Discipleship in Difficult Days 6

The short collection we offer today comprises a prayer, a poem (offering a Jonah’s whale eye view of the current situation), links to a widely appreciated reflection, links to a family responding creatively to the situation, and, with Palm Sunday in mind a reflection on pilgrimage in these days when stability has replaced the possibility of journeying. The next edition of this blog will appear on Wednesday, and will include some reflections on the psalms as a resource for these difficult days. Please do continue to send me any contributions that you can offer which you would like to see included.

Clare Amos, Director of Lay Discipleship; clare.amos@europe.anglican.org

Knowing God; Growing in Faith; Building Community; Living beyond Ourselves (Diocesan Rule of Life)

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Today I will pray…

Today I will pray for singers and dancers,
for poets and novelists, playwrights and painters.
I will pray for those who see freshly into our everyday world,
turning the overlooked into something rich and strange.
And as I pray for them, I pray that you, creating God,
will touch my eyes too, my hands and my heart,
to help me know beauty in the ordinary things of life,
and find delights in every corner of the world. Amen.

Today I will pray for those who are fearful and lonely in this time of isolation.
I will pray for the housebound, not by choice or government decree,
but through illness, anxiety, despair.
And I will thank God for neighbours who take the time and the risk to help,
for carers who come to support, for those who telephone,
who wave from windows and whistle in the street.
These too are dances and songs of love and care,
precious in the sight of God. Amen. (Canon Paul Wignall, Chaplain of Holy Trinity Las Palmas, Gran Canaria, Director of Reader Ministry, Diocese in Europe)

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These are ‘strange days indeed’. I never expected to be drawing attention in my blog to an interview by ‘Oprah’! (see link below). Oprah is here speaking to Kitty O’ Meara whose powerful reflection ‘And the people stayed home’ has gone ‘viral’ (as they say, although I am not sure that ‘ viral’ is necessarily the most helpful terminology in these days of the virus!). But Kitty O’Meara ‘s reflection is also certainly worth reflecting on. One of the (many) places where the text can be accessed is offered via the other link below.

https://www.oprahmag.com/entertainment/a31747557/and-the-people-stayed-home-poem-kitty-omeara-interview/

https://vessels-of-vision.com/2020/03/17/and-the-people-stayed-home/

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Also widely shared – though in a slightly different vein, but both warm, and light-hearted – is a youtube video of the Marsh family in Kent performing a ‘version’ of ‘One Day more’ from ‘Les Mis’ at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DZafX_U5aqs

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jonah tile

Ceramic tile produced by an Armenian craftsman in Jerusalem

Symbols for the time of Virus

A writer asked ‘What symbols
speak to us
in this virus time?’
So I asked myself,
and from the depths
there spouted up
Jonah’s whale.

Why you?
I ask

‘Why not?’
says he.
‘I come at times to teach
those who run away
and those who fear;
my belly has plenty of room
for such as you.’

So what can you teach us for this time?

‘Well you could start by saying a Psalm or two
Jonah found that most helpful,
but I recommend
making them up for yourselves –
much more relevant.’

I know the Psalms kept the church going
for a thousand years,
but we live in different times.

‘Yes – your insatiable search for entertainment;
nothing much I can provide on that front.
but I can teach you three fair things:
Faith, trust, endurance.’

That’s all very well, but I didn’t
call you up for moral lessons.

‘YOU didn’t call me up at all.
I come when I come,
I go when I go.’

Well what about these three fair things?

‘Faith – grasp hold of what you have known; the one who gave
life will give life again;
Trust : the souls of the righteous are of good effect
many are walking your hospital wards;
Endurance: you know for Jonah, it was no picnic;
only when he learnt to step outside
the circle of self-preoccupation
did he see the ‘eject’ button neatly placed
under my ribcage. Just remember
when you walk on terra firma once again,
you have been in the belly of the whale.
What a missed opportunity if you don’t start over again,
over again to live the unspoken word.’

The unspoken word?

‘Love’ said the whale,
and with a whoosh and
and a ginornmous splash
he regained the depths;

I look around, and all is still and calm
as if someone, somewhere is waiting. (Canon Alan Amos, PTO Europe and Salisbury)

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Heart in pilgrimage

 Last month I was supposed to have spent a week in Jerusalem, a visit which became a casualty of the virus and did not take place. This was in the circumstances a very small ‘issue’ for me, but it started me reflecting on the nature and meaning of pilgrimage in these days of lockdown. The theme of pilgrimage is certainly a motif that is present on Palm Sunday, and what follows is part of a sermon that I have prepared for the churches where I will be preaching (virtually and remotely) this coming Sunday. The full sermon will be available on the website of Holy Trinity Geneva on Sunday afternoon: (After reflecting on Jerusalem as a site of pilgrimage)

… It is of course interesting to be reflecting on pilgrimage to Jerusalem precisely at a time when that is one of the many things which we cannot do. When we think about a pilgrimage – the mental picture which probably springs to mind for most of us is of a journey, quite a long journey, that will have its difficulties and dangers but will have its goal in a place at some distance. And whether we are in Switzerland, or France, or the United Kingdom at the moment, making such a journey is essentially prohibited to us. We are being told over and over again to ‘Stay at home’ either as part of what the UK government has adopted as its mantra, or by the rules and regulations of where we are, or indeed as a result of our own sense of self-preservation and community.

But perhaps that reality offers its opportunities for a different sort of pilgrimage. As we are being squeezed into this unlooked for stability, perhaps we can discover that in the coming days and weeks we will have the opportunity to take a journey that leads us deeper into ourselves and into our relationship with God. George Herbert, that quintessential Anglican whose writings I love, in his great poem ‘Prayer’ speaks of prayer as ‘the heart in pilgrimage’. Perhaps this is the time when we are being given an opportunity to discover this, and in the words of another great Anglican poet, T.S. Eliot ’We must be still and still moving Into another intensity’, and that ‘The end of all our exploring, is to arrive where we started from and to know the place for the first time.’ Martin Palmer who often writes about pilgrimages has commented: ‘True pilgrimage changes lives, whether we go halfway around the world or out to our own backyards. What matters is whether we go in as we go out.’ The essential thing about all pilgrimages, whether physical or spiritual is that ‘The pilgrim gains insights and discerns new truths about oneself’, and that can be as true on these strange and different pilgrimages of the present time as on any journey to Jerusalem. The prayers from the Rule for a New Brother*, the simple rule of a Roman Catholic community of brothers and sisters which we are using in a moment, draw on the idiom of pilgrimage to speak powerfully about this pilgrimage of the heart.

I have found myself repeating the word ‘squeezed’ – it is a word I used of Jerusalem, and how it squeezes the divine-human relationship into a particular physical intensity; it is a word I also used of our current situation, how through being squeezed into the confinement of our homes we find ourselves having the opportunity to journey more intensely with God.

And as today we begin the chronological pilgrimage which leads us on a journey through Holy Week, there is another sense of squeezing that I want to draw to your attention. For one way of understanding the passion of Jesus Christ, is that it is the moment when first in Gethsemane, and then as he hangs on the cross itself that essential story of the Bible, of God’s longing for, love for and grief for humanity are squeezed into a moment of time and space, and as with an olive oil press, now through the person of Jesus, God’s mercy and healing, of which olive oil is often a sacramental symbol, is released into the world. It is through the pressure, the squeezing, the crushing, the obedience, the offering of love, that Jesus will experience in these coming days that he will be able to become a channel – the stem of a tree if you like – by means of which he will draw to himself all those diverse elements which reflect both the pain and the joy of our human relationship with God. Through him and his sacrifice they will be ‘transfigured’ into ‘something rich and strange’, so that we can meet them as they flower again on the other side of his resurrection. (Clare Amos)

* The passages from Rule for a New Brother that are quoted can be accessed via http://www.katapi.org.uk/Rule/Rule.htm . You can find them as part of Section 2 and Section 14.

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