Discipleship in Difficult Days 7

It feels especially appropriate to bring out an edition of this blog on Good Friday. Many of us had the experience earlier today of worshipping in new and different ways. Sometimes this made our worship especially beautiful. Today’s edition contains a prayer written in response to the zoomed Good Friday worship at Holy Trinity Geneva, some more of the beautiful prayers offered by Canon Paul Wignall in Gran Canaria and Revd Dr Sam Wells in London, a reflection by one of the ordinands of the diocese, a link to the powerful sermon preached by Bishop David Hamid at yesterday’s service for the renewal of ordination vows, and to the very helpful booklet offered by Revd Louis Darrant. It ends by offering some thoughts on reading Psalm 22 these difficult days. The next edition will come out towards the end of Easter week.

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

From our isolation
we zoom to the Cross,
see one another’s faces,
smiles,  tears not far away,
joining Christ in his isolation,
finding ourselves reduced to silence
by the exposed anatomy of love.
(Alan Amos)

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butterfly frances

A butterfly photographed by Deacon Frances Hiller while on her daily walk during her time of social isolation.

 

Today I will pray…
Today I will pray for those who are dying alone, afraid, too soon.
I will pray for their families and friends, who have to stay away,
and grieve in ways they never expected.
And I will pray for those friendly strangers
who accompany the dying
in their last hours and minutes and seconds:
paramedics, doctors and nurses.
And I will pray for those whose business is life
as they make decisions about death.
Lord God, be with them all,
surround them with your loving strength,
fold them in your arms of love,
take away fear, wipe away tears and,
at the right time, bring back hope. Amen

I will thank God today for singers and for songs.
I will thank God for songs of celebration and lament,
for singers who pour out their souls in joy
and their tears in grief.
I will thank God, too, for birds, wheeling in flight,
croaking ravens and ascending larks,
shrill curlews of the marsh
and the honeydew of a blackbird’s song.
And I will join my voice to theirs
in praise of the God who sings
our world into daily being. Amen
(Paul Wignall, Gran Canaria)

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Though self-isolating may at times be hard, many people of all faiths and of none are discovering that it presents an opportunity to slow down, pause and reflect in prayer or meditation. (Queen Elizabeth II, speech on April 5 2020)

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Two good resource links

https://europe.anglican.org/downloads/praying-at-home-in-holy-week-2020.pdf contains very helpful suggestions of worship for Holy Week and Easter that has been put together by Revd Louis Darrant on the Costa Azahar

https://europe.anglican.org/downloads/200407-coronavirus-renewal-of-vows.pdf takes you to the text of the sermon preached by Bishop David Hamid at the Maundy Thursday service for renewing of vows.

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A Prayer as Things Get Harder:
God of gentle presence,
you knew the ultimate separation
when on the cross Christ felt he was forsaken;
be with all who feel their Good Friday has come today.
Comfort those who have the virus.
Empower all who care for those in distress,
through medicine, acts of kindness or imaginative communication.
Be present to any who feel utterly alone,
without companion or health or hope.
Show us your face amid grief and bewilderment.
Inspire us to find new ways to be one with one another and with you.
And bring this time of trial to an end.
In Christ our Lord. Amen.
(Rev’d Dr Sam Wells, Vicar of St Martin-in-the-Fields, London)

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 ‘His compassions fail not; they are new every morning’ (Lamentations 3.22-23)

This short reflection was prompted by the commemoration of John Keble, on 29 March, and the choice of his hymn ‘New every morning is the love’ at a service recorded in Holy Trinity Pro-Cathedral in Brussels.

How does Keble’s hymn speak to me? Well, there is the elegant simplicity in the first line: it is our rising each day which proves that God’s love, or mercy, endures. This is something to be particularly grateful for in present times.

The first line is something of a paraphrase of the verses from the book of Lamentations, quoted at the start of John Keble’s book The Christian Year. Its publication in 1822 was a phenomenal success and it became an essential part of a devout Anglican family’s library. Two verses are worth mentioning here in our situation of “enforced retreat”:

We need not bid, for cloistered cell,
Our neighbour and our work farewell,
Nor strive to wind ourselves too high
For sinful man beneath the sky:

The trivial round, the common task,
Would furnish all we ought to ask;
Room to deny ourselves; a road
To bring us, daily, nearer God.

It is this expression of faith as the total response of our being and the promise that we can find all our spiritual resources in daily living, which we must call to mind in our current cloistered (!) situation. In much the same spirit as the Caroline Divines, Keble seems to be saying that we don’t require the religious or academic life to come closer to God, but rather the ‘trivial round, the daily task’ will suffice. This may be especially true in the current situation if we are struggling to get through the day. But perhaps it is recognition of the diurnal rhythm which allows us to see more clearly that our Lord’s mercies fail not but are new every morning.  Keble was true to his word here, since for all his academic brilliance demonstrated in his poetry and as founding father of the Oxford Movement, he followed the calling of the parish priest and to support his father and two sisters at Fairford, Gloucestershire. And as the motto of the Oxford college founded in his name in 1870 remembers him, ‘Plain living and high thinking’.
(Jonathan Halliwell, ordinand, Brussels)

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Reading Psalm 22 in these difficult days

I find the book of Psalms an inexhaustible treasure. Though I have lived and worked in Geneva for a number of years, I doubt that I would agree with John Calvin on all aspects of his theology, but I am certainly willing to affirm his comments on the Psalms: They are ‘An Anatomy of all the Parts of the Soul’; ‘There is not an emotion of which any one can be conscious that is not here represented as in a mirror’. In spite of many of its benefits, one of my regrets about the liturgical renewal that has seen Holy Communion frequently displace Matins and Evensong as the most regular act of common worship participated in by lay people, is that use of the entire book of Psalms in Sunday worship is now less and less common. Although a ‘snippet’ of a Psalm is sometimes used in Holy Communion (generally between the Old Testament lesson and the Epistle) the psalms used in this way do not seem to reflect the whole repertoire of the Book of Psalms. In particular the psalms of lament end up being considerably underrepresented among those which make a regular liturgical appearance.

One of the reasons I value the psalms is because they make me grapple with the question of the nature of the inspiration of scripture. Most of the psalms probably began as our human words to God, but through their inclusion in our canonical Bible, they have also become God’s words to us. Perhaps one day that will lead me down some interesting channels to explore further with you, but for today…

Today, Good Friday, is the day when one, almost certainly the most well known psalm of lament, Psalm 22, is included in the liturgical worship of many Anglican churches. Its special place is secured by its association with the crucifixion of Christ. According to the Gospels of Mark and Matthew the last words of Jesus Christ before his death were a quotation from Psalm 22. One of the problems that this close association with the cross can mean is that we jump too readily to the use of the Psalm in the New Testament without spending enough time first exploring its original Old Testament context. Who originally wrote Psalm 22? When did they write it? What was the reason for their anguish? I have been reflecting over the last few days that perhaps this year we perhaps find it easier to identify with the original voice of the suffering psalmist of the Old Testament than we may have done often in the past.

In a short blog there is not space to share even a fraction of the glories of this psalm. But six short thoughts.

  1. One of the features of the psalm is the way it starts off with the voice of the psalmist expressing a sense of complete isolation and loneliness, cut off from everyone and everything – even almost from God. The only word that ‘saves’ him (and us) from a situation of complete separation is ‘my’. The fact that the psalmist can say the words ‘my God’ is the starting point from which the movement of the whole of the rest of the psalm springs.
  2. As one reads through the first 21 verses of the psalm, God who in the psalmist’s anguish is initially challenged with the words ‘why are you so far from helping me’ seems to draw nearer, so that by verse 19 the writer feels able to say, ‘But you, O Lord, do not be far away’.
  3. There is an extraordinary shift between the sense of complete human isolation of verse 1, and the way that from verse 22 onwards, the psalmist seeks to call an ever widening group of people to join him in a his circle of praise. We move from … my brothers and sisters… you who fear the Lord…you offspring of Israel… the great congregation… the ends of the earth… until by verse 29-31 the past and the future generations are also invited to join in. Often on Good Friday we only read the psalm up to verse 21. Perhaps this year we need to intentionally read verses 22-31 in Eastertide, in the days of the resurrection.
  4. Psalm 22 is a lament. One of the features of the lament psalms of the Old Testament is that they don’t believe that there are easy answers. That is perhaps why they are a helpful spiritual resource for our difficult days when it is also a mistake to think that the answers will be easy.
  5. It has been noted that Psalm 22 is primarily a psalm about human suffering. There are other psalms which explore human sin – but not this one. The fact that it was this psalm that Jesus spoke on his cross perhaps suggests that it is helpful to remember that somehow the cross of Jesus is God’s response to the problem of suffering – at least as much as it is to the problem of sin.
  6. Psalm 23 comes after Psalm 22. The ‘ordering’ of the psalter is unlikely to be totally haphazard. The placing of the gentle ‘Lord is my shepherd’ immediately after Psalm 22 may well be a hint that before we can reach the quiet acceptance of Psalm 23 we need first to journey through the agony – and then the ecstasy – of Psalm 22.

At Holy Trinity Geneva we have been using ‘zoom’ to enable us to keep Holy Week and Easter as much as possible. The professionalism and commitment of the group working together to enable this has been a source of joy in these difficult days. We have been doing our best. Occasionally things don’t go quite as planned. Last night, Maundy Thursday, a recording of Psalm 22 was played at the end of the worship to mark Jesus’ departure from his Last Supper towards his passion.. It was intended that while it was playing a picture of a cross would be shown on the screen. But that didn’t happen. Instead the zoom service seemed to pan round from face to face of our people, living in their isolation, listening intently to the music in their different and solitary dwellings, yet through that shared listening somehow helping to create the community that the latter part of Psalm 22 celebrates. In those faces we saw, experienced and perhaps contributed to the sharing of the cross.

 

 

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.

Discipleship in Difficult Days 5

hambledon hill

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; clare.amos@europe.anglican.org

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

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Breaking Boundaries?

‘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)

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Lockdown: Senses

I went for a walk todayI’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.
Bliss.

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 !

Silence.
I heard the silence. Pure, unadulterated silence.
I paused my step, selfishly allowing myself to be embraced by it for a few
indulgent seconds.

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
night-time friends.
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)

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‘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)

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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)

marwan alan poem

*****

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?

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Discipleship in Difficult Days 4

I am grateful to colleagues in the Diocese in Europe who have begun to send me their own thoughts and reflections on these ‘difficult days’. This edition of the blog includes a couple of such contributions. There is a psalm for the days of coronavirus written by Revd Christine Bloomfeld, who is chaplain in Lausanne. There is a powerful reflection on the meaning of ‘Quarantine’ by Ksenia Smykova, who is an intern on our Ministry Experience Scheme, based in Rome. My husband, Alan Amos, who inter alia has PTO at Holy Trinity Geneva, offers a short meditative poem on the ‘danger’ presented by the present time of getting too attached to the daily news.

I also include a brief – yet powerful – personal note from a friend in the Cursillo movement in Switzerland who had to celebrate her 90th birthday in isolation and I am grateful to Andrew Caspari, our Diocesan Secretary, for sharing with me an extract from a sermon preached last Sunday by Revd Sam Wells at St Martin in the Fields. Finally I include a few more thoughts on John 11.1-45, the lectionary Gospel for the coming Sunday (I have already commented on this in the blog, last Tuesday), and give a list of churches/chaplaincies in the diocese where I understand that online worship will be happening this coming Sunday.

Please do continue to send me the fruits of your gifts of creativity at this time. I hope to publish the next edition of this blog next Tuesday, 31 March.

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

Knowing God; Growing in Christ; Building Community; Living beyond Ourselves

(Diocesan Rule of Life)

 

alan on nick's ipad

This photograph was taken by two members of the congregation of Holy Trinity Geneva as they participated in worship through the medium of ‘Zoom’ at their home in France last Sunday.

A Psalm for the Days of Coronavirus

Refrain: Your Holy Spirit gives life and hope in times of trouble.
Sickness makes it way around your world; *
nations and peoples fall ill to the virus.
Fear hovers in the depth of our stomachs;*
anxiety rises up in our throats.
O Lord, your people like to be in control of everything;*
we sometimes believe that we are God.
Today we are not in control;*
we recognise that we are human and but dust.
O Lord, come to us quickly!*
Hurry and come to our aid O God!
Refrain: Your Holy Spirit gives life and hope in times of trouble.

For you are our loving Father;*
you hold us close to your loving breast.
You remind us of your promises of old;*
stories of life and hope fall from your lips.
“I will be with you always” promises your beloved Son.*
“Nothing can separate us from the love of God.” affirms Paul.
You breathe life into dry bones;*
your Holy Spirit gives life and hope in times of trouble.
For you are a wonderful and holy God and I know no other to compare to you;*
only you, O God, can bring life out of death and set us free.
Refrain: Your Holy Spirit gives life and hope in times of trouble.

And so my heart overflows with love for you;*
from my lips come prayers of thanksgiving.
I put my trust in you, O mighty God;*
for you will never forsake me.
Send down your strength to those who serve you that we may do our part;*
we will serve each other and your world when you fill us with your power from on high.
Take us by the hand, enfold us in your love and endow us with your wisdom,*
that we may see your world healed of all pestilence.
Then the organ will blast and voices will be raised;*
together we will rejoice and sing your praise.
Glory to the Father and to the Son and to the Holy Spirit;
as it was in the beginning, is now and shall be forever. Amen
Refrain: Your Holy Spirit gives life and hope in times of trouble.

(Christine Bloomfield. Chaplain, Christ Church, Lausanne)

*****

We are one body

‘And when one member suffers, all the members suffer with it.’ (1 Corinthians, 12.26)

One of the most popular words of the month in Italy, for sure, is ‘quarantine’. It comes from the Latin word Quadraginta, forty. In the Middle Ages the word had a more military connotation. It referred to the income deriving from feudal land tenure, which the tenant of the land was obliged to pay to the landlord, assuming a certain military office. The number forty is also symbolic in Scripture. One can imagine how the collective Christian consciousness did not take long to draw a parallel between the forty days Christ spent in the Judean desert and the forty-days of service, hence the name.

In many Eastern Churches, specifically requested commemorations or petitions are often turned into a series of forty consecutive liturgies. Lent is forty days long. The Christian word Quadraginta is omnipresent. No wonder people, suspected of being contagious, were also isolated from society, in one way or another, for forty days – and that gives us the present-day use of the term.

The number forty brings before us a range of biblical and cultural associations. It is therefore very symbolic to stay in quarantine in such a prominent center of Christianity such as Rome, precisely during the Quaresima (Italian for ‘Lent’). I couldn’t help but to express this myself on Facebook soon after Italy went into shut down – this Lent is becoming a real desert. Of course, I was not alone in this association. Many similar thoughts appeared on the newsfeed. The parallel with Lent is so bluntly black-on-white obvious, that naturally it seems like we are living within a moralistic sermon.

If this pandemic was indeed to be an illustration to a homily, what would the preacher’s main idea be?

The very nature of the virus tells us that we are interconnected in ways that are not always evident or visible but which are nonetheless real. Breaking or disturbing that connection makes us feel very, very uncomfortable.

We are now living in a science fiction. Millions of people simultaneously confined to their homes, deprived of socialization. For the first time in our lives, we have no right to move. Everything is upside down. Everybody is tired. As of now, only two weeks have passed and people are already changing in their behavior, level of tolerance, attitude towards each other. Those who are confined with their families face different problems than those who live alone or those who, due to the nature of their work, have to continue getting on the empty bus and driving through the empty streets every day.

The virus attacks our mental and emotional health more forcefully than it attacks the lower respiratory tract. Probably, what makes the situation worse is that people cannot make any sense of it. Trying to make sense of things is proper to human nature. It is the way our intellect works – it needs to find causes. Why did this happen? Who is responsible for this? Whom shall we accuse? The lack of answers often leads people to one of our favorite genres – the conspiracy folklore. It must be the Chinese government… No, no – it is Russia! If not the US. Unless it is a universal Masonic plot, of course.

The sub-genre of that is what I would define as apocalyptic conspiracies. ‘It must be the beginning of the end – no, it isn’t, but God wants us to realize that… (insert whatever best fits your theology)’. A friend from a Muslim country told me today that his compatriots are sure the pandemic is a blessing from God because people can’t go out to the pub.

Personally, I doubt any of these have any connection with reality. Perhaps they do, but more likely not. What I am sure of is that we cannot utter judgement on behalf of God. The only conclusion we can make so far is quite evident and was already pronounced by the Gospel – we are one body. If a member gets sick, the whole body suffers. If in the future I will get to preach on 1 Corinthians 12.26, I will start by calling to mind the spring of 2020. (Ksenia Smykova, intern on the Ministry Experience Scheme, All Saints, Rome)

*****

 Attached to news

Attached to news

It curls its tendrils round our lives

Infests and squeezes,

gradually distorts.

 

Christ is our news

who makes for us each day

all things new

 

Attached to him,

we find him close to us,

like breath within us

bringing life to every part. (Canon Alan Amos, PTO Europe and Salisbury)

*****

A special birthday

‘May I share with you my recent experience? Last Tuesday, St Patrick’s Day, I turned 90, but was already confined to my home, alone. It was a glorious day, lake and Mont-Blanc in view, and I wore the green finery I had bought for the planned party which didn’t take place. My eldest daughter who lives nearby left a home-cooked festive meal at my door. Her husband contributed a fine bottle of Moulin-à-vent, and I spent the whole day answering 80 phone and email messages. I’ve never felt so warmly surrounded. Not a soul in sight, but so many hearts beating in rhythm with mine. A unique celebration – and lesson – for which I will thank our good God during all the time left to me.  (A member of Geneva Cursillo)

*****

‘Confinement’ and new life

… I haven’t forgotten it’s Mothering Sunday. I want to finish with a thought about a rather old-fashioned word. Every mother gives birth. And all of us are very glad that our mothers went through this strain and sometimes agony to bring us into the world. In days gone by, people would refer to the last stages of pregnancy as confinement. The curious thing is that confinement in a different sense is exactly how many people are experiencing this virus. Confined by not being able to be close to friend and colleague. Confined by having no money to spend. Confined by being forced to stay at home. Confined, with the illness, by being stuck in bed.

The insight we get from this double meaning of the word confinement is that the agony of childbirth is the prelude to the single most wonderful thing about life: and that’s the miracle of birth. Confinement means a period of strain and distress and extreme pain that yields endless life and energy and wonder. In the midst of our sadness, suffering and bewilderment today, maybe we could think of this time like a child in the womb, growing in hidden ways, drawing on unknown resources, discovering our true identity and preparing for what is to come. This is Mothering Sunday: the day we recognise the cost of confinement. But also the day we remember the paradox we first knew as babies ourselves: that confinement is not the end of life as we know it, but its hidden beginning. (Revd Dr Sam Wells, Vicar St Martins-in-the-Fields)

*****

Strong Language: John 11.1-45

(This builds on some comments about the account of the raising of Lazarus offered in my previous blog last Tuesday.) In some ways it is a pity that, because it is in the form of a story, we tend to read all 45 verses of John’s account of the raising of Lazarus in one ‘sitting’. The passage is so extraordinarily rich that it deserves being used and re-used on several consecutive Sundays so that we can pick up and reflect on hints and allusions that enrich the narrative, but which are often ‘skipped over’ because there is so much to say.

Among other features the strong language of the story – particularly towards its conclusion – repays attention.

* He (Jesus) was greatly disturbed in spirit and deeply moved. (John 11.33)

* Then Jesus, again greatly disturbed, came to the tomb. (John 11.38)

The repeated verb ‘greatly disturbed’ are two different forms of the Greek verb embrimaomai. In its ancient Greek origin it is thought to refer to the ‘snorting’ sound an angry horse might make – perhaps (if it were a war-horse) as it prepared for battle. The verb is rare in the New Testament, other than these two occasions in the Gospel of John, it appears three times, twice in the Gospel of Mark (1.43; 14.5) and once in Matthew (9.30). In all three of these other appearances it would most obviously be translated as ‘sternly warned’ or ‘scolded’. Jesus ‘sternly warns’ or ‘rebukes’ people to keep quiet about miraculous cures he has effected, and the disciples ‘scold’ the woman for the waste of the oil she has so lavishly poured over Jesus at Bethany. So the translation ‘greatly disturbed’ perhaps does not capture the full sense of the Greek verb. Which then begs the question – what is it, here in John’s Gospel, that Jesus wants to scold or rebuke? The probable answer is that ‘Jesus is enraged at the reality of death.’ (Herman Waetjen) Is he, in effect, like a warhorse preparing for battle with death, a battle which as we suggested previously will cost him his all?

This seems to be confirmed by the other verb used here ‘deeply moved’ which comes from the Greek verbal root tarasso. I think we are intended to read its use here alongside the two following occasions it appears in the Gospel of John 12.27 ‘Now is my soul troubled’ and 13.21 ‘Jesus was troubled in spirit’ – both times translated as ‘troubled’. Both of these references clearly allude to the internal anguish that Jesus is experiencing as he anticipates his imminent passion. The use of the same verb here in 11.33 helps to reinforce the connection between Jesus’ sacrificial love for Lazarus and his own death. What is however interesting is that the NRSV translation of the verb in 11.33 is in some ways inaccurate. In 12.27 and 31.21 the verb tarasso appears in a passive form – but here in 11.33 it is an active verb followed by a reflexive pronoun, for which the most precise translation would be ‘he moved/troubled himself’. It helps, I think, to reinforce Jesus’ role as an active protagonist in what is going to happen, both to Lazarus, and to himself.

Alongside these strong verbs we also read of a strong action, that brief but extraordinarily powerful note that ‘Jesus wept’, or more accurately ‘Jesus began to weep’ – as it is an imperfect form of the verb. Which of course then leads on to the question, when did Jesus cease to weep, or is he weeping still for the humanity he loved so much?

*****

Online and digital services in the Diocese of Europe/Episcopal Convocation on Sunday 29 March

I am sure that there are many other services taking place – but these are the ones that have been drawn to my attention. I don’t give exact digital links for the service – but rather the church’s website homepage – from which you should be able to find more details. The experience that we had when holding last Sunday’s online worship at Holy Trinity, Geneva, is that we were joined by a number of friends who now live in England or in other parts of Europe.

St Pauls, Tervuren   https://www.stpaulstervuren.be/online-worship

Holy Trinity, Geneva http://www.holytrinitygeneva.org

La Cote Anglican Church, Switzerland http://www.lacotechurch.ch/

Emmanuel Episcopal Church, Geneva http://www.emmanuelchurch.ch

All Saints Church, Rome https://www.allsaintsrome.org/

St Pauls within the Walls, Rome https://www.stpaulsrome.it/

St George’s Church, Barcelona https://st-georges-church.com/coronavirus-service-update/

In addition I am aware that Revd Louis Darrant (Costa Azahar) and Revd Robin Fox (Belgrade) are using their facebook sites to enable people to share in their daily praying of the Office.

 

 

Discipleship in Difficult Days 3

hambledon hill

Thank you to those who have responded to me following on the previous ‘editions’ of this blog, and those who have alerted me to prayers and reflections to share. This ‘edition’ contains a couple of these prayers, as well as some of my thoughts on the Gospel story of the raising of Lazarus (John 11.1-45), which is the lectionary Gospel for the coming Sunday. It concludes with a powerful personal reflection by Andrew Caspari, our Diocesan Secretary. The next edition of this blog will appear on Friday and will include references to online etc services that I become aware of which will be happening around the diocese this weekend.

Clare Amos

Director of Lay Discipleship, Diocese in Europe

clare.amos@europe.anglican.org

*****

  • Knowing God
  • Growing in Christ
  • Building Community
  • Living Beyond Ourselves (Diocesan Rule of Life)

*****

Lectionary reflection: Unbind us and set us free

This blog – http://faithineurope.net actually began in December 2018 as a weekly commentary on the lectionary. The biblical story selected as the lectionary Gospel for this coming Sunday – the raising of Lazarus as recounted in John 11.1-45 can, in its pain and perplexity, speak powerfully into the concerns of our present day. The physical distance between Jesus and Lazarus at the beginning of the narrative echoes the forced physical distance we are experiencing between us and many of our own relatives and friends. The story of Lazarus is of course the ‘hinge’ on which the whole life and ministry of Jesus turns in the Gospel of John.

Located at the very centre of the Gospel – for it is chapter 11 in a Gospel which contains 21 chapters – it is the ‘crux’ which leads us from the active ministry of Jesus (the powerful seven signs) towards his passion and death. Quite literally Jesus is going to die in order that Lazarus may live. To heal Lazarus Jesus has to travel back from the comparative safety of the lands beyond the Jordan to put himself in danger in the febrile atmosphere of Jerusalem, and the publicity generated by this ‘sign’ causes deep anxiety among the religious leaders who had the unenviable task of seeking to steer a safe course between appeasing their Roman masters and the desires and hopes of the people. This profound interconnection between the raising of Lazarus and the death of Jesus is echoed in an extraordinary painting by Caravaggio (below), ‘The Raising of Lazarus’. When one first looks at the painting it appears to be a portrayal of taking Jesus down from the Cross – and it is only deeper inspection that makes one realise that it is rather Lazarus being raised up.

Michelangelo_Caravaggio_006

I first came across the following song/hymn which focuses on the story of Lazarus, written by the Anglican priest David Mowbray about 25 years ago, but it came to mind again for these days:

Poor Lazarus is sick;

His sisters are afraid.

The world they knew is threatened now,

And Jesus is delayed.

 

Friend Lazarus, he sleeps;

He sleeps the sleep of death.

The Master knows that Lazarus

Has drawn his final breath.

 

Dear Lazarus is dead

And buried in the tomb.

And Jesus weeps, and after prayer

He says, ‘Roll back the stone’.

 

‘Rise, Lazarus, come out!’

God’s glory soon shall rise

And Bethany shall dance and sing

With open, sparkling eyes.

 

Yes, Lazarus, we die:

Our deeds, our dreams all fail

But God in Christ shall raise us up

And love’s design prevail.

(copyright David Mowbray, originally published in Story Song, Stainer & Bell, 1993, can be sung to many SM tunes)

Two lines – one from the first verse and the other from the last, particularly engaged me: ‘The world they knew is threatened now’ seems to speak into our experience of the present days. ‘And love’s design prevail’ expresses our faith that God’s ‘design’ for our world is good, and will ultimately triumph.

Love, indeed, is the engine which animates this story – not least as we are told in John 11.5 that ‘Jesus loved Martha and her sister and Lazarus’ – they are the first individuals in the Gospel of John to be named as the recipients of Jesus’ love. I plan to come back to further reflection on this passage in the next edition of my blog – this Friday – but hope that the above thoughts and the prayer below will stimulate some thoughts for those of you planning worship for this Sunday. (I deliberately did not use the phrase ‘virtual worship’ – what we are seeking to offer at this time is indeed ‘worship’ to the best of our hearts, and minds and strength).

Resurrected and resurrecting Lord

You loved your friends so much,

That weeping, wounded and suffering you loved them to your end.

Through this love you have given us a sign.

Point us along your way,

Heal our hearts of stone,

Release us from all that binds us,

And welcome us into the fullness of life. Amen

*****

Next a prayer by Revd Dr Sam Wells, Vicar of St Martins in the Fields, London, suggested by Andrew Caspari, our Diocesan Secretary, whose ‘home’ church it is:

A Prayer in the Midst of Crisis

God of searching and knowing,
your people Israel faced famine and wilderness,
and your church has known persecution and hardship.
Be close to all your children in this time of bewilderment and fear.

Make this time of cessation and isolation
one in which your Spirit reveals new ways to be together,
fresh discoveries in worship, different gestures of care,
and innovative forms of compassion.
Encourage the vulnerable, comfort the impoverished,
inspire the anxious and give wisdom to those who govern.
Lift up our hearts that we may see
the abundance of what is still beautiful and true,
not be captivated by what is lost and absent,
and find new gifts in ourselves and one another.
In the power of the Spirit and in union with Christ,
who knew what it meant to be alone. Amen.

*****

A prayer by Revd Graham Turner, a prison chaplain in the north-west of England. I am grateful to Sacristy Press, on whose website I found it, and who enabled me to be in contact with Graham to ask his permission for its use. Their website contains other useful resources for this time: www.sacristy.co.uk

A prayer for those – including ourselves – who are fearful

Lord of Life,
today we are a fearful and anxious people.

As the viral illness intrudes deeper into our lives
we feel its threat and the menace of its violence.

We are prone to panic, causing us to think the worst
and hoard resources that we do not need,
thus depriving others of vital supplies.

The daily breaking news makes us feel naked
in the face of this unstoppable sickness
that migrates across the globe.

In these difficult days, give us a viral love
that will infuse into others’ lives.

Heal the sick and use us as agents of hope.
Protect the vulnerable and strengthen us to take care of others.
Pour your abundant wisdom into our leaders and give us concern for their well-being.

For the sake of all humanity we pray,
Amen. (copyright, Graham Turner)

*****

One of the features of our lives in the last few weeks, and probably for the weeks to come, both as individuals and as members of Christian communities, has been our reliance on digital technology and means of communications. When the ‘internet’ first became widely used in the 1990s there was considerable enthusiasm (in which I myself got caught up) to reflect on its possibilities for building wider community. Since those days we have also sadly seen the darker side of such technologies. But the present days are perhaps allowing its positive potentialities to resurface (though even now there are those who would seek to capitalise in negative ways – I first heard the expression ‘zoom-bombing’ a couple of days ago!). However the following prayer comes from the 1990s, written by a United Reformed Church Minister, Bob Warwicker and expresses his hopes and vision for what may be. It may be especially appropriate for our dispersed community in the Diocese in Europe:

 

God, make my prayers like a candle-flame,

Always aspiring, hoping, stretching for heaven.

God make my prayers like a light-bulb,

Drawing energy from a network

That extends far beyond my sight.

Thank you for the vision you give us;

And for the world-wide community of sisters and brothers

In which you place us. (Bob Warwicker)

 

*****

And finally a personal reflection by our Diocesan Secretary, Andrew Caspari, who is certainly among those bearing a heavy burden for us at the present time: 

Lent in the Wilderness 

Last Sunday (March 15) I found myself at church at both 10am and at Evensong.  I had not planned it that way but the extra worship provided solace at the end of a difficult week.  I did wonder whether this was ‘stockpiling’ church services and therefore somehow illicit.  People talked about being back together this Sunday, but from my experience as Chief Operating Officer of the Diocese in Europe I think I knew what was coming.  Churches across Europe have been getting used to being closed for longer than in England and the concept of ‘giving up church for Lent’ is now well established.

Let us be clear though – We are not giving up church.  We are finding a new way of being church.  It is a unique opportunity to appreciate what it is to be without church.  Absence makes the heart grow fonder of course but our calling is to continue to be church.  We are learning how to connect digitally like we have never done before.  We should probably have had our Facebook group years ago.  It will soon become business as usual.  What a privilege to be able to come out of our ‘upper room’ at the click of a mouse or a tap on a phone. And no it is not true that older people cannot cope with the technology.  Some just need a friendly person to talk them through it.  My 92 year-old mother-in-law is a star on Whatsapp.  The next phase is to learn how to be church not just for each other but for society as a whole.  It is truly shocking to hear that Islington’s Food Bank has run out of food.  Islington!!!  We should be ashamed.

What we are experiencing is something of the wilderness.  We are walking through the land of the shadow of death.  Many are self-isolated.  That is a truly Lenten concept.  Perhaps the time I am forced to be at home will give me the chance to read, to learn, to pray.

It is hard to focus on good news at a time like this but as Isaiah said ‘those who lived in a land of deep darkness, on them light has shined’.  At this time of the year we wait for the light to shine at Easter.  In a Diocesan meeting today someone said  ‘We don’t know when Easter will be this year’.  I pondered this and concluded that what he meant was: we don’t know when we will celebrate together in church, but celebrate we will.  Our faith is that the wilderness and the cross are followed by the resurrection and no virus can take that away.   (Andrew Caspari)

Discipleship in Difficult Days 2

hambledon hill

 

After sharing a number of prayers and meditations a few days ago – which a number of people found helpful – I add today a few more, as well as a couple of longer reflections. There is also a brief reflection on ‘reading’ our diocesan Rule of Life in this current context.

I also include (near the end) a few references to ‘online’ church services which will be taking place in the Diocese in Europe this coming Sunday. Perhaps our unique situation in the Diocese in Europe means that we are better prepared than some others to develop and offer worship in this ‘new’ way. I am sure that there are many other churches in the Diocese which are offering online worship – and if you tell me about them I will gladly include them in the next ‘edition’ of this blog which will come out early next week.

Clare Amos, Diocesan Director of Lay Discipleship

Clare.amos@europe.anglican.org

*****

First a prayer by Revd Barbara Glasson, the current President of the Methodist Conference of Britain, who, when she is not being ‘President’, is leader of the ‘Touchstone’ Centre in Bradford. It has been my privilege to get to know Barbara through our shared commitment to interreligious engagement:

For the Christian community

We are not people of fear:
we are people of courage.
We are not people who protect our own safety:
we are people who protect our neighbours’ safety.
We are not people of greed:
we are people of generosity.
We are your people God,
giving and loving,
wherever we are,
whatever it costs
For as long as it takes
wherever you call us.

(Barbara Glasson, President of the Methodist Conference)

*****

St Patrick’s Day, March 17, fell during the last week. It was a St Patrick’s Day with a difference – without the usual parades and celebrations. But the lines from the great hymn, St Patrick’s Breastplate, seem more relevant than ever:

Christ be with me,
Christ within me,
Christ behind me,
Christ before me,
Christ beside be,
Christ to win me,
Christ to comfort and restore me.

Christ beneath me,
Christ above me,
Christ in quiet,
Christ in danger,
Christ in hearts of all that love me,
Christ in mouth of friend and stranger

*****

Next a beautiful poem reflection that has been widely shared – originally published on Facebook on March 11, by Lynn Ungar a minister in California:

What if you thought of it
as the Jews consider the Sabbath—
the most sacred of times?
Cease from travel.
Cease from buying and selling.
Give up, just for now,
on trying to make the world
different than it is.
Sing. Pray. Touch only those
to whom you commit your life.
Center down.

And when your body has become still,
reach out with your heart.
Know that we are connected
in ways that are terrifying and beautiful.
(You could hardly deny it now.)
Know that our lives
are in one another’s hands.
(Surely, that has come clear.)
Do not reach out your hands.
Reach out your heart.
Reach out your words.
Reach out all the tendrils
of compassion that move, invisibly,
where we cannot touch.

Promise this world your love—
for better or for worse,
in sickness and in health,
so long as we all shall live. (Lynn Ungar, Permission applied for)

*****

The Anglican chaplain at All Saints Marseilles, Revd James Johnston, sent me this poem, written (a week ago!) by a Franciscan friar who is a friend of his: (I would be very grateful if someone can tell me how to get rid on the additional line spaces on WordPress!)

Yes there is fear.

Yes there is isolation.

Yes there is panic buying.

Yes there is sickness.

Yes there is even death.

But,

They say that in Wuhan after so many years of noise

You can hear the birds again.

They say that after just a few weeks of quiet

The sky is no longer thick with fumes

But blue and grey and clear.

They say that in the streets of Assisi

People are singing to each other

across the empty squares,

keeping their windows open

so that those who are alone

may hear the sounds of family around them.

They say that a hotel in the West of Ireland

Is offering free meals and delivery to the housebound.

Today a young woman I know

is busy spreading fliers with her number

through the neighbourhood

So that the elders may have someone to call on.

Today Churches, Synagogues, Mosques and Temples

are preparing to welcome

and shelter the homeless, the sick, the weary

All over the world people are slowing down and reflecting

All over the world people are looking at their neighbours in a new way

All over the world people are waking up to a new reality

To how big we really are.

To how little control we really have.

To what really matters.

To Love.

So we pray and we remember that

Yes there is fear.

But there does not have to be hate.

Yes there is isolation.

But there does not have to be loneliness.

Yes there is panic buying.

But there does not have to be meanness.

Yes there is sickness.

But there does not have to be disease of the soul

Yes there is even death.

But there can always be a rebirth of love.

Wake to the choices you make as to how to live now.

Today, breathe.

Listen, behind the factory noises of your panic

The birds are singing again

The sky is clearing,

Spring is coming,

And we are always encompassed by Love.

Open the windows of your soul

And though you may not be able

to touch across the empty square,

Sing.

 (Father Richard Hendrick, OFM)

*****

Among the collection of prayers I included in my last blog, the meditation by St Francois de Sales seemed to have struck a particular chord with many. So I include another, briefer, reflection by this most humane of saints who is near to my own heart, not least because of his Haute-Savoie connection:

One form of gentleness we should practice is towards ourselves… When your heart has fallen raise it softly… Obey your doctor, take your medicine and food… desire to recover to serve God and one another. (Francois de Sales)

 *****

In the last few months, I have been working with others in the diocese to ‘roll out’ a Rule of Life, which was developed at the request of our Bishop Robert, our diocesan bishop. In its basic, most fundamental form, it is very short and simply suggests that a Rule of Life for Christians in our diocese should encourage us in these four ways:

* Knowing God

* Growing in Christ

*Building Community

* Living Beyond Ourselves

It is ‘strange’ (or perhaps providential) how relevant these themes are to the questions we, as individuals and churches, need to address ourselves with in these difficult days, questions such as:

* How can the forced (at least partial) isolation for many of us in this wilderness season of Lent encourage us to deepen our knowledge of God?

* Does our present experience enable us to ‘grow in Christ’ by enabling us to tread a bit more deeply along the way of the cross?

* What does it mean for us to build community with our fellow Christians in these days, in which physical meeting is much more difficult and most services of corporate worship are forbidden?

* And does this virus teach us something about ‘living beyond ourselves’ in contexts in which we are being asked to modify our behaviour not simply (or perhaps even mainly) for our own sakes, but for the sake of the wider community and our fellow citizens?

 *****

It has been a privilege to work with colleagues and friends at Holy Trinity Church Geneva over the last few days to prepare worship which will happen by ‘Zoom’ this coming Sunday (see below for details as to how to connect if you want to). The coming Sunday is of course Mothering Sunday – and our thoughts are turning to Mary as mother of Jesus. There is a powerful statue of Mary called ‘the Walking Madonna’ in the grounds of Salisbury Cathedral (see below). This is part of the sermon which will be ‘preached’ on Sunday, which takes that statue as its starting point:

‘… Our Gospel readings have shown us Mary in the Temple; and Mary at the Cross; but perhaps there is a third Mary, elusive but real. That is the Mary who ponders. Who thinks things out in the quiet of her heart. Both Clare and I (Alan Amos) love the statue, “the Walking Madonna” by Elizabeth Frink which stands outside Salisbury Cathedral. I say “stands” but it really feels like a statue in motion, if that is possible. Mary strides away from the Cathedral, wrapped in her own thoughts. Perhaps she has had enough of “churchiness” and is setting her feet towards the market place, towards our common humanity; or perhaps she carries with her the spirit of worship from the holy place that stands behind her. But for us, now, I think she is revealed as “the self-isolating Mother of God.” She comes to us in this time of the virus, with her message, “learn from me to be yourself in God’s presence; then you will come to know, like me, how to be by yourself.” For the Mary described by Luke – who according to Orthodox tradition was the first to paint an icon of Mary – is one who knows how to be alone, and to ponder:

* but Mary kept all these things and pondered them in her heart (Luke 2.19)

* But his mother kept all these sayings in her heart (Luke 2.51).

In her aloneness – it seems that Joseph left her a widow at an early age – she did not diminish, but grew in faith, hope and love, showing us the way; the way to see and to endure.’

walking madonna cropped x

Some links to digital worship in the Diocese in Europe and Episcopal Convocation

(Please do let me know of other churches and contacts)

Holy Trinity Geneva – worship by ‘Zoom’ on Sunday 22 March at 10.30. Access by

https://zoom.us/j/864442942

Revd Louis Darrant, Costa Azahar, is offering morning and evening prayer online each day – access via his facebook page ‘Louis Darrant’.

All Saints Rome, will be offering an online service on Sunday 22 March available via https://bobsprospect.blogspot.com/2020/03/mass-in-tin-from-all-saints-anglican.html#more

St Michael’s Paris will be offering online worship by Zoom this Sunday.   More details available at https://www.saintmichaelsparis.org/

Emmanuel Church Geneva is live-streaming both Sunday and weekday services. Go to www.emmanaelchurch.ch  for details of how to connect.

St Paul’s Within the Walls, Episcopal Church Rome is live-streaming Sunday worship. Details via https://www.stpaulsrome.it/blog-post/st-pauls-goes-live/

Discipleship in Difficult Days

 

 If our Christian discipleship is real it needs to ‘accompany’ us during difficult days such as we are experiencing personally and corporately at the moment.

Others in the diocese are far more capable than I of sharing important information about practical and institutional matters. Perhaps it is part of my task, as the person with ‘Lay Discipleship’ in my diocesan title to share some of the helpful spiritual insights that the faithful and creative people in our diocese and chaplaincies, and in other Anglican jurisdictions in Europe, are offering – largely by digital means – at this time.

I intend to collect and share such reflections about twice a week, using ‘Exploring Faith in Europe’, the blog I established a year or so ago, and which is accessible via the diocesan website homepage, to do so. Please do feel free to contact me with any reflections that you would like to see shared more widely.

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

 

  • Holy God, who created us for & from love, in this time of social distancing hold us close in your arms. Comfort those who are afraid, enliven those who are bored, give courage to those who are distressed and warm those who feel the cold touch of loneliness. Breathe in, with & through us as we walk through uncertainty into a new future knowing that you are with us now and await us there. In the name of Christ the Beloved we pray. Amen. (Ellen Clark-King, found via Anglican Menorca website)
  • hambledon hill

 

  • Be at peace. Do not look forward in fear to the changes of life; rather look to them with full hope as they arise. God, whose very own you are, will deliver you from out of them. He has kept you hitherto, and He will lead you safely through all things; and when you cannot stand it, God will bury you in his arms. Do not fear what may happen tomorrow; the same everlasting Father who cares for you today will take care of you then and every day. He will either shield you from suffering, or give you unfailing strength to bear it. Be at peace, and put aside all anxious thoughts and imagination. (St. Francis de Sales, bishop near Geneva and in the Haute-Savoie 1567-1622)

 

God bless the state,

and keep our fists from hate,

lest we fall apart

.

God bless the hearth,

the kitchen and the garth,

that we may rest.

 

God bless the city

with justice and with pity,

lest we seek to blame.

 

God bless the towns,

the festivals and clowns,

that we may laugh.

 

God bless the village,

the grazing and the tillage,

lest we cease to care.

 

God bless this place,

with presence, silence, grace,

that we may pray.

 

God bless these days

of rough and narrow ways,

lest we despair.

 

God bless the night

and calm our trembling fright,

that we may love.

 

God bless this land,

and guide us with your hand,

lest we be unjust.

 

God bless the Earth

through pangs of death and birth,

and make us whole. (Prayer of intercession by Jim Cotter, included in an service of spiritual communion led by Revd Louis Darrant on 15 March 2020, in Costa Azahar)

 

‘Like as the hart desireth the water-brooks : so longeth my soul after thee, O God. My soul is athirst for God, yea even for the living God.’ Psalm 42

Lent is a time to experience this kind of thirst;   we think of the thirsty Christ, of the wilderness and temptations, meeting the woman at the well and engaging in conversation with her, and through her with us; the Christ of Gethsemane with the chalice and the angel;   the ‘I thirst’ of the Cross.

The Psalms are our never-failing resource through Lent and beyond. They have sustained the Church through thick and thin.   The 23rd Psalm really includes everything that we need, for all times.   (Alan Amos, Geneva)

 

Jesus Christ, you travelled through towns and villages “curing every disease and illness.” At your command, the sick were made well. Come to our aid now, in the midst of the global spread of the coronavirus, that we may experience your healing love.

Heal those who are sick with the virus. May they regain their strength and health through quality medical care.

Heal us from our fear, which prevents nations from working together and neighbours from helping one another.

Heal us from our pride, which can make us claim invulnerability to a disease that knows no borders. Jesus Christ, healer of all, stay by our side in this time of uncertainty and sorrow.

Be with those who have died from the virus. May they be at rest with you in your eternal peace.

Be with the families of those who are sick or have died. As they worry and grieve, defend them from illness and despair. May they know your peace.

Be with the doctors, nurses, researchers and all medical professionals who seek to heal and help those affected and who put themselves at risk in the process. May they know your protection and peace.

Be with the leaders of all nations. Give them the foresight to act with charity and true concern for the well-being of the people they are meant to serve. Give them the wisdom to invest in long-term solutions that will help prepare for or prevent future outbreaks. May they know your peace, as they work together to achieve it on earth.

Whether we are home or abroad, surrounded by many people suffering from this illness or only a few, Jesus Christ, stay with us as we endure and mourn, persist and prepare. In place of our anxiety, give us your peace.

Jesus Christ, heal us. (Jesuits, USA)

 

The biblical scholar, Walter Brueggemann, writes: “The wilderness wanderings are a surprise to Israel. This is not the promise of Exodus…Wilderness is the most radical memory that Israel has about landlessness. Wilderness is not simply an in-between place that makes the journey longer. It is not simply a sandy place demanding more stamina. It is a space far away from ordered land. It is Israel’s historical entry into the arena of chaos that, like the darkness before creation, is ‘formless and void’ and without a hovering wind (Gen. 1:2).”Today many throughout the world, including us here in Geneva, are bewildered by the speed of events brought about by the Coronavirus Pandemic. We are in a metaphorical wilderness where the bearings of our normal life have been swept away. This is not what we were expecting; our ordered lives are disrupted; fear stakes our world. At times we wonder if life will ever be the same again. And it is okay to feel like that. This pandemic will make spiritual demands of us perhaps such as we have never known before.

Within the chaos of Israel’s experience, God provides water to replenish their thirst and to rejuvenate their souls. The extraordinary memory of water gushing out of rock points to the providence of a loving God when we find ourselves at the end of our tether; where our human resources are depleted and when we are forced to turn to God for deliverance.

… When Jesus sits down tired and weary at Jacob’s well and strikes up a conversation with a Samaritan woman, whose name we do not know, we find the very incarnation of God who knows us inside out. The Samaritan woman quickly cottoned on to this. Her testimony is “He told me everything I have ever done.”. Have you ever had a conversation like that? Where you open up about yourself? Where you are listened to and understood? What is it that you find yourself sharing about yourself? How is it that your deepest thoughts and yearnings come tumbling out of the cavern deep down in your soul where you have hidden them, taking you by surprise? When I think of Christianity and its transformative power in the world, it is this gift of the listening, understanding, inviting Christ of listening that I value most highly. … At this time of total disorientation, may we see Jesus sitting at Jacob’s well beckoning us for a conversation. May we open up to him and tell him how life really is with us: He knows already of course. But it is important for us to have this intimate talk. And may we emulate, by the grace of God’s Spirit, this listening, conversational ministry one to another, that the living water of Christ’s love might refresh and sustain as we journey through this wilderness called Covid-19. (Revd Michael Rusk, Rector of Emmanuel Church Geneva, sermon preached on 15 March 2020)

 

* The story we share together, in all of the communities that make up our Convocation, begins and ends with the same words: “Do not be afraid.” Those are the words with which the angels greet the shepherds tending their flocks on Christmas night; those are the words with which Jesus greets Mary Magdalene in the garden on Easter morning. We often hear those words as words of comfort. But they are not. They are words of command. Followers of Christ give no quarter to fear. We are meant to be too focused, too determined, too intent on walking the Way of Love—caring for the sick, binding up the broken, defending the defenseless, forgiving the sinners. Christians cannot waste time on fear. So take the unexpected freedom of this time as a gift. Use it to pray. Use it to reflect on what we miss when we miss the fellowship we create as communities of faith. Use it to check in on your friends—especially those you are most worried about. Use it to risk the possibility of contemplative prayer—a time of quiet, a time of opening our hearts fully to God, a time of listening for the still, small voice. (Bishop Edington, Bishop of Episcopal Convocation in Europe)

 

* Keep us, Good Lord,

under the shadow of your mercy

in this time of uncertainty and distress.

Sustain and support the anxious and fearful,

and lift up all who are brought low;

that we may rejoice in your comfort

knowing that nothing can separate us

from your love

in Christ Jesus our Lord.   (Diocese of Exeter)

 

The one speaking to us

Clare Amos originally wrote this reflection for the Stop Press column of ‘Roots on the Web’. Clare intends to use this blog in the coming weeks to provide an opportunity for people of the Diocese in Europe to share their experiences in these strange times.

If you ask a group of people, ‘Where does the first “I am” saying in the Gospel of John appear?’, most people won’t know the answer. ‘I am the bread of life’ (John 6.35) is often quoted. The phrase ‘I am’ is significant – not least because it seems to allude to the occasion in Exodus 3.14 when God introduces himself as the ‘I am who I am’. Actually, however, the very first time the emphatic ego eimi (I am) is used by Jesus in John’s Gospel is in this week’s story, the meeting between Jesus and the Samaritan woman. It is also the longest dialogue between Jesus and any one individual in any of the Gospels. And after their conversation has ranged widely over living water and holy places, the woman asks about the coming Messiah, and Jesus responds to her saying, ‘I am, the one taking to you’ (John 4.26; literal translation).

Once upon a time, I used to describe this as an ‘I am saying without a predicate’. (A ‘predicate’ in this context means something like ‘the bread of life’, or ‘the true vine’ or ‘the light of the world’.) But actually there is a predicate, namely ‘the one talking to you’. And it is, I believe, a profound insight to realise that the very first time in this Gospel Jesus ‘claims’ the divine identity of ‘I am’, he does so linking it to such an act of communication. It is obvious if you think about it! After all at the very beginning of this Gospel, the prologue makes that fundamental link between ‘the Word’ and the incarnation of Jesus Christ. So, it is appropriate that in this week’s story, Jesus discloses his divine identity par excellence because he is the one who communicates with human beings. Jesus tells us that the deepest nature of God is to offer communication and communion to and with human beings.

There is really only one story ‘hitting’ the headlines this week – the spread of coronavirus and its implications for human society, both nationally and globally. Environmental and ecological concerns are still around – but just for the moment they seem to have been displaced from the headlines. It is of course interesting to reflect on what may be the connection between human use and misuse of creation and the environment and the so rapid spread of this virus in human beings. (There does seem to be a connection, but it is not straightforward to unpack.) But reflecting on the virus and the response to it, the word ‘isolation’ seems to figure again and again. People are being called to ‘self-isolate’ or are forcibly put into ‘isolation’.

By implication, this makes us think about the nature of ‘communication’ – which seems at one level to be the opposite of ‘isolation’. In many ways we are fortunate these days that such isolation can be mitigated by the use of modern technology, which even the Pope has employed – enabling him to give his traditional Sunday address and blessing over the internet rather than in person!

Returning briefly to the Gospel story – one feature that is often noted is the isolation of the woman. She is drawing her water at noon (the hottest part of the day), probably because of the hostility with which she was treated by her fellow villagers.

Of course ‘communion’, a word deeply rooted in Christian tradition, is also closely related to ‘communication’ – and the current situation leads us to reflect on what is the nature of Christian communion, when there has needed to be advice both about the reception of Holy Communion, and in some contexts the suspension of public worship. There is a moving reflection on this by Bishop David Hamid, the Suffragan bishop of the Church of England Diocese in Europe.

Lent is a time when the ancient virtue of silence is prized, taking its starting point from Jesus’ own isolation and silence in the wilderness. What, then, is the relationship between silence and isolation, communion and communication?

Prayer (linked to today’s Gospel reading)

Well: ‘The well was deep’.
Lord of wells and of unspoken mysteries, draw down into the depths of our hearts, and speak to us your message of consolation.

Water: ‘A spring of water gushing up’.
Thirsty acquaintance, grant us the privilege of ministering to your need, and so to quench our own thirst.

Woman: ‘They were astonished that he was speaking with a woman’.
Jesus, man of Galilee, may we draw on your example, to honour the wisdom of both women and men.

Worship: ‘Worship the Father in spirit and in truth’.
Boundary-crossing prophet, encourage us to transcend what divides and separates those who seek God in truth.

With: ‘I am speaking with you’.
Jesus the Word, God in communication, overcome our isolations, and give us the gift of true communion.

Second Sunday before Advent: A Tale of Two Walls

Canon Alan Amos in Geneva reflects on this week’s lectionary Gospel, Luke 21.5-19.

‘Some were speaking about the temple, how it was adorned with beautiful stones and gifts dedicated to God; Jesus said: as for these things you see, the days will come when not one stone will be left upon another; all will be thrown down.’ (Luke 21.5)

What is an edifice? A quick look in the dictionary came up with:

  1. a large imposing building;
  2. a complex system of beliefs, e.g. ‘the concepts on which the edifice of capitalism was built.’

I am not about to demolish the edifice of capitalism, oh no! Though I think we are all entitled to examine its foundations and the way it is expressed in our world in real terms.

But what started my train of thought was two things: the Jerusalem Temple, and the Berlin wall. And it is worth pondering what ‘complex system of beliefs’ resulted in the erection of each these two edifices.

In the case of the Temple, it was the ardent desire of the people of Israel to have a sanctuary where they could feel that God was present among them, one sanctuary that expressed the unity of God with his people. A place of worship; a focus of unity. In Luke’s Gospel, the Temple bridges between the old and new covenants; it is there that Simeon and Anna welcome and recognise the Christ. And of course the complex system of beliefs sustaining the Temple was shown forth in offerings and sacrifices. It was so hard for lovers of God to be told that the days of the Temple were numbered, not just because of ungodliness or failure, but – and perhaps this was particularly hard for faithful people to take – because when God visits his people in Christ, then Christ is the Presence in the midst, the Temple. The coming of Christ turns all things upside down, not just the stones of the Temple, as the words of Jesus race on beyond the destruction of the Temple to prophecy the ending of all things and ‘the coming of the Son of Man in a cloud with power and great glory.’ In the words of Jesus and in the understanding of Luke, the time of crisis, of testing, has arrived. We have no security any longer except in God. No edifice made by human hands can shelter us. Hear the Advent message coming upon us undiluted !

The Berlin wall was also a large and imposing structure, meant to dominate and intimidate. Unlike the Temple, it had no vocation to be an ornament. It is difficult to realise, now it is utterly cast down, that it was built to a purpose which made sense to those who built it. It also was the result of ‘a complex system of beliefs’, and it was only when that system began to crumble that the wall itself became vulnerable. We have been remembering in Europe the thirtieth anniversary of its fall.berlin wall wcc

The fragment of the Berlin Wall in the garden of the Ecumenical Centre. Photo copyright, Ivars Kupcis, WCC

Tucked away near the carpark of the Ecumenical Centre in Geneva, in the remains of the adjacent garden, stands today a chunk of the Berlin wall, brought there as a kind of memorial offering, a marker for memory, by the reformed churches of the now re-united Germany. You can stand there, look at it, see the graffiti splurged across it, and feel…

… feel the cost in lives lost in trying to get over this wall,

… feel the human blindness that went into its construction,

… mourn for the human blindness that still defaces the world in which we live, mars its beauty and harmony. Geneva and the United Nations, despite all disappointments and faults, still stand as a sign of hope for a better world beyond our reach. Not beyond the reach of God : ‘Thy Kingdom come!’ I suppose this chunk of wall is a kind of relic; a necessary reminder of the gap between where we should be as human beings, and where we are. But also in a world in turmoil, a reminder that all is not lost, good can yet prevail and swallow up the emptiness of evil in its victory.

Edifaces; buildings; imposing monuments; they all turn to dust, but the word of the Lord endures for ever:

‘Pride of man and earthly glory,

sword and crown betray his trust;

What with care and toil he buildeth,

tower and temple fall to dust.

But God’s power, hour by hour,

is my temple and my tower.’ (Robert Bridges)

 

 

 

 

Remembrance Sunday: Lord of Time

The following prayer was not in fact written with Remembrance Sunday in mind. It was originally produced to accompany a series of Bible studies which reflected on the importance of the word ‘today’ in the Gospel of Luke. At key points in this Gospel the word ‘today’ appears, stressing both the urgency of Jesus’ actions, and also the way that the life of Christ needs to be interpreted in the context of both the past and the future.

However due to a set of fortunate coincidences, Simone Meyer, a member of Holy Trinity Church, Geneva, suggested using this prayer as part of the intercessions for Remembrance Sunday 2018, where it seemed to be appreciated. In fact it also fits quite well with this year’s suggested lectionary Gospel reading for Remembrance Sunday, Luke 20.27-38, which clearly speaks of God as the one who transcends the normal boundaries of time. So the prayer is offered for this purpose again, with its final stanza a deliberate reminder that what we do ‘today’ will affect our, and our children’s, tomorrows.

Faithful father, minder of our yesterdays,
We thank you for your blessing and cherishing,
For your care which has brought us and all creation to this day.
Forgive the failings of our past,
the false steps and paths that we have taken
in our lives and in our histories,
As individuals, as nations, as members of your own people.
Grant us the courage not to forget,
Not to stifle the sounds of suffering in which we have been complicit;
Encourage us also to trust in your power to redeem,
Your willingness to work with flawed humanity and re-create an earth
Which all can celebrate with you as truly good.

Holy Spirit, hope for our tomorrows,
Grant us vision of the future of this world as you would have it be.
Inspire us with your power and grace us with your gifts and fruits –
Love, joy and peace, generosity and gentleness,
Faithfulness and kindness, patience and self-control.
May they become seeds in us, taking root deep within our lives,
Starting-points for change and growth.
Speak into the divisions and hatreds of these days,
In the turmoil, open our ears to catch your quiet breath,
And give us voice to echo your aching and longing for the promised time,
When in communion with you true life and freedom will be shared by all.

Christ, comforter yet challenger of our todays,
You are the beginning and end of creation,
Drawing together past and future,
Threading them into the texture of the present.
Through your life and ministry you showed us the importance of ‘today’,
Of carrying out God’s mission in the world of here and now.
You did not allow yourself to be bound by time past
Nor await impassive for an unseen future.
Still, today, you do not let us stand aside and delay,
But urgently you offer us both salvation and judgement.
You demand that we choose, and invite us to work with you
To accomplish God’s purpose, yesterday, for ever and today. Amen.

Clare Amos

The visit made by the 2018-2019 diocesan Ministry Experience Scheme interns to the First World War graves in Ypres in March 2019 made a deep impression on those who participated.

connelly and group 2