What happened to Sundays?

My earliest memories of Sundays were when dad came to pick us up and took us out for the day. Sometimes a picnic, sometimes back to his house to play with my half-sisters. It was always a treat day for me, which involved sweeties and pocket-money (perhaps the real reason I enjoyed them so much.)

Some childhood Sundays were long lie-ins, late brunch (but we never called it that back then) and lying on the floor watching black and white movies. Mum would do the ironing for back to school the next day and we would have a bath, wash our hair, and dry it by lying next to the electric fire. This explains the bad hair days I had in all those photographs of my childhood.

As I got older Sundays were mostly hungover days and were days of rest, reading and watching bad TV, except for those old movies. Sometimes I don’t think I even got dressed.

When I was first married and had the boys, long lies were out of the question and some shops started to trade on a Sunday. Often we would walk down to John Menzies on Princes Street which was a big book store and browse for hours before buying a paperback or more.

But I was always a night person – an owl rather than a lark. Sunday mornings were meant for sleep and dozing and breakfast in bed if at all possible.

Then I found Church and it all changed. Overnight I became a lark. Up and dressed and raring to go across the road to church as the bell tolled and people from miles around gathered together. I never missed a Sunday except for one occasion when I was very ill. And what I did on Sundays at church spread out into my life and happened on other days too, and in evenings and in groups and in pubs. I loved the structure of Sunday and over time it changed – sometimes pub after for lunch, sometimes going on to someone’s house to laugh and talk theology and drink, sometimes back for Evensnog and Benediction, sometimes going out with church friends.

When I was ordained Sundays changed again. There were early services to attend or take, main services and clearing up to do after, coffee to share and home communions to take out to the housebound. It always began with Radio 4 and sometimes a bit of The Archers as I drove between one church and another. Sundays then became quite tiring days as I’d slump in the afternoon when I got home. Tiring in the afternoon because there was such a buzz in the morning. Sometimes a wee nana-nap had to be taken if there was an evening service to do. At this church the routine was church at 10am then coffee and a blether which could go on for some considerable time, and then the Lunch Bunch (single folk who live alone) would head off to The Steading for lunch which could go on till almost 4pm by the time we have sorted the world’s problems out. It was great. Social and pastoral and theology and mission all rolled in to one.

And then there is now. One week coffee after church was stopped because of the risk, and the next the church was closed.  And that was a couple of months ago. Oh how I miss it all. I miss the Eucharist most of all. But I also miss the people so much. I miss the conversations about nothing in particular. Yes, I do have conversations by phone now but they mostly consist of coronavirus talk and health. I miss the visuals we created in church to mark the liturgical year. I miss the laughter. I miss preaching to people I can see. I miss the music – oh how I miss that! I am missing my 50 days of unremitting joy. Holy Week was just agony but for all the wrong reasons. Easter Sunday was painful because we were to have an adult baptism as well as all the rest of the razzamatazz.  Yes, every week I sit down at 10am and I go through our spirit communion service. I read the readings and I try to contemplate them as best I can. I pray for those who are sick and I pray for all the others who are affected in different ways. I don’t do anything online as so few of my congregation could access it easily, and I feel it would be excluding them if I did it for some. Of course, there is plenty of religion to be found. I could join Zoom churches aplenty, there are Provincial services, friends’ services from cathedrals to small churches like mine. At the beginning I watched them all: the good and the not-so-good. But I’m afraid they are just not doing it for me. I just don’t feel part of it without my own little flock.

When will it go back to how it was before? Should it go back to how it was before? What will the ‘new normal’ be like? I don’t know and I can’t even imagine. With the age profile of my congregation I know they would mostly like it to be exactly as it was before. They want Sundays back just like its aye been. And you know, I want that too. Just now I really, really want my Sundays to be just like they were before all this happened. Yes, its made me more aware of my housebound folk and how we can do more for them and that will continue. But right now I am mourning the loss of my Sundays and all they contained.

Why Sunday Is one of the most Essential Day of the Week for Your ...

A day for thinking about death

Today is Good Friday and the year is 2020. There will never be another Good Friday like this. I hope. Our churches are closed because of the Coronavirus and we are all trying to find ways of keeping the Triduum at home. Some have created prayer spaces with symbols that mean something, some have watched a hundred videos on Facebook and YouTube and some clergy have felt inadequate at the expertise of others. Why didn’t I learn all this IT stuff before the lockdown began? Why didn’t I prepare better? And if someone said that to me I would tell them that doing your best is just fine. But today I’m not hearing it. Today I’m grumpy, and in a bad mood, and I’m missing my Good Friday.

From the first year that I became a Christian Holy Week has been so very special for me. The sights, the sounds, the smells all take me to that place far, far away and long, long ago. Since being ordained I have tried faithfully to share some of that life-changing week with my little flocks. Through Stations of the Cross, art, fasting, meditations, candlelit Compline, preaching the Passion, the Veneration of the Cross, foot-washing, shared meals, prostrating at the Garden of Repose, and the joy of Holy Saturday and cleaning the church and preparing it for Easter Day. I love Holy Week. Yes, it makes me cry. But after the tears come Hot Cross Buns. And you know you have to go through the agony to appreciate the joy of Easter.

Today I’ve been thinking about death. My own death. I am ‘shielding’ at the moment which is the strictest kind of self-isolation for those who have an illness that puts them at high risk of catching the virus. Some people have one illness which puts them at risk. I have a few! I have COPD (lung disease) and Asthma, Diabetes, Liver disease, and I’m on steroids which lower my immune system. So I am being very careful indeed about staying indoors and washing everything over and over again. But there is still a chance I could catch it – when I’m at the doctor’s for blood tests, or at the hospital as I was on Monday. And I know that if I do get Coronavirus I might not survive it. For once I’m not being dramatic, for this is my reality. Usually I am a glass half-full kind of person but today I’m not. Because today, Good Friday, is a day for thinking about death and I can’t help but think of my own.

Many years ago, at the beginning of my ministry, I led an evening on Preparing Your Own Funeral and I’ve repeated them time and time again. It is a subject I am passionate about. I’ve met families who have not even considered that their parent or loved one might die and are totally unprepared for thinking about hymns or burial or cremation or what readings or any of the questions a priest might ask the next of kin. Prepare your own before you go! I’d shout. And people did. And I did. And I told my son where to find it. And I showed him where all my papers are. I could relax. All was in hand.

But things have changed. My hope for a full Requiem with clergy in black vestments and twelve favourite hymns just won’t happen if I should die while restrictions are in place. It may be my boys and a priest at the Crem. It may be short and, I’m sure, sweet but nothing as I’d planned and hoped. And that’s okay. To be honest, I think my boys might prefer it that way.

Speaking to a friend this week who is also ‘shielding’ she told me her GP had phoned to check that she was taking all the instructions seriously to the letter, and did anyone have Power of Attorney, and did she want a DNR put in place. She was shocked and upset. She hadn’t thought about that. And I haven’t either. I know I hope for a good death, a happy death but I also know that not everyone gets that. My mother didn’t. My father didn’t. I don’t want to be resuscitated if there’s no hope. But I haven’t done anything about that yet. I don’t want to die alone or with a stranger holding my hand in their gloved one. I’m not frightened of dying but I am frightened of the physical aspects of it and the emotional ones. Then I listen to the Passion story again and again and wonder why I’m afraid and feel rather silly.

So that’s where I am this Good Friday. I know it will pass. But this is where I am today. Thinking, probably over-thinking, about death. It has been a struggle this Holy Week. I pray that Easter will make it better.

The Prisoner of Buckstone

It seems that it might be time to revive the old blog. However,  don’t go expecting nice pictures and thoughtful prose. The reason?  My study where the computer is is freezing,  my new laptop doesn’t work,  so I’m doing this on my trusty tablet using Swype so there will be spelling mistakes and nothing fancy.

Now,  why the blog revival?  The world is in the midst of a pandemic called Coronavirus. We are about 6 weeks into it here in Scotland and I have been housebound since 3 March 2020 as I had a chest infection at the beginning and was told to self isolate. No warning that it might go on for a while.  No time to stock up on stuff. I had to get cover for church services and turn my ministry into the phone kind once I was feeling a bit better. My son lives with me so he became full time carer,  shopper, messenger, along with all the rest he does for me at home. I started online supermarket shopping and with reasonably good grace we got used to being home all day.

Things got worse. The College of Bishops started issuing guidance to keep us safe during the crisis. First it was no intinction at communion (yay!) then nobody to receive the chalice except the priest,  no shaking hands at the Peace, no biscuits after the service, and finally our churches had to close for who knows how long?  That was when clergy up and down the land had to rethink ‘church’. And quickly. If church isn’t the building,  what is it?  And soon there were priests popping up on Facebook saying Morning Prayer in immaculate studies while I wondered how long it would take to find a tidy yet erudite bookcase to sit in front of and look holy and thoughtful. That’s when I discovered my laptop wasn’t working so ditched that idea.

The doc told me i had to begin 12 weeks of self isolation which would take me to June as i have a few health issues which make me high risk. I had 1 wedding in June and 2 in July so contingency plans had to be made. One of my little flock was seriously ill in hospital and I couldn’t visit. I enjoyed phoning my congregation,  when I could get them in… these lovely elderly people were not going to stop going out until the day came when the government put us into lockdown. That’s where we are now, only allowed out to shop for necessities or short exercise.

On Sundays we gather for  a Spiritual Communion, me in the rectory with a candle, a cross, and my home communion set. During the week I email or post the service sheet out,  along with a weekly newsletter,  and on Sunday we all say the service ‘in communion’ with one another. The same folk are late. We all miss the hymns. It’s all over rather quickly. But feedback has been good.  For the past 2 Sundays Bishop Mark and Bishop John have done an online eucharist which we can watch on Facebook or YouTube. So few of my congregation are on social media so they are missing out on that,  and it’s also why I haven’t done any services myself that way. I feel that I should. I don’t know how but I could learn. I’m living with that guilt at the moment.

Social media is my lifeline at the moment. I can’t get out.  Nobody can visit me. I’ve not been well. I’m an extrovert who needs people around me for energy, for stimulation. But i have a good circle of friends who will chat online when i need it. I have low days,  very low days,  and good days.  Like everyone.  And we’re told this is normal. I’ve stopped watching the Prime Minister’s daily bulletins because they are bad for my mental health. I can’t shop online any more because the whole world is doing it and supermarkets are doing the best but just can’t cope with how to prioritise the most vulnerable. That can take up a few hours each day just phoning or searching online and it does nothing for my mood. But heh, we’re not starving as many are. I need to keep remembering that.

Oh that’s enough for first isolation diary. Let’s see if I can upload this… more to follow on plans for Holy Week…

Lent Thoughts -Hospitality

Today’s Lent reading, squeezed in between much Holy Week preparation, was a poem by Naomi Shihab Nye from 19 Varieties of Gazelle.

Red Brocade

The Arabs used to say,
when a stranger appears at your door,
feed him for three days
before asking him who he is,
where he’s come from,
where he’s headed.
That way he’ll have the strength
enough to answer.
Or, by then you’ll be
such good friends
you don’t care.

Let’s go back to that.
Rice? Pine nuts?
Here, take my red brocade pillow.
My child will serve water 
to your horse.

No, I was not busy when you came!
I was not preparing to be busy.
That’s the armour everyone put on
to pretend they had a purpose
in the world.

I refuse to be claimed.
Your plate is waiting.
We will snip fresh mint
into your tea.

Image result for red brocade pillow

 

Lent thoughts – Home

As part of my Lent reading I’ve been dipping in and out of Claire Benton-Evans’ book Food for Prayer. It contains daily readings throughout the year with good ideas for prayer. I read this one a couple of days ago and it has stayed with me and I’ve been wandering around my home giving thanks for the little things that make it familiar.

Imagine coming home one night with your family and finding that everything in your house has been taken. Not just the TV and the stereo, but the carpets, the toilet rolls and the hooks for your coats. That is the premise for Alan Bennett’s story, The Clothes They Stood Up In. It explores the effect of such a comprehensive burglary on a prosperous middle-class couple, Mr and Mrs Ransome:

‘What she did miss – and this was harder to put into words – was not so much the things themselves as her particular paths through them. There was the green bobble hat she had had, for instance, which she never actually wore but would always put on the hall table to remind her that she had switched the immersion heater on in the bathroom… But with no bobble hat she’d twice left the immersion on all night and once Mr Ransome had scalded his hand.’

In your prayers today, walk around your home and appreciate the little things that make it familiar. Take some time to thank God for these everyday comforts, perhaps using these words:

We bless you for the chance to be ourselves,
for the tasks that weave the pattern of our days,
for the sweet, familiar round of ordinary things.
Blessed are you, strong, sheltering God.

Related image

Giving thanks for my reclining chair, fresh bed linen, my new red spotty tablecloth, many pictures and paintings which take me to faraway places in my mind, my favourite fountain pen, Gloria the printer and photocopier making books for Holy Week, a pebble from Brighton beach, a smelly candle giving off the scent of raspberries, and oh so much more… When I was made homeless I lost most of our ‘stuff’ and learned that stuff was just that… stuff. We survived without it. In time I bought more stuff and none of it matched and that didn’t matter. And now I have too much stuff in my home, but all the clutter tells a story and in time the stories hopefully will remain when the stuff is long gone.

 

Pauses

https://music.youtube.com/watch?v=FZe3mXlnfNc&list=RDAMVMFZe3mXlnfNc

Listening and watching

pausing from piles of paper

Spiegel im Spiegel

a cello and a piano

slowly thoughtfully

emotionally

a hand lifts slowly

in the air

pauses

then gently hits the key

but it is in the pauses

that the beauty lies

and then

a touch on my shoulder

a paw tentatively rests

and pauses

pawses

have you forgotten that I’m here?

she watches the pianist

and his balletic hand

pause and listen

I tell her

listen to the pauses

that’s where the music lies.

Lent thoughts -Peace

Cats have been on my mind this past weekend. A friend whose cat died recently mourns her loss. Another friend is moving house and her cats are anxiously sitting in the packing boxes. And Rita Kitten decided my lap was the best place to be yesterday afternoon until my legs went numb.

Imagine my delight, then, when today’s Lent reading took me to Janet Morley’s book ‘the heart’s time’ and this poem by DH Lawrence.

Pax

All that matters is to be at one with the living God
to be a creature in the house of the God of Life.

Like a cat asleep on a chair
at peace, in peace
and at one with the master of the house, with the mistress,
at home, at home in the house of the living,
sleeping on the hearth, and yawning before the fire.

Sleeping on the hearth of the living world
yawning at home before the fire of life
feeling the presence of the living God
like a great reassurance
a deep calm in the heart
a presence
as of the master sitting at the board
in his own and greater being,
in the house of life.

Morley goes on to talk about the ‘profound relaxation of the cat before the hearth’ being about contemplation and being fully present in the presence of God and of the present moment. ‘To anyone who has watched a cat extend its whole body in ecstatic sleep, exposing the fur of its impossibly long belly to the warmth of an open fire, the image is compelling. It is the antithesis of any sort of hunched-up fearful prayer; rather the animal arches itself to experience the greatest possible pleasure from the presence of the fire. It may not understand what causes the warmth it enjoys, but it intends to receive maximum advantage from this source of life.’

I look at Rita Kitten now, curled up not stretched out, and envy her peacefulness. She has no To-Do list. No worries or concerns about phone calls to be made. No emails to answer, no preparations to be made for this or that… She twitches an ear towards the sound of children playing outside and decides she can’t be bothered going to hiss at them through the window. Better to just stay cosy and be. Food will come, she is sure of it.

Today I wish to be more like a cat.

2019-01-16 20.40.34

Lent thoughts -Being

I have the most wonderful Podiatrist called Naresh and we have very interesting conversations about life, death and the universe while he tends to my tootsies. One of the questions he nearly always asks is what I’m reading. Last time I was there I was reading All That Remains: A Life in Death which was a fascinating look at our bodies after death and we had a wee chat about that. He knows I have a fascination with helping people achieve a ‘happy death’ and asked if I’d read Being Mortal: Illness, Medicine and What Matters in the End by Atul Gawande. It is written from a medical point of view by an American doctor but there is much in it of a spiritual nature. Much of it is Case Studies of people he met who were given a terminal diagnosis and how they wanted to end their days. I’ve enjoyed reading it and been saddened by how society and the medical profession often treat patients. (Often, I said, not always. I am aware there are some good stories out there.)

One passage which caught my eye and gave me cause to pause during the Lenten season was this paragraph:

As our time winds down, we all seek comfort in simple pleasures – companionship, everyday routines, the taste of good food, the warmth of sunlight on our faces. We become less interested in the rewards of achieving and accumulating, and more interested in the rewards of simply being. Yet while we may feel less ambitious, we also become concerned for our legacy. And we have a deep need to identify purposes outside ourselves that make living feel meaningful and worthwhile.

As I get older I can appreciate those sentiments. Recently I had a health scare which really made me think about what was important in my life, and accumulating ‘stuff’ which I don’t need became a real issue for me. I then spent a few weekends selling ‘stuff’ on Ebay and taking things to the charity shops. I thought about what was important to me and it was about spending time with family and reading more and worrying less. I also knew I had to sort out papers and get rid of so many files and magazines and books which I was holding on to unnecessarily. This is a work in progress!

Lent is a good time to let go of what takes us further from God. To let go of temptations which take us down paths we don’t need to travel. To let go of achieving and accumulation and focus on simply being.

Image result for feet in sand

Lent thoughts – Blessing

Today’s Lent reading brought me to this from Jan Richardson. It made me smile. It made me want to paint it, but suspect that working and baking and stewing won’t allow time for that yet. Not today anyway. But I leave it with you… it is a gift for you.

This blessing
has been waiting for you
for a long time.

While you have been
making your way here
this blessing has been
gathering itself
making ready
biding its time
praying.

This blessing has been
polishing the door
oiling the hinges
sweeping the steps
lighting candles
in the windows.

This blessing has been
setting the table
as it hums a tune
from an old song
it knows,
something about
a spiraling road
and bread
and grace.

All this time
it has kept an eye
on the horizon,
watching,
keeping vigil,
hardly aware of how
it was leaning itself
in your direction.

And now that
you are here
this blessing
can hardly believe
it’s good fortune
that you have finally arrived,
that it can drop everything
at last
to fling its arms wide
to you, crying
welcome, welcome, welcome.

Image result for horizon

Lent Thoughts – Architecture

I love church buildings. It has become a bit of a hobby – trailing round churches when I’m on holiday and visiting somewhere new, or gazing up or around at new and familiar buildings. And if you haven’t read Pillars of the Earth by Ken Follett then please do now. It will transform how you view cathedrals in the future.

My Lent reading today was from Michael Mayne’s Lent book Pray, Love, Remember which is his personal account of this time as Dean of Westminster. The building itself features heavily as inspiration, as an invocation of stories and memories and memorials. And that made me think of buildings in which I have worshipped and become familiar with throughout my ministry.

angel laddersMy home church of St Michael & All Saints is a beautiful wee church where the stones just reek of incense and a million prayers. It is the church where I first learned about God and heard the stories, and steeped myself in high-church liturgy. I have my favourite pews, and a host of colourful images to contemplate if I need to think on higher things. It is a church of the senses and if I think carefully now I can see the light coming in that window and creating ‘angel ladders’ down to the sanctuary floor where the smoke of the incense can be seen swirling and moving like the Holy Spirit.

Then there is St Ninian’s Cathedral in Perth where I was ordained and did my curacy. St Ninians cathedral interiorStanding at the altar underneath the most grand baldacchino and the people in the pews far off in the distance, was a terrifying prospect at first. Daily Prayer in the Lady Chapel with beautiful stained glass of the Annunciation where I said my prayers just before Ordination. It was the first cathedral built in Scotland after the Reformation and I remember it being absolutely transformed at Easter with flowers galore, and smell the damp greenery now if I try.

2005-02-04 15.35.06From there I went to be Priest in Charge of two little churches but both with a delightful character. St Peter’s in Linlithgow is one of the smallest churches anywhere but is made to the grandest design with dome and pillars and about 50 seats all crammed in among them. They used to say you came in the door and almost tripped over the altar, it is so small. I loved the shape and proportions and the fact that everybody had to sit next to someone because there were no spare seats. It was painted hideous colours when I first went there but was re-done in my time in delightful shades of lilac and white. (This has since been remedied! but I loved it.) It was only 75 years old but looked much older and was terribly cramped that everything had to be curtailed to fit the space, including celebrating mass. And then there was St Columba’s in Bathgate, a warm church with (glory of glories) loads of toilets. Oh how I loved that church and its toilets. It was beautifully looked after with lots of polished pine and comfy ch2005-02-04 15.30.24airs, and a little meeting room adjacent which was well used. When the pews were removed someone at Falkirk made a font out of the old wood so the past became part of the present. It was a family church with many generations of the same family in attendance, and each was proud of that little building and its beautifully kept gardens.

StmarksunThen I moved to St Mark’s Portobello which was a strange church architecturally. Strange because from the outside it looked like a large Georgian house with a carriage driveway and the story was that it had been built like that in case it didn’t last as a church and could be transformed into a house. As a result it was wider than it was long, which made for a very different feel. The sanctuary was a beautiful big space so I could stretch out my hands orans as much as I liked. There was some nice stained glass, including the rather racy David and Jonathan. And it was there that I learned, after I had my cataracts removed, that the rather dirty grey glass above the altar was in fact shades of lovely lilac! Downstairs there is a crypt chapel which was used for mid-week services and was a lovely intimate space with a very prayerful feeling. But the church itself could be transformed into so many different worship spaces because of its size. Outside in the garden in front of the church stood a tall wooden cross with a bench in front of it which looked down to the sea, and a graveyard surrounding the building. At Easter the cross was covered in daffodils. I once had a dream that we planted daffodil bulbs in the grass in front of the cross which would appear at Easter like a shadow of the wooden cross. I told my secret dream to one of the Junior Church leaders and they planted the bulbs but we told no-one. The next year shoots appeared and what popped up? Not daffodils at first, they came later, but a host of purple crocuses which made me cry.

20131229_085724Christ Church Falkirk was different again, designed by the same architect as my home church, it felt almost familiar in a way. It was a dark church, with wooden paneling all the way round and some lovely stained glass. My favourite window was the one opposite my chair with the Blessed Virgin Mary stamping on a snake with stars round her head. There was a rood screen and a wonderful sense of moving up into a holy place when you came to the altar. All of this could be transformed with candles all around the wood panelling and fairy lights on the rood screen at Festival times and it always took my breath away. Below the church was another crypt chapel which was in a great state of disrepair so we renovated it, painted it white, acquired an altar and chairs from a church which had just closed down, and it became a lovely intimate place for worship and prayer.

And now we come to St Fillan’s. Home for me for the past 21/2 years and more to come. It StFillans' gate openis not Westminster Abbey by any means. It is a small simple church, white outside, and like a community hall inside. And it is used by the community all week from morning to evening by every group imaginable. Because of this it is not in an immaculate state of decoration. It has some wooden panelling scuffed by footballs and plastic chairs knocking against it, with primrose walls and a sort of brown colour behind the altar. There are heavy tapestry curtains which screen off the altar space during the week, and at the west end of church to keep the draughts out. Four simple walls, no lovely statues or pricket stands or stained glass for they would all be damaged during the week. The chairs are old grey plastic bucket seats which are light for stacking and that’s important but they are cold and uncomfortable. There are some comfy ones with padding for the elderly and infirm and they are much sought after. One lovely tapestry is brought out on Sundays, but is taken down and hidden away after the service, as is everything else behind the curtains. It doesn’t often feel like a sacred space to me.

Yesterday we had a guest preacher who had once been the rector here at St Fillan’s many years ago. As he preached I was listening and looking around the church. That’s when I realised this church is not about the beautiful building but about the beautiful people. I rearranged the chairs during Lent so that we are facing one another instead of the backs of heads. I brought a wee table in to use as a nave altar so we could be closer to the ‘action’ at the Eucharist. It is not a gorgeous table, not a beautifully carved altar, but it allows us to be close to seeing the bread and wine – the most important things. The building really belongs to the community, to the groups who use it, the children who play and learn in it. And all of the people who come on Sundays have in the past been part of those groups, have led them, have taken their children to them. Children now grown up and far away around the world. But the people who come to St Fillan’s belong not just to this church, but to one another. They are close to each other because they’ve come for such a long time, some since the building was first put up. It is in the people that I encounter God, not in the architecture. Of course, this is true in every church I’ve worshipped in, but even more so here because there is no other gorgeous architectural feature to distract. 

So this Lent I am giving thanks for the beautiful architecture which points to God, but also for the people of God. Both can inspire and bring me closer to God. Pay attention to what is around you and pay heed to where God is.