“Where did you come to know me?”

This year I have joined 52 Frames as a way to both stretch my photography, but also to further my own discipline to see differently. As soon as the New Year turned I found myself reading and writing for an essay, and I was completely inspired by Zoë Bennett’s Using the Bible in Practical Theology within which she drew out John Ruskin’s wisdom from his own writings. I was particularly struck by the following:

“The greatest thing a human soul ever does in this world is to see something, and tell what it saw in a plain way. Hundreds of people can talk for one who can think, but thousands can think for one who can see. To see clearly is poetry, and religion, all in one.”

John Ruskin

Ruskin speaks into my own passion for seeing differently, and drawing attention to what I find…God at work in our world. At the moment that may feel a little more difficult to glimpse – it felt like the darkness of January closed in quickly with the announcement of national lockdown in Britain…but I do believe God is at work in each of us. I have dedicated a page in my journal to ‘Glimpses of God’ and add different situations or words from others which have encouraged me to lift my eyes up to the hills; it has really helped!

Photography though, contemplative or otherwise, is not just a discipline which encourages a different seeing of the world. The first challenge of the year posed by 52 Frames was a self-portrait. My first question in response to this was ‘Who am I?’ These difficult times seem to have enabled me to lose sight of my sense of self slightly in the groundhog day of lockdown. It was really restorative to spend time reminding myself of who I am, who God has created me to be, and what gifts God has given me as I pondered on crafting a self-portrait, which included some of those aspect of my identity that are important.

Week 1/2021 Self-portrait

Extra credit on the challenge was given for using light, but those close to me who I consulted said they just didn’t see me in it….

This process was a reminder of how easily we can get distracted!

The gospel passage for this week in the Church of England lectionary is John 1:43-end, where Jesus asks Philip to follow him. Philip, in turn, invited Nathanael to come and see Jesus. Jesus recognised Nathanael as ‘an Israelite in whom there is no deceit’ (John 1:47b). I love the obvious surprise of Nathanael when he is recognised by Jesus when he asks “Where did you come to know me?” It is that recognising that confirms to Nathanael exactly who Jesus is. This passage makes me wonder how often we really see one another. There are so many distractions in life, I know I can be preoccupied with what is on my to do list rather than being totally present in the sacrament of this moment…a sacrament because God is here with us, working through those around us, if only we have eyes to see. When I am disciplined enough to focus on this God-given moment, that is when I truly see the person in front of me through God’s eyes – and I am truly blessed by that.

In these challenging times, I encourage you to slow down, to pray that God would allow you to see those around you through God’s eyes, and to be blessed by encountering God through them, and that you would come to know God better through them. Amen.

Advent 2

In the second week of our photography challenge I was aiming to see the world through God’s lens – I often try this prayerfully, and get captivated by small details, rather than overly concerned with aspects which frustrate or dishearten me…my heart has been absolutely gladdened by the simple things this week!

Advent 1

These photographs represent the first week of our Advent Photography Challenge – where is God in these photographs? Where is the anticipation of Advent? What words do they make you think of?

Watching and waiting…

Today is the first Sunday of Advent…a time where we begin to watch and wait for the light and hope that the Christ-child brings as God with us. It’s a time of anticipation and expectation; a time of journey with change around the corner…these themes seem to be important for such times as these.

Watching and waiting

As part of the Advent journey we have set an Advent Photography Challenge in our benefice. Each day there is a word which will people will hopefully inspire people to be attentive throughout the day, and take a photograph which visualises the theme around the word for the day. Day one is PATH…

Paths, which do not always reveal the end at the beginning….
Paths which include the familiar and well trodden, as well as the unfamiliar….
Paths which, in this case, lead us closer to God with us….
Light of the world

This Advent, amidst so much difficulty and uncertainty, I invite you to take time to journey and anticipate God with us as hope and light…something which we desperately need during these times.

#BeautifulStories

This week I have been humbled and encouraged by the vast number of #BeautifulStories people have shared on Twitter. These are not just stories though; rather, they are testimonies to the ways in which God has created them, and how they have flourished once they realised that.

“Be who God meant you to be and you will set the world on fire!”

St Catherine of Siena
Torii, or gates, which mark the space between this world and the sacred

As a new doctoral student, I am interested in these stories of flourishing; our love stories with God, and God’s love stories with humanity. I am really struck by the idea of torii seen in Japan, pictured above, and how these gates mark the space in a journey where one travels from this world to the sacred. The particularly iconic torii at Fushimi Inari above stretch for a few miles, repeating over and over. With each step there is a sense of coming closer to the sacred – it is a truly mesmerising experience.

It struck me that the many #BeautifulStories I have read this week are similar to these gates; each one is unique, there is no one story. Neither are they all necessarily happy: we mustn’t forget the stories which are excluded because they don’t feel very ‘beautiful’, or are too painful or costly to tell, as well as those that have been prematurely cut short. However, each individual story brings us slightly closer to understanding God.

The more we see of the great diversity of God’s creation, the better our view of the glimmer or shimmer of God’s image in and through each of us.

Uniquely made and threaded through God’s complex tapestry of life

My sadness is that these stories were shared as a response to the Church of England (CofE) Evangelical Council’s (CEEC) video, titled The Beautiful Story, and released following the launch of the CofE’s Living in Love and Faith book and resources earlier this month. The video takes viewers through a series of conversations about sexuality from an evangelical Christian standpoint. Whilst regret is expressed in relation to how evangelicals have been posited as homophobic, there remains a clear stance on sexuality, and sex, only being appropriately expressed in marriage between a woman and a man. As a side point, it also suggests that a shift away from this evangelical sexual ethic is responsible for the #MeToo movement. It is also communicated that any change to the CofE understanding of, and teachings on, marriage would lead to people within the CEEC being out of communion with the CofE.

What is deeply concerning about CEEC’s The Beautiful Story is that it expresses minds already made up. It seems to be a battle cry, or a warning, of the red line which cannot be crossed in the eyes of CEEC, regardless of where Living in Love and Faith takes us as a Church. These resources have been offered to help all of us to pray, study and learn together and play our part in discovering what God’s call is to the CofE today. It is the beginning of (yet) another opportunity to listen and to share and to seek to understand those who are different from us – yet this video undermines that spirit and process of discernment.

I was deeply moved by one account of a fellow and much valued priest who, despite being slightly weary from so much listening and so little change over the years, wanted to engage with #LLF. Equally moving was a blog post from another colleague in response to The Beautiful Story – it expresses wonderfully the challenges of growing up, and living, within the margins. I commend both pieces to you.

I too have spent much of my life on the margins. This has been most enduring through my experience of being a lesbian in the church, where the theology espoused in The Beautiful Story at times jeopardised my own love story with God and held me back from seeing myself as “fearfully and wonderfully made” (Psalm 139: 14). Secondly, I think back to living as a foreigner in Japan for four years in my twenties ; and in more recent years, spending five weeks on placement at St Alban’s Anglican-Episcopal Church in Tokyo. I learned so much from this community who were on the margins of the society they lived within because of their status as foreigners in Japan, or their Christian faith which was incongruent with the beliefs of the wider Japanese society.

Whilst being on the margins can feel painful and uncomfortable, there is huge treasure in the realisation that Jesus never fully fitted either. Jesus modelled living from the margins. Jesus, therefore, offers us much as LGBTQ+ Christians who are so often outside, looking in. Yes, it is exhausting, but Jesus, who saw the woman at the well, who healed the lepers, who gave sight to the blind, who did not condemn the woman caught in adultery, Jesus sees you and me. Jesus knows you and me. Jesus loves you and me. Jesus calls you and me to be who we were meant to be and set the world on fire – this is our beautiful story!

‘He makes me lie down in green pastures…’

I’m not sure whether this is just me, but I have began this week so weary, tired beyond that which sleep can remedy. Earlier in the week I picked up my camera and put on my wellies to walk, pray and meet God, in need of a refreshment which only comes from God. I felt I needed the extra encouragement of somehow seeing God.

God is so gracious and God allowed me to see that Divine, holy presence with me, with us….

‘Presented to Denton village by Edwin and Iris Cawley 2000’

…In the gift of a bench which so many sit on and gaze out to the beautiful view across the fields, alone or with others.

…Within the complexity of creativity, where spider’s webs house the refreshment of the early morning dew.

…Within the refreshing nourishment which God provides for all creatures.

…Peeking through the fog as rays of sun bringing warmth to the day.

…And in the colours of the changing, falling, leaves highlighted by the sun reminding me of the beauty to be found in endings as well as beginnings.

It was a truly wonderful walk with God, and has sustained me well since. I realised that I had not made time to walk with God for a number of months!

How about you? In the difficulties of our daily lives amidst a pandemic, when did you last walk with God? Or where have you encountered God over the last few days?

“He leads me beside still waters; He restores my soul.”

Psalm 23

Remembering, Re-membered and Remembrance

Remembering

This week I have been reminded of the importance of stopping and being attentive, noticing the echoes of God in the world around. The last few weeks have been somewhat hectic as I have tried to get settled into my new parishes, and get to know people, amidst the strange times of social distancing. Amongst many other things, one of my tasks was to think with a few others about what we might be able to ‘do’ over the coming months. A number of conversations and penned plans later, I watched the unfolding announcement of a second national lockdown.

I’m not sure why the news of this discombobulated me so much…perhaps it was a greater awareness, compared to March, of the great many losses that lockdown seemed to claim, whilst also recognising that it seemed that we had reached the point where it was, once again, necessary.

Re-membered

After that news we witnessed the US presidential elections, more aware than ever perhaps, of the importance of one decision for the lives of so many.

As I watched this unfold, in the midst of the leaves falling, I have become aware of our fragility…we have to shed in order to grow. As I led a Burial of Ashes service last week I heard the words of 1 Corinthians 15:36 for the first time, it seemed: “Fool! What you sow does not come to life unless it dies.”

I always love autumn, watching as the leaves turn and fall, but I have been really struck by the colour that the leaves seem to turn, or the colour of their veins – the red of hurt, pain, blood, conflict…and yet there will also come a time to notice the budding of new growth, green shoots, and a vibrancy of life. It is my hope and prayer that this will be the time to recollect all that we share, rather than to concentrate on what divides us.

Remembrance

This year Remembrance has taken such a different form. Those we wish never to forget have been remembered through online services, or with very small numbers gathered….

“We will remember”

And yet, “They shall not grow old, as we that are left grow old; Age shall not weary them, nor the years condemn. At the going down of the sun and in the morning, We will remember them.”

I have been reminded this week of the importance of dwelling in God’s world, of taking time to be aware of God’s presence among us, and yielding to that, rather than the pressures we so often put on ourselves. It has been a re-membering of who I am called to be…and what I am, along with all of God’s people, called to do…in all things, and at all times; be bearers of light and hope!

Endings, Beginnings, Time Between…

In the spring, after being signed off as a curate and given permission to discern where God was calling me to next, my partner and I found ourselves driving round the villages of Yardley Hastings, Denton, Castle Ashby, Whiston and Grendon. This was surprising on a number of levels, not least because I had not expected to be embarking on rural ministry within a multi-parish benefice…I’m not sure what I had expected, and I definitely should have learned, by now, to expect the unexpected!

St Andrew’s, Yardley Hastings

A few weeks later I walked around three of the villages, and I became a little more confident that this may well be where God was calling me to be.

Walking towards Castle Ashby

In order to invite others from the diocese and local area into the process, I applied for the post, and some time later was interviewed for, and offered the post of, Rector of the Benefice of Yardley Hastings. It was such an affirming experience and I was, and still am, ecstatic to be embarking on serving these communities.

St Mary the Virgin, Whiston

As we look to the future, and indeed begin to move towards it, the need to shed – or move away from – something in order to make room for the next step becomes more and more apparent. As I prepared for my last services in the Holy Spirit parish in Leicester, it felt pertinent that the leaves were beginning to fall.

Castle Hill Country Park, Leicester

Just as leaves fall gradually, so were these endings gradual. I felt the celebration with me of the many wonderful people who I have had the very great privilege of walking alongside, as well as the lament of loss. Parting is painful, even when we know it is right. I was truly humbled by the kind words of so many who have shared a part of their journeys with me.

St Andrew’s, Jarrom Street, Leicester

The pain of parting gave way to a flurry of activity related to moving house – packing and unpacking. This Sunday, after getting settled in the Benefice of Yardley Hastings, I was licensed as Rector via Zoom. In these strange times much of this discernment process has been conducted on line, and being physically present at various stages has affirmed God’s call on my life now. Clarity of God’s voice has been so important, yet I have wondered how patient life allows us to be to wait on God, to listen for God’s still small voice…? As I look to these parishes, in these strange times, I hope and pray that we can wait on God, notice where God guides us, in order that we can best be God with skin on in our small corner of the world.

Wait for the Lord, whose day is near; wait for the Lord, keep watch and pray…

Sometimes seeing through God’s lens means that we need to take time to discern where the focus needs to be…I guess it’s about being comfortable with seeing things a little out of focus, and yet still looking again to see what lies beyond the blur!