Thursday, 10 September 2020

A Fourth Reflection by Terry Rees

 

                                                                The Other Side of the Fence

 




 

 

                        Sometimes images can transport us back in memory to seemingly ordinary events that were nevertheless significant at the time.  They have the capacity to bring to the fore things that reside in the deep recesses of the mind. They can reach into our inner world and make connections that surprise us. Every time I look at this painting by L S Lowry, one of his less well-known works, I inevitably find myself transported back in time to a boyhood experience that was so ordinary yet must have been impressive and formative at the time. Why else can I explain its readiness to be recalled?

          The man looking through the small hole in the fence suggests a playful, childlike act which is, I suppose, why Lowry set it in this particular composition. We don’t know what the man he is seeing but we surmise that he just could not resist  responding to the opportunity offered. The thing about Lowry is that his art arose from direct observation as he walked the streets as a rent collector. It is therefore most probable that he witnessed this very scene. I think this is what makes him special – he did not set out to romanticise the ordinary through embellishment. He painted and thus celebrated the ordinary as he saw it.  

          So, why does this particular painting take me back to my childhood? In the 1950s I lived on a newly constructed post-war council estate, just on the outer edge of Tunbridge Wells. Its position was perfect for a young boy, giving easy access to both the town centre and the surrounding countryside. We loved to walk or cycle the lanes, explore the woods and fields, and a special interest was the discovery of bird’s nests and the recording of their location and details in a notebook. We often returned to see if the eggs had hatched. One particular  lane was lined on one side, for a surprising distance, by an exceptionally tall fence. Even standing on our cycles didn’t allow us to see over the top, and the incongruence of the fence in an otherwise  pretty hedge-lined country lane rendered it most uninteresting and we hurried on to better places. However, one day I noticed that a small hole had appeared in the fence due to the falling away of a knot in the wood. I duly pressed an eye to the aperture and my breath was suspended in awe and wonder, for there before me was the most wonderful garden, masses of colourful flowers, large at the back, small at the front, competing to be seen, and a glorious verdant lawn that stretched into the distance. And to cap it all, at the far end, was a swimming pool complete with diving board. A vibrant, colourful space so close yet not easily discerned. I had no idea that such gardens existed! On our estate people grew vegetables rather than flowers. My Dad grew potatoes in the front garden!

          There is a fairly common perception in our society today that Christianity and Church define a narrowing of perception, over-seriousness about belief and behaviour, and illiberal constraint in realising the potential in life. Indeed, it is often thought,  it is an outdated ideology that has no place in the twenty-first century, having been rendered redundant in the wake of modern science and modernity. Yes, Jesus did indicate that being a Christian is akin to passing through a narrow gate, an act that is necessarily performed by faith in Christ. We could say it is a ‘focused entry.”  But like the hole-in-the-fence this seemingly narrow opening reveals a landscape that is expansive, novel, challenging but also spiritually beautiful. Christ is the aperture through which we perceive this landscape, a landscape so close at hand, yet only perceived through the revelation of Divine grace and the eye of faith. ( we could say‘ hidden in plain sight’).  A landscape where divine love permeates everything, where we are challenged to seek the best for others before ourselves, where the richness of fellowship and togetherness abides in extravagance, where reality is eased into a new perspective, a liberating perspective. A bit far-fetched? Fanciful? A gross exaggeration? Well, of course, it is fundamentally a landscape to be discovered, walked and explored. To walk this landscape requires exercise of our intellect, emotions, and the heart. It is a landscape which needs eternity to be fully explored and understood. However, it is definitely not a landscape exempt from the usual human difficulties, frailties or pain, but it is one infused with the love of God. It is above all a ‘colourful’ space of grace, forgiveness, healing and Divine acceptance. The Apostle Paul proposed that our citizenship is not truly of this world. We are citizens of a spiritual kingdom, we traverse a spiritual landscape, one that we can explore in companionship with one another and the abiding Holy Spirit. Yes, unlike the hole-in-the-fence, which allows us to see but not enter, God invites us to both see and embrace all that is freely offered in this space , a space created by the very fact of Divine presence.          

             “For the Spirit explores everything,

               even the deep things of God.”                    1 Corinthians 2:10

Monday, 13 July 2020

A Third Reflection by Terry Rees


                                                 CENTRE OR EDGE?           



           
          It was when Anne and I were visiting art galleries in Paris that I first encountered Millet’s painting “The Gleaners”. I have always found that the sheer surfeit of richness in any large gallery, particularly an unfamiliar one, can encourage casual movement from room to room in a largely unfocused frame of mind.  It was in that same attitude that I found myself in front of Millet’s masterpiece. Initially inquisitive, I was slowly drawn more deeply into the painting’s possible inferences and began to perceive it to be a powerful metaphor for the central meaning of the Gospel.

          There is no shortage of art works around the theme of harvest. They frequently, and perhaps justifiably to a degree, romanticise rural life. However, in so doing they frequently fail to reflect the depth of poverty that defined the life of most agricultural workers in times past. Historically, rural poverty was every bit as acute as urban poverty. Although my intention in this reflection is to explore the spiritual inferences of the painting it is worth remembering that it also speaks to us with a political voice.

          The strength of Millet’s work lies in the way he inverts the normal. He stands the customary representation of harvesting on its head. What is traditionally thought of as the ‘real action’  is depicted in the far distance, barely visible, whilst the dominant foreground is filled with the figures of three peasant women scavenging for the left-overs, the scraps, at the edges of the field. The peripheral and insignificant become the centre of attention. And that is surely what the Gospel does, exemplified in the ministry of Jesus of Nazareth. The Gospel inverts the gravity of ‘normal’ personal and social  values.  The Kingdom of God has been aptly referred to as the “upside-down kingdom”.

 Any honest appraisal of the ministry of Jesus, as narrated in the Gospels, renders the extraordinary words of Jesus that “the last shall be first and the first shall be last” (Matt. 20:16) to be no idle injunction. Divine love does not recognise the distinction between the edges and the centre. In Christ, everyone, even those deemed to be on the distant fringes of society, especially the intentionally excluded, actually occupies the centre of Divine attention. God’s love is the gravitational force that renders the full spectrum of humanity at the centre and not the periphery.     

                             Zacchaeus was a wealthy tax gatherer. (Luke 19). His status as ‘chief tax collector’ indicates that he was operating a pretty extensive business. He would agree contracts with his Roman masters to ensure the handing over of hefty sums, whilst having the freedom to add whatever ‘extra’ he could for himself, using any measures of coercion, dishonesty and ruthlessness that he felt necessary. Paradoxically, rich though he was, I rather think he lived ‘on the edge’ of society too, hated by his own community for his collaboration with the occupying power and the extortion and exploitation that went with the job. We are told that he was small in stature and thus climbed a tree in order to satisfy his curiosity regarding this Jesus of Nazareth,  the subject of intense interest of a surrounding crowd.

 Hold this picture in your mind. Zacchaeus was most probably in a personally familiar place, safely on the edge, elevated above the throng, avoiding the jostling crowds that despised him. In social terms the periphery was his comfort zone, he could see but be unseen, unreachable too. Jesus then did the most remarkable thing. He called Zacchaeus down from his position on the edge into the very centre of attention! Jesus went even further and went to the man’s home for hospitality. In first century Jewish society, to sit at table with someone was to collapse the distance between the host and guest to the point where full acceptance was confirmed. 

It is not surprising that actions such as this were so ‘upside-down’ that Jesus made enemies of those who could not begin to countenance the validity of his ministry. Jesus shook the foundations of perceived religious and social normality in the interests of fulfilling his purpose to “seek and save what was lost” (v9). I think the idea ‘to save’ carries a much wider meaning than is often adopted. Yes, it is about recognising, believing and accepting Christ, but necessarily entails turning around, cessation of going in the wrong direction, a rebirth of our thinking, perceiving and actions.

 May we have the love, vision and courage to bring those at the edges of our vision into the centre.
         
          LORD, we give thanks that everyone is at the centre of your gaze, and     not relegated to the distant fringes.
          LORD, help us to be aware of those at the periphery of our vision, our          understanding, our values and our regard.
          LORD, may your Spirit empower us to serve as Christ served, drawing the           outer regions of our perception and understanding into the centre of           Divine wisdom. May we be graced with the “Mind of Christ.” 

Thursday, 28 May 2020

Rev Simon Tillotson

What I have learned from lockdown



So much that is profound has come out of lockdown.
So much that is tragic and heart-breaking has come out of lockdown.
So much also that has restored my faith in human nature has come out of lockdown.
Just where do I begin?

Epidemic

Before I write about anything learned from lockdown we need to focus on the real reason we are like we are today and will be for some time to come.
We need to remember the pain of those who mourn, and the agony of those who have died or who are dying still today.
We need to pause with the millions around the world caught up in the agony of Covid-19.
We need to pray that the UK population will not lose their memory and will not forget to do social distancing, not forget to wash their hands, not stop realising that the the danger of a second epidemic is as real now as the first ever was.
Without wishing to be cynical, I believe the government has had to make a calculation based on the country’s economic welfare, which of course is important as it affects our wellbeing in lots of other ways, but that this calculation has loosened the chain on the tiger of Covid-19 a little more than any of us would care to realise. The tiger could reappear again in a significant way, and we need to be extremely cautious. Of course, for other reasons, I agree the lockdown has had to be loosened, for we cannot remain in our own cages for ever, but we now have our cage doors open and the tiger is about. So we need to be very, very careful.
But my main concern is looking back at the memories of the BBC report from the Covid-19 ward in London and other such reports and realise we only saw a tiny iota of the immense amount of suffering that has occured. Therefore, before I say anything that I have learned from the lockdown, I simply want to pause and stand with the victims, weep with the mourners, empathise with the vast agony of suffering that so many are experiencing. Jesus wept over Jerusalem and today he weeps over the entire world. So do all of us who care for our world.
Our hearts are broken. Our world is undone. We bow our heads in grief.


Recognition

The next thing that comes to me is the wonderful reality that we have recognised who our true heroes are in our culture.
Not the celebrities who for so long have bewitched so many minds with the paper thin depth of their characters. Not the super-rich earning the income of many a small town in the space of a day.
For once our culture has turned towards the true heroes, the doctors and nurses and shop assistants and care home workers and bus drivers and tube train workers and police and teachers and…..so many others who have been Christlike in their sacrificial service for the sick and vulnerable.
I am particularly pleased that care home assistants have been recognised by our culture at last as I have always thought that that is one of the most challenging and least recognised jobs. Now it like the other jobs I have mentioned has been acclaimed as the heroic and noble work that it really is. So often I have met someone who works in a care home who hasn't felt valued in the way they should be. May these people now be our heroes for the future too, not just for this crisis. I include of course all the other jobs that have now been recognised. Supermarket workers, another heroic job, on the front line. Taxi drivers, on the front line. Police and ambulance workers on the front line. Doctors and nurses and cleaners, on the front line. True heroes of our time.

Positives

I use this word with fear, because the pain and loss of loved ones I have already mentioned is by far the most central and heart-breaking reality of this lockdown period.
Yet at the same time, focussing on the reality of death means we are also faced with the reality of life, something I learned from taking funerals during a difficult time in my ministry. As I arrived at the crematorium to take the funerals during that difficult time I became conscious of my own life in a new way, and it helped. So it is from the darkness of death new life can emerge.
So out of this crisis some shafts of light emerged, not because of the disease or the tragedies connected to it, but directly because of the lockdown experience, which for us all has brought physicial imprisonment,  but for the fortunate few, in which I include myself, has also set us free.
Many of us have been forced to live life slower and found this to be an incredible blessing. I know I have.
Challenges still come at me all the time of course, but the pace is more manageable than normal because there is a whole layer of ministry missing – numerous face to face meetings, church services, and even more emails than I have received during the last few weeks of lockdown.
Because the pace of life has slowed I have been able to balance my life better, taking more time to do gardening, sort out various cupboards in the Vicarage I have not touched for several years, go for country walks with my wife and new puppy, and appreciate the Spring and early Summer weather in a way I have not done perhaps ever in my life before.
Of course I realise that for many the lockdown has been a nightmare and still is, and I pray for such people every day. I realise how difficult it must be to be in lockdown in a flat in an urban area, away from the possibility of a walk in the countryside. Or even more painful in an abusive situation or in extreme isolation as so many are. So I am more than painfully aware that my experience of lockdown has been so much more positive than many people's, and I feel almost embarassed to even write positives here. But I am also aware that naming the positives will also help those reading this who like me have found the lockdown has had hidden blessings.
I have heard this same experience of hidden blessings from others.
We have learned to appreciate life for what it is, rather than for our futile attempts to turn it into something of our own making. As I remember Michael Palin saying in an interview a couple of weeks ago, the lack of diary commitments enforced on us is actually quite liberating ( though having said that I now have four funerals to take in the next couple of weeks – so this is not entirely true for me now!).
I also love the fact that there has been a sense of duty and concern for other reawoken and inculcated into the British people during the lockdown. I have sometimes been too negative about us as a nation in the past and feel quite ashamed at my previous cynicism. I have a new sense of respect and indeed love for our country as a result of how I have seen so many respond during the lockdown, caring for their neighbours, applauding the NHS and keyworkers, supporting and even working for local charities, Whitstable being a wonderful example of this.
Actually, despite there being many examples of exceptions, where people have broken the rules and continue to act idiotically, I feel very proud about the way we as a country have reacted to lockdown, and whatever political storms may be happening now , believe that we as a nation will continue to behave responsibly through the “Track and Trace” period we are shortly to enter.

God

So to conclude, where is God in all this? I am currently working on a course looking at these issues, in conversation with a Christian apologist and philosopher Peter S Williams. This looks at this subject in greater detail and is available on the All Saints Whitstable website.
But for the purposes of this blog my main answer is that we cannot fully approach the question of God and suffering and death till we first grasp the miracle of life in the first place.
Each one of us did not ask to be here. Life was a free gift. One of the things that lockdown has helped me and others realised is that the simplicity of living life as free gift from God, valuable in its own right without needing lots of things added to it, is essential to our happiness.
We had forgotten, before lockdown,  that life is a gift, and that any suffering or death that comes our way, which of course it will at some point or another, is part of the reality that life was never “neutral” anyway. Worldly life was never eternal, it was always fragile and vulnerable. It was always something that came out of nothing, the beginning of a human pulse deep within the womb. It was always the growth of the human brain and awareness of light and colour and sound and the pulsing of blood around our veins. It was never a “given”. It was never a “right”. It was and always is a miracle, a gift, a beginning and an ending, at least in this world.
The miracle that even atheists agree was never likely to have ever developed, given the delicate balance of the earth’s resources to produce life in the first place, is that we are here at all, is that we can breathe, and live, and hope, and learn.
Breaking out of the confusion of reality we emerged as human beings, and the life we now live is a gift, and has become even more precious, even more sacred, as a result of the reality of death that is closer to us now than we have ever known. The light breaking through the gloom is only visible because of that gloom, otherwise it would be simply a sheet of light with no meaning.
It is within this framework that we start thinking about God, the reality of the spiritual, and breaking in of the Holy Spirit, the presence of Jesus, rather than point our finger and laugh at God or his apparent absence from the reclining couch of the spoiled Westernised fool who takes life for granted and expects everything in life to work as well as the £1750 TV in the living room - a fool that, but for the grace of God, I would be too.
Paradoxically, it is only when life itself breaks, and we have to go into lockdown, that we find life again. Death leading to life, a constant bible theme.



The Resurrection springing from the darkness of the tomb.
  

Sunday, 3 May 2020

A Second Reflection by Terry Rees


The Tug of the Next Moment



I had tucked my binoculars safely inside my coat and determinedly quickened my pace when I realized that darkness was rapidly approaching. I had been out on the nature reserve for over three hours and still had some way to go before reaching the car park and the welcome flask of coffee that I had sensibly prepared and stored in the car. It had been a cold and overcast November afternoon and I began to regret the decision to take the longest circular route. It  can never be a good experience to be caught out in the middle of field and marsh in complete darkness!  Concentrating on the rough, gloomy terrain, I was no longer observant of anything but the path lying immediately before me.

          As I rapidly made my way I became vaguely aware of the dark shape of a largish bird perched to one side of the path - almost certainly something very common. I hurried on, but after a distance my inner voice began to nag me into the suggestion that this gloomy sighting perhaps should not be so casually dismissed. Something did seem unusual. I paused, retrieved my binoculars, and retraced my steps some thirty yards. Surprisingly, I was able to get close to the patiently waiting bird, and was rewarded with my very first, and to date my only, sighting of a Waxwing.  It remained in a conveniently cooperative pose and I was able to delight in the strong colouring that was still able to penetrate the gloom, together with the extravagant crest that had most likely provided the subconscious hint that this might be something worth going back for. In the end I left before it did.

          Over the years, this serendipitous event has assumed the status of a real-life parable that has helped shape my perception of spiritual formation. I had every reason not to pause, certainly not to turn back, but I had unintentionally glimpsed something that teased my mind, alerted my inquisitiveness , thereby leaving me with a choice - either to press on, or pause in my earnest intent. I was so glad I listened to my inner voice, even though the reason for my haste was legitimate. Sometimes, just the slightest glimpse of something different, providing we respond with a redirection of focus and intent, can lead us into a deeply satisfying experience. The regret of not responding, or not being able to respond, has been beautifully put by the poet R. S. Thomas :

                             I have seen the sun break through
                                    to illuminate a small field
                                    for a while, and gone my way
                                    and forgotten it. But that was the pearl
                                    of great price, the one field that had
                                     the treasure in it. I realize now
                                    that I must give all that I have
                                    to possess it. Life is not hurrying
                                   
                                    on to a receding future, nor hankering after
                                    an imagined past. It is the turning
                                    aside like Moses to the miracle
                                    of the lit bush, to a brightness
                                    that seemed as transitory as your youth
                                    once, but is the eternity that awaits you.

          I owe the title of this reflection to my reading, some thirteen years ago, of a short book by Simon Small, entitled “From the Bottom of the Pond”. It is a book about experiencing God in the present moment. We are all subject to the seduction of the “tug of the next moment”. There is a well-known mantra in management circles ; ‘If you want something done urgently, give it to the person who is too busy.’ The paradox arises because some persons have the skills and energy, and the inclination, to rapidly respond to the ‘tug of the next moment’. Sadly, they can be exploited. They may not complete things fully and perfectly, but they seem to be  inwardly programmed to move hurriedly on to the next stimulus, the next thing. It is not a general model of operating that I would encourage, certainly in the spiritual realm. ( When I used to tutor management courses this particular issue led to fruitful discussion about the creative tension between a manager’s task of achieving, and the pastoral care of staff.) Of course, we cannot totally escape the demands of the next moment – organized activity demands it – but it is a question of balance. Jesus most certainly experienced the tug-of -the-next moment. Crowds flocked to him for ministry, even when it would have been inconvenient and potentially damaging for him personally, and the disciples must have been very demanding of him at times, as followers universally are. Yes, Jesus did respond to sudden new demands – he could not escape the tug-of-the-next-moment - his ministry was defined by it. But, the evidence of Scripture is that he also made time to pause, to be solitary, to reflect, to pray, to get things in a divine perspective. He also protected Mary’s choice when he cautioned Martha that her sister’s particular moment of withdrawal was important and legitimate.  Pausing, even turning back, can take us away from the seductive pull of the next task. In so doing we can be better equipped for the future.   

          When I set out on this reflection my intent was not to make any reference to the COV-19 virus crisis. But it became obvious that it did relate. We have all had our normal functioning curtailed though social distancing and isolation. To a considerable extent the tug-of-the-next-moment has been neutered.  We can actually engineer the ‘next moment’ to a greater extent than we might ever have imagined possible. In a sense we have a degree of ‘retreat’ forced upon us. Despite the deep concern for ourselves, our loved ones, our friends, those who continue to work in dangerous environments, those who nurse, those who care for the elderly, those who sell and those who deliver, many of us have an opportunity that we might not experience again. We have been gifted , as Thomas says in his poem, an opportunity of:-

                                    “turning aside like Moses, to the miracle
                                    of the lit bush, to a brightness
                                    that seemed as transitory as your youth
                                    once, but is the eternity that awaits you.          
                         
It is perhaps a time to reflect into our present, take a glance back to treasure the spiritual path that God has graced us with, and to look forward to new insights and new experiences.
                        “ For all that has been, Thanks. For all that shall be, Yes.”
                                   
                        (Dag Hammarskjold UN General Secretary in late 1950s)
                                        
May the Holy Spirit shape us like a precious stone in these strange times. May we return to fellowship as a thankful, inspired and energized people.

           

Thursday, 16 April 2020

David Sims




Love and greetings to you all from David Sims.I have been at All Saints since I was 12 years old, which is quite a long time really! Before that, I was a Crusader at a house in Chestfield. From school in Canterbury, I went to a Billy Graham afternoon in London with our teacher. I didn't "go forward" but I felt God's call to greater commitment. I studied languages and worked as a Translator in London. Made redundant twice. I then became a Pastoral Visitor from All Saints, seeing mostly elderly folk in Care Homes and in their own homes. I am now elderly, thought I had retired, and found that I hadnt ! 
I am one of the team of Pastoral Assistants.

David writes as follows:

On Easter Sunday, we enjoyed an amazing family lunch. Amazing to Carol and me anyway; Rebecca and Paul have to keep apart because he is a policeman and she is asthmatic, so Paul is living, working 
and sleeping in their cabin, which is comfortably appointed, but at the bottom of the garden. So for lunch,they rigged up a system whereby Rebecca and the boys were in the kitchen on their I Pad, Paul was in the cabin on his, and Carol and I were at home on our I Pad , all eating Sunday lunch and chatting to one another as though we were all together. It might not seem incredible to you, but it did to us, and it was such fun as well! Rebecca is a teacher and is teaching the boys at home, so they won't fall behind in their studies.

Every day at midday, I link into Midday Prayers on the screen from Rev Dr Gillian Straine, who is the Director of The Guild of Health and St Raphael, of which I have been a member since the 1960's and recently retired as a Trustee. The Guild is all about Christian Healing as is offered at All Saints every Thursday and on a few Sundays through the year. Gillian is providing this space for prayer, readings and reflections every week day while the virus is with us. You might find it helpful to link in every midday at www.gohealth.org.uk . She recently said, regarding our faith that "Christ is risen (indeed) ",
that this does not mean that we can say "good, everything is going to be ok now" but that we proclaim this belief as a challenge to what is happening at the moment. If you like, and this is me speaking now, " do your worst; Christ HAS  risen, Christ IS risen" and we proclaim this as ( if you like) our battle cry.

From the Church Times: " We are learning to stand still. It has taken a microscopic virus, pathetic and invisible as it laughs in our faces, to halt our crazy scurrying. The bottom-line hope of Easter, the victory of life at the end of this long Lent, will consist of joyful hugs and affection and a craving for fellowship at the end of a long fast. Then we will say, as St Francis did, "Blessed are you , O Lord, for Brother Coronavirus, who has taught us to be humble once again and to value life and fellowship".

Take heart! I have overcome the world. (John 16 v.33) 

I would like to end by quoting a prayer which the Archbishops created for the Brexit situation but which absolutely fits in with where we are now: " O God of reconciling hope, as you guided your people in the past, so guide us through the turmoil of this present time and bring us to that place of flourishing where our unity can be restored, the common good served and all shall be made well.
In the name of Jesus we pray. Amen." 

Christos anesti! Khristos voskresye! Christus ist erstanden! Christ IS risen! Yes, He is!! Go forth,
and believe the Gospel. 

Love,
David


Tuesday, 14 April 2020

Margaret Arnold

Margaret Arnold is a churchwarden at All Saints and has served in this capacity for the last four years having previously served as churchwarden under a previous vicar. She is the main organiser of the flower team at All Saints and has written and produced a number of Pantomimes at All Saints. Margaret chairs the Finance Committee at All Saints and previously worked for the Diocese Office on the Stewardship Team.

Margaret writes as follows:



A MEDITATION 2020

The tomb was empty,
Stone walls stood silent.

For a moment that place was filled with the scent of angels.
For a moment that place was filled with the holiness of Christ.

For a moment in time that tomb held the body of Christ.

That moment in time has been remembered for centuries.
That moment in time will be remembered today and for centuries to come.
The stone walls will always tell their story.

Our church today is empty,
Its stone walls stand silent.

But God is in our church sending his light through our stained glass windows.
Light that throws patterns of Christ’s life onto the floor.
Light that throws beams of brillance onto the empty chairs.

The silent stone walls and pillars of our church will tell our story,
For they are soaked in our prayer, in our music in our faith.

The church is empty but the walls hold our moments in time.

We hold these moments too,
For in this time, our worship, praise and prayer is in a different place.
It will be so, until we return.

Margaret

Friday, 10 April 2020

Rev Keith McNicol



Keith was Curate at All Saints’ and in the Team from 1992 to 1995.  In 1992 he and Kirsty, his wife moved over to the Church of England from the United Reformed Church in which Keith had been a minister for some twenty years.  They have two sons who were confirmed in Whitstable.  One is now married to the daughter of a Presbyterian Minister working in Idaho.  Both men live and work in London.  Keith misses his yacht in which the family had many interesting adventures.  He has been retired from full-time ministry for nearly six years but enjoys conducting services in and around Whitstable and Canterbury.  He likes listening to good music and keeping up with friends.
Keith writes:

Words are not enough

I have enjoyed seeing and reading the many Christian statements of hope during lockdown.  Basically, these words say, God is in charge and this corona virus pandemic will come to an end.  Some of the statements are very personal.  All are protests of determination against an unseen enemy.  The virus will be defeated. It will not last forever.

So, I cut the grass, go for a walk or a cycle ride once each day, read and write on my laptop.  I pray.  I read some Old Testament history because I am fascinated by it.  I look at the excellent and dedicated work of our local clergy and Readers in reading morning and evening prayer and preparing video/online services for us.  Personally, I worked to get my head around the technology so that I could deliver a short set of prayers to the Sea Cadets on the Isle of Sheppey to whom I am Chaplain.  I succeeded!

Now here’s the thing.  Words are pretty good.  They help express my deepest thoughts, my greatest fears, my fondest hopes.  I heard a brilliant bit of radio the other morning in which a lady spoke, fluently and uninterrupted, for a good few minutes, telling the radio presenter of her experience of her husband being taken into an Intensive Care Unit.  It was most moving and we all wish that family well.  Her words were descriptive, touching, compelling.  We had to listen to her.  She didn’t hesitate once with an “err” or a clearing of the throat.

But I suspect that lady would agree that even her words were not enough to fully express everything that was in her mind even though she was profound in the expression of her love for her man and her worry for him. 

We have read and heard some wonderful words from our clergy, and yet even their words are not enough.  Somehow there is more to be said. 

Some of our deepest thoughts simply cannot be expressed in words.  Symbols point to truths beyond yet within us, truths about the human condition and truths about the divine, the more than human, to whom we reach out hoping to touch but never quite doing so.  We have our hopes and strengths and aims for life.  Do you know, it came as an enormous surprise to me to be told that I should self-isolate because I am over the age of 70?  And I am doing what I am told!  I was a good boy at school – most of the time.  But my age is not what defines me.  

There is more to me than an age, a physical condition, a mental condition, an identity.  I am within and part of something far greater than I can imagine.

Words are never enough to say what is in one’s mind.  So, you and I live by wonderful stories expressed in words, symbols and other ways.  Indeed, we are living in the story.

Our privilege and duty is to be the people who keep the story of Jesus alive.  We pray, we read scripture.  Some of us study theology.  You and I are the privileged and responsible ones.  We are to live the story, no matter what happens to us, whether we live or die.  Our story is a story that tells us that there is more to life than life.  It is a story that points to a truth about the origin of all things that is founded by the great source of love we call God.  It is a story we tell to others too, not because we expect people to accept what we say as truth, but to encourage and strengthen everyone we know as we go through life.  I find that many of my friends want me to tell the story even though they don’t want to become part of the story.

And even now, words are never enough to be exact and final in our definition of this Love, this God. 
Words, even music and other arts are not enough to celebrate the Resurrection of Our Lord.  They are not enough to express our experience the power of God’s Spirit.  Some say he comes to us from time to time.  I say we are surrounded by the Spirit, that we live in the Spirit. 

I am sure the Good Lord knows our predicament.  For Christians, the Word of God is Jesus Our Lord.  Even our best words are not enough to say who Jesus is.  Yet it is our faith that, in this time of trouble, even in this time when people are dying, surely when people have recovered from the virus, Jesus the Word is enough for us to trust in and in whom to place our hopes and fears.

He knows, you see.  He knows because of the cross.  The Resurrection is his tremendous gift of hope to us.  He knows.  He loves us.  He is with us even though we walk through deep shadows or have to cope with wonderful shining light.  He knows.  He is the Word.  He most definitely is Enough.

Keith McNicol
Good Friday 2020



Tuesday, 7 April 2020

Dr Martin Garsed




1

Let Us Shine The Light of Words on It

I am writing as a former GP, Psychotherapist and Hospice Physician. A member of the prayer and healing ministry team in the All Saints Anglican Church community in Whitstable.

“Let us shine the light of words” on where we are now and what we feel and think in these unprecedented times. We are all very different individuals, as are our particular situations.
But the mixture and complexity of our emotions, thoughts  and imagination are common to us all and are part of who we are. The same yet unique.

In my work over years, what was always important, was to enable those I was with to “shine the light of words” on their situation be it in health, sickness or other adversity, the many challenges that life threw at them.

If we give free reign to to our emotions, exacerbated in times of trial, they can run a mock and take charge, disempowering us, at times to such a degree, that we can no longer function and loose touch with reality.
It is important and a great help if we can voice how we feel , what we imagine or fear, to others in sharing or in writing them down for our selves. This is a good start to taking back control and feeling more secure even if not resolving the dilemma we are in. It helps to tame the loose demons !

A further reality is that many of these emotions and thoughts are in a way “paradoxical”. There is an opposite more positive dimension before us that we have lost sight of. Our task is to bring them together into a joint clearer light (In our sharing with others or writing) to find a more balanced view thus enabling us to move forward.

Here are a number of these paradoxical situations that face us in these challenging times and how we might address them

·        ISOLATION: This is the most dehumanising situation, particularly if on our own Try and recall all the small gestures of belonging that you have received from friends and loved ones over time. Think of your wider family and neighbours. Make efforts to be in touch using the telephone or technology not forgetting old fashion letter writing or sending cards to loved ones near of far away. 
·        TRAPPED SHUT IN: We are free and able to travel in our minds imagining the future or recalling the past, walks holidays etc. Write a memory book for the younger generations.
·        THE SILENCE: Can cause anxiety yet the noise that surrounded us in normal time is equally unnerving. Relish the quiet in your mind and heart, make your own quiet noise. Rest in that quietness.
·        EVERYTHING TAKEN AWAY: I have lost all my normality. Move to taking note of all the small things we do have. Acknowledge and express gratitude for them.





 2

As Christians, members of other faiths, and people of good will, we can add a further dimension to our present experience and its questions.

·        ALL MY LIFE IS ON HOLD: We feel the bottom of our life has fallen out. But we also know and trust that GOD HOLDS us in his hand every day come what may. We can shift our prayer to a more “Contemplative” dimension learning to rest in the “now”, being in God's presence. Try this twice a day for 5 to 10 minutes. Use a holy word, picture, a cross, a candle (blow it out at the end !) to fall back on when distracted, it helps hold your attention.
·        SEPARATED FROM OUR SACRED SPACES AND WORSHIP: Yet each one of us are a “one unique sacred space made in the image of God”. All creation in and around us is also a universal sacred space.  Nothing separates us from the Holy within and around us from the creative love of God (Romans 8 vs 38.39)
·        FEAR: Yet we are called to live in Hope and Trust in our ever loving creator and his sacrifice for our eternal salvation. What more important a time, Holy Week, is it to recall and accompany our Saviour Jesus Christ during these days. He weeps over us, he washes our feet, he was flogged and hung on the cross and died for each one of us.
·        JESUS COMES THROUGH OUR LOCKED DOORS: As when the disciples were in isolation, full of fear locked up in the upper room, Jesus came through those closed doors (John 11 vs 35) Have no doubt, He will come through the closed doors of our homes and hearts in these uncertain times.

I pray for and commend you, and all those suffering at this time due to Covid 19 and the many women, children and men world wide, who are subject to many other sufferings.

Grace and peace be with you in this Holy Week and beyond.
This is my prayer in Jesus's name.
AMEN


Dr. Martin Garsed.
Whitstable                                                                                     07.04.2020





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