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?
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.
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.
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….
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!
It has struck me over the Triduum (Maundy Thursday, Good Friday and Holy Saturday) that our emotions in this current state of lockdown are perhaps heightened to something more like that of the disciples as they watched Jesus, and all of their hopes, crucified all of those years ago. So often, in the midst of modern life, it is so difficult to even begin to grasp at that despair, that fear, yet this year…the fear feels close, the despair of the unknown feels close. As we learn from the story of Jesus, their was indeed light and hope ahead. That light and hope did not explode on the first Easter Day with the disciples saying to one another, ‘See, I knew it would be alright!’ Rather, it was Mary Magdalen and Mary who first discovered the empty tomb, and the reasons for that. They went to the disciples to tell them, but telling them wasn’t enough, they had to see for themselves. They did not believe these rumours straight away – why should they, it seems so unbelievable?! Gradually these rumours spread, as more people met the risen Christ, the whispers of Easter became jubilant exclamations! The time for that will come, and where it is sometime after Easter, it perhaps gives us greater insight into that first despair.
Join us tonight at Up All Night as we tell the story of our history!
…Mother, providing for the needs of her young…
…Rock or solid ground on which to depend…
…A glimpse of light amongst a sea of shadows.
What images would you use to describe God?
I’ve been thinking a lot about the way death is held and handled in the natural world, how different that may be to our various societal approaches to death, and possible reasons for this.
It seems that life can flow through aspects of the natural world that have died and are decaying.
New light can shine through, giving new perspectives.
Unexpected growth can come, which may or may not prove useful as an end, but can be a process which brings a different kind of beauty.
A form of protection can also be found to enable a nourishing and healing end for the surrounding community.
Sometimes, rather than an end, there is potential and the possibility of a beginning. Before this possibility is realised there is a period of rest and recuperation.
That rest occurs in community; it’s each taking care of one another’s needs…
…until finally there are the first signs of new life, growth, a new season.
With news stories such as this Triple Death Crash or reports of 11 US School shootings this year, it is little wonder that we often struggle to see death as a positive part of life. Equally losing a long loved relative can feel like just as much of a tragedy to those who grieve as the stories which make up our headlines. How often do we stand in solidarity through these times, not only in the weeks following but, in the months and even years that those left behind seek to adjust to a different way of life…a life without. I was astounded to find that for a major bereavement work places generally give three days of compassionate leave, and that is it. There are many front facing professions where this is just not enough for a person to recover to a state of being able to function. Equally after a few short weeks, no more than months, you are expected to be back to normal and yet this season of grieving can last well beyond expected time frames. Do we expect too much of ourselves, of one another? Do we allow safe spaces to voice our pain, our loss and our grief? How can we do this better?
The following was written as a response to accompanying someone in the last moments of their life. I have remembered it this week in response to leading an All Souls service where the veil between heaven and earth felt quite thin at times…
One meets another
Light shines forth
HaShem with us
Less one life
Hand in hand
Side by side
Earthly home fades
I’ve been reading The Lonely City, which has seemed apt to be reading in the week of World Mental Health Day on 10th October. How is it that the loneliest places can often be the busiest places, where people go virtually unnoticed?
We live life so quickly that it is possible to avoid meaningful conversations with anyone when there are so many people milling around – the more lonely one becomes, the harder it can be to reach out and ask for help.
How soon those who feel isolated or desperate begin to have a slightly distorted view of life.
Many of us seem adept at presenting a calm exterior with few truly knowing what is happening beneath the surface. Having a small circle of trusted confidants can be helpful, but perhaps we need to be a little more open and honest if we are to positively challenge attitudes to those who live with poor mental health.
Where is the hope? Is it easy to identify, to grasp and quantify? Or do we need to illuminate it?
How can we as the church, and as individuals, support one another when everything feels too much…surely we should be able to admit it, to scream out and join one another in lament?
Being with someone in their darker moments means that we are also there when hope begins to reveal itself, slowly at first perhaps, nonetheless noticeable.
Eventually it might become easier to see signs of hope, and possibilities, especially with someone walking alongside. Can we show bravery by being honest with one another when everything feels overwhelming? Equally, do we have the courage to stay by the side of those we care for when they are overwhelmed, and be with them in their times of darkness, acting like a beacon for them?
This week has felt rather busy, and as I look back I can see that I have definitely been guilty of cramming too much into my diary and therefore failing to give real time to anything. It has struck me that this is very much the way of our modern world: fit as much as you can into as little time as possible to prove how productive you can be! And yet, I’m not sure ministry is a business of productivity or a measuring of success…if it was, as the Church Times article about Broken asserts, many of us would be failures!
The week began with a baptism in our first service…
…and the revival of a worship band with me on cajon in our second service.
On Monday morning I decided to walk around a part of the parish: collar, rucksack and trainers on! This is becoming something of a routine, which I love! It gives me the space to respond to whatever comes my way…to attend! I was also combining the walk with a short photo shoot in each church, as setting the churches up on social media was also on my list of things to do for the week! It was lovely just to spend time alone in God’s presence as I worked.
When I arrived at the second church, there was a lot of activity. We also had a young offender working with us. As I looked at him, whilst he had nothing to do, he looked completely bored and disinterested. God took over as I hauled him into the church, showed him how to use the camera and encouraged him to get lost in it. He certainly did, and there was a huge sense of pleasure as I watched his attention to detail develop, and his eye fine-tune to the potential of the camera. He took some beautiful photos with particular focus on light.
The real reward came when I asked him whether he had enjoyed it, to which he replied, “I did actually”, and his whole face lit up as a broad smile crossed it – what a privilege! Yet it was one that I didn’t see until I was half a mile up the road, lamenting on how few people I had encountered that morning! I had been responsive, but completely unaware that God was with me in that whole encounter!
A candle to remind me that Christ is with me was a bit of a theme this week in my encounters! One particular encounter really humbled me, as a woman asked me to address an envelope for her as she could not spell very well. She insisted on sharing every detail of the letter with me, which was a real privilege, and came with great responsibility. I would have been happy to just address the envelope, but I realised that she needed to share.
Other encounters reminded me of the need to not only attend with people, but also to be mindful of ways in which they might practically need help. Gardens are beautiful, but can become extremely burdensome to someone who is housebound. Whilst they might not ask, can we do something to help as a church?
That tied in with a brief exchange I had with STAR (Supporting Tenants and Residents) when thinking about how we could support their work in the parish. They said the one thing every agency struggles to provide at the moment is time…Attend!
Lectio Divina also reminded me of how Ruth attended her mother-in-law, refusing to leave her side despite being given permission.
Then I was reminded about the need to attend to the community – where is God already working? What is going on that we can join in with? This was part of an art exhibition of prisoners’ work, and was one of the most amazing drawings I have ever seen!
Again and again I have come back to thinking about attending, being fully present in the flesh, being pervasive, almost, in our world.
Attend! Listen! Watch and wait but what will I see? What will I hear? What am I even waiting for? A miracle, a bolt of lightening, the transfiguration or Jesus coming on a cloud in glory? Maybe one day, be prepared as they say; but no, that’s not what I mean. I’m talking about attending in the here and now; immanence rather than transience…being God with skin on or the hands and feet, eyes and ears of Jesus. Attend! Listen!
There is something in the saints saying God is with us come what may; God incarnate in you and in me. So attend, listen to that voice deep inside the soul.
Take care not to attend so much that you fail to see what is right in front of you though. Gazing up to the heavens, desperate to hear God’s guidance I almost didn’t see the hope offered through an exchange with an offender; the woman struggling to cross the road; and the man desperate to talk and be heard, had I not heard the pervasive plea from God, “Me in them not me for thee!”