Writing

  • Upside Down Kingdom

    Upside Down Kingdom

    I live in Southern California, in Orange County, close enough to Disneyland to hear the fireworks each night at 9:30 pm. We call it the Magic Kingdom, the happiest place on earth.

    Whenever I've traveled "down under" to Australia or New Zealand, I've been aware of the reversal, the disorientation. We are the same in so many ways. And things are not always as expected. Driving, light switches, door knobs, all seem counter-intuitive. Travel north and the weather warms; go south it gets cooler. In New Zealand you can see the Milky Way and the Southern Cross, but not Polaris and the Ursa Major and Minor. 

    Holy Week began on Sunday. It seems impossible to me to think of Easter as coming in the Autumn. In the North, Easter is spring time, new life, bunnies, eggs, and chicks. That northern influence seems the default, perhaps unfortunately. Those living in the global south must always feel down under; those of us in the global north can't imagine not being on top. Travel helps us see our own normal in a new way, to rethink our perspective, to realize we are not the center of the universe.

    North, South, East, or West, Holy Week is a remembering of Jesus' upside down kingdom. Hailed as a king, he rode into Jerusalem on the back of a donkey, a humble ruler, mighty in mercy. Even then, folk wanted a new emperor, a political upheaval, power, justice. But Jesus said, "my kingdom is not of this world." The kingdom of God is like a mustard seed, a grain of wheat, a bit of yeast. The reign of Christ is about suffering love, about the small but forceful signs of new life in every season, about the hope of shalom, a future of right relations.

    The passion narratives ask us to view the world from God's perspective, with the loving eyes of Christ, from the Spirit's vantage point. Ours is not a mighty warrior God who rules from above. Jesus came to remind us that our God is merciful, slow to anger, abounding in loving kindness. The suffering love of God we observe during Holy Week teaches us again and again that compassion for the weak and the vulnerable are signs of God's reign. Not the kingdom of this world, of my own nation, to be sure.

    Just so, we remember Bonhoeffer's words from that prison cell, "only a suffering God can help us...and that is the way, the only way that God is with us and for us."

    My prayer for this Holy Week, is that I, we, might walk through each day with humility, with a deep sense of God's love for us and for all creation, and with renewed compassion for those who are truly "on the bottom" wherever they may be.

    © Rebecca Button Prichard
     

  • The Anointing at Bethany

    The Rev. Malcolm Guite 15 April 2019

    The Anointing at Bethany

    Come close with Mary, Martha , Lazarus
    So close the candles stir with their soft breath
    And kindle heart and soul to flame within us
    Lit by these mysteries of life and death.
    For beauty now begins the final movement
    In quietness and intimate encounter
    The alabaster jar of precious ointment
    Is broken open for the world’s true lover,

    The whole room richly fills to feast the senses
    With all the yearning such a fragrance brings,
    The heart is mourning but the spirit dances,
    Here at the very centre of all things,
    Here at the meeting place of love and loss
    We all foresee, and see beyond the cross.

    ©Malcolm Guite, from Sounding the Seasons, CanterburyPress 2012
    Image Mary Anointing Jesus at Bethany, Daniel F. Gerhartz

  • The Muse

    The Rev. John Fairbrother 14 February 2019

    The Muse

    Between intuition and perceived
    insights rise, animating
    unseen space where meaning’s seed
    germinates the word waiting,
    for light of reason, emotion, need
    to warm the Muse, momentarily freed.

    Courage and faith, water and earth,
    reveal unseen spaces nurturing life,
    strengthening hearts, lifting worth
    of words wielding perception’s knife,
    prising doors of an uneasy birth:
    Originality welcomes the Muse rebirth.

    ©John Fairbrother
    Image by Hannah Olinger, www.unsplash.com

     

     

     

     

  • Diamond Princess

    Tess Ashton 13 February 2019

    Diamond Princess
    1
    get stardust in my eyes
    during worship
    I’m cruising 
    on a winsome sea
    no land or others
    just a breezy forever 
    the wind’s got
    the boat’s white sail 
    full throttle
    Jesus is near
    With words of cool spirit fire
    says
    ‘Look only to me
    not left or right
    keep your eyes on me 
    alone’
    2
    We’re heading to a sunset
    shooting 
    cosmic light 
    ten thousand streams of happiness
    not far from the swing 
    of the foam
    
    one dawn or two later 
    songs by the ‘electric light orchestra’
    tune in 
    I rise and play
    ‘strange magic’ 
    ‘telephone line’
    and ‘twilight’ 
    on you-tube
    several times
    
    the words
    of the songs
    calling 
    to a space
    between earth and heaven
    like the place between the
    boat and home
    3
    in spring
    my sister phones
    ‘come on a cruise to Japan
    my shout 
    we’ll board the diamond princess 
    at Taipei‘
    
    soon our soft-as-cloud beds 
    swing light as coracles
    swept up in the swish 
    of the waves
    
    the dance of the steward
    seems almost anointed
    beds smoothed
    twice a day 
    clothes lightly folded 
    on pillows
    his touch
    like a thousand silent breezes
    surprisingly ok
    
    I’m thinking about love of course
    and how it makes you feel
    when nothing is required
    but to receive 
    and live a little
    
    we check our tiaras 
    at our choice of cruise eatery
    consider delicious thoughts
    of crepes and creamery
    a menu without prices
    a magical ingredient
    
    book a massage 
    or a rest 
    on a hot stone bed
    take a tour round a port
    climb watch towers
    and look out
    
    river sampans drifting far below 
    say Japan Japan
    
    Japan in November 
    shows off its 
    chrysanthemums
    and children
    in blossom-soaked kimonos
    it’s Shichi Go San
    loving parents
    are praying for long life 
    and happiness
    we take photos
    
    in dappled 
    shrine courtyards
    priests rustle silently in sunshine
    and shadow
    4
    one evening 
    rugged-up on deck
    juggling pizza and icy wine
    the kaleidoscope that shoots 
    cosmic light 
    is back
    we’re at Osaka 
    and hard portside
    its famous ferris wheel 
    twice ship height
    is going off
    big-time
    
    glory plays and winks
    while we drink 
    and eat
    and chat
    
    catch the sound of one wheel clapping
    on cue
    ELO
    strikes up 
    on the deck’s big screen
    ‘Hello, can you hear me
    have you been alright?’
    coming down 
    the telephone line
    
    ‘Are you still the same? 
    don't you realize the things we did
    we did were all for real
    
    not a dream?
    I just can't believe
    they've all faded out’ 
    
    God has my full attention
    as Robin 
    books us
    tomorrow’s afternoon 
    of leisure
    I think of times past
    God and I working together
    recall a thousand happy glances
    5
    at ‘the sanctuary’ 
    a private attendant
    brings us soft wool blankets
    to soothe our loads of woe – ha 
    our noses sniff 
    a salty sky
    a place of sighs let out
    
    three courses 
    of afternoon tea
    biscuits 
    of the heavenly sort 
    can’t buy in ordinary shops 
    I think
    as I try one out
    
    then a trolley 
    wheeling sandwiches 
    and angel cakes galore
    each one pretty 
    never tasted before
    6
    as we cruise 
    to our final port
    a thousand waves bow sorrowfully
    I reach a chapter in my book
    my heart jumps
    He is speaking 
    in tsunami sentences
    ‘I want to answer 
    your prayers
    and I will 
    but first soak you 
    in my love’ 
    
    my riven heart
    hears something along this line 
    ‘I have ships
    sailing in living water
    powered for high seas
    you are both queens 
    with domains of love
    like these’
    
    weeks later
    the sky is
    dusted in white
    chrysanthemum pompoms
    ten thousand graces sallying
    white sails billowing
    
    I listen again and write
    love and healing
    for the nations
    sound the trumpets
    blow the horns
    prepare the way of the Lord’.

    end

    ©Tess Ashton
    Image Shutterstock

  • The Guide

    The Guide

    Of all prophets and seers
    tradition presents
    just three, opening
    the clasp of heaven’s veil,
    revealing the question
    of wonder’s quest.

    Cold shimmering light,
    night’s pointed sign,
    attentive wisdom caught.
    This silent message
    evoking sage response:
    A celestial companion,
    moving travellers on.

    Wisdom of years the guide
    where youth
    would have safely trod:
    Beyond comfort awoken
    to grime and fear of night,
    becoming a caravan’s
    compulsive course.

    A stall beneath a public hall:
    Journey’s end –
    could this be –
    the beginning quest?

    Magi, tradition tells,
    valued wisdom:
    light’s transcendent call.

    ©John Fairbrother
    ©
    Image Three Wise Women, Jan Richardson, reproduced with permission. 

     

  • On the 12 days of Christmas

    On the 12 days of Christmas

    Two turtle doves
    Rachel Mann

    IN HER poem for the feast of the Presentation, Christina Rossetti writes: “O Firstfruits of our grain, Infant and Lamb appointed to be slain, A Virgin and two doves were all Thy train, With one old man for state, When Thou didst enter first Thy Father’s gate.’”

    While the Presentation or Candlemas may seem a little distant from the “Twelve Days of Christmas”, it has often been treated as the final liturgical moment in the season of Christmas. Many people keep their nativity sets up until that date. In addition, Shakespeare’s Twelfth Night was first performed on Candlemas in 1602.

    Rossetti’s poem also reminds us of the rich symbolism of doves. She implies that the two doves — offered as redemptive sacrifice in the biblical text — are part of Christ’s simple “train”, or honour-guard, as he is carried into the Temple for the first time.

    The Bible, of course, contains rich dove-based symbolism. Noah sends a dove out to test whether the flood has receded, and it brings back a freshly plucked olive leaf, a sign of hope and life. Perhaps, most definitively, in St Luke’s and St Matthew’s Gospels the Holy Spirit descends in the form of a dove at the moment of Christ’s baptism.

    Doves (and olive branches) have become associated with peace and reconciliation. The depth of connection between doves and peace is reflected in American political idiom: those in favour of aggressive foreign policies are called “hawks”, while those who take a conciliatory stance are called “doves”. For Christians, the connective tissue between ancient and modern dove symbolism lies in the Bible: doves take us back to God and to his son, the Prince of Peace.

    As a song, “The Twelve Days of Christmas” provides a fun singalong for all ages. In the year of the centenary of the Armistice, however, there is potentially great pathos in the gift of “two turtle doves”: doves were offered at the dedication of Christ; doves signal peace; and doves show forth the Holy Spirit. In a world that still hungers for peace, and it is yet to find it, may we know the blessing of doves this Christmastide.

    Canon Rachel Mann is Rector of St Nicholas’s, Burnage, and the author of Fierce Imaginings: The Great War, ritual memory and God (DLT).

    Four calling birds
    Jerry Marshall

    “TRANSCEND reflects the Palestinian dream of a prosperous life with open borders,” the team leader for an Israeli client, eTeacher, Abdallah Khalifah, says. “We’re working with clients from all over the globe, and across borders. I believe that creating jobs for youth in a very troubled place of the world is worth working for.”

    Transcend is my Bethlehem baby, born in 2012. It’s a call-centre business, set up with my friend Nassim Nour, and uses the language skills in Bethlehem to bring jobs, skills, and exports unaffected by movement restrictions. Today, we have 120 staff providing contact-centre services and software development for businesses in Palestine, Israel, and beyond.

    Besides creating jobs designed to survive even in a curfew, we try to model integrity and gender equality. Our first CEO, Abeer Hazboun, became the first Palestinian women to win a place on the prestigious IMD MBA programme in Lausanne, Switzerland.

    Encouraging and respecting our staff is not only morally right, but also makes business sense. “I feel like management trusts my decisions and supports me in my daily work,” says Rozet Najajrah, who was regularly “Agent of the Month”, and is now team leader for a wellness programme.

    Behind Transcend is a desire to bring hope. Yaman Qaraqe, one of our first team leaders, says: “This transcends political barriers and limitations. I really love that. I’m the eldest daughter in the family, and I’m my family’s hope. . . I love it, because it makes me feel renewed every day because I learn about other cultures, and it helps my English come to life.”

    Abdallah, Abeer, Yaman, and Rozet are just four “calling birds” whose communication skills enable us to transcend the separation wall. Transcend is risky, because not everyone likes what we are doing; but it is one small source of hope in a troubled region. The Jesus plan was high-risk, but is the primary source of hope for us all in a turbulent world.

    Jerry Marshall is the co-founder and chair of Transcend Support Ltd.

    Five gold rings
    Anne Bennett

    SLEEVELESS dresses are unwise in December. The bridesmaids are shivering, and even in cassock and surplice I am chilled. Only the bride is impervious to the cold, fuelled by an inner furnace of anxiety, adrenaline, and hope. I arrange the bridesmaids in order of height, whisper some reassurance to the bride, and nod to the verger. She signals the organist, and the bridal party makes its stately way down the aisle.

    All weddings are special, but Christmas weddings have a distinctive beauty. We have brought in evergreen branches, and the scent of pine and incense is sharp in the air. The candles, barely visible in summer, gleam in winter gloom. The florist has found mistletoe to hang from the pulpit — pagan, possibly, but the church will happily adopt it, just as we once adopted this midwinter festival and made it our own: a celebration of light and love coming to redeem a benighted world.

    We sing a carol. There is nervous laughter as I preach about the joys and tribulations of marriage. And now the couple are facing each other, and we begin the vows. Silence falls, absolute silence. Even the smallest children are still, caught by the power of the moment, as two people repeat after me the ancient words. To have and to hold. For better, for worse. Till death us do part. They exchange golden rings, and make more promises. With my body I honour you. All that I am I give to you.

    And now they are married, and no one shall put them asunder, and we all cheer, and the organist belts out the “Hallelujah Chorus” to carry them down the nave.

    Love came down at Christmas, and on this wedding day we see it come down still. In this church, on this day, blessings abound.

    The Revd Anne Bennett is Team Vicar in the Ravensbourne Team Ministry, Southwark diocese.

    Eleven pipers piping
    Doug Gay

    THE ninth day of Christmas 2018 will fall on Wednesday 2 January 2019. This enjoys the happy distinction of being a Bank Holiday in Scotland, though not in England; an anomaly sometimes linked to the Scots tendency to celebrate Hogmanay (New Year’s Eve) in a particularly committed fashion, during which, as the Scots saying that echoes the King James Bible confesses, “strong drink might be taken.”

    A second Bank Holiday allows revellers to switch to Irn Bru (Scotland’s other national drink) and recover themselves the better to cope with those ten heartless souls who will be drumming them back to work on 3 January.

    The pipers in this glorious English carol (there are sometimes 11) may not have originally been bagpipers, but, given the carol’s disputed origins and meanings, and generally anarchic character, I am happy to claim them for Scotland and clothe them in tartan.

    Sometimes despised and rejected by outsiders, the traditions of playing and composing for the Highland pipes are extraordinarily rich and subtle, encompassing both the “little/light music” (in Gaelic ceòl beag) of marches, strathspeys, reels, and jigs; and the “big music” (ceòl mór) of Pibroch/Piobaireachd: a slower, extended art music in which a solo piper works elaborate variations around a melodic theme.

    Reflecting on a move into the last days of the Christmas season and the rather more pagan and secular disruption of the 12 by Hogmanay, I cannot resist invoking Jesus’s words in Matthew 11.17, chiding the cynicism of his critics: he compares his generation to children in the street, crying out indignantly “We piped for you and you did not dance, we sang a dirge and you did not mourn.”

    The wisdom he invokes knows that there is a time to mourn and a time to dance. A good piper — or even nine, or 11 — will be able to accompany both, and a wise Christian will hope to discern when to do which.

    The Revd Dr Doug Gay is a Lecturer in practical theology at the University of Glasgow and has been a Visiting Lecturer at The University of Otago, Aotearoa, New Zealand.

    Twelve drummers drumming
    Terl Bryant

    FOR some, the idea of one drummer drumming is quite enough. But 12?

    Group drumming is just about as old as it comes, and drummers have gathered, making rhythms for dancing and marching, since the dawn of time. The sound of drums is powerful: it can prompt a child to jump for joy, and an old person to sway and clap, despite the pain.

    I left school at 16 to start a career as a drummer. And, in 1995, I had a dream that changed my life. In it, I stood with a group of drummers, drumming in the presence of God. We were pounding out a beat that somehow reflected the power and majesty of God.

    It so inspired me that it changed the course of my life. I started gathering Christian drummers to play together and live out what I had seen in the dream: drummers beating out rhythms as prayer, praise, and encouragement for the glory of Christ. I called the gathering “Psalm Drummers”, and, over the years, these Christian drummers went on to drum on numerous occasions, in many contexts, leading the church in worship.

    I was recently in Pakistan, and had the privilege of worshipping alongside Christians whose faith is often challenged in the same way that first-century believers were. During my visit, I was able to play with other drummers and lead a congregation of several hundred believers in a rhythmic version of the Lord’s Prayer. We played a powerful beat as the crowd declared, “Our Father in heaven, hallowed be thy name.” It was electric, as we all came together with one voice in praise.

    The Bible tells us that God is love. This Christmas, may God, our “true love”, send to us the joyful sound of 12 drummers drumming: a heavenly heartbeat of faith, hope, and love.

    Terl Bryant is a drummer and percussionist, and founder of Psalm Drummers. www.voiceofdrums.com

    The full article was published in The Church Times, 21 December 2018. www.churchtimes.co.uk/articles/2018/21-december/features/features/on-the-12-days-of-christmas

    Image: www.wikimedia.commons.org

     

     

  • A Divine Beauty

    A Divine Beauty

    Pohutukawa’s crimson
    unfurls
    in the twelfth month.
    No more pain of being in the bud.

    Beauty blossoms the landscape
    of the bare heart
    warming it like the breath of creatures
    healing like nectar.

    Veined leaves
    rustle in the evening
    with a felt underbelly of moisture
    softening.

    Dark red heart wood
    roots resting in infinity
    interweave wisdom and story
    of our eternal Mother.

    Seeds white as Ngauruhoe snow
    carried through the air
    with spirit of salt spray and wind
    share the ancient commandment of life.

    Leaves fall
    in the wintry light
    limbs becoming bare,
    withstanding.

    Circles of time sanctified
    storms
    sunshine
    fragile hope.

    Nothing more holy
    in the ninth month.

    ©Hilary Oxford Smith
    ©Image: Pohutukawa Abstract, Harold Coop

  • The Year as a House

    Jan Richardson 2 January 2019

    The Year as a House

     

     
    Think of the year
    as a house:

    door flung wide
    in welcome,
    threshold swept
    and waiting,
    a graced spaciousness
    opening and offering itself
    to you.

    Let it be blessed
    in every room.
    Let it be hallowed
    in every corner.
    Let every nook
    be a refuge
    and every object
    set to holy use.

    Let it be here
    that safety will rest.
    Let it be here
    that health will make its home.
    Let it be here
    that peace will show its face.
    Let it be here
    that love will find its way.

    Here
    let the weary come;
    let the aching come;
    let the lost come;
    let the sorrowing come.

    Here
    let them find their rest,
    and let them find their soothing,
    and let them find their place,
    and let them find their delight.

    And may it be
    in this house of a year
    that the seasons will spin in beauty;
    and may it be
    in these turning days
    that time will spiral with joy.
    And may it be
    that its rooms will fill
    with ordinary grace
    and light spill from every window
    to welcome the stranger home.

    ©Jan Richardson
    Image: "Many Rooms" © Jan Richardson
    www.janrichardson.com

  • Christmas Been

    Ana Lisa de Jong 30 December 2018

    Christmas Been


    Christmas is for a moment
    the veil lifted,  
    the light of Christ appearing
    through the mist.

    The bright glow
    of a candle briefly lit,
    that for a time
    illuminates the room.

    As a lover’s knock upon the door
    causes the heart to lift,
    so Christmas is the long awaited visit
    to which we open our arms.

    Christmas is the birth
    of the promised child,
    whose innocent dependence
    draws from us our love.

    So that Christmas is
    the veil lifted,
    the light of Christ appearing
    in a crib.

    But we must be careful
    to not too soon forget,
    the one to whose feet we bring
    our treasures.

    The bright glow
    of a candle briefly lit,
    might start and stutter,
    until it goes out with the wind.

    Or the lover’s embrace which warms,
    depart,
    to leave us waiting
    and desirous again. 

    But Christmas that for a moment
    lifts the veil,
    shows us what lies always
    behind the scenes of things.

    Christ, in love
    found a way to remain,
    and has given us back our treasures,
    surrendered at his feet.

    So that the treasure that is Christ,
    can be threaded through our days,
    strung from one Christmas to the next,
    as glowing lights across the heavens.

    ©Ana Lisa de Jong
    Living Tree Poetry
    Image Aurora Australis, Wikipedia.com

  • Ultimately

    Ultimately

     

    when all is said and done

    that might and power

    can say and do, they’ll be

    compelled to forfeit all;

    for ultimately the power of love

    will outwith outmanoeuvre

    and outclass the power

    of power-for-its-own-sake

    and keep it hostage to oblivion.

    ©James M. McPherson

    Image Unsplash.com

  • The Shadow of the Holy Innocents

    Professor Gavin G. D'Costa 28 December 2018

    The Shadow of the Holy Innocents

    The Shadow of the Holy Innocents is a reminder to me that Christians should never be triumphalist as the magnificent truth of the gospel is always framed in thin, beautiful, delicate ice. Claims to truth have always been used to kill others and Christianity, uniquely, at its centre speaks of one who is killed. Suffering, death and tragedy mark life too deeply to be triumphalist, but at the same time, the resurrection cannot be hidden from view. But the resurrection is only authentic when the trace of blood is not denied, the suffering not glossed over, and the wound always has a scar, even when fully healed.

    The Shadow of the Holy Innocents
     
    Did Gabriel realise that he initiated a blood bath?
    Had this sublime angel missed Jeremiah’s prophecy,
    that Rachel’s weeping in Ramah would turn into
    a wailing that would never stop, not even to welcome
    angels in that dung-rich Bethlehem stable?
     
    She was highly favoured. But what of those mothers
    whose sons were forced from their arms,
    torn from their feeding breasts,
    heads smashed on paving stones brought from Jerusalem?
    Had they given a stifled fiat, assenting as handmaidens?
     
    Perhaps, when Mary was disturbed by Gabriel’s words,
    she saw what havoc she unwittingly allowed:
    giving birth to a childless son who would unleash
    such pain upon her, for she must witness
    what the other mothers saw: blood on wood.
     
    She paused, asked the question, distracting herself
    from the terrifyingly obvious: her life would never be
    the same, her body not her own. She would walk
    in the shadow of the presence, dimly clear,
    and the wailing would not cease, growing louder and near.
     
    While nothing is impossible to God, stopping the tears
    will be. These women will weep until the end of time,
    spitting phlegm into the darkness of divinity that offers no solace
    but remains hanging there with us. A handmaiden’s lot?
     
    © Gavin G. D’Costa
    Image Destruction (2016), Judith Carlin. Wikimedia Commons.
     
    Reprinted with the kind permission of Dr. Gavin G. D’Costa, Professor of Catholic Theology at The University of Bristol, UK.
    This poem was first published in Making Nothing Happen: Five Poets Explore Faith and Spirituality, Gavin D’Costa, Eleanor Nesbitt, Mark Pryce, Ruth Shelton, Nicola Slee. Routledge (Routledge, 2014).
  • John the Beloved

    John the Beloved

    It was on Iona years ago that I first became aware of the need to reclaim some of the features of ancient Christianity in the Celtic world as lost treasure for today. Part of that treasure is the much-cherished image of John the evangelist, also known as John the Beloved, leaning against Jesus at the Last Supper. Celtic tradition holds that by doing this he heard the heartbeat of God. He became a symbol of the practice of listening—listening deep within ourselves, within one another, and within the body of the earth for the beat of the Sacred Presence.

    Do we know that within each one of us is the unspeakably beautiful beat of the Sacred? Do we know that we can honor that Sacredness in one another and in everything that has being? And do we know that this combination—growing in awareness that we are bearers of Presence, along with a faithful commitment to honor that Presence in one another and in the earth—holds the key to transformation in our world?

    © John Philip Newell
    Image Jesus and John the Beloved; source unknown

  • On the Feast of Stephen

    Malcolm Guite 26 December 2018

    On the Feast of Stephen

    There is something telling about the fact that the very day after Christmas the Church celebrates the Feast of Stephen, the first Martyr. Martyr means witness, and Stephen witnessed that the Babe born at Bethlehem was worth dying for, and more: he witnessed the resurrection of Jesus and in that resurrection the promise of resurrection to humanity, for whom Christ died. The blood of the Martyrs is the seed of the Church, and the seed Stephen sowed bore almost immediate fruit.  I believe it was the witness of Stephen’s martyrdom that opened the way for Christ into the life of St. Paul. Even as he held the coats and was consenting unto Stephen’s death he was witnessing in Stephen’s face the risen life and love of Christ, and Paul’s road to Damascus led past the very place where Stephen died.

    Witness for Jesus, man of fruitful blood,
    Your martyrdom begins and stands for all.
    They saw the stones, you saw the face of God,
    And sowed a seed that blossomed in St. Paul.
    When Saul departed breathing threats and slaughter
    He had to pass through that Damascus gate
    Where he had held the coats and heard the laughter
    As Christ, alive in you, forgave his hate,
    And showed him the same light you saw from heaven
    And taught him, through his blindness, how to see;
    Christ did not ask ‘Why were you stoning Stephen?’
    But ‘Saul, why are you persecuting me?’
    Each martyr after you adds to his story,
    As clouds of witness shine through clouds of glory.

    ©Malcolm Guite
    Image Mosaic of St. Stephen, St. Stephen Walbrook Church, City of London, UK 

    The Rev. Dr. Malcolm Guite is Chaplain of Girton College, Cambridge, UK

  • Saint Francis

    Jan Richardson 4 October 2018

    Saint Francis

    Happy Feast of St. Francis! The hospitality of Franciscans has been a pivotal gift in my life, and I owe them much for helping to preserve my vocation and to sustain me when I made a flying leap into ministry beyond the local church. In particular, it was my Franciscan friend Brother David who helped to inspire that leap and gave me a place to land. I had met him when I was serving as a pastor. Shortly afterward, he established a Center for Art and Contemplation at the retreat center where he worked and where, thanks to the good graces of the Franciscans and not a few other folks, I would become artist-in-residence for some years.

    David and his brothers at San Pedro Center gave flesh to the wonders and challenges of Franciscan life and to the spirit of St. Francis. Born in Italy in the 12th century, Francis gave up the riches of his family in order to embrace a life of radical devotion to God and to God’s creatures. He took as spouse the one whom he called Lady Poverty, and a community began to gather around him; they became known as the friars minor (“lesser brothers”). Their rhythm of life included preaching missions (Francis traveled widely, journeying even to Egypt), periods of fasting and prayer, and service to those who lived on and beyond the margins of the society, notably those living with leprosy. It was during a period of fasting and prayer prior to the Feast of Michaelmas that Francis, secluded on a mountain with Brother Leo, received the stigmata—the wounds of Christ.

    We know St. Francis in large part for The Canticle of the Creatures, which he began during a time of intense illness. Of his desire to write the canticle, he said to his brothers, “I wish to compose a new hymn about the Lord’s creatures, of which we make daily use, without which we cannot live, and with which the human race greatly offends its Creator.” His praises include, famously, “Sir Brother Sun” and “Sister Moon and the stars” as well as “Brother Wind,” “Sister Water,” and “Brother Fire.” He counted mortality among God’s familiar and familial creatures; on his deathbed, Francis added verses that included the line, “Praised be You, my Lord, through our Sister Bodily Death, from whom no one living can escape.”

    Francis left behind a handful of other writings that testify to his deep and simple love of God. With World Communion Sunday coming up this Sunday, it seems fitting to include this portion from A Letter to the Entire Order, which Francis wrote in 1225-1226:

    Let everyone be struck with fear,
    let the whole world tremble,
    and let the heavens exult
    when Christ, the Son of the living God,
    is present on the altar in the hands of a priest!
    O wonderful loftiness and stupendous dignity!
    O sublime humility!
    O humble sublimity!
    The Lord of the universe,
    God and the Son of God,
    so humbles Himself
    that for our salvation
    He hides Himself
    under an ordinary piece of bread!
    Brothers, look at the humility of God,
    and pour out your hearts before Him!
    Humble yourselves
    that you may be exalted by Him!
    Hold back nothing of yourselves for yourselves,
    that He Who gives Himself totally to you
    may receive you totally!

    And in the Earlier Rule that Francis wrote for his community, he pleaded,

    Therefore,
    let us desire nothing else,
    let us want nothing else,
    let nothing else please us and cause us delight
    except our Creator, Redeemer and Savior,
    the only true God,
    Who is the fullness of good….

    Therefore,
    let nothing hinder us,
    nothing separate us,
    nothing come between us.

    On this day of celebration, and all the days to come, may it be so. Happy Feast!

    ©Jan Richardson
    Image St. Francis, Jan Richardson

     

  • In Life's Last Moments, Open A Window

    Dr. Rachel Clarke 16 September 2018

    In Life's Last Moments, Open A Window

    A furrowed brow and flailing arms were all we had to go on. The grimacing, the way the patient flung his head from side to side — all of it signified an unvoiced anguish. We tried talking, listening, morphine. His agitation only grew. All cancers have the power to ravage a body, but each assails in distinctive ways. One of the particular cruelties of a cancer of the tongue is its capacity to deprive a person of speech.

    Some of us thought he must be suffering from terminal agitation, a state of heightened anxiety that sometimes develops as the end of life draws near. But the junior doctor on the team, Nicholas, was convinced that we could unlock the source of our patient’s distress and volunteered to stay behind in the room. Nicholas reappeared about an hour later. “You can understand his speech,” he announced. “You just have to really listen.”

    When I re-entered the room, the reclining chair that the patient — a tall, angular man in his 80s — had been thrashing around in had been turned to face out onto the garden and the double doors were open wide. Now he sat calmly, transfixed by the trees and sky. All he had wanted was that view.

    For a decade, I have worked as a doctor in Britain’s National Health Service. We are an overstretched, underfunded health service in which too few doctors and nurses labour with too few resources, struggling to deliver good care. Burnout among staff is endemic, so much so that it threatens to stifle the kindness and compassion that should be the bedrock of medicine. But then there are the moments when helping someone is easy: Just nature is enough.

    Before I specialized in palliative care, I thought the sheer vitality of nature might be an affront to patients so close to the end of life — a kind of impudent abundance. And yet, in the hospice where I work, I am often struck by the intense solace some patients find in the natural world. I met Diane Finch, a patient, in May, on the day her oncologist broke the devastating news that further palliative chemotherapy was no longer an option. She was 51. From that point on, her terminal breast cancer would run its natural course, medicine powerless to arrest it.

    “My first thought, my urge, was to get up and find an open space,” she told me on that first meeting. “I needed to breathe fresh air, to hear natural noises away from the hospital and its treatment rooms.”

    At first she fought to preserve herself digitally, documenting every thought and feeling on her computer before they, and she, were lost forever. But one day, as she was typing frantically, she heard a bird singing through her open window.

    “When you come to the end of your life, you get the sense that you don’t want to lose yourself, you want to be able to pass something on,” she told me later. “When I had whole brain radiotherapy, I felt as though something had dropped out, as if everything I said needed to be saved. It was all running away from me.

    “Somehow, when I listened to the song of a blackbird in the garden, I found it incredibly calming. It seemed to allay that fear that everything was going to disappear, to be lost forever, because I thought, ‘Well, there will be other blackbirds. Their songs will be pretty similar and it will all be fine.’ And in the same way, there were other people before me with my diagnosis. Other people will have died in the same way I will die. And it’s natural. It’s a natural progression. Cancer is part of nature too, and that is something I have to accept, and learn to live and die with.”

    Ms. Finch recorded a song based on the peace she felt listening to the bird song, and it was enough to bring her some relief from what — up to that point — had been almost feverish efforts at self-preservation.

    Another patient, whom I admitted in July with about a week to live, was mostly concerned that I keep the windows open, so that he could “keep on feeling the breeze on my face and listening to that blackbird outside.” I rushed to make sure of it.

    Shortly before his death from pancreatic cancer at 59, in the 1990s, the British playwright Dennis Potter described the exaltation of looking out at a blossom that had become the “whitest, frothiest, blossomest blossom that there ever could be” from his window.

    “Things are both more trivial than they ever were, and more important than they ever were, and the difference between the trivial and the important doesn’t seem to matter. But the nowness of everything is absolutely wondrous,” he told an interviewer.

    People often imagine hospices to be dark and dismal places where there is nothing left to experience but dying. But what dominates my work is not proximity to death but the best bits of living. Nowness is everywhere. Nature provides it.

    ©Rachel Clarke

     

  • Holy Spirit

    Holy Spirit

    Sermon preached on the 8th Sunday after Pentecost [B]
    15 July 2018

    Readings: Ephesians 1.1-14; Mark 6.14-29

    Two stories running through my head all week. The gospel, preparing for today; and the recent saga of the soccer team trapped with their coach in Chiang Rai caves.

    These stories couldn’t be more different. Yet we need them both, because they open out into the realities of human life – its debasement and despair, its joy and triumph – because they balance each other. Tip too far towards the first, and you’re into despair; too far towards triumph, and you are into the rose-coloured world where dreams come true for those who hope and work and pray hard enough.

    The gospel is brutal, describing Herod’s cynical and spur-of-the-moment murder of John the Baptist, who had rightly rebuked Herod about marrying his own (Herod’s) sister-in-law. Not that Herod cared about the Jewish Law; but he was “pleased” (nudge, nudge, wink, wink) at his daughter’s dancing, and makes her a rash promise – only to be quickly checkmated by her mother.

    Remember, the John beheaded is the John who was miraculously conceived by the elderly priest Zechariah and his barren wife Elizabeth; the John who had a powerful preaching baptising and revival ministry in the wilderness, and who had baptised Jesus himself. Surely God has let the side down, here, and owes John something better than a demeaning execution at the hands of a despot in his cups? But Mark is brutally honest … because sometimes that is exactly how life can be, for faithful and unfaithful alike. No point relying on Paul’s words in Romans 8.28 (“all things work together for good for those who love God”); no get out of gaol card for John; nor later for Paul. All things do work together for good, for those who love God; except it’s Gods definition of “good”, not ours. [1]

    Fast forward to Chiang Rai in Thailand, which dramatically hit world news Saturday 23 June when a soccer team of twelve boys aged between 11 and 16 along with their 25-year-old coach were reported missing in an extensive cave system. The mammoth search and rescue operation required ingenuity, precision, courage, stamina; and heaps of equipment. It took nine days to find the boys and their coach, another 8 days to get them all out, the only fatality, a volunteer Thai Navy Seal who died in the rescue.

    Coach and team were guided out, one by one, each by two experienced cave-divers, one ahead and one close behind. The smallest aperture they all went through (in the water and darkness) was only 38 cm high. It gives me claustrophobia to imagine it.

    Quite apart from the impressive skill courage and stamina of all involved, quite apart from the significant Australian involvement, and quite apart from its inherent drama, why does this story attract and hold our attention? Because it touches our humanity, our compassion, and our deepest fears, including our mortality.

    The gospel story assaults our sense of justice. More subversively, it challenges our conception of God. Isn’t God “just”? Isn’t God “powerful”? Why didn’t God protect his faithful servant John the Baptist, now in the despot Herod’s hands because of his faithfulness to God’s call?

    *****

    These are all human questions, urgent human questions, which confront us daily. Questions for which we have no satisfying or compelling answers … until we glimpse and grasp what God has done for us in Christ Jesus. Beautifully summarised in the Letter to the Ephesian Christians.

    God has “destined us for adoption as his children through Jesus Christ”, richly lavished his grace upon us, and shown us his deeper and eternal purposes in creation, in “the fullness of time, to gather up all things in him, things in heaven and things on earth”. We have obtained an inheritance in Christ and been marked with the seal of the Holy Spirit – as “pledge of our inheritance toward redemption as God's own people, to the praise of his glory”.

    Now that’s too much to take in quickly, so that’s your homework for this week, to read the Ephesians reading as often as you can, trying to get your head around it all as best you can.

    Just this last week, I was alerted to a poem by G K Chesterton, where Jesus the Eternal Word is the speaker.[2] Some lines:

    Last night I held all evil in my hand
    Closed: and behold it was a little thing.

    At the end, referring to the resurrection as bursting death’s bubble (wherein we are held ever captive to the grave), … [I] woke “laughing with laughter such as shakes the stars”.

    Can you put that into your perspective on death and dying? This comes packed inside the pledge of our inheritance – sealed in baptism.

    *****

    Back to our two contrasting stories. Trying to see through God’s lens, they make some sort of partial sense. John the Baptist’s execution was – in secular terms – similar to what happened to Jesus who was also executed for being faithful; John’s death was a clear signal to Jesus of what was ahead; Matthew records, significantly, that Jesus, hearing the news, “withdrew … to a deserted place by himself” (except the crowd tracked him down).[3]

    But what about the cave rescue? The boys and their coach were piloted out by skilled and experienced divers. My picture of my own dying (described in a poem I wrote called The Ridge) was inspired in part by a verse of the 23rd Psalm:

    Though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil:
    for you are with me, your rod and your staff comfort me.

    So I imagine Jesus piloting me through to safety, along a track he knows well …

    I’d like to close with the prayer, Jesus, Saviour of the World on p 414 of APBA. Let’s pray it together. After which: Don’t forget your homework!

    Jesus, Saviour of the world, come to us in your mercy:
    we look to you to save and help us.
    By your cross and your life laid down, you set your people free:
    we look to you to save and help us.
    When they were ready to perish, you saved your disciples:
    we look to you to come to our help.
    In the greatness of your mercy, loose us from our chains:
    forgive the sins of all your people.
    Make yourself known as our Saviour and mighty deliverer:
    save and help us that we may praise you.
    Come now and dwell with us, Lord Christ Jesus:
    hear our prayer and be with us always.
    And when you come in your glory:
    make us to be one with you and to share the life of your kingdom.

    © the Rev. Canon Dr. James M. McPherson
    Image Tony Reid on Unsplash

     

     

     

     

    [1] St Teresa of Avila: “Lord, if this is how you treat your friends, no wonder you have so few of them!”

    [2] G K Chesterton 1874-1936, English writer; creator of the detective-priest character Father Brown.

    [3] Matthew 14.13.

  • BACK TO THE FUTURE: Taize

    Hilary Oakley 4 August 2018

    BACK TO THE FUTURE: Taize

    I first visited Taizé in 1970. I was 16, and the Taizé community was just about to enter its heyday. The community had been founded during the Second World War, when a young Swiss, Roger Schutz, left the safety of his neutral homeland to live alongside the people of neighbouring France and share something of their suffering.

    Taizé was near to the border of occupied and free France, and soon he was busy helping those pursued by the occupying German army to escape capture, and flee to Switzerland. Schutz was joined by a small group of friends, and so the tiny community began its common life.

    By 1970, his story was being retold all over Europe, and increasing numbers of West European youngsters were coming to see for themselves this place of reconciliation, and share in its life. The numbers continued to grow. By the time of my second visit, in 1975, young people were coming in their tens of thousands; indeed, the numbers were so large that we sometimes spent the whole day — reading, talking, singing, discussing — in the meal queue.

    Taizé had the optimism of the 1960s, and at times felt a little like a religious hippy commune. By day, we sat under the trees in discussion groups; each evening, we sang round a number of camp fires.

    As a shy and rather anxious teenager, I found it confusing, and a little hard to engage. I was in a discussion group with eight other people; between us, we represented five denominations and four languages — an entirely new experience. But I was deeply touched by the worship, in the large concrete Church of Reconciliation, constructed in 1962.

    It was not so much the spirituality as the participation of people of different traditions — they were saying the Lord’s Prayer next to me in French, Spanish, German, or Dutch — and discovering that I, too, could use their words to praise God in the multilingual chants of the Taizé liturgy. My eyes were opened to traditions, people, and languages beyond my own, and I began to understand the importance of ecumenism, as well as my responsibilities as a European citizen.

    My last visit was in 1978, with fellow students from the Ecumenical Institute of the World Council of Churches at Bossey, near Geneva.

    But this year, in the second week of Easter, I visited Taizé again — with Gerhard Tiel, a pastor in the Evangelical Church in the Rhineland, in Germany, who had also accompanied me on my last visit in 1978. The concrete church was still the same, but larger: it now had three waves of wooden extension at the west end. We still participated in discussion groups; mine included three French people, two Germans, and a lady from Hong Kong.

    Taizé counted us as adults, not young people, and we had a special place to meet and eat, with just a little more comfort. We didn’t talk about denominations or our distinctive traditions — perhaps because the support of Roman Catholic, Orthodox, and Protestant Churches, is now accepted, understood, and embedded. At any rate, it didn’t seem to matter: we talked from our shared Christian and “adult” experience.

    Beyond the 60 or so adults, there were about 2000 young people — many of them German — whose energy and exuberance brought Taizé alive, as it had done 40 years before. The numbers were smaller than I remembered, and there were fewer from the UK, but the languages were more extensive, and now included Polish, Bulgarian, Swahili, and Chinese, reflecting a wider Europe, greater mobility, and our engagement with a bigger world.

    It was challenging in a number of sometimes contradictory ways. The perspective was wider, the different traditions less important, the variety greater, the numbers smaller.

    But it is time to come down from the mountain, and I have returned home to Brexit, tensions with Russia, cybercrime, the NHS funding crisis, and more knife attacks on the streets of London . . . and, in the Church, declining numbers, a shrinking church voice in our national life, church leaders who are tired and stressed, and finances on a shoestring.

    I wonder how far, as a Christian community, we can continue to afford the luxury of division, divergence, or mutual suspicion, as we struggle to maintain separate buildings and church infrastructures in parallel. Taizé has nudged me to find a renewed enthusiasm for ecumenism; an energy to try again to address and overcome those challenges that so constrained the previous generation of ecumenists, and lost us the past 40 years. As Brother Roger so simply put it, “Make the unity of the body of Christ your passionate concern.”

    ©Hilary Oakley
    Image Evening Prayers in the Church of Reconciliation, Taizé, Wikimedia Commons
    This article first appeared in The Church Times, 27 July 2018.

  • The loose end tree

    Tess Ashton 4 August 2018

    The loose end tree

    Over the river
    the ‘red’ horse
    is munching under the fleur de lis tree
    its scarlet coat deepening ever slightly
    into the most daring of pinks
    Makes this creature the prettiest
    thing anyone could hope to
    see on a hill by a river
    and the people going by on the trains might look up and see
    it and love it and exclaim in their hearts
    look there’s a horse with a beautiful red cover
    it looks fit for a queen.

    A hawthorn says son Ed
    is a magical tree
    and a dark brown horse draped in scarlet
    its elegance swirling
    capturing the branches
    of the brittle hawthorn
    and velvet of creature
    take me back to real time with a spiritual director
    and the loose end tree.

    She helped me draw my
    loose ends as a tree
    saw what was right in front
    of me
    first the question:
    where are you at?
    a crossroads I think
    in work and life
    ok right, draw that, came back.

    Saw a roundabout
    wide roads spark off
    north south east and west
    but was drawn to the centre
    a tree appeared
    drew my loose ends
    as branches
    spiralling off a solid trunk
    no leaves much yet.

    So where are you in the tree?
    high up busy
    doing what, she said?
    don’t know, I murmured
    but as I watched
    old leaves lit up
    like heavenly wonders
    I’d brushed them
    with a greening wand
    and I was a fairy princess.

    Hallelujah, two months later
    I’m part of an incredible moment
    in a suburb with its name
    on a tall tree-like sculpture.

    I’d had to find a new place
    for some free literacy classes
    found a
    church without walls
    welcoming the homeless
    and anyone smudged
    with poor health, drugs, or prison
    people whose sheen
    might welcome wonder dust.

    So I’m up and running
    still feeling my way
    throwing in love
    aim to brighten their senses
    stoke up each one’s callings
    holy spirit long swirling
    the air well prepared
    for any fresh movement
    Here the saints love God
    give space to the Spirit
    here greening is wanted
    high in loose end branches.

    ends

    ©Tess Ashton
    Image Holy Hawthorn, Glastonbury, Flickr

     

     

  • The Misfit Messiah and the Awkwardness of Grace

    The Misfit Messiah and the Awkwardness of Grace

    ST JOHN’S CATHEDRAL, BRISBANE
    St John, Apostle and Evangelist, 6 May 2018
    Festal Evensong

    John’s Gospel is a stand-out work of poetic imagination. Not the fanciful imagination of Alice in Wonderland, but the incisive insightful imagination which penetrates more deeply into truth and reality. Galileo and Isaac Newton used such imagination, to transform the way we understand our world.[1]

    John the Evangelist puts his poetic imagination to work in the service of Christian faith – exploring the depths, connections, correspondences and implications of the Incarnation through his account of Jesus’ life death and resurrection. John probes the profound logic of what God was doing in Jesus of Nazareth, to help us glimpse the deeps underlying Jesus’ identity, character and action. “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God; he was in the beginning with God.” For John, no alternative explanation is remotely plausible … Unless this is how you see Jesus of Nazareth, you remain in the very darkness the Light of the World came to dispel. John’s poetic insight has the ring of bedrock truth …

    Paul wrote that Jesus was “declared to be Son of God with power … by resurrection from the dead, [who,] though he was in the form of God, did not regard equality with God as something to be exploited”.[2]
    John has worked this through coherently and in depth, showing it to be absolutely congruent with the life of Jesus of Nazareth. [3]

    John’s Gospel could appropriately be subtitled The Misfit Messiah and the Awkwardness of Grace. Page 1: the Incarnate Word “came to what was his own, and his own people did not accept him” – “Misfit Messiah”. The awkwardness of grace refers to our wanting grace on our terms, not God’s; it represents a judgment on our wilful obtuseness in matters spiritual.

    I begin with Nicodemus, who famously keeps saying “I don’t get it”. Why such almost-comic miscommunication? Such is the awkwardness of grace, that (like the misfit Messiah who is the incarnation of grace) it can neither be contained inside, nor understood by, our everyday categories. The best we can do is poetic, the figurative language of poetry, namely the metaphor of being “born again”. This passage is more about the core language and nature of faith than Nicodemus’ apparent spiritual obtuseness.

    Next: Jesus before Pilate. Ironically, almost paralleling Nicodemus, here the conceptual world of ‘Empire’ is on trial over matters of kingship and truth – with its own “I don’t get it”. Remember: Paul wrote to the Christian enclave in the proudly loyalist Roman colony of Philippi, declaring “our citizenship is in heaven” (and outguns Roman citizenship every time); that was subversive![4] So …

    Pilate asks Jesus, “What is truth?” “What is kingship?” If you have to ask, matey, you don’t know; even when it’s there in the exhausted bedraggled prisoner standing before you, ready for death; who is nevertheless incandescent with love and hope for you – Pilate – the human being inside the governor’s political authority. John, by portraying Jesus’ example of simple loving silence in the face of Pilate’s incomprehension, subverts the grandiose claims of power and Empire, to strengthen his readers.

    John was writing near the end of the first Christian Century, when Christians had already been subjected to various local harassments – e.g. the silversmiths’ riot in Ephesus[5] – and persecutions, including Nero’s persecution in Rome. With trenchant irony, John subversively exposes the spiritual bankruptcy of those who can only conceive of power as economic or coercive. “What is truth?” “What is kingship?” Their persecutors have no idea; Christ’s disciples know deeply.

    Third: Maundy Thursday, Jesus washing the disciples’ feet, and Peter strenuously demurs.

    The Misfit Messiah who, as Paul wrote, “did not regard equality with God as something to be exploited, but emptied himself, taking the form of a slave”, now takes the slave’s demeaning role and washes his disciples’ feet. Peter objects to Jesus’ demeaning himself; Jesus, ironically, is misunderstood even by his closest associates. Jesus’ response seems to parallel the reversal in Mark’s gospel: “Whoever wants to be first must be last of all and the servant of all”.[6] John goes one step further, and shows how the awkwardness of grace inverts our priorities and subverts our assumptions. It’s not about status or benefit, but service. John’s Misfit Messiah shows us the truths we cannot bear to see; in our lives, in our social interactions, no stone is left unturned.

    My last significant passage: the Beloved Disciple at the Last Supper. Enigmatically, the Beloved Disciple is complicit by default of action, doing nothing to prevent Judas going out into the darkness (note!) to betray Jesus. The Johannine Epistles suggest John may be seeing similar ongoing desertions and betrayals in his own community … Yet are we not all, in our own ways, complicit in manifold betrayals of Jesus and his mission, by our own silence and/or inaction?

    John’s poetic imagination invites another dimension. For all the complicity, the Beloved Disciple is reclining next to Jesus, closer even than Peter. Here we need the Greek text rather than the English translation – because the NRSV translators have fudged it.

    The anonymous Beloved Disciple was “reclining next to Jesus”. John’s original Greek consciously parallels the Beloved Disciple’s position relative to Jesus, with Jesus’ position relative to the Father before the Incarnation (chapter 1), by using virtually the same expression (“in the bosom”) for both: “No one has ever seen God. It is God the only Son, who is close to the Father’s heart [footnote: Greek “bosom”] who has made him known.”[7]

    For all our sins, cowardice, complicity, and general unsuitability, I think John here suggests the power of Eucharist to position us, by unfathomable grace, against Jesus’ chest and close to his heart.

    That epitomises John’s challenge to us: no matter how clumsy or inept we continually prove to be, nevertheless to embody the love and grace of the Misfit Messiah to an uncomprehending world.

    © the Revd Canon Dr Jim McPherson
    with special thanks to my friend and colleague the Revd John de Lange for astute comments on an earlier draft.
    Image Icon: Jesus and the Beloved Disciple, Ann Chapin

     


    [1] Galileo saw the Sun “rise” and “set”, as we do; yet his observations and analysis drove him to conclude only one explanation answered the evidence: viz that Earth orbits the Sun, not vice versa. Newton’s Law of Universal Gravitation was allegedly inspired by his observing an apple fall to the ground from the bough.

    [2] Romans 1.4; Philippians 2.5-11.

    [3] Matthew and Mark only have Jesus once in Jerusalem; Luke has Jesus in Jerusalem as an infant (in the Temple) and as a twelve-year-old (also in the Temple) who later returns to Jerusalem as a prophet, because Jerusalem is the place for prophets to die. Noting the Woman at Jacob’s Well (chapter 4), and Jesus’ alleged attendance at Jewish Festivals (Tabernacles, for example), I suspect John was making the point that the Incarnate Son of God was intimately involved in all the core Jewish Festivals and committed personally to honour all of Israel’s sacred history. Although written at a time of conflict between Jews and Christians, and often treating “the Jews” with trenchant negativity, John’s Gospel nevertheless generally respects the historic Jewish tradition and piety.

    [4] Philippians 3.20; cf the value of Paul’s Roman citizenship in Acts 22.25-29.

    5] Acts 19.23ff.

    [6] Mark 9.35.

    [7] John 1.18 (NRSV). The Greek of John 13.23 differs in preposition/case but not vocabulary:

    1.18 έις τον κολπον
    13.23 έν τω κολπω
    The NRSV has been seduced by the different Greek expression in 13.25, έπι το στηθος του Ιησου.

    During the “Debate the Preacher” which customarily follows, one of the participants drew my attention to Horatius Bonar’s hymn “I heard the voice of Jesus say,/‘Come unto me and rest …” (Together in Song #585) with its tender invitation to the weary to find their resting place: “lay down, O weary one, lay down/your head upon my breast”. Its other two verses also use Johannine imagery. However, I think it would ruin the thrust of this fine hymn by attempting to acknowledge the inherent ambiguity in John’s use of the “breast” (κολπος) imagery. The problem lies not in finding sanctuary in Jesus, but in our conduct even in that intimate location. Ouch.

  • Solstice

    Solstice

    It is a bright, blue, winter morning in the Southern Hemisphere and the winter solstice stretches our imagination.

    In the Northern Hemisphere, the summer solstice heralds the longest day of light. Midsummers of my youth were filled with heady playtimes, swimming with dolphins and dancing with seals, searching for crabs and other sea creatures in rock pools…our footsteps and shadows sending them into hiding. We gathered pink pearly shells and driftwood from the strandline of the beach and bedtime was hours away.

    At night it was light and from the bed in my grandparent's house, I could look through the open curtains to the ocean and watch the midnight sun. Golden calendula marigolds grew in abundance in the garden, petals adding colour to home-made butter.

    Midsummer is also known as St. John's Day in the Christian Church – the day when John the Baptist was born. Feasting on wild honey and locusts, he spoke of the coming of the Messiah.

    As the days shorten in Aotearoa New Zealand, it is still lighter at the winter solstice than I remember in my homeland. Daylight there was pale and fleeting with remnants of warmth. The sun set early in the afternoon.  

    The Scottish poet and writer, Kathleen Jamie writes about light and darkness. She believes that darkness has been too much maligned, not least in Christian theology, '”because of the metaphorical dark…we are constantly concerned to banish the natural dark...”

    So with rucksack on back, she sailed from Aberdeen in Scotland, to the whale-shaped Orkney Islands in search of “real, natural, starry dark”. The chambered burial mound of Maes Howe, built around 2700BC, drew her into its mystery.

    Around the time of the winter solstice, the midwinter sun rises from the Hoy Hills. As it sets, its rays strike the nearby Neolithic Barnhouse Stone, perfectly aligned to the entrance of Maes Howe and the tomb's dark passageway becomes illuminated with light.

    Clouds clouded her mystical experience though. She found the tomb filled with artificial light as surveyors mapped the walls with lasers so that they could investigate worrying cracks in the stone. On her return to the mainland, she could not even find the natural dark out at sea because of the lights from small coastal settlements and dazzlingly lit oil rigs.

    '”For five thousand years we have used darkness as the metaphor of our mortality...we have not banished death, but we have banished the dark. We have light, we have oilfields and electricity and lasers. And by the light we have made, we can see that there are, metaphorically speaking, cracks. We are doing damage. The surveyors poring over the tomb are working in an anxious age. We look about the world, by the light we have made, and realise it's all vulnerable, and all worth saving, and no one can do it but us”

    Often we want to look away from the brokenness in the world because we are afraid that we might be overwhelmed by the dark. Yet the life of the Divine is within the dark. The secret and hopeful work of winter begins in the cold earth.

    In Aotearoa New Zealand, snow has fallen in the high country and the new moon follows the rising of Matariki, the Pleiades, or Seven Sisters, a star constellation in the Southern sky. It is the time for our Māori brothers and sisters and those who respect and participate in their culture and traditions, to celebrate the Māori New Year.

    This ancient and spiritual festival plays out across our land with the revival of celebratory events of culture, language, spirit and people. Thankfulness is expressed for the gifts of Mother Earth and for the land on which we live and which sustains us. Ancestors are remembered with loving respect. Lengthening days of light, growth, change and new thresholds are hoped for.

    When Kathleen Jamie returned home from her journey of seeking the dark, she wrote,

    “...we were going out for dinner. Our friends' cottage was inviting in candlelight, and the curtains were open to show black night pressed against the windows. In the warm light, we…drank a toast, because tonight was midwinter's night, the night of the complicit kiss, and tomorrow the light would begin its return.”

    In the places of winter's passage, may the long dark nights shelter us.

    In the places of summer's passage, may the long days of light refresh us.

    ©Hilary Oxford Smith

    References
    Kathleen Jamie, Findings, (Sort Of Books 2005)
    Image www.teara.govt.nz

  • A Sonnet for Trinity Sunday

    A Sonnet for Trinity Sunday

    In the Beginning, not in time or space,

    But in the quick before both space and time,

    In Life, in Love, in co-inherent Grace,

    In three in one and one in three, in rhyme,

    In music, in the whole creation story,

    In His own image, His imagination,

    The Triune Poet makes us for His glory,

    And makes us each the other’s inspiration.

    He calls us out of darkness, chaos, chance,

    To improvise a music of our own,

    To sing the chord that calls us to the dance,

    Three notes resounding from a single tone,

    To sing the End in whom we all begin;

    Our God beyond, beside us and within.

    ©Malcolm Guite
    Image Icon of The Trinity, Rublev
    This sonnet was first published in Sounding the Seasons: Poetry for the Christian Year, Malcolm Guite 

  • Treatment Room Irony

    Treatment Room Irony

    Dreams do come true if you only wish hard enough. (Peter Pan)

     

    The picture-perfect vista on the wall

    was captioned in the style of Peter Pan –

    that limits only cow the cowardly

    while those who challenge and defy, will win.

     

    Beneath the vista in the treatment room,

    the therapist who knows the harsh terrain

    of injury and coaches those compelled

    to trek its weary paths, applies her skills

    to mitigate; at best perhaps restore

    the stricken limb to function as before.

     

    Since pixie dust and robust self-belief

    can never bring reality to heel,

    her practice shows the caption is a sham:

    the cosmos will not budge for Peter Pan.
     

    © the Revd Jim McPherson
    Image Pinterest

  • Poem for Passchendaele

    Alexia Russell 24 April 2018

    Poem for Passchendaele

    It was a trip that New Zealand poet, Kevin Ireland had been putting off, because he knew it was going to be emotional. But his connection with the Katherine Mansfield Society saw him attend the 100th anniversary commemoration of the death of 2nd Lieutenant Leslie Heron Beauchamp - Mansfield's dearly loved brother. Their father had pulled strings to get him to the Western Front; his commission put him in the line of fire and he died on October 6, 1915...

    Beauchamp is buried at the Ploegsteert Wood Military Cemetery, but while there, Ireland visited other grave sites and battlefields, including Passchendaele.

    "It's an overwhelming experience," he says. "I had nightmares about the graves. It's something so affecting - it's a fairly common experience for New Zealanders to feel shocked and haunted by it. I found it terribly upsetting. Afterwards of course I was very grateful I went. I was confronting something that I had put off and put off.

    "The losses were just extraordinary. Death visited so many houses. Gallipoli was a long, drawn-out campaign but at Passchendaele they went through the mincer in a morning. For those who survived it scarred them and most of them didn't talk about it except on ANZAC Day. Many old soldiers were gassed or blinded, there were many amputees. They couldn't talk to their families about it, they didn't have the vocals. They couldn't make people understand what it was like over there - they were enraged."

    Ireland says it's only recently we've been able as a nation to talk about it - something we now feel should never have happened.

    "When I was a boy (Ireland is in his 80s) we used to beat the drums and wave the flags but it was something that was separate from us; there was no understanding. You can't get a sense of pride out of being told to feel proud. You get pride from the side issues - human endurance, fortitude, improvisation and mate-ship. All those sorts of things that happen in war." Now those stories are being told in a different way, new generations have a different understanding of what went on.

    In Passchendaele, "the whole place is full of people who have disappeared with no known grave. You actually feel - it's extraordinary, and I'm not a supernatural type - but I felt the proximity of people in the air. It's a place you go to shudder," he says.

    "I don't believe when you look around you're seeing ghosts but I do believe in the presence of the past. I was overcome with it. I was so totally moved I felt exhausted."

    Ireland says New Zealand visitors can expect to come across unexpected scenes, such as the bronze statue of a Kiwi soldier with his lemon squeezer in Messines. "Suddenly you are rooted to the spot," he says. "It just rocks you when you round the corner ... it's a spooky feeling."

    He recalls wandering through gentle woods, and strolling across rolling paddocks - "It's a pleasant land, there's nothing fierce about the landscape. It looks impossible to have had battles there where tens of thousands...lost their lives. It's beyond imagination."

    On his return from that trip, Ireland tried to write but he was too close to the experience. With prompting from Passchendaele Society members Greg Hall and Dermot Ross he got around to looking at his notes and putting it down formally in time for centenary commemorations.

    "It's in stanza form, properly measured," he says. "There's kind of a military approach to the words - I assembled it, lined them up, paraded them, made them neat and soldierly.

    "I'm very pleased with it. I hope it puts down something of a New Zealander's feeling, reflecting the devastations of looking at the battlefield."

    A fine morning at Passchendaele

    On a fine morning, looking out
    from a bright new observation post
    over the slow and gentle ocean swell
    of the Belgian countryside,
    you’ll see them stepping out before you,
    not real people or ghosts, or even shadows,
    but a kind of flickering at the furthest edge
    of sight, a disturbance in the mind,
    and suddenly the past becomes the present
    and you shiver and ask yourself:
    how can this be happening,
    how can they be dying here all morning
    faster than two a minute? You start to count
    and you find that when you add the wounded
    they are tumbling over, like a storm
    of autumn leaves, almost as you blink.

    We gaze across a tilled field to the easy roll
    of what could almost be a ridge
    and possibly something of a modest spur,
    then on to a village and not much else
    but a scattering of misty barns and trees.
    The soil is firm and looks rusty with age
    though the air is warm and still and dusty,
    and nearby you can buy a meal or a beer.
    There is nothing readily you’d call a hill.
    It seems a landscape for a stroll,
    far too tidy for a battlefield. Yet if, indeed,
    you choose to wander down a bit
    you’ll cross the gruesome place where so many
    young men simply disappeared and you’ll
    need to hold your nerve when thinking trenches,
    mud and cold and ponds of muck and ooze.
    Here you’re forced to face the fact that there
    never is a perfect war, yet some seem worse
    than others, and the worst don’t get talked about
    at home. The whole thing was a shambles,
    a disaster, a catastrophe – and our only consolation
    lies in little miracles: my best friend’s father
    somehow scrambled to the German wire
    then back again and never got a scratch.

    ©Alexia Russell

    Image Peace Pledge, New Zealand

     

     

  • Sunday

    Ana Lisa de Jong 1 April 2018

    Sunday


    Sunday morning has arrived
    although its been with us 2000 years.

    Sunday morning’s empty tomb
    is as open as our hearts

    rent wide by the quake of pain
    which comes to everyone

    But which roll the stones
    we erect to protect us from suffering.

    Sunday morning’s promise of life
    we sometimes mistake for a future day

    But it is with us right now
    as close as the presence of the resurrected Christ.

    Friday’s shroud of sorrow is not completely gone
    while we wait for Sunday’s fulfilment.

    But its lightened somehow
    by the knowledge

    that we already know the outcome,
    that’s in part, already here.

    Yes, Sunday morning does not
    relieve us from our cross

    but its empty tomb points to the
    one whose cross became the means

    of his resurrection,
    and ours.

    Sunday morning has arrived,
    although its been here 2000 years.

    And because of its eternal newness
    we can always celebrate afresh.

    No Friday will ever be bereft
    of hope or the promise of new life

    that his transfigured state
    reveals to us as ours.

    ©Ana Lisa de Jong
    Image Eugene Burnand, The Disciples, Peter and John running to the Sepulchre on the Morning of the Resurrection. (1898)













     

  • Holy Saturday

    Holy Saturday

    We find ourselves with Mary, the mother of Jesus and the others who loved him, in a place of many overwhelmings this day.

    The death of love, the brokenness of life, fear of the unknown, the fading of beauty, paradise lost, the going down into hell.

    So many words to describe that word, hell. Underworld, Sheol, Hades, Gehenna, Abraham’s bosom. A place where we come face to face with our deepest dark, our fragility, our captivity to diminishment. A place of abandonment, no fragment of light.

    Was Jesus’ death a dread defeat, a victory for demonic forces, a chilling vindication of those who destroy Christ, then or now? Not delivering on his promise to provide a new ordering of life, restoration, forgiveness?

    On this day between crucifixion and resurrection, Jesus harrowed out of hell all the dead held captive there since the creation of the world. He took them by the hand and led them to Life.

    ‘When the gatekeepers of hell saw him, they fled; the bronze gates were broken open, and the iron chains were undone.’[i]

    On this Holy Saturday, may we remember the ones

    …who know their need, for theirs is the grace of heaven.
    …who weep, for their tears will be wiped away.
    …who are humble, for they are close to the sacred earth.
    …who hunger for earth’s oneness, for they will be satisfied.
    …who are forgiving, for they are free.
    …who are clear in heart, for they see the Living Presence.
    …who are the peacemakers, for they are born of God.[ii]

    And so we wait for the Third Day
    in stillness
    with a fragment of light
    trusting and hoping…

    ©Hilary Oxford Smith
    Image Candle Light, Hans Vivek, Unsplash.com


    [i] Cyril of Alexandria, Ancient Commentary on Scripture 11.107

    [ii] The Casa del Sol Blessings of Jesus, based on St. Matthew 5: 3 – 9 from the American Spirituality Center of Casa del Sol at Ghost Ranch.

  • Famous Last Words - Beatitudes for very particular people

    Famous Last Words - Beatitudes for very particular people

    “I thirst.”
    Blessed are active and recovering alcoholics --
    and all who come out of surgery
    longing for that swab, those ice chips,
    for they will find living water.

    “Truly, I tell you, today you will be with me in Paradise.”
    Blessed are those who are incarcerated --
    sleeping it off only one night
    or looking at mandatory life or death row,
    those in brigs and immigration detention centers,
    county jails, maximum security, house arrest,
    witness protection, or parole,
    for they are promised Paradise.

    “Eloi, Eloi, lema sabachthani” “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”
    Blessed are the forsaken ones --
    the depressed and despairing,
    the suicides
    and those who love them –
    for their cries are heard.

    “Woman, here is your son.” “Here is your mother.”
    Blessed is anyone who accepts another’s child
    by adoption or fostering,
    through mentoring or teaching or coaching.
    Bless the aunts and uncles,
    the neighbors and case workers,
    the friend of the family,
    or friend in spite of the family.

    Blessed is anyone who cares for another’s parent,
    because the ex isn’t doing it
    or nobody comes to visit this elder,
    or the old coot, crabby naomi, whiner
    has pushed everyone away.

    Blessed are these for they do God a favor.

    "Abba, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing."
    Blessed are all of us who make mistakes,
    who choose the wrong side,
    of something large or insignificant,
    who think the crown-of-ethnic joke is funny,
    who hear the rooster crow -- coward,
    who roll the soldier’s dice
    and it comes up PTSD,
    who wash our hands of something
    we could have changed,
    who are caught in a crowd
    and hear ourselves yell some hate or hurt,
    for we are forgiven anyway.

    “Abba, into your hands I commit my spirit.”
    Blessed are those in hospice today,
    and all who care for them –
    family and friends,
    volunteers and home health aides,
    nurse practitioners and drivers,
    doctors and chaplains,
    for their spirits are in God’s hands.

    “It is finished”
    Blessed are those who have died this year,
    for them it has begun.

    ©Maren Tirabassi
    Image Knox United Church, Vancouver

  • A Shadowed Path

    A Shadowed Path

    Dawn on the Otago Peninsula. We awoke to the clarion call of a cockerel, heralding the blessing of a golden Autumn day. Jonathan Livingston Seagull shared wisdom in the sky. White feathered kotuku-ngutupapa or Royal Spoonbills, swept the low tide line of the harbour for breakfast. In the court of heaven on earth, four Royal Albatross or toroa, glided through the air, with what Herman Melville in Moby Dick, described as vast archangel wings.

    William Wales, a tutor to the English poet, Samuel Taylor Coleridge and the astronomer on HMS Resolution, voyaged with Captain James Cook to the land of ice, the southernmost continent we now call, Antarctica. Inspired by hearing stories of the sea and a fabled land, Coleridge wrote The Rime of the Ancient Mariner, an epic tale about an albatross and the sailor who kills it with a crossbow.

    The poem is replete with imagery, allegory, superstition, and allusion. The punishment for what the sailor has done is to wear the dead bird around his neck and the rest of his life becomes one of penance as he wanders the earth, telling his salutary tale. He learns wisdom along the way, that God's creation is a beautiful gift, to be cherished.

    On Palm Sunday, we attended Choral Eucharist in St. Paul's Cathedral, Dunedin and sang, Ride on! Ride on in majesty! Sacrificial theology excepting, one line stood out for me,

         Ride on! Ride on in majesty!
         The wingèd squadrons of the sky look down with sad and wondering eyes to see the approaching sacrifice.

    I imagined that an albatross with vast archangel wings might be amongst the sorrowing company of heaven.

    In the mystery of this week we call Holy, with its darkening shadows of pain and fear, abandonment, uncertainty, betrayal, and death, might we somehow contemplate in the stories, something of the novelist, Jeanette Winterson's words, the nearness of the wound to the gift?[i]

    - Mary gently caressing the feet of Jesus with her long hair and extravagantly scented perfume, preparing him for what lies ahead.
    - Jesus, with intimacy, humility, and oneness, washing the dust from the feet of his disciples.
    - The mystery of the memory and substance of Jesus’ presence, as he and his friends share food and wine.
    - John, the disciple, whom Jesus especially loved, placing his head on Jesus’ breast in closeness, affection and love, hearing the heartbeat of God.
    - Veronica, tenderly wiping the blood and sweat from Jesus' face with her veil, his likeness forever imprinted on her heart.
    - Simon of Cyrene, forced to carry the cross through the narrow streets of Jerusalem when Jesus could no longer bear the weight of it. His life changed forever.
    - Jesus' mother Mary, the other faithful women, and John, accompanying Jesus every step of the way, hearing his loving words of familial care and loyalty. 
    - In his dying moments, self-giving love and grace shared with a thief, crucified beside him.

    Then the night of deepest loneliness. A total absence of his spirit and his life.

    At dawn, wounds become places where the light enters us. Grace takes us to the cherishing of life and the nurturing of love. The images and the echo of words we thought we had lost or left behind create a sanctuary of memory in our hearts.

    His eyes sparkle again. He tells stories by the sea. He blesses us with Love.

    ©Hilary Oxford Smith
    Image Around the Shag Rocks, Light-mantled Sooty Albatrosses, Keith Shackleton, 1979. Nature in Art, Gloucester, UK. 

     


    [i] Why Be Happy When You Could Be Normal?, Jeannette Winterson, 230pp, Grove Press.

  • The Sum of All Five Senses: A Meditation for Monday of Holy Week

    The Sum of All Five Senses: A Meditation for Monday of Holy Week

    Try experiencing this Holy Week with all five of your senses...

    See it.

    • the palm branches waving
    • the moneychangers wheeling and dealing
    • the upper room,
    • the mockery of a trial
    • the stations of the cross and Calvary itself

    Smell it.

    • the burning flesh of the sacrifices offered in the Temple
    • the animals being traded in the forecourt
    • the spiced breath of the traders
    • the body odour of the travellers
    • the scent of Gethsemane
    • the air as the sky darkens around three crosses on a hillside

    Touch it.

    • being jostled in a crowd
    • counting silver coins to pay a traitor
    • carrying a wooden gibbet on a weary shoulder

    Hear it.

    • the adulation of Palm Sunday
    • the traders bartering for the best deal
    • the crashing of tables and of money spilling down the steps
    • the hostile cries of Crucify Him

    Taste it.

    • lamb and bitter herbs for a Passover
    • bread and wine for a memorial
    • vinegar offered to a dying man

    It is the sum of all five senses which confirms in our sixth sense that we are loved by God made known in Christ.


    ©The Very Rev Dr John Chalmers is a former Principal Clerk and Moderator of the General Assembly of the Church of Scotland

    Image Jamethelin Reskp on Unsplash.com

    This meditation was also published in the April 2018 edition of Life and Work, the magazine of the Church of Scotland. 

     

  • After a Wedding Feast

    Dr. Julie Thorpe 24 March 2018

    After a Wedding Feast

    They have no wine

    When the guests have departed,
    the miracle has passed
    and God has gone from his mother,
    she scoops up the leftovers
    to nurse in her lap,
    knees spread apart, knows
    again the humiliation, tastes
    the last drops of wine
    meant for a celebration
    she helped enact.
                                 Alone
    with her need she watches
    her secret load carried
    like a golden seed
    from her body
    to lay in the fields
    painted in purple.

    ©Julie Thorpe
    Image The Sower, Vincent van Gogh, Van Gogh Museum, Amsterdam (Vincent Van Gogh Foundation)   

  • The Wild Goose

    The Wild Goose

    The lazy, hazy days of a very hot summer are giving way to fresher air, a softer light, dewy grass. The crickets are still singing their sweet, sunshiny song in the cool Autumn evenings. And it is time for travelling. The Bar-tailed Godwits, summer visitors to New Zealand, are winging their way to an Alaskan summer and Shining Cuckoos follow the light to the Solomon Islands.

    It is still Lent. More days of self-denial. Or, perhaps days of resolving to love intentionally, extravagantly, unconditionally amidst the brokenness of the world. I have held close to my heart in this Lenten season, the words of Mary Oliver’s poem, Wild Geese,

    You do not have to be good.
    You do not have to walk on your knees

    for a hundred miles through the desert repenting.
    You only have to let the soft animal of your body
    love what it loves.
    Tell me about despair, yours, and I will tell you mine.
    Meanwhile the world goes on.
    Meanwhile the sun and the clear pebbles of the rain
    are moving across the landscapes,
    over the prairies and the deep trees,
    the mountains and the rivers.
    Meanwhile the wild geese, high in the clean blue air,
    are heading home again.
    Whoever you are, no matter how lonely,
    the world offers itself to your imagination,
    calls to you like the wild geese, harsh and exciting
    over and over announcing your place
    in the family of things.[i]

    Mary wrote this poem in the years following the terrorist atrocity in New York on September 11th, 2001, which were devastating and fearful, sorrowful and despairing. Her words acknowledge an enduring pain yet she imagines a mystical beauty and peace that still exists and gives expression. She reminds us that as we share our stories, we gift one another love.

    I have a silver brooch of a wild goose that was given to me by my father. The early Celtic Christians adopted the Ah Geadh-Glas[ii], the wild goose, as their symbol for the Holy Spirit – wild with love, flying free and high, steadfast and strong, loyal and nurturing, protective and encouraging.

    They were a people who chose to live their faith in their own way, close to the myth-haunted lands of the rugged western places of Ireland and Britain and far from the wealthy and decadent power centres of religion and politics.

    When I wear my little brooch, I am enfolded by a liberating love that is utterly timeless, yet sheltering and safe, courageous and rhythmic. It is a love that calls me to return to the home that is in my heart.

    Saint Patrick, who lived in the 5th century and was a pivotal figure in early Irish history and spirituality, is remembered in a global celebration of Irish culture this weekend. The Irish have observed the 17th March as a religious holiday for over 1,000 years. Families used to go to church in the morning and celebrate in the afternoon. Lenten prohibition against the consumption of meat was waived and people would dance, drink and, feast on a traditional meal of Irish bacon and cabbage.

    We do not know much about Patrick, except that he left behind a unique piece of writing, his Confession and, Letter to Coroticus[iii], offering us a glimpse into the life and faith of this quiet and simple man, who became a great bishop.

    Kidnapped from his birth place (some say Scotland, others, England), by Irish pirates, at 16 years old, Patrick was sold into slavery in Ireland. Over six years, he found an inner liberation when he discovered God as his Anam-cara – which is Gaelic for soul friend. The depth and shelter of this Anam-cara belonging sustained him and enabled him to endure the harrowing experience of exile and isolation, keeping the beauty of God alive in his heart, and transfiguring his outer bleakness. [iv]

    Eventually, Patrick escaped the tyranny of slavery and later, returning to Ireland, he shared his Christian faith with the people. His presence, John O’Donohue writes, was full of uaisleacht, the Irish word for nobility, honour, dignity, poise.

    Patrick exercised uaisleacht in relation to the people he shepherded. He served, defended, and cared for them, yet he refused any gifts or attempts to claim him. He also exercised uaisleacht in relation to his destiny. He constructed no kingdom of the ego. He opened himself to the ultimate calling and challenge of Otherness in its social, territorial, and spiritual forms.[v]

    Patrick’s theology, like that of many Celtic Christians, before and since, declared that people could come to know the Divine through creation. He integrated pre-Christian Celtic beliefs with an emerging Christian faith. Not for him the exploitative whitewash of some missionaries.

    In a rather long protective prayer, attributed to him, known as the Lorica, the Saint Patrick’s Breastplate or the Deer’s Cry, Patrick writes,

    I arise today
    Through the strength of heaven,
    Light of sun,
    Radiance of moon,
    Splendour of fire,
    Speed of lightening,
    Swiftness of wind,
    Depth of sea,
    Stability of earth,
    Firmness of rock.

    Christ be with me, Christ within me,
    Christ behind me, Christ before me,
    Christ beside me, Christ to win me,
    Christ to comfort and restore me.
    Christ beneath me, Christ above me,
    Christ in quiet, Christ in danger,
    Christ in hearts of all that love me,
    Christ in mouth of friend and stranger.

    As people around the world come together to listen to music, dance, drink Guinness or Irish whiskey or wine, wear a whole lot of green, shamrocks for luck and take part in parades, might we be glimpsing the imaginative stirrings, in some, of a Celtic soul, a Celtic consciousness…a contemporary spirituality that more and more seeks to free itself from the shackles of organised religion? Might there be a yearning for new ways to belong and live in the world and discover wisdom, beauty and love, and a sense of the sacred and of thankfulness restored? 

    Beannachd.

    ©Hilary Oxford Smith
    Image ©Wilde Geese, Jen Delyth (reproduced with permission)

     

     

    [i] Dream Work, Mary Oliver.

    [ii] The Scottish Gaelic name for the wild goose

    [iii] tr. John Skinner, (1998) The Confession of Saint Patrick

    [iv] See tr. John Skinner, (1998) The Confession of Saint Patrick, Foreword by John O’Donohue

    [v] Ibid.

  • Sometime

    Sometime

     

    every living cell in and of its self

    frets and chafes for Life, connecting to

    and nurturing other life, just as

    sometime in the time outside all time

    God had begun beginning by beginning,

    forsaking the lonely splendour of aseity

    for a creation born of Love, with Life

    its Maker’s signature: bold, vibrant,

    bursting out, urgent for God’s sometime

    eighth day of the seven follow-through

     

    © the Revd Jim McPherson
    ©Image Energy Painting: Burst of Life, Joshua Esparza

  • The Temple in His Bones

    Jan Richardson 3 March 2018

    The Temple in His Bones

    Reading from the Gospels
    Lent 3, Year B: John 2: 13 – 22

    On my first afternoon in Rome a few years ago, I climbed on the back of my friend Eric’s motorcycle and set off with him to begin my acquaintance with the Eternal City. A few minutes down the road, he told me to close my eyes. When we came to a stop and I opened them, my field of vision was filled with one of the most impressive sights in a city of impressive sights: the Pantheon. Built in the second century AD, the Pantheon replaced the original Pantheon that Marcus Agrippa constructed fewer than three decades before the birth of Christ. A temple dedicated to “all the gods” (hence its name), the Pantheon became a church in the seventh century when Pope Boniface IV consecrated it as the Church of Santa Maria ad Martyres. It’s said that at the moment of the consecration, all the spirits inhabiting the former temple escaped through the oculus—the hole in the Pantheon’s remarkable dome that leaves it perpetually open to the heavens.

    As churches go, it’s hard to top the Pantheon for its physical beauty and power. It was perhaps risky to see it on my first day, so high did it set the bar for the rest of my trip. Yet Rome, of course, brims with delights for the eyes, and the next two weeks offered plenty of stunning visual fare. Amid the calculated grandeur, I found that it was the details that charmed me: the intricate pattern of a Cosmatesque marble floor, the shimmer of light on a centuries-old mosaic, the inscribed marble fragments that had been unearthed and plastered to the walls. It was staggering to contemplate the countless hours and years that went into the construction of these spaces, or to fathom the vast wells of talent and skill that generations of architects, artisans, and laborers lavished upon them.

    The Roman churches that most linger in my memory are those that possessed a clear congruence between the physical environment and its purpose—those places of worship that were not primarily tourist destinations but true sanctuaries. I felt this congruence keenly, for instance, in the Church of Santa Maria in Trastevere. The space intrigued me from my first moments in it, on the first evening of my trip. I would return several times, learning along the way that one of the many ways the church serves the surrounding Trastevere neighborhood is as a place of prayer for the Community of Sant’Egidio, a lay movement of people who work for reconciliation, peace, solidarity with the poor, and hospitality to pilgrims.

    On the day that Jesus sweeps into the temple, it’s this kind of congruence that is pressing on his mind. We don’t know precisely what has him so riled up; after all, particularly with Passover drawing near, there are transactions that need to take place in the temple. As Jesus enters, he sees those who are attending to the business involved in the necessary ritual sacrifices, but he seems to feel it has become simply that: a business. Commercial transaction has overtaken divine interaction. Time for a clearing out, a return to congruence between form and function, to the integrity of the purpose for which the temple was created: to serve as a place of meeting between God and God’s people.

    To those who challenge his turning over of the temple, Jesus makes a remarkable claim: that he himself is the temple. “Destroy this temple,” he says to them, “and in three days I will raise it up.” His claim stuns his listeners, who know that the sacred space in which they are standing—the Second Temple, which was in the midst of a massive renovation and expansion started by Herod the Great—has been under construction for forty-six years. John clues us in on the secret that the disciples will later recall: “He was speaking of the temple of his body.”

    This scene underscores a particular concern that John carries throughout his gospel: to present Jesus as one who takes into himself, into his own body and being, the purpose of the temple. Richard B. Hays writes that in making the link between Jesus’ body and the temple, this passage provides “a key for much that follows” in John’s gospel. “Jesus now takes over the Temple’s function,” Hays observes, “as a place of mediation between God and human beings.” Hays goes on to point out how Jesus’ sometimes enigmatic sayings about himself in John’s gospel—for instance, “Let anyone who is thirsty come to me, and let the one who believes in me drink” and “I am the light of the world”—are references to religious festivals whose symbolism Jesus takes into himself.

    Perhaps, then, it all comes down to architecture. The decades of work that have gone into the physical place of worship, the skill of the artisans, the labors of the workers; the role of the temple as a locus of sacrifice, of celebration, of identity as a community; the power and beauty of the holy place: Jesus says, I am this. Jesus carries the temple in his bones. Within the space of his own body that will die, that will rise, that he will offer to us, a living liturgy unfolds.

    We will yet see the ways that Jesus uses his body to evoke and provoke, how he will offer his body with all its significations and possibilities as a habitation, a place of meeting, a site of worship. Calling his disciples, at the Last Supper, to abide in him; opening his body on the cross; re-forming his flesh in the resurrection; offering his wounds to Thomas like a portal, a passageway: Jesus presents a body that is radically physical yet also wildly multivalent in its meanings.

    The wonder and the mystery of this gospel lection, and of Jesus’ life, lie not only in how he gives his body as a sacred space but also in how he calls us to be his body in this world. Christ’s deep desire, so evident on that day in the temple, is that we pursue the congruence he embodied in himself: that as his body, as his living temple in the world, we take on the forms that will most clearly welcome and mediate his presence. In our bodies, in our lives, in our communities; by our hospitality, by our witness, by our life of prayer: Christ calls us to be a place of meeting between God and God’s people, a living sanctuary for the healing of the world.

    The season of Lent beckons us to consider, are there things we need to clear out in order to have the congruence to which Christ invites us? Who helps you recognize what you need to let go of in order to be more present to the God who seeks a sanctuary in you? How is it with your body—your own flesh in which Christ dwells, and the community with which you seek to be the body of Christ in the world? What kind of community do you long for—do you have that? What would it take to find or create it?

    In these Lenten days, may we be a place of hospitality to all that is holy. Blessings.

    ©Jan Richardson
    ©Image The Temple in His Bones, Jan Richardson 

    [Richard B. Hays quote from his chapter “The canonical matrix of the gospels” in The Cambridge Companion to the Gospels, ed. Stephen C. Barton.]

  • Prayers for Cyclone Gita in Aotearoa / New Zealand and the Pacific Islands

    The Rev. Maren Tirabassi 23 February 2018

    Prayers for Cyclone Gita in Aotearoa / New Zealand and the Pacific Islands

    For those on water,
    for those who must travel,
    for those going in labor with a child
    passing from this world,
    caring for the ill or the fearful,
    for those with memories of winds past,
    for those who must go to jobs,
    for those who respond to emergencies
    because it is their profession,
    and for those who simply
    watch out for neighbors –

    We pray safety,
    wisdom in venturing forth,
    evacuation packs ready,
    peace in crisis, peace in home

    ©Maren Tirabassi
    Image Cyclone Gita, Wikimedia Commons

  • When time has gone

    When time has gone

    When time has gone
    And christians find an honest voice
    To sing an honest song
    travellers will come again
    Guided not by far off signs
    but by heart-strong beats
    and feet firm-treading ways
    more simply laid
    then wise travellers
    will not leave by night
    but find beyond their starry pantheons
    true rest, a place to stay
    tables spread with every kind of nourishment
    of stories shared like wine and bread
    blessings of peace given and received
    in life’s sweet kiss
    of open hospitality

    © Erice Fairbrother

    Benediction
    Let the wonder
    Of Epiphany be;

    Less of God
    Less of me

    And more of thee
    Continually

    ©Erice Fairbrother

    Image from Epiphany, CD cover, artwork Jenna Staples, 2011. 

  • For the Children of War

    Ana Lisa de Jong 28 December 2017

    For the Children of War

    God we cry for the children.
    For the children who have known nothing else
    but war and strife, and chaos.
    And loss upon loss upon loss.

    Who have run out of tears, and options.
    Who trapped sit silenced in shock.
    Eyes speaking of a hope
    draining out with the blood of the lost.

    Has God forgotten the children,
    has he left and turned out the light?
    Can we believe to find him in the darkness,
    can the children see him at all?

    And the mother who lost her off-spring,
    can he reach her in her heart?
    Can he give her a future and a hope
    or has the loss cost her too much?

    All I know is, God loves the children.
    Bring them to me he said.
    And he hears the hopeless cries
    of the broken, the disbelieving, and bereft.

    And although a mother weeps for her children,
    and may not be comforted,
    a young boy still reaches out to her
    while the sibling in his arms lies dead.

    No the light has not gone out in Aleppo.
    It still shines through the human spirit.
    It still burns, albeit weakly,
    in the eyes of those who are left.

    And in the hands of those who comfort,
    who tend and help and treat,
    against all odds the injuries,
    that never seem to cease.

    And although we find it hard to believe,
    God is still present there.
    And we bring to him the children
    while our hearts break in prayer.

    We bring them to a Saviour,
    who knows that they are there.

    ©Ana Lisa de Jong

    Image www.images.unsplash.com

  • Moments: Grace Upon Grace

    Moments: Grace Upon Grace

    And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us…full of grace and truth [John 1:14]

    I’ve never given birth. I’ve never even been present at a birth. But I hear labor and delivery are painful. And tense. And messy. As a pastor, I always had the easy part: visiting the mom and the baby the day after labor and delivery. And usually, when both are healthy and happy, I would walk into a fairly calm and peaceful scene. The newborn is often in a tiny warm crib, or maybe mom is holding her. Usually the baby is sleeping peacefully and the mom is exhausted and relieved and grateful.

    New moms usually give me some report of labor and delivery. Sometimes I get more details than I need to know. But what I have learned is that new birth is both scary and exciting, painful and joyful, birth is messy and sweet at the same time. It is emotional. A miracle. Hard work.

    And I’m pretty sure the birth of Jesus was like that, only more so. Mary and Joseph were far from home--a long journey, riding on a donkey in the middle of the night, no room at the inn. Mary gave birth to Jesus under especially messy conditions. No doctor. No midwife even. Certainly no clean sheets or hot water. Luke’s account of the birth doesn’t go into details. But anyone who’s given birth and even those of us who haven’t, can only imagine that it was hard and frightening, and joyful and emotional, and messy and at some point, sweet.

    This story of new birth is at the center of Christian faith, because God comes to us as a tiny child, a newborn babe, the embodiment of grace.

    On Christmas Eve we hear the story of the birth, of the angels and the shepherds, and the glorias. But on Christmas morning, we get to visit the holy family on the morning after, when the baby is sleeping and the mother is exhausted and the father is emotional and everyone is grateful. But they’re still in that cowshed, that stable, and it’s nothing like a room in a clean, well-staffed, modern-day hospital.

    The hymns of Christmas, including the poetic hymn that opens John’s gospel, are about glory and royalty, but still, if we look more closely, the hymns of Christmas are also about the common experience of birth, of new birth. The new song we would sing on Christmas morning is more a lullaby than a national anthem, it is a quiet, thankful song that longs for peace and rest and comfort, it is a song that sings of grace.

    This is the Word that is made flesh: Grace. God’s Word is given to us as a gift. A gift to be unwrapped and treasured, a gift to be shared, given away. The light that helps us see in the darkness. By grace, God’s life is reproduced in us, repeated, grace upon grace. This is new birth. This is embodied grace. Living the Christ-life, light in the darkness, sweetness in the midst of messiness. The only possible response to this indescribable Gift is gratitude. Gracias. Grazie. Merci. Mercy.

    From his fullness we have all received, grace upon grace.

    ©Rebecca Button Prichard
    Image Let Mum Rest, shown to Pope Francis on his birthday 17 December 2019.

     

     

     

  • Little Star

    Dr. Julie Thorpe 24 December 2017

    Little Star

    What is your name,
    Your deep name that called to mine
    Glowing vermilion? Tiny
    Ten toes, cleft fingers
    Flung in startle reflex.

    But when I pick you up
    You stink! Reeking
    Of faeces, a honeypot
    For flies to carry your spores
    Airborne from the volva, then
    Burst open as a hollow shoot
    In the ground. The cycle begins

    each Advent, growing
    Star-shaped, blood and guts
    Of the earth’s startled cry
    To be picked up in its smell
    Of fear.
                I name you

    Little Star
    And lay you in the bed
    Of Mary’s garden
    Beside a pink geranium
    For safekeeping
    While I wait
    To hear my name.

    ©Julie Thorpe
    Image star pink geranium, wikipedia

     

     

  • Litany with Twelve candles

    The Rev. Erice Fairbrother 23 December 2017

    Litany with Twelve candles

    We stand in solidarity with all who wait for justice
    All:  We wait in solidarity with all who wait for their human rights to be recognised
    We remember in solidarity all who suffer from discrimination
    All:  We kneel in solidarity with all who pray for their inclusion in Christ to made a reality

    Four candles are lit

    We weep in solidarity with all who weep out of frustration
    All: We lift up our hands in solidarity with all who raise banners and march for freedom
    We keep silence in solidarity with all who have been silenced
    All: We listen in solidarity with all who are hearing even the stones shout out

    Four candles are lit

    We live while others debate
    All: We love while others debate the right to love
    We stand in the presence of the sacred even as the right to sacramental life is debated
    All: We are here and remember the many others who cannot be here

    Four candles are lit

    To cry in frustration
    All: To kneel and beseech
    To shout like stones
    All: To keep sacred silence

    A time of silence is held

    We gather and hold fast to what is good
    All: To love as we have first been loved by the beloved other
    The love of the sacred other
    All: Source of our truth and freedom
    It is in this love we wait, and pray

    All: Christ, love-maker
    Hear our prayer

    © ecfairbrother
    Image www.theyoke.org

  • Joseph

    The Rev. Joy MacCormick 21 December 2017

    Joseph

    She came as if reluctantly
    a question burning in her eyes,
    and told a tale - such a tale
    as both filled and pierced my heart.

    Could I believe her?
    Could I believe
    that of all women she was chosen
    to bear the Lord’s Messiah?
    Dare I trust her protestation
    that no man had fathered
    the child she carries?

    Darkness, disillusionment, despair,
    vision of our future crumbled into dust!
    I needed time to think, to pray,
    to let the numbness pass;
    process the implications.

    She said she understood;
    would wait for my response –
    however long it took,
    whatever it might be.

    And then that dream!
    So vivid, urgent, powerful,
    there was no room for doubt.
    Like her I heard the voice of God.
    Like her I knew the awesome truth
    that both of us were chosen.

    … Joseph, being a righteous man and unwilling to expose her to public disgrace, planned to dismiss her quietly. But just when he had resolved to do this an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream … 
    (Matthew 1:19-20 ff)

    How have you recognised God’s guidance in times of turmoil and distress? Do you believe God speaks today through dreams? Why or why not?

    What if Joseph had ignored his dream?

    (c) Joy MacCormick

    Image Dreamcatcher, www.images.unsplash.com

  • Collect for the God of Presents

    The Rev. Maren Tirabassi 19 December 2017

    Collect for the God of Presents

    God, who asks
    ‘do you want it gift-wrapped?’
    and means a choice of sunset
    or a purple nightime sky with stars,

    thank you for all the presents,
    the sweet ordinary things –
    elbows, chocolate,
    toothbrushes and running shoes,
    people who come in the night
    in the ambulance to help,
    beagles in bed, old cranky prophets
    who won’t let us forget justice.

    Thank you as well
    for helping us find hope
    even in the things you did not give –
    road rage, Parkinson’s disease,
    the deporting of our neighbors,
    death by suicide
    of someone we love.

    Tie us with the curling ribbon
    tendril of your love,
    when something in life tries to make scrooges of us
    and we can’t hold ourselves
    together alone..Amen.

    ©Maren Tirabassi
    www.images.unsplash.com

  • Implications

    Pat Marsh 18 December 2017

    Implications

    a divorce
    a stoning
    a broken betrothal

    shame
    rejection
    family life fractured

    scandal
    division
    broken hearts and troubled minds

    all these and more
    the possible implications
    in the wake of Mary’s ‘yes’

    is this what
    favour with God
    looks like

    could we too
    say the Mighty One has done great things

    would we
    be able to magnify the Lord

    how will we respond
    when our calling comes,
    in the face
    of myriad implications

    Mary
    unreservedly
    willingly
    quietly consented
    to birth the One
    who would later say
    take up your cross
    and follow me

    can we respond with such incredible grace

    ©Pat Marsh

    Image artist unknown 

  • We See The Light

    The Rev. Dr. Peter Millar 17 December 2017

    We See The Light

    In violent times,
    beautiful words,
    centuries old,
    resonant with truth:

    ‘Because of your light, Lord,
    we see the light.’*

    That light, even now,
    illumining
    our terror-stricken age
    with the possiblity of change:
    offering our over-burdened hearts
    a resting place
    that a deeper compassion
    may be our companion –

    an energy of love
    to struggle for justice,
    to be a wounded healer,
    to share what we have,
    to carry hope in our hearts,
    to laugh and to love,
    perhaps, all in one day!

    ©Peter Millar (previously published in Candles and Conifers, Wild Goose Publications)

    Image Holding in the Light, www.cofchrist.org. 
     

  • Headlong to Christmas

    Pat Marsh 17 December 2017

    Headlong to Christmas

    the rush
    has begun

    and we know 
    it can only get worse
    as we race
    headlong
    towards
    what passes
    for the celebrations of your birth

    holy child
    give us
    islands of stillness
    in the frenzy of preparation

    give us snatches
    of peace
    amid the tensions
    of others’ expectations

    and in the excesses
    of the shopping mall
    remind us
    of the simple poverty
    of the stable

    Holy Child
    as we rush towards Christmas
    give us your stillness
    your peace
    your simplicity

    give us especially
    the gift of yourself

    ©Pat Marsh

    Image www.images.unsplash.com 

  • Tis the season

    Tess Ashton 15 December 2017

    Tis the season

    bird on a wire

    let me hear your song

    bird on a wire

    you can do no wrong

    for your singing is

    as love to me

    your tender trill

    thrills my ear and soul

     

    bird on a wire

    tell me where your voice

    comes from

    your plumes so soft

    that write upon my heart

    and i shall leap upon

    the horse dressed in red

    up on the goldy-green hill

    beyond the people

    waiting for the train

    so still

    and i will try to catch your maker

    before the sun comes up

    while he is cool and resting

     

    bird on a wire should i find him

    i will ask why do the birds

    sing so prettily to us

    and why do they

    talk of love

    tell me lover

    i shall say

    what it is love bears

    to play for us that love-torn

    sonnet

     

    i’ll tell him i have heard your trill

    that the flowers have appeared

    in our land

    that the winter has gone

    and the rains are over

    already i know the answer

    this is the season

    of the turtledove

    we are to arise

    and come away

    ©Tess Ashton

    Image Two turtle doves, Felipe Lopez, www.images.unsplash.com

     

     

     

  • God of Small Things

    Ana Lisa de Jong 14 December 2017

    God of Small Things

    My God is the God of small things.

    Seeds....
    Newborn babies.

    Nutshells that contain multiple truths
    in humble small containers.

    My God is the God of small beginnings.

    Like breathing
    or opening eyelids.

    If we but move today
    we can accomplish what he asks.

    God, my God of swaddled babes
    that fumble for the breast

    He teaches us the worth of
    lying still in trust.

    My God is the God of humble things.

    Caves.
    Beds of straw.

    Lives that don’t amount to much
    if judged upon their origins.

    My God is the God of silent things.

    Wombs.
    Passages in the dark.

    Quiet incubators, within which cells divide
    and muscles stretch towards the light.

    God, my God of birth pangs
    and pain that finds release

    He teaches us that the dark
    often precedes new life.

    My God is the god of honed things

    Parred down.
    Simplified.

    A carpenter sanding back the wood
    to reveal the grain beneath.

    My God is the God of beloved things.

    Neglected.
    Abandoned.

    Rescued for nothing they have done,
    but because of a plan of redemption.

    God, my God of Christmas coming
    somehow the wonder of Advent

    is knowing we need do nothing
    but let new life be birthed in us.

    ©Ana Lisa de Jong
    Living Tree Poetry

    Image Tim Humphreys, www.images.unsplash.com 

  • Summer

    Summer

    Scarlet, indigo and azure
    kðhatu veined with gold
    and lapis lazuli
    fireflies of silver.

    Textured tapestry
    ocean breeze
    soft petals
    caressing skin
    nestled in warm grass
    blush of pomegranates.

    Breath of ancient trees
    rush of many wings
    symphony of cicadas
    in the afternoon.

    Honey from manuka flowers
    devotion of bees
    sweet wine
    rosemary
    in the drowsy air.

    Salt on lips
    kisses
    strawberries
    passionfruit.

    Flamenco dance of cinnabar moths
    sacred fleeting butterflies.

    Sitting by the fire
    memory re-members
    summers past
    expectant with possibility
    assisting God in a miracle.

    ©Hilary Oxford Smith

    In the depth of winter, I finally learned that within me there lay an invincible Summer. And that makes me happy. For it says that no matter how hard the world pushes against me, within me, there’s something stronger – something better, pushing right back. - Albert Camus

    Image Manuel Meurisse www.images.unsplash.com

  • Called from our Desert Places

    The Rev. David Poultney 10 December 2017

    Called from our Desert Places

    (Advent 2b: Isaiah 40:1-11, Mark 1:1-8)

    I am sure that each of us has at some point tossed a stone into a lake and seen ripple after ripple come from the epicentre, the place where the stone hits the water. One little thing seems to have an impact out of all relation to its actual size. The German philosopher Johann Fichte, and I swear this is as high brow as I’m going to get, wrote this about the impact of a seemingly insignificant act:

    you could not remove a single grain of sand from its place without thereby changing something in all parts throughout the immeasurable whole.

    Though he could not know it, he was one of the intellectual founders of what we now know as the butterfly effect; a belief that apparently small insignificant things – like the flapping of a butterfly’s wings – can have a major impact on the world.

    We live in a cycle of cause and effect, we begin things that we cannot know where they will l lead to, we act in certain ways because events far away and possibly long ago have determined that this is how we will act.

    One hundred years ago British and ANZAC forces captured Palestine. The British seeking to gain the loyalty or at least the acquiescence of the population made different promises to the Arab and Jewish communities. The former were promised national self determination, the latter – in the Balfour Declaration – were promised a ”national home.” Of course, the British took over the running of Palestine so there was no self determination for the Arabs and in time the Jewish community in Palestine became a Jewish State; the same UN vote which permitted a State of Israel also authorised a Palestinian state but the Arab states determined this could not come to be until Israel was destroyed.

    Even following a partial Arab recognition of Israel, the conditions for a Palestinian state have been elusive. Words the British used to placate two different populations never went away, words said to buy cooperation and keep the peace have fed conflict and war.

    While Britain became the protecting power in Palestine, New Zealand took over responsibility for what had been German Samoa. Another little flutter of butterfly wings which has been felt over time, changing history for both the people of Samoa and the people of New Zealand. Our stories have become intertwined in ways that could never have been imagined way back then.

    Strange isn’t it? That the farthest ripple of a war which began with an assassination in the Balkans was a change in who governed some far away islands deep in the South Pacific; a real butterfly effect. But World War One changed so much and not with the delicate flutter of wings. In the words of W.B. Yeats whose The Second Coming we heard last week, all was changed and changed utterly.

    Small, seemingly insignificant things ripple still. Nowhere more so than in our impact on the environment. Think of how many plastic bags you have used in the last year, where do they end up, or the plastic microbeads in shampoos, conditioners, shower gel; where do they go? Ultimately it seems much of it goes down to the sea where it does great harm. The world itself is in pain and in need, and so too are we. We are not – like Yeats – emerging into a world that has changed and changed utterly – but for much of humanity, life is more fragile, stability more precarious, peace more elusive than here.

    The world itself needs newness, so do people everywhere; it has always been this way.

    The truth of it is that it was ever thus. Since the beginning of time, it seems that thoughtful people have taken a good long look at the world around them and, with a shudder, have decided they don’t like what they see. It was certainly true of Jesus’ time and place.

    The time and place Jesus was born into and which was seen as the context of his ministry was marked by occupation, oppression, injustice and brute force. It was a broken place, like every place there has ever been maybe! And in Advent we are invited to reflect on and name that brokenness which stands in need of redemption.

    The German theologian and martyr – Dietrich Bonhoeffer wrote

    the celebration of Advent is only possible to those who are troubled in soul, who know themselves to be poor and imperfect, who look forward to something greater to come. For these, it is enough to wait in humble fear until the Holy One comes down to us. God in the child, in the manger.

    Both our readings today are food to the soul that waits. The promise of a new day dawning.

    If you look at classical art based on the Advent stories, say of Gabriel’s annunciation to Mary, it is often set in a world which seems faded, broken down, littered with the ruins of the past. There is something of Bonhoeffer’s point in this. Advent speaks to our turmoil, our failure and brokenness and offers hope where hope seems to have fled.

    A colleague when I worked in Mental Healthcare once said of the world that if you’re not depressed, you’re not paying attention. His point was that being depressed is an entirely rational response to how the world is and we kind of get his point.

    Advent isn’t about saying the world is just fine, or that we live in the best of all possible worlds; what it’s saying is that another world is possible, that there is a better way despite the darkness, the sorrow and brokenness which mar and wound the world.

    Our reading from Isaiah speaks to this. It comes at the beginning of what biblical commentators call Deutero Isaiah, the second part of the book. The first part – what went before – was dominated by loss, exile, the threat of the disappearance of the Covenant people from history. This second part is concerned with the end of exile and the possibility of a new beginning.

    Our reading began with these words, Comfort, o comfort my people. Well known words. If I were a half decent tenor I might attempt a spot of Handel at this stage! But I’ll spare you that, I can carry a tune but not far.

    What follows speaks of the possibility of newness. The part of the text most familiar to us Christians, especially at Advent, is:

    In the wilderness prepare the way of the Lord, make straight in the desert a highway for our God.

    Words echoed in the beginning of Mark’s Gospel, words which Christians immediately associate with John the Baptist, whose story we read as being an anticipation of and preparation for the story of Jesus.

    John is presented to us as calling for repentance and the forgiveness of sins, rather forbidding language, language we do not use much in this church. Repentance can have a bad name, it can carry overtones of preoccupation with sin and those who preach it can appear to be manipulative.

    But what it means, simply and undramatically is to change, to change your bearings, to go in a new direction. Repentance was an act of hope in the possibility of the new and an acknowledgement that for the new to come to be, then people had to live differently.

    Though he is an odd character, angular and uncomfortable, living there on the edge of the desert in animal skins, surviving on honey and locusts, John is a charismatic personality, he draws a crowd. People are drawn to him and to his offer of newness and they present themselves for ritual purification, total immersion in moving, flowing water; the Jewish ritual origin of our baptism. It wasn’t magic, it didn’t change the world, but it was a cleansing, a statement of intent to live differently.

    This is all very interesting – I hope – but what can it say to us, these stories from far away and long ago? That they speak in our wilderness now, in our experiences of exile, of alienation, or sense of a fractured and wounded world, of our need for newness.

    We too are called, invited to turn in a new direction and to live differently, to live in the direction of wholeness, to live in the direction of justice, to live in the direction of mercy, to live in the direction of the world’s healing.

    In these remaining Advent days, as the days lengthen may we know that other brightness, the light of holy possibility, the light of newness, may it shine brightly and lead us once more to our every Bethlehem.

    ©The Ref. David Poultney
    Image  Preparing a Way in the Wilderness, Hermano Leon

    David is Prestyer of St. John’s in the City Methodist Church, Nelson, New Zealand

  • Blessing for Waiting

    Jan Richardson 8 December 2017

     

    Who wait
    for the night
    to end

    bless them.

    Who wait
    for the night
    to begin

    bless them.

    Who wait
    in the hospital room
    who wait
    in the cell
    who wait
    in prayer

    bless them.

    Who wait
    for news
    who wait
    for the phone call
    who wait
    for a word

    who wait
    for a job
    a house
    a child

    bless them.

    Who wait
    for one who
    will come home

    who wait
    for one who
    will not come home

    bless them.

    Who wait with fear
    who wait with joy
    who wait with peace
    who wait with rage

    who wait for the end
    who wait for the beginning
    who wait alone
    who wait together

    bless them.

    Who wait
    without knowing
    what they wait for
    or why

    bless them.

    Who wait
    when they
    should not wait
    who wait
    when they should be
    in motion
    who wait
    when they need
    to rise
    who wait
    when they need
    to set out

    bless them.

    Who wait
    for the end
    of waiting
    who wait
    for the fullness
    of time
    who wait
    emptied and
    open and
    ready

    who wait
    for you,

    o bless.

    ©Jan Richardson
    Image Practice the Waiting, www.odysseyonline.com

    Blessing for Waiting is published in Circle of Grace: A Book of Blessings for the Seasons by Jan Richardson

  • December 6 St. Nicholas Day

    The Rev. Maren Tirabassi 6 December 2017

    December 6 St. Nicholas Day

     

    For the generosity of children
    I give thanks;
    for the way children believe
    miracles can visit them,
    I give thanks.
    Even for how they are glued
    to commercials,
    write letters to Santa,
    are unashamed of being excited,
    I give thanks.

    Today I promise to strip off
    my John-the-Baptist
    camel-hair dour,
    and oil the reindeer harness,
    exchange my locavore locust-lunch
    for a one-legged gingerbread,

    and find an empty stocking
    in the life of someone I know –
    young or old –
    to fill with the generosity
    that a child teaches me. Amen.

    ©Maren Tirabassi

    Image Voices from Russia

  • I Walk Dangerous Paths

    Liz Knowles 3 December 2017

    I Walk Dangerous Paths

     

    I walk dangerous paths
    the line
    between right and wrong
    I am not always right
    (I am not always wrong)
    no parallel lines
    these
    they
    converge in places
    where boundaries are not defined
    and
    I dream
    of arrival.

    ©Liz Knowles
    This poem first published in Candles and Conifers, ed. Ruth Burgess, Wild Goose Publications
    Image www.veritidas.org

  • Quantum Theology

    The Rev. Joy MacCormick 18 October 2017

    Quantum Theology

    I am no physicist!
    The more I try to understand
    the more confused, bewildered, I become.
    Yet what mind can scarce begin to comprehend
    is recognised as truth
    some part of me has always known.

    Once, science sprouted from theology;
    now physics seeks to dialogue with faith –
    reveals the power of consciousness, of prayer,
    to be the same creative energy
    that drives the cosmos.
    Humans call it “holy”.

    For is not “God” a naming
    of that unbounded power –
    transcendent source of everything that is;
    binding together and sustaining,
    through its energy,
    every subatomic particle?

    How easy to forget
    that words are not, themselves, reality;
    are merely symbols representing thought,
    enabling sharing, and promoting exploration.
    “God” or “Alaha”* “Energy” or “Matrix”
    All point to Unity – for those with eyes to see.

    * “In Aramaic, the name Alaha refers to the Divine.  It means
    variously: Sacred Unity, Oneness, the All, the Ultimate
    Power/Potential, the One with no opposite” (Neil Douglas-Klotz, “The Hidden Gospel”)

    “What is truth?” asked Pilate of Jesus.   (John 18:38)

    It is difficult, and often frightening, to let go of what has been received as truth.  Living at a time when accepted scientific truth is being overturned by the discoveries of quantum physicists means facing the need to do just this - to be open to the possibility that the laws of physics as we have known them are no longer binding; that everything in the world, and indeed the cosmos, is connected to everything else; that there may be many more than four dimensions and even parallel realities; that humans have the power, through conscious awareness, to create all the changes they choose; that this is accomplished through feelings and beliefs rather than thoughts and words.   (Jesus declared “Whatever you ask for in prayer, believe that you have received it, and it will be yours.”  Mark 11:24)

    New understandings of how the cosmos operates mean new understandings about God.  It has been said that institutions are guardians of received truth and resistant to new understandings.  (Galileo was persecuted by the Inquisition for declaring that the earth was not the centre of the universe but moved round the sun, and not until 1991 did the Church acknowledge that he was correct!)  To what extent is resistance still a feature of the Church?

    You will know the truth and the truth will make you free” (John 8:32) promised the one who also said “See, I am making all things new.”  (Rev. 21:5)  In Romans 12:2 we read “Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your minds . . . .”

     

    How resistant am I to new understandings – 
                                               particularly those relating to God?
    FROM  what might I need to be made free?
    FOR  what might I need to be made free?
    Do I want/am I willing to be made free?
    Ask God to help you discern the answers to the above questions.

    © Joy MacCormick
    Image Creative Commons                                                          

                                                                             

  • February Tales

    February Tales

    An uncertain summer. ‘If people don’t like the weather, just let them wait a few minutes’, said Mark Twain. South Island dancing fantails feast on the wing. Cicadas chatter in the forest. Bees buzz about the dahlias.

    Candles made from the sweetness of their honeycombs are blessed on 2 February, the great Feast of Candlemas. Much of Christendom will remember the infant Jesus being carried into the Temple at Jerusalem by Mary and Joseph and being presented to Simeon, the elderly priest and the widow prophetess, Anna.

    Simeon takes the child into his arms and with Anna, realizes, in that very moment, that this is the Messiah, the Light of the World.

    It is a story of fragile hope then and now, for we live in unpredictable times. It was ever thus. Simeon and Anna, with all the wisdom of their years, knew that.

    In our day, women and men are protesting more and more. Governments and the status quo are being overturned. The utterances of politicians, big business and bankers are being seriously questioned. Leaders are being brought to account. Religious doctrine is no longer exercising the same power and control over many people. Collusion with and a tolerance for the disrespect and degradation of Mother earth by multi-nationals and other individuals, is now the subject of a collective and deeper scrutiny.

    Jean-Baptiste Alphonse Karr, (1808 – 1890), the French writer and novelist, was famous for saying,

    ‘plus ça change, plus c'est la même chose’, meaning in English ‘the more things change, the more they stay the same’.

    When he was Editor of Le Figaro, Karr began a monthly satirical journal called Les Guêpes, (The Wasps) writing words that fearlessly stung corrupt and dishonest politicians. If he had lived now and in almost any other country, he would probably be writing much the same.

    Karr retired to Nice where he wrote the book I am currently reading, A Tour Round My Garden, a collection of letters written to his friend who was in the habit of extolling the virtues and wonders of travelling around the world. Karr, though, found beauty and solace in his garden, believing that there were more beautiful things to experience there than his friend could ever experience travelling overseas.

    Flowers made love, he wrote, birds sang of their love of life, beetles and butterflies became transformed through patience and struggle. His garden and everything in it was a constant miracle, a source of wonder, a return to Eden.

    ‘Is there a blade of grass which is not greater than all the mythologies of all times and all nations?’, he asked.

    Alphonse had discerned the vulnerability and fragility, the strength and the grace of the Incarnation.

    ‘Some people grumble that roses have thorns; I am grateful that thorns have roses’.

    When I lived in Nice, friends and I would sometimes eat at Les Viviers on the street immortalizing Karr’s name. Opened in the early 20th century, generations before us had sat at the same tables, lit by candlelight, sharing food and a little too much wine perhaps.

    They heard of wars and rumours of wars, denounced presidents and politicians, shrugged shoulders (as only the French can do) at religious pomposity; lovers gazed into eachother’s eyes...so bright, so beautiful; old women and men ate in comfortable silence; children waited expectantly for bowls of ice-cream.

    Plus ça change, plus c'est la même chose.

    Karr’s book was translated into English by the Rev. John George Wood, a graduate of Merton College, Oxford and ordained a priest in 1854. He was chaplain to St. Bartholomew’s Hospital and to the splendidly-named Boatmen’s Floating Chapel at Oxford. Now it is a Thai restaurant called Bangkok House.

    On 1 February, the ancient Gaelic festival of Imbolc, marked the halfway point between the winter solstice and the spring equinox in the Northern Hemisphere.

    Meanwhile in Aoteraoa New Zealand, at Canaan Downs, which derives its name from that biblical land of milk and honey, the harvest festival of Lughnasadgh, which occurs halfway between the summer solstice and the autumn equinox, is underway amongst ancient beech trees, offering an earth friendly festival of music, art, dance, creativity and sustainability.

    Saint Brigid’s Feast Day was also celebrated yesterday. Brigid, an Irish nun, who shares her name with a Celtic goddess, is Patroness of Ireland. Born in 450AD, she is accredited, amongst other virtues, with creating, from rushes and straw, a unique cross that has since borne her name.

    The story goes that Brigid was asked to visit an old pagan chieftain who was dying, in the hope that she might be able to calm his restless spirit. As she sat beside his bed, she picked up some of the rushes from the floor of the room and started weaving them together, forming a cross. She shared the meaning of the cross with him and her words brought peace to his soul. Captivated by her presence and her story, he asked to be baptised before his death.

    Brigid’s name lives on, not least in this land of the long white cloud - at schools in Dunedin and Wellington and at churches in Loburn, Pahiatua, Feilding and Waiteti.

    Snowdrops, so pure, so perfect, are emerging from the hard soil of many cold places on earth. They are also called Candlemas bells. We hear their song. We light a candle.

    ©Hilary Oxford Smith
    Image St. Brigid’s Cross, Harry Clarke, www.flickr.com, Creative Commons license

  • Dark and Light: A Solstice Story

    Dark and Light: A Solstice Story

    It is a bright, blue, winter morning in the Southern Hemisphere and the winter solstice stretches our imagination.

    In the Northern Hemisphere, the summer solstice heralds the longest day of light. Midsummers of my youth were filled with heady playtimes, swimming with dolphins and dancing with seals, searching for crabs and other sea creatures in rock pools…our footsteps and shadows sending them into hiding. We gathered pink pearly shells and driftwood from the strandline of the beach and bedtime was hours away.

    At night it was light and from the bed in my grandparent's house, I could look through the open curtains to the ocean and watch the midnight sun. Golden calendula marigolds grew in abundance in the garden, the petals adding colour to home-made butter.

    Midsummer is known as St. John's Day in the Christian Church. It is said that John the Baptist was born on the 24th June. Feasting on wild honey and locusts, he spoke of the coming of the Messiah. Not for him the celebration of his death day or martyrdom. Rather, a feast of the nativity, like Christmas, at Midsummer.

    As the days have shortened in New Zealand, it has still been lighter at the winter solstice than I remember in my homeland. Daylight there was pale and fleeting with remnants of warmth. The sun set early in the afternoon and birds flew towards the shelter of trees to roost through the longest night.

    The Scottish poet and writer, Kathleen Jamie writes about Light and Darkness. She believes that Darkness has been too much maligned, not least in Christian theology, 'because of the metaphorical dark…we are constantly concerned to banish the natural dark...'

    So with rucksack on back, she sailed from Aberdeen to the whale-shaped Orkney Islands in search of 'real, natural, starry dark'. The chambered burial mound of Maes Howe, built around 2700BC, drew her into its mystery.

    Around the time of the winter solstice, the midwinter sun rises from the Hoy Hills. As it sets, its rays strike the nearby Neolithic Barnhouse Stone, perfectly aligned to the entrance of Maes Howe and the tomb's dark passageway becomes illuminated with light.

    Clouds clouded her mystical experience though. She also found the tomb filled with artificial light as surveyors mapped the walls with lasers so that they could investigate worrying cracks in the stone. On her return to the mainland, she could not even find the natural dark out at sea because of the lights from small coastal settlements and dazzlingly lit oil rigs.

    'For five thousand years we have used darkness as the metaphor of our mortality...we have not banished death, but we have banished the dark. We have light, we have oilfields and electricity and lasers. And by the light we have made, we can see that there are, metaphorically speaking, cracks. We are doing damage. The surveyors poring over the tomb are working in an anxious age. We look about the world, by the light we have made, and realise it's all vulnerable, and all worth saving, and no one can do it but us.'

    Often we want to look away from the brokenness around us in the world because we are afraid that we might be overwhelmed by the dark. Yet the life of the Divine is within the dark. The secret and hopeful work of winter has already begun deep in the cold earth.

    In New Zealand, snow has fallen in the high country and when the new moon follows the rising of Matariki, the Pleiades, or Seven Sisters star constellation in the Southern sky, it will be time for our Māori brothers and sisters and those who respect and participate in their culture and traditions, to celebrate the Māori New Year.

    This ancient and spiritual festival plays out across our land with the revival of celebratory events of culture, language, spirit and people. Thankfulness is expressed for the gifts of mother earth and for the land on which we live and which sustains us. Ancestors are remembered with loving respect. Lengthening days of light, growth, change and new thresholds to cross are hoped for.

    When Kathleen Jamie returned home from her journey of seeking the dark, she wrote,

    '...we were going out for dinner. Our friends' cottage was inviting in candlelight, and the curtains were open to show black night pressed against the windows. In the warm light, we…drank a toast, because tonight was midwinter's night, the night of the complicit kiss, and tomorrow the light would begin its return.'

    In the places of winter's passage, may the long dark nights shelter us.
    In the places of summer's passage, may the long days of light refresh us.

    ©Hilary Oxford Smith

    References
    Kathleen Jamie, Findings, (Sort Of Books 2005)

    Image Standing Stones of Stenness, Orkney, wikimedia commons

     

     

  • This Will Pass

    Ana Lisa de Jong 18 September 2017

    This Will Pass

    This too will pass.


    This will pass like the sun rising.
    This will pass like a breath of wind
    across the face of a leaf.
     

    Like the butterfly,
    who just this morning came,
    in a flash of bright colour, and then went.

    It will pass.

    Those things you worry at now,
    with the tip of your tongue.
    Lift up, and weigh, and heavily put down.

    They will pass.

    The things sore yet,
    and burdensome upon your heart.
    They will catch the wind, and graciously depart.

    They will pass.

    And behind, in their wake,
    might come more things.
    But you know this, just as you know yourself adequate.

    For all things pass.

    The butterfly reminds of you this,
    as does the falling leaf.
    And the rising sun, warm now,

    upon your upturned cheek.

    ©Ana Lisa de Jong

     

     

  • Along the Verge

     

    No surrender, holding the line of retreat and advance,
    countless blades wave in sullied draft declaring
    nature’s vulnerable defiance, bending
    (springing as a warrior might respond)
    to force of threat overwhelming life.
    These simple leaves - complexity’s prophets, or surplus
    fodder - defend space between fence and seal,
    overlooked, dismissed in hurried expediency
    to an economy’s greater cause.

    ©JFF

  • Autumn leaf

    Autumn leaf

     

    Falling: Round small, golden light
    Nudged from place, purpose done;
    riding air in descent like flight
    decay for energy to become

    radical elements of earth and air,
    among circumstance and chance,
    to meld again without intent or care
    nature’s way for life to enhance

    fertility’s cyclic dance with death
    yet, emotion softens indifferent birth
    diverting fears with romantic breath
    making beauty of decaying worth.

    Matter portrays an endless dance,
    energy held in intimate embrace,
    no more stable than sideways glance
    as change commands survival’s race

    between birth and death, indifference
    remains constant in leaf and stone;
    matter and energy provide no fence
    for life that knows it is alone.

    © JFF

    Image Pixabay

     

  • Alienation

     

    Peripheral glimpse catching a view.
    A river, reflective, ambling with the road,
    sweeping across farmland, beneath trees
    shading banks where life might flourish
    and detritus begins a journey to the sea.

    In a flash, shutter-like, the mind receives
    an image that remains, knowing beauty,
    barely held beyond the instant of sight:
    Seen at speed, seen by chance, valued
    like hope, lingering in the troubled domain.

    Safety commands attention for the road,
    time for work the object to be overcome.
    Vista pass like graffiti on a subway wall,
    apart from purpose, leaving romance,
    if alive, languishing in a wake.

    A scene, insisting, caught in a beat,
    Becoming refined in feelings cast
    like shade across another landscape revealing
    a fractured traverse where heart and mind
    struggle beneath distraction and dis-ease.

    (c) JFF

  • Home (for CU)

    Stuart Holmes Coleman 18 August 2017

    In all his years of wondering
    across oceans to far away islands
    searching for a place to call home
    the man never imagined finding
    such calm in a woman’s eyes.
    They glimmered like bright stars
    guiding sailors through the darkness
    and when she looked into his own
    the man merged with the woman
    like a lost soul finding its mate
    a sea of love enveloping them both
    and he knew at last he was home.

    ©Stuart Coleman

  • The Year That Answered

    Stuart Holmes Coleman 18 August 2017

    There is a kind of wind that blows
    during certain days of the year
    and it’s almost as if it knows
    how to stir up our deepest fears.
    On one of those winter nights
    I called my mom and said, I feel
    as if I might not ever find
    a partner or a love that’s real
    .
    She said, Don’t worry, take your time.
    For there are years that ask questions
    and there are years that give answers.

    Her words lingered in my mind
    and then settled over my soul
    like a warm blanket that winter
    when even the sun felt cold.

    There is a kind of light that shines
    during certain days of the year
    and it seems to calm our minds
    and settle our deepest fears.
    On one of those summer days
    I went to an ancient city
    and saw a couple whose forms lay
    enshrined in ash eternally.
    By the time I returned home
    something opened up inside me
    and I felt alive not alone.
    Then one day at a little café
    I felt a tap on my shoulder
    And when I turned around I knew
    The year had finally answered
    And I at last had found you.

    ©Stuart Coleman

  • Cain and Abel - Through Another Lens

    Cain and Abel - Through Another Lens

     

    Recent rereading of Riane Eisler’s book The Chalice and the Blade (Harper San Francisco 1987) on the origin and development of early European human culture and society, sparked again memories of my discomfort with the story of Cain and Abel (Genesis 4:2-16) - less for the issue of fratricide than for the image of God as apparently capricious and unfair, rejecting the offering of grain in favour of blood sacrifice. In this book I found another way of understanding what might be at the core of this tale.

    In her book Riane comments that in virtually every present-day culture there exists a myth of a golden age in which everyone and everything flourished, art and culture were highly developed and people lived in peace before being destroyed by some cataclysmic disaster. She suggests that this might actually be folk memory of Palaeolithic and Neolithic societies “where the first great breakthroughs in material and social technology were made” and a common feature was the worship of the Goddess - provider of life and all that sustained it.

    Archaeological evidence from many sites suggests that in these early societies social organisation was basically co-operative rather than hierarchical, the fruits of the earth were seen as belonging to all members of the group and there were no ranked distinctions of class or sex. Everybody contributed to the welfare of the group and to the worship of the Goddess in increasingly elaborate rituals including offerings of grain and fruit. Societies were based on equality and partnership.

    A golden age indeed in spite of inevitable tensions and hardships!

    By about 5000 BCE there is evidence of natural catastrophes and ‘a long line of invasions from the Asiatic and European north by nomadic peoples. Ruled by powerful priests and warriors, they brought with them their male gods of war and mountains.’ (p44) This caused large scale disruption and dislocation as strength and hierarchy replaced partnership and equality. Sweeping away the worship of the Goddess with its grain and fruit offerings, they imposed worship of their warrior God to whom only blood sacrifice was acceptable. Among other nomadic invaders were the Hebrews who invaded Canaan and also brought with them a fierce and angry god of war and mountains (Yahweh) and imposed their ways on the peoples of the lands they conquered.

    I now wonder whether the biblical account of Cain and Abel might also be folk memory of a time when the old ways were wiped out by invaders, bringing in and imposing their own culture and religion; when those who clung to the old values and old ways were driven out to become ‘wanderers on the earth’.

    What do you think?

    © Joy MacCormick
    Image Cain and Abel, stained glass window, Christ Church Cathedral, Dublin (Wikimedia Commons)

  • The Scribbler's Song (for CU)

    Stuart Holmes Coleman 18 July 2017

    If only I were an artist
    I would paint portraits of you
    lying on your side in bed
    your hand holding your head
    a smile lighting up the world
    like the sunrise that morning
    when I first thought, I love you.

    If only I were a musician
    I would compose songs for you
    holding tightly to my guitar
    the way I once held you
    embracing all that you are
    my fingers caressing chords
    of love as I sang from afar.

    But I am just a scribbler
    sketching these lines for you
    fledgling words waiting to fly
    like hawks soaring across the sky
    or starlings singing on phone lines
    the notes of a fleeting song
    as my thoughts fly home to you.

    ©Stuart Coleman

  • Spring clean

    Peter Clague 18 July 2017

     

    let me sweep your church
    I’d leave the door ajar
    to split the glimpses of grace,
    remind them who you are.

    those who peek within
    drawn to your loyal side
    & you would see without
    the futility of pride.

    I’d stir up with my broom
    the dust of fusty pews
    service to a servant
    a friend they stand to lose.

    I’d clean the stained glass too
    for a little light to shed
    in a gloomy, stale state
    the vision’s limited.

    let me sweep your church
    I’d fling the door back wide
    so you might hear your calling
    to stay, or step outside.

    ©Peter Clague

  • The Auburn-Haired Virgin

    The Auburn-Haired Virgin

     

    mortally imperilling herself

    for love of God, her courage

    far surpassing our conceiving;

     

    the Sinai flame transfiguring

    her hair identifies the newest

    and most singular of human cells

     

    © the Revd Jim McPherson
    Image The Auburn-Haired Virgin, William Bustard 1933

     

  • The Skylark Ascending

    The Skylark Ascending

     

    The embers of a late Autumn. Morning mists, fruitfulness, golden light, wind in my hair. Diamond-shaped Feijoa fruit carpet the ground. Colours of toffee apples, cinnamon and buttercups make each leaf a work of art.

    We live in the mountains and in just one day, Autumn has given way to Winter. Snow covers the peaks and the landscape is thinning out. More and more revealed.

    It is time for comfort, for good food and warmth, for home and to sit by the hearth. A welcoming place. The fire, made with the wrinkled bodies of logs, crackles with orange and crirmson sparks and stories are patterned with flames of light. 

    ‘Then (the fire)…settles to quietude, or maybe gratitude, as it feeds as we all do, as we must, upon the invisible gift: our purest, sweet necessity: the air.’[i]

    For my Highland ancestors, the ceremony of smooring the fire was a nightly quietude. The embers were evenly spread on the hearth, formed into a circle and then the circle was divided into three and a peat laid between each section.

    The first peat was laid down in the name of the God of Creation, the second in the name of the God of Peace, the third in the name of the God of Grace. The circle was then covered over with ashes to subdue but not to extinguish the Three of Light throughout the darkness of the night. And these words were whispered over it,

    ‘The sacred Three
    to save,
    to shield,
    to surround
    the hearth,
    the house,
    the household,
    this eve,
    this night,
    and every night,
    Amen.’[ii]

    I have always loved this Celtic spirituality and as we gently subdue, before midnight, the embers of the fire in our little home, we are thankful to be warmed by the trees and to hear the voices of people long ago.

    Earlier this month, Vaughan Park celebrated the tenth anniversary of the building of its Chapel, named in honour of Ngāpuhi Chief, Ruatara. The Chapel faces north towards Tai Tokerau, the tūrangawaewae of Ruatara.

    On Christmas Day, 1814, at the invitation of Ruatara, English clergyman, the Rev. Samuel Marsden landed at Rangihoua in the Bay of Islands. With the help of Ruatara, he was able to establish a Christian mission in the area. Marsden wrote,

    ‘…I saw the English flag flying, which was a pleasing sight in New Zealand. I considered it as the signal for the dawn of civilization, liberty, and religion in that dark and benighted land. I never viewed the British colours with more gratification, and flattered myself they would never be removed till the natives of that island enjoyed all the happiness of British subjects.’[iii]

    This land, though, was already spiritually beautiful and sacred. The indigenous people of the land were artists, teachers, singers, poets, gardeners, sculptors, sages, cherishing ancient belief systems and a creation spirituality. Ruatara and his people had much to share and to teach Marsden and his like, then and now.

    I travelled to Rangihoua in late March with two friends of Vaughan Park – Becky, a visiting Professor of Theology from Los Angeles and Jacynthia, an Anglican priest. Jacynthia shared stories about her people, also Ngāpuhi, enlightening our thinking and deepening our understanding.

    We listened to music, looked up at the Milky Way and found the Southern Cross in the evening sky. We felt the warmth of a fading sun, followed the shifting light and smelled the fragrance of fields in this thin place, where the veil between heaven and earth is as fine as gossamer.

    I have recently discovered a little Retreat House, called Oasis, another thin place in the midst of an overcrowded Auckland. Andrew and Margaret Dunn, with the help of their family, carved into the steep hillside of a native forest on their property, a labyrinth in the shape of an unfolding tree fern, called the Koru.

    The Koru is a sacred symbol for Māori, expressing creation – birth, life, death, renewal, eternity. It has a circular shape, each delicate frond unfurling towards the light.

    As I walked this labyrinth, I began to realise how weary I was. It had been a busy week with lots to do and much to think about. Slowly my spirit lifted and it was as if I could hear the music of the kōauau accompanied by the song of kereru, korimako and tui. Little piwakawaka swooped here and there.

    I sat on a seat at the centre of the Koru and looked at the tall trees above me, their branches opening out to the lights of the sky. Beneath my feet, fungi coloured the forest floor.

    And I was that little girl again, walking excitedly into the magic wood with my father, mother and brother. We loved to go there because it was mysterious and full of wonder. We heard the growing and speaking of the trees. We sensed the creatures watching us. The presences and spirits of the wood accompanied us. We filled our small pockets with fir cones that had fallen to the ground.

    An unexpected moment of remembering about the loss and the love at the heart of our family’s story. We four, together again.

    It is Ascension Day, 40 days after Easter. The May blossom will be out north of the Equator, while here, fading roses still bloom. Christ has been busy with post-resurrection appearances - meeting the Mary’s, and the disciples, including Thomas, of course. He has walked to Emmaus, cooked breakfast at the beach and now, on the Mount of Olives, is taking his leave to be with his Father in heaven. Christ - gone from our earthly sight yet his spirit of light and love found everywhere.

    I have been reminded of a piece of music composed by Ralph Vaughan Williams called ‘The Lark Ascending’. He wrote a draft of it on the eve of the First World War and completed it after peace had been declared. He had been inspired by George Meredith’s poem of the same name.

    ‘…He rises and begins to round,
    He drops the silver chain of sound,
    Of many links without a break,
    In chirrup, whistle, slur and shake.
    …For singing till his heaven fills,
    ‘Tis love of earth that he instils,
    And ever winging up and up
    Our valley is his gold cup,
    And he the wine which overflows
    To lift us with him as he goes…’[iv]

    It is a dramatic and sweet melody about a little bird who bravely soars from the earth to the heavens, taking with it the sorrow and pain, the desolation and loss and limitations of life and transforming them into something different - forever beautiful, forever singing, forever renewing.

    In these uncertain times, it is this courage, this graceful love and this hope that will sustain us.

    ©Hilary Oxford Smith

    Image Tom Lee, flickr.com

    ‘The Lark Ascending’, Ralph Vaughan Williams https://youtu.be/f4NMf2PO_mQ

     

    [i] Mary Oliver, Thirst: Poems.
    [ii] Alexander Carmichael, Carmina Gadelica, Volume 1, p. 235
    [iii] J. R. Elder, ed., The Letters and Journals of Samuel Marsden1865-1838, pp. 993-94.
    [iv] George Meredith, The Lark Ascending.

     

  • Living In A History

    Fr. Martin Davies 25 June 2017

    Living In A History

    We shape our buildings, and afterwards our buildings shape us.[i]
         Winston Churchill

    ...what we build will, over the years, shape how we understand God.[ii]
         Anselme Dimier

    In the few months since arriving in Stroud I have increasingly appreciated Saint John’s Church – this building to house the Church. At first sight, my attention is held by three features of the building: the high twin pulpits; the particularly small sanctuary; and the choir seating.

    These features cause me to reflect on understandings of the Church and worship at the time of its construction, and where continuities and divergences may be found in both older and also in contemporary understandings and ways.

    From my morning and evening prayer seat in the choir looking across to the tall tower for preaching or reading, my eye then travels to the rear of the church. Given the social context of the building of this chapel of the Australian Agricultural Company, I try to envisage what evangelical exhortations and morally improving messages may have been directed from the pulpit to the occupants of the convicts’ gallery. My imagination is fuelled somewhat by the piercing eyes and stern countenance of the chaplain William Macquarie Cowper whose photograph hangs in the foyer of the rectory.

    St John’s brings to mind my affection and gratitude for two historical periods, and aspects of church architecture and the liturgy for which it was built. The first is the (largely unremembered) Anglican continuity with Benedictine monasticism. Although monks in their stalls have long been variously replaced by canons and clerks, and by cathedral and parish choirs, the singing and recitation of daily prayer and Sunday worship is carried back and forth from either side of the choir. Then as now, our answerability to each other whilst praying in such a manner remains apparent.

    A second facet of my gratitude is being able to pray and shape liturgy in a church which pre-dates the neo-gothic revival in Anglican ecclesiastical architecture. Accompanying this is an absence of unconscious (or perhaps even indiscriminately followed) assumptions and directions in worship largely inherited from the determining architecture of that era. On a practical contemporary liturgical note, I am glad of a single-level sanctuary, rather than the later more usual multiple steps. The pulpits are high, though not the altar! Although I owe much to the neo-gothic influence on my earlier liturgical formation and practice, my more deeply rooted attraction is to the unadorned simplicity modelled by Cistercian monastic liturgy. The relatively undecorated Georgian style of St John’s is happily conducive to the prayer tradition which has most profoundly formed me.

    A quotation on the Friends of St John’s Stroud website from architect Clive Lucas describes the church as “perhaps the finest and certainly most intact Anglican [c]hurch in Australia which predates the influence of ecclesiology.” To take gentle issue with this assertion, I would argue that any church of whatever era is an expression (whether by adherence, modification or rejection) of the dominant tradition of the time.

    St John’s was built in the year of the beginning of the Oxford Movement and before the subsequent Catholic revival in the Church of England. The ecclesiology of our building thus reflects an earlier piety than that of both the Oxford Movement and also the associated 1845 Cambridge Camden Society, also known as the Ecclesiological Society, whose interpretation of ecclesiology was specifically related to matters of church building. The architecture of St John’s reflects a more evangelical understanding of the Church (ecclesiology) and thus pre-dates the predominant anglo-catholicism of the diocese of which it later became part.

    Comments in the visitors’ book often make mention of the historic nature of the church and our other buildings, and also of St John’s being a prayerful and beautiful place. I like to hold this trinity of beauty, history and prayer together. An enduring gift of St John’s lies in enabling visitors and parishioners to allow this meeting of the past to find expression in the present, and to give hope for the future.

    Week by week parishioners gather to celebrate the Sunday Eucharist, gathered at the sanctuary built for this purpose in 1833. The steady life-giving heartbeat of the church community is sustained in the daily offering of Morning and Evening Prayer, for the praise of God and to pray for the world and the Church. St John’s Church continues to be a place where the memories of successive generations are treasured, and a place which continues to symbolise the spiritual and community hopes of present and past Stroud people. I am glad to be joining this living history.

    ©Martin Davies

    Image Interior, Saint John the Evangelist, Stroud, NSW, Australia


    [i] Winston Churchill, House of Commons, 18 October 1943
    [ii] Anselme Dimier, Stones Laid before the Lord (Cistercian Publications, 1999)

    This article was also published in St. James’ Parish Connections, June/July 2017

  • Sunday Morning

    Ana Lisa de Jong 18 June 2017

    Sunday Morning

    Sunday morning.
    Dawns anew
    in the blue of my heart.

    Too long thinking of things
    that don’t matter,
    until Sunday comes in its blinding light.

    And I wonder where I left them,
    the thoughts I couldn’t put down.

    ©Ana Lisa de Jong
    Image Pentecost Dove, flickr

  • 1 June 2017

  • 1 June 2017

  • 1 June 2017

  • 1 June 2017

  • 27 November 2016

  • Hurunui Cathedral

    Peter Clague 23 October 2016

    Hurunui Cathedral

    whitebone trunks stand
    undeterred by death
    to consecrate the clearing
    in which we laden slump


    on weighty packs, prostrate
    unburdened & enlightening
    strong men slowly learn
    to carry less in life


    this miro vault
    an offering of spring grass
    pig-hallowed & rabbit-holy
    divine, yet no place special


    sacred the ground
    no matter where you linger,
    exigence & a simple upward gaze
    are all that's needed to erect a temple


    for cathedrals
    are but spires risen
    serendipitous in any place
    you choose to need them

    ©peter clague

    Image Whitebone Trunks, Peter Clague

  • pilgrimage

    Peter Clague 21 October 2016

    three nights in the Hurunui
    those were holy days for sure
    such are our observances
    tracts to a slab door


    bowed beneath the straps
    on beam in drizzle night
    resurrected by dawn’s pane
    where tawa fractures light


    creek sway is a liturgy
    boot chant of our youth
    brotherhood of the billy
    who seek a tannin truth


    this priest who walks before me
    bent kneed & lancewood rod
    the salt & savour of him
    who shares my native god


    © peter clague

    Image Sunrise in the Hurunui, Jose Francisco

  • Letter to the world-weary heart

    The Rev. Gayanne Frater 9 October 2016

    Letter to the world-weary heart

    ‘Tis easy,
    is it not,
    to allow those who walk
    halls of power
    to assume
    ‘larger than life’
    presence,
    as if your sphere
    of influence,
    is too small
    to be of any note.
    Your voice,
    the truths you know,
    at the core of your being,
    shrink within,
    dwindling to  wondering whispers
    across your heart’s landscape.
    Your knowing,
    rises from the belly,
    rages even within,
    clamouring to be heard,
    though seldom spoken aloud.
    (except in the privacy of your home, maybe?)
    Words of prophetic potentiality
    lie muted,
    behind closed lips,
    against the backdrop
    of the louder,
    relentless,
    oft repeated,
    sound bite news bits,
    presented
    as truth,
    yet
    in reality
    nothing more
    than slanted
    incomplete
    woefully inadequate
    shards of slivered truth,
    distorted to entertain,
    not to inform.
    ‘Tis tempting to accept
    the numbing of the brain,
    and compassion’s overload
    that comes from having
    hearts that care,
    to accept this
    narrowed,
    marginalised
    space
    you now occupy,
    and become silent
    bystanders
    or powerless
    witnesses
    to the outrageous
    injustices writ large on
    global screens.
    This, however, is not your calling.
    You must stand,
    speak,
    and act
    with hope, faith and love
    and in integrity,
    You must be the people
    you proclaim yourselves to be,
    no matter how tiny
    your sphere of influence
    may appear.
    Hope rises
    with the utterance of
    the tiniest of words,
    little acts of kindness
    and solidarity,
    and the first step
    and then the next.
    You must never forget
    that hidden in the oft dismissed
    and overlooked ‘tinyness’ of life
    lies greatness,
    says the mustard seed.

    ©Gayanne Frater

  • Two Halves of the Moon

    Two Halves of the Moon

    Like a Slope Point tree in Southland, a tree, windblown on the Arctic side, tinged with sea-salty rust, retreats ever inwards in the wild and briary glebe of the clergy house. It is the calm before another winter storm on this side of the world. Little penguin-like auks have been blown off course by the tempest of last week and are now regaining their energy in Noah’s Ark – the local animal rehoming centre. Rivers burst their banks, the turbulent waters ravaged homes, leaving silt and rainbow trout in their wake.

    An Epiphany sun shone for an hour or so today. And my eye was drawn to wandering dolphins and orcas in the Firth and a weather-beaten fisherman hauling lobster creels onto his rusty fishing boat. There aren’t many lobsters about at the moment. The gourmands, dining in London restaurants, will have to do with monkfish.

    Meanwhile, the people of the besieged Syrian town of Madaya, weep, as food finally reaches them. Starvation is used as a weapon of war in a conflict that grows more desperate with every moment. Prayers beam eastwards.

    After Christmas, clergy need to drift away from the collage of parish life. I washed up on the Ardnamurchan Peninsula, a remote and wild place in the Western Highlands of Scotland. The landscape tells a harsh, sometimes violent, often sad story…of volcano fires, blood-soaked battles, the religious fervour of Irish monks, rampaging Viking invaders and Highland Clearances.

    Like Alice Through the Looking Glass, it was as if I had entered a wormhole, travelling through a mirrored world of scarred mountain rifts, moine rocks, fossils and rainfall, to the vanished world of Central Otago.  

    Tramping in the Sunart rainforest, green with lichens, mosses and liverworts growing from bark and branch, I came across a clearing and a timber house, called Kaikoura  - Māori for ‘meal of crayfish’.

    At land’s end, the most westerly point on the peninsula, stood the only Egyptian-style lighthouse in the world, with figurines of pharaohs, gods and sphinxes decorating the lamp base.  In the fading light of a winter’s day, the Atlantic Ocean hurled itself at the beacon, biting pieces off the rocks.

    I watched an unfolding ferocity that only the gods could have summoned. It was a night when the light would be needed most and I imagined that it beamed across the waters to Dusky Sound.

    Back home in the village, the people celebrated the beginning of a three hundred year anniversary. In a New Year and in a bare hall, sheltered from the January cold, we looked back and, as I prayed for God’s blessing, we looked forward, to the unknown.

    The schoolchildren sang songs about silver darlings, the Scottish name for herrings. If Alice had been there, she would have danced a lobster quadrille with seals, turtles and salmon.

    Meanwhile, the air is sweet in a nativity summer. Kayakers paddle down the Clutha River and barbecues smoke on the beach. Yachts anchor in Half Moon bay as night falls, while children watch their shadows and play in the light of Curious Cove.  

    Two halves of the moon.

    ©Hilary Oxford Smith
    Image Two halves make one moon? Flickr., Creative Commons 2.0                              

  • Equinox Tales

    Equinox Tales

     

    The Highland midge is on manoeuvres. A rare Indian summer in Scotland has brought the tiny biters to life again. Like a biblical plague, swarms of them have been landing on unsuspecting and unprotected skin and leaving a memory. The saying goes that if you kill one midge, a thousand will come to its funeral.

    They are a distant cousin of the sand fly, described as New Zealand’s darkest secret. A picnic by the lake or the beach can turn into a fiasco. Open the car door and, on the drive home, there will be more passengers than seats.  Best to eat your picnic when it’s blowing a gale, you are wearing white and eating marmite sandwiches.

    The village where I live is still welcoming visitors from crowded cities, who amble along the little streets with not a care in the world...at least for a few days. They mess about in boats, sit outside drinking wine and whisky and watch the day drift by. Not for them the city break with its dashing urgency to visit everything before tomorrow or the Mediterranean cruise, sleeping in an inside cabin above the engine room, eating too much and following a frenzied tour guide around Rome.

    Rather, it’s a lingering gaze at playful dolphins dancing in the sea and watching ‘bottling’ Atlantic grey seals, resting upright in the water, with their faces looking to the sky. It’s wanting to not miss a second of life in all its languid beauty.    

    Yet there is a feeling on the air. It is as if the whole world is in turmoil - war, conflict, starvation, atrocity, displacement, seismic politics, environmental degradation. Who and what will be next? Where will be next?  What will happen next?

    These are interim times. So much seems withheld. Where can we put our trust? How can we endure and at the same time, transfigure our perceptions to discern and re-discover the beauty, the joy and the goodness at the heart of creation and born of God?    

    ‘Another morning and I wake with thirst’, writes the poet Mary Oliver. ‘...for the goodness I do not have. I walk out to the pond and all the way God has given us such beautiful lessons. Oh Lord, I was never a quick scholar but sulked and hunched over my books past the hour and the bell; grant me, in your mercy, a little more time. Love for the earth and love for you are having such a long conversation in my heart. Who knows what will finally happen or where I will be sent, yet already I have given a great many things away, expecting to be told to pack nothing, except the prayers which, with this thirst, I am slowly learning.’[i]

    September brings a changing air too, as the sun crosses the celestial equator. For one day, the length of night and day are almost the same. In the northern hemisphere, the autumnal equinox and the vernal equinox in the southern hemisphere, carry with them a sense of great balance.

    Might there be an equinox of the heart I wonder? Where the interim is steadied by the continuity of time, where fear and despair are balanced by trust and hope, where light and dark interplay, where justice, freedom, peace are counterpoints of equilibrium to the elements of life that can diminish us and the earth?               

    The fields around the village, once golden with corn and barley, have been ploughed, ready for the planting of seed. When trees are bare and colours fade, the secret work of a long winter will begin.

    Meanwhile in New Zealand, spring has sprung with strengthening light and emerging colours. The renewal of life, hope and possibility are promised.    

    I am writing these words in the cold and draughty study of a Victorian clergy house. The tiniest glimpse of light from the setting western sun has found its way, for the very first time, into this Northern-facing room. In a vase by the window, sunflowers, earthen and golden, turn their faces to the Light. So must we.

    ©Hilary Oxford Smith  

    Image Autumnal Equinox, Amanda Clark
      

     

    [i] ‘Thirst’, Mary Oliver, Bloodaxe Books 2007

  • Come Unto Me

    Come Unto Me

     

    Which comes first?  Baptism or Communion? Baptism is not a requirement for communion and so I have heard the new PC(USA) Directory for Worship hopes to affirm the free and abundant grace of God we find at the Lord’s table.  No exceptions. I have, for some time, embraced an open table and I believe the Church, not only the Presbyterian Church (USA) is opening to the idea of sacrament as welcome and inclusion.  I confess that I enjoy worshipping at an Episcopal Church where this unconditional welcome is crystal clear.

    Earlier this year I was asked to celebrate an “extraordinary” baptism.  Of course, all baptisms are extraordinary, but this would be a baptism that bends the rules, stepping just outside the doors of the church.  Sara Miles, in Take this Bread, had already suggested to me the idea of a font outside the doors of the church.

    My nephew and his bride grew up in the church, Presbyterian and Lutheran respectively.  Like most of us, there have been times when they felt excluded and alienated by the church.  They are now young parents, both working hard to balance family, work, and pleasure.  They were married by a beloved pastor in the great outdoors, with the mountains as a backdrop.  When they began to think about baptism for their daughter, Harper Iona, the doors were closed to them unless they became members of the church.  And the font was behind those doors.

    They say that young adults don’t think about membership the way we boomers and older folks do.  I thought about all the ways the old-line, mainline churches are trying and failing to welcome younger adults.  I thought about all the baptisms I had celebrated inside the church, where the parents made their promises out loud, but were never seen again on a Sunday in church.  I also thought about the Church of Scotland where I have served, and the way that they have wrestled with this very question, loosening up a bit on the membership requirement. 

    When asked to baptize Harper, I so very much wanted to say “yes.” My initial response was, I so want to do this, but we would need to figure out a way to make it an “official” baptism.  It would not be a blessing or a dedication.  It would not be a private baptism.  I was willing to bend the rules, but I have become increasingly sacramental over the years.  When I asked the parents why they wanted Harper baptized, they had all the right answers.  She is a child of God.  We want to say that out loud to our family and friends.  And, yes, we will profess our faith out loud.  And, yes, we will promise to raise her in the church.  And, yes, everyone there can gently remind us that we need to find a church.  And we will.  In time.

    So I read and reread the Directory for Worship.  And the Bible.  And I talked to a few clergy friends in various traditions.  And I even talked to a couple of polity wonks to try to figure out a way to do this.

    And then I attended another baptism inside the church and realized that very few Sunday morning baptisms follow the Directory for Worship to the letter.  They happen before, not after the sermon.  There are no renunciations.  Hardly ever is the Apostles’ Creed recited by one and all.  There may or may not be an elder present.  Questions may or may not be asked of the congregation.  Session may or may not have recorded it in the Register.

    Over the years, teaching Reformed Worship, when “extraordinary” cases in point were raised in class, I always told my students to wrestle with three things:  the pastoral, the theological, and the ecclesial.  And of course, the Bible.  The ecclesial requirement of membership in this case seemed a way of pushing this young family further from the church.  I prayed.  I conversed.  I listened.  I read.  I wrote.  And I decided that I could create a sacramental service of worship that honored the Directory for Worship, but more than that, honored the spiritual lives of this family, Reformed theology, and the Word of God. 

    Gospel words began to ring in my ears:  “Suffer the little children to come unto me and forbid them not, for to such as these belongs the kingdom of heaven.”  “Wherever two or three are gathered in my name, there I am in the midst of them.”  “God is love, and those who love are born of God and know God.” “Here is some water, what is to prevent me from being baptized?”

    So I said, “yes.”  And I conducted a service of worship outside the doors of the church, but with a gathered community of family and friends who would sing and pray, who would hear the Word proclaimed, who would respond by professing their faith, and by witnessing the promises of these young parents.  Both great grandmothers are elders, so they stood with me as those gathered promised to support this family. Two close friends were sponsors.  The only missing piece, in this case, was that the baptism would not be recorded in any congregation’s minute book.  I made them a very beautiful certificate and signed it!

    It was an extraordinary event for so many reasons.  But in the thinking and the praying and the planning and the celebrating, I was changed.  A sacrament is a visible sign of an invisible grace.  That I have long believed.  But a sacrament ought not be a way of excluding anyone from that invisible grace.  A sacrament ought to be an invitation, a welcome, a reaching out, evangelism. We can no longer wait inside the church, behind closed doors, waiting for young families with children to push their way in.

    I am honorably retired, so not as worried as I might have been a few years ago about breaking or bending the rules.  I know that I am way more “by the book” than so many younger, edgier pastors who would say, “What’s the big deal?”  By narrating this event, I am refusing to fly under the radar.  I am professing a scruple.  At least. So defrock me.

    We are sacramental.  I am a Minister of Word and Sacrament.  A priest.  We are to tear down the fences and the dividing walls.  The doors of the church ought to be open.  Always.  So, if I believe in an open table, where all are welcome, baptized or not, then I believe in a font that is right there, right near the open doors of the church as a sign of welcome.  As a visible sign of invisible, lavish grace.  And filled to the brim.  Always.

    ©Rebecca Button Prichard

    Image Baptism Certificate made and gifted to Harper Iona and her parents from Rebecca.

    www.rebeccaprichard.com

     

     

     

     

  • The little anglican church

    Tess Ashton 28 July 2016

    The little anglican church

    In the nave
    two chairs with arms
    look at each other

    on the
    trail of window sills
    queen anne’s lace
    stencils
    sun and shadow

    above the altar
    a collage of local
    hills and houses
    church and local theatre
    train at the station

    the place I get off
    is where love
    and grief collide
    just a feeling
    inside

    when the Shepherd
    comes looking
    for me
    when His heart
    calls
    i’ll run
    the road
    of paradise
    won’t look
    behind
     

    ends

    ©Tess Ashton
    Image Marc Chagall (1887 – 1985)  Song of Songs IV

  • Between the Tides

    Dr. Julie Thorpe 25 July 2016

    I barely got on the plane. My stomach reflux flared up again after a workshop in Manchester. My doctor in Sydney had given me enough tablets to tide me over until I started my sabbatical in New Zealand, a three-month fellowship at a retreat centre on a sheltered strip of beach at Long Bay. But not even strong medication could quell my familiar companion as I took leave of absence from work and any semblance of home.

                My body must have known it was headed in the right direction as soon as we lifted above the clouds. We crossed over Erbil where refugees sought safety in the Kurdish capital thousands of metres below my window seat and continents away from the safe haven awaiting me. I had never felt more grateful to be on a plane.  

                ‘The project you came with may not be the project you leave with,’ warned John Fairbrother, the director, over our first cup of tea in the dining room.

    I’d applied to write stories of displacement, the lost threads of girls who’d fled war. Bright roses, cats and birds, someone’s initials, the intricate patterns and colours of homes and families embroidered onto cloth that a museum in Vienna had boxed in darkness for a century. To mark the war’s centenary the museum exhibited the refugees’ handiwork. I gave my first public lecture in Vienna two days before the workshop in Manchester.

    Two years later it all seems like another lifetime. John was right. I left my project and profession and discovered my own silent threads in the dark.

    Before I arrived at Vaughan Park, I’d struggled to articulate the displacement in my chosen academic life. As though my language of the past had been buried by a wave crashing from a Pacific storm and spreading its white foam carpet over my ground of understanding. As the storm receded and left a beach full of broken shells, I started to learn to live between the tides, carried by the ocean’s breath.

                ‘It’s like being inside Mary’s womb,’ a visiting Episcopalian priest described the retreat centre chapel that overlooked the water.

                We were speaking after mass on the feast of Mary’s assumption six weeks into my sabbatical, but her words had nothing to do with a liturgical event. Suddenly I saw what had been happening to me in the rhythmic swelling and falling, crouching on slippery rocks and climbing steep cliffs, sitting on the heated tiles of the chapel floor with the day disappearing behind green hills. Hearing the older woman’s voice outside the chapel I knew it was time. I wrote my first words of resignation as inexplicable as the assumption.

                Six weeks of pacing cliffs and rocks came to a standstill. Once the inward process of leaving was set in motion I kept close to the centre, only venturing out for an errand or to sit in a café in the rain. At night I took my thermos of tea to the top of the retreat centre to watch the moon from a miniature shell garden in the shape of a koru unfurling.

                Sometimes it takes darkness, poet David Whyte says, to learn / anything or anyone / that does not bring you alive / is too small for you.

                In the presence of the moon I asked what might make me alive, doubted about ever outgrowing the confines of these broken shells, wondered if I’d be able to learn not just when to leave but also when to stay. I’d been moving so long, I didn’t know how to stop. The moon had travelled even longer than me, but she seemed to understand my need for stability. I’d stopped believing in an itinerant God who travelled to earth and died homeless. If she was a mother, she’d know how to make a home.

                The stories that touched me most at Vaughan Park were the mothers of high needs children who came to unburden and find strength to give again. I could see the difference in their faces from Friday evening to Saturday as they opened up at dinner after a day of massages. The quilters were some of my favourite retreat companions with stories as vibrant as their recycled fabric: Japanese kimonos worn by monks stitched into a wedding present for a bed, scraps sewn into a keepsake for a friend or grandchild. The loudest group turned up on their motorbikes for a white ribbon ride around the country. Some had spent time in jail, some had lost children to family violence, but each taught what forgiveness sounds like when they held me in a circle with their voices soaring in a Maori hymn of peace.

                Leaving Vaughan Park was harder than leaving my career. Yet in some ways I never really left. I’m still learning to live between the tides, still listening to the song of broken shells unfolding in a prayer for peace. The conversations I’ve become part of are like so many I joined at Vaughan Park. One of those conversations was the history of an adult faith centre in Sydney, Aquinas Academy.

    ‘It doesn’t feel finished,’ I told Michael Whelan, the Marist priest who invited me to write the Aquinas Academy story.

    The stories are never finished. They are only given back to the ocean like the shells at high tide. Sometimes the stories have been hidden, covered up by an institution in the false name of security. Those stories, too, are carried by the tides. Sometimes the stories, like the monks’ kimonos made into a wedding quilt, are stitched out of silence into blessing. I will keep listening to those prayers.

    ©Julie Thorpe

    Image Sally Longley

  • The Knee Replacement (Improv. on Phillipians 2)

     

    It’s been a long time
    since this knee could bend
    at the name of Jesus, or anything else –

    the challenge to clamber
    over rocks on a hillside
    hiking with teenagers
    in spite of their playlists and texts,

    the sharp cry of a small child
    skinned up from a fall
    or wanting to show me an ant,

    the longing to gather
    a handful of sand at the beach
    and let it run through my fingers
    remembering someone
    whose life slides like grains
    into the sweet saltiness of the ocean.

    (those may actually be the name of Jesus
    just in some other Pentecost.)

    And I am anticipating
    a certain emptying
    to let go my signature impairment --

    emptying anaesthesia, for one –
    a fold in reality,
    protecting me from what
    I can never grasp,

    and being humbled to
    catheters, johnnies, and opioids
    in spite of not liking the idea
    of any one of them,
    being obedient to physical therapy,
    not to speak of the
    continuous motion machine
    which is not …
    No! absolutely not a cross.

    So what kind of mind
    is Paul suggesting
    that I am supposed to have?

    Perhaps a light one
    that slips into anthroplasty
    on my way to confessing
    the truest Name of all –

    and bends for a hill walk,
    a child’s call of fear and joy,
    and handfuls of love
    for people I know or will never meet,

    also many other unexpected
    holy kneelings.

    ©Maren Tirabassi
     

     

  • Light of snow falling

    Tess Ashton 18 June 2016

    for Olivia in Calgary

    We tumble out the basement door
    eyes dance
    warm and low from the downstairs porch
    to the distance

    the snow’s laid out on the pond
    on the banks and on the grasses
    on the circle of still houses
    and tender birches

    the sky is vast and blue
    ice drifting through

    you draw pink and orange spring flowers
    kneeling on the concrete slab
    I experiment with charcoal
    sit at the cold glass table

    efforts with banks and far houses 
    collapse in the brilliance of the light
    on the snowy paper

    the wire fence
    comes out largest
    suffocating the pale grasses
    and lonely bird-shelter
    in the branches

    leave you all for a tall retreat house
    in the Mission District
    Sisters flow in the Spirit
    by the Elbow River

    when you and mum visit there’s a miracle
    a snowshoe hare, cat and blackbird
    sit in a circle
    near the Peace sculpture

    I’d found a book on my bed
    St Francis
    waiting to be read

    held me tight in the days and nights
    ‘the things that happen in this old house’
    Sister said

    yesterday white chrysanthemums
    explosions on a local flower trolley
    His love like light of snow falling

    at church a young woman
    has painted the Lord 
    walking hand in hand with a girl
    the path is cool under high trees
    leaves on fire

    today your crisp white hapkido uniform
    has a belt of blazing orange
    you a fighter of the light

    For He will give His angels charge concerning you, to guard you in all your ways. They will bear you up in their hands, that you do not strike your foot against a stone. (Psalm 91: 11-12)

    ©Tess Ashton

     

  • The Ministry of Poets

    The Ministry of Poets

     

    Glorious music! Glorious stained glass!

    Stained glass is an art form that has been around for centuries, for decoration and instruction. It’s a traditional important and powerful visual art form: light, colour, composition.[1]

    Stained glass can be abstract as well as pictorial. Good art has the power to offer new insights, new interpretations, and to challenge/confront (think: political cartoons!).

    Icons, too, are visual art; conceptually they are different. They also offer new insights to those prepared to enter their icon world, as stained glass does to those who gaze and ponder. Traditionally, one doesn’t “paint” an icon, but “write” it – using specified natural materials, and covering every stage of the process with prayer. Rowan Williams writes,

    The point of the icon is to give us a window into an alien frame of reference that is at the same time the structure that will make definitive sense of the world we inhabit.[2]

    In a nutshell, Rowan Williams has identified the core of creative religious art of all genres (art, sculpture, music, dance, theatre, liturgy, poetry, prose, right through to systematic theology!). Each genre in its way, through the crafting/performing skill, can open a window into the world beyond world and help us find and/or make sense of our everyday world and our being in it.

    As a conscientiously religious poet, I find the writing itself requires serious skill and crafting, must be undertaken conscientiously and prayerfully, and must adhere to the canons and best standards of its discipline and through competent crafting, address those who are open to its impact. At its best, I hope it will engage, hold, and offer new insights to those prepared to enter its world…

    By the way, for the purposes of definition, I am taking “religious” as consciously Christian and/or Jewish (because they are together our deep roots); gladly acknowledging also that atheists and sceptics and others may pursue themes in their work, from which faithful Christians can benefit.[3]

    Did you notice Rowan Williams’ phrase “an alien frame of reference”? The icon is where the divine impinges on the terrestrial and breaks into it. “Alien” does not mean “hostile”; the window allows a view that makes “definitive sense” of the everyday and our life-experience. This has the same logic as the Incarnation: the Word became flesh and dwelt amongst us.[4] What could not be contained (the infinity of godhead) entered into and embodied grace within the finite constraints of our existence. This requires a wacky wisdom to perceive, way beyond the reach of earthbound “common sense”.

    This is exactly what liturgy (at its best) does: opens us up to the broader context of God’s creation and creative purpose (“making definitive sense”), draws us into deeper understanding/appreciation, and engages us in God’s mission. This differs from “sacrament” – which is physical, involving material elements like water, bread, and wine; liturgy is corporeal – the resurrected Body of Christ corporeally localised in us (ekklesia).

    Christian religious creative art (including liturgy) relies on the Incarnation in using the concrete physicality of the created order to open us up to God, deepen our intimacy with God, and engage us in God’s ultimate creation/resurrection project.

    How do we “learn” and “know”? Broadly, I suggest “common sense” is merely the echo-chamber of the everyday, but it’s a start. Beyond the common-sense wisdom there is a wacky wisdom, best evidenced in clowns and prophets and “slant”. We will address these in tonight’s discussion. Suffice it to say that the deepest clowning persists despite setbacks, and models human dignity in the face of indignity and/or overwhelming power and that prophets (religious or not) are zealous for the truth, as deep as it comes, no matter what it costs. [5]

    Pressing on: religious poetry can and should sometimes be the prophetic stone in liturgy’s comfortable slippers. At its prayerful best, liturgy is encounter with God, yet we have a persistent genius for wrecking it spiritually by tying God down. Witness the Athanasian Creed, surely the benchmark for clunky and prosaic imprisonment of God in rational categories and either/or logic.

    Good poetry doesn’t close down, it opens out and good religious poetry allows God to be conceptually “untidy” without compromising the encounter or our knowing. Tidiness is our human obsession and speaks to our needs – not God’s. We simply don’t have the cosmic, let alone divine lens, through which to examine or dissect!

    Religious poetry at its best addresses/describes God as lover, spouse; sometimes uses the imageries of guilt or humility triggered by encountering God (or God confronting us).[6] Religious poetry voices awe, fear, joy,devotion. It can write in anger and/or abject despair; with the desperation of hope; can even upbraid God for betrayal of trust … (they’re all there in the Psalms). The strongest religious poetry cannot be sanitised, whereas liturgy strives to be wholesome, clean, and supremely confident (except for the confession of sins). Adapting Hamlet’s memorable expression, the poetry of faith should “nothing extenuate, but in this harsh world draw its breath in pain to tell [the] story”.

    Change the focus slightly. Liturgy focuses the communal wisdom born of real-world discipleship and draws spiritual strength for the “work-in-progress”. The religious poet says “this is how it is for me now, and this voice too must be acknowledged and recognised.” That’s prophetic (as “the prophetic stone in liturgy’s comfortable slippers”), because prophets are zealous for the truth, and declare it fearlessly.

    Which brings me to hymns (religious poetry set to music for congregational use). Do I envy – or denounce – those hymn-writers for whom everything is lovely? Some may help us glimpse a cameo of the best discipleship has to offer, but unless they are written from the gritty reality of struggle, pain, fear, guilt and doubt, I cannot travel their perfumed and petalled verses.[7] I strive for the sort of poetry/hymnody that’s wrestled out of everyday discipleship. My hymn Mary, Daring Mother was written precisely because I have long been fascinated by the realities of her story. I wanted to acknowledge just how difficult perilous and uncharted her path was and honour her appropriately. Most Mary hymns I’ve ever encountered have been utterly sanitised and idealistic. Give me the real!

    There is much more that could be said about hymnody. Brian Wren’s Praying Twice devotes a chapter to exploring how hymns “do” theology.[8]

    For my part, I am honoured and humbled to have been called to this prophetic ministry. It stretches me, challenges me, humbles me. It has given me new life for my retirement and I value it as a great gift God has given me to help me mature and grow as a disciple and by God’s grace, be of service to others.

    ©Jim McPherson
    May 2016

    Image Red-headed Virgin by William Bustard, The Annunciation Window, St. Paul’s Church, Maryborough, Australia where Jim McPherson was Rector from 2008 to 2014.

    [1] Sometimes a window can shock, with a new approach. St Paul’s, Maryborough has a set of William Bustard windows in its chancel, with the Virgin Mary unmistakably red-headed! I have no idea why …

    [2] Rowan Williams (2000): Lost Icons p2.

    [3] For the question of definition (of “religious poetry”), see the careful but brief discussion in Les Murray’s Foreword to his Anthology of Australian Religious Poetry, p xi: “Also, and obviously, the religion of artists is quite often art itself; a poet’s intense spiritual experience is apt to be bound up with writing poems. Art is anciently a part of religious activity, and is surely still at least continuous with it.”

    [4] This played a role in the eighth and ninth century iconoclastic controversies in the Byzantine Church: supporters of icons pleaded the Incarnation against the second commandment’s prohibition of making “graven images”.

    [5] Paul coined the scandalous expression “the foolishness of God” (1 Corinthians 1.18-25). I submit that only clowns and prophets show a comparable wacky wisdom. By clown I do not mean buffoonery and slapstick, but the “deep” clowning of Charlie Chaplin, Buster Keaton, and Johan Buziau; see my poems Slant and Circus Maximus (to be distributed at tonight’s discussion) for my use of the clown concept. See also Frederick Buechner (1977): Telling the Truth.  The Gospel as Tragedy, Comedy & Fairy Tale Chapter III.

    [6] Two of my favourite biblical examples: Isaiah 5.1-7 (poetry); 2 Samuel 12.1-15 (prose).

    [7] The hymn “It is well with my soul” is one such exception, for the sake of its back-story: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/It_Is_Well_with_My_Soul. I cannot remember, however, when I last sang it – not since my Baptist days!

    [8] Brian Wren (2000): Praying Twice. The Music and Words of Congregational Song. Chapter Ten, pp 349-377, is titled ‘“Echoes of the Gospel”: How Hymns Do Theology.’

  • To be, or not to be...

    The sun is setting on Assynt, in the North West corner of Scotland. Orange light warms a cold April. The mountains, Suilven and Ben More are iced with peaks of snow. Feathered friends make a snuggery, while a glistening otter gallops up the slipway with a wriggling trout in its mouth, its rainbow fate sealed. The white-tailed eagle has hovered over the loch for a day, searching for a salmon that escaped from the farm. Just when she smelt freedom, this god of the air snatched her away. So many worlds spin in pain.

    At Cape Wrath, angry in the quietest weather, the Ministry of Defence carry out military exercises and propagate the news that they are also preserving the wildlife, flora and fauna of this special place. Meanwhile submarines creep into sea lochs doing what they do. Is there any place on earth not compromised by humanity?

    I walk beside the stone remains of townships long since abandoned, kinship fragmented because of greed. Roofless churches in these parts tell the story of an ecclesiology and its earnest guardians who preached a misplaced morality and threatened doctrinal punishment and excommunication. The clergy banished the original spiritual beliefs of the people and yet somehow, the early Celtic Christian movement which managed to weave holy place names and traditions into the fabric of indigenous belief, survived. Over the centuries, many have heard an ancient song and harmony.

    ‘April is the cruellest month’, writes the poet, T. S. Eliot. Especially so, as we hallow the memory of  New Zealanders and Australians killed in war. Such remembering is gathered to our hearts, not to glory the indescribable carnage of war nor gloss over the brutalising and crushing of the human spirit. We do not gather the dead and dying, the grief and sadness, the memories, stories, tragedies, the comradeship in life and death, to dis-member them. Rather we re-member them. This is restorative, moving us, not only to give thanks for the gifts of life and freedom which we take for granted, but to bring to birth, in our own hearts and lives, a harvest of goodness, justice and peace.  

    Every Sunday morning before going to Church, I listen to Sunday Worship on the radio while eating a breakfast of poached eggs on toast. Today the service was broadcast from Holy Trinity Church, Stratford-upon-Avon, the town where William Shakespeare was born and lived and the church in which he was buried.

    He died 400 years ago on the 23rd April 1616 and throughout the world, words, music, art and place honour the legacy of probably one of the greatest writers that ever was. William had a lot to say about war: its  legal, ethical and religious justifications, the ties between church and state in promoting and waging war, the costs to humanity, and the political strategies used to downplay internal problems and unite a nation around a leader whose legitimacy is in question…’ to busy giddy minds/With foreign quarrels’[i]

    He also knew the devastation of grief. His only son, Hanmet died at the age of 11. We know little about his faith yet he writes in The Winter’s Tale, ‘then shall be brought to pass the saying that is written, Death is swallowed up in victory’. He also knows the inner voice of doubt, ‘Ay, but to die, and to go we know not where’.[ii] Resurrection, the deepest hope for our common humanity, was often in his mind. Lives could also be changed because of love, loyalty and miracles. [iii]

    I made a visit with my late father to Stratford-upon-Avon in my salad days.[iv]  Days when I thought that the ancient houses were higgledy-piggledy and the very fat swans on the river were hungry.  I fed them and they obligingly ate what they were given. Dad took me to the Royal Shakespeare Theatre and we drank hot chocolate with lots of cream on top. 

    I cherish a tiny leather book of quotations from Shakespeare’s plays which he gifted to me on that day. I did not understand the words then. Now I realise that the Bard’s words are embedded in our language…   

    The course of true love never did run smooth[v]; For goodness sake[vi]; Neither here nor there[vii]; Eaten out of house and home[viii]; A wild goose chase[ix]; Too much of a good thing[x]; The world’s mine oyster[xi]; Not slept one wink[xii]; Send him packing[xiii]; Own flesh and blood[xiv] ...and so many more.

    On this Sunday evening, snow is lightly falling as I look out of the window of the Clergy House. Jonathan Livingston Seagull and his partner roost on our roof after spending the day making a home for their young. They are our guests every year and we welcome their wisdom:

    Don’t believe what your eyes are telling you. You have to practice and see the real gull, the good in every one of them, and help them to see it in themselves. That way you’ll see the way to fly and that’s what I mean by love.[xv]

    ©Hilary Oxford Smith
    April 2016

    [i] Henry IV
    [ii] Measure for Measure
    [iii] Sunday Worship BBC Radio 4, Sermon by the Rev. Dr. Paul Edmondson, Shakespeare Birthplace Trust
    [iv] Anthony and Cleopatra
    [v] A Midsummer Night’s Dream
    [vi] Henry VIII
    [vii] Othello
    [viii] Henry IV
    [ix] Romeo and Juliet
    [x] As You Like It
    [xi] The Merry Wives of Windsor
    [xii] Cymbeline
    [xiii] Henry IV
    [xiv] Hamlet
    [xv] Jonathan Livingston Seagull, Richard Bach

     

  • The fire of Divine Love

    The fire of Divine Love

    Focussed was I,
    on the pain of fiery rage
    I lost sight of fire's beauty.
    Divine energy
    within us all,
    enlivening,
    quickening us to love.
    Inner fire heats,
    heals,
    hallows hope
    and compels us to act
    in love.
    Sparks fly,
    dancing
    across darkened expanse,
    echoing ancient truth -
    light shines in darkness.
    Fire harnessed,
    blazes a trail
    through darkest night,
    in our deepest loneliness.
    Fire of life,
    divine Love,
    in the coldest night - warm us;
    at the deepest point of fear,
    - grant us courage;
    through the darkest night
    shine a light of hope and love.
    Divine love,
    fire of God,
    drive out all fear,
    that we may truly
    be worthy
    of our calling
    to be human.

    ©Gayanne Frater

    Image: The Carabosse Fire Garden, Auckland Domain 2016, Gayanne Frater   

     

  • The I and Thou of Caring

    The Rev. Iain Gow 25 March 2016

    The I and Thou of Caring

    The Stoics of antiquity (2500 years) ago said: To know calmness in life, disengage yourself! Don’t allow yourself to know the extremes of emotions that beset humankind.

    My understanding of Jesus’ life in contrast is ‘be open to the wounds of humanity’, and even more than that ‘be open to being wounded by humanity’s agony for in that you will become more fully human’.

    We often accept the ‘other’, our neighbour, only if it does not threaten our own sense of individual happiness. Communion and otherness: a call into deeper intimacy and yet also the impulse to flee from the other. As John Zizioulas the orthodox theologian says in his book, “Communion and Otherness”, in Christ “we are called into a movement towards the unknown and the infinite” of the other, and also ourselves. This call into freedom is not only from what has held us captive, but also into what we both can become.

    Is this not a paradox that is too much to understand?  For if this is true, then how do you carry another’s wounds without becoming wounded yourself?  Are our own wounds not enough to deal with, without having to reflect on another? If I offer all of myself to you, then who am I left to be?

    This is an important question for us who work in a caring of others, whether that be to our family, our work colleague, or friends or even those we are not sure of, those who may be our enemies?

    Well, first, in Christian spirituality, there is an understanding that unless I offer of myself, the “I’ in ‘who I am’, then I will never become truly ‘I’. It is in my meeting with your ‘Thou’, that I come to know the ‘I’ in me. But second and equally, if I give all of my ‘I’ away to ‘Thee’, then I lose my identity, that which is at the centre of ‘I’.

    So can we remain truly objective in our care of another?  I think not for we are drawn into their story. We do not remain just a witness to their unfolding story.  Family Therapy, being anchored in the systemic tradition, suggests we will no matter what our inclination is, become part of the therapeutic circle, and cannot fully remain ‘meta’.

    So back to this paradox that is too much to understand! How do you love so you bleed, but not become a corpse yourself? How do you love passionately, but be prepared to let go with that same love?

    I really don’t know if you seek an absolute. But I offer this; first it must be to do with truly listening. In the meeting between ‘my I’ and ‘your Thou’, can I discover the God who connects us to the ‘unknown known’ in ourselves, my neighbour and in that who we have given the name of God to? In listening to each of these truly well, I may join a dance that allows me to hear the whole of life’s calls, not just one part. It does not have to be ‘me’ or ‘you’, but maybe ‘us’. Second, by forgiveness, of yourself and your neighbour who has hurt you! Forgiving yourself often for recognizing in life there is no perfect blueprint for your life; you are human and you already have enough to bear without carrying guilt that has long been forgiven by God.

    “To listen deeply
    to another is to care
    To choose
    to be so empty of self
    what true communion may take place.
    Who’s empty?
    Few only.
    To listen profoundly
    is to be still inside
    that you may hear
    the flicker of an eyelid
    or a heart
    about to open
    like a flower
    in Silence.
    The greatest revelation is stillness.[i]

    ©Iain Gow
    Image Wikipedia Commons

     

    [i] Lao Tzu, quoted in Snapshots on the Journey, Rod MacLeod, 2003

  • Living the Sustainable Life!

    The Rev. Iain Gow 25 February 2016

    Living the Sustainable Life!

    There remains then a Sabbath rest... let us therefore make every effort to enter that rest, so that no-one will fall.  (Hebrews 4:9)

    France and New Zealand have two things in common. When I lived in Paris, a long time ago, suddenly in August everything became very quiet as many left Paris for the holidays. Here in New Zealand the same thing happens, but in January; everyone leaves for their batches (holiday home).

    For those of us who live in the Southern hemisphere, it is a reminder that as we re-engage with work again, to see our engagement with the new work year as a marathon, rather than a sprint. What do I mean by that….

    I was once a surfer, not a very good one I hasten to add, but I had been told it had a certain allure with the young ladies, and at 14, becoming more alluring to them was very important, especially if you were a scrawny shy looking fellow who needed all the help that was on hand possible!

    Anyway surfers understood intrinsically something I now call ‘the wave theory of time management’. We didn’t call it that back then, as there were not many models or theories of management around, but it should be called that today, and I suggest it to every organisation’s personnel department! So what is it all about?

    In South Africa, waves came in around sets of six waves. There was then a lull, and then on came the next six waves or so. In those first six waves, you grafted hard; it was intense and full on. But then came the lull and you chilled; looked at the beauty of creation all around you; you caught your breath, chatted to your friends, and let your inner voice catch up with you. Then on came the next set and it was back to grafting hard.

    What I have called the ‘Wave Theory of Management’ actually was once called the Sabbath principle. God in the first page of the Bible, theoretically knew all about this principle, for having worked really hard for six days at making Creation, then chilled on the seventh. Ever since then, observance of the Sabbath was an important principle; that is until the last fifty years when our more hectic modern life-styles have made it redundant.

    Now I am not a believer that the Sabbath principle means it has to be Sunday, but I do believe it is an important principle to leading a sustainable life. Alongside many work-psychologists today, I suggest that we are subtly becoming less human, that our work productivity is less, and our ability to read complex situations when they arise impaired, all because we don’t make the Sabbath principle part of our life. I know this for myself when I burned out for six months around 13 years ago from working too many long hours.

    The Bible is not against hard work. In fact it understands how work offers self-esteem and well-being; but Christian spirituality equally encourages a sustainable led life, time for hard work, time for play, time for our spirit to be nurtured. If your life is cluttered with too much on, then you may get on by for a while, but in the end you will become less human, for yourself and for those you love.

    Finally, here is another final reason to make sure the Sabbath principle is in your life. You may get by running fast for some period of time. But every so often, as though out of the blue, came a monster wave when we were surfing. We called it the ‘backie’ and it didn’t fit into any rhythm or pattern. If you hadn’t taken the time to take those moments of rest between sets, then you would never have the energy to get to the monster wave before it overpowered you as you desperately tried to swim through it. Likewise, in our life, the ‘backie’ can suddenly happen with the sudden illness of a family member,

    Now that most of us are back from our holidays here in the Southern Hemisphere, be aware that the whole year stretches ahead of you. Discover a right cadence for yourself now before the monster waves of 2016 come towards you. Incorporate the Sabbath principle into your life, in whatever way that might mean for you.

    I end with a quote from an old saint who once said, “if you cannot make solitude your friend, then you will never hear the wisdom of God for yourself or others...the voice of God that encourages and guides you, the inner voice that nurtures your soul.”

    ©Iain Gow

    Image Surfers at Big Bay, New Zealand, Flickr, Creative Commons 2.0

     

  • Goodbye Edmonton with God and Eric Clapton

    Tess Ashton 18 February 2016

    Goodbye Edmonton with God and Eric Clapton

    Goodbye
    to quiet
    moments
    before and after
    visits to a
    bunch of
    attractions
    off the
    north saskatchewan
    river

    light shining through

    The zoo
    has a kea
    in its bird collection
    wings and eyes
    dead empty
    we’ve seen you dance
    pinching cakes
    at Arthurs Pass
    we tell it
    through
    weeping
    bars
    gently

    I’m at my
    breaking point
    my breaking point

    Goodbye
    to Remedy Café
    we loved your
    cakes
    and
    local organics
    your caffeine fixes
    ‘n blitzed up elixirs
    chai lattes
    stewed
    for three
    days and
    nights

    fill up my heart
    or tear it apart

    Goodbye to
    our daughter
    her Edmonton
    man’s
    back-yard
    silent
    ‘til eleven

    been waiting for
    your company

    the Metis Indian
    neighbours’
    invitation
    to “a fire”
    last Thursday
    still warming
    the air this
    Labour Monday
    and the squirrels
    are quiet

    you take my heart
    into everything
    you do

    In the
    dark belly of our
    basement quarters
    renovated
    through a
    sub-zero winter
    we’ve prayed
    in whispers
    summer bush
    fires

    let it rain
    rain rain

    the stumble and gurgle
    of the gas
    air conditioning
    a treat
    to the beat of
    what’s deep
    and active

    I’m with you my love

    From bed
    sent our smoke signals
    three stories out
    found a sky
    to rest on
    my toothache
    settled

    knock knock
    knockin’
    on heaven’s door

    God said
    ‘I have
    Everything sorted’
    felt the download
    like an upload
    God’s great sense
    of fun-load

    I said
    you put my heart
    on overload

    Am sure He said

    I feel wonderful
    tonight

    Drove south
    found a field
    with prairie fever
    small otter-e heads
    popping
    up all over
    amazing
    tunnel
    architecture

    getting too dark
    to see

    From the car
    the plains
    go nowhere
    much
    between grey pylons
    under pounce
    of crash and boom
    clouds
    lately bush fire yellow
    or a red sun

    you don’t realise
    how much
    I love
    You

    Feels like
    we’re drifters
    our voices
    lost in prairie
    time and distance
    further than
    imagination
    goes

    I must be strong
    and carry
    on

    Thanks
    Mr Clapton
    we’re singing
    Alberta Alberta

    in all your
    wandering
    places
    in all your
    wondering
    tones

    ©Tess Ashton
    Image  Eric Clapton, Leonid Afrema with kind permission

  • Camino Moments

    The Rev. Iain Gow 25 January 2016

    Earlier this month, Bishop David Gillett, Ripeau Taurere, Linda Gow and myself reminisced on the theme of pilgrimage at the first Retreat of 2016 at Vaughan Park.

    Both times I have travelled the Camino de Santiago de Compostela, I have become aware of the importance of gratefulness, the need to consciously be thankful for all the good, all the blessings I receive that comes each day my way. The Camino has helped me to know that God can become known in the bad and the good of life that befalls me. But for this, I need to remind myself each new day, to look with new lenses, for God asks me this question when I am faced by a situation: what is your response? Entitlement, impatience, anger, frustration, sadness, envy; or can you find the seed of gratefulness in it somehow?

    An example from our first trip: After walking the Camino, Linda and I line up for a long time in Santiago to get our "Stamp of Authenticity" to say we have done it. It is an important symbolic moment in the life of every Pilgrim, because those kilometers add up to very sore feet, moments of considering giving up, uncomfortable sleeping arrangements, and so on. We have walked many kilometers and have the proof of it, every kilometer. But within the last 100kms, Lindy’s feet swelled up, and so we needed to take a taxi for 10 kilometers, as she could not walk!

    The lady behind the desk says, “Have you walked the last 100 kilometers? No we say, for 10 kilometers exactly we took a taxi." "Oh" she says, "You have to ‘walk’ the last 100 kilometers. You did not; I am sorry, but because of this, we cannot give you the stamp. But do not worry; we can give you another stamp.”  I look at Lindy and see she is shocked; her eyes begin to water as her feet are now beyond sore. A voice within me speaks up silently, “what a lesser stamp; a second class stamp?”

    Vocally now, I explain slowly the logic of our position; “we have walked much more than the last 100 kilometers and we were told you only need to do 100 kilometers!” “Yes”, she says, “that is true, but if you had read the document properly, the last 100 has to be done on foot!” She shows us the form, but our Spanish is not that good!

    Now I muster the big guns, “Did you know”, I say in my most compassionate and holy of voices, “that I am a priest and the Bible talks about the spirit and the letter of the Law! Surely, this is about the spirit of the law being applied, as my wife has been hurt?”  She counters, “There are many who walk the Camino and do the 100 kilometers and are not priests;

    A deeper voice stirs within me, maybe the voice of God?  It asks of me, “Why am I so quick to want to debate? Do I feel I have been done an injustice? Has a gross injury been done to me?  Does it ‘really matter’?  Why is it so important?”  What willl be your response Iain?

    I see with new eyes. Gratefulness for what Lindy and I have achieved.

    We look at each other; Lindy and I smile realizing that this is one of the lessons of the Camino, to learn to respond differently to situations. We say to each other, “Buen Camino!” We say to the lady across the counter, “Bless you!”  I go outside smiling, feeling a sense of lightness and freedom. I take a coffee in the Plaza. Life is good. A homeless lady comes up the table and asks me for money!  Oh no….not another spiritual lesson!

    On the second time, we walked the Camino, I had to take a taxi for eight kilometers!  Linda walked the whole of the last 100 kilometers! After 700 plus kilometers plus, I walked up to the counter. The lady, a different one this time after five years, smiled at us and stamped Linda’s certificate. She turned to me and said, “And would you like one Sir…?”

    ©Iain Gow

     

  • Christmas Baby

    Tess Ashton 26 December 2015

    Christmas Baby

     

    try and describe the softest thing
    a tree’s sheen of green
    in spring
    a cloud drifting - only blue behind –
    the breath of a new baby
    in a mother’s heart
    words very
    very hard to find

    i think of the poet - Sam -
    who might as well have said
    babies trees clouds
    when he was talking about
    poems
    said poems aren’t like anything else
    ‘just as Christ wasn’t like
    Moses or John or anyone
    a poem is itself
    it’s all in there
    not anywhere else’

    another poet – Gerard -
    said the word
    that aches most
    from the softest things
    like babies
    trees and clouds
    is love

    Zoe Bonnie is a poem
    sailing in a cloud
    has to be top of the tree
    for Natalie
    and all who love her
    whether
    on earth
    or
    in heaven

    ©Tess Ashton

    written for Natalie and Zoe Bonnie, named after Granma Bonnie

    Image  Zoe Bonnie by kind permission of her family

  • earth's dreamers

    Tess Ashton 30 November 2015

    earth's dreamers

     

    sunless forests
    cut their losses
    that’s them
    flouncing in pearl-soft
    cotton

    lonely fields
    take a chance
    race off to the arms
    of clear blue heavens

    parched deserts
    switch the light
    cool and sparkle in
    silhouette night

    coral losing ground
    rides the wave
    of rainbow life

    sky therapy
    appeals to
    all earth’s dreamers

    I shoot
    the breeze
    with let go trees
    sip rainbow hues
    laced with
    starry gold

    join fields
    running blue
    gentle beasts
    flying through

    ©Tess Ashton

    Image: www.flickr.com

  • Thoughts of a harassed mother as Christmas approaches

    Margaret Lyall 18 October 2015

    Thoughts of a harassed mother as Christmas approaches

    Stress and distress, crisis on crisis,
    mind, body and spirit cannot take much more.
    Utter exhaustion, energy finished,
    pain and despair, darkness and silence.

    Then, piercing the silence, the cry of an infant,
    heralding One who will suffer and die.
    Through His living and dying His love will be steadfast
    His Spirit set free and gifted to all.

    Can this really be true?
    Does it fit with experience?
    There's reluctance to believe such a staggering claim.

    And yet, to be honest, so often it happens
    In the depths of the pain, in the pit of despair... 
      - through others' hands His hands stretch out to touch
      - through others' eyes His eyes look out in love
      - through others' lips His lips speak words of care…
    and faith is rekindled, in response to His words
    'What more must I do for you to believe?'

    Minds cannot comprehend;
    truth is veiled in paradox.
    But every time doubt becomes stronger,
    a potentially deeper faith
    yearns to reach out and embrace it…
    like light piercing the darkness.

    ©Margaret Lyall

    Image www.christiannetwork.com

  • Advertisement for Uber, The Thinker, my sister and daughter and all things about love in Philadelphia

    Tess Ashton 15 October 2015

    Advertisement for Uber, The Thinker, my sister and daughter and all things about love in Philadelphia

    My loving sister who lives

    in Philadelphia
    first city of America
                city of a thousand trees and
    slim pretty streets
    where window boxes
    spill with flowers and 4th of July flags
    and people gather on pavement chairs
    tipped out tight doorways
    over high front stairs
    terrace-house knees negotiating
    close as the tree limbs
    colonnading
    speak brotherly love
    drink sisterly wines
    on hot Friday nights

                 My sister I was saying
    has the Uber app
    on her phone
    we used it twice when we visited
    right now I’m started…
    she Uber’d
    to get us round the corner
    me, husband Lloyd and grandson Caspar
    from Parkway Apartments
    art deco with a hint of gothic flair
    in Logan Square
    to terrace house digs
    in sweet Meredith
    heart of the arts quarter
    where Rocky at the
    steps of the Philadelphia
    Museum of Art
    is hot property
    the city’s latest addition
    to its statue collection

                 as I was saying
    enlivened by our
    exciting reunion with
    our daughter Alex
    and granddaughter Olivia
    down from Canada
    on that first evening at my sister’s
    we and Caspar wafted one with the lift
    that once carried
    education board people
    out to the marble edge of Winter St
    and elegant
    Pennsylvania
    Avenue
    where classical trees
    loftily mind
    the people below who
    stop by
    Rodin’s ‘The Thinker’
    and those mesmerised
    by the art at the Barnes Foundation
    who come out bearing
    Cezanne apple and pear
    candle fruit mementos
    that make fools
    of customs officers at airports  – ha!
    and bring postcards of Matisse
    and Picasso riches home
    for mantel pieces

                  High classical trees that cool
    people who visit
    the science museum
    of Benjamin Franklin
    in the summer season
    and who loll on the grass
    with homeless people
    like lionesses
    while grand children
    play on the swans and
    the giant First Nation people
    at Logan Circle

                  but re my sister and Uber
    our light toes had barely
    reached the pavement
    our hearts one
    with the hot American night
    when our Uber appeared
    a black Chevy sculpture
    a mere click of the fingers
    from there to here
    Denzel Washington quipped hubby later
    was the driver
    tall as a Pennsylvania night
    and lustrous as a god
    we were fated to be in possession of
    for a moment
    gave reason
    to later muse
    on the panoply of
    guiding trees
    the dark bronze sculpture
    in Rodin’s Gallery garden
    we would pass several times
    on our walk to Wholefoods
    organic supermarket
    where they employ disabled people
    and yellow shopping bags have LOVE
    in big letters
    a take on
    the famous Love sculpture in the Love Park
    on the JFK Boulevard
    by the fountain where the kids
    all rush and play
    in the heat of July holidays

                  It was ‘The Thinker’
    got me humming
    through the week
    that came
    the plaque explained
    on close inspection
    is the top small figure
    created for
    a sculpture
    of Dante’s
    ‘The Gates Of Hell’
    then the artist
    enlarged his expression
    to personify all inspiration
    behind creative thought
    an answer to my old question
    about what’s behind all things poetic
    bizarre this driver
    for a moment
    personified the revelation
    that love is in motion
    here in Philadelphia

                 In the back of his Chevvy
    our stuff and my family
    tumbled about the leather excitedly
    from the front
    I marveled the way
    of our limo-trained driver
    the pay-later scheme
    completed the golden mile
    next day
    we returned from being out
    to find Caspar’s
    red running shoes
    glowing on the doorstep
    like Cinder’s slippers
    dropped in the getaway
    returned by Uber
    a surprising
    thing for a taxi driver

                  But Uber is like no other
    fits well in the city of brothers
    where Penn the Father
    was known to interpret
    St Paul’s words of freedom
    ‘Love is above all;
    and when it prevails in us all,
    we shall all be lovely,
    and in love with God and one with another’
    hail to Philadelphia’s far walking father
    and my sister, daughter, grand daughter
    husband, and grandson
    and the Uber driver and trees and art
    in Pennsylvania

    ©Tess Ashton

    Image Philadelphia Love Statue  www.philly.com

    Side note:
    America’s first city named by
    its far-seeing owner
    William Penn who dreamed it all
    devotee of St Paul
    America’s first Quaker
    set the hopeful standard
    for extravagant love
    his city plan and libertarian principles
    inspired
    Thomas Jefferson, Ben Franklin
    the American constitution
    invited British and European persecuted
    Hugenots, Mennonites
    Amish, Catholics, Lutherans and Jews
    in time art lovers with Penn’s Oxford
    training
    people with money
    got persuaded
    made bronze statues of mothers and fathers
    heros and heroines
    planted them like muses on
    the ridiculously clever
    town planner’s
    broad plazas

     

  • Any Where and The Beloved Disciple

    Any Where and The Beloved Disciple

    Any Where

    the bonnet of a car in Mount Ginini’s mist, a cathedral or

    a homestead, or beside a hospice bed when time and breath

    are short; even inside cinder block and razor wire; any where

    is where enough for us well-meaning clumsies hungering

    after more than scroggin for The Track, who gathering brave

    his Triduum to feast upon the fullness of his empty tomb;

    and feasting find ourselves – each one – as the Beloved Disciple

    gathered and in-folded to the hem of his eighth day

     

    The Beloved Disciple

    John’s Gospel is famously unique for its seemingly ‘loose’ treatment of history.[1] I suggest this seemingly cavalier approach to history is to make some strong theological points connected with the driving theological purpose articulated in his opening sentence: “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God”.

    This has allowed the evangelist to ‘invent’ an enigmatic character: ‘the Beloved Disciple’. From the viewpoint of strict historical analysis, the Beloved Disciple is apparently guilty of criminal negligence: when Jesus tells him unmistakably who the betrayer is (‘the one to whom I give this bread…’ 13:26). The Beloved Disciple does nothing at all to change the course of events.

    It is necessary to look through another lens.

    There is a venerable Hebrew tradition that goes at least as far back as the Book of Deuteronomy, that all the future generations of Israel were already present as witnesses to the Exodus/Passover and God’s definitive revelation on Mount Sinai, the core events of Israel’s collective memory. Each generation is thereby invited to see, with the eyes of faith, what their predecessors saw – and so enter into it for themselves. While clearly not historically possible, the effect is nevertheless dramatically compelling.

    Again and again, the audience of the national assembly is reminded that they have seen…the portentous events that Moses is rehearsing. At one remove, the members of the historical audience of the Book of Deuteronomy  are implicitly invited to imagine what their forebears actually saw, to see it vicariously. The midrashic notion that all future generations of Israel were already present as witnesses at Sinai is adumbrated, perhaps actually generated, by this rhetorical strategy of the evocation of witnessing in Deuteronomy.[2]

    This added depth to an article about the Beloved Disciple, published in 1983 by Margaret Pamment.[3] Her article enabled me to view John’s ‘Beloved Disciple’ as a rhetorical creation, part of the Johannine ‘evocation of witnessing’. The Beloved Disciple becomes our entry point, our ancestor in the faith, the one in whom we were actually present and experienced these things.

    My poem suggests, first, that every Eucharist is a participation in Jesus’ historic Triduum (a different sort of ‘track’). Further, that my twenty-first century participation in a Eucharist transports me into the historic Last Supper, as the Beloved Disciple in whom I am historically present but unable to change the course of events that night because historically they have already run their course.

    My poem suggests, secondly, through the imagery of ‘the eighth day’ that every Eucharist transports me and all faithful participants eschatologically into the Messianic Banquet.[4]

    Any where is where enough.

    ©The Revd. Jim McPherson

    Image Parishioners of St. Stephen’s Kambah: Eucharist, Mount Ginini, 23rd April 1989: David Rainey and Jim McPherson on their sponsored bushwalk around the Australian Capital Territory.

     

                                                                                                            

     

    [1] Jesus is frequently in Jerusalem, whereas in Matthew and Mark, he arrives there from Galilee for the first time on Palm Sunday, after extensive ministry in the north of Galilee. Luke records one single visit before Palm Sunday, when Jesus was twelve years old.

    [2] Robert Alter, The Five Books of Moses (2004), pp 869 - 873

    [3] Margaret Pamment, The Fourth Gospel’s Beloved Disciple, The Expository Times, September 1983, vol. 94 #12:363-367

    [4] The ‘eighth day of the week’ refers to an ancient Christian liturgical practice, inextricably related to Christian identity, which yearned for ‘the eighth day’ which ‘opens toward what cannot be reached simply by more days like those of the seven day weeks we have known…opening toward the day beyond days, toward the last day of God.’ (Gordon W. Lathrop, Holy Things (1993), pp 36 – 43.  

  • From Glastonbury to Iona

    From Glastonbury to Iona

    Holidays often begin in weariness. Everyday mundanities soon give way to tantalising glimpses of a different life.     

    The ferry left a misty Oban and arrived at the jetty on Iona where the weather turned bright. Wild and remote, the villagers of this tiny island in the Atlantic Ocean know how to walk against the unbridled wind. Yet in what has been a curious summer of weather, the sun shone for longer than a day and my skin glowed. Freckles became uncountable.

    I discovered coves and caves for the very first time, dreamt of ancient legends that spoke of truth and possibility, walked across fertile flowered machair and awoke at dawn to the rasping sound of grey and chestnut plumaged corncrakes, secretive visitors from Africa. They opened my eyes to the illusory rising of two suns.

    The Bay at the Back of the Ocean, the Hill of the Angels, the Gully of Pat’s Cow, the Port of the Marten-Cat Cliff, the White Strand of the Monks and tide-dancing for tiny polished beads of serpentine at Columba’s Bay, beckoned. Ragged robin, St. John’s Wort, bog myrtle and orchids grew in a landscape of translucence and light.

    I stayed at a small island hotel. The bread-maker rose early in the morning to prepare her gift and the smell of earth’s fragrance wafted through the house. Fresh organic bread, rich and moist, full of seeds and nuts, carrying the gentle life and death secrets of grain.

    The Abbey remains the summer-hour destination for coach weary day-trippers and those escaping the noise and grime of city streets and isolated urban spaces. They come to a remote place and feel at home. At sundown, the island gives itself back to resident dwellers while kittiwakes and sea eagles, like sentinels, soar around this thin place.  

    When St. Columba made his bittersweet landing on Iona’s shore, the story goes that he chose it because he would not be able to see his beloved Ireland. Drawn to a world beyond his knowing, Columba’s home-sickness must have been like the ache of an uprooted plant with only courage and faith to hold it up. He became grounded in new soil.          

    And so on to the opalescent mist of Glastonbury, popularly known for its music festival of Vee Dub tents, welly boots, boho, wild flowers in the hair, mainlining acts and mud.

    This is Camelot, the Isle of Avalon, a place of disappeared kingdoms, myth, intentional well-being, religious and New Age pilgrimage. Sitting amongst the ruins of Glastonbury Abbey, in the drizzle of a mild September day with the ‘once and future’ King Arthur and his wife, Guinevere, reputedly lying buried nearby and with centuries of fireside storytelling warming my imagination, I felt as though I was searching for the rainbow’s end.

    Legend has it that Joseph of Arimathea, the great-uncle of Jesus, who placed his nephew’s body in the tomb after the Crucifixion, later made his way to Glastonbury with eleven companions, bringing with him the Holy Grail, the cup used at the Last Supper.  

    Glastonbury was once an island. It can be seen from a great distance because of the Tor, a hill of some 500 feet, crowned by the 14th century Chapel of St. Michael. Joseph is said to have buried the chalice near the Tor and to have founded the first Christian church in Europe at this Place of Dreams. Resting on Wearyall Hill, he stuck his staff into the ground where it miraculously took root. The Glastonbury Thorn blooms each Christmas.

    Great saints over the centuries, Dunstan, Columba, David, Bridget, Patrick and others have journeyed to this sacred and mysterious place as have so many of us ordinary mortals before and since, because not only did Joseph of Arimathea walk there but also Jesus himself.     

    The mystic, artist and writer, William Blake toyed with that possibility when he penned in his poem, Milton, some verses which became known as the hymn Jerusalem,

    And did those feet in ancient time
    Walk upon England's mountains green?
    And was the holy Lamb of God
    On England's pleasant pastures seen?

    What happened in this place of unravelled threads?

    Richard Bach, author of Jonathan Livingston Seagull wrote, ‘not being known doesn’t stop the truth from being true.’ A rainbow coloured the Avalon sky in the late afternoon. I knew that I might never find its beginning or its end. It matters not.

    ©Hilary Oxford Smith

    Image The Tor, Glastonbury, Hilary Oxford Smith

  • The Dancer

    Stuart Holmes Coleman 19 August 2015

    The Dancer

    (For APC)

    I never knew my mother
    was a dancer and a lover
    of ballet until suddenly
    last summer when she told me
    during a long phone call how she
    once danced upon the stage
    years ago in another age.
    At that moment I realized
    just as stars glimmer in the night
    and the moon shines like a spotlight
    my mother dances in my eyes.

    © Stuart Holmes Coleman

    Image Stuart Holmes Coleman

  • Father's Day

    Stuart Holmes Coleman 19 August 2015

    Father's Day

    My mother used to say
    she didn't know why she
    carried me for nine months
    when my father could have

    spat me out in one day.

    Indeed it is hard to tell
    our childhood pictures apart.

    But we chose different lives--

    he was a drummer boy
    leading the marching band

    and I was a surfer boy
    searching for waves of change.

    He became a preacher

    a civil rights leader

    and a father of four.

    I became a teacher

    writer and reformer
    with no kids of my own.

    As different as we are

    I know we share the same
    fragile heart and brittle bones.

    ©Stuart H. Coleman

    Image Father and Son Assess the Surf, Kotu Beach, Gambia www.iaincampbellphotography.com

  • The Flotsam in the Bay

    The Flotsam in the Bay

     

    There’s no hurry in a beach walk
    it’s an amble, not a stride.
    Step out too quickly and you’ll miss
    the gifts borne by the tide.

    The point is not to get someplace
    or clock another mile.
    It’s the manner of your travelling
    which makes the walk worthwhile.

    So let your gaze go wandering
    as you stroll along the sand.
    And when you find a treasure, pause
    and take it in your hand

    and wonder at the choice you’ve made.
    Why did this speak to you?
    This stone, or shell, or piece of glass –
    its shimmer, shape or hue?

    And why did others pass it by
    and leave it in its place?
    Because you’re you, and they’re themselves.
    Our selfhood is a grace.

    And grace it is, when we forget
    our names along the way.
    To find ourselves again amongst
    the flotsam in the bay.

    ©Paul McKeown
    Image Paul McKeown

  • Swing Trilogy

    Tess Ashton 27 July 2015

    Swing Trilogy

    Jives

    I wake to your jiving
    trees
    you’re wired
    hot as rock guitars
    rollicking with the fences
    to the top bush line

    and hills
    you play a mean base
    your grasses ripple
    lit gold
    young flames shooting
    electric rain

    and above
    the clouds raked into
    icing swirls

    this feast of joy
    is working
    hills and clouds and trees
    like me
    are celebrating

    Dufy’s holiday dazzle

    you’re a
    minstrel of joy
    Raoul
    when I read that description
    I knew
    what I knew
    was true
    your Eiffel towers
    your yachts
    and hotels
    erupting in a mass of
    couldn’t care less
    clouds
    have work to do
    point to
    the dazzle of holidays
    and
    entrenched happiness

    Van Gogh go go

    it’s a Van Gogh go go
    breaking the heart
    of everything apart
    hill and tree and clouds
    are rocking
    while the wind
    of a Dufy summer
    keeps everything
    breezy and
    happily together

    ©Tess Ashton
    Image Two dancers 1938, Henri Matisse

     

  • Winter solstice song

    Tess Ashton 10 July 2015

    Winter solstice song

     

    Anyone want to do something different?
    Instead of job hunt
    Read a poem?
    And reflect on it?

    Heads nod
    Eyes wide
    What’s she on about?
    Go to the tried and true
    Google sam hunt
    Winter solstice song comes up
    Print off
    Hand out a copy to
    Each one willing
    To be captive to
    A surprise
    A word so like sunrise

    To begin I attempt
    To explain
    The nature of words
    By asking them
    What do they think
    Words are?
    No one says weapons
    That’s a good start

    I help by saying
    Words are potent
    Units of memory
    That
    Hold different
    Images and meaning
    For each of us

    For example
    If I say the colour red
    What do we each see?
    Round the room
    It’s a flag
    Sunrise
    A highlighter pen
    Just red

    The exercise is to
    Listen to the reading
    A couple of times
    And underline the words and
    Phrases that
    Stand out or speak a little more loudly
    Than the others

    …‘But it is 
    the year's shortest day
    when anything can happen,
    miracles 'not a problem'.

    The sun five minutes with us
    came and left with a kiss.
    We believe in miracles. That, love,
    is all we have.’

    The work of poetry
    Is to find the message of hope in the poem
    I say brightly

    So everybody
    Take the word that’s calling you
    Now write about it
    What has it got to say
    To you today?

    It was the words
    Winter solstice
    That must have caught Sam’s heart
    When he sat to write
    And the ones that
    Caught mine
    For the 50th time?

    ‘miracles 'not a problem'.

    end

    ©Tess Ashton
    Image Winter Solstice Wendy L. Wilkerson

     

  • Intercession and Blessing

    The Rev. Iain Gow 6 July 2015

    Intercession and Blessing

    Intercession

    I intercede for you who needs an encounter,
    with Christ.
    I intercede for myself; may I know today
    Jesus as lover of my soul.
    I intercede for my world; may it be
    drawn to unity
    I intercede for you and me, and all I love.
    Amen.

    Blessing

    May you encounter Jesus today in spirit
    and in truth:
    Where you thirst, may Christ become
    a fountain for you
    Where you hunger, may Christ feed you
    the bread of life.
    Where you are alone, may Christ
    be your companion on the way
    Where you are in conflict, may Christ
    heal that division.
    Where you are in sin, may Christ love you
    into being saved
    Where there is darkness, may Christ love you
    into light.
    May Christ who lives within you, bless you,
    and make himself known through you
    This day and always…
    Amen.

    © (from Be Still, Iain Gow and Nat Tate)

    I

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

                                                                                                                             

  • Faith and Doubt

    The Rev. Iain Gow 3 July 2015

     

    Prayer

    Lord, when my season is joy, let me celebrate
    and be thankful;
    When my season is pain, let me discover
    you healing me;
    When my season is doubt, let me know
    the seedling of faith stir again;
    When my season is loneliness,
    bring a friend to me;
    When my season is full of loathing,
    take my bitterness away;
    When my season is loss, show me you
    have not forgotten me.
    Help me Lord, to discover you in all seasons
    of my life.
    Amen.

    Blessing

    Bless you Lord, who is in our summers, falls,
    winters, and springs.
    And may the blessing of God, Father, Son
    and Holy Spirit, be upon us
    And all whom we love, now and always.
    Amen.

    © (from Be Still, Iain Gow and Nat Tate)

  • Waves

    Waves

    The bus was early
    or we were late.
    Either way, they fled
    with fleeting kisses,
    schoolbags pummelling skinny legs
    all down the driveway –
    scared the driver wouldn’t wait.

    Smiling, I watched them,
    as the coach door
    slid home, hissing,
    and pigtailed shadows
    waved goodbye through tinted glass.
    I answered – hand raised
    in the primal semaphore

    of parting - and held
    the stance a while,
    pondering waves.
    Remembering John,
    who’d talk you into stupor
    for an afternoon
    but farewell’d in the old style -

    a courteous sentry
    overseeing
    your departure from
    his top step vantage.
    He’d send a wordless blessing
    from an open palm
    to dignify your leaving.

    Sundays at granny’s -
    full of healing
    hospitality.
    The comforting sprawl
    of table, couch and chatter
    asked little of us
    and always left us feeling

    more loved and loving.
    The kids required
    a herding, car-wards,
    by the end. Windows
    gaping, they’d holler out their
    ‘bye’s right down the brae,
    waving madly. Happily tired.

    And dear old Mildred.
    From Pulpit Hill
    she'd watch your ferry
    churn into the Sound
    of Mull, and wave a tea towel
    at the specks we were
    as if to say, ‘I see you still’.

    ©Paul McKeown
    Image The Caledonian Macbrayne Ferry sailing by Duart Castle, The Isle of Mull, Scotland by Paul McKeown

  • Northern Lights in April

    Northern Lights in April

    Travelling is in the DNA of most New Zealanders. Over a million of them live overseas and thousands holiday around the world each year. Families love nothing better than packing up the tent, caravan or camper van and hitting the road to enjoy some R and R. If you’ve got an iconic V Dub, all the better.

    Clive and I are currently working in Scotland and have been missing the camping adventures that we enjoyed in New Zealand. A wee camper van has now been added to our life and after Easter, we set off on a tiki tour…

    By the lakeside at Windermere on an April evening, the water mirrors the still sky. Trees are not yet in leaf. Buds await with quivering intensity. A few boats are about. The day has been one of hot sun and a cold wind. Late snow fell on Helvellyn in the early hours. The daffodils, so redolent of this rugged and wild landscape, are in their dying days.

    Nesting for endless hours in the reedy bank is a cob Mute swan. His mate has been swanning around all day looking for food. Non-native Canada geese honk here and there. Conservationists say that they are compromising the habitat and need to be ‘managed’. Waterskiers on the lake fall into the same category.

    William Wordsworth wandered here, lonely as a cloud o’er vales and hills. Daffodils inspired him to write some words which have earned themselves a place in popular poetic consciousness. He wrote better poetry though. Mystical, spiritual poetry, most of it, glimpsing divine unity in all living things.

    When the rain teemed down and made the black slate houses blacker, the far distant mountains sang ‘the still sad music of humanity’ he wrote. When he felt the loss of that visionary light, his ‘Ode on Intimations of Immortality from Recollections of Early Childhood’, revealed that the memory of it never left him.

    Samuel Taylor Coleridge, a friend of his wrote The Rime of the Ancient Mariner at the village of Grasmere, a place described by Wordsworth as ‘the fairest place on earth’. Like so many of his contemporaries, Coleridge was addicted to opium, commonly prescribed then for everything from a cough to vague aches and pains. He scribbled Kubla Khan after dreaming of the stately pleasure-domes of a Chinese emperor.

    Another Lake poet, Thomas De Quincey wrote an autobiographical account of his addiction, Confessions of an English Opium Eater which became an overnight success. The opium dreams did not last for these poets of the Romantic School though. Such imaginings may have presented them with unique material for their poetry but it gradually took away from them the will and the power to make use of it.

    There are two villages called Near and Far Sawrey.  Between the far and the near, is Hill Top, a 17th century farmhouse that brought the kind of childlike imagining I had put away. Beatrix Potter, the writer and illustrator bought the property with the profits from selling her first book, The Tale of Peter Rabbit, written first as a picture and story letter to cheer up a five year old boy who was ill.

    Most writers have to learn to deal with rejection at some time or another and she was no exception. After several snubs from publishers, she finally landed a publishing deal for the story of this rebellious rabbit.

    Potter’s own remarkable tale was that of a young woman who finally freed herself from demanding and possessive parents and achieved independence and fulfilment by her own efforts. The farm became her sanctuary, a place where she could draw, paint and write about lovable and villainous anthropomorphic animals and the triumph of good. Her stories are not only for little children.

    And then on to rural South West Scotland and the ordination of a good friend. Farms and houses are  scattered far and wide in his new parish and I was reminded of the 18th century diaries of Norfolk clergyman, James Woodforde who led an uneventful and unambitious life except that for 45 years, he kept a diary chronicling the minutiae of life in the parish. His was an endearing pastoral ministry by all accounts, that went hand in hand with a liking for roast beef dinners washed down with copious amounts of claret and port and always shared with friends. His legacy is a jewel of a diary that illuminates the darkest of times.   

    Wordsworth worshipped at St. Oswald’s Anglican Church in Grasmere. He found it a comfortless place apparently. I can see him sitting on a hard bench, his feet on the earth floor which would have been covered with rushes, with the only heat coming from a tiny grate in the vestry, burning wood and charcoal. In his later years he warmed to the church when he wrote Ecclesiastical Sketches, a history and defence of the Anglican Church. He had grown to like its moderation and tolerance which he regarded as its strength, tempered through centuries of conflict and trial.

    In the churchyard at St. Oswald’s, lie his remains and those of his wife Mary, sister Dorothy and his children, Dora, Thomas and Catharine. The poet Harley Coleridge, son of Samuel Taylor is also a neighbour. Alfred Lord Tennyson said that ‘next to Westminster Abbey, this to me is the most sacred spot in England.’ He may well be right.

    ©Hilary Oxford Smith
    April 2015 

    Image Northern Lights at Bow Fiddle Rock, Portknockie, Scotland. Alexander Dutoy

  • Northern Lights in June

    Northern Lights in June

    A New Zealander arrived on our doorstep last week, cold and alone. The early British summer had finally got to him. The Manse, which is the Scots name for a clergy house, was marginally warmer than the temperature outside.  

    When we lived in New Zealand, my memories of childhood summers in Britain were building sandcastles on the beach, eating ice-cream with sprinkles, skipping through fields of daisies, being an imaginary fish in the sea. Now I remember what I had chosen to forget. That it all happened in the cool wind and rain with glimpses of sunshine.

    Our Kiwi friend, who is discovering his family history, was en route to the Orkney Islands, that archipelago, far north. Weather forecast grim. The Orcadian Sabbath is a day of rest, he said. Nothing to do except go to church. Which he did, at St. Magnus Cathedral. Afterwards he read The Observer newspaper, from cover to cover in the relative warmth of a B and B in Kirkwall.

    The Cathedral, one of the finest medieval churches in Europe, is known as ‘The Light of the North’, founded in 1137 by the Viking, Earl Rognvald in honour of his uncle, Magnus. Thereby hangs a saga of political intrigue and dirty deeds. Since those early days, the Roman Catholic, Norwegian, Scottish Episcopal and Presbyterian Churches have all claimed the building as their own. Yet the Cathedral has never been the property of any of them. It belongs to the people, assigned to them by King James III of Scotland in a charter of 1486.

    Meanwhile, back at the ranch, there have been baptisms, confirmations, a wedding and funerals. We yearn for markers in the transitions of life. This is where the Church comes into her own, offering an embodied love through the rites of passage that give meaning to the passage of time and experience.

    Another kind of embodied love is happening at the Findhorn Community which beckoned me earlier this week when the sun came out. In the swinging ‘60’s, Eileen and Peter Caddy and Dorothy Maclean found themselves without work.

    With their children, they lived in a caravan on a wild and windswept shore. Feeding six people on unemployment benefit was almost impossible so they began to grow, from poor soil, amazing flowers, herbs, fruit and huge vegetables. Word spread, botanists and horticultural experts visited and the garden at Findhorn became famous.

    The longing of these three friends was to 'bring heaven to earth'. Others joined them in that hope and now the Community commits itself to a sustainable, holistic way of life and a spacious spirituality. I whiled away some time in one of its smaller gardens. Bees were about, water tumbled over rounded stones, carrots and capsicums grew in the midst of late bluebells and old roses, lemon balm, sage and lavender. A lady wearing a floppy straw hat sat in a shady corner, back straight, eyes closed, calming her mind.

    Two small and beautiful books of poems and prayers arrived in the post a few days ago. Written by  friends in New Zealand, Where Gulls Hold Sway and Be Still were companions on that afternoon of perfect light. The touch of new paper, the smell of ink and glue, the physical turning of the page with thumb and finger, the reading of words that read me…what is this heaven?

    Later this month, at Stonehenge, a mysterious formation of stones in perfect alignment with the solar events of the Summer and Winter Solstices, there will be many peoples, who will gather in a spirit of togetherness, to celebrate the Light on the longest day of the year. 

    In the Southern Hemisphere, on the same date, the Winter Solstice will gift quietude, firelight, restfulness, while seeds germinate in the cold earth. Our ancient ancestors knew the sacredness of such times.

    Memory recalls a visit with Clive, to a recumbent stone circle in Scotland with the almost unpronounceable name of Easter Aquhorthies. It happened many moons ago, in the early hours of a Summer Solstice morning when we were first in love. We cooked eggs on a makeshift stove for breakfast and then watched the pink porphyry, red jasper and grey granite stones, placed there over 4,000 years ago, change colour in the enchanted light. It seemed as if the whole world was open before us.

    The earth spins around, time passes in minutes and millennia. We come, we leave, we meet again. One story.

    ©Hilary Oxford Smith
    Image Caithness Croft, Deborah Phillips

  • The Pentecostal lady apostle from Brisbane

    Tess Ashton 7 June 2015

    The Pentecostal lady apostle from Brisbane

    The pentecostal lady apostle
    from Brisbane
    heard recently
    at a women’s conference
    had a dream
    Aunty came to visit
    after a bit
    announced
    was leaving for home
    back over a perilously rising
    river

    You can’t go now aunty
    you’ll drown…
    but Aunt Hope
    was determined
    and quickly made off
    toward the gushing stream

    The apostle tried her best to stop
    the worst from happening
    but fast as a firebrand
    the old lady
    threw herself
    Into the swirling foam

    come back Aunt Hope
    come back
    come back Hope
    Hope
    come back
    Hoooope
    cooome baaaack

    but now Aunt Hope
    was being washed away
    like limp tinder
    until her plucky foot struck a sandbank
    and held her fast

    then the apostle
    plunged forth
    and believing with all her heart
    reached out and
    grabbed Aunt Hope’s hand
    she pulled and pulled
    and pulled until
    the two lay gasping
    on the grass

    Oh said Aunt Hope
    I’m going to come
    and live with you
    sleep with you
    in your double bed
    in your motel home
    never leave you
    Ok thought the apostle
    I’ll cope

    It was a dream remember

    Pushing her luck Aunt Hope said
    but I’ll have to bring
    my friend with me
    and the apostle thought
    that’ll be a squeeze

    but ok
    the friend can have
    the little annexe
    off the main bedroom
    there’s a bed
    pretty messy
    lots of junk on it

    so the friend arrived
    and had a look and said
    oh no
    I’m not sleeping there
    I’m sleeping in the double bed
    with you and Hope
    where you and Hope are
    I’ve gotta be
    said Aunt Faith

    And that’s the story of how
    the pentecostal apostle
    from Brisbane
    got hope back
    and once she got hope back then
    faith moved back too

    soon it was all

    moving mountains
    from here
    to there
    faith stuff
    true evidence
    of hope’s return

    ©Tess Ashton
    Image  www.pinterest.com

  • new positivity buzz

    Tess Ashton 31 May 2015

    new positivity buzz

     

    I got my hair cut
    On Saturday
    felt I had a winner
    as I peered,
    younger,
    in the salon mirror

    Strange how this hairdresser
    put me
    on another level
    my husband kept looking at me
    appreciatively later

    Wow 15 years
    smashed
    said a workmate
    on Monday

    My spiritual director
    found me lighter
    on Tuesday

    It’s my positivity theology
    I explained
    I cut off the dead wood:
    my hair’s
    a symbol of that

    I’m experimenting
    with happiness
    joy
    and optimism
    am on the lookout
    for coins in the mouths
    of fishes

    like the feel
    of the breeze
    round my neck as I worship
    it’s a wind blowing
    and kind of
    delicious

    Now the
    angels all praising
    and the power
    of the Spirit
    are free to attend
    to all
    my good wishes

    it’s Pentecost time
    I’m playing
    with fire
    standing right
    in the way
    of all heaven’s
    chances

    To start with some
    negative ghosts
    hanging round
    kicked up –
    shoved off
    once they knew
    I meant business

    Once I’d staked out my ground

    ©Tess Ashton
    Image: Evening Breeze, Henri-Edmond Cross 1894

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

  • Spero: I Hope

    Spero: I Hope

    “It was now about the sixth hour, and darkness came over the whole land…for the sun stopped shining.”

    The heavy cries of the swooping seagulls fell silent and a chill crept into the air as the Moon came between us and the Sun. The deep shadow, which formed first in the North Atlantic, swept up into the Arctic and at the North Pole became no more. As the recent solar eclipse reached totality and the irridescent crown of the corona surrounded the sun, words from Pádraig Ó Tuama’s poem, In-between the sun and moon came to mind:

    “In-between the sun and moon,
    I sit and watch

    and make some room
    for letting light and twilight mingle,
    shaping hope…”[1]

    I first came across this Irish Bard when a writing scholar at Vaughan Park said to me, ‘oh, you must discover him’. So I did. Actively involved with the Ikon collective in Belfast, The Corrymeela Community and the Irish Peace Centres, Ó Tuama gives an earthly and transcendent voice to life, troubles and hope.

    The lamps are going out over Syria, reports Gerald Butt, the Middle East correspondent of the Church Times. According to satellite imagery at night, the destruction of 83% of lights in the country has plunged most of this fertile crescent into darkness.

    After four years, the war rages on and highly publicised extreme violence by cross-border terrorist groups and the myriad violations of international law and human rights committed on all sides has spread to other countries and engendered fear and atrocity across swathes of the world. Fighting men and praying men lie side by side…their harmony together is found in rounds of fire and occupation.  For most of us, what is happening is a scenario too stark, too horrible, too brutal to fully contemplate over breakfast or at any other time.  

    There are those in the three Abrahamic faiths who preach from lofty heights where the air is cold, that what is happening in Syria is linked to Biblical and Islamic prophecy about the End Times. As they turn a well-thumbed page of The Revelation of St. John the Divine, they confidently propagate their thirst and hunger for Doomsday while ten million innocents have fled their homes, are without shelter, war-ravaged, hungry and thirsty. Many people are not even able to bury their dead.

    To mark the fourth year anniversary of the war on 15th March, #With Syria, a campaigning coalition of more than 130 humanitarian and human rights organisations, including Amnesty International, Christian Aid, Oxfam and Save the Children launched a video, ‘Afraid of the dark[2], calling on world governments to do more to end the suffering of the people.

    Thanks be to the people who refuse to let hope die and live Christ’s gift of peace.

    “Blessed are the peacemakers for they shall be called the children of God.”

    The bones of a Plantagenet king, on the throne some 500 years ago, were unearthed by chance and, watched by thousands, were re-buried within the small and beautiful Leicester Cathedral a few days ago.  Richard III died in battle at Bosworth Field in 1485 and his body was buried by Franciscan monks in a simple grave. Leicester City Council unknowingly covered his burial place with tarmac and made it into a car park. Cardinal Vincent Nichols, the Roman Catholic Archbishop of Westminster, acknowledged that Richard was not a man of peace. “The time into which he was born, and the role into which he was born, did not permit that. But now we pray for his eternal peace.” History is sometimes seen through a glass darkly. “What is truth?” asked Pilate. “

    There are fragments of who and what we are in all the characters and events of Passiontide and Resurrection:

    “ The soon –to-be Easter light…
    highlighted the night between
    our fallings and our flyings
    on this Friday of our good sorrows,
    or bad sorrows

    our mad, and sad,
    and
    glad that there are gladder days beyond these days sorrow.

    We toast the night, o felix culpa,
    and hide the light of lights

    for a while”[3].

    In Scotland, where I am currently living and working, the dying days of winter are giving way to Spring. The heavy rains have almost gone, the flowers appear on the earth, the blackbird sings. Autumn in Aotearoa heralds a different season of colour, of ripening and fruitfulness, where new thresholds and possibilities beckon and emerge.

    Wherever we live in the world, can we trust the Easter promise of these openings and unfurl ourselves into the grace of new beginnings?

    Jasmine is the symbolic flower of Damascus. In April each year, there used to be a Jasmine festival held there. It still blooms amidst the rubble and fragrances the air.

    ©Hilary Oxford Smith
    31 March 2015

    Image: www.yesicannes.com

     

     

       

     

     

     

    [1] Ó Tuama, Pádraig, readings from the book of exile, Canterbury Press, Norwich, 2012, p. 12

    [3] Ibid., Good Friday, p. 16

  • Northern Lights in May

    Northern Lights in May

    A golden and warm sun rose early on the first day of summer, May Day. The distant hum of a lawnmower reminds me of how much the lawn is part of this country's identity. Think cricket and the sound of leather and cork on willow, cucumber sandwiches and Earl Grey, afternoon strolls around the park, strawberries and cream. Antidotes to unpredictable weather.

    It is blowing a howling, living gale outside. Our two puppy dogs think that wolves are about. Ferries have given up sailing to the islands, trucks are travelling by the low road and white horses ride the waves. Rudyard Kipling evoked the destructive possibilities of the sea in his poem, White Horses. Migrants from Africa, escaping to Europe and fleeing from fear, poverty, dispossession, know about white horses only too well. And still they ride the waves every day…some never reach the shore.

    ‘Be tough on immigration’ say those who believe that a mixture of boat tow-backs and harsh detention centres on remote islands is the solution to stop people smugglers and prevent deaths at sea. The delusional seduction of ivory towers.

    In 1915, Kipling’s son, John, serving with the Irish Guards, went missing in action at the Battle of Loos. Kipling later served on the Imperial War Graves Commission and chose some words from Ecclesiasticus, which have been inscribed on many war memorials since: 'Their Name Liveth For Evermore'.

    The names of those who died because of the badly planned, ill-conceived and disastrous Gallipoli campaign were remembered here on April 25th as they were in the Southern Hemisphere and elsewhere. After nine months of bloody slaughter, Winston Churchill, the ambitious First Lord of the Admiralty resigned. He lived to fight another day of course, spurred on by keeping a whisky going throughout the day.

    The 70th anniversary of VE Day was commemorated last week. A fleeting, heady celebration back then, masking the loss and regret, the dispossession and homelessness, the anger and frustration. Churchill and his Conservative Party were heavily defeated in the 1945 General Election. There is a time for everything and everyone.  

    Another Conservative Prime Minister, Margaret Thatcher, apparently read all 845 of Kipling’s poems on a short summer holiday in 1976. It must have been raining. The new Members of Parliament, recently elected in the General Election in the UK haven’t had time to read poetry. The posturing and bargaining has started, superseding news from the far South of John Key’s ongoing Ponytail-gate saga.

    Prince Harry though has been basking in the limelight of an Aotearoan sun. With Uncle away, the new Royal baby brightened the nation’s mood here. Charlotte Elizabeth Diana weighed in at 8lbs 3oz. Her mother, Catherine emerged from hospital, a few hours after giving birth, looking beautifully blessed. Her father too. They are sheltering trees where their little daughter’s fledgling heart can rest.    

    On this Ascension Sunday, I have been asked to christen a baby girl called Emily who was born on the Feast of Stephen. She came into the world, like a Christmas rose, petals unfolding, gentle and fragrant. Her parents’ love and kindness has come into blossom.  

    If her destiny is sheltered, I pray that the grace of this privilege may reach and bless other children who will be born and raised in torn and forlorn places.

    ©Hilary Oxford Smith
    May 2015

    Image: Findochty, Sally Gunn  

  • Three stanzas for Christchurch

    Tess Ashton 15 May 2015

    Three stanzas for Christchurch

    Three stanzas for Christchurch  

    (taken from two larger poems written towards the end of 2009
    and before the earthquakes of 2010 and 2011)

    Christchurch Girls’ High School girls by the Avon in 1968

    we danced
    through hagley park
    from tennis court to school
    girls falling

    like amazonians
    to tiny avon’s charms
    threw jungle calls round weeping trees
    swung ropes that rang the bells

    the dream of swan and stream
    had us in its spell
    our phys-ed teacher lingered
    let the ballet play

    deep limey banks
    stalled the call
    to wade the sparkling road
    chucked the ball mid-stream instead

    skimmed toward glimmers
    of light ahead
    recollection, refraction
    threw it back 40 years on

    close by, afternoon-empty
    classrooms breathed
    greek guardians hovered
    between school and pond

    layers of living words
    whirling adrift of books
    girls limbering-up
    licks of river green that summer

    red and orange flames late autumn

     

    The fire - Christchurch Cathedral

    When I saw the strange flares yesterday
    in a cheap African wood-cut
    black peasants swirling with sky-borne water pots
    long-swung arms welcoming the desert

    the rhythm of first nation people
    already warring in my gut
    a message going out in
    a drum-beating time smouldering
    the ridge-line
    of me

    I’d been thinking of
    Christchurch Cathedral
    a catacomb for flights
    round mystery’s realms
    where knees

    tender and grimacing on stable straw     
    soften the ancient mats
    temper souls
    then it seemed the flames licked up          

    the starry cathedral sky
    scattered sparks of desert sand
    merged into an orange molten hand
    fingers coloured the gleaming night

    Spirit madly at work
    painting the whole town red                      
    living light thrown in swatches round                     
    the grey billowy stone

    then the out-breath
    of the diamond show    
    a freely wandering sky
    no slim pointing spire                    

    or light-daubed dark stone            
    instead scorching searching eyes
    reached from the plain of rubble
    and gazed upon the wide-arcing blue

    those who hadn’t knelt
    the prism floors too

     

    The River Avon

    a city centre was held captive by a quiet dream
    a river that rarely overflowed
    so deep its parent banks
    burnt a tedious hole in the heart of a peninsula

    dreams so stagnant
    caught without a tide
    yet time on its side to break out on the left and the right
    for a fountain to break the well’s deep dark

    to shock the stream
    move it to the wide windy ocean
    the resonant fire banked up in me
    could be this fountain ready to burst

    to scourge the plains
    the rising spread of daffodils
    the centuries’ old signal along the banks
    fragrant trumpets calling the tune

    and after the blaze the azure sky will turn
    the green shadows of the stream
    into a reflection
    of blue  of blue   of blue

    in christchurch where the river glows
    and sparkles tolling like child bells
    between high parent banks
    like a well forgotten

    then losing its place
    its moorings
    runs away carving its own sweet path
    the worry of a songbird

    created in its wake
    toward its true home
    the boatsheds  the tearooms  the botanic gardens
    the coalescent riverside offices and pearlescent stately city homes

    green backyards that run to the edge of near drowning
    my sister raked safely in to port
    the family lawn
    witnessed from a low clerestory window
    through which children peep

    when they sink beneath the tide
    to flow within the deep.

    ends

    ©Tess Ashton

    Image Window, Annette Woodford www.annettewoodford.wordpress.com

  • Hill and tree poems

    Tess Ashton 5 May 2015

    Hill and  tree poems

    i
    A church and a bell

    I’ve seen a tree on a hill
    (with a church and a bell)
    out my window
    for 17 years now
    alone without leaves
    I now realize
    must be dead
    from this side of the river
    who knows
    yet says
    ‘I stand for all
    things set apart
    by those with an eye
    for things placed
    on a hill
    or a table
    for contemplation’
    and I realize
    it’s a dead tree talking
    warming the living
    saying love
    is complete
    in all things
    given

    ii
    Hunger

    when i look at the
    tree on the hill
    with the church and the bell
    and the river in front
    and the bush
    on the edge
    of cloud-touched tracks
    the slow-moving rhythm
    of the sky above
    a poem no less
    with a train
    running through

    but what is a poem
    but truth coming forth
    like Heidegger’s
    butterfly
    or a moment
    of leaving from
    a railway station

    the crying most often
    i come to the
    hill sounds the call
    for children
    hungry and dying
    how best to help
    where are
    they exactly?

    a feeling below
    of small hollow boats
    on long empty rivers
    forgotten then
    sailing then lifting
    on rainbows
    children and babies
    no fanfare
    or tombstones

    iii
    Yang Yang and the view from the back

    Above the tree on the hill there’s a Catholic
    church with woods backed up facing
    us  Off the flat ‘burb road from
    the cul de sac entry
    there’s a school
    attached
    too I
    haven’t

    seen lately
    What the kids don’t
    know there’s a hill stretching
    downwards to a pink-blue river sky in its
    mirror  On the back of the hill the sun comes
    early shifting things in the dark with
    light across pasture  Think often
    of ‘yi yi: a one and a two

    a movie that speaks
    of forgotten
    views  A boy
    with his camera
    clicks heads from the
    back  says we all need help
    with the tracks we’re immune to 
    On Sunday went swimming in singing and

    sermon and movie and river and light on hill
    gliding  caught the rear view from
    Colossians too  the wind of
    the Spirit showed some-
    thing odd though
    a cloud of my
    making
    jiggled a warning

    Shamed  to name sins
    that cut into focus   Today
    stroked the back of a neck of a loved
    one felt the scar where hearing was taken
    forever  Clever Yang Yang to spot a least thought about angle  

    iv
    The days and nights of Manapau St

    blue
    pink blue
    blue orange
    orange black
    black black

    sets the red station light
    moon of the train
    the bridge and town
    alight in the distance
    clack clack

    as the train goes by
    with the river
    and clouds
    who’d move?
    relax relax

    you might touch God
    it’s paradise
    here
    in the cosy ‘burb
    most times most times

    and the hills over there
    and the river
    in front
    and lights and city
    in tiny perspective
    this place this place

    here clouds
    and people
    stride together
    the old troll bridge
    to catch the train
    to town to town

    past our verandah
    meander the station
    the edge of the
    platform
    the way of the journey
    so near so near

    Meadowbank kids
    perch in formation
    itching til airborne
    bedrooms like hurricanes
    ducks going somewhere
    lift off lift off

    by tides and timetables
    hearts spin back
    to days and nights
    of pink and blue
    and orange and black
    think back think back

    v
    Fool on the hill

    outa that scene
    for good
    rear view
    mirror
    tells a story
    giant sun
    proclaiming
    glory
    not disaster
    on the hill

    home alone
    rays bear down
    deepest
    heaven
    four years
    rot
    dug out
    in twenty
    minutes

    nervy dream
    old scene
    naked
    In the elevator
    heading for
    the upper
    floor
    be still
    hints
    St Francis

    next day
    wander to
    garden centre
    a rose
    my name
    chosen for
    spring promotion
    heart felt
    description
    swirl of love
    birthday gift
    from heavenly
    Father

    ©Tess Ashton

    Image  The Slain Tree  Eric Lee-Johnson c. 1945, Auckland, New Zealand

  • Midday Interruption

    Midday Interruption

    Darkened sky,
    torrential rain,
    roiling thunder
    exploding overhead,
    road corner flooding within minutes
    - Glen Innes is awash.
    At the checkout, a voice is heard,
    I hope the rain stops in time
    for the cricket tomorrow'
    Cricket – really?
    so the last thing on my mind!
    Instead I stand in awe of the rain,
    make a run for it,
    Splash through deep puddles,
    thoroughly drenched
    yet full of delight
    by this unexpected
    disruption to a summer’s day.
    Landscape transformation in one moment.
    Let's embrace the turbulence
    of change,
    when it appears.
    It's a sign of life,
    sign of hope,
    stating we are not in control,
    no matter how much
    we may think we are,
    and its okay.

    Homeward bound,
    visibility minimal,
    oncoming car headlights
    yellow-bright
    guide me home
    as traffic crawls
    across Kepa Road bridge.
     

    Car unloaded,
    grocery bags strewn across the floor,
    time to pause.
    As the rain tapers off,
    and a holy hush descends.
    All is held captive in stillness.
    Post-storm rain drops
    patter on the deck,
    like the plucking of a guitar.
    Gentle music breaking the silent stillness.
    Peace restored.  
    It's still okay.
    A solitary birdsong
    echoes across the valley,
    as if to say,
    'Hello, is any-one out there?
    waits for our response.

    ©Gayanne Frater

    Image Car Headlights, Gayanne Frater

  • Ground for Justice

    Ground for Justice

    New Zealand has a history of criminal trials and subsequent resolutions exposing miscarriages of justice. Re-trials, many years after an offence, are becoming almost common place. This may be seen as justice eventually being worked out or, alternatively, a failure of the country’s legal system.  Justice may be an elusive ideal.

    Crime reporting fills a considerable amount of media content informing an ongoing public discourse. Within such discussion, balanced information and debate is not always as apparent as the immediate calls for public safety and firm punishment. More nuanced debates about causes, appropriate punishment and long term remedies for individuals and communities are often at risk of being seen as failure to confront society’s need for calm and good order.

    News media readily reports dissatisfaction with sentences imposed by law courts and demands for change through parliamentary legislation. While not unreasonable in itself, the intimate, sometimes dramatized, context of such demands can cloud rather than enlighten the pursuit of justice.  Haste to apportion blame and inflict punishment, for example, can endanger the application of law being balanced by established fact and careful reason.

    In this country citizens have a right to expect reasonable redress for crime through humane and reasonable punishment. However, what results from punishment being served? Is society better off in the public knowledge that punishment has been served? Is a punished person necessarily a better person? History shows the relationship of crime and punishment has a troubled record.

    There is any amount of literature inspired by this record. Similarly, a number of academic disciplines are concerned with causes, motivations and consequences of criminal behaviour. Theology, too, has a stake.

    Theologians seek to understand the human condition in terms of ultimate meaning. The saying attributed to Irenaeus, a second century bishop of Lyons, captures it thus: “The glory of God is the human person fully alive.”

    Whatever perspective a criminal enquiry may take, victim and perpetrator will always share the fact of being human. Being human entails living in relationship with others. It is the combining of an almost infinite variety of relationships that provide the animation and substance of society. Everyone is linked to everyone else.

    Punishment alone will never secure justice. The human condition is always giving rise to need for reconciliation of difference: Between criminals and victims and between enemies. That need may enlighten a profound ideal drawing from the meaning of being human, leading beyond punishment toward justice.

    Yet, the impetus for reconciliation draws on the even deeper human capacity for compassion. That is willingness to suffer with another, to recognise and act in creative solidarity, for the sake of the interconnectedness of all life.  

    Compassion for others and all living things bears unerring potential to reveal prospects for reconciliation. The life experience of one person is integral to the life experience of all people.

    While punishment may be an initial step toward achieving justice, if applied alone it leaves the presence and pain of both punished and victim unreconciled. It remains as an open wound in the community. Justice remains unfulfilled.

    Theology, the understanding of the ultimate value of life, emphasises the possibility of compassion animating reconciliation between victim, perpetrator and community. Even where such a possibility may be submerged by reason and emotion demanding punishment, a continuing compassionate response serves to limit the injustice of any individual becoming irredeemably estranged from community, objectified and dehumanised by punishment alone.

    Such an ideal for reconciliation, arising from compassion for life itself, is an essential responsibility in securing ground for justice. Being a body defined by theological understanding, the Christian Church has a role to act justly in both public and Church life. It has this role for the sake of enhancing the human condition by building compassionate, reconciled, just communities.

    ©John Fairbrother 2015

  • Thoughts on a Clay Pot: written for an agnostic friend

    Margaret Lyall 18 February 2015

    Thoughts on a Clay Pot: written for an agnostic friend

     

    I saw it on the Salisbury Centre stall.
    It was the shape that drew me - simple and symmetrical.
    Carefully I picked it up and turned it round
    to savour its perfection.

    Then came the shock, the disappointment,
    there was a blemish in the glazing.
    I chose another... and another…
    but none of them was perfect.

    And in that moment came the realisation
    that each one was unique,
    fashioned out of formless clay
    by the skill of the potter,
    kneading, pulling, gently stretching
    until finally moulded into a shape
    satisfying to its creator.

    What price now that self-same mass of clay?
    Almost worthless in its natural state
    but through the influence of those hands
    now able to hold within itself flowers - and water,
    giving the flowers strength to open  
    and display the fullness of their beauty,
    evoking a multitude of emotions in the human heart.

    Filled with primroses, a splash of yellow beauty
    pointing to the renewal of life and hope
    after the darkness and despair of winter.

    Or when filled with buttercups and daisies
    picked by the sticky fingers of a happy child
    and given to her granny whom she loves.

                                                                                          ***

    What is the chance
    of the atoms of that lump of clay
    organising themselves
    Into such a spatial arrangement
    without the potter?

    And which seems more incredible:
    that blind chance - or a Master Potter
    created the living beauty of the primroses
    and the love of the child?

    ©Margaret Lyall

    Image: In the Potter’s Hands, Steve Abbott

  • Wonder

    The Rev. John Fairbrother 26 January 2015

    Wonder

    Contemplative experience is profoundly personal. The practice is about entering an inner vulnerability that may, mysteriously, reveal a sense of transcendent wholeness.

    It is a becoming, moving into quiet through the immediacy of reflection, beyond meditation, toward a peace freed from pre-occupations of pragmatic understanding. Free from the mind’s distractions that all too easily dominate daily living, the outcome will likely be nothing less than sheer wonder: A sense of becoming wholly present within a Holy Presence.

    Wonder evokes emotion. It liberates imagination, inspires and animates the human condition. For all that it might be shared, wonder is profoundly personal. While for example, one might contemplate the cosmos as dark, cold and impossibly vast, another might contemplate it as being divine revelation of eternal dimension and beauty beyond human comprehension. Wonder sustains the tap root of both religious experience and scientific endeavour.

    Recent years have seen re-invigorated debate about the relationship and popular contradictions between religion and science. Science demands reviewed empirical evidence to support any proposition. Religion elevates belief systems into faith for living, drawing meaning from, revelation, the human condition, symbol and myth.

    Tragically, a divide between the two remains and is too simply promoted. Science is led by a deep-seated wonder creating intuitive knowing, in turn becoming distilled into method and result. Religion, too, is led by deep-seated wonder creating intuitive knowing distilled through faith-based experience into worship, compassion, ethics and service.

    The two are not mutually exclusive. Rather, the differing perspectives may be seen as a bifurcation along the route from wonder to action.

    Albert Einstein contemplated prospective vastness beyond his knowledge and wondered at the cosmos. After his example, contemporary new atheists refer to wonder of a religious type, although dismissive of the supernatural, termed Einsteinian. 

    The Christian Bible has numerous stories that have their origin in wonder. For example: Moses being drawn to his encounter with Yahweh at the burning bush; Elijah, hiding, sheltering in his cave and there coming to wonder at the silence that befell him; the shepherds being woken from their slumber, immediately filled with fear, then in wonder visiting the Christ child; disciples Peter, John and James at the transfiguration of Jesus.

    Wonder holds humans in thrall. A great risk of this era is to ignore any opportunity to do so or, perhaps, worse, allow the ordering of our lives to become so distracted as to exclude the experience. To do as much creates a barren inner personal landscape, rendering any sense of transcendence to a mere passing experience. Such is the origin of hubris.

    Concern for a life-giving spirituality has cause to emphasise the need and blessing of wonder. It simply reveals the beauty of life. To wonder is to stand with all people in recognition and solidarity that life is an unasked for gift: one that may be passed to others and always returned to the earth that nurtures it.

    Would politicians and the like, only pause for long enough before meetings to contemplate the meaning and beauty of solitary planet earth as seen from space? Such a simple act would promote the wonder of our fragile existence. That in turn might lead decision-makers to more deeply respect all life as privileged. Imagine an international polity grounded in wonder, committed to undying priority for life-giving relationships among all people, with the earth and all that is in it.

    Revealing, teaching, even promoting the practice of Christian contemplation is a way in which wonder may be brought to the centre stage of human consciousness. With the potential to wonder being common to all people, it is an essential for us all to encourage and foster.

    Whether one may hold a Faith, be Christian, agnostic, atheist or whatever, wonder unites and engenders creativity in us all. It is worth contemplation.

    ©John Fairbrother

    An edited form of this essay was published December 2014 at http://www.sdiworld.org/blog/contemplating-wonder

    Image  Earth from the Space Shuttle Discovery 1988, courtesy of NASA

  • For the Advent Wreath

    The Rev. John Fairbrother 1 December 2014

    For the Advent Wreath

    For the Advent Wreath

    To be prayed as each candle is lit.

    Advent 1

    A first candle:
    Light, as breath,
    bringing life to
    islands, sky and sea.
    For creations gift,
    our prayer and praise.

    Advent 2

    A second candle:
    Starlight’s fall
    amid dust of life.
    A moment to
    enlighten freedom,
    justice, love.

    Advent 3

    A third candle:
    Trusted light,
    southern guide to
    island homes.
    Within a sea
    named for peace.

    Advent 4

    A fourth candle:
    Warmth of heart,
    compassion’s home.
    Peace in the city,
    town and land.
    Calm between us now.

    Christmas Day

    Candle centred:|
    Focus bright.
    Light to lift a
    heart song lyric
    of wordless knowing
    embracing friends.                

    ©John Fairbrother    

    Image Catholic Church in Aotearoa New Zealand reproduced with permission

  • Letting Go

    The Rev. Gayanne Frater 13 November 2014

    Letting Go

    Letting go,
    hands open,
    a gentle push
    and a wicker basket
    carrying treasured cargo
    floats down the Nile.
    A mother’s courage writ large.
    Nearby,
    the young sentinel stands
    watching,
    waiting,
    praying,
    trusting
    in the unknowable.
    Mother and daughter
    let go of
    beloved son and brother
    for the sake of life,
    in the name of hope.
    Another woman,
    a stranger,
    different in faith,
    colour,
    skin,
    ethnicity and status,
    different in every way possible,
    shares Love’s heart.
    Stoops down to receive the wicker basket,
    the man-child within becomes her own.
    Mothers and daughters,
    letting go of our heart’s treasures –
    our children,
    our ways of being
    knowing,
    thinking,
    dreaming,
    becoming,
    hoping,
    trusting that in our letting go,
    even as our hearts break,
    life will continue,
    differently,
    unexpectedly.
    God, give us strength
    and courage
    to let go,
    to open our hands
    for the sake of life,
    in the name of hope.

    ©Gayanne Frater

    First published in the Women’s Study Centre Newsletter Vol. 4, no. 9 2014

    Image ‘Moses in the arms of his Mother’ Simeon Solomon

  • The 13.30 from Inverness

    The 13.30 from Inverness

    There is something blissfully solitary about train journeys unless you feel minded to share stories with the traveller seated opposite who is, like you, bored with paperback melodramas, texting the world and fleeting fields.

    I am not of that mind on the 13.30 from Inverness. The late afternoon landscape invites imaginings of toiling harvest workers gathering golden bales of hay, of ancient Celts standing in a stone circle as they watch the moon skim low over the hills like a great god visiting the earth, of King William the Lion’s army defending his Red Castle from Viking invaders. Brief encounters.

    And then to Dundee, once described as the city of jam, jute and journalism and where the RRS Discovery, the Antarctic exploration vessel of Robert Falcon Scott and Ernest Shackleton was constructed in 1901. This magnificent ship is now anchored in a custom-made dock at Discovery Point on the Firth of Tay. She and her crew spent two years locked in sea ice in McMurdo Sound. Scott and Shackleton relocated the Southern Magnetic Pole and returned with the news that Antarctica was a continent.

    Travelling by any method has its austere moments. It was the Italian poet, Cesar Pavese who mused, ‘…travelling is a brutality. It forces you to trust strangers and to lose sight of the familiar comfort of home and friends. You are constantly off balance. Nothing is yours except the essential things – air, sleep, dreams, the sea, the sky – all things tending towards the eternal or what we imagine of it.’

    Luke was Paul’s travelling companion. Faith and patience must have been two of the many virtues this benign doctor and writer of stories was blessed with. Paul could be complex, volatile and difficult. On his mission he was tough and courageous and faced many challenges. Luke faced them too. As the old missionary neared the end of his life, with all his fellow travellers having deserted him or gone elsewhere, he poignantly wrote to Timothy, ‘only Luke is with me’.  

    Another teller of tales, Robert Louis Stevenson believed that ‘we are all travellers in the wilderness of this world, and the best we can find in our travels is an honest friend’. He finally ended his sunset days with Fanny, his wife and soul mate, on the South Sea island of Samoa enjoying wine which he said was like bottled poetry.  

    In the age of Ebola, there is a growing panic about leaving home shores for other shores. Even though medical staff and non-governmental humanitarian agencies have been working with the sick and the dying in West Africa for a long time, it has slowly dawned on the rest of the international community that this disease could be visited upon them. So now, politicians are on high alert, lining up to urge a greater response to this modern-day plague. The people are fearful and fear breeds fear.

    American Dr. Kent Brantly contracted the Ebola virus while working in Liberia and survived to tell the tale. He will be returning to work there. ‘The Spirit that God has given us does not make us timid’ he said, quoting words from St. Paul. After all that he faced, it is remarkable that Paul was still able to write probably the most memorable description of love that exists.  

    Globe-trotting is in the DNA of most New Zealanders. Emigration is the story of this land. People have travelled across many oceans to settle here and never leave, some leave and some return. It was emigrants from all over the world who helped to build the country’s railways through hostile and mountainous terrain, deep ravines, criss-crossed streambeds. What a titanic achievement.

    One of the most breathtakingly beautiful railway journeys in the world is the Coastal Pacific from Picton to Christchurch in the South Island. I think that the poet and railway romantic, John Betjeman would have loved it. He ‘…was not one who stood with duffel bag, Penguin biscuit and fish-paste sandwiches on murky days at the ends of platforms taking down the numbers of locomotives…’[i] Betjeman travelled by train for the journey, not to get somewhere. This leisurely meander through an enchanted land of long white clouds is probably just long enough to still the ticking of the clock and time-travel to an older world. Air, sleep, dreams, sea, sky – all things tending towards the eternal or what we imagine of it.

    ©Hilary Oxford Smith

    October 2014

     

    [i] Jonathan Glancey, John Betjeman, On Trains (York: Methuen, 2006) p. vii

    Image: The Jacobite train wending its way to Mallaig on the West Highland Line www.scotlandrailways.com

     

     

  • Beyond the Gloom

    The Rev. John Fairbrother 19 September 2014

     

    The idea of the world being embroiled in war on a global scale is far from fanciful. The many conflicts convulsing regions and states may not be connected overtly, however, the disruption and distress they cause around the globe connects all people.

    War is no longer the controlled preserve of political elites and national military machines. The practice of war has gone local. While terror and fear have become commoditised, being distributed by local political/religious interests, such horrors, clearly, remain supported by international means to sustain prolonged conflict.

    The United Nations, NATO and most nation states appear constrained by the withered frame works of mid-twentieth century strategies and diplomacy. Meanwhile the violent politics of this century re-arrange national boundaries reducing long established political stratagems and military force to confusion, if not impotence.

    The 1950s-75 conflict in Vietnam heralded an era of localised conflict dislocating international relationships. The mighty USA went against a guerrilla army and lost. The military means of a foreign power could not win the hearts and minds of a people in their own land.

    Clearly little has been learned since. Lessons from attempting the same have and continue to be writ large. For example, in Afghanistan via the unsuccessful efforts of Russia and subsequent USA led ‘coalitions’ there and in Iraq to impose political will. Then there are the current disasters in many parts of the African continent.

    The record of post-colonial deconstruction across Asia, Africa and the Middle East has illustrated the ultimate futility of military might and associated political advantage being a conveyor of cultural values and technology. President G. W. Bush’s confidence in ‘shock and awe’ signed off any such notion. Perhaps, then, it is little wonder the political/military might of western powers and partners appear to be floundering for answers to current regional and local conflicts.

    Yet, all portents of gloom notwithstanding, the ways of modern democracy rumble on in parliaments, senates, media discourse, public debate and elections. Signs of peoples’ self- determination continue, even if, in many cases, with apparent qualified misgivings.

    Fiji has finally held an election. On the day of writing this the Scots were at the polls determining whether or not to remain a part of the United Kingdom. Aotearoa New Zealand is about to vote as done every three years. Elections, in such a troubled world, may be like pearls offering a glimmering reminder of the hope for people’s self-determination. They also may serve to remind those privileged to vote of the classical heritage from which such a hope comes.

    Tragically, perhaps, in a global environment where nation states are becoming servants rather than regulators of commercial interests, the attractions and commerce of war outweigh the virtues of political will exercised via contestable ideas, debate and negotiation.  After all, it costs time, effort and practical resources to ensure climates of understanding that provide political contexts of healthy sustenance, where respect for difference is the strength undergirding peace and wellbeing.

    War may have always been local. Terror may have always been close to the human condition. What sets this era apart is the reality of global communication and accessible means to aggressively spread political/religious influence. What was once confined now knows little geographical boundary.

    We in New Zealand may find a sense of security in our South Pacific location. However, physical distance is no longer any assurance of safety. Clearly all people are connected as no generation before. The contagion of fear, like disease, has acquired a reinvigorated potential to subvert and undermine peaceful co-existence on a global scale.

    How might countries such as little New Zealand apply technologies of global communication and the means of influence in order to promote local identity while building international relationships for the sake of peace and wellbeing?

    Ensuring the continuity of a society open to scrutiny, critical self-appraisal and equitable distribution of life-giving resources is a goal worth aspiring to in an international scene bedevilled by conflict and fear.

    ©John Fairbrother

     

                                                                                                                         

     

     

     

  • Road Trip Aotearoa

    Road Trip Aotearoa

     

    Heart song rises
    as landscape shifts and changes
    at each turn of the road.
    Eyes capture glorious beauty
    at rounded curves.
    Undulating hills of gradient colour
    give way to white faced cliffs.
    Tall deep green firs
    yield to soft hues,
    trees blush in near nudity.
    Autumn riches cede to Winter's stark nakedness
    as road heads south and eastwards.
    Sunlit toi toi
    glistening bright white
    sway in gentle breeze.
    Colour, strong and muted,
    ripple across nature's canvas like a river,
    A veritable gallery of
    Monets to Picassos and back again,
    appear as mile after mile traversed.
    Creation's cyclic song bears witness
    to the Artist's handiwork.
    This un-asked for exhibition of fine art
    triggers heart-bursts of pure delight,
    popping like fireworks against a darkened sky,
    creating momentary distraction
    from focussed road attention.
    Aotearoa,
    land of my heart, my home, my love
    your beauty touches the depth of my being
    and causes my heart to sing.
    Thank you.
     
    ©Gayanne Frater
    June 2014
     
    Image by Nick Frater
     

     

  • A Solstice Story

    A Solstice Story

     

    It is a bright, blue, winter morning in the Southern Hemisphere and the winter solstice stretches our imagination.
     
    In the Northern Hemisphere, the summer solstice heralds the longest day of light. Youthful midsummers were filled with heady playtimes, swimming with dolphins and dancing with seals, searching for crabs and other sea creatures in rock pools…our footsteps and shadows sending them into hiding.
     
    We gathered pink pearly shells and driftwood from the strandline of the beach and bedtime was hours away.
     
    At night it was light and from the bed in my grandparent's house, I could look through the open curtains to the ocean and watch the midnight sun. Golden calendula marigolds grew in abundance in their garden, the petals adding colour to home-made butter.
     
    Midsummer is known as St. John's Day in the Christian Church. It is said that John the Baptist was born on the 24th June.   Feasting on wild honey and locusts, he spoke of the coming of the Messiah. Not for him the celebration of his death day or martyrdom. Rather, a feast of the nativity, like Christmas, at Midsummer.
     
    As the days shorten in New Zealand, it is still lighter at the winter solstice than I remember in my homeland. Daylight there was pale and fleeting with remnants of warmth. The sun set early in the afternoon and birds flew towards the shelter of trees to roost through the longest night. The fire kept us warm around the hearth. We shared stories and my grandfather, John, the fisherman, would snooze. The fire never went out.
     
    I am told that my ancestors carefully 'smoored' the fire in their croft by making a circle with the peats. The first was laid in the name of the God of Life, the second in the name of the God of Peace and the third in the name of the God of Grace. The circle was then covered over with enough ashes to subdue the fire but not extinguish it.
     
    The Scottish poet and writer, Kathleen Jamie writes about Light and Darkness. She believes that Darkness has been too much maligned, not least in Christian theology. 'Because of the metaphorical dark…we are constantly concerned to banish the natural dark...'
     
    So with rucksack on back, she sailed from Aberdeen to the whale-shaped Orkney Islands in search of 'real, natural, starry dark'.   The chambered burial mound of Maes Howe, built around 2700BC, drew her into its mystery.
     
    Around the time of the winter solstice, the midwinter sun rises from the Hoy Hills. As it sets, its rays strike the nearby Neolithic Barnhouse Stone, perfectly aligned to the entrance of Maes Howe and the tomb's dark passageway becomes illuminated with light.
     
    Clouds clouded her mystical experience though. She also found the tomb filled with artificial light as surveyors mapped the walls with lasers so that they could investigate worrying cracks in the stone. On her return to the mainland, she could not even find the natural dark out at sea because of the lights from small coastal settlements and dazzlingly lit oil rigs.
     
    'For five thousand years we have used darkness as the metaphor of our mortality...we have not banished death, but we have banished the dark. We have light, we have oilfields and electricity and lasers. And by the light we have made, we can see that there are, metaphorically speaking, cracks. We are doing damage. The surveyors poring over the tomb are working in an anxious age. We look about the world, by the light we have made, and realise it's all vulnerable, and all worth saving, and no one can do it but us.'
     
    Often we want to look away from the brokenness around us in the world because we are afraid that we might be swallowed up by the dark. Yet the life of the Divine is within the dark. The secret and hopeful work of winter has already begun deep in the cold earth.
     
    In New Zealand, snow has fallen in the high country and it is almost time for our Māori brothers and sisters and those who respect and participate in their culture and traditions, to celebrate the Māori New Year. It will begin on the 28th June, when the new moon follows the rising of Matariki, the Pleiades, or Seven Sisters star constellation in the Southern skies.
     
    This ancient and spiritual festival plays out across our land with the revival of celebratory events of culture, language, spirit and people. Thankfulness is expressed for the gifts of mother earth and for the land on which we live and which sustains us. Our ancestors are remembered with loving respect. Lengthening days of light, heralding growth, change and new thresholds to cross are hoped for.  
     
    When Kathleen Jamie returned home from her journey of seeking the dark, she wrote,  
     
    '...we were going out for dinner. Our friends' cottage was inviting in candlelight, and the curtains were open to show black night pressed against the windows. In the warm light, we…drank a toast, because tonight was midwinter's night, the night of the complicit kiss, and tomorrow the light would begin its return.'
     
    In the places of winter's passage, may the long dark nights shelter us.
    In the places of summer's passage, may the long days of light refresh us.
     
    ©Hilary Oxford Smith
     
    References
      Kathleen Jamie, Findings, (Sort Of Books 2005)
     
    Image
    Seven Sisters, Jennifer Sea
     

     

  • Sport

    Susan Smith 16 June 2014

    I have just read a headline in the New Zealand Herald (6 June 2014) in which All Black coach Steve Hansen describes Jerome Kaino as "a caged animal" who will be doing all that he can to prove that he is at home among the big beasts of the international game.

     
    The names given to men's rugby and league teams both fascinate and horrify me – Lions, Bulldogs, Sharks, Cheetahs, Tigers, Kangaroos. If these are not the names of predatory animals then they are names that conjure up violent images, either man or nature-generated, for example, Crusaders, Chiefs, Hurricanes and so on.
     
    I wonder if a harmless nomenclature like the "Blues" explains the relative lack of success enjoyed by Kirwan's men. I have been trying to think of a suitably violent animal to suggest to Sir John but all suitable names seem used up.
     
    The violence that the codes of both games tolerates both on and off the fields is frankly appalling. Spear tackling which I understand is illegal in rugby can lead to permanently disabling injuries. No one seemed too concerned apart from Brian O'Driscoll when All Black Tama Umanga spear-tackled the Irishman in 2005 thereby ensuring he could no longer play in the Lion's tour of the country that year. Umanga branded O'Driscoll as a "sook" in his biography and berated the media for criticising his violent action. The two men were reconciled some four years later.
     
    There has been more than one incident this year of spectator or player attacks on referees. A minority of rugby and league players seem to have few qualms about beating up their partners. And apparently the All Blacks have iconic value for all New Zealanders. The odd visit to Starship Children's Hospital in Auckland does not disguise the fact that players are committed to a violent game. "Physicality" is little more than a coded language that means commentators do not call things by their right name – deliberate violence. In some ways today's spectators have much in common with the spectators at the Coliseum who some two thousand years applauded savage attacks by men and animals on other women and men. I am all in favour of sport and just wish that more and more New Zealanders, particularly young New Zealanders played more sport and played less with Smart Phones and I pads.
     
    In his first letter to the Corinthians Paul writes: "Do you not know that in a race the runners all compete, but only one receives the prize? Run in such a way that you may win it. Athletes exercise self-control in all things; they do it to receive a perishable wreath, but we an imperishable one. So I do not run aimlessly, nor do I box as though beating the air; but I punish my body and enslave it, so that after proclaiming to others I myself should not be disqualified" (1 Cor 9:24-27).
     
    Paul borrows language from the sporting world to remind us about what the imitation of Christ requires of us. Sportsmen and sports commentators in New Zealand turn to the animal world to define themselves. Practice, self-discipline and self -control are important for both the disciple and sportsman. In the case of the first, it is about becoming more Christ-like, in the case of the second it is about being more predatory, anxious to get out of the cage and wreak havoc among the big beasts. Is it time to rethink our use of language because as Marshall McLuhan told us some decades ago, the medium is the message?
     
    ©Susan Smith
    June 2014
     
     
     

     

  • To be silent is to be unfaithful

    To be silent is to be unfaithful

     

    'Man is born free yet everywhere he is in chains. One man thinks himself the master of others, but remains more of a slave than they are.' [ii] So wrote the Enlightenment philosopher, Jean Jacques Rousseau in his book of 1762, The Social Contract.
     
    All of us have been and the generations to come, will be born into an inheritance of one kind of another. Part of that inheritance is that we are heirs of a world scarred by the internationalising and industrialising of the slave-owning and slave-trading nations of the past and that much historic prosperity has been built on this atrocity.
     
    Even if it is argued that we are not born free, are we not born for freedom and have to learn how to be free? Part of that process means facing up to the legacy we inherit without fear, excuse or falsity. It means thinking truthfully about where we have come from, how our cultures and habits were formed, how as people, communities and nations, we collectively got into situations that frustrated our best and good intentions.  
     
    For centuries, if not millennia, slavery was taken for granted by many Christian and non-Christian people. The corporate sin of the Church was also complicit in and profited financially from it. Yet it was also a mass movement of Christians and other faith campaigners, slaves and free women and men, who woke up the conscience of an entire civilisation and brought about the abolition of the transatlantic slave trade over 200 years ago.
     
    World leaders and the media are speaking and writing much about 276 schoolgirls kidnapped over a month ago by Islamist militant group Boko Haram in Nigeria. Boko Haram roughly translated means 'Western education is sin.'   Boko Haram's leader knows deep down that education has the potential to liberate the mind and heart and be an equalising force in society. For him and his followers, there can be none of that. He also announced in a video message last week that, 'there is a market for selling humans.' Fears are, that these young girls will be sold into domestic or sexual slavery. There is international outrage and a social media campaign, 'BringBackOurGirls', is gathering momentum.
     
    Deeply disturbing as this kidnapping is, the truth is that human trafficking - modern-day slavery: bonded labour, marriage/domestic/sexual slavery and slavery by debt or descent, still exists, yet it is not always worthy of the sustained, global attention we are currently witnessing.
     
    Advocacy groups such as Walk Free [iii] and The Global Slavery Index [iv] estimate that today, nearly 30 million children, women and men are sold as commodities, trafficked within their own countries and across international borders. Even though slavery is illegal in most countries of the world, it happens on every continent and especially in places where there are major hubs of demand.
     
    According to the United Nations [v] , it is women who are trafficked most. Many are kidnapped and sold into prostitution, sometimes by their own relatives. Criminal gangs bring them into countries illegally where they are made compliant by violence, intimidation, drugs and abused on an unthinkable magnitude. Children too are trafficked between countries, abused and exploited through bondage for labour, sex, warfare. Trafficking is a multi-billion dollar industry.
     
    Men are also trafficked across the world, usually forced to work in unjust and inhumane conditions. The Global Slavery Index reports that in New Zealand hundreds of men have been and are working in slavery-like conditions on foreign fishing vessels chartered to New Zealand companies, threatened, abused and forced to work 30 hour shifts with meagre pay, without breaks and adequate food. The Second Reading of the Fisheries (For Charter Vessels and other matters) Amendment Bill was heard in the New Zealand Parliament on 15th April 2014 [vi] . It is intended that the passing of the Bill will enshrine in law by 2016, our country's moral and ethical obligations to the safety and employment of those working at sea. With yet more talking to be done, the Maritime Union of New Zealand is concerned that the proposed Bill, which has been discussed and debated for over a year now, may not become law before the national election in September 2014.  
     
    Human trafficking though is largely a hidden crime, with the faces and cries of those who are sold usually unseen and unheard. It flourishes in places where there is poverty, injustice, conflict, vulnerability, gender discrimination and exploitation by those who are more powerful. The degree of criminality involved means that one of the largest difficulties for public sector agencies is bringing traffickers to justice, as a prevention and deterrent. Even once rescued, individuals often want to avoid deportation, family shame, threats to themselves or their families, so they do not always feel able or free enough to tell their stories.
     
    Slavery is not too distant for it to matter to you and to me, yet we can feel powerless about what to do to bring about change. Social media, for all its problems and detractors, has given many people a voice. We are witnessing its power to mobilise a mass movement of protest against such atrocity. It is in the nature of fast-paced media and politics however, that if and when the girls in Nigeria are returned safely home and we hope that they soon will be, human trafficking and the enslavement of people will move down the list of newsworthy items. Social media posts will move on to another issue, another petition.
     
    Nevertheless, we can harness our own anger and sadness at what has happened and use that in a positive way that works towards eradicating poverty and the enslavement of human beings in the production of our food, clothes, the running of our homes, the care of our elderly and disabled and keeping our sex trade in business.
     
    We can be thankful that advocacy groups and other agencies continue to work hard to bring matters to the public eye and that some of our churches continue to find ways to work with such groups to keep the issue at the forefront of their social responsibility and pastoral care...by lobbying governments to sign up to globally binding agreements, monitoring the ways in which traffickers are pursued and prosecuted and victims are supported and regularly engaging with other faith groups and the media to raise awareness.
     
    On March 17th this year, the Global Freedom Network was launched to eradicate forced labour and sexual exploitation by 2020 after an historic agreement was signed at The Vatican. It was the outcome of a conference, which brought together Christian and Muslim people of faith and representatives of agencies working to end slavery. The signatories called for urgent action by all faith communities to 'set free the most oppressed of our brothers and sisters… Only by activating, all over the world, the ideals of faith and of shared human values can we marshal the spiritual power, the joint effort and the liberating vision to eradicate modern slavery and human trafficking from our world and for all time.' [vii]

    In her book, Enslaved: The New British Slavery [viii] , Rahila Gupta writes, 'human progress must be measured by the extent to which we have ended slavery. We should be fighting for a future when the world truly belongs to all of us'.
     
    To be silent is to be unfaithful.
     
    ©Hilary Oxford Smith
    May 2014
    Image Nicola Green www.nicolagreen.com
     
    [i] I have borrowed this title from the title of a Church and Society Council Report to The General Assembly of The Church of Scotland, May 2007 www.churchofscotland.org.uk/speak-out/social-issues/human-trafficking
    [ii] Rousseau, Jean Jacques, The Social Contract, 1762, (Pacific Publishing Studio 2010) page 1
    [v] See www.unodc.org for more information
    [vi] See www.beehive.govt.nz, Second Reading, Fisheries (For Charter Vessels and Other Matters) Amendment Bill 2014, www.parliament.nz and www.slavefreeseas.org for more information
    [viii] Rahlia Gupta, Enslaved:The New British Slavery, (Granta 2008) page 302
     
     
     

     

  • On ANZAC Day

    On ANZAC Day

     

       
    In 1941, when Japan entered the Second World War, the Marlborough Sounds, which makes up a fifth of New Zealand's coastline, was considered to be vulnerable to possible invasion. In the tiny, scattered settlements along the coast, a Home Guard, made up of women and men protected the sea and land as best they could.
     
    After the war, the Home Guard Games were held each year in the Western Sounds, so that those who had served in home defence and their families could meet, free from the threat of war. Now known as the Te Towaka Sports Day, local people still gather to enjoy time together.
     
    On Easter Monday, we enjoyed one of the most beautiful and awe-inspiring drives in the world to French Pass (Te Aumiti) in the Sounds. The road there, still largely unsealed and treacherous in places, was only completed in 1957. Between the headland of French Pass and D'Urville Island is a turbulent stretch of water. As the tide drops, a massive amount of water, banked up in Tasman Bay, gushes out to Cook Strait. When the tide rises, it rushes back in. With powerful currents, eddies and whirlpools, it is a passage feared and respected by mariners as well as being an area rich with the presence of dolphins, seals, orcas, seabirds and other marine life...a microcosm of the Creator's beauty and life.
     
    On the way to French Pass is the township of Havelock. When I was working as a journalist I came across a small boat moored in the harbour there, called Seagull. I subsequently wrote up her story for the newspaper. Now one hundred and nine years old, this trusty vessel went to Gallipoli on the hospital ship, SS Maheno. Anchored off the island of Lemnos, she operated as the ship's tender. With her brave and steadfast crew, she transported wounded and dying soldiers to the hospital ship. Her war service is recorded in the Royal New Zealand Naval museum. I have no doubt that the echoes of dismemberment, pain, suffering and deliverance still echo around her bulwarks. She has surely earned her quiet retirement.  
     
    ANZAC Day on both sides of the ditch, seems to generate, somewhat ironically, the expression of conflicting viewpoints and ideas about what the day is really about. Isn't it though, a day to tread lightly, to be compassionate and to remember, with sorrowful love and gratitude, the ones who went to war in the paradoxical cause of peace, those who have lived and still live with loss, separation and lasting injury of body, mind and spirit since and all the countless others who have been and will be, on this very day, the civilian and military casualties of war?
     
    This year is the centenary of the beginning of the First World War. It was to be the war to end all wars. Yet in spite of the now widely acknowledged military blunders and the unimaginable loss of life, the history of the world tells us that there will always will be those, who with a deep paucity of spirit, want to dominate others and use whatever means at their disposal to fight for ultimate power and possession. Conversely, there have been and always will be the people who work tirelessly to resist such agendas, the ones who restore and reconcile and make peace.
     
    Amidst the discussions about the significance of ANZAC Day, which should be rightfully explored but not only in the few days in and around the 25th of April, the suffering and loss of so many can never be allowed to be buried in our memory or the national and world memory.
     
    It is decent and honourable to commit ourselves anew to creating a world in which all that is good and precious and shining will grow and flourish.   What is ultimately remembered on ANZAC Day or on any Remembrance Day come to think of it, is, I want to suggest, not actually patriotism, jingoism, the glorification of war, the expression of nationalistic fervour. That is, arguably, a kind of easy reductionism. What is deeply remembered in the individual and national consciousness is the indiscriminate slaughter of humanity, the quiet dignity of the human spirit, the gold that is buried in the ground, the longing for peace, the sanctity of life, the indestructible power of love.
     
    Some of my family and friends served in the civilian and armed forces at home and overseas in two world wars and in other conflicts since. I have come to know as the years have gone by, that in spite of their own misgivings and apprehensions about the architects of war and the reasons for and consequences of war, they and others have much to teach us about courage in the face of fear and death, humility and strength, vulnerability and loyalty, endurance and suffering, peace and love.
     
    As we continue to reflect upon issues of nationhood and identity which appear to be intertwined with the commemoration of ANZAC Day, we might also reflect upon how we can become peacemakers in our own circles of life, for peace begins with you and me. The Church also has to be willing to prayerfully and demonstrably grow into a visible unity and be a sign of hope to our often divided world. It is easy to preach and pray about peace. The tough call is to make peace and live in peace with one another every day. That is altogether a much greater challenge.
     
     
    ©Hilary Oxford Smith
    25 April 2014
     
    Image
    Carillon, William Longstaff, National Collection of War Art, Archives New Zealand.
    During the course of the First World War, the New Zealand Expeditionary Force suffered 59,483 casualties of which 18,166 were fatal.  Will Longstaff honoured the New Zealand fallen by painting a scene depicting the spiritual images of soldiers gathering on the beaches of Belgium and listening to the carillon bells in their home country. The painting is permanently housed at Archives New Zealand, Wellington, New Zealand.
     
     

     

  • Bread and Wine

    Margaret Lyall 16 April 2014

    Bread and Wine

     

    1.
    An English cathedral on a summer Sunday morning.
    Sunlight shafting downwards through the stained glass
    onto the choristers, whose ethereal music soars heavenwards
    to the high vaulted roof above.
     
    The bishops and clergy are bedecked in their finery,
    rich reds, green and gold,
    dressed as if to attend
    a Celebration.
     
    The service proceeds to its climax,
    the congregation moves slowly forward,
    slotting into the spaces at the altar rail
    to receive the bread and wine,
    then tiptoeing back to their places
    humbled, yet uplifted.
     
    2.
    A Scottish Presbyterian Church on a Sunday morning
    at the sacred hour of eleven.
    The congregation gathers early.
    The atmosphere is grave
    as they sit in silent expectation.
     
    The elders enter, dressed in sombre colours,
    (save for one, an exiled Anglican
    in whose memory the idea of celebration still lingers on,
    and whose red pullover glows like a living ember
    in a dying fire).
     
    The service is solemn and dignified,
    sounding the twin themes of death and resurrection
    (though a stranger could be forgiven for thinking
    that to many present,
      only the first half of the message has got through).
     
    The miracle is
    that God is able to break through
    the trappings and the ceremony
    and reveal Himself
    to those who seek Him.
     
    3.
    A Methodist Chapel, small and friendly,
    still with a historical hangover
    from the temperance movement,
      so serving strictly non-alcoholic wine.
    And since that liquid
    has no anti-bacterial properties,
    the common cup has been reluctantly discarded
    in favour of glass thimbles.
     
    The service is simple but expressive,
      each person invited to the table, pew by pew,
    coming forward as a symbol of freewill,
    kneeling as a sign of unworthiness and reverence
    to receive the bread and wine.
     
    And afterwards, still kneeling,
    words to strengthen and encourage
    spoken by the Minister as he sends his flock
    back into the world to share with the world
    what they have received.
     
    4.
    Four friends meet in a house for a meal,
    brought together by a common grief.
    One, a non-believer, brings as a gift
    a newly baked loaf of bread.
    Another brings a bottle of wine.
     
    The meal is eaten, the wine is drunk,
    and memories of those not present are tenderly recalled.
    There is talking and listening,
    sharing and caring.
    God is never mentioned,
    but He is there.
     
    ©Margaret Lyall
    Image   Bread and Wine, Sr. Mary Stephen CRSS  
     

     

  • Passion

     

    The spider webs glisten in the soft slanting light of a gilded Autumn in Aotearoa. The long white cloud has given way, for the moment, to golden luminosity. The intricate patterns and variations of the singing bellbird/korimako in the tree accompany my writing. In whatever way the song functions for this bird, unique to New Zealand, it is beautiful and compelling for me. I cannot imagine a world without birds. Such thoughts add poignancy to this season, soon to be farewelled.   Storm clouds gather.
     
    It was Captain Cook who, in 1770, named the northernmost point of New Zealand's South Island, Cape Farewell, because it was the last land he sighted after leaving these shores for Australia at the end of his first voyage. The longest natural sandbar in the world, called Farewell Spit, is near the Cape. Whale strandings are common there. No-one really knows why. Volunteers from the aptly named Project Jonah   know all about saying farewell.
     
    Jonah was regarded as a prophet in Islam, Judaism and Christianity. Inspired by his strange story of rescue and deliverance, those who work for Project Jonah care deeply about the welfare of whales and other sea mammals, their suffering and their needs. 'We believe that both animals and people matter,' they say. 'Whilst the animals are central to what we do, it's people that make our work possible'.
     
    In the Northern Hemisphere, there is another Cape Farewell, which juts out into the northern Atlantic Ocean at the southernmost tip of Greenland. It is the windiest region on Earth. Early Icelandic sagas describe the wild capricious winds at Cape Farewell blowing early Viking explorers from Iceland and Greenland off course to reach landfall in Canada and North America.    
     
    Artist, David Buckland began The Cape Farewell project in 2001 as a cultural response to climate change.   Moving beyond purely scientific debate to creative insight and vision, the project brings together artists, scientists, communicators from around the world...'The Arctic is an extraordinary place to visit...to be inspired...which urges us to face up to what it is we stand to lose', he says.
     
    The Paschal Mystery will soon occupy the thoughts of the Church and its people. Joyous song will give way to a walk with Jesus along the Via Dolorosa, the Way of the Cross, in Jerusalem. Over the centuries, millions of pilgrims have walked in His footsteps, beginning in the Muslim Quarter of that Abrahamic city along a winding path to the Church of the Holy Sepulcher in the Christian Quarter.
     
    We do not have to go to Jerusalem. People of faith, in the week we call Holy will, in their own places of devotion, accompany Jesus and meditate and pray about the events of His Passion and His dying on Good Friday.
     
    His disciples, family and friends faced the end of the incarnation, the end of Jesus' presence on earth. Yet His farewell words to them tell a different story - of love, comfort, change, hope. The poet-prophet from Nazareth encourages them, as he does us, to imagine the promise of the resurrection, of what is to come.
     
    Although our spiritual awareness may wax and wane, the love of the Divine gifts us all we need to fare well in the journey of life. It is a Love that inspires us to be appreciative and generate abundance, wholeness and the sustaining of life in all of creation.
     
    And the whales and the birds and the wind sing a holy song.
     
    ©Hilary Oxford Smith
    April 2014
     
    Notes and References:
    Korimako is the Maaori name for the Bellbird
    Image: Passion,   www.lifedesignsbycathleen.com
     
     
     
     
     
          
     
     
     
       

     

  • Solomon's Eden

    Solomon's Eden

    Ever-growing concerns about the sexualisation of our young people are voiced in the home, the media, in public and policy reports as well as a plethora of popular books. Children, teenagers, adults are exposed on a daily basis, overtly and subliminally, to a diversity of sexual messages and behaviour on the internet, in printed media, film, television, in the lyrics and performance of popular music, in the fashion industry, in our exhibitionist celebrity culture.  

    Last week, new guidelines about the themes and tone of film and video came into force by the British Board of Film Classification. The findings of an extensive public consultation of over 10,000 people, including teenagers, underpinned the need for these guidelines. [i] A major concern expressed by respondents was the early sexualisation of young girls, the sexual and language content of music videos and the ease of accessibility by young people to online pornography. Risks to vulnerable adolescents of self-harm, drug misuse and premature access to sexual content in film were also considered to be a serious issue for a majority of respondents.  

    The world-wide web has brought about a radical change in the social and cultural environment for all of us and most especially for our children and young people. It can be, for them, a valuable learning, research, communication and fun tool to access and use through various technologies. Yet it is also the means by which they are vulnerable to the aggressive marketing of powerful companies who exploitatively promote and sell sex in different ways. Children and adolescents can fall prey to paedophiles and other criminals who use the internet to pursue their illegal and abusive behaviour.
     
    Research reveals that the average age of a child's first internet exposure to online adult pornography is 11 years old and that the largest consumers of it are 12-17 year old adolescents. Of that group, 27 per cent of boys are accessing it every week with five per cent viewing it every day. [ii] Sexualisation of young people is a complex topic because many of us perceive sexual connotations in different ways. Polarised opinions dominate the debate. There is, however, a broad consensus amongst practitioners, academics and others, that women are being portrayed more and more as embracing an ever ready sexual availability with sex separated from intimacy and love. Whereas research has indicated that young girls have the ability to criticise and deconstruct sexualised images, this also sits alongside very painful accounts of how bad such images can make them feel and the kinds of pressures they feel subject to. [iii]
     
    If young girls imitate examples of sexual expression from role models such as some minor celebrities, reality show contestants, young pop stars, porn stars and surgically enhanced women, most of whom are paid to increase sales and make money, depict instant pleasure, court controversy and shock, then the chances of girls finding true intimacy, connection, genuine love and passion could be diminished.
     
    Similarly, constructions of masculinity are often linked to sexual prowess and conquest. So-called 'Lads' Mags' boast covers with soft porn images of young women. The rough magic of being a bloke is promoted and free gifts of beer and condoms are offered to increase sales. Boys and young men are being sexualised in ways that could be regarded as neither healthy nor esteem building.
     
    Young people need to be encouraged and enabled to find a sense of personal integrity and a relationship with their bodies that is not based on sexualisation. Surely it is desirable for them to gain a knowledge of the wide range of other possibilities and potentials for living life to the full. Isn't this critical for their well-being and in their relationships with themselves and others? There is a deepening belief around that young people would benefit from becoming more media literate so that they are better equipped to critique sexualised and pornified popular culture. Such literacy would be linked to conversations about consent, coercion, violence and exploitation in sexual relationships. [iv]
     
    I have been reminded of a sermon I preached at St. Giles' Cathedral, Edinburgh, later published in Theology in Scotland. [v]   One of the lectionary readings for the day was from The Song of Songs. Revisiting the text over the last few days, I think there are resonances for us in these present times.  
    The only surviving example of ancient Hebrew love poetry, the Song of Songs is a tale of extraordinary eroticism, taking human sexuality seriously. Two young people express their love and desire for one another, unashamedly admiring each other's bodies and celebrating their love. It is the only book in the Bible whose principal speaker is an assertive, confident and happy woman in her own skin. She is strong, her partner is sensitive.
     
    Morals, marriage ethics, contractual obligations don't see the light of day. Neither is it an allegory even though there are those who interpret it as such. Over the centuries the Church taught that because of the Adam and Eve story, sex was sinful unless for procreation and women were the lure to that sin, their subjection, the consequence. [vi] The feminine voice was heard quietly, if at all. It is little wonder then that such sensual poetry was and still is, in some quarters, conveniently regarded in allegorical terms.
    The blush factor not spared, these young people capture the freshness of new, consensual love, enjoying a bond of mutual sharing and tenderness, expressing a sacred sexuality of joy, intimacy, reciprocal longing, mutual esteem and wholesomeness. Restraints and propriety are present and we are reminded that their sexual expression of love is neither trivial, cheap nor a commodity which can be bought and sold in the marketplace. Their loving grace and gracefulness, beauty and fragility refreshes our awareness.
     
    In all the diversity of our expressions of love and physical love, perhaps we need to be aware of what protects wholeness in our relationships. If this is forgotten all kinds of misuse and abuse can take place. Might we reflect that we may always be on holy ground and that this doesn't invite open license to do anything? Neither though, can such expression in the context of people's lives be confined within narrow prohibition.
     
    Rowan Williams, before he became Archbishop of Canterbury said in a speech about human sexuality,
    '…the moral question ought to be one of how much we want our sexual activity to communicate, how much we want it to display a breadth of human possibility and a sense of the body's capacity to heal and to enlarge the life of other people…' [vii]  
     
    What God celebrates in all our expressions of love - physical, sexual, sensual, non-sexual is deep, selfless, uninhibited sharing – mind, body and spirit - in faithful, healthy and enduring relationships that reflect unconditional love and dependable fidelity.
    '…vital for human life…love alone can awaken what is divine within…a rhythm of grace and gracefulness…when love awakens in your life, it is like a rebirth, a new beginning.' [viii]
    ©Hilary Oxford Smith
    March 2014
       
     
    [i] See www.bbfc.co.uk for details of the new guidelines and the results of the research
    [ii] Sex Education Survey, YouGov (2008);   Livingstone, Beber et al (2005) Internet Literacy among children and young people, Go Online Project)
    [iii] Gill, Rosalind, Professor of Social and Culture Analysis, Kings College London, National Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children (NSPCC), Conference, Premature sexualisation: understanding the risks, 2011
    [iv] Coy, Maddy, Dr., Child and Woman Abuse Studies Unit, London Metropolitan University, NSPCC Conference 2011
    [v] Smith, Hilary, Revd. Dr., A Beautiful and Enriching Love, Theology in Scotland, 2008
    [vi] See Holloway, Richard, Godless Morality, (Canongate 1999) page 58
    [vii] Williams, Rowan, The Body's Grace, 10th Michael Harding Memorial Address to The Lesbian and Gay Christian Movement 1989, pages 4,5
    [viii] O'Donohue, John, Anam Cara, Spiritual Wisdom from the Celtic World, (Bantam 1999) page 26

     

  • Look at me!

    Look at me!

     

    A flash of colour seen
    Attention captured.
    I turned and gazed.
    Gurgles of delight bubbling upwards,
    held captive
    to keep faith with others on holy retreat.
    This flower,
    bigger,
    louder,
    brighter
    than its siblings
    shouts her presence to the world.
    Look at me!
    See me!
    Attend to me!
    So I stood still
    attending to her beauty,
    marvelling at her fearless audacity
    to be 'more than'.
    And felt sheer unadulterated delight,
    until it broke through my self-imposed repression
    and disturbed the holy silence.
     
    As silence descended,
    settling as softly as a blanket on a sleeping child,
    questions shimmered across this still heart,  
    How come it is so easy to delight in the
    stunning distinctiveness,  
    outrageous beauty,
    exquisite simplicity
    of this flower,
    but so difficult to rejoice in
    our brothers and sisters who are
    just as loud,
    proud,
    and demanding
    of careful, prayerful attention?
    When did demure reticence became so highly valued?
     
    [Photograph & words by Gayanne Frater 24 January 2014
    Reflections from a January retreat 2014]
     
     
     
     
     

     

  • A Oneness

    The Rev. Dr. Paul McKeown 27 February 2014

     

    You said in passing
    that you'd washed your mother's hair
    that morning.
     
    I cannot now remember
    when we spoke, or where:
    sotto voce over coffee in the hall
    or poised on sofas in your lounge,
    your thin voice cracking
    with the stress of it all.
     
    And I confess, all else you said
    has seeped from mind,
    save that one lucent line.
     
    You washed your mother's hair.
     
    I see her now,
    inched to the edge of her bed:
    duvet down,
    pink flanellette sheets
    giving up the ghost of her warmth.
    Tired nylon nightie
    shapeless on her
    as you turn and cradle round.
     
    Bent double toward the steaming basin,
    she grasps the table
    stiff armed,
    and bows her head.
    Accepts the towel
    you bequeath upon her shoulders.
    Awaits her baptism
    with the blue plastic cup.
     
    Three times, four,
    then five you scoop and slop.
    Drenching her hair with wet warmth
    'til it sits sodden
    like soaked cotton.
     
    You stoop and lather next;
    fingers coaxing foam from nape to crown.
    Working to a oneness.
    Still lightly kneading,
    kneading,
    kneading
    through all the scalp.
    Long after all that's needful has been done.
     
    Both of you lost,
    And found,
    In the tender rhythm of touch.
     
    The moment stolen, savoured,
    stretched beyond saying:
    time finally calls time.
     
    You straighten up,
    fetch fresh water,
    And dip the cup again.
    Rinsing all but memories away.
     
    ©Paul McKeown

     

  • Fearless Inclusivity

    The Rev. John Fairbrother 21 February 2014

    For four or five centuries the intellectual tide in support of the supernatural has been receding.   It is sadly surprising, then, to hear of Christians being reluctant to divulge a lack of belief in anything supernatural. Is it possible to be a follower of Jesus Christ without acknowledgement of a supernatural realm?

    An answer would depend on both Biblical interpretation and the intellectual relationships between systematic theology, philosophy and empirical knowledge gained via experience and research.   Knowledge is never static nor is biblical interpretation.

    The evolving nature of understanding has given rise to many versions of what it may mean to be a follower of Jesus. By virtue of their existence Church denominations give witness to this, as do categories ranging from so-called Bible based Christian to Christian Atheist.
     
    The test of faith becomes acute when one reaches a point of acceptance, or not, about the endless nature of unconditional intellectual enquiry. For many this has become a question of integrity. Why should some questions remain contained by a confession of faith?
     
    The point is not as simple as saying show me evidence and I will believe. Rather the point of faith co-existing with unconditional enquiry is to live with deepest respect for the human condition.
     
    In Christian terms, such respect holds incarnation as a continuing reality of being wholly present within this life and, subsequently, letting go of any fear of judgement beyond this life. Heaven becomes understood as a state of being and the Way of Jesus becomes the means of entering such a state.
     
    Christian spirituality and theology has long sought to align the religious poetic imagination with explicit intellectual expression. Explaining the imaginative and intuitive has found rich resource with supernatural imagery. Ironic in the use of anthropomorphic language, supernatural imagery has served to transcend present circumstances by being the means to hold an endless source of ideals, aspirations and hope. However, how well is such language continuing to convey significant meaning?  
     
    Can one hold a Christian Faith without a supernatural belief?   To say 'no' confronts a prominent dimension of Christian orthodoxy. To say 'yes' engages growing numbers asking unconditional questions about Biblical interpretation in the light of current scientific, historical and philosophical research.
     
    There is much writing and gathering about such thinking. A range of contemporary examples include, Charles Taylor in his book A Secular Age, Lloyd Geering's writings of Christianity without God, Don Cupitt, The Jesus Seminar, Bishop John Spong are among them. [i]
     
    This can be an uncomfortable topic. However, it is one that has been in an evolving public debate for at least the last five centuries. Room abounds to engage such writers in open debate.
     
    Alternatively, one may ignore the discussion, seek to discredit or use the weight of authoritative office to quieten or even intimidate. Whatever any response may be this discussion is not going away. In the face of discovery in many fields of enquiry, increasing access to education and the advent of social media, the likelihood is it will become more pronounced.
     
    Recourse to the supernatural carries the answers to things that may or cannot be explained. For example: How did life begin? A straight forward answer has long been 'God made heaven and Earth'.
     
    Alternatively, the same answer may also be understood as one born of the poetic imagination, seeking to convey the miraculous gift of life. And it is from seeking to understand this gift that much of the unconditional enquiry now challenging the validity of belief in a supernatural realm arises.
     
    Poetry, music, for example, bring the imaginative mind and rational observer into a concerted expression that, at once, may be a transcendent presence and bearer of light to the practical depths of compassion, hope, love, fear and understanding.
     
    The intellectual craft of Biblical text is filled with expressions of the poetic mind. The same can be said of worship and liturgy. Is it possible to imagine the living of Christian Faith, where there is no exclusivity about supernaturalism but rather a fearless inclusivity of any who would seek Jesus' Way to life in all its fullness?
     
    [i] See for example:
    Charles Taylor, A Secular Age, The Belknap Press of Harvard University Press, 2007
    Lloyd Geering, Christianity without God, Bridget Williams Books, 2003
     
    John Fairbrother
    19 February 2014
     

     

  • Spacious Spirituality

    The Rev. John Fairbrother 10 February 2014

    Spacious Spirituality

     

    You will not have to travel far to appreciate the multi-cultural character of Auckland and much else of New Zealand. The diversity of cultures is obvious at work places, parks, beaches, schools, streets, malls, markets, theatre, wherever people gather and pursue the demands of everyday.
     
    In the life of my generation contemporary Aotearoa New Zealand has relegated a white monocultural society to the historical record. While far from perfect in current form, there can be no return to an era when immigrants were tolerated and indigenous people were seen rather than heard.
     
    New Zealand is now recognised as part of the Asia region. A small, independently minded South Pacific country making its way in a competitive rapidly changing world. Globalisation and cultural diversity has become the modern reality.
     
    In any society, New Zealand being no exception, the need for cultures to understand one another and commit to sharing the benefits of living alongside one another has never been more pressing. Prejudice about differences of race, social status, religion or outright xenophobia will lead only to destruction of mutual wellbeing.
     
    The history of world religions provides many examples of such destruction and the record continues to grow. Tragically, conflicts categorised by religious difference remain flashpoints for violence in many parts of the world.
     
    This reality has increasing significance for the Christian Church internationally and within New Zealand. While it is often argued Christian values inform our law and culture, multi faith dialogue has long been promoted by many Christians.
     
    Over time many other religions have taken firm footing, bringing differing expressions of spirituality. Sadly this can threaten the confidence of some about the perceived place and/or status of the Christian Faith.
     
    Chaplaincies minister at the raw edge of this reality. School, military, police, hospital and other work place chaplaincies are all examples, ministering in places where people present a variety of faith expressions or none. Parish clergy, too, minister in communities with incredible diversity. Ministry is not as straight forward as it once may have been.
     
    The immediate response is the Church ministers to all. Thankfully this remains true. However, there is a point when differences between religions can become a barrier to sharing the experiences of spirituality.
     
    It is not unheard of for Chaplains and others to find themselves needing the generosity of a spacious spirituality which recognises the validity of another belief and faith system without needing to compromise their own. I recall a Biblical scholar describing a “proper confidence”, namely the capacity to defend one's faith with strength of gentle reverence.   I also recall a senior Anglican Priest once said to me, tell me a more convincing story and I will accept it.
     
    A spacious spirituality has room to accommodate dialogue and respect for differences of belief and faith.   Other religions notwithstanding, a simple test is to listen to the almost incredible differences of belief held across the spectrum of faith within the Christian Church.  
     
    The world is changing around the Church. The Anglican Church's tortuous response to sexuality issues is illustrative enough. Yet, after years of struggle, much of the Communion is beginning to express a spirituality once considered virtually an anathema a generation ago. Theology is clearly responding to societal change: it always has done.
     
    The challenge pressing the Church is how to live with other religions in ways that authentically share the human experience of spirituality.   Avoiding or attempting to control such challenge will serve to deepen conflict and hasten the unnecessary decline and marginalisation of the Church. This is a loss not merely for the Church. Rather it is a failure to address the diverse nature of human need with generosity of Spirit that defines the practice of Faith.  
     
    ©John Fairbrother
     
    Image by Colin Hopkirk
     
     
     
     
     
     

     

  • Breaking bread

    The Rev. Gayanne Frater 7 February 2014

    Breaking bread

     

    Here and now I hold my bread
    Alone at table,
    I gazed with delight at                     
    freshly baked bread.
    I savoured its colour,
    texture,
    fragrance
    and breathed in deep.
    Simple joy bubbled up from my belly,
    a smile broke out on my face,
    as I took bread,
    felt its warmth in my hands.
    Every pore in my body
    zinging with pleasure.
    I felt alive.
    In this moment of time,     
    I remembered words from
    morning prayer,  
    'here and now I hold my bread'.  
     
    An unspoken question
    gently threaded its way
    to the surface of my mind,
    “Will I ever break bread again?”
    Bathed in gentle grief,  
    This priest without a parish,
    remembered breaking bread
    at Eucharist.
    A past action  
    so it seemed.
    As I held myself in that moment,
    the Living Word
    tumbled into the holy silence.
    You break bread
    every time you hear someone into speech.
     
    Every time you speak from your true heart
    words of life and hope to others,
    you break bread.
    Every time your unfettered laughter
    ripples across a room,  
    you break bread.
    Every time you sing our song of Love
    in the company of others,
    you break bread.
    Woman of mine, you break bread,
    as you give life, my life, to others
    when fully alive.
    Yes, you will 'break bread' again.
    You never stopped.
     
    Here and now I hold my bread.  
     
         
    ©Gayanne Frater
    January 2014

     

  • The wake-up call to beat them all

    The Rev. John Fairbrother 3 February 2014

    The wake-up call to beat them all

    A spacecraft millions of kilometres from earth, ten years after launch, being brought out of induced hibernation by mission control. The signals took something like forty five minutes to travel the distance one way. Right on cue, Rosetta came back to life to be readied for a remarkable first in exploration and discovery. The project is an amazing combination of imagination, science, navigation and risk management.

     
    The craft is designed to deliver a lander on comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko (C-G) and accompany the comet as it enters our inner solar system. While a successful mission will reveal much about the life of comets, it may reveal information about creation that pre-dates our solar system. Most intriguing of all, it may assist with questions about comets possibly first delivering the elements essential for life to evolve.
     
    Rosetta is named after the stone that, around 200 years ago, provided the key to decoding Egyptian hieroglyphics. The lander is named Philae after an island in the Nile, where an obelisk was found that helped the decoding of the Stone. Rosetta, the space vehicle, has the goal of reading the origins of the Earth and life itself. Philae will assist, standing on the comet drawing data, all the while speeding toward the sun.
     
    The realm of science fiction continues to make room for such audacious adventures. One might wonder at what is to come. Dreams aside, this joint venture of The European Space Agency and NASA will serve to enlarge our understanding of the earth and interstellar space.
     
    It all begs the question of what such exploration might reveal about the human condition. Will humanity derive direct benefit from this craft's extraordinary trip around the solar system?
     
    The benefits of potential discovery may astound us all. It may reveal information useful for tracking and averting asteroid threats. Alongside the sciences, prospects of pursuing mineral wealthwill have ongoing enticement. Gaining knowledge about traveling in deep space will inform future programs, not least the likelihood of going to Mars. Heck, we might hear we are not alone, then again…   However, what might this adventure tell us of ourselves?
     
    In 1990 Carl Sagan convinced the controllers of Voyager 1 to reverse the direction of its cameras, as it neared the limits of our planetary system, in order to view Earth in the context of space (http://www.planetary.org/explore/space-topics/earth/pale-blue-dot.html). The result is the famous blue dot. There among countless stars is a little blue point. It is the Earth, as it were floating, alone, relatively insignificant. It remains an image that is inspiring and for some frightening.
     
    Exploration of space presents humanity with the opportunity to take an objective view of Home. To appreciate the miraculous beauty each of us is privileged to enjoy for a time. With all the empirical knowledge that may come our way the opportunities also present reflective insights. For example: life is transitory and fragile; national borders are invention; humanity cannot do anything else but make a life here, therefore making effort to co-operate one with another is worthwhile; we all are part of a whole sustained by a very thin biosphere, surrounded by the infinite inhospitable vastness of space.
     
    Above all such appreciation, one might wonder at the fact of our being. For many this becomes the ground of religious faith. To see Earth as a miracle of life in a lonely part of the universe is to invite conjecture at our origin. Whether by chance or the gift of Divine providence, the wonder of it has potential to evoke a profound sense of thankfulness for life itself.
     
    Rosetta offers opportunities for us to re-read our own stories and appreciate afresh the fragile diversity of life that enriches us all. A spacecraft heard a wake-up call. One might pray we will hear the same.
     
    ©John Fairbrother
    23 January 2014
     
    Image: Rosetta calls Home: ESA
     
     
     
     
     

     

  • A Salty Reverie

    A Salty Reverie

     

    With elderly poise and grace, my four-legged friend slowly makes her way along the pathway to a favourite patch of grass. Minx and I have been together for fifteen years. So many adventures we have enjoyed. Days of climbing mountains, chasing rabbits and catching sticks now belong to her dreams.
     
    It is summertime as we sit at the water's edge. She loves the sights and sounds and smells of her world. Every now and then, we catch a glimpse of each other. Our time together so precious.
     
    It's a warm day. A day to do nothing except think or not think. Little boats with assorted generations of family on board, putt out of the harbour. Children in swimsuits play tag on the beach and tuck into fruit salad and jelly afterwards. Seagulls hover overhead, waiting for a piece of pineapple to come their way.  
     
    Dreams and memories add to this salty reverie. I'm five years old again, on the beach at Blackpool in Lancashire, with my younger brother, Mark. We are wearing our new inflatable swim rings. Mark's ring has a horse's head, mine is a swan. The Irish Sea is always cold. Small guardians of the future do not worry about such things. Mum and Dad gently pull us into less shallow water, not letting go until, screeching with fearful delight, we insist on freedom. Afterwards, we head to the ice-cream parlour for banana splits all round. To children belongs the Kingdom of God.
     
    All this reminiscing comes to an end when two men in gumboots, argue furiously on the quayside over their catch of fish and I hear the gunshots of a pig hunter in the valley. Contemplative spirituality has to engage with the world.
     
    With her twilight perception, Minx has gifted me the wisdom that times of stillness and refreshment are vital to wholeness. Intense movement, busyness, work, justification of self, through the doing of deeds are endemic these days, not least in the Church. Many clergy, from Archbishops down, earnestly go about the business of religion attending endless meetings, compulsory personal development courses, supervision sessions, yearly reviews and formulating still more desperate strategies for mission. Yet what significant time is given to the heart of vocation -   presence - sharing the sights and sounds and smells of other people's worlds and being refreshed in mind, body and spirit?
     
    The clergy of Jane Austen's time were not known to work onerously. As the daughter and sister of clergymen, Jane always included at least one vicar in her novels. Taking tea with parishioners was a most regular occurrence for them, as was reading in the study and if they were single, wooing a fair maiden. Henry Tilney in Northanger Abbey was noticeably absent from his parish for much of the year, retreating to the town of Bath. His lack of commitment would surely be questioned these days, yet he saw the world quite poetically and spiritually, '… I am pleased that you have learnt to love a hyacinth. The mere habit of learning to love is the thing.' For all his flaws, Henry Tilney took time to see the subtlest of things.  
     
    Is it possible to find a still and quiet place in our hearts and lives?
     
    At the heart of Vaughan Park is the Ruatara Chapel. Three times a day, the community gathers there to mark the hours of the day, to pray for justice, peace and the integrity of creation and to value the ordinary as sacred. As most of us are rarely in a place where we stand and in the time that is now, this living of the canonical hours is a vital resource.
     
    The Book of Hours, popular in the medieval period, was originally written by monks who contemplated the nature of God in quietness, sometimes isolation. It contained prayers for specific hours of the day, days of the week, months and seasons, with illustrations to help the reader contemplate and meditate. It was read by all kinds of people from every strata of society, often carried in pocket or bag. The Liturgy of the Hours, The Daily Office, The Divine Services all originate from this early source of wisdom.
      
    Wisdom, I think, is a deeper way of knowing and living in rhythm with our souls, life and the Divine. It is about learning to balance the known with the unknown and linking the whole of life to a deeper Unity. Jesus withdrew to quiet places, in mind, body and spirit. He considered it wise.
     
    The Christian Church reminds us in early February of the story in St. Luke's gospel about the elderly priest and prophetess, Simeon and Anna. They waited many faithful years to bless the Christ Child and sensed the sacredness of the moment when he came before them. With the wisdom of age and the daily prayers of a lifetime, they saw God in Jesus and knew him to be the Light of the World.
     
    At Candlemas and at any other time, come to think of it, we light candles in response to Love, praying and believing that Light will shine where wars rage, hate burns, fresh water is but a dream, land is stolen and pillaged. We also pray that the Light will continue to shine in the lives of people who honour love, justice, truth, peace and hope. The Church, for all its flaws and in its goodness, still seeks the Light.
     
    Minx is resting at my feet as I write these words. Perhaps she is dreaming of a time when she swam in the river or when she licked away the tears from my face on the night Dad died. I gaze out at our garden. The boughs of the gnarled pear tree, planted some eighty years ago, are laden with fruit.
     
    ©Hilary Oxford Smith
           
    Image   Children sitting on wall at the seaside, by the artist, Marilyn Spence, www.marilynspence.co.uk
     
          
     

     

  • Beyond a Prophetic Science

    The Rev. John Fairbrother 31 January 2014

     

    Australia has simmered under a heat wave. California has felt the effects of drought and lack of the regular snow melt. Globally cities suffer dangerous air pollution and large cyclonic events continue to damage coasts and threaten the existence of island communities. Such events have become normal.
     
    The warming of the earth is a fact. Without doubt, we humans have used fossil fuels in a manner and at rates that chart a pathway to our own destruction. While political elites continue to conference, seeking ways to reduce carbon emissions, the politics of market advantage and compromise persistently frustrate effective accord for the good of all life.
     
    The 'developed economies' have derived enormous benefits from industrial, agrarian and scientific advance. 'Developing economies' are well set on similar paths to become competitive in global markets. Those who remain relatively 'undeveloped' are often fought over by nations aligned with either or both of the above for little more than the earth resources within their lands and seas.
     
    It is curious what constitutes an international crisis. In recent memory, the collapse of financial houses on Wall Street qualified, destroying the regime of Saddam Hussein likewise. In earlier times the great depression of 1929 and wars such as World Wars 1 & 2, Korea and Vietnam filled the bill. Self-destruction via human generated climate change does not seem to make the cut, yet.
     
    Perhaps the reasons are twofold. Firstly, the excessive gases and carbon being emitted are invisible to immediate perception. Secondly, politicians are restrained, if not motivated, by the demands of constituencies requiring ever increasing standards of living.
     
    Invisibility is a challenge. The study of climate change has been a prophetic science. It has served to indicate destructive changes that simply had not been apparent. Prophets of disaster are rarely welcome.
     
    Governing decision-makers face enormous complexity. This January the World Economic Forum met in Davos. The participants, comprising political and business leaders, academics and others have been addressing The Reshaping of the World: The Consequences for Society, Politics and Business. A primary concern of the Forum has been the troubling consequences of globalisation along with the urgent need to reduce growing inequality. (http://www.weforum.org/).
     
    Given the record to date, what change might those who suffer realistically expect? In the short to medium term very little. Living standards around the world continue to be measured by means of wealth accumulation and exchange and management of poverty.
     
    Low wages, competitive employment and education environments leave many distracted hoping and looking for relief from unrelenting daily struggle. Engaging in voluntary activity to alleviate climate change can seem remote, even if such a cause is life-saving.
     
    The politics of slowing climate change will need more than government only led initiatives. The concern will need to take root in the hearts and minds of the majority of people going about their daily rounds. Until there is sufficient demand at the level of local communities, governing politicians will continue policy compromises in response to the lobbies that maintain electoral resources.
                                                                                                                                 
    The struggle for reduction of greenhouse gases needs to move beyond scientists and organised protest. Necessary change will occur only when public opinion motivates politicians to respond with a sense of mandated purpose.  
     
    Fortunately the internet enables information to confound borders and political control. Movements like 350.org (http://350.org/)and the commitment of Churches to ethical investment and divestment of fossil fuels are current examples of change taking root.
     
    The prospect of climate change being accepted as a genuine international crisis is a positive one. After all, it will require global co-operation across all levels of societies to achieve the required outcomes for reduction of greenhouse gases for the good of all life.
     
    ©John Fairbrother
     
     
     
     

     

  • Morning, Pluscarden

    The Rev. Dr. Paul McKeown 23 January 2014

    Morning, Pluscarden



    The day began without me;

    dozing ‘til the prayer bell summoned us from sleep.

    Dressed hastily against the cold, still unsure

    if I would join the monks at Terce; creep

    in quietly to the candled transept,

    or seek God alone.

    Hands thrust in pockets, I chose to keep

    an earthy sort of vigil: went to stand

     

    outside and tarry for the dawn.

    Found a hard-silvered world beneath a shepherd eye.

    Frostbound trees; tarmac stars glittering; the Abbey

    cradling worship. Pater noster, thy

    kingdom come. We watch and wait for it

    in silence broken

    only by a distant fox’s cry

    and honking geese, drawn south to warmer lands.

     

    Above, sister moon lingers;

    loath to leave and miss the birthing of the day.

    Together with the dawn, she weaves a mythic light

    that falls, Edenic, on the valley;

    blood red, as at the world’s beginning.

    And I behold it

    not like lonely Adam, fresh from clay,

    but Eve, who woke

    to wondering eyes and outstretched hand.

     

    ©Paul McKeown


    Image  Morning Moon www.2summers.net

     

  • Bedrock of a Democracy

    The Rev. John Fairbrother 21 January 2014

    Get ready for the triennial dose of popularist politicking, facile rhetoric and expedient policy pronouncements. General election year has come round again.

    Among all the posturing and spin, hopefully, genuine policy trends will become apparent. Trends that inform the public of the direction a party and its leader might take if power should be won. Major parties will seek to affirm their faithful constituents, win over the unsure and seek to dismiss or apprehend the policy of their opponents.

    New Zealand’s electoral system is a combative process, which rightly demands clarity and resilience. The positive sub text of any campaign, despite the debates and announcements, is the process itself will refine and temper political will and skill.

    Best intentions notwithstanding, an election inevitably will reveal a competitive mêlée of political statements, rebuttals and counter statements. The discerning citizen is required to listen carefully, observe, and recall the records of former governments and politicians to ensure the two votes of Mixed Member Proportional representation are applied as creatively as possible.

    MMP provided the means to break autocratic government by executive. Cabinet can no longer retreat from public scrutiny as it could prior to the electoral reform. Minor parties sitting at Parliament’s debating crossroad have acquired practical influence to moderate the effects of powerful political lobbies and related policy implementations.

    However, there is a challenge to the efficacy of the parliamentary system that is related to electoral reform but lies outside the parliament. Public participation in an election is the key to democratic function. If a majority of people do not turn out to vote how authentic is an election?  This presents the risk of minority government of a different form. A choice not to vote is significant.

    New Zealand society has troubling similarities with other western democracies. We, too, have growing extremes of poverty and wealth; a loosely termed middle class straining with the demands of work, living expenditure, market driven peer expectations, and the challenges of personal relationships intensified in increasingly mobile, connected, atomised social environments.

    Low voter turnout may be not so much an outcome of ignorance or apathy as much as resignation to the reality of every day being sufficient concern unto itself. Indifference and despair may breed frustration, even anger. It will unlikely provide a reasoned climate conducive to participatory politics.

    Governments have a direct responsibility to nurture the health of a democratic system. It is the system that provides our society’s sense of continuity from generation to generation. Politicians come and go. Their roles are of major significance and their policies may become so, however, their personal stakes are entirely transitory.

    All politicians have responsibility to promote the worth of democracy. In this regard the democratic system requires care, maintenance, creative criticism and change measured against the safe context it provides for all citizens.

    Local Authority elections have long been plagued by low voter turnout. The risk of this same trend being a significant factor for General Elections is a matter of grave concern. The need for a systematic civics course in the schools’ national curriculum has never been stronger. An informed, interested electorate will function well only if the system of education accepts responsibility to educate the young about the privilege and significance of voting.

    To participate in the electoral process is to contribute and to contribute is to share in the responsibilities and outcomes of government. Such participation is the bedrock of a democracy.

     

    John Fairbrother

    14 January 2014

     

  • The risky path of engendering conversations

    The Rev. John Fairbrother 14 January 2014

     

    Sunday morning is a day that retains vestiges of being a day set apart. A great day for attending systematic attractions geared to meet the voracious engine of retail need. Yet, do you sense a faintly different ambience to other days of the week?
     
    On Sunday mornings garden centres, malls, cafes and the like are busy. The phenomenon of shopping has become a fixed ritual in New Zealand society. For those who can afford the luxury, Sunday is a great family and friends' day with all this country offers with retail, alongside the traditional enjoyments of arts, sports and scenic locations.
     
    Each Sunday, a living relic of an era now passed continues to exhibit life signs. Around the country there are gatherings of Christians of all sorts of theological persuasion. Such gatherings continue to fall under the public classification of Church.
     
    Within current life-time church attendance was once among the main public activities of the day. That reality authenticated the day's name and style. Sunday was the recognised, established Christian Sabbath, the one day of rest available to the majority of the population in each week.   Clearly neither remains the case.
     
    Goodness knows churches have tried to hold their numbers. The Anglican Church, for example, declared the 1990's to be the decade of evangelism. If numbers were to be the measure, success was distinctly limited. The same Church retains a fivefold mission statement that, fortunately, manages to release an occasional glimmer of light.
     
    Many churches have applied all sorts of programmes to attract and disciple possible returning and new adherents. For example: there has been 40 Days of Purpose, Alpha, Messy Church, and Progressive Church, support for ongoing clergy development and systematic learning opportunities for laity. Meanwhile some have sought to quietly evolve the long familiar practice of customary Church. To date the overall decline is showing no sign of arrest. Sadly, perhaps, talk about the Church now living on 'the margin of society' seems to provide some sort of solace rather than effective animation.
     
    The difficulties have been exacerbated with the onslaught of the New Atheist movement. Despite defences offered by theologians and the like, the atheists' criticisms bring direct challenge to the meaning churches claim to hold and proclaim. This is not a new phenomenon. It has been growing since the enlightenment, gathered speed in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries and took flight with rapidly advancing science in the twentieth. Confrontation by the New Atheists is one founded on questions of contemporary evidence and meaning.
     
    Ironically the one Church that has landed itself in deeper strife than most and maintains conservative ground with a near breath taking defiance may be signalling a simple, direct hope for churches. Relic be damned! The election of Pope Francis has brought a fresh voice.
     
    The voice is remarkable not solely for profound theological discourse or defined judgements. Rather it is a voice appearing concerned for conversation among people, rather than categorisation of people. It is a voice that addresses Church as being a simple process concerned for focussed pastors and priests to step outside their establishments to reach needs in local communities. Francis seems concerned for the risky path of engendering conversations that build communities.
     
    Such thinking does not fit well into the applications of structured programmes. Nor does it provide static intellectual targets for empirically minded atheists. To employ a metaphor: it appears to be much more like gardening where one tills the soil, pulls a few weeds, nurtures new shoots with water and useful sustenance hoping enough is done for a reasonable crop. Gardening is a practical act of faith. It is a gift to the earth, to other people, to oneself.
     
    Incidentally gardening has long been a worthy, restful Sunday activity. It is one resonate with deep biblical imagery, similar to gathering with friends for food, conversation and re-creation where appearance matters little and presence means all.
     
    ©John Fairbrother
    January 2014
     

     

  • Advent

    Margaret Lyall 25 December 2013



    Stress and distress, crisis on crisis,

    Mind, body and spirit can take no more.

    Utter exhaustion, energy finished,

    Pain and despair, darkness and silence.

     

    Then, piercing the silence, the cry of an infant,

    Heralding One who will suffer and die.

    Through His living and dying His love will be steadfast

    His Spirit set free and gifted to all.

     

    Can this really be true?

    Does it fit with experience?

    There's reluctance to believe such a staggering claim.

     

    And yet, to be honest, so often it happens

    In the depths of the pain, in the pit of despair...

       - through others' hands His hands stretch out to touch

       - through others' eyes His eyes look out in love

       - through others' lips His lips speak words of care...

    And faith is rekindled, in response to His words

    'What more must I do for you to believe?'

     

    Minds cannot comprehend;

    Truth is veiled in paradox.

    But every time doubt becomes stronger,

    A potentially deeper faith

    Yearns to reach out and embrace it.

     

    Like light piercing the darkness.

     

     

     

     

     

  • Memorials and Myths

    The Rev. John Fairbrother 17 December 2013

     

    Preparations for Christmas 2013 have been almost overcome by the events marking and surrounding the death of Nelson Mandela. Various international public media have inundated news cast and commentary with images, memories and discussion.

    Nelson Mandela, freedom fighter, prisoner, political inspiration and statesman has left the stage. The inevitable processes of reflection and analysis will now become enveloped in historical and creative narratives of his life. The making of the myths that will carry meaning to future generations has begun.

    For Aotearoa New Zealand 2014 will witness both a bicentenary and a centenary, memorials of events that are key to understanding what it means to be a Kiwi. The year will mark 200 years since the advent of institutional Church in these islands and the 100th anniversary of the outbreak of World War 1.

    Where the very recent death of Nelson Mandela will remain present in living memory for much of a generation, the arrival of the Rev Samuel Marsden in 1814 and the World War of 1914-18 are beyond recall. Memorials will be held to mark the significance of the time and meanings accumulated. Myths will be embellished.

    In this country many will revere Marsden for being the bearer of the Good News. His sermon delivered at Oihi beach has no record beyond the biblical theme he chose for that Christmas day: ‘Behold I bring you glad tidings of great joy”. The arrival of institutional Church is a great occasion for contemporary Church to celebrate.

    Was the establishment of the Church his only reason for arrival? His relationship with the young chief Ruatara also appears well founded on the commerce of trade that would bring benefit to both parties. Marsden has grounded good cause for a sound religious memorial. His actions also left wide paths for myths to grow around his intentions, relationships and outcomes.

    In 1914 this country, then relatively very new with identities found more in provincial locations than any sense of nationhood, pledged itself to participate in a European war. New Zealand suffered proportionate losses greater than any other.

    The pain of families and localities must have been visceral, perhaps unimaginable to our present era. Yet out of such industrialised hell we learn a sense of nationhood emerged. The ritual memorials of the day, the memorials of stone and wood, remain to command our respect and challenge the value placed on such disastrous loss of youth. Heroes they may have been. Young men and women they most certainly were.  

    The myths that come from inherited memories are well worth holding with care. Care to serve the realities of lives deserving memorial and care to offer minds yet to come the scope to understand the complex depth of history’s tradition on which we stand.

    New Zealanders have memories of Nelson Mandela to share. The meaning of these memories will inform the worth of inevitable myths that will inform any future memorials of his life, struggle and inspiration. Such worth is likely best interpreted via the truths any of us seek to live by.

     

     

     

     

     

     

  • "If you have faith..."

    Susan Smith 26 November 2013

     

    Earlier this year I was fortunate enough to spend a week in Greece visiting the places where Paul had journeyed. And then on to Ireland where we stayed at Glendalough, the most important centre of early Irish monasticism. The hermit priest, St Kevin, was one of the key figures responsible for the extraordinary growth of Irish monasticism. Sadly the monastery was partially destroyed by English troops in the late 14th century. We also spent time in France, where our congregation had come to birth in 1861 in Lyon.  

     

    Upon my return to New Zealand I was struck by the number of people who asked me what was the most important moment for me. I could not answer as there were so many wonderful moments. Now I have two tentative responses.

     

    First, I was struck by the extraordinary faith that led people to build monastic cities in Celtic Ireland or great cathedrals and monasteries in France. Fortunately the weather in Ireland was mostly rain-free, so we had ample opportunity to wander around the ancient monastic city of Glendalough now in ruins, and to visit the three or four nearby churches also in ruins. I became very conscious of the faith and generosity that led people without the technology that we take for granted today to express in such a tangible way their belief and faith in God.

     

    Then on to Paris, where we visited Sacred Heart Basilica in Montmartre. Construction began in 1875 and was finished in 1914.  This cathedral, full of African, Asian American, Oceanic and European tourists, witnesses to the revival of Catholicism after the persecution of the revolutionary era, and the excesses of the Second Empire and Paris Commune. Immediately behind the basilica is the older St Peter of Montmartre built in the 9th century on the site of an ancient temple dedicated to Mars. When we visited it was remarkably free of tourists, and its Cistercian-like simplicity was in stark contrast to its grand neighbour. It was possible to feel an extraordinary sense of relationship with those who had gone before me.

     

    From Paris it was but a short train journey to Chartres to visit the Cathédrale Notre-Dame de Chartres, now a UNESO world heritage site. The cathedral was completed in 1250, the fifth church to be built on that site. Four previous churches had been constructed there since the 4th century. Its artistic splendour means it is easy to see why it is a UNESCO heritage site. But that same artistic splendour spoke to me of the loving faith that that was present behind the wonderful stained glass windows, and the amazing statues and friezes that adorned both the exterior and interior walls.

     

    And then on to Lyon where we spent some time in the Cathedral of St John the Baptist, completed in 1476, and again constructed on the site of a more ancient church where St Irenaeus had been one of the early bishops. Lyon is also where we find the Church of St Nizier, another extraordinary example of a Gothic cathedral, and constructed on the site of an ancient temple honouring the Roman god, Attis. More recently in the 19th century Suzanne Aubert was baptised in the church of St Nizier.

     

    Because Taizé is close to Lyon we went there for our Sunday liturgy. The monastery of Taizé was built in 1940, not far from the ruins of the famous monastery at Cluny. The summer season which sees enormous numbers of pilgrims at Taizé was over but still there was a large congregation for a prayerful and simple Eucharistic celebration.

     

    Second, the experience of being in these wonderful cathedrals and monasteries thronged with tourists and fellow Christians from all over the world allowed to appreciate more deeply what ‘the communion of saints’ means. Visiting these places reminded me that we are part of something much greater than our own particular parish. We are part of a tradition that stretches back through the centuries, that stretches outwards to all the world’s peoples, and touches us within as we stand in awe at the faith of previous generations.

     

    Postscript

    It never ceases to amaze me that the wonderful awe-inspiring cathedral at Chartres was constructed mostly between 1194 and 1250. Fifty four years!! It took about three years to sort out about one kilometre of State Highway 1 that runs through Warkworth, and this in the age of computers, trucks, bulldozers etc. It is amazing what faith can mean.

     

    Image: Entrance to St. Kevin's Monastic City, Glendalough, Ireland (Susan Smith)

     

  • Armistice

    Armistice

     Ypres, Gallipoli, the Somme, Mons and Verdun. The Western Desert, El Alamein, the Normandy beaches. Coventry, Dresden, Hiroshima, Nagasaki and the Burma Road. The Pacific, Korea, the Falkland Islands, East Timor, the Balkans, Afghanistan, the Gulf, Iraq.

    Over these days, quiet remembrance and wreath laying ceremonies at war memorials throughout New Zealand and around the world are taking place.  The eleventh day of the eleventh month of 1918, the date when hostilities ceased on the Western Front in the war to end all wars is also remembered.

    The old remember what the young will never see and a noble written remembrance is shared by every age,

    ‘But the souls of the righteous are in the hands of God and no torment will ever touch them...they shall shine, and run like sparks through the stubble.’

    It is time to remember the love that was lost, the wisdom wasted, the courage and fear, the commitment and doubt, the resolve and vulnerability, the minds and bodies pained by memories, the families bereft, those who will die in conflicts around the world today, the makers of peace, the enemies who have become friends. We remember also the One who asks us to remember them.

    Such remembrance is gathered to our hearts neither to glorify the indescribable carnage of war, collude with political justifications for warfare, nor gloss over the brutalising and crushing of the human spirit.  We do not gather the dead and dying, the grief and sorrow, the memories, the stories, the tragedies, the comradeship in life and death, to dis-member them.

    Rather, we re-member them. This hallowing of memory is restorative. It moves us, not only to give thanks for the gifts of life and freedom which so many of us take for granted. It encourages us to bring to birth in our hearts and lives, goodness, justice and peace out of bloody holocausts. It is to see, growing and flourishing, all that is good and beautiful, precious and shining. 

    The freely-voiced opinions of those in our churches and in our nations who believe that we should, at this time, be engaging in conversations and debates about the meaning and purpose of Remembrance Sunday, Armistice Day, Veterans Day and Anzac Day are to be respected. Yet doesn’t the gracefulness of God enable a mutual respect and prayerful integrity? Perhaps these important conversations are for another time.

    We pray for peace in the life of the world and in our own hearts.

    ©Hilary Oxford Smith                                                                                     

    Image: Poppies, Valery Busyjin

     

    More articles by Hilary Oxford Smith . . .

     

  • Memoria

    Memoria


    The beauty of the peony roses has faithfully returned to our garden. The first flower unfurled its petals on All Saints Day. My late maternal grandmother, Doris, especially loved them. She had a June birthday and in the Northern Hemisphere, peonies were always a special gift to her. We didn’t always enjoy the closest of relationships, yet even though I live at the far edge of the known world, her presence is with me as I gaze at this noblest and loveliest of flowers.

    I think of her home by the sea, her smile when the peonies were given to her, her work-worn hands, her youthful exuberance, her Scotch broth bubbling away on the stove on a winter’s day. A widow for over fifty years, she had an enduring love for my grandfather, Andrew.

    ‘You were born together, and together you shall be for evermore. You shall be together when the white wings of death scatter your days. Aye, you shall be together even in the silent memory of God’. (Gibran:23)

    November is the season to remember.

    The year my father, Joe, died, I sat in the tiny church of St. Mary at Dalmahoy, near Edinburgh on All Souls Day. Alone. Yet with many, I was there for a service of remembrance, to give thanks for those we loved and whose stories we still carried in our hearts. 

    It was deeply touching and privately moving to hear the names of so many people, spoken aloud and loved for eternity.  Death had brought discontinuity, yet somehow we took our place in the company of the communion of the saints, united in heaven and earth, the extraordinary and the ordinary, all blessed.

    We remembered the ones who had challenged an unjust peace, a destructive conflict; the ones who had been a goad to apathy, confounded evil and held a belief in the enduring power of God’s love, those who had accepted loss of reputation, injury, even death and embodied, in their vulnerability, the hope to which God had called them.

    We remembered the people who had gained no mighty accolades, yet lived, loved and cared, in their own time and place. They guide us to where God’s blessing lies - with the poor, the hungry, the tearful, the bereaved, the gentle, the forgiving, the pure in heart, the faithful, the peacemakers.

    Consecrated with standing stones from the 10th and 11th centuries, the walls of St. Mary’s echoed with the prayers of the faithful and the doubting. Afterwards, in the cold dark night, we carried our flickering candle lanterns and walked arm in arm to the small kirk yard where we offered the light we had in this place of presences.

    In the Celtic tradition, there is a great sense that those in the eternal world are home. They are with the God from whom they came and they live within the circle of eternity, thought of, as the largest embrace. They are very near to us, mind us and bless us. We cannot see them with the human eye but can feel their presence with us. One of my teachers at University who became an anam cara, a soul friend to me, the Carmelite monk, Fr. Noel Dermot O’Donoghue wrote in his book, The Mountain Behind The Mountain,

    ‘There is a sense in which...the dead are always present in the elements and in the seasons and changes of nature, being as it were ‘ministering angels’, that is, human beings who are taken into the work of angels in the world ‘beyond’ that is within our everyday world. We meet them, not by ’seeing ghosts’ but by sensing presences that belong with the angels and the timeless presences of heavenly glory and goodness...we, the living, are...their companions on the way, receiving as we give.’ (O’Donoghue:69)   

    Who are the ones whose names, faces and stories live in your heart...who have loved you for you, stood alongside you, shaped you, nudged you into exploration and new understanding, challenged you to grow, shown you how to live in love?

    As they bless you, may you bless them.

    References

    Gibran, K., The Prophet, (Oneworld Publications 1998)

    O’Donoghue, N.D, The Mountain Behind The Mountain, (T&T Clark 1993)

     Image Peony Rose, Clive Oxford

     

    ©Hilary Oxford Smith

    1 November 2013

     

  • Tom Vaughan's Legacy

    The Rev. Canon Mark Pryce 26 October 2013

    Those before me knew
    how to stroke the steep sodden hills of Wales
    just enough to yield a little milk each day
    and sufficient mutton for stewing.

  • Ruffling Feathers

    Ruffling Feathers

     
    The sun crossed the celestial Equator on September 22nd and the equinox brought a balance of darkness and light to the Earth. The spring (vernal) equinox promises longer days of light and warmth for the Southern Hemisphere. For the people of the Northern Hemisphere, longer nights and the chill of winter will be theirs.
     
    The descent into darkness has been most recently witnessed in the brutal violence and destruction wreaked by members of the Somali-based al-Quaida-linked terror group, al-Shabaab in the Israeli-owned Westgate mall in Nairobi, Kenya. The group say that the attack was carried out in retaliation for the Kenyan army invading southern Somalia. Kenya is an ethnically and politically polarised country. A third of the population live in overcrowded slums with no running water or electricity and the Somali population living there has been the victim of xenophobic violence.   Meanwhile, the country's President Uhuru Kenyatta and his Deputy, William Ruto, are facing trials at the International Criminal Court for crimes against humanity. After the 2007 election, more than 1100 people died - burned alive, hacked to death, chased from their homes.
     
    In the same week, the devastation and deaths of Christian worshippers at All Saints Church, Peshawar, Pakistan was carried out by two suicide bombers from a Taliban terrorist faction, vowed to kill non-Muslims until the United States cancels its lethal drone strikes on the country.  
     
    Meanwhile, here in New Zealand, many people have distracted themselves with America's Cup, the richest sailing competition in the world. In a race series costing billions of dollars, New Zealand was the unsuccessful challenger. There are those here who want to spend a proportion of tax payer's money on financing a New Zealand bid to contest the next Cup. No matter that a quarter of our children live in poverty, that parents cannot feed their families on pittances of wages, that we have one of the highest rates amongst OECD member countries for all kinds of social problems and that national churches continue to obsess about missional strategies and engage in too much parochial navel gazing.
     
    The first Pope from the Americas, Francis, is living his own equinox. In a recent interview he has said that he wants to find 'a new balance' in the Catholic Church.   Six months in, he is already effecting real change, predictably ruffling feathers.
     
    The writer, Paul Vallely, in his recently published book, Pope Francis: Untying the Knots, describes him as an icon of assertive humility, discarding the monarchical trappings of the papacy and bringing a fundamentally new perspective to religion. Francis intends to put love before dogma, serve the poor before doctrine and eschew the small-minded rules and obsessions of the Church in favour of building an inclusive Church which is a 'home for all'. The Church must grow in its understanding and be mature in its judgement, he says.   This is powerful and radical stuff, not just for the Catholic Church but for all denominational churches and faiths.
     
    The word religion means “to bind back together”. Yet how often has religion been used to tear apart, to divorce heaven from earth, spirit from matter, one people from another? Not just in the past, but now? My colleague, the Canadian theologian, John Philip Newell, argues that,    
     
    At the heart of the deep fragmentations, whether as nations and wisdom traditions or as races and societies are various forms of fundamentalism... and not... simply religious fundamentalism... we think that what humanity needs is our religious dogma...our ideal of democracy... the supremacy of our race...what people need in committed relationship is our pattern of sexual orientation. And the list goes on and on.” (Newell:15)
     
    John Philip believes that we live at a costly moment. We have to radically change the way we view ourselves and how we live with the earth and one another if we are to become one. For Christian people, he believes that Jesus is a great gift to us of revelation, but he does not show us an exclusive truth. Rather, he shows us the most inclusive of truths, that we and all things are made of God, not by God.
     
    We can share Jesus humbly with the world. We can offer our treasure in love. He discloses to us what is deepest in the life of all things, the sacredness of everything that has being.   He can bring to consciousness the treasure that lies buried in our depths. Our gift as Christians is not opposed to the wisdom of other religious traditions. It is given to serve the wisdom of other traditions. We do not have to compete with one another. We can complete one another ..If we miss this moment, choosing instead to continue our patterns of wronging the earth and one another, there will be a degradation of life on this planet like none we have ever known. What will we choose? Which path will we follow?” (Newell:26)
     
    On Thursday October 4th, Pope Francis will celebrate the feast of his namesake, St. Francis of Assisi, who, in the 12th century, heard the Holy Spirit say to him, 'Francis, go and repair my Church which is falling into ruin'. In his own way and in his passion for peace, quest for simplicity and respect for creation, Francis left a legacy of spirited and loving people who have lived and continue to live and affirm the power of love and faith in action.
     
    Isn't it time though to break up the holy huddles that can exist in our faiths and churches and cast aside the religious internal obsessions which have little or no relevance to the rest of society and the world? Only then do we have the hope of finding a way forward.   It is in sharing the struggles of the world – the beauty and pain, the injustice and struggle, the violence and redeeming love, that our engaged spirituality will challenge all that oppresses and degrades the human soul.
     
    We are not to be distracted.
     
    References
    Vallely, P, Untying the Knots, (Bloomsbury 2013)
    Newell, JP, A New Harmony, (Jossey-Bass 2011)
    Holy Ground, Liturgies and worship resources for an engaged spirituality, (Wild Goose Publications 2005)
     
    Image
    www.freefromharm.org, Beth Levine  
    ©Hilary Oxford Smith
    30 September 2013

     

  • And Then There Were Two! Another Woman on our Bench of Bishops

    The Rev. Erice Fairbrother 26 September 2013

     

    Congratulations and blessings to Helen-Ann Hartley, the new Bishop-elect of Waikato. We rejoice with you! Helen-Ann brings a significant career in theological scholarship and pastoral leadership to her new place in the Church as Bishop and Pastor of her people. However it is not my intention to go over Helen-Ann’s background and experience, as this is well publicised and accessible on Taonga and other media sites. Do read them, if you haven’t already, for it helps to know who the women in leadership in the Church are, so that we can more fully support them in prayer and partnership.

     

    Some of us met Helen-Ann for the first time when she visited St Johns College as a guest of Te Rau Kahikatea. It so happened that her visit coincided with one of our AWSC meetings, and Helen-Ann lead us in bible study during our meeting. It was a wonderful way of getting to know each other, and we were all delighted to hear that she enjoyed our place so much that she came out to be Dean of Tikanga Pakeha. I for one was glad to meet her especially as a few years prior I had visited and stayed at Cuddeston College in Oxford where she was teaching up until moving here.

     

    That said this is an appointment that, structurally, requires us to do some deeper soul searching and analysis. Thus far, none of our women Bishop’s were born, or brought up in New Zealand, Aotearoa, or Polynesia. It raises questions for us as women in theological education and mentoring. For instance, why are our own women consistently overlooked? We make it as far as the slate for election, but among our peers, it goes no further. In earlier years, because there were fewer ordained women, most of us were known, to greater or lesser degree, nationally. It is not the case now. Perhaps we as women in leadership need to think about how we might make more visible, more accessible, women who can be put forward as candidates, with a certain confidence of being taken seriously. That the number of our male colleagues is considerable in our electoral colleges cannot be overlooked.

     

    Theologically there is an imperative for us. Biblically, in the letter to Philemon, Paul writes a very persuasive letter requesting that Philemon put aside previous prejudices and receive Onesimus back, not just as a free man but “as a beloved disciple”. Lydia was recognised by Paul as a leader in her own community, and worked with her as an equal in ministry. Ecclesially I believe we need to work to ensure that our women too, are recognised not just as ordained women, but “as beloved disciples” fully equal to the task of missional leadership. I believe we have work to do. And what might that work look like?

     

    Some ideas; gather a group of women and men to ask some of these questions, and brainstorm about how we might be more ready to recognise women  amongst us and their call. Resource them! Don’t wait until there is another resignation and electoral process. Begin now to think about women; talk to them, talk about them, make them visible in your hui amorangi and dioceses. Invite them to preach at significant moments in your church life. Invite them to come and lead a retreat, a study for your church community, put them forward for places on boards, councils, synods and any other governance roles that are relevant. And as in all things, pray! Let us all become persistent widows, and give God no peace for a bit. Remember Hannah in the Hebrew Scriptures.

     

    Remember also – that the Holy Spirit called Penny who was a courageous spiritual and strong leader, that it was the Holy Spirit who called Victoria when Christchurch was going to need a strong woman. And let us remember Helen-Ann, bringing us an example of rigorous scholarship and prayerfulness. And as we remember, let us rejoice that they are gifts to us. Similarly, may they inspire us to seek out other women with similar courage, prayerfulness and strength that they too may take their place as leaders in the future.

     

    Revd Erice Fairbrother is Tikanga Pakeha Councillor for the Anglican Women’s Studies Centre. She is currently moving to Wellington from Waiapu to devote more time to her writing projects.

  • Blackbird Singing in the Dead of Night

    Blackbird Singing in the Dead of Night

      It is just before dawn as I begin to write. Outside my bedroom window, a yellow-eyed blackbird sings in the fading of the night. Another blackbird sings on the soundtrack of a song written by Paul McCartney, in response to the struggle of African American people for their civil rights, some 45 years ago,  

     
    Blackbird singing in the dead of night,
    Take these broken wings and learn to fly;
    All your life, you were only waiting for this moment to arise.
     
    Blackbird singing in the dead of night,
    Take these sunken eyes and learn to see;
      All your life, you were only waiting for this moment to be free…
    Black-bird, fly into the light of the dark black night…”
     
    McCartney envisioned the bird as a symbol of hope for black women who were experiencing the evils of racism…the insults, the attacks, the fear, the isolation. “Let me encourage you,” said McCartney, “to keep trying…keep your faith, there is hope.”
     
    Much of the racism of that time has been overcome yet the ignorance and hatred of the diversity of skin colour, ethnicity, creed and culture in the continents of the world and the enormous, painful struggles of people for justice, equality and peace continue.    
     
    The killing of innocents – so many little ones – in the atrocity of a nerve gas attack in Syria last week has far surpassed the worst of our imaginings. We need to know, even though the images grieve us, anger us and make us question. There are some words recounted in St. Matthew's gospel which I find I cannot erase from my mind at the moment.  
     
    Matthew tells us that Herod the king, in his fear of having his brutal power and authority overturned by the simplicity of the power of God in the Christ child, orders that all boys in Bethlehem, under two years old, are to be killed. Matthew, in his story, quotes some words of the prophet of Jeremiah, voiced thousands of years before.  
     
      'A sound is heard in Ramah, the sound of bitter weeping. Rachel is crying for her children; she refuses to be comforted, for they are dead.”   (St. Matthew 2:18)
                                     
    Then as now, it is still, overwhelmingly, women and children who bear the scars of conflict and injustice in our world. Like the almost unbearable grief of Rachel, throughout the long centuries and since, so many mothers and fathers have echoed her cries as they weep for the loss of their beautiful children. The wet of their tears mingles with ours, as we pray for the world's inhumanity. In trying to find new ways of revealing where the loving justice of God might be found, history and these present times show us that it will not be found in arsenals of chemical, nuclear or conventional weapons.  
     
    Theologian and poet, Kathy Galloway, is Head of Christian Aid Scotland, an aid agency working to end world poverty and injustice. In her book of poetry, The Dream of Learning Our True Name, she writes,    
     
    “…the coming day delivers grey-edged intimations of a grey mortality, and a shadier morality… Here, in the grey forgotten wasteland that is not accident or fecklessness but just the grey, inevitable result of choices made, and burdens shifted…here he walks…in his heart he carries yellow…awaiting yellow springtime's sun
    to kiss it into bloom…
    Yellow for courage.
    Yellow for beauty.
    Yellow for resistance.
    Yellow for love.
    Yellow to obliterate the grey…
    He walks, yellow in the grey.”
      (Galloway:94f)
     
    Kathy speaks to me of God's gift to us of transformation and the hope of human flourishing, that goes way beyond the weary, self-defeating sabre-rattling, gun-toting, power-politics of conquest, failure and oppression by one group over another, by one nation over another. I want to remember some words of Archbishop Desmond Tutu,
     
    “…goodness is stronger than evil, love is stronger than hate, light is stronger than darkness…life is stronger than death…God has made us for goodness, for love, for compassion, for peace, for laughter, for gentleness, for sharing…”
     
    On Friday 16th of August, in the region of Marlborough where I live, we experienced another magnitude 6.6 earthquake at Lake Grassmere. The fractured earth still moves beneath our feet. The lake's namesake, Grasmere, is a pretty village in the English Lake District. From a tiny shop there, nestled in the corner of St. Oswald's church yard, gingerbread is made using Sarah Nelson's original 1850 recipe. It is a rare ecclesiastical sweetness to be enjoyed.  
     
    Grasmere is also the place where William Wordsworth, the poet, lived with his sister, Dorothy at Dove Cottage. There he wrote a famous poem about daffodils,  
     
    “ For oft, when on my couch I lie
    In vacant or in pensive mood,
    They flash upon that inward eye
    Which is the bliss of solitude;
    And then my heart with pleasure fills,
    And dances with the daffodils.”
    Looking out, on the far side of the world, at our cottage garden, I see, in the emerging light, yellow in the grey.
     
    © Hilary Oxford Smith
    27 August 2013
     
     
    References and Notes
    Galloway, K., The Dream of Learning Our True Name,( Wild Goose Publications 2004)
    Wordsworth, W., Daffodils, 1804
    Song: Blackbird  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BrxZhWCAuQw,   Lyrics © Sony/ATV Music Publishing LLC

     

  • Encounters of embodiment

    Encounters of embodiment

     

    Earthquakes, aftershocks and tremors change landscapes and lives forever. People living in Wellington, Marlborough and other places in New Zealand await a sense of calm. We are told it will be some time in coming.
     
    So we bear the continual shaking as the movements of the earth alter our perceptions, challenge our physical, mental and emotional strength, intrude on our ways of life.
     
    We also think of and pray for the people in China's western Gansu province, who like us, have felt the ground move under them. As the earth seeks a greater sense of peace and balance, we travel on that painful and uncertain journey with her.
     
    History has shown us that it is often in times of great stress, vulnerability and powerlessness that we are most naturally generous and creative, self-forgetful, capable of doing what sometimes can seem to be very small or ineffectual things, simply because they are worth doing, for the sake of honouring fellow human beings. Whatever our differences, we actively seek the wellness of each other. Our weakness becomes our strength and we find ourselves re-turning more fully to the original goodness of which we are born.       
     
    The dramatic and varied landscape of New Zealand, which we, who live here and others who visit our country, find breathtakingly beautiful and wild, is borne out of great movement. Ancient volcanic eruption and the encounter of tectonic plates, one with the other, have created a panorama of difference, with its own texture and spirit and depth.
     
    On a recent midwinter holiday, my husband, Clive and I became part of such encounter and difference. From the turbulent wind and immense swells of the Cook Strait, to the snow and ice of the Desert Road, to the exultation of climate in the Far North with its great exotic forests, we came to the treasured land of Te Paki and of Te Rerenga Wairua, also known as Cape RÄ“inga…meeting places of earth, water, stone, air and spirit and worth every long rolling mile of curved and twisting roads to reach them. As we walk the earth for a short time of belonging, these windswept and untamed environments bring us deeper, through imagination, into the mystery of why we are here and the memory of time.  
     
    Millions of years ago, the activity of marine volcanoes and sediment formed the island known as Te Paki. Then, as the great movement of sand was pushed inland by powerful westerly winds, the island became joined to the mainland once more. These evolving encounters have revealed commonalities and differences. Baked red clay and ironstone soil, patterned sand dunes rising to one hundred metres in height, wetlands, rare birds, plants and flowers, trees, reptiles and molluscs are only to be found on Te Paki.
     
    Cape RÄ“inga is a place of profound cultural, spiritual and sacred significance for Māori. It speaks to them of a departure and a return. It is to here, that their spirits, after death, come. It is a hallowing place. Clinging to the face of the rock and lashed by salt winds and pounded by waves, is a lone pōhutukawa tree, over 800 years old. Māori believe that their spirits descend to the water on steps formed from its roots and return to their spiritual home of Hawaiki.    
     
    We see whirlpools far out to sea, as if they are dancing in the wake of a waka (canoe). The Cape is where two vast stretches of water come together. On the day, the booming and wildly flamboyant Tasman Sea is to the west and to the east, the vast Pacific Ocean, peaceful and confident. A discordant concerto. They remind me of the music of the French composer, Olivier Messiaen, music I would hear played on the fine, dark red Rieger organ of St. Giles' Cathedral, Edinburgh on many a Sunday past.  
     
    A devout Catholic, Messiaen was interned in a prisoner of war camp in Poland during the Second World War. Conditions were horrendous, yet still he was able to compose music. His imagining of colours encouraged him to write and hear musical chords. Believing that birds were the greatest musicians on earth, Messiaen transcribed their song into musical notation.
     
    His music is replete with new harmonies. He looked to the natural world for inspiration, where nothing is even or regular. “What is true,” he said, “is natural resonance…my music is not 'nice'…it is certain. I am convinced that joy exists, convinced that the invisible exists more than the visible, joy is beyond sorrow, beauty is beyond horror.”  
     
    The earth has been here for millions of years before us and without us. It will be here long after us. It has nourished and sustained us over many generations. Without the landscape, none of us could ever have come here. Our lives and our search for meaning would be inconceivable without it. Within its shapes, lines, colours and sounds, discordancies and harmonies, new and sometimes unexpected encounters happen.  
     
    As some of us struggle with the depths of distress which the earth is feeling and revealing to us at this present time, I think of a blessing that is worth sharing:  
     
    “Let us bless
    The imagination of the Earth.
    That knew early the patience
    To harness the mind of time,
    Waited for the seas to warm,
    Ready to welcome the emergence
    Of things dreaming of voyaging
    Among the stillness of land.
    And how light knew to nurse
    The growth until the face of the earth
    Brightens beneath a vision of colour.
     
    When the ages of ice came
    And sealed the earth inside
    An endless coma of cold,
    The heart of the earth held hope,
    Storing fragments of memory,
    Ready for the return of the sun…
     
     
    Let us thank the Earth
    That offers ground for home…
    The wonder of a garden…
    That transfigures all
    That has fallen
    Of outlived growth.
     
    The kindness of the earth,
    Opening to receive
    Our worn forms
    Into the final stillness.
     
    Let us remember within us
    The ancient clay,
    Holding the memory of seasons,
    The passion of the wind,
    The fluency of water,
    The warmth of fire,
    The quiver-touch of the sun
    And shadowed sureness of the moon.
     
    That we may awaken,
    To live to the full
    The dream of the earth
    Who chose us to emerge
    And incarnate its hidden night
    In mind, spirit and light.”
     
    Amen. So be it.
     
    ©Hilary Oxford Smith
    23 July 2013
     
     
    References
    Extract from In Praise of Earth, from Benedictus, A Book of Blessings, John O'Donohue (Bantam Press 2007)
    Image: Hilary Oxford Smith

     

  • The heavens are telling the glory of God

    The heavens are telling the glory of God

     

    Snowflakes dance in the Southerly gale and the moon and galaxies of shining stars, beyond the clouds, are hidden from our sight. The wind draws the air into the wood fire. It crackles and glows. It is our company, keeping us warm in the winter storm.
     
    The hearth was always a place of relationship in our family home. I remember my grandmother 'smooring' the fire before she went to bed. Ashes were gently laid upon the glowing red coals. Kindled in the cold night, they would, at daybreak, still be alive with warmth. The fire was never allowed to go out. Earth, water, fire, air, space, always present.
     
    Fire of a different kind burns in Syria. Earlier this week, the leaders of the world's richest countries met in the north of Ireland, a place which has known unspeakable violence and now enjoys a fragile peace. Syria was on their agenda, along with tax evasion and transparency, “which will empower people to hold governments and companies to account.”
     
    The Syrian capital, Damascus, one of the oldest and continuously inhabited cities in the world, has descended into the chaos of evil. The storm of oblivion has left it in ruins along with Aleppo and countless other towns and villages. While thousands of innocents continue to die in these killing fields, the US Government has decided to arm Syrian rebels, even though analysts say that these weapons are likely to fall into the hands of extremist groups. The G8 leaders, in their final communiqu é supported a conference to reach a political solution to the conflict and will “contribute generously to the United Nations appeal for humanitarian help.”
     
    Protests continue in the crossroads of the world, Istanbul, and also in Brazil where the gap between rich and poor continues to grow. In a world of staggering inequality, empire building and where religious fundamentalism of all faiths, not just one, fosters prejudice, bigotry, exclusivism and hate, what are we to do?
     
    When the Troubles were at their height in the north of Ireland, I worked on a research secondment with the chaplaincy team at HM Prison Maze, near Belfast. Maze was the place where paramilitary prisoners, republican and loyalist, were incarcerated. I also spent time with the Corrymeela Community at Ballycastle, a place of reconciliation between faith communities.
     
    Amongst the many lessons I learnt from people in these places was that hate, guns, bombs, bloodshed and death do not make for lasting peace. Speaking the truth in love, respecting differently-held beliefs and being open to new possibilities achieved conflict resolution. Something which the remarkable Northern Ireland peace process demonstrated.     
     
    Recent world events have found me reflecting upon our varying degrees of collusion with the systems of domination under which we live. Some may count the Church as one of these. I am reminded of the words of the American theologian, Walter Wink in his book, Engaging The Powers,
     
      “We cannot affirm governments or institutions or businesses to be good unless at the same time we recognise that they are fallen. We cannot face their malignant intractability and oppressiveness unless we remember that they are simultaneously a part of God's good creation and…can and must be redeemed.” (Wink 1992:10)
     
    The redemption, which Wink describes, will come about when the spirituality of political, economic, religious and cultural institutions, their interests, pathologies and fears are confronted, so that the total entity is transformed.  
     
    In our places of work and encounter, can we embody critical responsibility, search for truth, find ways to relate to the powerful and speak the truth in love? We can look to the poet-carpenter Jesus for inspiration. With the fire of passion and freedom in his heart, the man from Nazareth repudiated the autocratic values of power and wealth and the institutions and systems that authorised and supported these values. He rejected ranking, domination, hierarchies…class inequality, the exploitation of the many by the few. (Ibid.:110-113)
     
    We are to journey towards the light, my friends. In the Southern and Northern Hemispheres, the winter and summer solstices are celebrated on 21 June. The winter solstice in the Southern Hemisphere is the date when the Earth's axis is farthest away from the sun. The next new dawn will herald our slow return to the light. The heavens guide us.
     
    At this time in the lunar calendar, the rising of the twinkling star cluster, Matariki, also known as the Pleiades or the Seven Sisters, heralds the Aotearoa Pacific New Year. Matariki means the 'eyes of God' (Mata Ariki) or 'little eyes' (mata riki).
     
    It is a deeply spiritual time for M ā ori and those who respect and participate in their culture and traditions. Family members and friends who have died are remembered with love and reverence. There is thanksgiving for the land and its many gifts and for the new life that is promised. Younger Maori learn the wisdom of their tradition. Singing, dancing, feasting are enjoyed in this celebration of new beginnings and new thresholds to cross. It is a time when stars are burning bright and the heavens are telling the glory of God.  
     
    © Hilary Oxford Smith
    21 June 2013
     
    References
    2013 Lough Erne G8 Leaders' Communiqu é
    Wink, Walter, (1992) Engaging the Powers, Discernment and Resistance in a World of Domination, Philadelphia: Fortress Press
    Smith, Hilary, (1997) Chaplaincy, Power and Prophecy in the Scottish Prison System: The Changing Role of the Prison Chaplain, The University of Edinburgh, PhD Thesis.
    Image
     

     

  • Song of the sea

    Song of the sea

     

    The pale winter sun is still warming as I walk along Cloudy Bay, south of the Marlborough Sounds. I can hear the ancient conversation between water and stone.
     
    There is stark and tender beauty in the land beside the sea. Sand and shingle are patterned with the footsteps of time, shells, woven with an artistry of design. Silvery spiniflex, mat daisy, lemon lupins and sand tussock carpet the dunes and grow amidst the hardness of stone.
     
    Te Ika-a-M ā ui, is silhouetted against the far horizon, telling the story of the Maori hero, M ā ui and how the North Island got its shape. Along the length of the bay, the Wairau River, with the serenity of turquoise, flows into the ocean. Maori have been living at this oldest site of early Polynesian settlement in New Zealand since the 13th century. The descendants of Kupe still scoop up oysters from the bay.
     
    Since childhood, I have loved the ocean, its wideness, its song. Throughout the long generations, my family of fishermen and seafarers have come to know and respect this gift. The sea, teeming with life, is where the mystical journey takes place, where the frontiers of human fragility and divine blessing, spontaneity and unpredictability are experienced. She cannot be tamed. We can never know her mysterious depths.
     
    At a time in my life when I was deeply sorrowful, it was the ocean and the seashore which became the places and source of my healing. I found solace and my God. At the heart of the ocean is a stillness and also a movement, a fluency. The rhythms of the moon and the tides, year after year, day after day, moment after moment, resemble the ebb and flow of our human breath and the living of our lives. It is to be present in the mystery of eternity.
     
    Over the rising and setting of many moons, the sea has connected unknown lands and people with each other. This year, people have and will come together to celebrate the 1450th anniversary of St. Columba landing on a tiny island on the edge of the known world.   
     
    From a privileged Irish family, Columba, a highly respected scriptural scholar, copier of manuscripts, devoted to the Psalms, knowledgeable about the constellations of the stars and the tides of our blue planet, left Ireland to live a life of asceticism elsewhere. In the spring of 563, he set sail in a curragh, made of wood and animal skin and, with some companions, voyaged to the farthest limits of the sea.
     
    For over one hundred miles they sailed, the wings of sea eagles and kittiwakes sheltering them from the unbridled wind. They carried their 'little book' with them, the Bible, for inspiration and strength along the way. Before they saw land on the distant horizon, they would have smelt its fragrant, herb-rich goodness. On the evening of Pentecost, they landed on the Hebridean Isle of Iona and became reborn in a place that would become known as the cradle of Christianity.   
     
    Summer gave way to autumn and winter. The Atlantic Ocean, with its dangerous currents and wild waves beat upon Iona's shores with unrelenting ferocity.  
     
    “The Atlantic pulse beats twice a day
    In cold gray throes…
    Lucent as a prism for days, this shore, until
    A westerly blows.
    Then stones slither and shift, they rattle and cry,
    They break and bruise.
    Shells are scattered. Caves like organs peal
    Threnody, praise…
    Silence again. Along the tidemark wavelets
    work thin white lace.” (George Mackay Brown)
     
    It was no easy way of life for wandering Irish monks. Abbot Columba slept on bare rock, with a stone for a pillow. They set to work and built a monastery. Ever on the move, always looking ahead, they sailed amongst the islands and walked the land. Communities of prayer, learning and hospitality were established. People came from the 'airts an' pairts', to visit Iona and share in its sanctity and blessing.  
     
    Carved stone crosses, illuminated manuscripts, harp and psalmody, theological encounter and refreshment:   island living in the presence of God. Creative threads that have woven an eternal story of relationship, community, devotion to Christ and the Presence who is Love.  
     
    The life and legacy of Columba, known as 'the dove of the church' is to be remembered on the 9th of June, the date of his death in 597. Pilgrims from every corner of the world arrive at the jetty on Iona each and every day, to break bread together in the company of Christ and return home, inspired to make a positive difference in the world.
     
    You and I, whatever our culture, history, language, colour, creed are island people. We are born of the sea. Throughout the centuries and now, we have journeyed far to come together. What have we gathered along the way?
     
    “…pilgrimage is a circular route,
    Following the scuffmarks of history.
    Beware the onslaught of nostalgia…
    the saintly monk who never broke a fingernail
    or into sweat.
    Remember, rather, and walk
    in the footsteps of countless refugees,
    tramping the forests of fear,
    camping out in the fields of hopelessness;
    the scent, not of crushed myrtle, but panic,
    the sound, not of the lark, but of the sniper's bullet,
    soaring, seeking warm flesh…
     
    Remember all the invisible ones,
    walk in the footsteps of the forgotten ones…
    And when your place of departure
    becomes also your place of arrival…
    What of them do you bring to us?” (Kate McIlhagga)
     
    Image: Water, Waves and Suds, Rick Edmonds, www.rickedmonds.co.nz
    Notes
    Te Ika-a-M ā ui:the Maori name for the North Island of New Zealand
    For more information on the story of the land of Aotearoa New Zealand, click www.teara.govt.nz.
    'Airts n' pairts' is a Scottish expression for all points of the compass
    “Seascape: The Camera At The Shore”, The Collected Poems of George Mackay Brown, ed., Archie Bevan and Brian Murray,(John Murray, Publishers 2006)
    “Address to a pilgrim”, Kate McIllhagga, from Around A Thin Place, Jane Bentley and Neil Paynter, (Wild Goose Publications 2011)
     
    © Hilary Oxford Smith
    6 June 2013

     

  • Unexpected Gift

    Unexpected Gift

     

    Peace.
    Deep peace.
    so often elusive,
    has snuck in unannounced,
    welcomed,
    embraced like a long lost lover.
    You simply notice
    one sweet day
    you are at peace.
    At peace with who you are,
    why you are,
    what you will be.
    Nothing has changed
    for at one level,
    the turbulence,
    uncertainty,
    not knowing,
    still reigns.
    But somehow everything has changed.
    Some kind of shift has occurred,
    deep, deep within.
    This surprising,
    delighting peace
    has slipped in
    without fanfare.
    It feels like it is settling in
    for the duration.
    I savour it slowly,
    welcoming its existence,
    marvelling at its quiet arrival
    and whisper a soft 'hello,
    it's good to feel you once again'.
    G. Frater   20 May 2013
     
    Gayanne Frater is an Anglican priest, counsellor, spiritual companion, educator and supervisor for HopeWork in Orakei. She enjoys writing of all kinds, reflecting deeply and creatively upon life, relationships and creation, dancing wildly, and laughing out loud with friends.
     
    You can also find Gayanne on Heartspace on Facebook. Please like her page.

     

  • The canticle of the bees

    The canticle of the bees

     

    David Wells is our neighbour and friend. His love for bees began in childhood and now he looks after these wondrous little creatures as an amateur beekeeper.
     
    He is developing a balanced, holistic approach to the care of his bees so that they are happier and healthier in the hive and out of it. He hopes that the flowery golden honey they make will be of a higher quality and in greater abundance. We look forward to a taste of this sweet contentment.  
     
    Bees are believed to pollinate up to a third of the world's food crops and I am reminded of Albert Einstein's words, “if the bee disappeared off the face of the earth, man would only have four years left to live.” One good news story last week was the decision by the European Commission (EU), to ban, for two years, the use of neonicotinoid chemicals in pesticides, which are thought to be a major contributory factor to the devastating number of bees dying around the globe.
     
    Limited research has already shown that these chemicals leave a residue in the pollen and nectar of crops which affects the central nervous system of bees, interfering with their ability to learn and remember. Their use is viewed as a serious threat to the ecosystem and the availability of food in the world.  More than three million people in Europe signed an online petition calling for a ban on neonicotinoids. Coupled with the fact that the work of honeybees contributes over € 22 billion to European agriculture, national Governments, reluctant or otherwise, have been galvanised into action.
     
    The overwhelming scientific, political and public support for a two year ban, not only on the pesticides, but also on the sale and use of seeds treated with them, will give a much-needed window of opportunity for full, objective research to be carried out and substantiate, once and for all, how lethal these chemicals truly are, not only to bees but to birds and other creatures, including us. It comes as no surprise that the big multi-national companies who sell these pesticides, are strongly opposed to the ban and the forthcoming research.   
     
    Since 2009, the Green Party of Aotearoa New Zealand has been arguing for a similar ban and now advocates that our country follows the EC's lead.   On these islands, there is collateral damage from some conservation policies. Increasingly intensive farming methods and practices, including some from commercial apiculture, are also causing stress, illness and indiscriminate poisoning to the creatures of the earth, sea, sky, the land, the rivers and the sea. Can we hope then, that our voices, if they are consistently loud and protesting enough, will be heard by our elected politicians who work out of the parliament building in Wellington, ironically named The Beehive?  
     
    Honeybees have been around for at least 150 million years. In ancient world mythologies, civilisations and religions, they have inspired great poetry and writing and have, over the long centuries, symbolised sanctity, immortality, resurrection.
     
    In starry domed Orthodox churches throughout the world, the scent of beeswax candles suffuses these places of prayer and worship. The pure, golden wax, extracted from the honeycomb of virgin bees, is traditionally lit to cleanse the air, lighten the people's spirits and symbolise the purity which Christ received from his mother, Mary. For many of the Christian saints, particularly the Celtic ones, bees were thought of as messengers between heaven and earth, gifting to us, in the hive and out of it, one of the finest and noblest examples of community life and activity.  
     
    The queen bee is the mother of the hive and all are deeply loyal to her. Each bee works for the good of the whole, having a specific duty and responsibility, carried out, without envy and rivalry and with care and selflessness. These gentle creatures nurture the beauty and fecundity of the earth with their gift of pollination, giving humanity strength and nature, diversity.
     
    Carrying sweet scented nectar, pollen and propolis, which has been gathered without injuring the freshness of a single flower petal, they return to the hive and co-operate instinctively and equally with others to produce pure wax and sweet honey. They rarely sting – only when stepped upon, roughly handled and mostly when protecting the hive from predators. Such is their sacrifice that, after they have stung, they die.
     
    These tiny humming insects have much to teach us. A testimony to the wisdom of the Creator, they express the harmony, justice, peace and integrity at the heart of creation. I have a beautiful, tiled picture on my study wall, called 'The Canticles of the Creatures'. It was bought on a visit to the Italian village of Assisi where St. Francis, of that name, was born. He embodied a deep spirituality of the earth, his imagination and faith alive with a love for creation.
     
    He praised and gave thanks to God for Brother Sun, Sister Moon, Brothers Wind and Air, Sister Water and Sister Mother Earth “who sustains and governs us and produces various fruits with coloured flower and herbs.” He also said, “if you have men who will exclude any of God's creatures from the shelter of compassion and pity, you will have men who deal likewise with their fellow men.” How open are we to a way of knowing and remembering that only the creatures can offer us?
     
    It is good to give thanks for the ones   - male or female - who have mothered us over the years. Mother Earth is a mystical and beautiful gift from God. We are to reverence her and all her forms of life and live in a way that cares for, sustains and nurtures her, as she cares for, sustains and nurtures us.
     
    “Honour your father and your mother, so that you may live long in the land the Lord your God is giving you.” (Exodus 20:12)  
     
    Image: 'Bee', Jen Delyth, www.celticartstudio.com
     
    © Hilary Oxford Smith
    8 May 2013

     

  • An advantageous place

    An advantageous place

     

    The mainstream of New Zealand politics has accepted what was once threatening and abnormal as being not only acceptable but necessary.
     
    On the evening of 17 April Parliament passed the Marriage Equality Act. The Bill drew support from a substantial majority of the House. The Church, however, seemed to withdraw into its own cloud of unknowing.
     
    What might the Church do now? Accept the law change and go about mission as usual? Divide itself into those who will marry same sex couples and those who will not? Carry on talking and talking hoping for a miracle of theological insight meeting secular reasoning? Where does this leave the Church in regard to sexuality? Directions taken may be defining.
     
    Clearly, the Christian Church is no longer an effective control mechanism for a broad consensus about social order. If that is so, what does the Anglican Church value and proclaim as life-giving?
     
    It may be time to re-think the meaning and practicalities around biblically inspired ethics. For example: What is love? How might love be understood? Why is love significant, life-giving, for humanity? The answers to such questions may seem obvious. Yet the sentiments and ideologies they conveyed within once dominant theologies have lost power to influence and persuade.
     
    Both sides of the legislative debate trumpeted the virtues of fidelity. Now the beneficial and legal outcomes of fidelity are open to any life partners who are faithful to one another. The freedom allowed by this law change is a profound step in recognising and overcoming the visceral fears of difference that continue to foster relationship violence. All people are worthy of dignity.
     
    This law provides the Anglican Church, at least, with an advantageous place in public discourse. It is no longer burdened with being a moral guardian of difference based on gender. Rather it may hold the inclusivity of the Gospel high. It may now encourage creating space in the public square for discussion, understanding and celebration about the blessings of being fully human.
     
    Perhaps now theological thinkers and teachers, clergy and laity have an opportunity to look beyond transitory public moralities, and seek to articulate the universal benefits of people being free to live the sexuality that reveals their genuine nature.  
     
    To go with an agricultural image: The Church has long patrolled the boundaries of the political farm. Now it may dismantle fences, tend the ground and nurture the plants afresh that, given the conditions, will flourish.

     

  • Paradise

    Paradise

     

    And the second time the cock crew.” (St. Mark 14:72)
     
    Dawn on the Otago Peninsula and we awake to the clarion call of a cockerel, heralding the blessing of a golden Autumn day. Jonathan Livingston Seagull shares wisdom in the blue sky. White feathered kotuku-ngutupapa or Royal Spoonbills, sweep the low tide line of the harbour for a breakfast of shellfish. In the court of heaven on earth, four Royal Albatross or toroa, glide through the air, with what Herman Melville in Moby Dick, describes as “vast archangel wings”.
     
    It was Lance Richdale, OBE, DSc , who, in the 1930's, protected the Royal albatross from predators and human cruelty, by camping out for 81 days on the tip of the peninsula at Taiaroa Head, so that one lone egg, which he had discovered, could be saved from destruction. His legacy of loving respect for these majestic creatures is the creation of the only mainland breeding colony in the Southern Hemisphere where fledgling birds can grow to maturity in safety.     
     
    William Wales, tutor to the English poet, Samuel Taylor Coleridge and the astronomer on HMS Resolution, voyaged with Captain James Cook to “the land of ice”, the southernmost continent we now call, Antarctica. Inspired by hearing stories of the sea and a fabled land, Coleridge wrote The Rime of the Ancient Mariner, an epic tale about an albatross and the sailor who kills it with a crossbow. The poem is wondrously replete with imagery, allegory, superstition and allusion. The punishment and reminder of the sailor's wicked deed is to wear the dead bird around his neck and the rest of his life becomes one of penance as he wanders the earth, telling his salutary tale. He learns wisdom along the way - that God's creation is a beautiful gift, to be cherished.
     
    “He prayeth best, who loveth best
    All things both great and small;
    For the dear God who loveth us,
    He made and loveth all.”
     
    On Palm Sunday, as we attend a very fine Choral Eucharist in St. Paul's Cathedral, Dunedin and sing the familiar hymn, “Ride on! Ride on in majesty!”, one line stands out for me,
     
    “Ride on! Ride on in majesty! The wingèd squadrons of the sky look down with sad and wondering eyes to see the approaching sacrifice.”
     
    In my imagining, I wonder if an albatross with archangel wings is amongst the company of heaven.
     
    As we drive along the coast on our return to Marlborough, a dusting of snow caps the Kaikoura mountains, foretelling the harshness of the season to come. The evening sky, though, is colour-washed with lavender and the Pacific Ocean is more still than I have ever seen it. It makes me think somehow that in this week we call 'Holy', amidst pain and fear, abandonment, uncertainty, betrayal and death, the   gentleness of Love, born of power, not weakness, is made known.
     
    I am reminded of Mary caressing the feet of Jesus with her long hair and extravagantly scented perfume, each of them preparing themselves for what lies ahead. Jesus washes the dust from the feet of his disciples in another act of intimacy, humility and oneness. Later, wholeness in earth's gifts of food and wine is shared with these frightened followers, as the mystery of the memory and substance of Jesus' presence with them, each time they eat and drink together, is gifted.   At the same table, John, the disciple, whom Jesus especially loves, is thought to have placed his head below Jesus' shoulder in closeness, affection and love. He hears the heartbeat of God.
     
    The beautiful farewell words of Jesus offer reassurance,
     
    “l will not leave you desolate; I will come to you. Yet a little while, and the world will see me no more, but you will see me; because I live, you will live also…the Counselor, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, he will teach you all things, and bring to your remembrance all that I have said to you.” (St. John 14: 18-19, 25,26).
     
    Along the Via Dolorosa, it is Veronica, who, bravely and tenderly, wipes the blood and sweat from Jesus' face with her veil - his likeness forever imprinted on her heart. The life of Simon of Cyrene is changed forever, forced as he is, to carry the cross through the narrow streets of Jerusalem because Jesus can no longer bear the weight of it. Jesus' mother Mary, John the Beloved and all the other faithful women, stay with Jesus unto death and hear his loving words of familial care and loyalty. Even nailed to the cross, his self-giving love and grace is shared with one of the thieves crucified alongside him,
     
      “...Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.” And he said to him, “Truly, I say to you, today you will be with me in Paradise.” (St. Luke 23:42-43)
     
    As dawn breaks on Easter Day, the clarion call of the cockerel on the Otago Peninsula will reconnect us to the heart of Being. The wing è d squadrons of the sky will sing songs of renewed hope and peace, justice and joy. The Church will tell a story with the power to transform the world and as we listen to the sound of God's presence within all life, we will rediscover our true nature and a gentleness of heart and soul.            
     
    Ngā   mihi o te Aranga
    Easter Blessings
    References
    The Rime of the Ancient Mariner, Part VII, Samuel Taylor Coleridge, www.poetryfoundation.org
    The Holy Bible, King James and Revised Standard Versions
     
    Image
    The Sunrise Rooster No. 2, Delilah Smith, www.dailypainters.com

     

  • The Gifting of Gossamer

    The Gifting of Gossamer

    There was a dandelion clock in our garden on Sunday. Only one. A delicate timepiece.

     
    As a little child, I remember being told, “you can tell the time by the number of puffs you need to blow the seed heads into the air.” Very different from hearing the sound of a ticking clock on the mantelpiece, marking the linearity of seconds, minutes, hours, days, years.
     
    Not under the burden and control of space and time like us, I watched the wild Southerly wind carry the gossamer seeds to different shores where the circle of life could begin again.
     
    I like to think that this is what will happen to our souls when we die. Transfigured, we will live within a circle of eternity.  
     
    I ran through summer fields of golden dandelions when I was young and carefree with only thoughts of lemonade and ice-cream. To some though, these flowers are weeds, to be cut down, rooted out. Tell that to the United Nations Food Programme where dandelion leaves are an official nutritious food for people who hunger to live.
     
    Writers, photographers, artists from all over the world – radical, progressive, middle of the road, anarchic - post their own take on current news, “not always covered well by the corporate-run media” on www.dandelionsalad.wordpress.com. A quotation from one of the greatest sages and scholars of ancient Judaism, Rabbi Hillel, known for his kindness, gentleness and concern for humanity and thought to be a contemporary of Jesus Christ, heads up The Golden Rule of the website: “That which is hateful to you, do not do to another...the rest (of the Torah) is all commentary, now go study.” Quite. This free press is food for thought.
     
    The new bronze statue, Dance to the Music of Time, sculpted by New Zealander, Terry Stringer ONZM, tells the story of the Nelson region's people and history. He crafted The Risen Christ in Christchurch's Cathedral Square, the Grand Head in Wellington and the Mountain Fountain in the front of Auckland's Holy Trinity Cathedral. This latest creation attracts the art of controversy.
     
    Positioned at the gateway into and out of the city, Dance to the Music of Time, also looks out over the tidal estuary of Nelson Haven and the sheltering long barrier spit, Te Tahuna a Tama. The presence of Tangata whenua in this area spans some 600 years of time. They reverenced and respected the Haven as a rich food basket. Four figures on the sculpture represent the seasons of the year. Summer picks early fruit, Autumn makes wine, Winter's woman carries a kete of fish, Spring is a small child's face.
     
    A sense of timelessness suffuses the story which the sculpture seeks to tell. Its softness and balance produces the most powerful and tender music for the dancing mind and the freeing of the spirit. “When I let go of what I am, I become what I might be,” mused the sixth century Chinese philosopher, Lao Tzu. Words of another wise man, John O'Donohue, engage my thoughts:
     
    “We put terrible pressure on our minds when we tighten them or when we harden our views or beliefs...sometimes the best way of caring for your soul is to make flexible again some of the views that harden and crystallize in your mind; for these alienate you from your own depth and beauty.” (O'Donohue 1997 p. 135)
     
    I enthuse about a dancing theology and think fondly of Dr. Marcella Althaus-Reid who mentored me during my PhD studies at New College, The University of Edinburgh and became my friend. She died in 2009, leaving a formidable legacy of very radical, inspirational and controversial theology. A book of essays was later published in her honour called, Dancing Theology in Fetish Boots. I imagine she loves that title.
     
    “The wind blows where it wills, and you hear the sound of it, but you do not know whence it comes or whither it goes; so it is with every one who is born of the Spirit”, says Jesus. The power and the fragility of gossamer seed heads. The journey to new life. Of such is now. Of such is eternity.
     
    ©Hilary Oxford Smith
     
    O' Donohue, John, Anam Cara, Spiritual Wisdom from the Celtic World, (Great Britain: Bantam Press 1997)
    Holy Bible, Revised Standard Version St. John 3:8
    Image: Dance to the Music of Time and Terry Stringer,   www.facebook.com Public Art in Auckland

     

  • A fragrant pilgrimage

    A fragrant pilgrimage

     

     
    Dark blue Lathyrus odoratus, arranged in the font, (Sweet Peas to you and me), mingle with the honeyed smell of beeswax, evoking the heavenly scent of yesteryear. The small church overlooking the village of Wakefield, near Nelson is a fragrant sanctuary of memory.
     
    Built in 1846, St. John's Anglican church is the oldest church in continuous use in New Zealand. I hear echoes of prayers uttered on embroidered kneelers of flowers, cats and crosses and hymns sung through all the long generations.
     
    A polished brass plaque is dedicated to one of the founders of the church, Englishman, Edward Baigent, who with his wife, Mary Ann and their children, cast off from home and travelled to this wild and unpredictable land to begin a new life. Settling in Wakefield on the 9th February 1843, Edward, along with others, constructed the church using local timber. It is testimony to their faith in a God who led and shared their way. I am drawn to this place, exactly 170 years later, to the day.
     
    The clear, diamond-shaped leadlight windows, reveal a sanctity at the centre of creation. Tall Wellingtonia and Redwood trees, over a century old, protect this place of prayer. I look up to the chancel ceiling and see pawmarks. When Edward Baigent left sections of the ceiling outside overnight, a cat with muddy paws walked across the boards and made its presence known forever more.  
     
    A tiny ray of light shines on a spider, safely weaving a web. I am reminded of words about Mary and Martha, written by Kathy Galloway in her book, Imagining the Gospels:
     
    'Martha's younger sister, Mary...could sit in the midst of a tornado blowing through the house and never notice...could let milk pans boil over, forget to put coal on the fire...get into a bed that had been untouched since she tumbled out of it...and see a spider's web as the occasion for deep meditation on the nature of life, rather than as an evil which had to be furiously combated with dustpans and brushes.'  
     
    The visitors' book speaks of journeying and love. From the four corners of the world and everywhere in between. Fourth and fifth generation descendents of the Baigent family, Lynne and Patrick Kear from Gloucestershire and Tauranga, have been here earlier in the day. Anthony and Geraldine Pascoe journeyed from South Africa last year…'I am the grandson of Hilda Ladley who had worshipped at the church in 1895 and who travelled to South Africa in 1902 to be a teacher.'
     
    Lent is upon us. Like many churches and sacred places, St. John's proclaims a pilgrim God who journeys with people and is closest to them in the experience of their wandering through the wilderness. The ancient symbol of the Celtic knot, with no apparent beginning or ending, reflects the endurance of our spiritual journey - that sense of the continuum of life with God, the exploration of twisting and turning paths which can sometimes double back on themselves. All held though, within God's providential love and care.
     
    I hear on the radio, during the fourth watch of the night, that Pope Benedict XVI is to resign. News to be met with a certain uncertainty. As expectation fills the air, red-robed cardinals with biretta hats will be winging their way to the Eternal City to uphold the Church. We are to pray for them and their heavenly and earthly task. My father converted to Catholicism later in life and I recall accompanying him to Mass most weeks. My heart has always been warmed and touched by this devotional faith.
     
    It is late winter in Italy. I give thanks to the Franciscan monk from Sicily, Father Cupani, who, in 1695, recorded the native and wild Sweet Pea as a new flower and gave it a Latin name, meaning 'delicate pleasures'. The New Zealand botanist Dr. Keith Hammett, collected seeds from the flowers in Sicily in the 1970's and we now enjoy their beauty and perfume in our gardens.
     
    Their tender petals will open in The Vatican Gardens in April, heralding a new beginning at Easter. Resurrection flowers.
     
    © Hilary Oxford Smith
     
     
    Reference
    Galloway, Kathy, Imagining the Gospels (SPCK 1988) p. 62
     
    Image: Cupani Sweet Pea, Human Flower Project

     

  • Whisky, haggis, love an' a' that

    Whisky, haggis, love an' a' that

     

    In the Rai Valley this week, cicadas were in conversation. A sign of late summer. Cherry tomatoes have been planted, with hope, in the Picton garden. “The only ones that will grow now”, according to those with green-fingers.
     
    The boundless energy of summer is giving way to a different season. Peaches are rose tinted and green pears bend the boughs of the old tree.   Harvest and ploughing awaits.
     
    Snow and sledging are the order of this January day on the other side of the world. Maggie in Somerset speaks of snowdrops turning their faces to the slow returning sun. Candles of hope and the ancient prayer of Simeon beckon us to Candlemas.     
     
    Memory takes me to cold winters and long dark evenings in Scotland warmed by the crackle and glow of the coal fire. Uncle James would tell stories of the sea. My father sometimes read aloud the poetry of Robert Burns. It was for the promise of a sixpence that I recited Burns' epic masterpiece, Tam O' Shanter.
     
    January 25th 1759 is the date of his birth. Now and over the next few days, the creativity of this toil-bent Ayrshire farmer and disinclined Excise Officer will be celebrated from Scotland to Stewart Island. His poetry will be read and performed, ballads sung, glasses raised to toast his Immortal Memory.  
     
    Dunedin, that stately 'Edinburgh of the South' has its own association with the Bard. Dr. Thomas Burns, founding father of the Otago settlement and solemn, dignified minister of the First Church of Otago was his nephew. A statue of Burns stands high above the people in The Octagon. Fine though the sculpture is, I wonder what the egalitarian poet would think of being placed six feet above contradiction, like the preachers in the pulpits of his time and all time?
     
    We know only too well that Burns loved wine, women and song and wrote much about all three. He was, though, a deeply religious man and aware of his shortcomings. In his poem, To a Louse, On Seeing One On A Lady's Bonnet At Church, he muses,
     
    “O wad some Pow'r the giftie gie us, To see oursels as ithers see us! It wad frae mony a blunder free us, And foolish notion: What airs in dress and gait wad lea'e' us, And ev'n devotion!”
     
    Burns' was critical of 'The Kirk', the Protestant church in Scotland. Writing poetry gave voice to his radical, libertarian and religious beliefs. Not for him the cold Calvinist censoriousness and alienating chastisements of the church and its selfish, elitist striving for personal salvation. He was scathing in his denouncement of what he regarded as the hypocrisy of the religious leaders and their supersitions, in the guise of the teachings of Jesus Christ. Perhaps Burns could hear echoes of the babbling Scribes and Pharisees when the man from Nazareth questioned and exposed their power, authority, hypocrisy and vested interests. The dance, song, poetry, spirit of the Jewish faith had long been extinguished from their hearts and souls.
     
    In Holy Willie's Prayer, Burns satirises the leadership of the Kirk. Considered to be one of the religious 'elect', preordained for heaven, Willie says,
     
    '…I am here a chosen sample,
    To show thy grace is great and ample;
    I'm here a pillar o' Thy temple,
    Strong as a rock,
    A guide, a buckler, and example,
    To a' Thy flock.”
     
    With a just heart, borne out of familial and national poverty and inequality, Burns also wrote about the pomposity of the ruling classes and the excesses and abuses of wealth and power that he saw around him. He envisioned a world-wide brotherhood and sisterhood that would, in its togetherness, reflect the worth of the individual and the whole, affirm the values of justice, equality, honesty, love. Rampant religious individualism would not bring heaven on earth.
     
    With no awareness of the inclusive language of these modern times and I hope that any sensitivities will excuse him of that, his poem, 'Is There For Honest Poverty', better known as 'A Man's a Man for A' That' speaks a profound message for his time and all time.
     
    “What though on hamely fare we dine,
    Wear hoddin' grey, and a' that.
    Gie fools their silks, and knaves their wine,
    A Man's a Man for a' that.
    For a' that, and a'that;
    Their tinsel show, and a' that';
    The honest man, though e'er sae poor,
    Is king o' men for a' that. –
     
    I have always admired the Great West Window dedicated to Robert Burns in St. Giles' Cathedral, the High Kirk of Edinburgh. www.st.gilescathedral.org.uk. I hear the words from Isaiah's prophecy, “I will lay thy stones with fair colours, and lay their foundations with sapphires. And I will make thy windows of agates.” As Assistant Minister there, I loved the window when it came to life with light. A central sunburst, opening out “like a red, red rose”, reflects the hope and the light at the heart of the Christian faith…even the worldwide church, in spite of its flaws.
     
    So, living in the egalitarian society that is New Zealand, I happily raise my glass with others, here and all over the world, in toast, to the Immortal Memory of Robert Burns, with the hope that prophetic voices will always be heard.
     
    “Then let us pray that come it may,
    (As come it will for a' that,)
    That Sense and Worth, o'er a' the earth,
    Shall bear the gree, an' a' that.
    For a' that, an' a' that,
    It's coming yet for a'that,
    That Man to Man, the world o'er,
    Shall brothers be for a' that.”
     
    Notes
    “hoddin”: coarse cloth
    “Shall bear the gree”: shall come off best
     
    To read and listen to the work of Robert Burns: www.bbc.co.uk/arts/robertburns/works
     
    Image: Robert Burns by Alexander Naismith from www.localnewsglasgow.co.uk

     

  • Unfolding

    Unfolding

    Summer tales
    of Magi.
    Full moon’s whiteness
    on an unknown path.
    A stardust constellation of Pisces
    in the western horizon.

    A diffused scent.
    Holy,
    anointing.
    Frankincense
    purifies ‘always the same’ air.

    Pale bellied, frost lichen,
    tells a winter tale
    of an ancient abbey.
    Hewn, pitted stone
    holding memory.
    Still sheltering the ancestors.
    High crosses
    sing eternal tones,
    encircling the heart.
    Soul’s shielding.

    Weathered by many moons,
    sun’s brightness,
    storm’s turbulence
    is Jerusalem.
    He wept over her,
    lamenting paradise lost.

    Bab el-Khalil opens.
    Hoping in Hebron.
    Searching.
    Fragile
    with dreams of Abrahamic peace.

    Rumi tells tales of mystical love with God.
    Another year.
    Different this time.

    © Hilary Oxford Smith
    1 January 2013

    Image: Spirit-of-Jerusalem

  • A poem for Christmas, innit?

    Rachel Mann 25 December 2012

    A poem for Christmas, innit?

     

    'What rough beast...slouches towards Bethlehem...?'
     
    Elsewhere a king is fed grapes,
    fat as globes, wondering how
    it would feel to swallow
    the world in a single gulp.
     
    An emperor savours the scent
    of honeysuckle, studies his elegant
    hands, marvels at their power to condemn,
    compel, free. Indulges his greatest truth:
    I am a god.
     
    Men and women kiss, curse, cry, and spit,
    dream of riding eagle's wings.
    Somewhere a child lifts his head
    watches wild horses run, certain
    his legs would carry him
    to the birthplace of the moon.
     
    Here a mouth opens,
    thirsty to receive.
    The girl stares down at it,
    as if at a puzzle, shocked if this is the answer,
    stares in terror and wonder at what she has done.
     
    Image: Rachel Mann
     
    Rachel Mann is a Church of England priest, philosopher, author, poet and metal-head musician. We're delighted she's allowed us to post her latest poem on Moments.  
     
    Her new book Dazzling Darkness, the story of her journey from Nick, the wild living and self indulgent atheist to who she is now, is causing quite a stir. You can see Sande Ramage's review of that book here.
     

     

  • Magnificat Moments

    Magnificat Moments

     

    Choral Evensong at Nelson Cathedral on a warm summer evening. A Festival of Christmas Trees nudges us to think of peace and goodwill; each tree decorated differently by local organisations and community groups.
     
    Creative, inspirational, imaginative gifts of life and light proclaiming the goodness at the heart of creation: the Christ Child, Emmanuel, God with us.
     
    A Memory Tree invites visitors to write a loved one's name on a star and hang the star on the tree. There are many stars and many names. I write, 'Joe'...remembering my father who had a beautiful spirit and a passion for justice. He died five years ago.
     
    Christmas for Dad was always about Mary's song, The Magnificat. The proud and unjust being brought low, the rich sharing their wealth, the overcoming of evil, our lives being opened up like a gift. Looking forward. Refusing to give up hope. The most courageous trust. The deepest love, and compassion, and challenge.
     
    I write 'Maureen' on another a star. My husband's mother died eighteen months ago. I think of her gentleness, her grace, her love of her son. We will miss Joe and Maureen at our table this Christmas. So too, will many others miss the ones they love and whose love is cherished forever.
     
    Light from a setting sun streams through only one stained-glass window in the Cathedral. Bartholomew and Philip, disciples of Jesus, feel the sun on their backs again. It is the same sun, which shone on them as they sat by a lakeside, eating a fish supper with Jesus and sharing stories of their friend in Mesopotamia, Persia, India and Greece. A stream of living memory flows and returns.
     
    Chorister, Helen Baker, sings Isaiah's prophecy from Handel's Messiah,
     
    “How beautiful are the feet of them that preach the gospel of peace, and bring glad tidings of good things.”
     
    Good news, peace and restoration do not come easily.
     
    Returning home, I look at an icon of a black Madonna and Christ-child, sitting on the bedside table, bought in the St. Nicholas' Russian Orthodox Cathedral in Nice, France. Holding her child close to her heart, mother and infant embody a vulnerability, a rebelliousness, a poignancy, a deeply loving tenderness.
     
    A visit to Soweto in South Africa some years ago, led me to an evocative work of art, The Madonna and Child of Soweto. Painted by Larry Scully in 1973, it hangs in the Regina Mundi Catholic Church there. The child holds a cross in his left hand and two fingers of his right hand make the shape of a letter, 'V'.
     
    The South African journalist, Mpho Lukoto described the painting as,
     
    “one of the most poignant reminders of the past…beneath the image of the Black Madonna, Scully painted an eye, with the different images in it giving meaning to the picture. The pupil of the eye represents the township. The two black forks that run across the eye toward the pupil represent the pain inflicted on black people. And in the centre of the eye, representing the church, is a cross with a light that illuminates the pupil.
     
    It struck me that in the midst of all the painful memories, the painting is a symbol of the hope, like the church itself, that was in the heart of the people. I like to believe that it was that hope that makes it possible for us to celebrate 10 years of democracy.” (The Star, March 23, 2004)
     
    Built in 1964, Regina Mundi still echoes with the sounds of the pain and discrimination of apartheid. Murmurings of resistance, justice and words of peace and reconciliation can also be heard. This was truly a church where Christ's gospel was lived, where risks were taken on holy ground.
     
    A marginalised community, anti-apartheid protestors, prophetic clergy gathered over many long years, to pray, sing, read, share, discuss, listen, act. It is a place of memory, transformation, hope and when apartheid was finally overthrown, it was here that The Truth and Reconciliation Commission held some of their hearings.  
     
    Such was the presence of this church in the lives of the people and the nation that Regina Mundi Day was declared on 30th November 1997 by the father of the nation, Nelson Mandela, who said,
     
    “Regina Mundi served the greater Soweto community in times of need. It opened its doors to anti-apartheid activities when all other avenues were closed to the majority of the oppressed...Regina Mundi became a world-wide symbol of the determination of our people to free themselves....a church that refused to allow God's name to be used to justify discrimination and repression.”
     
    Tradition and ritual, a love that never dies, sharing food with friends, creative courage, a mother and her child and a freedom of the spirit. Magnificat moments. Christmas stories.       
     
    “And the Word was made flesh, and dwelt among us, and we beheld his glory, full of grace and truth.”
     
    © Hilary Oxford Smith

     

  • Christmas in Fiji

    Sue Halapua 15 December 2012

    Christmas in Fiji

     

    The light shines in the darkness –and the darkness has never put it out. John 1:5  
     
    The family of Kula, the parrot, has flown around the Fiji coastland and bush for as long as anyone can remember. The ancestors of Mongoose travelled from India with people who came to work on the sugar plantations.
     
    Kula and Mongoose are friends. Some folk are surprised because Kula and Mongoose are very different. But why shouldn't they be friends?   They have grown up together. They talk to one another. They have different gifts and they help one another in the green valley where they both live.
     
    Kula makes Mongoose laugh. Kula is bright and colourful and can fly and tell Mongoose what she sees. Mongoose is alert and quick as he slips quietly through the bush and through the fields. He has an ear to the ground. Mongoose never touches Kula's eggs. He protects them. He warns off any likely predators.
     
    One day in her flights Kula notices some puzzling activities in a nearby town. She returns to tell Mongoose some very strange stories.   In the town there is much more buying and rushing around. The shops are decorated with shiny paper and lights. Some people are drinking from cans and brown bottles. Others are singing loudly in the little wooden church.   In the valley Ana is busy with a sasa cleaning her little home. Old Jone seems be carrying more dalo from the plantation than usual.
     
    What is this all about? The two friends decide to try to find out. They decide to ask the bullock who is thought to be very wise. His broad shoulders have carried more burdens than the heavy plough yoked to his neck in the cane fields. He listens carefully to the friends. “It must be Christmas," he says at last. “But what is Christmas?” the friends reply.   The bullock shakes his heavy head from side to side in the effort of trying to remember. He speaks slowly. “When I was just a calf, it was told me that a loving Child once lay sleeping in the place where bullocks were eating. If you find the Child you will find the meaning of Christmas. Go and look for the Child!”
     
    So the friends set out, the Mongoose travelling close to the ground the Kula flying above. They set out to look for the Child. They go to the place where the bullocks are fed. There is no Child. They search until the sun went down as a ball of fire into the Pacific Ocean and darkness quickly envelops the valley. The friends are tired, hungry and disappointed.
     
    Then they come to a little well-worn path leading to a humble wooden house.   There is a smell of cooking as roti, turned with nimble fingers and the edge of well worn sari, is being cooked on a tiny paraffin stove. An oil lamp has been lit and casts a circle of gentle light on the thick green grass in front of the house.
     
    A boy called Shiu is sitting by himself on the veranda steps.   The friends watch and suddenly into the circle of light steps a girl called Mere whose family had always lived in the valley. She carries a basket of golden pawpaw as a gift.
     
    Soon two children, Shiu and Mere, are sitting on the veranda steps, eating roti made by Shiu's Grandmother. They drink from new coconuts. They are talking and laughing together. Kula and Mongoose wonder at the happy scene. Strangely unafraid, the two creatures draw nearer to the circle of light. Both Kula and Mongoose draw nearer still and are caught in the lamp light.
     
    The two children notice. Shiu and Mere sit very still and smile. The children tear their soft roti and throw pieces to the creatures which come and eat. Then the children hold their breath.   Kula, flitting green and red feathers, begins a spiralling dance of joy and as if awed, in deep respect, Mongoose sits upright on his haunches.
     
    Mongoose and Kula rest so peacefully in the green valley that night. Their search is over. They know they have found the meaning of Christmas in being drawn to that circle of light - in being welcomed by the children into a circle of loving and sharing.
     
    A baby is born in the valley that night. Old Jone, coming late from the plantation, looks up at the starry heavens and gives thanks for all the children and people living in the green valley and beyond. He knows there was a place for everyone.
     
    In the morning, Christmas morning, the frangipani tree with star shaped flowers blooms so brightly. It seems as if heaven's stars are caught in its branches.
     
    On the beach, the great white reef heron stretches her wings.   Like a Seraph she rises in the air and sweeping along the coast, she cries, “Peace! Peace! Peace!” Flying across the waves of the Pacific Ocean, she cries out “Peace” in all the languages known to creatures and to people.  
            
    VAKACEGU*SHANTI*PEACE
      
    Shiu (a Fijian of Indian descent) and Mere (an indigenous Fijian) represent the two major ethnic groups in Fiji.   In Fiji there are often great friendships between the races.  
     
    Sue Halapua is an Anglican priest who has lived for many years in Fiji.  Her story is written for Tiahli, all the Children of Fiji and all who work for Peace.
     
    Image: Fiji Dawn by Anthony Halapua
     

     

  • Clara's got talent for waiting

    The Rev. John Fairbrother 8 December 2012

    Clara's got talent for waiting

     

    Watching the final of TVNZ New Zealand's Got Talent I was surprised to see a fifteen year old girl singing a lament for love. Here was the voice of a heartfelt cry.
     
    Poetic words with beautiful music evoked the existential pain of longing for relationship that would transcend the passing distractions from personal identity and worth.
     
    On national television and before a live audience Clara van Wel stirred the gloss of competitive celebrity, revealing unnervingly simple questions about meaning, belonging, acceptance and love.
     
    At the heart of Clara's song, Where do you find love?, was a sense of search and need to wait. Waiting is very much part of the human condition.
     
    The Christian tradition encourages adherents to search for meaning while waiting on God. This means coming to some terms with the here and now while always actively living within hope of a worthy, fulfilling, future. However, waiting can sorely test faith.
     
    The New Testament letters provide evidence of such a sense of test (1Peter14-15) and that same sense remains alive in the faith of the Church. It is, perhaps, no more profoundly sensed than when waiting with another at their thin margin between life and death. Can any act of waiting carry meaning?
     
    Samuel Beckett challenged the hope of a faith in waiting in the play Waiting for Godot. While two men exhaust the sense of their present reality Godot never appears. Waiting for something that cannot be seen, or may not eventuate, may be a forlorn experience destroying hope, or only softened by amusing temporary distraction.
     
    Waiting without engaging the present will be forlorn. The hope behind waiting needs to be earthed in active experience that contributes to world and neighbours. Clara's song seems to reach for that experience. It is an experience the Church is charged to live and promote, an experience defined by love, self-giving love.
     
    Clara's song sounded a defiant call into the existential reality of needing meaningful relationship in a world that, for many individuals, has become as hyper-connected as it is competitive and isolating. At fifteen Clara reveals a wisdom that confronts waiting without surrender to despair of loneliness, loss of hope or transitory distraction. New Zealand's Got Talent!
     
    Image: Clara's Twitter Account @ClaravanWel

     

  • Eclipse

    ECLIPSE

     

    The Moon

    assails

    the Sun;

    a chill

    deathly

    darkness

    conquers

    earthly

    light and

    holds us

    hostage;

    the Sun’s

    corona

    standing

    steadfast

    as proud

    victorious

    pledge

     

     

    For information and pictures of the Sun’s corona:

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Corona

     



    3 December 2012

    © the Revd James M McPherson

    Maryborough

    Queensland

     

     

    This poem was inspired by the total eclipse at Cairns, it began at 5.45am (Queensland time), with the full eclipse coming at 6.38am and lasting for two minutes before returning to partiality for another hour.

     

  • New life out of death reveals grim realities

    Susan Smith 30 November 2012

    New life out of death reveals grim realities

     

    On the night of the American elections I was struck by the number of middle-aged and elderly white, middle-class Americans who had gathered to celebrate what they believed would be the imminent victory of Mitt Romney.
     
    Then the TV would quickly transport us to Chicago to where crowds were similarly gathered to hopefully celebrate the re-election of Barack Obama. But this time the crowds were were Afro-American, Hispanic or Asian, or younger white Americans. They represented the America of the future. What does the Republican Party have to do ensure that it has a future? Well fortunately I do not have to answer that question.
     
    But the American presidential elections meant I began thinking again about a workshop on church affiliation in Auckland I attended in September. The majority of participants were white, middle-aged or older and middle-class.
     
    As happens at such workshops, we were presented with statistics galore and learnt among other things that churches which had not seriously engaged with Auckland's ever increasing Asian and Polynesian migrant communities were into decline, often quite serious decline.
     
    The Catholic Church now has a significant Polynesian and Asian membership, which means it looks strong in South Auckland, or in Pakuranga and Howick. But its Pakeha members remind me somewhat of the Republicans–white, middle-aged, and middle-class–gathered to celebrate and then to commiserate the rise and fall of Mitt Romney.
     
    Where mainline churches have not engaged with Asians or Polynesians, and in the case of the latter, this also means with the economically disenfranchised, the future looks somewhat grim.  
      
    I keep asking myself how serious is all this? I am reminded again of the importance of Walbert Bühlmann's 1980 publication, The Coming of the Third Church, in which he argues that the future of Catholicism, and by extension, of what we sometimes refer to as “Western Christianity” lies in Africa, in Asia, in Latin America, in Oceania, and more recently in those southern nations that used to be part of the Soviet Union–Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan and so on.
     
    The changing demographic reality of Catholicism is apparent in my own religious congregation. Here in New Zealand the median age for our sisters is almost 75 years while in India Central Province, it is just over 42 years. Does it matter?
     
    Almost two thousand years ago, the church was strong in the Middle East and in Western Turkey. Think about where the gospels were written, think about the recipients of the different New Testament letters, think about the churches being addressed in the Book of Revelation.
     
    Now Christianity is almost non-existent in such places, and it looks as if it is going to continue to decline in Western Europe where it has been so strong for centuries. But it is growing elsewhere particularly in Africa.
     
    At the end of Matthew's gospel the risen Jesus assures his followers that “I am with you always, to the end of the age" (Matt 28:20). Notice he does not promise to be with a specific church in Syria, in France or in New Zealand, but Jesus does promise to be with us to the end of the age.
     
    In John's gospel just prior to the Passion Narrative, Jesus' disciples tell him that some Greeks have come to worship at the Festival. The arrival of Gentiles leads Jesus to proclaim that “unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains just a single grain; but if it dies, it bears much fruit. Those who love their life lose it, and those who hate their life in this world will keep it for eternal life” (John 12:24-25).
     
    As mainline churches in our country experience the reality of a loss on institutional strength and influence, members need to remember that this loss of life may well be accompanied by new life elsewhere, life that depends on the Spirit blowing where she wills.  
     
    Image: Capital Times   A mandala representing the circle of life and death laid in the Death and Diversity exhibition at the Museum of City and Sea, Wellington.  

     

  • Gardening the loose ends of Advent

    Gardening the loose ends of Advent

     

    Christmas cards across the miles. As I begin to write them, when the house and the town are quiet, I find my thoughts meandering over the years and recalling people who have been and are part of my world...far scattered relations and friends, priest and pastors, new acquaintances, other writers.   I add my good wishes as I remember our stories.    
     
    Early summer gardens in Aotearoa are becoming lush with colour and growth and a dear friend and fellow scribe, Margaret, comes into my mind. Spectacles balanced on the tip of her nose, muddy gumboots, trowel in hand, ready to turn over the vegetable beds of her remarkable garden.  
     
    She and her husband, David, a Presbyterian minister, retired to Kent to be near their family. The local Anglican church is their spiritual home and community. David takes his place in the old wooden pulpit there from time to time. Thinking of them, I long for Margaret to be here to teach and encourage this younger apprentice, who also has a liking for the earth. I add 'love' to their card as I do to others. Christmas is a time to remember good people.
     
    Times of reflection happen in gardens. On a recent trip to Oamaru, I came across a storytelling place. It was gardener James Kidd's imaginative creativity that helped to establish the Oamaru public gardens in 1876. Now, native kowhai, ribbonwood, lancewood, flax, lemonwood, fivefinger, matagouri, hohena, astelia, and even kauri grow there, mingling with settler trees and shrubs. A mixed heritage.  
     
    The intense scent of honeysuckle and roses and a landscape of apricot, lilac, cream and raspberry, pink, ivory white blooms and golden stamens echo the fragrance of another place where once there was peace. Syria. The air in Damascus at an earlier time in history was apparently filled with the scent of attar of roses and aromatic herbs. It is cordite, fires and flesh now. How the people who live out their lives in the midst of such violence and bloodshed must wish and pray to smell the fragrance of peace.  
     
    Back to the gardens at Oamaru. It is in the imagining that we find ourselves a part of the tales of a community, a land, a people. Trees have been planted commemorating significant events in the life of our turbulent colonial history - and more. A victory beech planted on VJ Day, 1945 by the Mayoress, Miss Betty Kirkness commemorates peace. The Kauri, still growing strong in a Southern climate, marks the centenary of the Borough of Oamaru. Schubert's string quartet No. 15 is playing at the band rotunda on a sun-filled Victorian afternoon. The eight-sided Elderslie summer house shelters us from the sun.
     
    A plaque on a seat opposite, is dedicated to Norman Ellis who died in 2005: “A dedicated Waitaki county council worker, formerly of Windsor, from wife Betty and children”. Betty's name is now alongside her husband's, as it should be. She died in 2011: “A woman dedicated to the communities she lived in”.
     
    Most of us probably do not know Betty or Norman. Yet, somehow, this garden tells us that we do. We can know their love of beauty, their sense of longing for peace which this garden gifts to its ambling visitors. We know they had a family who loved them, that they were people who worked and contributed to the well-being of their communities. Their lives and ours are interwoven:  joy and sorrow, light and dark, community and solitude, fragility and strength. There is no easy way to encounter resurrection.
     
    Surprises are part of life. There is a bronze sculpture, 'Wonderland', crafted by the Scottish sculptor, Thomas J. Clapperton (1879-1962) and gifted to the children of Oamaru in 1926 by mayor, Robert Milligan. Clapperton was born in a small Borders town, Galashiels. Many of his sculptures can be admired in villages and towns in the Borders of Scotland and throughout the world. I grew up in Galashiels. I recall a distant relative of his, Susan, who was a family friend of ours and lived to one hundred years old. I can see her now, small, white-haired, rosy cheeked, a King Charles spaniel always at her side. I remember her unexpectedly in this remote country.
     
    There are no fences in the garden. I wonder if we are called to leave the confines of the enclosed space in this life? That we are neither to be bound by who we thought we were nor by the attitudes of others.   The prophetic Jesus preaches a gospel that frees us from the posturing and power-broking of the narrow political concerns of this world, frees us from the need to find security in possessions or addictions or an anxious and fretful selfishness. Sometimes though the doctrines and rules and regulations of our churches imprison us. We have no need to be so confined. Do we?
     
    Nothing in the garden is finished. Pathways and streams diverge and interconnect, no beginnings, no endings. Plants grow, die and come to new life. Much of life is unfinished isn't it? From symphonies to relationships. The gospels are full of loose ends, unfinished business, unanswered questions. Words of absolute certainty, neat and tidy little endings can disempower us to creatively love and live.
     
    I read some time ago about the worldwide Gardens of Forgiveness project, which began in Lebanon. It is a concept expressing the life-affirming qualities of forgiveness and love through cultivating living beauty in the earth. Gardens are being created where people can make a path for themselves, which can lead them towards transformation, reconciliation and unity. Perhaps the future will grow a garden in Syria.  
     
    In the Oamaru garden, as in other places, dedicated green-fingers tend and care for what is there, managing the pests that threaten to destroy, trimming, feeding, pruning, watering, cutting away dead wood.   They offer the fruits of their labours and gifts from God to us. We are thankful.
     
    Back to writing Christmas cards to post overseas. And more remembering.   With Advent hope.  
    © Hilary Oxford Smith
    26 November 2012
     
    Image: God's Garden of Forgiveness, Andrea Brueck, Oil on Canvas

     

  • Threatened but still in favour of women bishops

    The Rev. John Fairbrother 25 November 2012

    Threatened but still in favour of women bishops

     

    To my surprise a deep sense of threat was felt. Six votes in General Synod, where the Houses of Bishops and Clergy had voted strong majorities, the House of Laity said NO by six. Women in the Church of England are to remain below a purple ceiling, for three more years at least.
     
    I was ordained at the end of 1984. On reflection this seems to have been at the end of the male dominated Anglican Church in this country. For my ordained life the experience has been marked by a deepening feminisation of the Church. For a bloke this has not been without discomfort, even a sense of threat.
     
    The experience might be understood as undergoing a dilution of confidence about personal place in regard to ecclesiastical structure. There was no revolution, merely a dawning sense of inevitable change and adaptation to new circumstances, new forms of ministerial and professional relationships. The sense of dilution of 'blokey-like' confidence has been about the need to accept that gender has nothing to do with personal worth.
     
    The dilution has been a gift. Less male confidence has become augmented with profound understanding of complementarity. Living toward personal wholeness cannot progress in isolation of gender.   This can be discomfiting for a male, educated and oriented toward physical prowess and control. While such challenge and change is not restricted to the Church, the Church provides a concentrated appreciation of such experience.
     
    To hear the outcome of the Church of England's General Synod vote against women bishops gave rise to a sense of threat in this male cleric because my ministry has become liberated, enlivened by the destruction of male oriented gender qualification. Within me the response to the news raised frustration that my experience of ministry is seen by some, in position of authority, as being counter to revealed truths.
     
    When factory looms replaced cottage industry those now known as Luddites set out to smash the machines. The inevitability of the industrial development could not be stopped. The opposing votes at the General Synod raise an echo reminiscent of the actions of those Luddites.   In the present case, intransigent theological and political position has been wielded against the self-evident reason of tested theological insight and ecclesiastical development. The advent of women bishops in England may have been stopped for now.
     
    In the language of the Book of Common Prayer the vote has done no more than 'prevent' the change. That is 'go before' the event occurring. The ordination of women bishops in the Church of England is inevitable. Any threat felt by the likes of me to the outcome of this tragic vote might well be directed as energy, to strengthen the ministries women and men quite clearly share as companions in the Way of Jesus.
     
    Image: Rueters via Straits Times

     

  • Acuity