Lent Thoughts – Mortality

Today’s Lent reading brought me to this from the Barefoot Theology Blog…

You, my dear human being, are not God. You, busy person, are not immortal. You, who can do so much and command so many, will go back to the dust. Thank God.

While human mortality can be stunningly difficult to accept, especially the mortality of those we love, it is a blessing.

We, frail creatures, are not all powerful; we’re not even very powerful. Without one another, we would very quickly wither away. Without God, we would simply cease to be.

Ash Wednesday, and Lent, is perhaps God’s best way of telling us to set down the world.

Set it down, and let someone infinitely more qualified carry it instead.

Image result for mortality

In which Ruth ponders the fact that she is not God

I am not God.
I am busy, and I can do much.
But I am not God.
I can command many,
I can do powerful things.
But I am not God.
At the end I will go back to dust.

Really I am not very powerful,   crocus_snow
really I am rather fragile,
helpless, even.
I’m not even in charge
when I like to think I am.
Without my little flock,
without my family, my ‘help me’ friends,
I would quickly wither away.
Without God
I would simply fade away.

This Lent, God,
you tell me to set down your world,
to set it down
and let you carry it for me.
Thank you God.
I wish I listened to you more often.

In which Ruth finishes her favourite journal

20140208_131328Did I mention how much I love stationery? Oh how I do! Lovely journals with beautiful covers thrill me more than I can say. (I’m a huge fan of PaperBlanks.) I love beautiful pens with vivid violet ink (CultPens are a great source of the unusual) and lovely puffin tins and purple staples and wooden pencils and … You get the picture.

Whenever I go off on retreat or holiday or to a course I take a notebook/journal. In it I jot down little notes and reminders. Sometimes when I come home I transfer bits to my bigger Quotes Journals or blog about the events which happened. This week I’ve been on the Clergy Silent Retreat at Whitchester and finally finished my lovely purple bejewelled journal. Who gave me it? I can’t remember but I’m sure it was a gift. I’m quite sad it has come to an end, this purple beauty, for it contains many truths and many memories. It still looks beautiful and I shall find a space where it can lie face-front in all its glory.

Do you want to know what’s in it? OK, here are just a few snippets:

  • On visiting a church famous for pilgrims, wonder why the people who take the service aren’t more friendly. Indeed, seem positively snooty. Would it hurt to ask where we’re from?
  • Retired clergy who take Clergy Retreats should not talk at length about their holiday memoirs, or insist that we all love poetry.
  • Meet clergy who are bullied, clergy who are gay but frightened to tell, clergy who are deeply unhappy. Praying seems so inadequate. Why is nobody caring for the carers?
  • Note: buy Icon to St Cuthbert by Tavener. (I never did.)
  • “Some gates only open if you work at them.” David Adam
  • “Too often church worship is weak because we have not been faithful in our own daily prayers. Its like trying to be friendly on a Sunday to someone you have ignored all week.” David Adam

O island my lovePuffin2
my windswept and craggy one
with rain and snow and sleet and wind
to batter down my defences
with sun and moon and stars
to remind me of your awesome power
with quiet and rest and stillness
to revive my spirits.

  • At Bishop’s House, Iona I did some manicures for my little flock. Someone said it was like Maundy Thursday!
  • Staffa and the water was like a millpond. Puffins are God’s comedians. Tobit should be in the lectionary more often.
  • Gilmore-Fraleigh style = Achieving/Directing
  • Saw God in the windows of St Chapelle. Adored spiral pillars and fan vaulting at St Severin.
  • “An atheist is someone who wakes up on a beautiful morning feeling thankful, and then remembers there is no one to thank.” G K Chesterton
  • Is there anything so sexual as St Theresa in Ecstasy at Chiesa di Santa Maria della Vittoria?
  • Find it hard to find God in a chantry chapel until I spotted the unicorn.
  • Thomas Traherne is lovely and all that, but he’s really just not me!
  • Every cathedral should have geese in the courtyard.
  • DSCF0227Oh Gaudi how I love thee. How I love your fluid lines, your nature-in-stone, your colour and symbols.
  • Cool light of the cloisters are places to rest and ponder.
  • Everyone should have a Black Madonna in a snowstorm.
  • Pudding stones from 1026 in a church looked like clootie dumplings.
  • Relics Exhibition at The British Museum and adored some stunning reliquaries.
  • In the bible hardly anyone goes back home – you can only go forward home.
  • Who is holy? Someone who earths God in the ordinary things of life.
  • Today, what is it that priests need to become?  Enabler, listener, risk taker, perseverer, being a bit weird, shared episcope.
  • “How can I find God’s will? God’s will, if it exists, is probably locked up in a file in the Bishop’s filing cabinet!”  Margaret Silf
  • Stop reading and start watching and noticing. Everything is a gift.
  • Taking a group on pilgrimage is like herding cats. And I never did have much of a maternal instinct. Why can’t grown-ups catch a bus/ferry/train when they’ve known the time for months?
  • Feral Goats for 2 miles.
  • Shortbread and lemon curd. Yum.
  • An Art Studio on Skye is really someone’s front room.
  • “I have often repented of speaking but never repented of silence.”
  • Rest is not what we do – it is the gift of God.
  • The gift of rest is a gift to others.
  • Accept the discomfort of not being as we would like to be. Accept others are they are.
  • Stillness enables the work of God within us. It is not about what we do, but what God does. God works in the inner heart. That’s why the Kingdom of God takes so long to come – God takes time.
  • We are so concerned with the world right we haven’t put ourselves right.
  • Humility. As soon as you think you have it, you’ve lost it!
  • Vainglory – seeking attention for ourselves, that we are better than others, taking what is due to God to ourselves. This is a big danger for the Church and clergy.
  • God covers our sins, puts his hands over them.
  • Perhaps today’s reduction in numbers in the Church is God’s plan to take away some of our power.
  • “The utterly magnetic God.” Mother Jane  God draws us to himself whether we know it or not.

DSCF0725

In which Ruth explores Spirituality (part 1)

Spirituality. What does it mean? The search for the sacred? Participating in organised religion? Or is it more personal? Yoga, meditation, silent prayer, tai chi, sweat lodges, the list goes on. Each of us could define spirituality in a different way.

Throughout my life I seem to have been searching for ‘spirituality’. As I didn’t start going to church until I was in my late 20s it has obviously not been all Christian spirituality. When I went through the selection process for ordination to the priesthood I remember telling the Selectors that my journey of different spiritualities all are important parts of my journey. They all agreed. However it has not always been so well received. Sometimes Christians just seem a little narrow minded when it comes to spirituality.

Last week I had my Ministerial Review with the Bishop (but more of that another day!). And it got me thinking about spirituality and what works for me. Do you want to hear what started it all off for me? (Apart from my love and lust for Marc Bolan which was a very spiritual thing but pretty personal.) You do? Oh good. So I thought I might blog a bit about some of the spiritualities I’ve encountered along the way. Remember we didn’t all go to Sunday School and Scripture Union.

So my first encounter of spirituality was in 1970 when I was about 14. That was the year after that great Aquarian Exposition, the Festival of Woodstock. This was also the year I fell in love with the colour purple and have worn it ever since. 1970 was a wonderful age for fashion in Edinburgh and much of it was influenced by Woodstock. Bell bottoms, cheese-cloth shirts and skirts, tie-dye, long hair with flowers and beads and bells. At the age of 14 fashion is terribly important especially when you go to an All Girls School and the uniform is truly ghastly and strictly enforced (maroon blazer, gold crest of unicorn (the only good thing about it), tussore dress and straw hat in summer). So when I saw this beautiful hippy chick walking along the Meadows in front of me, wearing a long crushed velvet rich purple skirt edged with little silver-like bells, bare feet and a flower drawn on her face, I fell in love with the colour purple. It was the most beautiful thing I’d ever seen. *sighs*

peace-love-musicAnyway, that was not the spiritual moment. No, my first dabbling in spirituality came via a friend who had the boxed set of Woodstock records. (Not many people had the full boxed set because it was terribly expensive.) The sad thing is that I can remember lots of this bit of the story but not the name of the person, the friend who introduced me to Woodstock music and my first spiritual moment. But a group of us would lie around her bedroom listening to Joe Cocker, Melanie, Country Joe and the Fish, Joan Baez, Janis Joplin, and all the rest. “One, two , three, what are we fighting for? Don’t ask me cos I don’t give a damn, next stop is Vietnam…” Funny what sticks in the memory, eh? Oh how we wanted to go to a music festival where peace and love abounded but we were just too young. Too young to wear flowers in our hair and walk barefoot in the street. Too young to smoke exotic substances but just old enough to experiment with joss sticks from Cockburn Street Market and wear badges on our blazers with peace symbols.

One day my friend announced that she was joining the Hare Krishna movement. How terribly exotic! How beautifully non-Presbyterian! How trendy and modern and unusual (and dare I say it, attention-seeking?) for even then, dear Reader, I was not averse to a little bit of limelight. Of course we had all seen those strange Hare Krishna people dancing along Princes Street in their saffron robes and tiny cymbals and drums. As they chanted ‘Hare Krishna, Hare Rama’ and smiled beatifically we wondered what these creatures were. Of course we knew it was something to do with the Hindu faith but these devotees in Edinburgh still looked distinctly Scottish underneath their exotic garb. They begged for money, they were vegetarian, they meditated and they chanted. A lot. But it was quite a sacrifice to give up life in an Edinburgh flat to go and live in a commune with a lot of strangers.

So we were full of questions for our friend. She must have been older then me, but I seem to hare_krishna_and_jesus_christ_wallpaper_jxhyremember not much over 16 or 17. Why? And it was the meditation which drew her into their arms. Meditation was very big in the 60s and 70s. It was all about finding enlightenment and encountering ‘the other’. God, we call it. Throughout my search for spirituality I encountered God many times, but not always was ‘his/her’ name ‘God’. Sometimes it was Krishna. Sometimes it involved cleansing your body (no caffeine, no alcohol, no intoxication, no meat) so that you could cleanse your mind. And who wouldn’t like to strive for mercy, truthfulness, love and peace? One day I went to the temple with her. Oh the colours! Gaudy, yes, but somehow beautiful. I seem to remember a sort of altar with statues and posters of Indian images and lots of colourful flowers, and then on the floor lay fruit and vegetables. My friend (was she called Rosie? although she had taken another name by then) solemnly gave me an orange. “This is Prasadam,” she said. If I have remember correctly, the orange became ‘prasadam’ when it was offered at the altar and blessed in prayer. It still looked like an orange but it was something more. I struggled to get my head round this. You Episcopalians will have no trouble, of course. It was merely Transubstantiation!! But I wrestled a bit with this concept, but I liked it. I liked that an ordinary thing could be transformed into something more, something special by prayers and God’s blessings. So it was not something to be eaten casually or thrown away. It was something special, something set apart.

I took the orange/prasadam home. My family were visiting, I remember. My poor old granny looked bewildered as I explained to her that this was not really an orange but something much, much more. (At her last visit I had insisted she read the lyrics of Marc Bolan’s Electric Warrior LP.) My uncle thought it was “bloody nonsense” and went out for a walk.  The rest of us shared the orange and you know it tasted like an orange. But for me, it was just a little bit more.

 

God Collar

So what have I been reading on my Kindle lately, I hear you cry. Well, thank you for asking, but this week I spent a few hours in various waiting rooms for which the Kindle was surely made. In and out, clothes off and on, and each time I just chucked the Kindle in my bag and there it was at the exact same page when I came back to it.

The book that I finally finished was one which I’ve been reading off and on for a wee while. It was God Collar by Marcus Brigstocke, based on his Edinburgh Festival and West End show of the same name. The premise of the book is that Marcus’ best friend died a few years ago and left a ‘God-shaped hole’ which he tries to explore. The book explores various faiths and pokes holes in them. However he isn’t always kind to the atheists and agnostics either. Yes, the book is funny as you’d expect from a comedian. But it is also a bit rambling in bits too. And I’m guessing that if you’re an atheist you’d enjoy it more than I did. I did enjoy some of it and some of the comments were scathing but true. But Brigstocke falls into the same trap that most atheists do in telling us he can’t believe in God because of x and y. And of course, if he actually listened to most Christians today he’d find that they don’t believe in x and y either.

Not sure if I’d recommend it. I suppose if you are interested in what keeps many people from church, then this will explain much. And it is funny in bits. But somehow I came away feeling just a little bit disappointed that he hadn’t met some of my friends.

New Year Resolutions for 2012

I’m usually quite good at making new year resolutions. What I’m not so good at is keeping them. Over the years they’ve mostly consisted of less food and less fags. As you can see that hasn’t really been a great success. In fact, all it did was set me up to fail. Oh I have given up the fags but as soon as the weight piled on I started again in the vain hope that the weight would fall off as if by magic. This never happened, by the way.

This year it might be better to be a bit more vague, I reckon.

  1. More reading is definitely high on the list. I now have a huge bookcase and a Kindle which are full of unread books. I’d like to do a Susan Hill and make a vow to never buy another book this year and just read the ones I have, but I know that ain’t gonna happen. However, what I can do is make more time to watch less rubbish on TV and read more.
  2. More blogging is another must for this year. Last year I’m not sure why there were so many large gaps in my blogging but I somehow got out of the way. But blogging is mission and mission is high on our priorities here at Christ Church this year so the blogging must improve.
  3. More financial restraint is another must for this year. Already I have made some of my own Christmass presents and nobody threw up their hands in horror at the sight of a homemade fancy scarf.  I have removed myself from all the tempting emails that come in telling me of Emma Bridgewater, Molton Brown, Radley sales etc. I don’t need more handbags or shoes. I may want more, but I don’t need more. And I’m going to keep telling myself that. Really, I am.
  4. More time with God might not be a bad thing either. I’ve loved doing the Daily Office during Advent with others, and will do that in Lent again. But I shall make sure I get a retreat this year and take all my holidays. I might even start something new in church for those who seek silence and quiet time.

I think that’ll do for now. So what are yours?

And do you have any predictions? I’m sure you can predict which of my new year resolutions will be broken by February. I see that a certain Provost has published his again this year.  (Without the help of Paul the Octopus, I’m told.) Have a look and see what you think. His first prediction affects those of us in the Edinburgh Diocese.

Lenten thoughts of a High Church Anglican

by Sir John Betjeman

Isn’t she lovely, ‘the Mistress’?
With her wide-apart grey-green eyes,
The droop of her lips and, when she smiles,
Her glance of amused suprise?

How nonchalantly she wears her clothes,
How expensive they are as well!
And the sound of her voice is as soft and deep
As the Christ Church tenor bell.

But why do I call her ‘the Mistress’
Who know not her way of life?
Because she has more of a cared-for air
Than many a legal wife.

How elegantly she swings along
In the vapoury incense veil,
The Angel choir must pause in song
When she kneels at the altar rail.

The preacher said that we should not stare
Around when we come to Church,
Or the Unknown God we are seeking
May forever elude our search.

And I hope that the preacher will not think
It unorthodox and odd
If I add that I catch in ‘the Mistress’
A glimpse of the Unknown God.

 

Fasting

This Lent I am reading Maggi Dawn’s book Giving It Up.  I’m only three days in but really enjoying her style.  Today she says:

Fasting in the Christian tradition is essentially about recognising that there’s nothing we can do to improve ourselves. We are fallen creatures and need redemption, not cosmetic surgery. No amount of self-improvement will change God’s view of us – God, who knows us better than we know ourselves, who is not fooled by the way we present ourselves in prayer or religious observance, and who loves us anyway. We do not need to put on a show for him and we cannot save ourselves apart from him. We are not trying to impress God or the person next to us; neither should we be trying to impress ourselves, satisfying our egos with the idea that we are very cool, very smart and very in control. The point of the fast is, in fact, to humble ourselves – an old-fashioned word that really means accepting with absolute honesty our true self, in terms of both good points and bad.