This edition of the blog includes poems, prayers, reflections, from contributors in several corners of our diocese. A member of Aljambra Church in the Anglican Chaplaincy of Costa Almeria and Costa Calida, Spain who is of course subject to the very stringent lockdown regulations in Spain which only allow a ‘walk’ for reasons like exercising a dog, reflects on how our current realities are enabling us to explore our senses in a new way. Rev Helen Marshall, chaplain in Berne, explores the wisdom that Julian of Norwich, who in the 14th century voluntarily subjected herself to ‘lockdown’ as an anchorite, has to share. Helen’s reflection on Julian is complemented by an exquisite sonnet written by Malcolm Guite.
Canon Paul Wignall, chaplain in Gran Canaria, and colleague of mine on the Diocesan Ministry Team, is writing regular prayers, with each day focusing on a different group of people. We share one of Paul’s prayers in this blog – and look forward to sharing others in the coming weeks. My husband Alan Amos, with PTO in both Europe and Salisbury, offers a poem he has written recently, which is applicable especially in the many countries where churches are currently formally closed. Alan was honoured that a Jordanian friend of ours, Marwan Zyadat, who is resident near Geneva, wanted to translate it into Arabic – and that translation is also given.
I also include some of the thoughtful remarks offered by Bishop Rowan Williams in a recent BBC interview, and draw attention to one of the throw away pieces of wisdom offered by Dietrich Bonhoeffer, about whom we will think further in coming editions. The blog begins with some thoughts linked to the Palm Sunday Gospel reading, written with our current realities in mind.
The next ‘issue’ of this blog will appear on Friday. Please do continue to send prayers, poems, reflections that you would like to share.
Dr Clare Amos, Director of Lay Discipleship, Diocese in Europe; email@example.com
Knowing God; Growing in Christ; Building Community; Living beyond Ourselves (Diocesan Rule of Life)
‘And the blind and the lame came to him in the temple, and he (Jesus) cured them.’ (Matthew 21.14)
The coming Sunday is Palm Sunday, so we read as our Gospel for the day the account of Jesus’ entry into Jerusalem. This year of course we read the version offered by the Gospel of Matthew, Matthew 21.1-11. It is sometimes the slight differences between the various Gospels which can set us off down interesting trails that are important to explore. The verse I have quoted above in fact comes just after the portion selected by the lectionary, but it is presented by Matthew as the culmination of Jesus’ experience on that particular day, and so I think it is legitimate for us to glance at.
It is unique to Matthew. And it is interesting to note how often it is over-looked – many small, and even medium-sized commentaries on the Gospel of Matthew do not bother to refer to it. But it is theological dynamite. Its significance cannot be appreciated unless you realise that it is alluding to an incident described in the Old Testament, 2 Samuel 5.6-8. As David is attempting to capture Jerusalem, the Jebusites, the indigenous inhabitants of the city, mock him with the comment that he will be unsuccessful, for ‘even the blind and the lame will turn you back’. (2 Sam. 5.6) David’s response in the following verse then speaks of attacking ‘the lame and the blind, those whom David hates’. And when he is successful in his capture the story concludes with the note, ‘Therefore it is said, “The blind and the lame shall not come into the house”.’ The ‘house’ here means, or was eventually taken to mean (after it was built), the Temple. The incident was seen as an aetiological explanation for the fact that people with physical disabilities, particularly disabilities that were visibly obvious, were prohibited from entering the Temple in Jerusalem, as indeed they would have been from many other sacred sites in antiquity.
That ‘innocuous’ note about Jesus’ healing activity challenges that prohibition straight on. Note the order of the sentence, first the blind and the lame come to Jesus in the Temple -and then he heals them. The other way round might just have been ‘OK’ – healing first, and then the readmission of the healed to the holy place – but that is not what the Gospel text says. Rather the clear implication is that people, with the apparent encouragement of Jesus himself, contravened the ritual prohibitions which excluded them in order to approach Jesus who then healed them. All this of course is given added ‘point’ by the fact that during Jesus’ triumphal entry a few verses earlier, the crowds had acclaimed him with the shout, ‘Hosanna to the Son of David’. Yet Jesus, ‘Son of David’, behaves towards ‘the blind and the lame’ in a way that is directly contradictory to that of his ancestor David.
So far so good. Such an action, expressed in such a way, is characteristic of the New Testament and its presentation of the meaning of the life and passion of Jesus. The understanding that the ministry of Christ challenged the ritual and sometimes moral boundaries which traditionally divided and determined life in his milieu is a powerful thread which runs through the Gospels, and underpins the teaching of much of the New Testament. It is summed up in the dramatic tearing of the veil of the Temple at the moment of Jesus’ death. Such a thread is congenial to many of us, particularly in the Christian West, though perhaps less so in the Orthodox Christian world. I myself have written several prayers which have begun with phrases like ‘Boundary-breaking God’, or similar.
One of the reasons that I think many of us find the ‘coronavirus crisis’ so perplexing is that it seems to challenge such a ‘boundary-breaking’ mentality which we have regarded as being written into the DNA of our Christian faith and seen as a positive virtue. We are now being told to keep our distance, to be separate and isolated, to stay safe – not only for our own sakes but also for that of other people. Boundaries are no longer seen as ‘bad’, but as necessary and perhaps even health and life giving. The building-blocks on which we had built our personal Christian theological edifices up till now are being chipped away. I have faith that Christian theology will rise to this challenge (and indeed I think that the Anglican tradition has significant things to offer to this discussion) but in the immediate moment it can feel quite disorientating.
There is however one thing I would like to add which relates specifically to this season of the church’s year. As someone whose professional life has involved working in the field of interreligious dialogue, it seems to me that our current theological predicament about ‘boundaries’ may have something important to say for Christian-Jewish relationships. All too often we Christians are inclined to contrast the ‘positive’ liberating nature of our faith with the ‘negative’ ritual boundaries of time, space and other areas of human life, that are part of the spiritual framework of Judaism. These contrasts are often intensified as Holy Week draws near. Perhaps what Christians, Jews, and many other people of different faiths – or none – are experiencing at the moment may encourage us, as Christians, to explore in a renewed way the wisdom we may still have to learn from our Jewish brothers and sisters. (Clare Amos)
I went for a walk today. I’m lucky. I can do that – because I have a dog.
A walk. A one-foot-in-front-of-the-other positive step at a comfortable pace;
simple freedom from the ‘around-the-home shuffle’ of confinement.
It was raining. It didn’t matter.
The soft, gentle drizzle feeling like a moist kiss brushing my cheek.
I met no-one; saw no vehicles; encountered no movement.
And then I heard it – and was momentarily startled !
I heard the silence. Pure, unadulterated silence.
I paused my step, selfishly allowing myself to be embraced by it for a few
My nostrils twitched almost instantly. What was that smell?
Orange blossom! Hanging over the fence of a garden. Beautiful!
I stood for a moment, staring at the star-shaped petals; the moist air glazing them
such that they glistened in the gloomy daylight, almost in competition with their
Fragmented extracts of long-forgotten poems nudged my memory ‘…what is this life if, full of care, we have no time to stand and stare…’
Then I looked down at the verges lining the single strip of tarmac road along
which I’d walked, and saw the glowing bright yellow of the daisies and shamrocks, their
faces turned upward, seeming to implore the life-giving water to fall on them alone, to
quench their individual thirsts.
Suddenly my ears were alerted – noise? Noise in this silence? What..? Where..?
Up there ! There on the cable wires! A row of tweeting birds, ruffling their feathers, taking a refreshing shower in this long-awaited free gift from the heavens. !
‘We’re still here’ they seemed to tell me, ‘all but drowned in the noise of your life, yet we’re still here’.
And so it was that, feeling fulfilled by creation; my inner-self calmed by silence; my body naturally-anointed ; and with childhood tunes touching my tongue ‘… each little flower that opens, each little bird that sings…’, the dog and I walked home.
(A member of Aljambra Church in the Anglican Chaplaincy of Costa Almeria and Costa Calida, Spain)
‘Music… will help dissolve your perplexities and purify your character and sensibilities, and in time of care and sorrow, will keep a fountain of joy alive in you.’ (Dietrich Bonhoeffer)
All shall be well…
In this time of insecurity, confinement, widespread anxiety and illness, I have found myself often thinking of Mother Julian of Norwich and I would like to share some of my thoughts with you.
Mother Julian lived in Norwich in the 14th century and I first came across her writing when I was a student in Norwich. She lived in a time of even greater insecurity, fear, and sickness than we face at this present time. She lived during the Hundred Years’ War, and she also lived through the Peasants’ Revolt and several bouts of the Black Death, the plague which devastated much of Europe. The Black Death was a much more deadly plague than COVID-19 and huge numbers of men, women and children died.
She also lived in a confined situation; though her confinement was chosen. After a near death experience, she became an Anchoress, meaning she was confined to an ‘anchorage’, a small bungalow, in order to dedicate her life to prayer and the spiritual life. Although once she went in she never left her anchorage, she nevertheless provided rich spiritual support to others. She had a window in her little house which opened on to the street and people would come to talk with her for spiritual direction, guidance and wisdom.
Mother Julian lived at a time of fear, instability and violence, when sickness and death claimed the lives of so many people. Nevertheless her Revelations of Divine Love is one of the most powerful, hopeful and theologically rich spiritual classics of all time – as well as being the first book written in English by a woman. It records sixteen ‘showings’ or visions she received from God and her subsequent theological reflection and prayer based on them. Although everything around her was insecure, some of the most frequently used words in her book are seker (Old English for ‘secure’) and sekerness (Old English for ‘security’). For Mother Julian, in the midst of the fragility and insecurity of this life, the only security was to be found in the love of God.
Some of her most well known words are: all shall be well, and all shall be well, and all manner of thing shall be well. By these words, Mother Julian didn’t mean that things will always work out exactly as we would like them to; God does not promise to ‘fix’ everything to our liking. She knew enough of the real world and had seen enough of trouble, suffering and death to know that this was not always the case. However, she believed that ultimately all things shall be well. She was an optimist, but her optimism wasn’t based on wishful thinking, neither did she have a particularly optimistic view of human nature; her hope was based on the love of God. Indeed, at the end of her book she affirms that God’s love is the foundation and meaning of everything:
So it was that I learned that love was our Lord’s meaning. And I saw for certain, both here and elsewhere, that before ever he made us, God loved us; and that his love has never slackened, nor ever shall. In this love all his works have been done, and in this love he has made everything serve us; and in this love our life is everlasting. Our beginning was when we were made, but the love in which he made us never had beginning. In it, we have our beginning.
All this we shall see in God for ever. May Jesus grant this. Amen.
May we learn from Mother Julian that same deep and seker (secure) trust in God. Ultimately, ‘all shall be well’ because of God’s love for us. As Paul says in Romans:
‘For I am convinced that neither death nor life, nor angels, nor rulers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in all creation will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.’ (Revd Helen Marshall, chaplain, St Ursula’s Church, Berne)
Show me, O anchoress, your anchor-hold
Deep in the love of God, and hold me fast.
Show me again in whose hands we are held,
Speak to me from your window in the past,
Tell me again the tale of Love’s compassion
For all of us who fall into the mire,
How he is wounded with us, how his passion
Quickens the love that haunted our desire.
Show me again the wonder of at-one-ment
of Christ-in-us distinct and yet the same,
Who makes, and loves, and keeps us in each moment,
And looks on us with pity, not with blame.
Keep telling me, for all my faith may waver,
Love is his meaning, only love, forever.
(Revd Dr Malcolm Guite, poet and priest)
A locked church
Ah my dear Lord, the church is locked
but let my heart be open to your presence;
there let us make, you and I,
your Easter garden;
plant it with flowers,
and let the heavy stone be rolled away. (Canon Alan Amos, PTO Europe and Salisbury)
Today I will pray…
Today I will pray for those I see every day but do not really know.
I will pray for the man who stocks the supermarket shelves,
the woman at the till, the cleaner keeping the aisles fresh and tidy.
I will pray for those who pass below me in the street, walking the dog,
ears glued to the phone or eyes alert to the world.
I will pray for the couple who set up home from boxes and old blankets
outside the casino, and now have gone.
I will pray for those I used to see but now have vanished,
temporarily or for good.
Keep them safe, O Lord, and walk with them. Amen.
I will pray for those whose jobs have disappeared:
waiters and chefs, cleaners and gardeners,
shop assistants, tour reps, hotel staff,
and all who have worked in places hidden from public view
to keep our lives going.
Give them courage in these hard times.
May they be surrounded by friendship and love.
May they find food to eat, a roof to sleep under,
and arms to hold them tight.
Protect them, O Lord, with your love. Amen. (Canon Paul Wignall, Chaplain of Holy Trinity Las Palmas, Gran Canaria, Director of Reader Ministry, Diocese in Europe)
An interview with Bishop Rowan Williams, former Archbishop of Canterbury
In the course of a short but thoughtful interview on Newsnight on Newsnight on March 23, Bishop Rowan made the following observations (the text below is not verbatim). For those for whom BBC i-player is accessible the interview can be viewed at https://www.bbc.co.uk/iplayer/episode/m000gpj4/newsnight-23032020?utm_source=Daily+media+digest&utm_campaign=68e3c2151a-EMAIL_CAMPAIGN_2019_11_27_02_01_COPY_01&utm_medium=email&utm_term=0_296e14724b-68e3c2151a-248616581&mc_cid=68e3c2151a&mc_eid=5568e87972 (It appears at approx.. 34.15 minutes into the broadcast)
* We need to get ourselves spiritually prepared for what seems likely to be a long haul
* It is an opportunity for people to work at what and who matters to them… keep ourselves safe partly for the good of those we most care about
* How important is it to us that we protect others? It is a shared challenge for all of us… we are discovering that my wellbeing is bound up in the wellbeing of all my fellow human beings
* This experience is not different in kind with what a whole lot of the human race has to put up with most of the time.
* Justice for all, wellbeing for all, requires restraint for some.
* What does it really mean to live in a safe society, where vulnerable people are secure?