Thursday, 29 September 2011


I have always been a bit dubious about angels, Arch or otherwise.  That said, I seem to write something about them each year.  Why I cannot think, as apart from reciting "with angels and archangels when celebrating they really do not figure in my devotional life.  Living and departed saints, men and women who stuggled, prayed and loved inspire me rather than "spiritual creatures".  Still, acknowledgeing the existence of "heavenly powers" is never a bad thing as it reminds us that we are citizens of 2 kingdoms and our stay here is not permanent.  The painting is more inspiring to me than the theology.  "The ability to see beauty is the beginning of our moral sensibility. What we believe is beautiful we will not wantonly destroy." (Reverend Sean Parker Dennison)

Thursday, 22 September 2011

Why Rome?

I am musing (complete with a cup of rather tepid peppermint tea) as to why recently so many people of my acquaintance (some of them good and sincerely practising Anglicans)  are joining (or exploring joining) the Roman Catholic Church?  It's not a complaint, just a query.  One wasn't a surprise (Ordinariate was created and he was due to retire with his Pisky pension), one genuinely was (joined an ordinary bog standard RC parish but had been exploring a vocation to the priesthood and was female, so that's off the cards with Rome) and the other is slightly surprising (gay lapsed Presbyterian).
I think the last 2 puzzle me in the sense that both are consciously signing up to something that would require them (officially at any rate to deny a part of themselves that they up till now have seen a positively God given.  That genuinely baffles me.  I fully understand the attraction of getting Catholic worship where ever you go (even if it is done badly!) and not having to play "hunt the spike Shop" or "dodge the Evo" when going to Church.  Likewise, you can do the Catholic spirituality thing with Rosary, exposition et al without anyone batting an eyelid or having to find an Anglican Church that is into "that sort of thing".  But the denial of your God given self or vocation - why sign up to that?  Is it a price worth paying for something intangible I'm missing entirely?  I would genuinely be interested in feedback from anyone out there who has any ideas on "Why"?
I ask in an irenic rather polemic spirit.  Not least because this was today's little meditation from an online addicts support group I glance at.

"I will be willing to reposition myself today.  When I lock myself into protective, defensive or aggressive poses, I am making any negotiating impossible.  Being stubborn and clinging to my rigid position can be both dangerous and foolish.  I can take another look. I am willing to move and be moved."

I am very aware that I can lock myself into a defensive aggressive attitude towards others who change or move out of my comfort zone.  So I thought it worth taking a look through others experience.

Wednesday, 21 September 2011

St Matthew's Day

File:The Evangelist Matthew Inspired by an Angel.jpg

 (St Matthew and the Angel by Rembrandt, the Louvre, Paris)

As Jesus was walking along, he saw a man called Matthew sitting at the tax booth; and he said to him, "Follow me." And he got up and followed him. As he sat at dinner in the house, many tax collectors and sinners came and were sitting with him and his disciples. When the Pharisees saw this, they said to his disciples, "Why does your teacher eat with tax collectors and sinners?" But when he heard this, he said, "Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick. Go and learn what this means, 'I desire mercy, not sacrifice.' For I have come to call not the righteous but sinners."
Matthew 9. 9-13
If you've ever felt as if you were on the outside of the world looking in, then Matthew is the Apostle for you.  He wasn't just on the margins of his world  - he was utterly ostracised and probably faced death threats for being a collaborator with the Romans.  He was also probably terribly well heeled.  Tax collecting in those days was farmed out by the government to the private sector and was notorious for corruption.  In all probability, Levi the Tax collector was not a very nice man who would have had a bodyguard of goons and would have used violence to get money.  A legalised gangster.  Who would also have been well educated in both Aramaic and Greek. Saint Matthew is the Patron Saint of accountants, bankers, bookkeepers, stock brokers and tax collectors.  All of whom, post Lehman Bros and Fred the Shred at the RBS, are about as popular currently as he was then.  but Jesus scandalised both the unco' guid and the revolutionaries of his day by treating him as a worthwhile human being and called him into the Kingdom as an apostle and evangelist.  Thank God.  Because he can do the same with such disreputable wrecks as us if we let him.

O Almighty God,
whose blessed Son called Matthew the tax-collector
to be an apostle and evangelist:
give us grace to forsake the selfish pursuit of gain
   and the possessive love of riches
that we may follow in the way of your Son Jesus Christ,
who is alive and reigns with you,
in the unity of the Holy Spirit,
one God, now and for ever.

PS As good as Rembrandt is, I've added 3 images of St Matthew by Caravaggio to this post: a) because I love his paintings and b) I've seen the three of them in the backstreet Church of  S Luigi dei Francesi in Rome and they are truly stunning in the flesh (sic).  And this church is where Martin Luther stayed when he came to Rome for his trial -  so it's well worth popping into!

File:The Inspiration of Saint Matthew by Caravaggio.jpg

File:Michelangelo Caravaggio 047.jpg

File:Michelangelo Caravaggio 040.jpg

Saturday, 17 September 2011

The Stigmata of St Francis

Yes, I know it's not in the Roman Missile (unless you're reactionary) but today was the Feast of the Stigmata of St Francis.  Can't be bothered with a commentary at this late hour - so just enjoy the glories of Giotto and thank God for his ministry!

Friday, 16 September 2011

Yin and Yang

File:Ymyagchenie zlix serdec.jpg 

It is one of the little quirks of Marian devotion (to which I am somewhat prone ;-) ) that for every Christological festival, there is a Marian equivalent.  Yin and Yang.  Runaway piety in part, I admit, but there is a slightly more laudable theology behind it.  It was to ensure that feminine humanity was regarded as saved as well as the masculine.  This should of course, be utterly bleedin' obvious to anyone with an ounce of properly taught and understood Patristic theology.  Sadly, over the centuries, the Early Church's theologians were all too frequently used to justify the virtual opposite, with female humanity regarded as more flawed, weaker, prone to sin etc.   Today being the Feast of Our Lady of Sorrows (or St Mary at the Cross in the SSF office), it's worth going back to the High Medieval period when a theology that took Mary's femininity serious began to dominate the theological scene.  This passage from a sermon by St Bonaventure give a flavour.

"When Christ was suffering on the Cross to purify, cleanse and redeem us, the Virgin was present.  With all her heart she acquiesced to the Divine Will and accepted that the fruit of her womb be offered on the Cross as a ransom. This ransom she paid as a courageous and loving woman, filled with loving respect for God. ... The glorious Virgin paid our ransom as a courageous and loving woman filled with compassion for Christ, for the world and above all for the Christian people.  ... This may make us realise that the whole Christian people has issued from the womb of the glorious Virgin."

I personally baulk at the idea of Mary paying the ransom (my Barthian training) - it was Christ on the Cross who did that.  Mary shared in a unique and educative way in that offering.  Her example of abiding faith under soul shattering pressure is still a powerful inspiration. I'm more into the idea of her being "Mother of the Church" - Saint Ambrose of Milan (338 – 397) 1st used the idea, calling Mary Model of the Church in light of her faith, love and complete unity with Christ and Mother of the Church because she gave birth to Christ.  but at least Bonaventure spoke positively of the feminine - not perhaps what one would expect of a  13th century male Italian Franciscan Cardinal and philosopher.

Thursday, 15 September 2011

Of Art and Life

David Mach - Precious Light: a celebration of the King James Bible 1611-2011

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

"Golgotha" by David Mach (City Art Centre Edinburgh)

Let's ignore Holy Cross Day (and why not? - the Primus, the Bishop of Moray and the Dean of Edinburgh did tonight at the Electoral Synod Mass, which was in GREEN!!!!) and reflect on a little art.  There are 2 excellent exhibitions on at the moment in Embra.  The Elizabeth Blackadder show at the National Gallery on the Mound is good, with great botanical paintings and cats - her drawings from Italy are superb examples of draughtpersonship!  The Japanese stuff isn't really my scene, but the wee films on the loop about her with her own comments are delightful.  She may be a DBE and Queen Betty's painter in Scotland, but she comes over as a perfectly nice normal Edinburgh wifie (who is nonetheless a Falkirk Bairn!).  The David Mach exhibition in the City Art Centre inspired by the 400th Anniversary of the King James Bible is genuinely stunning (and I say this as someone who really doesn't like a lot of modern art).  The centre piece "Golgotha" is a stunning giant crucifixion made out of wire coat hangers and army surplus tank traps.  The powerful "Die Harder" which was 1st shown in Gloucester Cathedral is very powerful too.  T'is a pity such talent hails from Methil (wee local intra-Fife dig there!) but it is well worth the seeing before it closes on 16th October.  And the Fish Pie in the Cafe was very good indeed!

On the life front Rachel and I were haunting these exhibitions and wander the streets when we spotted the Jungle sculptures currently littering the streets of this nations capital.  Wee versions were on sale in Harvey Nicks, so for the 1st time in my life I entered that Temple of over-priced self indulgence to look at them.  Aye, we might buy one in due course, but I left reflecting how old fogey I am, as I infinitely prefer Jenner's in Edinburgh (well, they lost the tea room but at least replaced it Valvona and Crolla - the baked cheesecake is superb) and Fortnum and Mason's in London for over priced self indulgence (F&M's Welsh Rarebit is to die for)!  Rachel also recommends Liberty's in London!  (Harrods is a tad under classy under Al Fayed IMHO!)

As to the Synod - all hush-hush, but we ain't got any candidates at this stage so that's all it can be!

Sunday, 11 September 2011

Praying the Day

File:Ingres the virgin of the host.jpg

One of the funny things about blogging is that sometimes when there's a lot on, your creative muse goes AWOL.  Friday for example.  it was a praying day. Woke up early and joined the Rector for mattins.  I recall how utterly dispiriting it was to try to maintain a daily office in Church on your own, so decided to try to be a wee bit supportive.  I'd forgotten how  insipid the Scottish 1990 Office is and I'm glad we are more or less Franciscan in Da Hoose!  Which we then used after breakfast for the guests in the House.  No clash of readings - ye Rector uses the SEC Office one's and we use the Missal for the day.  In a way, one was the Prayer of the Church, the other the Prayer of the Community.  Or the Prayer of the Wider Community and the Prayer of the Gathered Church if you like.

Then I used the Rosary on the train to Falkirk to commend an ex-Parishioner to God as I headed to her funeral.  I don't often pray the actual mysteries, but I seem to keep a rosary in my jacket pocket.  often I just fiddle with a bead or 2 during the day.  It's just a reminder that the Incarnate One is with us in the place where we are.  I know others use a holding Cross but I find the beads a little less obtrusive.

Jinty's funeral was a good and very appropriate send off and so crowded that I ended up standing behind the altar!  Just like old times apart there being another 20 folk in the sanctuary.  (There were between 250 and 300 in a 150 seat Church!) I went back simply because Jinty played a vital role in rescuing me when I went boing.  She was the one who saved me from a night in the cells at the crash point (aka my last drunk) on Friday 13th March 2009.  We had also shared a 2 week trip to Uganda back in 2006.  So part of me turned up at a service in Falkirk to say "Thanks. And this is what I've done with my life since then.  Sober, useful job and engaged!".  I think I could hear a "Good boy!  Well done!" over the ether from her.  I occasionally got that from her when she was Vestry Secretary!

After that and the socialising, I crashed back into Church for the Evening Office form the Prayer Book.  Old sonorous familiar words have their place and value in prayer along side the contemporary and your own words.  And then the day ended with Franciscan Compline with the community.  Praying through the days is something I try to do (often rather fitfully).  The best I can do often is Sir Jacob Astley's Prayer before the Battle of Edgehill: "O Lord, thou knowest how busy I must be this day: if I forget thee,do not thou forget me".  Which is quite a handy wee prayer!

Saturday, 3 September 2011

Deaconing and all that.


It's a funny thing, but most of my recent liturgical appearances have been as a deacon, rather than as a priest.  given the small number of SEC churches that have the staff or liturgical tradition of having a liturgical deacon, this is a bit of a surprise.  2 Sunday's in August at St Salvador's Dundee (wore a biretta and sang the Gospel), today in Holy Trinity Melrose (deacon of the Gospel, rather than deacon of the Mass (??) - the Rector deaconed apart from me singing the Gospel) and then on the 18th, deacon and preach at St Michael & All Saints.

I don't mind it at all.  In fact, much as I looked for to being ordained priest back in 1994, I remember at the time feeling a twinge of regret at losing the distinctive diaconal liturgical ministry.  I enjoyed reading the Gospel, preaching and leading the intercessions.  And then preparing the altar.  It was an enabling rather than a doing ministry in a way and we often get lost in the priestly ministry in the importance of doing and leading, rather than facilitating and enabling and allowing other's ministries to flourish. I like the diversity of  Wikipedia's list of prominent Deacons: Saint Stephen, the first Christian martyr (stoned) ; St Philip the Evangelist, whose baptism of the Ethiopian eunuch is recounted in Acts 8:26-40 and who could be considered to be the founder of the Coptic Orthodox Church; Saint Lawrence, an early Roman martyr (he of the Gridiron); Saint Vincent of Saragossa,  1st martyr of Spain; Saint Francis of Assisi, founder of the Franciscans (should been on meds, but I like him really!); Saint Ephrem the Syrian and Saint Romanos the Melodist, a prominent early hymn writer. Prominent historical figures who played major roles as deacons and went on to higher office include Saint Athanasius of Alexandria (who didn't write the Creed, but hey!), Thomas Becket (bumped off in Canterbury) and Reginald Pole (Cardinal and last RC Abp of Canterbury).  Quite a colourful and talented crew! So for all deacons I offer this slightly adapted prayer:

Eternal God,
you call Deacons to proclaim your glory
in a life of prayer and pastoral zeal:
keep the servants of your Church faithful
and bless your people through their ministry,
that the Church may grow into the full stature
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

St Gregory the Great

File:Tomb of pope Gregorius I.jpg

 The tomb of St Gregory in St Peter's Basilica Rome.

John Calvin admired Gregory and declared in his Institutes that Gregory was the last good pope.I fear old JC was a trifle harsh in his judgements, but Gregory deserves to remembered with some affection by any good Anglican: a) because he sent St Augustine to Canterbury b) he wrote his great Rule to guide bishops (part one is good on spiritual direction for anyone in that trade) c) He wrote an early Life of St Benedict in his Dialogues.  He also wrote this (as recorded by the Venomous Bede)

Non enim pro locis res, sed pro bonis rebus loca amanda sunt – "Things are not to be loved for the sake of a place, but places are to be loved for the sake of their good things." When St Augustine asked him whether to use Roman or Gallican liturgical customs in England, Gregory was suggesting that it was not the place that imparted sanctity but good things that sanctified the place, and it was most important to please God. They should pick out what was "pia", "religiosa" and "recta" from any church and use that as best practice in England.  Well in the bits of those southern kingdoms that weren't following Scoto-Irish customs at any rate!

Merciful Father,
who chose your bishop Gregory
to be a servant of the servants of God:
grant that, like him, we may ever long to serve you
by proclaiming your gospel to the nations,
and may ever rejoice to sing your praises;
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.  AMEN