Wednesday, 30 September 2009

Top 10 reasons to be a Pisky!

And just to prove I have not gone all serious today: Robin Williams' "Top 10 reasons to be an Episcopalian

10. No snake handling.

9. You can believe in dinosaurs.

8. Male and female God created them; male and female we ordain them.

7. You don't have to check your brains at the door.

6. Pew aerobics.

5. Church year is color-coded.

4. Free wine on Sunday.

3. All of the pageantry - none of the guilt.

2. You don't have to know how to swim to get baptized.

And the Number One reason to be an Episcopalian:

1. No matter what you believe, there's bound to be at least one other Episcopalian who agrees with you.

Searching for Home.

Nehemiah 2:1-8

In the month of Nisan, in the twentieth year of King Artaxerxes, the wine being my concern, I took up the wine and offered it to the king. Now I had never been downcast before. So the king said, ‘Why is your face so sad? You are not sick, surely? This must be a sadness of the heart.’ A great fear came over me and I said to the king, ‘May the king live for ever! How could my face be other than sad when the city where the tombs of my ancestors are lies in ruins, and its gates have been burnt down?’ ‘What’ the king asked ‘is your request?’ I called on the God of heaven and made this reply to the king, ‘If it pleases the king, and if you are satisfied with your servant, give me leave to go to Judah, to the city of my ancestors’ tombs, and rebuild it.’ The king, with the queen sitting there beside him, said, ‘How long will your journey take, and when will you return?’ So I named a date that seemed acceptable to the king and he gave me leave to go. I spoke to the king once more, ‘If it please the king, could letters be given me for the governors of Transeuphrates to allow me to pass through to Judah? And also a letter for Asaph, keeper of the king’s park, to supply me with timber for the gates of the citadel of the Temple, for the city walls and for the house I am to occupy?’ This the king granted me, for the kindly favour of my God was with me.

Psalm 137

By the waters of Babylon we sat down and wept,
when we remembered Zion.
As for our lyres, we hung them up
on the willows that grow in that land.

For there our captors asked for a song,
our tormentors called for mirth:
‘Sing us one of the songs of Zion.’
How shall we sing the Lord’s song
in a strange land?

If I forget you, O Jerusalem,
let my right hand forget its skill.
Let my tongue cleave to the roof of my mouth
if I do not remember you,
if I set not Jerusalem above my highest joy.

Luke 9:57-62

As Jesus and his disciples travelled along they met a man on the road who said to him, ‘I will follow you wherever you go.’ Jesus answered, ‘Foxes have holes and the birds of the air have nests, but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay his head.’

Another to whom he said, ‘Follow me’, replied, ‘Let me go and bury my father first.’ But he answered, ‘Leave the dead to bury their dead; your duty is to go and spread the news of the kingdom of God.’

Another said, ‘I will follow you, sir, but first let me go and say goodbye to my people at home.’ Jesus said to him, ‘Once the hand is laid on the plough, no one who looks back is fit for the kingdom of God.’

Today's readings touch a really deep chord within me. Nehemiah's profound sense of not being at home in Babylon, far from the land of his ancestors. The Psalmist's sense of being an alien in a different culture and world view. And Jesus's disturbing, deliberate severance of his followers from the ties of community, place and family. It goes to a place in my own journey that is very uncomfortable.

At the heart of many of my "problems" in life, lies a profound sense of alienation. Never feeling I was quite a normal part of my family when growing up. Being a working class oddity in a middle class church. As an Anglo-Catholic, being a slightly extreme and exotic sub-set within the whole, with it's own language ("Mass" rather than Eucharist or Communion). Being gay in a straight world and celibate in a sexualised one. As a stipendiary priest, being called to serve for a time in a parish, never choosing to embed in a place I felt was my true spiritual home (linked to the Anglo-Catholicism) and living in tied accommodation rather than "my ain wee house". After a while, this sense of not belonging, really belonging, grinds you into a place where you feel utterly alone and isolated. (And yes, there is a wee bit of the "poor Me's" in this).

What does it mean to belong, to be at home? Choice is vital, but does anyone have total freedom of choice in life? And if we are called in baptism to be citizens of "Another Country", will that sense of being truly at home, of really belonging ,be something we will know in this life?

That sense of not belonging, of not fitting in, is one that I hear time and time again in my Tuesday night meeting. It's a sense that has contributed to dangerous and self destructive behaviour to pretend to fit in and belong. And it really does help to know that I'm not the only one who feels/has felt like this. But those who have moved and through it to a better place seem to have made it by adjusting their attitude to the world, rather than making the world fit their point of view. Re-fashioning and reforming your take on life is a massive task and very slow. So I continue to explore who I am and where I am meant to be with a sense of curiosity, as well as touches of fear. But it is rather interesting rather than totally terrifying!


Horror of horrors, I find myself agreeing largely with a Sun article.

My reaction to the news that "The Currant Bun" (as the UK's most famous comic for the news seeker is called) had come out for the Tory Party in the looming general Election was: a) so what? It's always been Tory under the surface. b) The Emperor Rupert (aka the Dirty Digger) has duly anointed the new heir to Maggot Scratcher. But its analysis of the performance of New Labour seems sadly accurate and it's basically calling time time on a tired administration. It even had the grace to salute the basic decency and integrity of the PM - a pleasant change from it's viscerally Thatcherite period being edited by that unlovely Troll, Kelvin Mackenzie.

Where I part company with the Sun is on "Vote Tory". David Cameron seems a decent enough sort and I think he is genuine in his commitment to the NHS. But the shushed Thatcherites, Euro sceptics and near Fascist morons are merely hiding within the re-vamped Nasty Party and I shudder at the thought of their return. I lived through the Miner's Strike in West Fife. Never will I trust a Tory Government. Ever. Any bets that they will quickly move to refashion broadcasting along the lines suggested by the Dirty Digger Junior at the Telly Festival earlier this autumn? A weaker Beeb and a stronger Sky. And our media becomes more like America under Murdoch's domination.

New Labour - better the devil you know? No thanks, they're tired and the country needs a change. The SNP are attractive apart from their wanting Independence. It doesn't make economic sense to me, even in Europe. The Lib Dems - my electoral home since I was 18? Kindly explain the difference between N Clegg and D Cameron and I'll think about it. Still, it's not going to be a question that needs answering today, so I'll watch this run in to the election with interest.

Tuesday, 29 September 2009

St Michael and All Angels

There have been ages of the world, in which men have thought too much of Angels, and paid them excessive honour; honoured them so perversely as to forget the supreme worship due to Almighty God. This is the sin of a dark age. But the sin of what is called an educated age, such as our own, is just the reverse: to account slightly of them, or not at all; to ascribe all we see around us, not to their agency, but to certain assumed laws of nature.

From the sermon ‘The Powers of Nature’ by John Henry Newman (1831)

If you were to ask me if I believe in angels, then I would have to give you a very qualified answer. White nightgowns and wings, no. New agey spiritual guardian stuff with fairy glitter on the pictures, certainly not! But heavenly powers not of this world...yee-es, but with a due dose of caution about those who ascribe their fate to their positive or negative intervention on a routine basis.

To me, an angel is 1st and foremost what it is in the NT: a messenger. Human in form, divine in inspiration. For most of us, our angels are very much here and now: they are people who God sends into our paths and into our lives bearing a message, be it a challenge, a warning or a gift of healing. Michael, Gabriel and Raphael often wear cloth caps or curlers..or Prada!

The Heavenly beings bit leaves me slightly iffy in that I am the product of a scientific age and education. But I take Newman's point seriously: we can veer too far from the medieval worldview to modern scepticism and miss out truths. We can put everything in life good or bad down to natural laws or assorted "ologies". In days of yore it was theology, demonology etc that were blamed or praised and today they stand discredited in the eyes of many. Today, psychology, upbringing and the impact of various traumas and stresses on the mind get given much of the same treatment. So much so, that the newest "ologies" seek to discredit them. Scientology, for example, is very sceptical about psychology and using it as a treatment for illness.

I rather tend to agree with Pope St Gregory the Great who wrote this in a sermon:

You should be aware that the word “angel” denotes a function rather than a nature. Those holy spirits of heaven have indeed always been spirits. They can only be called angels when they deliver some message. Moreover, those who deliver messages of lesser importance are called angels; and those who proclaim messages of supreme importance are called archangels. And so it was that not merely an angel but the archangel Gabriel was sent to the Virgin Mary. It was only fitting that the highest angel should come to announce the greatest of all messages.

Some angels are given proper names to denote the service they are empowered to perform. In that holy city, where perfect knowledge flows from the vision of almighty God, those who have no names may easily be known. But personal names are assigned to some, not because they could not be known without them, but rather to denote their ministry when they came among us. Thus, Michael means “Who is like God”; Gabriel is “The Strength of God”; and Raphael is “God’s Remedy.”

Whenever some act of wondrous power must be performed, Michael is sent, so that his action and his name may make it clear that no one can do what God does by his superior power. So also our ancient foe desired in his pride to be like God, saying: I will ascend into heaven; I will exalt my throne above the stars of heaven; I will be like the Most High. He will be allowed to remain in power until the end of the world when he will be destroyed in the final punishment. Then, he will fight with the archangel Michael, as we are told by John: A battle was fought with Michael the archangel.

So too Gabriel, who is called God’s strength, was sent to Mary. He came to announce the One who appeared as a humble man to quell the cosmic powers. Thus God’s strength announced the coming of the Lord of the heavenly powers, mighty in battle. Raphael means, as I have said, God’s remedy, for when he touched Tobit’s eyes in order to cure him, he banished the darkness of his blindness. Thus, since he is to heal, he is rightly called God’s remedy.

The Collect for St Micahel and All Angels:

Everlasting God,
you have ordained and constituted in a wonderful order the ministries of angels and mortals:
Mercifully grant that,
as your holy angels always serve and worship you in heaven,
so by your appointment they may help and defend us here on earth; through Jesus Christ our Lord,
who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit,
one God, for ever and ever. Amen.

Monday, 28 September 2009

On the passing of clerics.

It's rather difficult sometimes to put down your thoughts on the passing of friends and acquaintances, particularly when their passing is "clouded". After all, the clergy are expected to live blameless and worthy lives and go to their eternal rest wreathed in the odour of sanctity. And they mostly do. (Well, there once was the Rector of Stiffkey who was sacked for hanging out with prozzies and who was mauled to death by a lion in a circus act - but I digress). So here are my thoughts on two acquaintances who died in the last 7 days.

Fr John Paul had a very distinguished career in the SEC. A Wykehamist and Edinburgh graduate, he spent the early part of his career as a missionary in Mozambique with the UMCA. His time there covered the trauma of their war of liberation from Portugal and he wrote a fine memoir "Mozambique: memoirs of a Revolution" describing his experiences. His ministry in Scotland took him from well heeled Prayer Book loving tweed jackets in Castle Douglas, to seaside ministry in Portobello, to a Morayshire parish at Elgin where he also served as Dean of the Diocese. I first ran into him there in 1986 when I was part of an ecumenical mission from Christ's College Aberdeen (the Divinity Faculty) to Elgin. Some gentle ribbing was received, when my colleagues from the Kirk discovered the Rector was called John Paul and his curate Alexander Guinness. "Typical Piskies: wan thinks he's the Pope, the ither thinks he's an actor"!

JP was a lovely, gentle man and rather a gossip (but not in a malicious sort of way) who was always cheerful and supportive. He retired to East Lothian and carried out well regarded post retirement ministries at St Michael and All Saints in Edinburgh and at Haddington. His pastoral sensitivity is nicely illustrated by the story of his 1st Sunday in Elgin. UMCA clergy were never exactly Low Church but when he arrived at Elgin he inquired what sort of service they were used to. "Oh, we're very middle of the road, Rector". So he he dressed in stole and surplice and conducted the liturgy thus attired. Grumbles were heard. A senior layperson gently took him aside and said "Noo Father, ah ken they said they were middle o' the road but they're no really. Up here, middle o' the road means High Mass, nae incense!" He was well loved and will be much missed. Resquiat in Pacem.

The other death was Ian Thomson, Dean of King's College Cambridge and formerly Rector of St Mary's Carden Place Aberdeen (The Tartan Kirkie"). Ian was almost a contemporary of mine at Coates Hall (I left as he arrived) and joined the SEC after many years as a Salvation Army officer. Sadly, he appears to have taken his own life after a lengthy period under investigation for sexual offences dating back many years. I knew Ian slightly and liked him as a person and, without condoning clerical sexual misconduct, stick firmly to the line that you are innocent until PROVEN guilty. It appears that the case had been running for nearly 18 months, although the polis have not said if the case was active or currently cold. It seems strange that such a serious allegation could not be brought to conclusion more quickly (for the sakes both of the victim if guilty and the accused if innocent) and, having known others who have been thus accussed and later exonerated, I have some idea of the terrible strain that results from waiting for the results of an investigation and the toll it can exact on the persons mental health. So Ian too I commend in my prayers to the mercy and grace of our loving God.

Oddly enough, one of my predecessors at Falkirk Ivor Erskine St Clair Ramsey, went on to be Dean of King's Cambridge and died mysteriously (falling from the chapel roof). There is debate as to whether he jumped or if he slipped when out stargazing (his hobby was astronomy). Cambridge is perhaps a place Scottish clergy ought to avoid!

Sunday, 27 September 2009

On Melito of Sardis

This is for Chris who discovered this is the ancient Church Father she is most like (apparently):

Meilto, Bishop of Sardis, was a prominent ecclesiastical writer in the latter half of the second century. Few details of his life are known. A letter of Polycrates of Ephesus to Pope Victor about 194 states that "Melito the eunuch [this is interpreted "the virgin" by Rufinus in his translation of Eusebius], whose whole walk was in the Holy Spirit", was interred at Sardis, and had been one of the great authorities in the Church of Asia who held the Quartodeciman theory. His name is cited also in the "Labyrinth" of Hippolytus as one of the second-century writers who taught the duality of natures in Jesus. St. Jerome, speaking of the canon of Melito, quotes Tertullian's statement that he was esteemed a prophet by many of the faithful.

Of Melito's numerous works almost all have perished. Fortunately, Eusebius preserved the names of the majority and given a few extracts. They are :

(1) "An Apology for the Christian Faith", appealing to Marcus Aurelius to examine into the accusations against the Christians and to end the persecution (written apparently about 172 or before 177). This is a different work from the Syriac apology attributed to Melito. The latter, a vigorous confutation of idolatry and polytheism addressed to Antoninus Caesar, seems from internal evidence to be of Syrian origin, though some have identified it with Melito's Peri aletheias.

(2) Peri tou pascha, on Easter, written probably in 167-8. A fragment cited by Eusebius refers to a dispute that had broken out in Laodicea regarding Easter.

(3) Eklogai, six books of extracts from the Law and the Prophets concerning Christ and the Faith, the passage cited by Eusebius contains a canon of the Old Testament.

(4) He kleis, for a long time considered to be preserved in the "Melitonis clavis sanctae scripturae", which is now known to be an original Latin compilation of the Middle Ages.

5) Peri ensomatou theou, on the corporeity of God, of which some Syriac fragments have been preserved. It is referred to by Origen as showing Melito to have been an Anthropomorphite, the Syriac fragments, however, prove that the author held the opposite doctrine.

Fourteen additional works are cited by Eusebius. Anastasius Sinaita in his Hodegos quotes from two other writings: Eis to pathos (on the Passion), and Peri sarkoseos (on the Incarnation), probably written against the Marcionites. Routh published four scholia in Greek from a Catena on the Sacrifice of Isaac as typifying the Sacrifice of the Cross, probably taken from a corrupt version of the Eklogai. Four Syriac fragments from works on the Body and Soul, the Cross, and Faith, are apparently compositions of Melito, though often referred to Alexander of Alexandria. Many spurious writings have been attributed to Melito in addition to the "Melitonis clavis sanctae scripturae" already mentioned e.g., a "Letter to Eutrepius, "Catena in Apocalypsin", "De passione S. Joannis Evangelistae""De transitu Beatae Mariae Virginis". Melito's feast is observed on 1 April.

Oh Mrs Blethers, he could be made for you!

Saturday, 26 September 2009

The Cup of Salvation.

It being the feast of Ss Cosmas & Damian, who were doctors, here's a wee thought on healing.

Through such glorious deeds of the holy martyrs, with which the Church blossoms everywhere, we prove with our own eyes how true it is, as we have just been singing, that precious in the sight of the Lord is the death of his saints; seeing that it is precious both in our sight and in the sight of him for the sake of whose name it was undertaken. But the price of these deaths is the death of one man. How many deaths were bought with one dying man, who was the grain of wheat that would not have been multiplied if he had not died! You have heard his words when he was drawing near to our passion, that is, when he was drawing near to our redemption: Unless the grain of wheat falls into the ground and dies, it remains alone; but if it dies, it bears much fruit.

On the cross, you see, Christ transacted a grand exchange; it was there that the purse containing our price was untied; when his side was laid open by the lance of the executioner, there poured out from it the price of the whole wide world.

But from where could they give back the same kind of thing, if the one who made the first payment had not given them the means of giving something back? What shall I pay back to the Lord for all the things he has paid back to me? I will receive the cup of salvation. What is this cup? The bitter but salutary cup of suffering, the cup which the invalid would fear to touch if the doctor did not drink it first. That is what this cup is; we can recognise this cup on the lips of Christ, when he says, Father, if it can be so, let this cup pass from me.

(from a sermon by St Augustine of Hippo)

The relationship between pain, healing, wholeness and self respect is a bafflingly complex one. Pain is a problem for theology: it happens. Obviously, it is a normal and natural and sometimes healthy thing- the pain of muscles aching after vigorous exercise, toothache telling us something is wrong with a bit of our body. But we (and possibly this is a very 20th century product of medical advances and increased access to health care) tend to assume we ought to be immune from pain, be it physical or emotional. We should "feel good", it's one of our human rights. Yeah, right.

But the world view of previous centuries was just as wonky. Pain is part of the human condition, ergo is ordained of God. God the Sadist. Nope, that fails to fit either. God said women should feel pain in childbirth as punishment for their part in the Fall and all sorts of devout heidcases opposed the introduction of anesthesia in the mid 19th Century. Until ,of course, Queen Victoria let slip she'd had it whilst dropping a Royal Sprog and the thumbs up from the Supreme Governor of the C of E made it suddenly acceptable!

Pain can be good. The process of healing, be it of mind or body can be painful as bits knit together. But there is a difference between passive acceptance of pain as a judgement from God and recognising it for what it is: a natural phenomenon, sometimes the consequence of unwise or unhealthy actions, but always of itself morally neutral.

This understanding matters. It mattered terribly in the 80's and 90's when the fundies were walloping on about AIDS being God's judgements on Gays ( I always wondered what the monkeys had done to deserve getting it first). It matters for the mental health of any patient that they see illness as a phenomenon and not as a judgement. And it matters when politicos (not usually the brightest knives in the lunchbox of theological discourse) suggest that terrorists get cancer as a judgement from God. Yes, MacCaskill Minor, that's you I'm talking about! Silly boy, the Deputy 1st Minister of Northern Ireland seems horribly healthy, doesn't he? Maybe Tory Blur was right when he let Alistair Campbell say: "We don't do God"

Friday, 25 September 2009

Fathers and Heretics

I spent the early part of today in the Diocesan Office doing a little voluntary work sorting out the diocesan theological library. My teen years as a pupil librarian came back very quickly indeed, although the advent of the internet allowing access to the British Library sure beats messing about with microfiche reader! There is a certain degree of fun in spotting famous names on old books (the bulk of the collection being what's left of retirede or dead clerics libraries. One delight was an ordination present to a newbie priest signed "+ Thomas Ergadien et Sodor". That was the style adopted by Thomas Hannay, sometime Bishop of Argyll and the Isles and the only Scottish Bishop who was also a monk (well, in the 20th century anyway). He was a member of the Community of the Resurrection (the Mirfield Fathers) and had been Principal of their theological college. Those were the days! Well, aprt from the war and the rationing. And the coal fies.. well, maybe there are things to be said in favour of the modern age!

You’re St. Justin Martyr!

You have a positive and hopeful attitude toward the world. You think that nature, history, and even the pagan philosophers were often guided by God in preparation for the Advent of the Christ. You find “seeds of the Word” in unexpected places. You’re patient and willing to explain the faith to unbelievers.Find out which Church Father you are at The Way of the Fathers!

I was rather amused at this discovery! At least I'm not St Jerome! Miserable old boot! On the heresy front, I gather than the so-called Anglicans of Sydney have actually permitted deacons to "preside" at the eucharist. And why is Rowan Williams not threatening them as he is the US Church? Really, I'm almost past caring about all the silliness and have the strangest desire to nip off and venerate the bones of the Little Flower of Lisieux!

Thursday, 24 September 2009

The Feast of OLW.

I really ought to be older and wiser by now! (And if that were the case, I'd still be Rector of Falkirk!) Dinner was delicious - roast chicken stuffed with haggis (ah, the Burns Budgie!), broccoli, carrot and roast potatoes, followed by chocolate brownie cake! Bliss! But because there was wine on the table, I took refuge in Diet Coke. It's past 4am at the time of writing and the caffeine is still roaring through my system - I have got to get my fellow residents to buy Sprite!

The day was spent in Falkirk packing away books.The 15 boxes are now up to 32 and only 2 more rooms to go. 11 of those boxes are for "disposal", which means off to the diocesan office and the Theological training library. Which is in a bit of guddle. And I have been drafted in to sort it. Call it voluntary work!

Today is the Feast Day of Our Lady of Walsingham. That shrine and village has been a very special place for me in my journey. This has been the longest time since I was an ordinand since I visited there - nearly a year. Looking back over my postings, it has been a place I've written a lot about. I suppose my usual trips were curtailed by health and the need to be in and about Edinburgh for therapy. I'll ignore much of the problematic bits of the life of the Shrine and simply that the prayers and intercession of OLW have been a real source of comfort and grace to me and I am grateful for all my friends there who have prayed and lit candles over the last while.

Sunday, 20 September 2009

Hearing the message!

Working in mysterious ways is what God, according to the song, does. Oh, indeed! The last couple of sermons I have heard seem to have been cribbed from my therapists notes. Which may suggest I am currently sitting in the right Edinburgh pew! And it just happens to be my taste in Liturgy. Hmm! And the hymn during communion? "Father hear the prayer we offer". Which I had at my priesting. "Not for ease that prayer shall be, but the steep and rugged pathway" - God heard that prayer obviously!! God really does try to get through to you when you stop moving long enough to hear and see and listen.

It was good news indeed yesterday when the mighty Blue Brazil beat the evil Dungbarton 3-0 at Fabby Pies Stadium on the Clyde. Suddenly we're in 5th place! (That won't last!). So it's time to go for a wee bit of exercise and enjoy the sunshine! Pax et bonum y'all!

Thursday, 17 September 2009

The Singing Nun

Most glorious and holy God,
whose servant Hildegard, strong in the faith,
was caught up in the vision of your heavenly courts:
by the breath of your Spirit
open our eyes to glimpse your glory
and our lips to sing your praises with all the angels;
through Jesus Christ your Son our Lord,
who is alive and reigns with you,
in the unity of the Holy Spirit,
one God, now and for ever.

The packing has started. Yesterday, 15 boxes of books plus a goodly pile of coats were stowed away. And that was OK. Has to be done. In God we trust etc. Then I had a very old fashioned experience at the doctors. I went in to drop off my repeat prescription form for the wee happy pills and to book an appointment with my GP. Said GP was standing in the office phoning looked up and told the receptionist: "Don't bother with that; I'll see Mr Penman NOW." Cor! I walked into my surgery and saw my own doctor within 10 minutes. When did that last happen?. He wanted to update me on the referral on Aspergers diagnosis. He/we has been sent from community Psychiatric to psychology to Regional Autism team only to be sent back to Psychiatric. Each section said "We don't do that referral". One not terribly happy/impressed German medic! Ratty letter has been sent and we await results!

And what of Hildegard, singing nun and German feminist? "Caught up in the the breath of the Spirit": it's wonderful when that happens, when we are enthused and inspired by a vision of something greater and more lovely than grey reality. The bother is we can fall into the trap of always looking for the next vision and perennially looking out on the world saying "If only..". If only I had a man/woman, if only I had a better job, if only the Church was less homophobic/more friendly to minoriites etc, etc, etc. The Dorothy syndrome, always thinking it's blissful over the rainbow rather than back in Kansas with Aunt Em. The trick is to be visionary with your feet planted firmly on the ground rather than with the plates of meat planted firmly in the air. And boy, am I bad at that!

Which reminds me: I need some shaving cream!

Tuesday, 15 September 2009


as Your Son was raised on the cross,
His mother Mary stood by Him, sharing His sufferings.
May Your Church be united with Christ
in His suffering and death
and so come to share in His rising to new life,
where He lives and reigns with You and the Holy Spirit,
one God, for ever and ever. Amen.

Collect for the Feast of Our Lady of Sorrows.

Strange as it may seem, it really hadn't dawned on me until now that Dad died on the feast of Our Lady of Sorrows. Sharing in some way in the suffering and death of Christ brings us to Resurrection. That is anything but a comfortable concept because it involves pain. Real personal pain. I can fully understand why people suffer and reject the Christian way because they cannot reconcile a loving God with their painful experience. So why have I not taken that route?

Quite probably because I have also experienced Resurrection after times of grief. I can and have made the jump from Good Friday to Easter morning in my own life, as well as liturgically and theologically. I have seen both the darkness and the dawn. To hold the Good Friday experience alone as the reality would indeed be soul and faith destroying. Perhaps that is why Judas Iscariot went out and hung himself. He never got the Easter message, just the day of sorrow and that was simply too much for his heart and mind to bear.

A pick and mix theology that cherry picks the elements of the Christian narrative and experience that suit us/appeal to us/resonate with our limited experience is a dangerous thing. It too easily makes God in our own image and that God is not one who can bring us to fullness of life. We need the whole picture. The bits of Scripture we find awful, the aspects of the story we find dead. Because we never know when those dark or mysterious bits will burst into life and bring us wisdom and insight and comfort. The Wisdom of God is strange to human eyes, but it is still wisdom and wisdom beyond our understanding. A wisdom for the times we cannot yet know as well as for the times that have been and the now in which we live.

Sunday, 13 September 2009

Goals, pies and the Exaltation of the Cross.

A glorious Setterday, with a trip to see Ma and going to watch the Blue Brazil beat Clyde (The Bully Wee - an odd nickname!) 1-0 for our 1st win of the season. We did deserve to win, but I do wish we wouldn't doze off in the 2nd half until the last quarter hour! The catering van with its vile curry sauce and chips has gone and the new caterers at least sell "Killie pies" which are OK, but still it is the Dumbarton pies that get my vote!

Church didn't quite happen today as I stayed on to deal with late breakfasters and make sure the roast veggies were edible - but they self-immolated and I had to start again to ensure Sunday lunch wasn't mainly carnivorous.

Tomorrow is Holy Cross Day, which has been a festival I have always valued, due in no small part to my admiration of the slum priests of the ilk of Alexander Heriot MacConnachie and Charles Fuge Lowder in London, and John Comper in Aberdeen, all of whom were SSC (Societas Sanctae Crucis or Society of the Holy Cross). I was fiercely proud of my own membership of SSC and greatly regretted giving up it up because I could no longer uphold it's line on not taking communion from women priests when I went to work in Falkirk with a female NSM. However I think this quote from St Anselm is worth batting about if you observe it:

"We do not acknowledge you because of the cruelty that godless and foolish ones prepared you to effect upon the most gentle Lord, but because of the wisdom and goodness of him who of his own free will took you up".

In other words, we don't oberve this feast to celebrate an instrument of torture or to dwell on the effects of human sinfullness, but to celebrate the means of grace and the depth of the Divine Love that never stops seeking us out and rescuing us from the consecquences of our personal folly and weakness. So truly we can say:

"We adore you O Christ and we bless you.
Because by your Holy Cross you have redeemed the world"

Friday, 11 September 2009

That'll teach me to drink Pepsi!

Yes, it's late but I had 2 glasses of Pepsi Cola (which spells Episcopal BTW!) after dinner and forgot the stuff is loaded with caffeine! So I'm still up in the wee small hours!

Try this on and see how it fits:

"The purpose of Benedictine spirituality is to gather equally committed adults for a journey through earthen darkness to the dazzling light that already flames in each of us, but in a hidden place left to each of us to find" (Joan Chittister OSB).

There is so much in this. The group of adults (intentional community) can be residential or dispersed or local or all of these things. The dazzling light within can be our soul or personality or essence - call it what you will. But the hidden place? It's within our own hearts and minds to be sure, but this reminds me that community living is but part of what I'm looking for. That inner journey of discovery is something that each of us ultimately takes alone. The monos in Monastic. The religious with their cell may live in a community, but ultimately their pilgrimage is towards God and that is a lonely journey, even as part of a group. And similarly, we only discover happiness and fufillment when we within our selves feel that our light is shining in a proper and fufilling way. Dozens of others can say we are a light to them or a success but unless we have internalised a sense of fufilling a higher purpose and see that this is true in regard to our own situation where we are in the here and now, then we will not feel content or happy. The Benedictine approach is to stay in the one Abbey and find peace there, not to run around seeking grass that is greener (alledgedly!) elsewhere.

I find this discovery of truths from others thinking nicely described in a phrase I heard on Tuesday night: "borrowing wisdom". Hopefully God will let us keep it on long term loan!

Thursday, 10 September 2009

The Erection of the Holy Hut of Tollcross

Every one else being out, c'est moi who is letting the workmen in to put up the Garden Shed which is to be the Chapel at Emmaus House (aka the Holy Hut, or, if you want it described a la Sean Connery, the Schacred Sched!). Personally, I think it ought to be dedicated to St Trinian, but then I would! It will in due course be followed by the Sanctification of the HH (feast day TBA) and then will be in regular use.

Last night involved a yummy baked cheesecake for dessert which broadened my dietary experience in a pleasantly American way, plus a bouef bourginon. The herbal teabag that is boquet garni didn't end up on my plate which was a plus. Never quite a dull moment!

Wednesday, 9 September 2009

Powerful voices

Last night, over my Tuesday evening Tomato juice with the folks from the meeting, a very nice atheist put me on to a speech that he said had turned his life around by a black American woman (a former slave and pal of Abraham Lincoln's) named Sojourner Truth in the days leading up to their Civil War (not that there was anything civil about it if you ask me). I looked her speech up and I see what he means. Here's what she said to a Women's Rights conference Akron Ohio in 1851:

"Wall, chilern, whar dar is so much racket dar must be somethin' out o' kilter. I tink dat 'twixt de niggers of de Souf and de womin at de Nork, all talkin' 'bout rights, de white men will be in a fix pretty soon. But what's all dis here talkin''bout?

"Dat man ober dar say dat womin needs to be helped into carriages, and lifted ober ditches, and to hab de best place everywhar. Nobody eber helps me into carriages, or ober mud-puddles, or gibs me any best place!" And raising herself to her full height, and her voice to a pitch like rolling thunders, she asked "And a'n't I a woman? Look at me! Look at me! Look at my arm! (and she bared her right arm to the shoulder, showing her tremendous muscular power). I have ploughed, and planted, and gathered into barns, and no man could head me! And a'n't I a woman? I could work as much and eat as much as a man—when I could get it—and bear de lash a well! And a'n't I a woman? I have borne thirteen chilern, and seen 'em mos' all sold off to slavery, and when I cried out with my mother's grief, none but Jesus heard me! And a'n't I a woman?

"Den dey talks 'bout dis ting in de head; what dis dey call it?" ("Intellect," whispered some one near.) "Dat's it, honey. What's dat got to do wid womin's rights or nigger's rights? If my cup won't hold but a pint, and yourn holds a quart, wouldn't ye be mean not to let me have my little half-measure full?" And she pointed her significant finger, and sent a keen glance at the minister who had made the argument. The cheering was long and loud.

"Den dat little man in black dar, he say women can't have as much rights as men, 'cause Christ wan't a woman! Whar did your Christ come from?" Rolling thunder couldn't have stilled that crowd, as did those deep, wonderful tones, as she stood there with outstretched arms and eyes of fire. Raising her voice still louder, she repeated, "Whar did your Christ come from? From God and a woman! Man had nothin' to do wid Him." Oh, what a rebuke that was to that little man.

Turning again to another objector, she took up the defense of Mother Eve. I can not follow her through it all. It was pointed, and witty, and solemn; eliciting at almost every sentence deafening applause; and she ended by asserting: "If de fust woman God ever made was strong enough to turn de world upside down all alone, dese women togedder (and she glanced her eye over the platform) ought to be able to turn it back, and get it right side up again! And now dey is asking to do it, de men better let 'em." Long-continued cheering greeted this. "Bleeged to ye for hearin' on me, and now old Sojourner han't got nothin' more to say."

Certainly it sets off the reading from the Gospel on Sunday nicely. Who're you calling a dog Jesus? Wha daur marginalise us? Damn few, and they're a' deid! In my merrily insular British way, I hadn't heard of this fiesty lady. Wonder if this ought to be nailed to the door of the Shrine at Walsingham?

Tuesday, 8 September 2009

The Birthday of the BVM

Almighty and everlasting God,
who stooped to raise fallen humanity
through the child-bearing of blessed Mary:
grant that we, who have seen your glory
revealed in our human nature
and your love made perfect in our weakness,
may daily be renewed in your image
and conformed to the pattern of your Son,
Jesus Christ our Lord,

who is alive and reigns with you,
in the unity of the Holy Spirit,

one God, now and for ever. Amen.

A little less me, a little more God. Or perhaps not? "We who have seen...your love made perfect in our weakness". That bit of this Collect describes so powerfully my experience of the Christian life over the years. Much weakness and human frailty and failing, but also the revelation of God's love in and through very failible human beings. And in the shewing of that love (thanks Dame Julian!), there is also the revelation of the glory that is God, not through an abstract perfection but through the flawed medium of the clay of human nature.

Perhaps clay is too sanitised a term. For our human nature is bound up profoundly with our bodies. The glory that is God is in the blood and the sweat and the tears and the snot that is our physical being. And the perfection only reveals itself in the reality of human living, with its agonies and ecstasies. Bernini's Ecstasy of St Theresa, which I stood dazzled in front of in Rome on holiday some years ago, catches brilliantly the truth that it is our very physical humanity in which we experience the deepest reality of God. it is the only medium through which the Divine can touch us. To try to seperate our "holiness" or "spirituality" from our earthly being is folly and dualism to boot.

Mary reminds us that it is solely through our humanity, redeemed by Christ and sanctified by the Spirit, we can know and serve God. Every feast of the Virgin recalls us to celebrate our human-ness. And in celebrating to know God more fully.

The beginning of the end.

The meeting to discuss the farewell service went well with a immediate idea that a version of Compline "Completed" the cycle. 3 hymns, psalmody, canticle and a Franciscan bit for the leaving of Community. Somehow, a big festal Eucharist does not feel right and Eucharist said would be so anti-climatic. So the night office with its sense of completion and the promise of resurrection come the morning seems to provide a better balance.

Ruby Foster's funeral is tomorrow at Christ Church. Again, I felt my re-appearence might be a distraction to the family, so I will skip that and simply remember Ruby in prayer. Not cutting myself off fom the community of which I have been a part, but working out where and when are the right places to meet and explain and say what needs to be said. This feels so different from the Kirkcaldy experience, where I thought (in part) "Thank God that's finished". Falkirk are one of the most caring and welcoming congregations I have known and it is with a real and profound sense of regret that I move into a different future. I don't want to leave at one level, but I also know there is a need to, because parish ministry is not where I ought to be. It is a very bittersweet thing to plan this departure. But it must be done. To simply slip off would be wrong.

Monday, 7 September 2009

Memories and that.

Fun and culture were the order of the day with a trip to the end of Festival concert and fireworks in Princes Street Gardens last night. All Handel (music for the Royal Fireworks, Zadok the Priest, the Arrival of the Queen of Sheba, Hallelujah Chorus etc - very Classic FM, rather than Radio 3), it being old GF's 250th. Spectacular fireworks. And unlike 7 years ago, I didn't have a nervous breakdown while they were going off. My famous "It was like a scene from Tosca" moment according to friends. Ach well, I always did have a flair for the dramatic!

Today we meet to discuss some sort of service of farewell to give everyone at Falkirk some closure, which might feel a bit weird. We shall get there though.

Thursday, 3 September 2009

Preparing to opt out.

A blur of terribly official things just now. Assuming I will not be in employment as of 1st October, bits of paper are being gathered for the DWP, so SSP 1, sick lines and payslips are being got out, papers for the Sons of the Clergy and bits and bobs for Housing Benefit sought. Also making sure the bank account is braced for the drop in income. Funnily enough, the old brain is functioning quite crisply, which is an improvement. No panic or anxiety just a sense of doing what needs to be done. Good turn of events. I do not feel I will be overwhelmed.
And there are some supportive notes appearing from people too. One from my friendly local Monsignor, another from nice nuns. These little things do make a difference.

One or two bits of not so good news: Ruby Foster (ex-Christ Church and Cursillo) has died suddenly and that is a bit of a downer. I hope to go to the funeral, but it will be in Falkirk and it would feel very odd to be there, in office but doing nothing. Also all the questions and queries. I actually wonder if I ought to go, given that it might distract from the family and their needs. Also, Mum's old work mate's husband has died and she is finding it rather upsetting trying to be there for Jean but it's very close to Dad's anniversary, so...

Prayers I think all round.

Wednesday, 2 September 2009

The agony and the ecstasy..of ice cream.

It was fun to hear that my favourite manufacturer of ice cream, Ben and Jerry's (long gone are the days when I thought a De Vito's vanilla cone with the sweet raspberry sauce known in Glasgow as "Tally's Blood" and Horace Demarco's banana splits were the very height of iced dairy sophistication)have flown the flag for LGBT marriage. To celebrate the legalisation of same sex marriage in their native state of Vermont, they have renamed their "Chubby Hubby" "Hubby Hubby"! Most excellent idea. My only cavil is a grump that Chubby Hubby was my personal favourite flavour which they discontinued a year or two back (chocolate and malted vanilla with peanut butter filled pretzels) and I have been trying to find it ever since!! Will this wonderful decadent concoction make its way across the Atlantic again to delight my taste buds? Or will the mingy hippies keep it on the USAnian side of the water? Memo to America: send us yer ice cream!!