Beauty in Creation

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On retreat a few weeks ago, in preparation for ordination as priest, I found huge comfort in the birdsong chorus right outside my window each morning – there were about 15 birds, all in a line, singing beautiful songs of love and joy.

You make springs gush forth in the valleys;
they flow between the hills,
giving drink to every wild animal;
the wild asses quench their thirst.
By the streams the birds of the air have their habitation;
they sing among the branches.
From your lofty abode you water the mountains;
the earth is satisfied with the fruit of your work.
Psalm 104:10-13

I saw both their presence, and song, as a gentle reminder that God is here, God has everything in hand, God provides and, most of all, there is nothing we need to do or face without God – God has always got us!

The Bread of Love

Bread and jam or daily bread? 
Bread winner or maker? 
Bread of life or of love? 
Bread with raise or 
that which draws gaze? 
Bread of diversity: 
naan, chapattis, pita, 
flat bread, baguette, 
garlic bread and pizza….
It is kneaded – it grows, 
it feeds, it permeates
The bread of love

The body of Christ
broken for you
to preserve body and soul

Bread draws the world
in a never-ending meal.
Never just for bread, 
but something more real!
People gather near bread,
bread of life, of heaven – 
bread of love!
Manna given by God 
nourishes heart and soul
in the house of God,
not where we gaze at God,
but where God gazes on us!

The body of Christ
broken for you
for everlasting life

Bread because Jesus said
this is my body…
and so the ritual began.
Like the Emmaus journey;
disciples full of lament
met the risen Jesus
in broken bread.
It was the way he did it:
he took it, blessed it, broke it
and gave it to them…
the bread of love revealed!

The body of Christ
broken for you
to eat and remember

“Our hearts burned within!”
This bread of love,
more than bread,
more than being fed.
A nourishment stretching
to all of your being….
Take-bless-break-give
Jesus’ ‘real presence’
God-with-us now
in the gaze of the
self-giving Jesus
in the bread of love.

The body of Christ
broken for you
feed your heart with thanksgiving

It feels like acceptance,
true appreciation
of things said or done –
like a warm glow
but so much more!
Why then keep it,
or build barriers
around God’s table?
Protect the bread of love!
LGBT, disabled, disfigured,
marginalised people –
Step away from the bread!

The body of Christ
broken for you
that you may have faith

No – this banquet is holy,
utter inclusivity a necessity,
Jesus, offered for all!
This bread of love
transforms with a taste;
a meeting of souls.
As Meister Eckhart said,
‘your eyes which see God
are the same eyes through
which God first saw you.’
Great is the bread of love,
the mystery of faith!

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Images of Work

If you had to find an image for the work you do – whatever it is that preoccupies most of your time – what would it be?

This is mine:

Sometimes ministry can feel quite lonely so the lone dandelion represents it well. There are a number of other dandelions around, but actually I am often slightly separate from everyone else – you can really stand out in a clergy collar and people react in a variety of ways; I have had some crossing the street to avoid getting too close! There is something wonderful about what I do though, and about being a little on the periphery. Whilst it can be slightly lonely at times, it can also be a real privilege to be alongside people at the happiest and most difficult times of their lives. That is represented in this photograph by the light and vibrant green in the foreground and the darkness looming in the background.

How about you?

The Agony

I love this poem, and have been dwelling in it as I ponder what it might mean to be a priest…

Philosophers have measured mountains,
Fathom’d the depths of seas, of states, and kings,
Walk’d with a staff to heaven, and traced fountains
But there are two vast, spacious things,
The which to measure it doth more behove:
Yet few there are that sound them; Sin and Love.

Who would know sin, let him repair
Unto Mount Olivet; there shall he see
A man, so wrung with pains, that all his hair,
His skin, his garments, bloody be.
Sin is that Press and Vice, which forceth pain
To hunt his cruel food through every vein.

Who knows not Love, let him assay,
And taste that juice, which on the cross a pike
Did set again abroach; then let him say
If ever he did taste the like.

Love is that liquor sweet and most divine,
Which my God feels as blood; but I, as wine.

George Herbert

Uniqueness of creation…

Signs of spring, and even the heat of summer, have been with us for the last few weeks now. I remembered walking in winter amongst sleeping trees and seemingly dead and gone plants, thinking about the life cycle. It is amazing therefore to walk amongst new life at this time of year and see beautiful bursts of colour and a flourishing of our natural creation.

It’s a beautiful reminder that we are not in control…

That the rich diversity of our natural world reflects something of the character of God…

Beauty is present in many different forms and in the most unexpected places…

God who creates such diversity must surely value difference and individuality…we are all uniquely made!

Why then do we insist on a fixed understanding of beauty?

Why are we so intent to convince others that there is only one way to see things, only one way to make sense of life?

Beauty depends not on the subject, but the seers being prepared to look and really notice; or glimpse the glory of God in something or someone – it’s always there, we just have to take time! Each will see something slightly different, and that diversity of seeing is also part of the glory of God! The only challenge is to embrace it, and to be open to the uniqueness of creation.

The Encounter

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Above the beauty and bustle of the valley
An expanse of heather filled space awaited.
The beautifully radiant blue sky was fresh,
Fragrant with the scent of the morning.
A light wind wound its way towards me –
It caressed my face urging me ahead.
Every step gave way to astonishing awe,
Wonderment grew within…my heart raced;
A mixture of excitement and delight
At all that my eyes were able to take in.

From the edge I heard only the wind.
Stronger now it whistled around my being
Awakening, sharpening my senses.
A man standing some way to my left,
His gaze undoubtedly directed at me,
Drew my attention momentarily. I looked
In that way which we often try to look,
Without looking like we are looking.
His was staring intently, still unmoved,
Yet I walked towards him…as if being drawn.

Close enough to speak, uttering silently,
His eyes remained thoughtfully on mine.
Reading me, delving right into my core,
Like one would an old abandoned book
Beginning to read on the page it fell open at –
It’s like he knows me…like I know him,
Even though I have never seen him before?
He had familiarity in his beautiful radiance,
His face attracted attention, necessitated it –
Its depth of wisdom brought a perfect peace.

His eyes were infinite dark ink pools with
Potential and understanding illuminating.
Pure kindness and laughter lines surrounded,
Softened, magnitude emanating, without threat.
His smooth olive skin blushed by the wind
Was accented by a beard outlining his jawline.
Wavy almost black hair blown about his face
Failed to distract from his present occupation: me!
An unusual encounter avoidable with a sharp turn –
Why, oh why, would I even contemplate that?

Unable to move, unaware of life around me,
Why do I not want this moment to end…ever?
It’s like I have been noticed, no not noticed…
Not merely seen for a spilt second!
Truly encountered and profoundly known.
Such knowing continues as I remain unable,
No unwilling, to move. Silent for if I dare
This moment will be gone, over, lost….
Oh that for once bringing ruin would fail me,
That clumsiness in word and deed would absent.

There is something about this moment
Which tells me none of that matters.
It is insignificantly significant in that
It is relevant because it is about who I am
But it is also irrelevant. It does not change now.
It will not stop it or move it in a direction
Other than the one already intended, and yet
It happens due to the insignificantly significant;
Because of who I am utterly and completely.
So many feelings washing over me right now….

I am known from the deepest part of me
Right to the crumb of toast which has rested
In the corner of my mouth since breakfast!
Every single memory is part of that knowing
Those I love and those I would care to forget
Even those that I have sought to push out –
Guilt and shame can overpower and overwhelm –
But they are there also and they are known.
That is undoubtedly good, perfect and right.
Fear, insignificance and inferiority melt away….

I am liberated floating over the artistry of the valley,
Then quite suddenly, with the blinking of an eye,
His or mine…this moment passes. Freedom
Begins to fade, fear and insignificance pervade.
Perhaps slightly less consuming…the man
Has moved. I turn around slowly yet he is nowhere.
Nowhere amongst the vast expanse of heather.
Did he disappear, was he ever here? My heart knows
He was and is and ever shall be…transformed
I yearn for this again as I realise that this is prayer.

God as…

…Mother, providing for the needs of her young…

…Rock or solid ground on which to depend…

…A glimpse of light amongst a sea of shadows.

What images would you use to describe God?

The Idol of Time

Throughout Lent, and even in the last few weeks of Eastertide, I have been struck by the number of things that I have not had time to do…or go to, or take part in, or even think about. Ministry for me has become one of presence, of noticing, and listening where the rest of the world continues to pass by in the frantic rush which we have all become accustomed to. What has concerned me over the last few days, perhaps weeks if I am truly honest, is how little I have been able to inhabit that ministry of presence, noticing or listening, because I have been too busy. This was made abundantly clear when a parishioner who I had hoped to visit during the week, but had not managed to, called me on my day off terribly upset and really in quite a panic…if only I had made the time in the first place.

During lent we had watched the television drama, Broken and used it to reflect on current issues in our society. One of the episodes features a mother calling Fr Michael as her son, Vernon, is upset. Vernon always listens to Fr Michael and so she hoped that he would be able to answer the phone and calm Vernon down. It was the end of a demanding day for Fr Michael and he let the answer phone pick the message up as he went to bed. After Vernon was shot dead by the police because his anxiety had escalated significantly, Fr Michael was racked with guilt – if only he had answered the phone, Vernon might still be alive. Equally, if only I had made time for this particular visit in quite a busy week, upset and panic may have been avoided. Is it helpful to think of things in this way though?

I have developed a habit of putting my diary on my prayer stand to signify that these are the plans I have, whilst also acknowledging that things may work out very differently when I follow God’s plans – and often they do! What are diaries and time really about in today’s world though? Who is really in control of it? And who ought to be held to account when things go wrong? Many seem to recognise the pace of life is too fast – this is something that the Bishop of Gloucester wrote about only this week. However much we seem to recognise the scarcity of time, it seems to be very much a state we are stuck in. As we was asked to consider during Lent, “when was the last time you afforded yourself the luxury of getting lost in something you truly love doing?” I suppose I am really wondering whether time is our latest idol….

If this is the case, time becomes something we all are fascinated with, be that around how much or little we have. There would be a hierarchy around those amounts held typically indicating those who have less due to being in demand being held in high regard, and those who have time in abundance potentially being held in much lower regard. This hierarchy would encourage individuals to actively seek to be busy, to be seen to be in demand. It may be difficult to resist such an attitude to time – busyness would become infectious, affecting even those who did not wish to become slaves to the idol of time.

And so this idol begins to swallow up the masses who blindly follow, failing to notice as significant moments pass by, completely unaware of all that is being missed as new life begins to bloom and the magic of springtime comes alive, testifying to the true beauty of creation.

So I ask…are you busy? Have you got a little time to spare…?