change

Recently I have had a few experiences of worshiping in ‘the round’ with chairs in circle or oval round an altar. It completely changed my experience of the Eucharist. I could see more of what was going on at the altar. I could see faces of people and not the backs of heads. I could see musicians and not just hear them. It was a big change for me and I liked it.

This Lent I thought that I might do the same in my church. Each Sunday we have to set out the chairs in rows because during the week the building is used from morning to night by community groups. But the church is rectangular and there is plenty space to create a circle of chairs round an altar so that’s what I did. It wasn’t perfect the first week but I think we got it right last week. Two semi-circles of two rows of chairs facing inwards, with a small table to be our altar.

Oh how I wish I’d had a camera to capture the looks on faces as my little flock arrived. Mouths dropped. Frowns settled in. Eyes narrowed. Oh what is she doing now, I could see them think. Where’s MY chair, I could see them think. Enthusiastically I ushered them in. We’re just trying it for Lent, I exclaimed. Let’s try something new to give us a different perspective on things. Look, you can see the altar closely. Look, you can see one another’s faces not the back of their heads. Look, how different it can be. Look!

It’s just for Lent, they asked hopefully. How many more weeks?

Is change always good for us? Are you someone who likes new things, is excited by something different? Or do you like the same old same old? Do you prefer things to stay just the way they’ve aye been?

Sometimes Lent can be a good time to make changes. We are asked to give up things which take us away from God, to take on things which bring us closer to God. Lent is a time for new things, new ways of being, new ways of seeing, new ways of doing. Change can bring growth.

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run

Sometimes things happen in church.

Tonight, as I stood at the altar, saying the prayer of offering, someone entered the worship space and I froze. It was the way he entered, coming in fairly quickly, not walking forward to one of the altars, or coming towards the sanctuary to join us. He cut across, to the fair aisle, the hidden aisle, the place of greatest shadow. He had a hood raised, and a large puffy coat unzipped, but wrapped around him.

It might have just been a wanderer, someone seeking shelter. But it felt wrong, and I was very aware that there were only three of us at the eucharist tonight, all way up by the altar, and he was out of sight. I watched as I said the prayer, and tried to asses options.
There was a moment, just a moment, when I saw him moving and I came within half a breath of saying ‘Run! Into the sacristy. Now.’ But I wasn’t sure yet — so I did something else instead.

I left the altar and walked towards him — and towards the light switches, because we had been lulled by a light evening into too much carelessness. I think I said to the others, ‘stay here.’ I certainly thought it, and they did.

I spoke towards him, saying loudly, ‘let me give you some light, so you can see better.’
He walked towards me and said, ‘is it alright that I am here? Can I stay?’

I relaxed a bit, and said yes. He was welcome to stay to pray or for some quiet. We would continue the service. I returned to the altar and began the eucharistic prayer. He sat in a pew. Then shifted, and wandered again. He came up into the choir where we had been before we moved to the altar. I called ‘you are welcome to join us here.’ And then realised — there were handbags. He suddenly walked out.

And as I said ‘handbags’ to the congregation, one realised hers was missing, and ran like a flash after him.

‘Don’t go alone. Don’t put yourself in danger,’ I said as I too ran from the altar to follow her. By the time I caught up, they were on the path, and she had confronted him. She took her bag off him, and he did not resist.

We were very lucky. Had he wanted to harm us, he could have. For some reason, he seemed unclear of his own desire.

But later — once the adrenaline was gone — and once I had shown the tiny Tuesday night congregation where the hidden exits were, and told them that if I ever gave them a command to ‘Go’ they must obey. Into the sacristy. Lock the door. My phone will be in my bag or on the desk. Better one person in danger, and three people safe with a phone than all at risk. They must go. But later, I wondered…

What happened that Maundy Thursday night?

What happened when the soldiers came for Jesus?

I have always, always preached this as betrayal. The disciples scattering. Fear overcoming love.

But what if he wanted them to go? What if they were right to flee? Run. Scatter. Dissolve into shadows.

What if Jesus walked toward the cross, not desolate or afraid, but thanking God the others had all gotten away?

 

This was also posted on wonderfulexchange.

Love

God’s love is infinite,
those loved by God are infinite,
God’s love is not restricted to those we can see,
those we can name.
God’s love is not restricted by colour, class, creed, gender, or any other thing.
We arose on Friday morning to the news of an individual screaming hate not love.
We arose to news of people at prayer being fired at.
We arose to news of lives lost, bodies damaged, a community and a country in shock.
We arose to discover that someone had turned their back on love and decided to promote hate.
But God’s love is bigger.
Last week also saw the 23rd anniversary of the Dunblane shootings
78 years ago last week the Clydebank Blitz took place.
What happened on Friday was not new,
it is part of a long history of people turning their backs on God’s message of peace and love.
Oscar Romero, who was assassinated on the 24th of March in 1980 as he celebrated the Eucharist in the chapel of the Hospital of Divine Providence, said:

‘Let us not tire of preaching love; it is the force that will overcome the world. Let us not tire of preaching love. Though we see the waves of violence succeed in drowning the fire of Christian love, love must win out; it is the only thing that can.

Time and time again people act in ways that deny God is love,
deny the all encompassing nature of God’s love.
But denying something doesn’t change the truth of it.
Despite what happened in Clydebank,
despite what happened in San Salvador,
despite what happened in Dunblane,
despite what happened in Christchurch,
God is still love.
God’s love still shines, powerfully, into the world, even the areas where hate tries to win.
People may try and deny love, people may try to redefine love,
people may even try and decide who God will and will not love.
But God’s love does, and always will, endure despite what people may try and do.
For God is love and nothing, anyone can ever do will change that.
There is room for all under the everlasting wings.
“Christ In the Wilderness — the Hen” by Stanley Spencer (1891-1959)

Attention

Mary Oliver gives Instructions for Living a Life

Pay attention.
Be astonished.
Tell about it.

Head down, thumping the keys on the computer, worrying about getting all things done.

Pay attention… the trees are changing, buds are forming, little signs of green and yellow, the wind is moving them and the sunlight is making silver flashes here and there. Stop for a moment to watch, to pay attention to what is around me outside. Stop and breathe more deeply. Stop and drop my shoulders, sit back, let the tension go.

Another day, another to-do list, another phone call to add to all the rest of stuff to do.

Be astonished… a painting on my desk catches my eye, of Mary and Martha, a reminder to be more like Mary but the painting focuses on the things Martha has to work with, food to get ready, hospitality to be offered, and I wonder how much freedom a working woman has to make the right choices.

Things to ponder in Lent, books to read, prayers to pray, confessions made, alms given.

Tell about it… when you have nothing how easy is it to sit and contemplate, to listen to holy things, to not fret about what you have to do? When you are working three jobs to make ends meet, how can you find time to sit and just ‘be’ let alone get to church? I know it is a parable, a story to astonish us. But it seems so unfair to ask this of men and women who have no time but struggle every day just to exist. Tell that story.

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Diego Velazquez, Christ in the House of Martha and Mary, 1618

 

Listen

I was sitting in the hospital waiting room surrounded by dozens of people all waiting and listening for their name to be called. Some were reading, some scrolling through things on their phone, some flicking through old magazines, some just sitting and waiting and listening. Look at their faces… wrinkled frowns, worried looks, mouths down-turned, eyes focused on the desk where the nurse or doctor will appear and call their name. Heads tilted to hear the voice, anxious not to miss it.

It occurred to me that I don’t listen enough. In the morning the radio goes on and stays on all day. In the car music or words accompany me on my journeys. I get bored so I phone someone for a blether. My prayer book tells me silence should be left here and I pay it little heed. I count to ten. Will that be enough for the introverts? It’s Lent so I’ll make it twenty.

And I remembered a poem prayer I once read. But what was it called and who wrote it? And I found it in my Quotes Journal and I read it and switched off the radio and listened. Today I remembered that peace can be mine if I just listen. I might hear my name called. You are my beloved child.

The Word

Down near the bottom
of the crossed-out list
of things you have to do today,

between ‘green thread’
and ‘broccoli’ you find
that you have pencilled ‘sunlight’.

Resting on the page, the word
is as beautiful, it touches you
as if you had a friend

and sunlight were a present
he had sent you from some place distant
as this morning – to cheer you up,

and to remind you that,
among your duties, pleasure
is a thing,

that also needs accomplishing
Do you remember?
that time and light are kinds
of love, and love
is no less practical
than a coffee grinder

or safe spare tyre?
Tomorrow you may be utterly
without a clue

but today you get a telegram,
from the heart in exile
proclaiming that the kingdom

still exists,
the king and queen alive,
still speaking to their children,

to any one among them
who can find the time,
to sit out in the sun and listen.

Tony Hoagland

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George Frederic Watts – Hope (1886) Tate National Gallery

Poor old bird

He sat in the shade, wearing the expression we had come to call his ‘teacher with a stupid class’ look. He was looking at once cynical, exasperated and pained. Some child had said something exceptionally idiotic, and probably the naughtiest boy in the class had just farted. We had thought he might be wearing his ‘father getting ready for a wedding when everything is going wrong’ expression because a bunch of reasonably well-intentioned sympathisers had turned up explaining Herod had him in his sights again. This was not long after John … well, bit the dust. Though, to be fair, it was a merciful death. But …

Best just to sit quiet and not exasperate him. Finally, he burst out laughing in that wholly unexpected way of his.

“I’m an old mother hen. Look at me.”

And he got up and scuttled around, his arms crooked and flapping like ineffectual wings.

“Oh my chicks, my chicks, come to me, huddle under my wings. But of course, you won’t.”He snuck up beside James, and cocked a pretend wing over him, clucking furiously. James caught the game, and shot off. Then, grown men though we were, we played some kind of tig in the dust. Hopelessly undignified, and unsuitable. A thing no grown man should ever do. He had that effect on you.

In the end, he stopped laughing, and sat down.

“I long to gather you all, but you won’t. I am a foolish old bird.”

He looked so sad.

Thanksgiving

40 Days to focus on God.

40 days to count our blessings.

Not 40 days to count our failings, our scars, our stumblings.

 

40 days to give thanks,

thanks for, the milk and honey

which sustains us through all the other days.

Thanks for, the countless blessings

which shower us throughout our lives.

Thanks for, the love which never ends

even when we return to ash.

Thanksgiving, a truly Lenten word.