Saturday, 8 December 2012

Waiting - A Reflection

Advent shines with anticipation as amidst the gloom of short days and drab skies a day of glorious winter sunshine breaks through. A forerunner to the light breaking into darkness, absolution announced by gracious creation shattering a penitential season.

In this pause, as heaven holds its breath, filling her lungs with the air needed to rent the skies apart with hallelujahs, earth waits, troubled, scarred and distracted.

Waiting, those whose hearts are breaking, relationships strained or shattered, left wondering what it was all about.
Waiting, those holding on to hear what the doctors might say, wondering how long before pain gives way to health or death.
Waiting, those whose jobs are at risk, wondering if they will be one of the lucky ones or if their world is going to become smaller and a struggle.
Waiting, those sleeping in sheds, doorways, shelters, refugee camps, wondering just how cold it will be tonight.
Waiting, those who lie awake listening to the sounds of unrest and rioting outside, wondering when peace will settle more deeply into their community.

Break into the waiting, Wonderful Counsellor
Break into the waiting, Prince of Peace
Hold those who are wondering,
Inspire hope in the hopeless
and disturb the comfortable.

Enter our longing, as we look for the glimpses of Immanuel, God with us.

Friday, 30 November 2012

Captain John Gravill

A brief account of the life of my ancestor, Captain John Gravill. He commanded the Diana, the last whaling ship to sail from Hull. He died 99 years before my birth, bar one day. He was a member of the Wesleyan Methodist Church and some sources suggest was a lay preacher. 15,000 people attended his funeral.

Tuesday, 27 November 2012

Reposted - a parable for the new Boss @ the Old Lady of Threadneedle Street

Matthew 18 a new perspective

The realm of heaven may not be compared to a Government that wished to settle accounts with it's financial institutions. One such institution had used the funds entrusted to it to lend to others who were unable to pay it back. The institution's account books looked at first glance to be very healthy but this was not true, the value on the books bore no relation to the capital supporting the institution's debts. Many who were owed money by the institution found that their account balances were worth less or worthless.

The Government was under pressure from the media and the public to support those who had lost their shirts as a result of the actions of the institution. The institution pleaded with the Government to be let off and to continue, arguing that to be punished for its actions would be disastrous as its creditors would loose out and the world would come to an end.

The Government rescued the institution giving it lots and lots of public money, letting it go and continue to trade in a similar way to that which had led to the trouble. The institution and its shareholders were happy.

A person who had borrowed money from the institution to buy a home was unable to pay. How did the institution (so recently in receipt of grace and oodles of tax=payer's money) act? It turned the borrower from their home along with the family.

How did the generous Government respond to this graceless and cruel action by the institution? It declared that this was not its problem, cut housing benefit, made it harder for the borrower to find work and continued to offer the institution all the support it needed, giving it until 2019 to change its working habits.

And the place of forgiveness in this story....?

Sunday, 25 November 2012

In Praise of Tuneful Dissent

"To speak the glories of God in a religious song, or to breath out the joys of our own spirits to God with the melody of our voice is an exalted part of Divine Worship. But so many are the imperfections in the practice of this duty that the greatest part of Christians find but little edification or comfort in it. There are some churches that utterly disallow singing, and I'm persuaded that the poor performance of it in the best societies, with the mistaken rules to which it is confined, is one great reason of their entire neglect. For we are left at a loss (say they) what is the matter and manner of this duty, and therefore they utterly refuse. Whereas if this glorious piece of worship were but seen in its original beauty, and one that believes not this ordinance, or is unlearned in this part of Christianity should come into such an assembly, he would be convinced of all, he would be judged of all, he would fall down on his face, and report that God was in the midst of it of a truth."
From a short Essay towards the improvement of psalmody, Isaac Watts.

Isaac Watts (1674 - 1748) is celebrated today by the Anglican Church (on the anniversary of his death). This is quite a reversal for the son of a Dissenter who was one of those exiled from the Church of England in the 'Great Ejection'. Isaac was at home in the dissenting tradition of his parents and was ordained as a non-conformist minister in 1703 (the year of John Wesley's birth). 

He is also known as the 'father of hymnody', able to write and speak in verse from a very early age his parents encouraged him to use the skill in relation to holy scripture.

I went today (somewhat unwillingly...) to Westminster Abbey for evening worship, where Watts was remembered. Three of his hymns formed the structure of the service, which was low church in its liturgical simplicity. Sadly, with no choir and most of the congregation being tourists who clearly never sing in church, the singing did no justice at all to his remarkable poetry nor to the great tunes Nativity, St Anne and the tremendous Truro.

It was strange being in the Abbey, just a few days after Synod and its institutional and systematic stumbling over its own feet. To hear the officiant talk about the 'Great Ejection' a few hundred yards from the site of this week's great rejection of women as bishops in the Church of England. Strange because of all the British cathedrals this feels the most over-stuffed with objects, like a Victorian parlour - busts to the great, the good, the deadly, the poetic - statues of dead men everywhere, accompanied by little naked cherubs in various states of joy, boredom or despair. How odd that Watt's memorial is there in a place that represents so much that the dissenters resented and wished to be free from.

Earlier in the week I attended Evensong at St Paul's Cathedral - in fact it was on Tuesday night, two hours before Synod heard the result of its debate and vote. Whilst some of the glories of that building leave me bewildered, it has a grace and beauty that stand as a tribute to Wren's genius to this day. It, in contrast to the Abbey, has a wonderful sense of airiness and space and the sight-lines are considerably better. The worship was gracious and the choir more than competent - I found myself lost in the Magnificat, holding all those women who bear Christ to the world today, in prayer. It was as if I (and others) were holding our breath during that service, waiting for a new birth, a fulfilling of a God inspired possibility and yet... no, the gestation is going to be longer and the labour more painful than is desirable or necessary.

Just in case you think that I've spent all week with my Covenant partners, I've done a lot of Methodist mingling too. More meetings than you can shake a stick at but also a visit to the ArtServe Conference where I spoke about my love of glass and my playing at being a glass-fusing artist.

ArtServe is formed in some ways by those who dissent and those who historically have held the tradition of hymnody precious within the life of the church. It is formed of the remnants of Creative Arts in Methodism and the Methodist Church Music Society. Artists, pushing the edges of articulating truth and beauty; musicians, contemporary and traditional - moving to the rhythms of God's creative Spirit and rich inheritors of the gifts of Watts, Wesley, Farrell, Bell, Pratt-Green....

Perhaps the wider church and, in this moment, the Church of England, might learn from such as Artserve, where those who move to very different tunes have stopped saying 'but we don't do it like that' and have begun to embrace and celebrate diversity as a gift and an imperative from the God who created us (male, female and in God's image).

Tuesday, 20 November 2012

Made in the image of God?

World wide: women continue to be the majority of farmers, water fetchers, child bearers and carers in the world - the providers of food and education. 

Women continue to be raped, tortured, forced into marriage, trafficked for sex. 

Girl children continue to be killed, prevented from education, treated as chattels. 

Women continue to be paid less, to not have the vote in many countries, to not be allowed to drive in some. 

So just what message has the CofE sent to the daughters, granddaughters, mothers, sisters, aunts, nieces of the world? 

And what does it say to the sons, grandsons, fathers, brothers,uncles and nephews about how the church values women?

Friday, 2 March 2012



I was fourteen when I cradled you in my not much more than infant arms,
wrapped you in linen cloth,
fed you with my own life force.

Rich men came and brought gifts fit for a king.

Who knew that the swaddling cloth would herald a shroud,
the myrrh would point to your embalming?

Later I lost you for a while,
hollow burning hunger of fear gnawing at my heart.
Lost in a crowd, I ran with gasping, short panicked breath.

There you were in temple splendour, teaching the teachers.

Who knew that their robes would herald the blood shed,
their headdresses would point to your crown of pain?

I watched you grow up, fine, strong, I longed to
wrap you in soft safe home,
feed you with a safer diet.

You knew who you were to be and, in fear, so did I.

Who knew that your Father's work would herald a cross,
wood and nails would point to ruin?

I wandered after you from time to time,
longed to be part of your life-changing way,
share in the bread and wine of your friendship.

You sent me away, couldn't get it done with me to worry about.

Who knew that the cheers of the crowd would herald the jeers of the mob,
the whisperings of 'Messiah' would point to Pilot's cowardice?

I was there, in the crowd, with other mothers, sisters, friends,
longed to bandage your wounds,
to tear those soldiers apart for following orders.

You looked at me and, from that place of pain, offered care.

Who knew that the heart beat of a mother's love could herald the fading pulse of her son,
the leaden weight of my grief point to your body on my knee?

I am here now, holding you, aching with the outrage of it all, and again
wrapping you in clean white linen,
wishing to trade places with you.

And a rich man offers the gift of a tomb.

This is a new reflection for Good Friday. Four other new reflections for Holy Week will be posted on in the next few days.