Advent Sunday – getting ready & hopeful anticipation

Published on: Sunday November 29, 12:37 pm

Our Gospel reading today comes from a chapter of the Bible  (Mark 13) which is full of imagery of the world shaken to the core, of destruction, suffering and war.  And perhaps this seems to be a description of today: when we open a newspaper or watch news reports, we could be overwhelmed by the accounts of the corona virus, of political squabbling, of violence, corruption, natural disasters and famine.

But we read this passage today because it is both a warning and a hope.  The barren stems of the fig tree do grow green again. If we look, we can find examples of this every day all around us.  For me, this week, one that stands out is the story of how ex-convict John Crilly’s life has been turned around by the mentoring and loss of London Bridge victim Jack Merritt, and by the Merritt family’s message of forgiveness to his murderer.

Hope triumphs over the bleakness – Jesus tells his disciples what is true – that whatever happens, though the world be destroyed, his promise, his words, will never be destroyed. 

We remind ourselves of this hope in the darkness as we light our first Advent candle this morning.  We are encouraged by recalling the words of John’s gospel In him there was life. That life was light for the people of the world. The Light shines in the darkness. And the darkness has not overpowered the Light (John 1:4-5).  Advent is the season of looking forward in thankfulness and hope to the coming of Jesus into the world, looking forward to Emmanuel, God-With-Us, teaching us, reshaping us and restoring us.

The parable Jesus used in our Gospel reading today: of the servants making ready as they wait for the master – speaks into this.  The servants are not told to sit back and wait patiently for the master.  No – they are given jobs to do and told to take care of the house and to keep a look out for the master so that everything is ready for when he comes.  And for the house to be ready the servants must be ready. As Jesus then says, I tell you this, and I say it to everyone: Be ready! (Mark 13:37).

Being ready involves making ready.  It is a process, and processes take time.  So let us take time for Advent:  not to be so busy rushing forwards in eagerness of anticipation towards Christmas the celebration,  that we fail to accept Advent as a gift of space in which we can REPAIR in order to PREPARE.

So, may we take time to make ourselves ready for what theologian Karl Rahner has described as the inbreaking of the Lord’s presence in the present, becausethis is not about looking forward to celebrating a birthday but of being blessed by the earth-shattering, turn-everything-upside-down, transforming gift of life in Christ.

May we take time to look for where God is at work in the world around us, in situations and in the people we meet – the lovely people, the people we struggle to love, the brief encounter. May we pause each day  to look for where God is present in our own lives – in the good moments, in the struggles, in the mundane.

The more we are alert and on the look-out for the presence of God, the more we will find God in the present. 

And may we take time throughout this Advent to be thankful.

Bishop Tom Wright has written eloquently, in his book Surprised By Hope, how the hope we are given for the future, in Christ, gives purpose to our present.  As Wright puts it, the gospel invitation is not simply tick this box and one day you will go to heaven; rather it is a call to follow Jesus. 

So what might ‘being called’ look like?  This is impossible to answer, because it will look different for each of us.  But whatever it looks like, we know that we can have confidence in exploring and responding to this call because, as Paul told the Corinthians, In every way you have been enriched in Christ, in speech and knowledge of every kind …. So that you are not lacking in any spiritual gift as you wait for the revealing of our Lord Jesus Christ (1 Cor.1:5, 7).

Whatever the experience of your relationship with God, and your understanding of where he is calling you, may I invite you to use this Advent to delve deeper.

The Diocese has produced two very helpful tools to support this seeking and making ready, which I encourage you to use:

  • Gifts for everyday faith: a self-administered survey which can help you review and discover your particular strengths and what makes you flourish as a Christian and as a member of a Christian community. 

You can use this as the starting point for exploring how to use and develop your gifts, perhaps in discussion with friends in the Church.  It is important to remember not only that these gifts are from God to you, but that through you they become gifts to the whole community of the Church.  In the gospel parable, all the servants were given tasks and together as a team they carried the responsibility of being ready.  In the epistle, Paul is writing to the Corinthians as people and as a community of the early Church together.

  • Personal Discipleship Plan:  a way of engaging in an accompanied faith journey.  Using a PDP, in a relaxed and informal way you can explore and grow how you live out the gospel every day of the week, supported by a trained mentor or encourager.
  • There is also a great resource page with links to lots of different support material, including links to reflections, meditations, prayer and bible reading resources.

Please see the URL below to the page with all these resources.

May I wish you a blessed and hope-filled new church year.   

Lucy G.

Links / References:

Diocese of Oxford, Everyday faith: Identifying your gifts and developing a Personal Discipleship Plan

Wright, Tom, Surprised by hope. Reissued ed.  London: SPCK, 2011

Image Photo by Marc-Olivier Jodoin on Unsplash

He’s Coming! It’s Advent…

Published on: Thursday November 26, 1:13 pm

“Look busy, Jesus is coming!” is a popular slogan, often found on mugs or similar gifts, designed to make us laugh. After all, sitting at ease sipping a coffee is not exactly “busyness” – or at least according to business productivity stats.

In contrast, I’m reminded of the story about the two woodcutters – one kept slogging away, hour after after, chopping wood. The other would take a ten minute break each hour. At the end of the day, the second had cut far more wood than the one who had worked continuously. “Why?” the first man asked. “How could this happen!” The second replied, “Each time I took a break, I sharpened my saw.”

This Sunday is Advent Sunday, and the injunction is to “Keep Alert!” for we do not know when Christ will come. For many, this has been taken as a warning of a literal Second Coming, when the stories of Revelation will literally occur. Others have taken a more metaphorical view. And it is a singularly unhelpful controversy to get mired in. What will be will be. What is Now is where our focus should surely be.

And in the Now, Christ may come into our hearts, may come and visit us, in so many ways, most of which we cannot predict and would never expect.

And when that happens, what will He find? What will be the state of our hearts in that moment? I’m not saying we have to wear the metaphorical equivalent of our Sunday best all the time, or to have our “inner house” all spick and span and perfect! God knows I’d fail utterly at that – and it’s not all my toddler’s fault, though her toybox does regularly explode into unexpected corners of the house!

As Christians we look forward to a time when God will bring justice and mercy and peace throughout the world. We look forward to the renewal, restoration and reconciliation of all things, as He has promised us. But we’ve got some work to do ourselves – on the inside – to help that to come about, one person at a time.

It’s not even about becoming a Christian! It is about learning to love and value one another and ourselves as God does. This is the key and core of the Kingdom of God, the Reign of God, which first and foremost is found within the human heart.

Perhaps it’s helpful to start by seeing the Reign of God is an alternative to domination systems and all “isms.” Jesus teaches that right relationship (i.e., love) is the ultimate and daily criterion. If a social order allows and encourages strong connectedness between people and creation, people and each other, people and God, then you have a truly sacred culture: the Reign of God. It is not a world without pain or mystery, but simply a world where we are connected and in communion with all things.

The Kingdom is about union and communion, which means that it is also about mercy, forgiveness, nonviolence, letting go, solidarity, service, and lives of love, patience, and simplicity. Who can doubt that this is the sum and substance of Jesus’ teaching? In the Reign of God, the very motive for rivalry, greed, and violence has been destroyed. We know we are all part of God’s Beloved Community.

One thing is clear, that Jesus did not come to impose Christendom like an imperial system. Every description he offers of God’s Reign—of love, relationship, non-judgment, and forgiveness, where the last shall be first and the first shall be last—shows that imposition is an impossibility! Wherever we have tried to force Christianity on people, the long-term results have been disastrous. The Gospel flourishes in the realm of true freedom.

But it is a freedom we must choose for ourselves. It is almost impossible to turn away from what seems like the only game in town (political, economic, or religious), unless we have glimpsed a more attractive alternative. It is hard to imagine it, much less imitate it, unless we see someone else do it first. Jesus is that icon of the more attractive alternative, a living parable.

And Jesus was often found relaxing, eating, drinking, resting. And praying. And for him, prayer was a quiet and intimate conversation with his Father God, as one might have with a best friend or truly loving and compassionate parent. A person who listens, and who cares, and who gives you space and support to work it all out yourself.

So perhaps the mug slogan has it right after all. Look busy! Jesus is coming. But maybe look busy in the Jesus way, and start by taking a rest over a cup of coffee with a friend. Even if it does have to be via a video call for now!

Coming, Ready or not!

Published on: Sunday November 22, 7:27 pm

This week, it’s a pleasure to welcome another guest post from my colleague Revd. Jim, who preached the sermon below for us on Sunday 22nd November, the festival of Christ the King.

I recently met again with a cousin with whom I played ‘hide & seek’ with in the 1960s, and meeting him I was reminded of the moment when there’s an announcement ‘Coming, ready or not’. It’s what this time of year (and our reading for today) is about – and especially in 2020 when the number of uncertainties is as great as ever.

Christ the King was a festival which originated as recently as 1925 by Pope Pius 11th. It was a response to the secularising tendencies of the time which tried to drive a wedge between political and social concerns and the Christian faith. We in this group of villages should therefore be struck by the way that, just around that time, Longworth church introduced an ‘Arts and Crafts’ style east window with Christ reigning from the cross. And at the same time Buckland church acquired its east window representing Christ in majesty. This latter depicts Christs rule over poetry, agriculture, temporal power, spinning , carpentry, music, and even mathematics!

But by 1969 there was a new realisation that whatever else ‘Christ the King’ was about, it was also a theme about the end – the end of time and the end of the church’s year. And this was appropriate when Advent (with its four traditional themes of Death, Judgement, Heaven and Hell) was going out of favour. A growing preoccupation with preparation for Christmas and early carol services – and shopping! – was taking its place. So it was that Christ the King (still a Roman Catholic festival) was moved to the Sunday before Advent in 1969. Then up to 2000 it was adopted by the other major denominations. So it is that today our readings naturally round off the teachings of Jesus we’ve had all summer with his teaching about his own return. And inescapably that also means we still have to think about Judgement.

So it’s reassuring to know Christ is ‘In Charge’ – especially when the world seems in turmoil. But not like Bruce Forsyth’s song (I’m in charge) – with an idea of leadership I’d call an abdication of responsibility, allowing people to behave as they want. Instead, a helpful picture, as Bishop Tom Wright points out, is the idea of the International Court of Human Justice – for all its weaknesses, ensuring that the vulnerable are protected from the unscrupulous. That’s the issue about vaccines is it not?

Clearly Jesus’ rule is good news for those of his followers who find themselves in need.

And William Barclay has two illustrations adopted by Michael Green:

Francis of Assisi, wealthy and high-born, was out riding one day and met a man disfigured by leprosy. Francis was moved to dismount and hug the poor man. As he did so, the face of the leprosy sufferer changed into the face of Christ.

Likewise, Martin of Tours was a Roman soldier and a Christian. One freezing day a beggar asked him for alms. Martin had no money, but, seeing the man blue with cold, he ripped his soldier’s cloak in half and gave one part to the beggar. That night he had a dream. He saw Jesus in the courts of heaven, wearing half his cloak. He heard an angel ask, ‘Master, why are you wearing that battered old cloak? Who gave it to you?’ And Jesus replied, ‘My servant Martin gave it to me.’

This doesn’t mean that humanitarian activity can replace faith in Christ. But rather we should think of the concerns of Christ the King as personal and relational rather than merely religious.

So who can we help today, or this week, who might be ‘Christ in disguise’ for us?

Photo by Sneha on Unsplash

a healing weed!

Published on: Wednesday November 18, 9:47 am

The Kingdom of Heaven is like a mustard seed which a person took and sowed in a field. It is the smallest of all the seeds, but when it has grown it is the biggest of shrubs and becomes a tree, so that the birds of the air can come and shelter in its branches. —Matthew 13:31–32

Sometimes, we see a re-evaluation of something very familiar, and it strikes us so powerfully that we just have to share it. Fr. Richard Rohr’s take on the “mustard seed” is exactly that for me.

The Reign of God is Jesus’ message, but he never describes it literally. He walks around it and keeps giving different images of the Real. For example, the mustard seed is very small and insignificant, and the kingdom is “like” that.

Pliny the Elder, a contemporary of Jesus, wrote an encyclopaedic book called Natural History, in which he describes all the plants that were known in the Mediterranean world. He says two main things about the mustard plant: it’s medicinal, and it’s a weed that cannot be stopped:

Mustard . . .  with its pungent taste and fiery effect is extremely beneficial for the health. It grows entirely wild, though it is improved by being transplanted: but on the other hand when it has once been sown it is scarcely possible to get the place free of it, as the seed when it falls germinates at once. [Pliny the Elder, Natural History, 19.170–171. See Pliny, Natural History, vol. 5, books 17–19, trans. H. Rackham (Harvard University Press: 1950), 528–529.]

The two images on which Jesus is building in this parable of the mustard seed are a therapeutic image of life and healing, and a fast-growing weed. What a strange thing for Jesus to say: “I’m planting a weed in the world!” Jesus’ teachings of nonviolence and simplicity are planted and they’re going to flourish, even wildly so. The old world is over.

The virtue for living in the in-between times Jesus calls “faith.” He is talking about the grace and the freedom to live God’s dream for the world now—while not rejecting the world as it is. That’s a mighty tension that is not easily resolved.

There are always two worlds. The world as it is usually operates on power, ego, and success. The world as it could be operates out of love. One is founded on dominative power, and the other is a continual call to right relationship and reciprocal power. The secret of this Kingdom life is discovering how we can live in both worlds simultaneously.

Adapted from Richard Rohr with John Bookser Feister, Jesus’ Plan for a New World: The Sermon on the Mount (Franciscan Media: 1996), 40–41.

Finding shelter, light in the dark

Published on: Thursday November 12, 1:24 pm

As the dark draws in, the loneliness of this new lockdown can seem oppressive. Many people are taking comfort from the twinkling fairy lights of Christmas, bringing decoration to their homes early this year. Others cannot afford this joy. Early dusk and dark nights for some will mean curling up by the fire to escape the gloom; for others it means more cold and uncertainty.

But for all of us, the need for shelter intensifies at this time of year. And we need to find light in the darkness. Sarah’s photo of a sparkling heart in the dark epitomised this for me. 

Last week I read a passage from a new favourite author, Padraig O’Tuama, in his book, Finding Shelter.

This particular paragraph struck me as I prepared for Remembrance Sunday, but I felt it equally relevant for this time of year, and particularly as we negotiate this second lockdown, with the added loneliness and isolation of winter.

“[there is an Irish Gaelic proverb] Ar scath a cheile a mhaireas na daoine. It is in the shelter of each other that the people live. It is also in the shadow of each other that the people live. It could also mean: our shelter can be our shadow; or, even, what shelters me may shadow you. … Scath is related to a Norwegian world for ‘mist’. … I wonder if the wisdom in this proverb demands a kind of discernment, a peering through the blur of ordinary living to decide when closeness overshadows and when it protects.”

Shelter and shadow – these are emotive words. We need to find shelter in life. Shadow can be most welcome when the burning sun beats down upon us. But the shadow of darkness can be troubling indeed.

O’Tuama’s words called to my mind a phrase from Psalm 91:

He who dwells in the shelter of the Most High will rest in the shadow of the Almighty.
I will say of the LORD, “He is my refuge and my fortress, my God, in whom I trust.”

Words of comfort in troubling times. We all need shelter, a place to rest and find refuge. And I thought it interesting that the Psalmist should mingle the words ‘shelter’ and ‘shadow’ as O’Tuama had.

And then, a few days later, I was watching someone talking about books. How a book when it rests open on a surface looks rather like a tent. A place of shelter, of dwelling. And I wondered about how what we read can give us shelter for our minds and emotions, a place to grow and transform in safety. Or how words can, when misused, cast terrible shadows in our minds, and then in our actions.

This winter, surely we need shelter more than in most years. We need to find shelter within one another, even as we are in isolation. Our very loneliness, as we struggle together against this virus, has the possibility to bring us together in unexpected and transformative ways.

And in those very loneliest times, when the shadow seems to fall most heavily, perhaps we can find shelter in God. The God who is our refuge, our strength. A very present help in trouble, as the hymn sung to the “Dambusters” tune says.

May we find shelter in God, and in one another, during these dark and cold months. May we offer shelter to one another. May we provide shade for those who need it. And may we help one another to live and thrive; a heart of light shining through the dark to help us find our way through the mists of uncertainty and not knowing.

With peace and blessing,
Revd. Talisker

Photo courtesy of SutherlandRoweImages

Remembrance: Captain Sir Tom Moore

Published on: Monday November 9, 8:11 am

A homily for Remembrance Sunday by Lucy Gildersleeves, given at the Act of Remembrance at Charney Bassett, Oxfordshire

War is a human invention, driven by human greed and human fear.

War is a human tragedy – but so much more: war drags in and destroys human lives and livelihoods but also the lives and habitats of creation in warzones – at the moment of conflict and for years afterwards.

I’ve been reading Captain Sir Tom Moore’s autobiography Tomorrow Will Be A Good Day.  His title acknowledges his philosophy for life, that “if we make it until tomorrow, then that is a good day in itself.  So even if tomorrow is my last day, if all those I loved are waiting for me [in heaven], then that tomorrow will be a good day too.” (p.373)

In his autobiography Captain Sir Tom recalls his comrades in arms in the Burma Campaign – the Forgotten War, and it struck me that there are so many who serve and who die in forgotten wars all around the world, past, present and sadly certainly in the future too.

So today we take time to remember all whose lives were given so that we might have a today and a tomorrow.

We take time to remember, too, all those whose lives go on being torn apart by war – those for whom it seems that tomorrow will never be good.

Captain Sir Tom also wrote about his motivation to give thanks to the health staff and the sufferers who are battling Covid19.

We are reminded this year especially, of the tremendous contribution, often overlooked, of the medical services who give care in combat fields and in rehabilitating those whose lives have been ripped apart by war.

So today, let’s take time to give thanks for the doctors, nurses, ambulance teams and all who put themselves in the danger of warzones to help others.

And as we see this wreath made of horseshoes that we have laid at the Charney and Lyford war memorial today, lets also remember all the animals caught up in war, and the creation that we, as violent humanity, destroy.

Captain Sir Tom has set up a Foundation: its purpose is to “give hope where it is needed most” – for the lonely, the anxious, the suffering: for all who need a little love and compassion.

When he set it up, Captain Tom said “if I have learned one thing from all that has happened, it’s that it is never too late to start something new and make a difference, especially if it brings light and life to people around the world.” (p.371)

As Christians, we know that God himself has led the way in this, in the great work of creation and then again in the great work of re-creation in the death and resurrection of Christ.

We can hold onto that hope – that through the grace of God, we know that our tomorrow in Christ will be a good day.

And we can respond with peace and reconciliation, love and rebuilding, as we are called to walk in the light which the Lord gives us!

Amen

Lucy G  

Praying, Kindness & Keeping Going…

Published on: Thursday November 5, 4:01 pm

Early yesterday morning, I looked out through the dawn mist. The church next to the Rectory was barely visible through the foggy air. A faint image, easily missed, unless you know it’s there, and what to look for.

Sometimes God can seem distant – as can the Church. Obscured by the mist, or darkness. Far off, and beyond our sight or call. But the reality is more like the photo on this post. God is always there. Solid, dependable, rock steady. Simply there. Like the ancient medieval church I was looking at, rooted in the foundation of the earth of our ancestors. Almost so familiar, that we don’t bother to notice, until we go looking for it.

And now, we find ourselves in lockdown once more. Not unexpected perhaps – it has been lurking and looming on our horizon for weeks now. But it is not entirely welcome. For many people, it is a disaster for mental, emotional, and spiritual health. And for yet more, it brings financial crisis, poverty, and despair at the darkest time of the year. 

As we re-enter lockdown, the Archbishops of York and Canterbury have written a letter to the nation, which you can read here, reiterating the message of God’s measureless love for all, and encouraging us all to be calm, courageous and compassionate in the face of this renewed struggle and difficulty. The Archbishops, with the Bishop of London, have also written an All Saints pastoral letter to the clergy which you might like to read here. In it they call upon the Church of England to make this month of lockdown a month of prayer, especially on Thursdays.

Prayer – along with the Sacraments – is the lifeblood of the Church, and of people of faith. As the Revd. Marcus Walker wrote yesterday in The Spectator, if anything is essential, it is worship. So let us not be dismayed – and let us pray that the Archbishops and other faith leaders will prevail upon the Government to allow public worship to continue for those who feel safe and able to attend. The Church of England has long held the principle of “all may, some should, none must” regarding the sacrament, and perhaps this applies equally to public worship and livestreaming. To attempt to be present and to serve in both formats is crucial as the Church seeks to bring comfort and blessing to all. 

So we will continue to livestream, and to offer worship together even when separated by physical distance for the good of the most most vulnerable in our communities and our society. For we are also called to love one another – and as St Paul comments in 1 Corinthians 13, love does no harm to another. 

As we seek to love one another, let us also love ourselves. Be kind to yourself. For if you cannot be kind to yourself, it is surely harder to be kind and empathetic to other people. It is true that many of us here in this benefice may rightly say, “it’s so much harder for others”.

But let us be honest about how we feel too, about our own inner struggles, even as we count our blessings. For if we cannot be kind and compassionate to ourselves, how can we be kind and compassionate to others with integrity and truthfulness.

So, what is it that you need to help you cope with this new lockdown, with dark nights and short days? Whatever it is, may you be blessed in finding it, appreciating it, and sharing that blessing with others. 

With peace and light, 
Revd. Talisker

Thin Spaces & Places

Published on: Thursday October 29, 10:01 am

Many years ago, I walked on a beach with a very close friend of mine, Nicky Cahill, talking about “thin spaces” – the idea that in certain places and at certain times, the “veil” between here and the world of the Spirit is very thin, and easily crossed. That’s what is at the heart of All Saints, All Souls, and what we now celebrate as Hallowe’en – which is actually All Hallows Eve – the day before All Saints, or All Hallows. 

So I am delighted to have Nicky as our guest writer this week. Nicky Cahill is a broadcaster and writer, living in Northern Ireland. A lover of light and a weaver of stories.  When she’s not floating in the wild expansive sea, she can most usually be found in her kitchen or at the BBQ preparing food for those she has gathered round her table.

We walked across the strand, the Wild Atlantic licking at our heels, and you spoke to me about ‘thin places’.

Thin Places – where heaven kisses earth – and the veil between the two is transparent.  You invited me into a gift that day.  A knowing.  A deep explanation for something I had always experienced.  Yet had no words to explain. 

With your words dancing upon the breath of the sea and your Titian hair blowing in the salty air, you gave me the opportunity to understand.

To know in a new way.  The fluidity of time that flows across the realms. The holiness of spaces where the land shares its stories of the sacred.  I smile because this is of course a Celtic notion, and my island soul breathes it all in. Finds peace at the centre. I am grounded, rooted to rise in alignment with heaven.

Our island is scattered with holy wells, smells and bells. Dry stone walls where the gaps between the stones let light linger and shine through.  Rock weathered by rain. Big skies and craggy shores. Yellow gorse where the Wild Goose soars. Landscape luminous in abundance of the prayers abiding over centuries. 

They say the monks came from the Middle East and Europe in the early years of Anno Domini, following the call to take the gospel to the ends of the earth.  And to them, the west coast of Ireland, with its soaring, crashing cliffs and wild waves seemed to be this place.  Here they stopped and built monasteries and hermitages.  In places with names that speak to their topography – Clonmacnoise and Skellig Michael.

The latter on steep and inhospitable rock on the edge of County Kerry. Here among the gannets, puffins and colonies of razorbills, the grey seals and whales, they were still in this place of human isolation.  Praying and writing out the scriptures.  Waiting for Jesus to return.

There’s something in the landscape of thin places where we inhabit the presence of God always present to us. Glimpsing the eternal and settling in the moment – invited to experience what we had not seen before. To enter in and join the prayers of centuries.

Thin places aren’t always somewhere we go.  Deep within us we hold the mystery of starlight.  In the space between our inhale and exhale. Our breath the Hebrew name of God – YHWH.  YH in. WH out.  We speak the name of God without moving our lips, but simply by breathing.  God on our very breath transcendent and intimate all at once.

We notice the thin spaces in words and music. In the company of our dogs and the purring of the cat.  In the wind that blows across the land, the ripples of the lake and the birdsong that ascends towards the heavens.

I think of the thin places I have shared with you together in the quiet presence of the trees, on sandy shores and hilly lands, faces upturned towards the sun resting with the Spirit one.

Nicky Cahill, October 2020

Loving ourselves as God loves us

Published on: Monday October 26, 11:01 am

This is the text of my sermon at St Margaret of Antioch in Hinton Waldrist on Sunday 25th October 2020

Love the Lord your God with all of your being, and love your neighbour as yourself. Jesus’ summary of what it takes to live God’s way is deceptively simple.

And we’ve spent two millennia arguing about the first two parts of this triad, most of the time not even realising it IS a triad.

What’s the third bit, you may ask. After all, this very passage is framed as TWO commandments.

The third bit is about loving and respecting and valuing ourselves.

Why on earth does this matter in traditional Christian theology, you may ask. Well…

What’s your theology of Creation? No, this is not a tangent.

At the end of the 6th day, God looked at the world and saw that it was “very good”. That included humans and all the material physical world. God thinks it’s great!

And John’s gospel tells us that God so loved the world – all of it, from the beetles and bugs to the humans and back to the grass and everything in between – that he sent Jesus to show us how to live and really appreciate it all.

So God looked and saw it was very good – do we do that?

What do we really think of ourselves, others, and the world?

Why does this matter? Because simply put, if we don’t love and respect and appreciate ourselves, we’re not really all that likely to be able to extend those things to other people and creatures.

And despite what we may say, what do our ACTIONS say about what we REALLY think? After all, actions are louder than words!

What are the classic actions these days? What do we all complain of? Stress, overwork, tiredness, exhaustion, can’t sleep. Can’t eat, or overeating to help us cope. Not enough exercise. The list goes on. And I’m as guilty as the rest. That’s why I’m sharing this with you!

So what might loving ourselves look like?

What are the priorities in life? What are yours?

What’s our real feeling and attitude when the alarm goes off in the morning? Nowadays, I find myself genuinely able to be grateful for each new day. I am genuinely joyful inside. Still haven’t cracked the stress thing though – but I’ve identified my greatest stress point. I’ll share that later.

Priorities.

What do we begin by filling our time with?

In my sermon on Sunday, I took a large empty glass jar, to symbolise my time or energy. I’m sure many of you have seen this kind of thing before.

Next came several giant cooking apples. They were the BIG THINGS – what are those for you? What is essential?

Then came some carrots, stuffed down the sides between the apples, where there was space. They were the next on the list: the things that we want, which make life good. What are those for you?

Then the small things, that are always there, that have to be done. I had raided my fridge – they were the brussels sprouts (a much undervalued vegetable in my opinion!).

Then the things that are daily tasks, which are actually endless. That was about 2 kg of rice. As I poured it in, it filtered down and around the apples and carrots and sprouts…. And there was STILL room for more.

But if I had started filling the jar with the rice? There would have been no space for the apples, let alone everything else.

I love my job, I love being a vicar. It can be endlessly creative and joyful and fulfilling… But it can also be an unremitting grind with a totally never ending list of jobs and things to do that actually never ever have an end point where you can sit back and say, “there, job done!”

It all depends on what you start with.

My personal bugbear is email. It is a rabbit hole from hell. It begins, you fall into it, and you NEVER GET OUT!!!! It will eat your entire day if you let it. And all of those wonderful creative and joyful things like writing, and prayer, and schools work, and phoning people, and pastoral care – the things that bring me joy and make other people’s lives better – don’t get done. Or not until the end of the day when I’m running out of time and have almost no energy.

So from now on, my email is 45 minutes in the morning and 45 minutes before I pick up Miranda from nursery. Well, that’s the plan!

And then, I will fill my day with the big things, the creative and joyful parts of my job. And I am so very grateful I can do this, because I know that so very many people can’t, and they are just doing what they can, getting by, struggling to put food on the table and keep a roof over their families heads.

And so I’ll add one last thing – gratitude. Because for me that transforms every single day and every single action.

And so I come back to the Great Commandment that I began with.

Love the Lord your God with all your heart and soul and strength, and love your neighbour as yourself.

If we begin by loving ourselves and realising how amazing we are, then we will feel huge gratitude to God for making us, and making this world, and keeping it all going. We will love and acknowledge Him with every fibre of our being. And when we realise how amazing we are – I am, You are – then we realise how amazing every single one of us is. And that – THAT – is what allows us to truly love our neighbours and seek the best for them, doing them no harm, and ideally doing a lot of good.

With peace and blessings,
Revd. Talisker

Photo by Luis Villasmil on Unsplash

The Importance of Play

Published on: Thursday October 22, 10:25 am

The fairy lights I’d put up gave her face a glow as she played.  

‘Mummy!  Will you play with me?’ she said in her sing song voice. These new words of hers rolling around in her mouth as she spoke.

She patted the floor beside her. ‘Mummy sit.  Mummy, listen.’

I sat. She lifted a book and started to read it – she has memorised the rhyming story already – and she tells it to me and to the assembled dolls, teddies and a couple of trains, all snug and comfy in her tent, as she pointed at pictures and turned the pages. 

When the story finished, she said, ‘can we draw please?’ Catching me lost in thought, watching her and realising I hadn’t heard she said again, ‘Mummy, draw. Now!’

As we drew crazy lines of colour across the page, I thought to myself – playing is relaxing, and how my deepest hope for my little bear is that she will never stop playing and being creative. No matter what age she is.

Picasso once said, “Every child is an artist. The problem is how to remain an artist once they grow up.”

I wondered – how often do we as adults play, or be creative?  When did we forget that playing and creativity was allowed, even if we do have to take life seriously?

These questions lingered with me as I read this week’s gospel passage where Jesus, being set up with a seemingly impossible question by the religious lawyers, turns everything they understood on its head as he answered.

They’d asked him what the greatest commandment was – the trick of course was that none should be more important than any other. And, Jesus sidestepping the question, cuts to the core of the 10 Commandments, condensing them to two, saying, ‘Love the Lord your God with every passion of your heart, with all the energy of your being, and with every thought that is within you. This is the great and supreme commandment. And the second is like it in importance: ‘You must love your neighbour in the same way you love yourself.’

May I offer you this thought to ponder –  ‘loving our neighbours, in the same way as we love ourselves.’ We can’t really love others if we don’t value and love ourselves. So what does it mean to love ourselves?  Part of the answer I believe is taking care of ourselves.

Of course a phrase that’s bandied about everywhere these days is ‘self-care’, and there’s no shortage of articles directing us to baths, breathing, and just being. Honestly, it can feel a bit too “woo woo” at times.  Yet at it’s very core, self-care is really following Jesus’ commandment to love ourselves, and to let our love for others flow from there. Because if we see the divine beauty and value of our own self, then we will begin to see the same in others.

One of the ways to love ourselves is to play. Not necessarily with toys, although if that is what floats your boat, go with it! Actually, the incredible creativity of Lego and models and paint is not limited to kids! For me play is to sing along with the radio, to dance, to doodle, to craft beautiful seasonal arrangements. And I confess, working out the complex arrangements for my daughter’s train track, so every junction and bridge flow together and there’s no dead-ends! 

In all these things, I abandon the need to be ‘good’ and instead I just ‘be’ in the moment and let my soul feel joy.  This week may I invite you to consider playing by doing something that brings you joy.

With peace and blessings,
Revd. Talisker

Matthew 22:34 from The Passion Translation

Photo by Senjuti Kundu on Unsplash