Saturday, 31 March 2012

And can it be?


Charles Wesley preaching.
Psalm 42 is a psalm to which I often return.  It speaks to me  (or more accurately for me).  Certainly it struck me as a fair reflection of my feelings whilst on retreat at the beginning of Lent.

"My tears have been my meat day and night
 while they daily say unto me, Where is now thy God?
Now when I think thereupon, I pour out my heart by myself
for I went with the multitude, and brought them forth into the house of God;
In the voice of praise and thanksgiving
among such as keep holy-day.
Why art thou so full of heaviness, O my soul
and why art thou so disquieted within me?
Put thy trust in God
 for I will yet give him thanks for the help of his countenance."
Ps 42:3-7

 I still have a huge "difficulty" in truly believing and accepting that God is actually willing and able to do things for me because I am, in God's view "worth it".  To me, it's all still about hauling myself up and doing the work myself.  I can preach grace and administer grace but I struggle to accept grace.  Which is why this hymn by Charles Wesley matters to me.

And can it be, that I should gain
An interest in the Saviour's blood?
Died He for me, who caused His pain
For me, who Him to death pursued?
Amazing love! how can it be
That Thou, my God, shoulds't die for me?

'Tis mystery all! The Immortal dies:
Who can explore His strange design?
In vain the first-born seraph tries
To sound the depths of love divine.
'Tis mercy all! let earth adore,
Let angel minds inquire no more.

He left His Father's throne above,
So free, so infinite His grace,
Emptied Himself of all but love,
And bled for Adam's helpless race:
'Tis mercy all, immense and free;
For, O my God, it found out me!

Long my imprisoned spirit lay
Fast bound in sin and nature's night;
Thine eye diffused a quickening ray,
I woke, the dungeon flamed with light;
My chains fell off, my heart was free,
I rose, went forth and followed Thee.

No condemnation now I dread;
Jesus, and all in Him, is mine!
Alive in Him, my living Head,
And clothed in righteousness divine,
Bold I approach the eternal throne,
And claim the crown, through Christ my own.

Imprisoned Spirit? Yep, got one.  Bound in nature's  night - oh yes, my inner fear and frailty assures that.  But through the grace of God prayer and sacrament I get just enough experience of being set free to move on a bit.  Like alcohol, the darkness can jump out and tempt me from time to time and a sense of despair can kick in.  And grace can boot it into touch for a bit.  Maybe I just need to seek grace more often.  Then again, don't we all?  Maybe this Holy Week I'll try to see the grace on offer and not just the gloom.

Friday, 30 March 2012

Keble and keeping it in the day.

Yesterday the Anglican Communion (except for the C of E who keep his feast on the anniversary of his famous Assize Sermon on National Apostasy in July) remembered John Keble. Pardon the non-inclusive language, but these quotes from the great man struck me as useful in a time when there is much political & religious turbulence (like the Anglican Covenant (or Dead Parrot) & the re-election of George Galloway (aka the Mouth of the Tay) to the High Court of Parliament at this time assembled!).

"After all, the surest way to uphold or restore our endangered Church, will be for each of her anxious children, in his own place and station, to resign himself more thoroughly to his God and Saviour in those duties, public and private, which are not immediately affected by the emergencies of the moment: the daily and hourly duties, I mean, of piety, purity, charity, justice. It will be a consolation understood by every thoughtful Churchman, that let his occupation be, apparently, never so remote from such great interests, it is in his power, by doing all as a Christian, to credit and advance the cause he has most at heart; and what is more, to draw down God's blessing upon it."

"As to those who, either by station or temper, feel themselves most deeply interested, they cannot be too careful in reminding themselves, that one chief danger, in times of change and excitement, arises from their tendency to engross the whole mind. Public concerns, ecclesiastical or civil, will prove indeed ruinous to those, who permit them to occupy all their care and thoughts, neglecting or undervaluing ordinary duties, more especially those of a devotional kind."

The first passage suggests to me a flavour of Step 3 in the 12 Steps: " to turn our will and our lives over to the care of God as we understood him".  And also of that AA slogan "Keep it in the Day".  We are great at distracting ourselves from the actual practise on a daily basis of the faith we profess in our personal and life and locale by getting worked up about big causes and campaigns.  I'm all for those - but unless it is matched by piety and purity, then those of us who would call ourselves 'liberal minded' Christians can find ourselves dismissed as lacking in faith if all we seem to do is talk about charity and justice.  Equally, we need to be careful to show charity to those we disagree with in thought, word and blog!  Even George Galloway!

The second passage is equally pertinent.  We can become obsessive with our pet religious or political hobby horses - LGBT rights, abortion etc, etc, etcBut that can mess up our personal lives and our prayer life if it is not held in a healthy balance with prayer and ordinary life.  The genius of classical Anglicanism was/is it's distrust of unbalanced living and dangerous obsessive enthusiasm.  Maybe it recognises than more people have addictive personalities than admit it!

Father of the eternal Word,
in whose encompassing love
all things in peace and order move:
grant that, as your servant John Keble

adored you in all creation,
so we may have a humble heart of love
for the mysteries of your Church
and know your love to be new every morning,
in 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

Monday, 26 March 2012

The Feast of the Annunciation

File:Paolo de Matteis - The Annunciation.jpg
 (The Annunciation by Paolo de Matteis 1712, St Louis Art Museum)

This is today's thought from the World Community for Christian Meditation:

"She (Mary) was ‘deeply disturbed’ by the angelic message and could not understand the meaning of what was happening to her. We long for something to happen, for God to appear to us, for reality to flower in our lives of expectation and frustration. And when it does we can hardly recognise it and wonder what it really means. There are no final answers and the desire for God, for the everything we need, can never satisfied. We cannot equal the gift. That is why humility is wisdom.

All we can do is give up own point of view and learn to see everything from the perspective of the giver. But then we feel as if we are being annihilated. The ego begins to campaign for its rights. So we try to let God be the true centre while retaining a bolthole for our own self-centredness. The absurdity of this and the frustration it involves may take a long time to become evident.

Mary struggled and yielded her perspective as every loving parent, every loving person knows they are called to do. Her fiat, let it be done to me as you have said, was simultaneously a defeat and a victory, a collapse and a breakthrough, a death and the beginning of a new birth beyond the cycle of death and rebirth.

Our mantra is our fiat. Let it be."

Being deeply disturbed by God is an experience we share with Mary.  That sense of confusion at where and how we are being called to be, is part and parcel of the Christian vocation.  But self-surrender is no easy option - our ego sees to that.  For me, the "Yes" that Mary uttered must have been preceded by an experience like that of  the Patriarch Jacob wrestling with that angel!

File:Jacob Wrestling with the Angel.jpg

 (Jacob wrestling with the Angel, Gustav Dore)
Today is the beginning of our salvation,
And the revelation of the eternal mystery!
The Son of God becomes the Son of the Virgin
As Gabriel announces the coming of Grace.
Together with him let us cry to the Theotokos:
"Rejoice, O Full of Grace, the Lord is with you!"
(Orthodox Troparion of the Annunciation, attributed to St Athanasius)

Friday, 23 March 2012

Planning D-Day.

File:St marys music school.jpg
Edinburgh Theolgical College (Coates Hall)

Ripon College Cuddesdon
Cuddesdon Theological College

File:Westcott House quad, Cambridge.jpg
Westcott House Cambridge

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 Cranmer Hall Durham

I was on the wrong side of the Rector's desk today.  Or rather, on the side of it I'm new to.  Rachel and I met with Bishop Brian to plan the wedding liturgy!!!  Largely he was happy with what we had proposed but we fine tuned the tricky logistics of Registration, prayers of Intercession, the  Peace and the Blessing of the Newlyweds.  It is basically a Scottish Marriage Liturgy 2007 with Eucharist but it had to be tinkered with (like adding a confession and not trying to bless us between the end of the Canon of the Mass and the Fraction -which utterly scrambles the flow of the liturgy).  It was fun though!  The combined liturgical talents of Coates Hall, Westcott House, Cuddesdon and Cramner Hall Durham working out the running order made quite a team!

I have just taken possesion of Richard Holloway's memoir "Leaving Alexandria" and a book on 12 Step Spirituality by Richard Rohr.   So my night time reading on sleepovers is sorted for a bit.  I'll let you know how I find them.

Monday, 19 March 2012

St Joseph's day


Feeling slightly Lionel Blue-ish today, so instead of piety, pastry!  Wish I thought about having one of these today! A zeppola is an Italian  St. Joseph's Day cake.  These are a kind of doughnut and  are usually topped with powdered sugar. They can be filled with custard, jelly, pastry cream or a butter-and-honey mixture.  Zeppole are traditionally eaten on La Festa di San Giuseppe. In Rome, Naples and Sicily and Malta, these little pastries are sold on many streets and are sometimes gifts on this day. They are also common in Italian-American communities in the United States.

File:Billafingen Pfarrkriche Seitenaltar.jpg

Actually the Memorare of St Joseph seems a good way to remember the step-Father of the Redeemer.

Remember, O most pure spouse of the Blessed Virgin Mary,
my sweet protector St. Joseph
that no one ever had recourse to thy protection
or implored thy aid without obtaining relief.
Confiding therefore in thy goodness,
I come before thee, and humbly supplicate thee.
Oh, despise not my petitions,
foster-father of the Redeemer,
but graciously receive them.

Saturday, 17 March 2012


File:Edinburgh Jenners01.jpg 

The Grand Hall, Jenners Department Store, Princes Street, Edinburgh.

Right! Time for something upbeat.  I spent 5 1/2 hours in Jenner's today with the memsahib putting together the dreaded Wedding List!!  It means the time is drawing near!  And I actually didn't get grumpy or narky - I suppose the fact that a) it's not our money that will be spent & b) we both hate that kind of shopping made it bearable!  We did stop for soup and a donut in the Restaurant (not a patch on the old Jenner's tea room of blessed memory but more reasonable than the Valvona and Crolla Caff next door) and didn't have any falling out over items.  I am learning the use of the tactical response of "Oh, aye!" in these situations:-).

Friday, 16 March 2012

Sad news

It had to happen sometime I suppose.  I ask your prayers for an old friend of mine from Uni days who I discover has just died recently.  Sadly, he went on a bender and didn't come round.  RIP G: and that indeed but for the grace of God could have been me.

Tuesday, 13 March 2012

Trusting in the Higher Power.

An appropriate theme I suspect, given that today is my 3rd AA birthday.  I'm just glad still to be here and not in a grave and glad to be sober.  I had a good meeting at my home group tonight and came across this prayer that some might say sums up what it means to trust in your Higher Power:

“Lord, give me the strength to greet the coming day in peace. 
Help me in all things to rely on your holy will. 
Reveal your will to me every hour of the day. 
Bless my dealings with all people. 
Teach me to treat all people who come to me throughout the day
with peace of soul and with firm conviction 
that your will governs all. 
In all my deeds and words guide my thoughts and feelings. 
In unexpected events, let me not forget that all are sent by you. 
Teach me to act firmly and wisely, 
without embittering and embarrassing others. 
Give me the physical strength to bear the labours of this day. 
Direct my will, teach me to pray, 
and you yourself, pray in me. Amen.”   
Metropolitan Philaret of Moscow

Monday, 12 March 2012

Racism and Football.

Andrew Watson

It's amazing the things you discover.  Racism in British football is often commented on.  But it wasn't always a problem in Scottish football.  The man above, Andrew Watson (1857– 1902) was the first black footballer in the world to play as an internationalist. He won 3 Scotland  (Yaay!  Inclusive Scotia rools!) caps between 1881 & 1882. He played as a full back.

Born in what was then British Guyana (they've dropped the British bit since becoming independent), he was the son of a wealthy Scottish sugar planter and a British Guyanese woman. He went to King's College School, Wimbledon, where he excelled at sports and went on to study natural philosophy (physics), mathematics and engineering at the University of Glasgow.

In 1876 he signed for Glasgow side Parkgrove F.C., also serving as match secretary, (which made him the first black administrator in football history). In 1880, he played in a All Glasgow team against Sheffield - the Weegies won 1–0! After marrying in Glasgow, he soon signed for Queen's Park F.C. – then Britain's biggest football team (oh, how the mighty Spiders have fallen!) and later became their secretary. He led them to several Scottish Cup wins, becoming the first black player to win a major competition.  In 1882, he was the first black player to play in the English Cup when he turned out for Swifts F.C.  In 1884 he was the first "foreign" player to be invited to join the most exclusive football team of the day (only 50 members) - Corinthians. During his time with them, he was part of the team that beat Blackburn Rovers 8 - 1 ( then the English Cup holders).

His skin colour did not matter to his contemporaries, and there is no record of institutional racism from the  Scottish Football Association. One match report was more interested in his brown boots (black boots were usual then).  Minutes record that, before one match where he was injured and couldn't play, an SFA vice-president said if Watson had been fit he would have happily drugged another Scottish international to give Watson his place. Watson won 3 caps for Scotland. the 1st Scotland v. England 12 March 1881, where he was Captain and we won 6 – 1(!!!).  A few days later Scotland played Wales and won 5 – 1. Watson's last cap was against England on 11 March 1882. This was another 5 – 1 victory for Scotland. In November 1877 he married Jessie Nimmo Armour - their son, Rupert, was born the nextyear and a daughter, Agnes Maude, in 1880. Watson later emigrated to Australia and died in Sydney in 1902.

it's heartening to think that Scottish football once upon a time showed higher ideals that the neds and money culture of the Old Firm.  Maybe it can again.

Friday, 9 March 2012

What's that then Ted?

I liked this image:

for obvious reasons!  I'm currently having the slightly surreal experience of being consulted by the memsahib on wine for the wedding reception (with my history I am virtually an expert on cheap good plonk!).  Which has left me a bit confused.  I seem to actually have trained my brain NOT to think about booze these days, so it's a very strange sensation indeed to be planning a major bevvy buy of which I will drink zero.  However, I feel no compulsion to actually go and drink, so that's OK.

Today is the feast in some Calendars of one of my favourites, Gregory of Nyssa.  His theology is interesting and not uncontroversial!  Gregory was one of the first theologians to argue, in opposition to Origen, that God is infinite. His main argument for God's infinity is found in Against Eunomius, that God's goodness is limitless, and as God's goodness is of his very essence and nature, God is therefore also limitless.  A major follow on from this is that the limitless God is basically beyond the comprehension of the limited minds of human beings. His theology was "apophatic": God is defined in terms of what we know God's NOT like, rather than what we think the Divine Persons might be like.

Gregory taught that since God is infinite, we can never reach a full understanding of God, and so in both life and thereafter, there is a constant progression [ἐπέκτασις] towards the unreachable knowledge of God, as the individual continually transcends all the knowledge and experience they have previously had. In his Life of Moses, Gregory speaks of three stages of this spiritual growth: initial darkness of ignorance, then spiritual illumination, and finally a darkness of the mind in mystic contemplation of the God who cannot be comprehended.

Gregory also believed in universal salvation or resurrection. (Shock, horror!) In his Life of Moses, he wrote that just as the darkness left the Egyptians after three days, perhaps redemption [ἀποκατάστασις] will be extended to those suffering in hell. Thus salvation may not only extend to humans; a la  Origen, there are passages where he seems to suggest that even demons will have a place in Christ's "world of goodness". Gregory's interpretations of 1 Corinthians 15:28 ("And when all things shall be subdued unto him ...") and Philippians 2:10 ("That at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, of things in heaven, and things in earth, and things under the earth") support this understanding of his theology.  However, in the Great Catechism, he suggests that while every human will be resurrected, salvation will only be for the baptised. While he believes that there will be no more evil in the hereafter, this does not rule out God might justly damn sinners for eternity. The main difference between Gregory's conception of ἀποκατάστασις and Origen's would be Gregory believing that the human race will collectively return to sinlessness and Origen holding that personal salvation will be universal.  In other words, his take is a slightly skewiff orthodoxy that appeals to my Anglican craziness!

St. Gregory of Nyssa jaw bone, 4th century, Visoki Decani Monasetry, Serbia

St. Gregory of Nyssa jaw bone, 4th century, Visoki Decani Monastery, Serbia

Inspired by his example and aided by his prayers,  let us pray:

Lord of eternity, creator of all things,
in your Son Jesus Christ you open for us the way to resurrection
that we may enjoy your bountiful goodness:
may we who celebrate your servant Gregory press onwards in faith to your boundless love
and ever wonder at the miracle of your presence among us;
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.

Monday, 5 March 2012

A Right Rammy.

Catholic leader Cardinal Keith O'Brien clashes with David Cameron on same-sex marriage plans
 Cardinal Keith O'Brien.

I am not inclined to jump into an ongoing public stooshie too often, but it strikes me that my local RC Heirach has gone off rather loudly in public on the subject of Same Sex Marriage. See for further details  My objections are not to his saying what he said - after all, it's a free country and he is an RC Archbishop, so was scarcely likely to give it anything like a ringing endorsement, as that isn't the line RC theology or ethics take.  No, it's more that I find his allegory with the re-introduction of slavery singularly inappropriate - the proposal is to give freedom to LGBT people to wed their best beloveds, not to deprive those who want to marry a person of the other gender of their freedom to marry.  I also find his intemperate language frankly offensive.  But it seems odd to me that this is the same Archbishop who back in 2000 appointed an RC chaplain to the Scotland 2000 Conference on Christianity and LGBT issues and sent a fairly supportive message to encourage it's dialogue.  I seem to recall that I was on the the steering committee at the time!  Either he's radically changed his mind through some spiritual or intellectual epiphany or reflection (which could perhaps say in public - closer contact with Pope Benedict and his thinking might have had this effect) or that Red Hat he got has  radically changed his sense of what it is to be a Bishop of the RC Church and made him more Ultramontane in his pronouncements than in days of yore.  Archbishop Nichols in Westminster seems to be rather more efficient at communicating the Party Line without gratuitously offending a heck of a lot of people.  As this shows  Mind you, the comments column suggest there are a fair pochle of bigoted and viciously homophobic RC laity and clergy who read the Catholic herald.  Is it the Daily Mail for the Pope's 1st XI?

A spiritual Spring clean.

Here's an apposite quote from that old pagan Horace for anyone thinking about going (or not going to confession) during Lent this year: "Why do you hasten to remove anything which hurts your eye, while if something affects your soul you postpone the cure until next year?"

Thanks Quintus Horatius Flaccus - time to get on with it methinks.