‘Do whatever he tells you’

On the third Sunday of Epiphany our gospel reading is an account of the wedding in Cana. Mary, the mother of Jesus, as well as Jesus and his disciples, were present at the wedding…as were a number of other guests, yet the wine had run out. The wedding is centre stage for Jesus’ first miracle. I am always struck by the relationship between Mary and Jesus. Mary tells Jesus that they have no wine, and yet he says, “woman, what concern is that to you and to me? My hour is not yet come.”

Despite this comment, Mary still directs the servants to do whatever Jesus tells them…what are we not told? Jesus seems to be saying to his Mother that he cannot do anything about the lack of wine, and yet the next detail shows Mary directing the stewards. I often find myself imagining what the tone of Jesus’ rejection sounded like, and how Mary responded to him. There surely must have been some sort of a playful rebuke of him not being able to do anything about the lack of wine?

“Fill the jars with water.”

My heart is truly warmed as I prayerfully wonder at the dynamic between Jesus and his Mother. Yet, this is just one example of where God the Son acted, showed himself to be immanent, or present with us. This week, the inauguration of President Biden and Vice President Harris was an occasion of celebration and joy – not least a celebration of womanhood – and yet it felt that there was something of an overshadow from the US Capitol attack, and all that that represented. In addition to that, the news of continued challenges around vaccine efficacy, increased hospital admissions of those with COVID-19, those facing real trauma from working within these times leads to questions of ‘Where is God in all of this?’

The Bible speaks of a Creator God who is transcendent, and yet the gospels show us God incarnate who ‘moved in’ and became immanent…was that just for a time? As I write, in the background I am listening to a podcast where +Michael Curry reminds us that we do not struggle alone…”You struggle with God.” I am also reminded of Raynor Winn’s books The Wild Silence which I am reading at the moment. Whilst she does not identify as a Christian, Raynor Winn is writing about her personal struggles which resonate with such times as these. Described as “a luminous story of hope triumphing over despair” there is a beautiful theme of a thin place weaving through her writing, as well as her own yearning to return to that thin place. As I have read this book, which was released in September last year amidst pandemic life, I have felt my heart open up and lay itself bare in front of me, reflecting back to me the pain of these days that I have seen or heard about, but not quite allowed myself to process. I have given way to lamenting, amidst grasping to the glimmers of hope which gently breeze in on the wind.

Pearls of Sunlight

It is important to remind ourselves that the God of abundance, who turned water into wine, is ultimately alongside us as we struggle, as our hearts break for those we love who suffer. It has been equally helpful for me to allow my heart the space to feel that pain, to weep and wail and to allow that deep lament to sit alongside hope and resilience. Sometimes we just need to give way to the emotion…trusting that:

“When day comes we step out of the shade, aflame and unafraid. The new dawn blooms as we free it. For there is always light, if only we’re brave enough to see it, if only we’re brave enough to be it.”

Amanda Gorman – Inauguration poem

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!

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!

Signs of Hope

I blogged about arid land back in April, which I had found on a walk near my house and been somewhat captivated by.

Aridity

I have walked through this field on countless occasions during lockdown, and semi lockdown, and been surprised when I saw something beginning to grow…this field has reminded me of hope in times of real struggle and pain through pandemic life….

Signs of hope

I am reminded of God’s presence, provision and abundance….

Abundance

I am also aware that sometimes God works through us in order to provide for those in need. How is God calling you to be God’s agent of hope this week?

Glimmer of God

Scent of God

I haven’t felt so inspired to go out with my camera recently, I think continued lockdown life has sapped something of my creativity. As measures were eased in Leicester a little, I was working with a colleague to gather a variety of photographs. I love this one as a small glimmer of God…a reminder of the hope that is constant, perhaps especially in the midst of struggle. For me it expresses all that I want to say in prayer, but cannot find the words…. Amen.

Sanctuary in Nature

“In those dark days I found some support in the steady progress unchanged of the beauty of the seasons. Every year, as spring came back unfailing and unfaltering, the leaves came out with the same tender green, the birds sang, the flowers came up and opened, and I felt that a great power of Nature for beauty was not affected by the war. It was like a great a great sanctuary into which we could go and find refuge.”

Sir Edward Grey, Foreign Secretary at the outbreak of the First World War, from ‘Recreation’, speech to Harvard University, 1919
The sanctuary of nature

I love the quote above, which is how I have come to appreciate the seasons – especially this year. The last few days have been dark and dreary indeed, unceasing rain and all of the emotional feelings around living in a city still in lockdown. Yet, there is still hope to be found; the beans are growing, the birds continue to sing, and regardless of the weather, the heather will soon break out! I commend Lucy Jone’s Losing Eden which demonstrates beautifully and in a timely way, how we need wild spaces to maintain our emotional wellbeing. Where do you find your hope?

Spreading our wings

Patterns of nature

I have been really struck by the simplicity of the natural world as I have watched ducklings, goslings and now cygnets venture out on the water not long after hatching. They soon follow the lead of their parents in feeding and cleaning themselves. It is truly lovely to watch. I have been struck by the resonances between young birds venturing out and us venturing out as aspects of lockdown have been lifted. The latest announcements have led to much planning and preparation as people seek to bring more familiar aspects of our society out of hibernation; it can be really reassuring to see more signs of ‘normality’ returning to our communities.

On the other hand, in Leicester, we seem to be seeing an increase in cases; this has led to talks of a local ‘lockdown’. I have not found significant media speculation very helpful over the last number of months, but this comes as a stark reminder of the threat that continues to loom. One thing which seems ever apparent is that it is difficult to have any sense of certainty about anything in these times…I have found certainty however, in nature.

I’ve recently read Losing Eden by Lucy Jones which I highly recommend. The core thread running through it is that our minds need connection with wild, natural, world to be well – this connection brings clarity and a sense of something bigger – perspective. I have really noticed that when I have been able to walk or to sit in the garden, to listen to the birdsong, to feel the sun on my face, I have found comfort and refreshment, even amidst uncertainty and unfamiliar circumstances. This is one revelation from being in lockdown that I do not want to lose – what are your signs of hope during lockdown that you wish to hold on to?

Community Snake

Signs of hope and building community

We were quite intrigued to hear that a snake had been put in the wood where we regularly walk…I almost tried to find somewhere else to walk, as for a few seconds I wasn’t quite sure whether it was real and alive! When we came across Samson the snake, though, it seemed to be such a message of hope and solidarity. That was even more keenly felt as we passed a young boy with his mum, clutching a newly painted stone, and excited to add this to the snake.

I had meant to post about this yesterday, after we had found the snake, but we were both saddened to hear that the beautiful head of the snake and some other stones had been taken away. The original artist had been very quick to create another ‘head’ and this evening that was again found to be missing, with other stones strewn around. Samson has now been moved to another, less prominent, location, where I hope that he will remain for others’ enjoyment for longer.

It is difficult not to feel jaded about these unpleasant developments, but to avoid losing heart, I want to focus on the thought that inspired, and the spirit that perseveres in, building community and bringing shared joy. Long live Samson; in spirit, if not in body!

Sunday’s Homily

Hold on to the Hope of Christ

Hear the Gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ according to John

Glory to you O Lord

Gospel reading John 11:1-45

This is the Gospel of the Lord

Praise to you O Christ

Homily

The Rev’d Morna Simpson

A final prayer and blessing:

God of compassion, you call us out of the bindings of death on this, our resurrection day: make us ready to surrender the fear in which we hide to step into your future alive and unashamed; through Jesus Christ, the life of the world. Amen.

Steven Shakespeare, Prayers for an Inclusive Church: Year A Collects, Lent 5

Further information which may be of interest…

The Guardian: A letter from the UK to Italy

Lemn Sissay: Some things I like