moment.

This week, the harvest display was still up after last weeks celebrations, so my photographs and prayers reflect that:

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Harvest Flower – Winchester Cathedral 2017

Dear God,
As we take time in this holy place to acknowledge your presence, we remember that you do not rest simply in buildings dedicated to your worship, but through your Holy Spirit walk beside us as the crucified Christ, in the joys and traumas of our daily lives.
As we celebrate the gifts of your creation in this Harvest season, we ask you to encourage the political leaders of this world to work for peace, that we might beat the swords, guns and armaments of our nations into the ploughshares, water wells and irrigation systems that will enable us to feed the world family.
We pray that together, in this way, we might bring hope in the name of Jesus.
Amen.

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Fine needlework on the lecturn of Winchester Cathedral – Harvest 2017

Lord God,
Around us we see the work of human hands wrought from your creation in stone, and wood, and glass, in stitch-work and flowers. So often this place resounds to the human voice in prayer and song.
Thank you for the skills of all those who celebrate your Word and Power and make for us this place of peace and restoration. Continue to gift those who care for this building with the wisdom and love that enables it to glorify your name,
Jesus Christ our Lord.
Amen.

Pilgrimage in Prayer – Luke 11:1-13

2016-07-22 11.53.15To All Saints, Tunworth and St. Lawrence, Weston Patrick today, and I’m reflecting too on the end of the school year, when in St. Mary’s Old Basing, we always host Pilgrimage Day for the Year 6’s.

I’m then intending to ramble the area a little, or try a local pub, with my husband, so exciting wildlife sightings or other reflections will be offered in the comments!

On Monday of this week I spent the day with some Year 6 children from our church school in Old Basing, helping to take them on a journey, something we call ‘Pilgrimage Day’. A pilgrimage is a journey, and should be a prayerful journey. People go on pilgrimage ‘to’ somewhere; in other words there is a physical destination in mind.

But, it is not actually the destination that should be the most significant thing about the pilgrimage. What is important is commitment to the journey itself, the purpose that is chosen for it, whether that be to give time to coming closer to God through getting out in his creation, or following in the footsteps of saints, or relying on generosity of others, or a myriad of other reasons. Some Bishops take pilgrimages around their diocese; to meet with people and thus listen to what God is doing in their patch. Pilgrimage can take us to the heart of what really matters, so that we can find joy or healing, or perhaps a homecoming into God’s presence. For the Year 6’s Pilgrimage Day was marking the end of their time at the school, the beginning of their journey to pastures new, and offering them some tools to use along the way.

The activity that I led on their Pilgrim journey was focused on prayer, giving them a hopefully fun, memorable, tangible and helpful way to have a conversation with God, which is after all what prayer is, a two-way conversation. After all, the idea of pilgrimage teaches us among other things that prayer is not just about words said to God, and that for many of us a physical and creative activity gives our prayers a stronger sense of purpose, and helps us to listen to the other side of the conversation. So we made a small set of prayer beads*, that they can hold in their pockets, based on the liturgical seasons of the year – something they already know through the Acts of Worship we have shared in the school.

In our Gospel passage this morning, the disciples ask Jesus how to pray; the inference being that they want to be given words. Jesus takes their question seriously, and gives them words, words that have been treasured down the centuries and generations since, in the words of the Lord’s Prayer. They are words addressed to our Father God, an image which yes some, sadly, find difficult, but which goes back to a time where the people of Israel needed rescuing from slavery in Egypt: he spoke through Moses and Aaron to Pharaoh saying “Israel is my Son my firstborn” and freeing them to journey to a new land.

At the time Jesus was teaching this prayer, he was in effect completing that journey, a journey to the Promised Land of a Kingdom of God that is for all people, not simply those chosen by God in the years of the Old Testament. Jesus’ was journeying to Jerusalem to break the bread of his body as a sign of God’s presence and bond with all who would follow the journey of faith in him.

This Father God to whom we pray, is a God of liberation, who was releasing his people into a journey to a new Kingdom. This prayer tells us that it is a journey that feeds the hungry, forgives the sinner, delivers people from the powers of darkness. This prayer is in itself a pilgrimage.

But for Jesus, the words he taught were not enough; they were not everything that his disciples would need for the journey. For the journey with Jesus to the cross, and beyond to new life in God’s Kingdom, needs more than just words of prayer. It needs a commitment to the task, the journey, a passionate willingness to step out, a sense of tenacity that means we, his disciples, will stick to the idea. We will be the ones that seek help and assistance when we need it, from God and from our neighbour. We will ask when we’re unsure, seek the right routes on the journey God calls us to, and knock at doors that seem closed or blocked, because if we don’t we may miss the way.

On Pilgrimage Day, the beads that I had selected were at times a little temperamental, the varnish blocking some of the holes, and the thread unravelling so that at times we had to get it wet or cut a fresh end to push it through. Whilst the activity had a destination, i.e. the completion of the prayer beads, there was something appropriate about the difficulties faced along the way; the journey of creating the prayer beads, the problem solving, the patience and time required, was as important as the prayer beads themselves.

As we consider this Gospel story, and join together in praying the Lord’s Prayer this morning, let us remember as we do so that we are Pilgrims with Jesus, sharing his journey towards the fulfilment of the Kingdom of our Father God. We are equipped not simply with words to say, but with the persistence and commitment to keep praying, not just the words, but also constantly remembering those who need our prayers most, knocking at God’s door on their behalf and ours, and looking and listening for the answers, the next step on the journey.

 

How do you talk about God with pre-school children? Prayers and Bears!

George, a prince among bears - soft focus to protect his identity ;-)
George, a prince among bears – soft focus to protect his identity 😉

There’s something about ministry that means you end up with challenges you never expected to face. Leading a ‘Pram Service’ for pre-school children once a month is high on my current list of challenges. It’s name was the first challenge that I noticed: there are few who have prams these days!

I’ve watched the vicar do it once, with I have to say what appeared to be minimal planning, but he’s clever like that despite feeling a tad out his depth on this himself, I think it’s fair to say.

I was asked to do October’s. At the last minute he was called away to give someone the Last Rites, so wasn’t there to see the result. I used the lectionary for the day for inspiration (Like 11:5-13 The Lord’s Prayer) to focus on prayer, working on the basis that if you can’t teach very young children (some pre-speaking and crawling) anything else, giving them the confidence to talk to God, and making it fun was probably a good idea. I created a hand-prayer sheet. If they had the skills they could draw round an adult hand, otherwise it was simply something to take home to the family to encourage them to pray together (Hand Prayer sheet). We also blew bubbles when we prayed thank you at the end; I talked about God taking up our prayers as the bubble burst. Interestingly, I forgot to pray the Lord’s Prayer at the end as I had intended, I probably should have. An unexpected joy was having a mother confident enough to breast feed whilst I told the story.

These were both ideas I half knew about, but I wasn’t sure if I used them appropriately. However, I was greatly encouraged when the following Sunday a Dad I’d not met before stopped me after our little Family Eucharist service, and told me his daughter had come home talking about the hand prayers and blowing bubbles! Perhaps I’d done something useful?!

Asking around on-line a bit, someone introduced me to the Teddy Horsley books by Prof Leslie Francis et al. I’d not met them, and nor have my parish, but they looked a good idea, as they try and relate to ideas pre-schoolers experience. They also suggested a useful ministry for a beautiful teddy bear I’d been asked to re-home (another story entirely). @CoventryCanon (aka Good In Parts) whose knowledge of such things I deeply respect, also said how much she’d always wanted to start a ‘Prayers and Bears’ Service in her previous parish. I got rather excited at this point: this might be a way forward!

2014-11-17 12.34.56 cwLast week my teddy, now named George, helped me tell the Teddy Horsley Night Time story as we thought about the nights drawing in, all the noises of Halloween and Fireworks nights (for those who could or would talk to me), and how God cares for us. George proved a great ice-breaker – he seemed to make me more approachable, and he’d been taken off by one of the pre-speaking children before I started! The book links to Psalm 91, but doesn’t suggest craft activities, so I came up with an incredibly simple two minute ‘sticking feathers’ activity! The Lord will cover you with his wings Ps91

Last night, with both George the Teddy and some bubbles present, PCC affirmed what the vicar had approved, that from January the Pram Service will be re-launched as ‘Prayers and Bears’.

Although I can sing a reasonable action song unaccompanied when our pianist can’t make it, I have no training in how to approach children who often are pre-crawling, or very shy. I have just the one child of my own for several reasons, one being we discovered when we had him that I don’t “do” small children. God it seems has other ideas!

So, I’m looking for the collective wisdom of more experienced ministers on this. What have I done wrong so far in how I’ve approached them and the materials I’ve used, and who or where are the best places to get training in how to be better at it? I’ve been told for example that ‘Godly Play’ isn’t necessarily the best idea for pre-school children. Right, or wrong? What gems of wisdom and experience can you offer?

Intercessions for Christmas Morning 2013

Detail from a stained glass window at All Saints, Cuddesdon, Oxfordshire
Detail from a stained glass window at All Saints, Cuddesdon, Oxfordshire

Here are the intercessions I have written for the service I will be attending on Christmas morning with my family. They are based, very loosely, on those labelled H5 in Christmas material in Common Worship Times and Seasons, with the addition of closing lines adapted from the R5 Acclamations.

I offer them in advance of the day itself just in case they are of any assistance to those for whom writing intercessions is not a welcome distraction from writing an essay!

May all those who stop by here know the presence of the Christ Child in their lives each and every day.

 

At the end of each section of our prayers this morning,
when I say
Lord Jesus,
please can you respond
hear our prayer.

Lord Jesus,
hear our prayer.

 

Jesus, whose mother was Mary:
we give thanks for those who have been mothers and fathers to us,
and for your own coming into this world.

We hold in prayer before you
all families of every size and description,
but especially those whose family life is broken in some way,
through abuse, bereavement, estrangement, debt, depression or distance.

Jesus, as Joseph and Mary were bound to each other in love for you,
draw each of us to those whom you have purposed us to love,
that we might do so with patience and perseverance, insight and inspiration.

Lord Jesus,
hear our prayer.

 

Jesus, cradled in a manger:
we give thanks for those places we regard as safe, warm and welcoming,
acknowledging the blessing of the security we experience.

We hold in prayer before you
all those who are homeless and living rough on the streets,
prey to violence, disease and in some cases their own addictions,
and all those refugees living a long way from home
in an effort to find a measure of safety,
and provide food and shelter for their children.

Jesus, as Mary gently cradled you,
hold in your loving care each desperate individual and struggling family,
that with Mary & Joseph they might know your presence
and one day come to proclaim your glory.

Lord Jesus,
hear our prayer.

 

Jesus, sharing the stable with the animals:
we give thanks for the wonders of your creation which you came into
so that we might know your light and life.

We hold in prayer before you those things we have done to your world
which have damaged it to breaking point,
our greed to possess the best of everything,
and our obsession with draining away the gifts and wonders of what we call the natural world.

Jesus, as the animals brought warmth to your first hours on earth,
give us the humility to set greed aside,
and the strength of will to use wisely the resources you provide.

Lord Jesus,
hear our prayer.

 

Jesus,worshipped by shepherds and kings:
we give thanks for the diversity of cultures, nations and races which are together
what makes us in the likeness of God.

We hold in prayer before you those disputed regions of the world,
where diversity of opinion or politics forms a barrier to peaceful co-existence,
and where borders and barriers seek to hide
brutal injustice, terror and torture.

Jesus, just as you were brought gifts,
help us to use wisely those gifts of forgiveness and reconciliation
which you have given us for the good of all nations.

Lord Jesus,
hear our prayer.

Jesus, our Emmanuel:
we give thanks that you came not only in the form of a human baby,
but continue to dwell with us through the power of your Holy Spirit.

We hold in prayer before you those in particular need
of the knowledge of your presence with them,
that through your Spirit they might know your strength,
your healing, your peace and your amazing love for them.

(We remember especially today…)

Jesus, just as you come to us daily,
may we consciously make time to come to you,
not just this Christmas Day, but every day of our lives.

Lord Jesus,
hear our prayer.

Jesus, we give thanks to you our living God:
born of the Virgin Mary,
revealed in glory,
worshipped by the angels,
proclaimed among the nations,
believed in throughout the world,
exalted to the highest heavens.

Blessed be God,
our strength and our salvation,
now and for ever.
Amen.

Gates, stiles and openings… as prayer stations

A New Forest gate, well padlocked. A familiar part of my youth.
A New Forest gate, well padlocked. A familiar part of my youth.

I grew up opening gates, unlocking barriers, and sometimes climbing over fences that had no other means of being navigated.

That was part of life as the daughter of a Head Keeper in the New Forest, at any chance I had to go out to work with him, and even when we just went because we love being out in the natural world.

When we went out looking at wildlife, or some other excitement, I was given ‘the’ key and spent much of our travelling time behind the scenes of that wonderful place, hopping in and out of the land-rover/van unlocking and opening gates and barriers, and then closing them again once Dad had driven the vehicle through. They all (mostly) had the same lock and many were from a limited range of designs. These days, I’m often the one driving if we’re out on the forest with him, so others get to do this.

A narrow way: above Askrigg in the Yorkshire Dales near Mill Gill, August 2013 (Note the appears to be a steep drop on the far side, and a choice of directions!)
A narrow way: above Askrigg in the Yorkshire Dales near Mill Gill, August 2013 (Note the appears to be a steep drop on the far side, and a choice of directions!)

On holiday in the Yorkshire Dales this summer, I was reminded of this, as I clambered, pushed, wormed and struggled my way over or through the most amazing selection of gates, stiles and other passageways I have ever seen. I became utterly fascinated by their variety and how they spoke to me with regard to my circumstances, faith and journey in ministry. Several weeks on, I find myself returning to the photographs I took, and regarding some of them as prayer stations. In fact as I prepare some ideas for an act of worship based on Psalm 84, I am struck by the fact that a montage of such photo’s as these might prove something people might use as a focus for their reflections:

Better is one day in your courts
than a thousand elsewhere;
I would rather be a doorkeeper in the house of my God
than dwell in the tents of the wicked.
For the Lord God is a sun and shield;
the Lord bestows favour and honour;
no good thing does he withhold
from those whose walk is blameless.
(Psalm 84:10-11)

St. Oswald's, Askrigg viewed from a narrow gateway on the walk down from Mill Gill, August 2013
St. Oswald’s, Askrigg viewed from a narrow gateway on the walk down from Mill Gill, August 2013

The image that speaks most clearly of my own circumstances at the moment is one of a narrow gateway, in a rather awkward field corner which was hidden when viewed from any distance, looking across to a village church. I know where the church is in this photo, but in the reality of my developing ministry that isn’t the case. Some of the reason for my sporadic blogging at present is the journey of discerning where I will serve my ‘Title Post’, or ‘Curacy’ as it may be better known. This is done under the guidance of my Diocesan Director of Ordinands, Bishops’ and others, and it isn’t a process that can be shared publicly, but suffice to say I’m waiting on “Plan B” and trying hard to learn something about patience.

In the meantime, I shall keep seeking prayerful inspiration from my photos – and I think I might be able to put together a montage that would fit Psalm 84:3 too, but that would involve nests, rather than gates!

What do you pray aloud before a sermon?

The pulpit at All Saints Basingstoke
The pulpit at All Saints Basingstoke

I’m back preaching on Sunday, for the first time in 10 months. I’m back in a proper pulpit for the first time since… I can’t remember when.

In my present church, we usually preach from a little portable lectern on the dais, not one of the matching lecterns either side the altar slightly further back. Often, the service leader will pray for the preacher before they start their sermon. Otherwise the preacher just launches in. Sometimes I’ve been comfortable doing that – especially if I’ve got a particularly strong opening to a sermon – but sometimes it doesn’t feel quite right.

I’m a guest preacher, on a special occasion, at All Saints, Basingstoke this weekend. It would be appropriate I feel, to offer a prayer before I preach. I will need it to settle myself into a now unfamiliar routine and place just as much as I think it right to formally recognise that what is offered before God and the people may need the ‘babel-fish’ of the Holy Spirit to speak into people’s hearts and minds.

But what words to use? (They might not get the Hitch-Hikers reference, or feel it appropriate!)

“In the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit” is true, but it’s a bit formal and stuffy for me.

“May the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart be pleasing to you, O LORD” (Psalm 19:14) is in the same league.

I’ve heard some lovely prayers from pulpits over the years, often thought I should ‘write that one down’ for future reference, but I never have.

So, as I ponder something that has authenticity for me (which may I realise be different in different circumstances), if you feel able to share some of your favourite prayers before preaching, I’d really welcome your encouragement and guidance.

Is there such a thing as a distinctive Benedictine spirituality?

Carving of St. Benedict in Alton Abbey
Carving of St. Benedict in Alton Abbey

Those who know of my regular visits to Alton Abbey won’t be overly surprised to discover my first portfolio, which has to be about prayer and ministerial formation, has a Benedictine focus.

The title of the main essay is:

How does Benedictine spirituality connect and contrast with my past practice, speak into my current prayer life, and inform my engagement in God’s mission?

In particular I’m going to be focusing on the ideas of community and hospitality expressed in the way the Rule of St Benedict can be applied, and also at the idea of obedience with is one of the vows that Benedictines make. If I was writing my dissertation I could have added more to the list, but I had to be selective… I ‘only’ have 5000 words to play with 😉

I am very aware that I am just dipping my toe in the deep water that is the Benedictine tradition, and am realising more what I don’t know, rather than what I do. Among the many questions I’ve got buzzing round my head at present, not all of which are directly related to the essay, are the following. You may have thoughts and wisdom in response to these that will contribute to my current ‘mind soup’, and if you’re prepared to share them, that would be wonderful.

  1. Is there actually such a thing as a distinctively Benedictine spirituality?
    I am reading a little about Ignatian spirituality (largely in its conversation with positive psychology), and believe there is a distinctly Franciscan spirituality, but I have heard it said at college that there isn’t anything distinctive about Benedictine spirituality, possibly because of its pragmatism. However, reading Joan Chittister’s preface to Thomas Merton‘s commentary on the Rule of St. Benedict I’m not convinced, but wondered what others think? If you think there is, how would you describe it?
  2. In what ways is the hospitality of Benedictine communities distinctive from that of other monastic communities, like e.g. the Franciscans’? Geography has dictated my association with Alton Abbey, but I suspect God’s got a plan in that, and I don’t currently have the time and finances to tour the monasteries of England, so I’m interested in what others think, either from their studies or involvement with Benedictine communities, or from simply having visited contrasting monastic communities.
  3. Why, when the Rule of St. Benedict includes something known as the ‘Ladder of Humility’ which includes the idea that one shouldn’t be “given to ready laughter” (RB7.59-60), are the Benedictines I know some of the funniest people I ever meet? I rarely leave their company without having shared a laugh and always have a bigger smile on my face than the one I arrived with! (That goes for the cloistered brethren, not just the oblates I know.)

So that’s where I am, at least on the surface. Underneath in the warren of MA-land, it’s rather more complicated than that, but perhaps I’ll leave the lumpy bits in the ‘mind soup’ for another day.

Any ideas, thoughts or reflections, gratefully received. If I ever refer them in writing they will be suitably referenced I assure you!

Prayer for a passionate life

As I enter life as an ordinand, what am I seeking in prayer?

I am seeking to be filled with more passion.

  • A passion for Jesus – an understanding of his saving grace that animates me and engages my emotions in a way that exceeds all that has gone before in my life;

Early in the selection process I was told I was “strong of creation, strong on incarnation, and weak on salvation” which has bothered me ever since – especially given the last 25 years in churches on the evangelical wing of the church. Since I don’t ‘feel’ it and obviously couldn’t articulate something my Examining Chaplain wanted to see, am I missing something? I was encouraged though by Monday’s Canticle which was from Isaiah 12:

‘For the Lord God is my strength and my song and has become my salvation.’ With joy you will draw water from the wells of salvation.

  • A passion for God’s people – a well of love and grace that will fill me with the desire and strength to reach out in simple acts of humanity to those who I may, or may not, want to make space in my life for each day;
  • A passion to read, hear and use words wisely – in writing and in the spoken word, in real life, in academia and in cyberspace, in such that a way that walls of mistrust are broken down, not built; I’m aware of the pitfalls Muriel Sowden highlights in this Big Bible post, and don’t want to fall into them.
  • A passion for the presence of God that drives me to fight the hustle of the world, for the rhythms and space that enable me to hear his voice; I reckon I’m pretty passionate about this already, but don’t want that passion to be lost in academic books and word counts, or later on in parish life!
  • A passion to leave and give enough space in my life to love myself and my family, such that we might be able to strengthen each other’s love and faith, with enough left over to offer simple acts of kindness to others; how does one fit everything God asks of us into one life?

That’s rather a lot of passion! And it’s not like I’m not already really passionate about my faith, else I wouldn’t be embarking on this adventure, but I just think the ‘well’ needs to be deeper!

A fortnight ago, at the same parish service in which my future studies and ministry were prayed for, I was vaguely prepared to try and articulate these thoughts.

God used a better spokesperson though, as we were treated to a great sermon on John 2:13-24 by Mano Emmanuel the Dean of Colombo Theological Seminary (who happens to be the sister of a member of our congregation).

Mano focused our attention on Jesus as a passionate person, one ‘consumed by zeal for God’s house’ (John 2:17). She reminded us that we are called us to imitate him, in our passion to be always engaged with the world, and our willingness to give up our small ambitions so that we can seek to change the world in his name.

I’m not sure therefore if my prayers for passion really go far enough, but for the moment they help me to overcome the nerves on this journey with God, trusting in this call he has on my life. Because I know these are among my areas of personal weakness, or easily endangered by ministry, and I will need this passion to be effective through my future ministry.

In the meantime, do you feel you have a passionate spiritual life that sustains you in whatever you do? If you don’t think you’re passionate enough, feel free to add your prayers to mine 🙂

Father God,
faithful to what is your call on my life,
and in all I am about to embark upon,
make me a passionate disciple of Jesus Christ.
Create within me the will to serve you unstintingly,
a better understanding of your salvation,
a deep well of love and grace for those who I encounter,
the wisdom to listen, hear and use words wisely,
a rhythm of life that enables me to hear your word,
and enough space to love those who you gave me to cherish.
Through the power of your Holy Spirit,
and for the glory of your kingdom.
Amen.

Mothers’ Union members living with the consequences of Joseph Kony

This banner given to Mothers' Union members in the Diocese of Winchester tells the story of burnt homes and displaced people, caused by the war between LRA and the Ugandan Army

The Mothers’ Union in the Diocese of Winchester (of which I’m currently a Trustee) is linked through the Mothers’ Union Wave of Prayer to members in Kitgum, an area of Northern Uganda that lived for decades under the influence of war between the Lord’s Resistance Army and the Ugandan Army.

Those living in Northern Uganda are beginning to rebuild their lives, but this week Kony has been ‘trending’ in social media due to this video, and others (like BBC commentators) have been suggesting it is misplaced and won’t change things among the people affected.

In 20o4-5, during the last big peak of media awareness of the Lord’s Resistance Army, and it’s leader Joseph Kony, I spent considerable time sharing in local churches the plight of child soldiers, and those that sought to avoid that fate. The ‘night commuters’ walked miles to the ‘safety’ of towns in Northern Uganda, often to be abused by the Ugandan Army soldiers and others that they thought would protect them, or to fall foul of disease that spread in the crowded yards where they huddled together.

Mothers’ Union members in Kitgum wanted to provide a night shelter for these children, and here in Winchester Diocese we successfully raised the funds for them to do this. The shelter was built and used.

In 2006 when I visited Uganda, the situation was still too volatile to travel to Kitgum, though I did manage to speak to Mothers’ Union leaders in the region by phone. My colleague was also unable to visit in 2008 but met Mothers’ Union leaders in Kampala, and brought back this information.

The completed Mothers' Union 'night shelter' in 2006 - it is now being used as, among other things, a schoolroom!

Now that relative peace has returned to the region, when we hear sporadic news from the Diocese of Kitgum it is all about the wounds that need healing: children’s lives damaged physically and mentally, communities rebuilding trust, as well as houses, livelihoods, and churches. Amidst this I discovered last week that Mothers’ Union members in Kitgum are planning a conference around Mary Sumner Day 2012 (August 9th) which will use music, “Bible exposition and drama about family life and prayer” to strengthen their Christian faith in such difficult circumstances.

This week my teenage son saw the #Kony2012 video, and rather startled his friends by explaining that this was something he’d known about since he was seven! He thought of doing something in school to raise awareness of the issues, but was appalled to find this sort of information today about the group behind the video; he knew full well that all of the money we raised as Mothers’ Union members in 2004 went to build the Kitgum Night Shelter! Tonight I’ve pointed him at The Church Sofa’s excellent post today highlighting the work of War Child, and there’s also this good one from Dean Roberts.

If you are moved about the plight of the children of northern Uganda by the current hype surrounding #Kony2012, I would encourage you to support (prayerfully and/or financially) organisations like Mothers’ Union whose members have lived through and experienced first hand the pain of the civil war fostered by Joseph Kony which still isn’t fully resolved in Uganda or in the Democratic Republic of Congo. In this way more good will come from the possibly mis-judged campaign that is currently ‘going viral’ among those who use social media.

Later notes:
Grateful to Richard Littledale for tweeting this link which gives a survivor’s perspective from within the Acholi community