Monday, 27 March 2017

Three prayerful friends


27th day of Lent

MARCH 27th 2017

WEEPING, HEAVENLY AND BLUE

The willow outside my study window is now begin to weep young leaves from its cascading twigs and branches. It is a beautiful tree. It shields and protects and, in summer, creates a veil of dappled sunlight. Around its base is a crown of daffodils. The willow doesn't only weep leaves, over time it weeps its tendril-like twigs and branches all over the place. It guards a very mossy lawn which is now developing into a gentle prayer labyrinth, whose outline is accentuated by carefully laid out piles of slim branch spears collected through the winter. Its weeping nature is an aid to prayer. The Weeping Willow is generous with its 'tears'.

This prayerful patch of ground is guarded by another rather fine and unusual mature tree, called a Tree of Heaven (left). This originates from China and has very much fewer leaves and is a very much later bloomer. I don't expect to see any sign of greenery much before the middle of May. While the willow humbly pours down its tears, the Tree of Heaven's worshipful branches lift up to the skies. Both were planted by a former vicar of St Hilda's who loved his gardening. Revd Canon Jack Pigott and his wife Iris had nine very happy years serving Warley Woods. They were the first to live in the vicarage, built in 1965. So it fell to them to plant trees and lay out the garden. We live in the shadow of their imaginations. I wonder if they were able to envisage then how their generous gift of trees would shape and enclose the landscape that we now know? 

When we moved into the vicarage on a very cold and snowy day in early February 2009, we welcomed the bare trees which surrounded us like an enfolding family. As we got used to the back garden, we could not but help admire a third tree planted by Jack  - a Blue Atlas Cedar (right). This very fine specimen originates from the high and stark Atlas mountains of the Maghreb of Tunisia, Algeria and Morocco. You could not imagine a bigger contrast than that of a traditional English vicarage garden and the majesty of the 13,000ft peaks of North Africa!

Our Blue Atlas has a prayerfulness all of its own, with ever uplifted arms which sway gently in the breezes or stand peaceably in the still blue sky days of summer. It is a tree to be greatly loved, I feel. I can often just get lost in time gazing at it from the kitchen window while making a cup of tea. The kettle could go cold as I stand fascinated by its wave-like movements. 

As we got used to the garden, we realised it was a mixed blessing. For the cedar was too big really for the plot. It would be more at home on Warley Woods. It leached the soil of goodness and made it difficult (despite our best efforts) to grow any decent vegetables. And the trees which we initially welcomed as enfolding friends also became serried sentries who blocked out a lot of the sun.  

But these three trees teach me much about prayer. How sometimes we can't help but weep our prayers; sometimes we can only praise in our prayers; sometimes we can get lost in our prayers. Weeping, heavenly and blue - these three sentries have inspired many prayers. Long may they do so.

Saturday, 25 March 2017

Tree of Life

24th day of Lent
MARCH 24th 2017

BESEECHING BEECH 


There is a most magnificent beech tree on the edge of the Waseley Hills. It has a girth of about 12ft or 13ft and it stretches up into the sky to a height of 60ft or so. And, as is sometimes the case with beech trees, the root system above ground is just very powerful. On a beautiful blue-sky afternoon, this beech seems not quite yet ready to stir out of winter into the new promise of life awaiting it in spring. Beech trees do tend to wake up a little slower than some of their cousins. The weeping willow outside my study window is already showing signs of coming into leaf. And the blossom on black thorn bushes is now quite full. But this beech is still quite skeletal in the upper reaches, though, at the same time, muscular. It is unrivalled on this hill. It seems to stand a sentinel on the brow looking out west across the M5 and the hills rolling down into Worcestershire. 

I wrote yesterday about the hands of Jesus stretched out in extremis for humanity. What I see in this tree (all trees) is an upward-stretching silent sentinel, a beseeching beech. Psalm 134 is one of the 15 Psalms of the Ascent which are said by pilgrims as they climb up to Jerusalem on their way to the Temple. 

'Come, bless the LORD, all you servants of the LORD, 
who stand by night in the house of the LORD!
Lift up your hands to the holy place,
and bless the LORD.
May the LORD, maker of heaven and earth, 
bless you from Zion.'

It has probably stood on this prominent spot for more than 150 years - way before the M5 was carved through the valley. May it continue to stretch up to heaven by night and by day.


Friday, 24 March 2017

Extreme love

23nd day of Lent
MARCH 23rd 2017

PAIN-CARRYING EXTREMITIES


I have been thinking about Jesus and extremism. And I have been thinking about how extremists want to create huge gaps in society, huge divisions that tear us apart. And I have been thinking about how this is so counter to God's will: how Jesus' incarnation was entirely about drawing us close to each other and to God. How Jesus was sent to create a bridge, a bridge that is spanned by his hands on the cross held out in extremis.

It was the extremes of Jesus' body that were pierced for our transgressions. As he hung on the cross it was of course his whole body that was wracked with pain; but it was his hands and feet that were pinned to the wood. This was pain being carried in the extremities of his body.

As I think about the extremists that are seeking to inflict pain on so many people through their violent acts, I think about Jesus' hands and feet and his being stretched out on the cruel cross. Somehow, Grunewalde's most excruciating image of Jesus crucified seems to me to be the one painting that explores the agony of Jesus as he bears the pains of our world. This painting comes from the Isenheim Altarpiece painted in 1516 at a time when the Monastery of St Anthony was treating sufferers of the plague and skin diseases. The image of the crucified Jesus is pitted with the plague-like sores of sufferers. And it brought great comfort to those who suffered because they could see how Jesus identified with them and understood their afflictions. 

Grunewalde is famous for another extraordinary painting of Jesus. It is of Christ resurrected. Apart from the rather obvious incongruity of a very blond Jesus, it is the very opposite of the crucified image. There is freedom in the extremities, there is movement rather than rigidity, there is colour rather than grim plague-ridden skin, there is wholeness yet still the marks of the wounds. Jesus hands are being held up almost as if to say, 'You cannot pin me down, you cannot box me in, you cannot contain me or kill me, you cannot keep or control me - I am the alpha and the omega.' Extreme love. 

Wednesday, 22 March 2017

Love your enemies 2

22nd day of Lent
MARCH 22nd 2017

PRAY FOR THE MEN OF VIOLENCE 2


Today a man died. He was a man of violence. He was an extremist. He took four people with him and injured 40 more. 

Extremists seek to pull people with them away from a central, everyday, normality.
Extremists don't want us to hold together.

So as we open up our church on Saturday we want to, in a very small and normal and un-extreme way, to help people hold together. 

And we believe that a man of peace who suffered at the hands of violent extremists - they who believed death was the answer - is the one who calls us to hold out a light to others.

Yesterday was a day for prayer for Northern Ireland. Today is a day of prayer for London. Every day is a day of prayer. For it is the normal, holding-together, response of un-extreme Christians and Muslims. Prayer for those whose lives were so marred and devastated by terrorism. Prayer for peacemakers. 

Tuesday, 21 March 2017

Love your enemies

21st day of Lent
MARCH 21st 2017

PRAY FOR THE MEN OF VIOLENCE


Today a man died. He was a man of violence. He was a man of peace. He died with blood on his hands. He died as a friend of enemies. He was Martin McGuinness. One half of the 'Chuckle Brothers' - the other half was the implacable defender of Ulster, Ian Paisley. 

It is a day for prayer. Prayer for those whose lives were so marred and devastated by terrorism. Prayer also for a changed Northern Ireland. Prayer for peacemakers. Footsteps to peace have taken years of painstaking effort. And today it is still fragile. There are still walls, called 'peace lines' in Derry /Londonderry and Belfast. There are still huge suspicions between both sides. Yet, the sight of Ian Paisley and Martin McGuiness sharing power, sitting besides each other, chuckling, is surely one of the most extraordinary fruits of peacemaking. These photographs come from the Antrim coast in Northern Ireland, which we visited last year. They are from Portrush, where the Giant's Causeway is a truly magnificent and mysterious landscape. A most beautiful country. A place and people who deserve peace as much as we do. May Martin McGuinness rest in the peace of God and the forgiveness of God. And may those harmed and marred by violence find peace too.

Monday, 20 March 2017

Springing up to Eternal Life


             ST PHOTINA'S DAY
MARCH 20th 2017
 


THE WELL OF LIFE



Today is St Photina's Day. Who, you might ask, is St Photina? Little known in the Western church, she is said to be, according to the Orthodox church, the woman who met Jesus at the well in John 4.

If you ever read the stories of Jesus in the Gospels, you might often be left wondering about what happened next?

When Jesus arrived at Photina's well, he was thirsty. He asked her for a drink. And out of that request came a most profound life-changing experience. 'Come and meet the man who told me everything I had ever done,' she tells all her neighbours and relatives. 

What happened next? She becomes a courageous teller of her story. 
Her story-telling courage led her to leave her home town (modern Nablus, in the West Bank) and all the way to Carthage, in Tunisia. There she came to the notice of the Roman authorities. She was eventually taken prisoner and taken to Rome, where, in AD64, she was martyred for her faith by Nero. Her way of life - which sprang from that encounter with a thirsty Jesus at the well - led to her death. Her death was by being thrown into a well.

The picture above is an Eastern orthodox icon. The cross-shaped well reflects the costliness of her life bound with the costly life-giving death of Jesus. 

I wonder, how many other unnamed women and men of the bible have stories that are known by our wise brothers and sisters from the Eastern church? Perhaps you would like to look for them!!



Thursday, 16 March 2017

Giving and gaining

FIFTEENTH DAY OF LENT: 

WEDNESDAY 
MARCH 15th 2017 

WHAT WE GIVE WE GAIN
In the Hot Potato suppers we have been looking at Archbishop Justin Welby's Lent book, 'Dethroning Mammon'.
The book looks at the way in which the forces of acquisitiveness and dehumanising systems (which is partly to do with the power of money) can control us and shape our thinking. What we can measure, we value. What we have, we consider ours.

Today we got to the chapter that begins to overturn attitudes to do with giving: he suggests that giving is gaining.

His biblical template for giving when it seems irrational, makes no sense at all, is Nicodemus; he who came to Jesus in the darkness to ask him hard questions, is the one who looks after Jesus' body at his death. Not only that, he lavishes great riches by caring for his body with 100lbs of spices. He had nothing to gain. It was, however, the most beautiful of acts which he and Joseph of Arimathea did for Jesus when all seemed lost that Good Friday evening.

But Welby says this is precisely the kind of giving - irrational, beautiful and with nothing to gain - that turns Mammon on its head. Giving is never about 'what is in it for me?', which is a process of 'exchange and equivalence'. Giving is about pure generosity and abundance. I leave you with this quote: 

‘What we gain when we give comes in many forms. First of all, when we give, we recognise, both implicitly and explicitly, that life is not a process of exchange and equivalence, but of abundance and generosity. Exchange and equivalence is a zero-sum approach, the notion that what I give I lose to your gain. It implies a closed system. Abundance and generosity implies an open system, one in which the creative power of God is ever active, so what we give we gain. Mammon wants us to believe the books always have to balance out in the end – that whatever you have I can’t have, and vice versa… Mammon is good at arithmetic, and balancing the books, but very bad at divine economics... in divine economics, where there is abundance and generosity, there is no zero-sum approach.’

Tuesday, 14 March 2017

Forty thousand sunrises

FOURTEENTH DAY OF LENT: 

TUESDAY MARCH 14th 2017 

COURAGE FROM THE PAST

In January 1907 - 110 years ago - a little church was planted in Rathbone Road.
It was the Mission Church of St Hilda. 

It was the initiative of the new bishop of Birmingham, Charles Gore. He was a pioneer prelate. He had visited the area a few months before and had noticed huge changes even in January 1907. So many homes had been built. Bearwood was spilling up the hill towards Warley Woods. Edwardian terraces were now being planned in Barclay Road. And from that site in Rathbone Road, it was clear that the building out from Birmingham was only going to continue. A church was needed to serve the people. 

It is easy to forget: our church once did not exist.

It was planted in Warley Woods by people of vision.

The Smethwick News Telephone - what a wonderful name for a newspaper - reported Bishop Gore's text in their Saturday edition of February 2nd 1907. The reporter summed up his sermon thus: 'He knew case after case where congregations and churches had grown up out of a tiny mission church and he hoped they would grow up into a great and rich congregation - rich, not in numbers, but in spiritual gifts, and zeal and readiness to help themselves.'


We would do well to attend to his prophetic words. We are still here 110 years on. He preached on a text which urged that we would go, like Paul, out to people to tell them that forgiveness of sins is for them and that they have a place 'among those who are sanctified by faith in Jesus'.

The sun rises. The sun sets. Faithfulness continues day after day. The sun has risen and set 40,220 times since then (give or take the odd leap year). Something to thank God for (and leap up and down a bit). Our PCC tonight began with a skipping competition as the Brownies in the next door room in the hall had a skip-a-thon for charity. I wonder what Bishop Gore would have thought had he been there to witness the latest members of St Hilda's prayerfully set priorities for the mission of our church for 2017-18? Would he have joined in the skipping?


Monday, 13 March 2017

Going, going,,,

THIRTEENTH DAY OF LENT: 

MONDAY MARCH 13th 2017 

DAY OF HISTORY
We are on the way out of the EU. Mrs May will trigger Article 50 in the next week or two and so the negotiations will begin nine months after that historic referendum. Nine months: some pregnancy. 

And at the same time, Scotland may well vote to split the UK before Brexit happens in 2019 - and this has come as a complete surprise, a reverse elopement. Nicola Sturgeon wants a divorce with the rest of the UK in order to grow a new relationship with Europe.

We live in extraordinary times. We also live in the worst of times.

Sitting on our sofas watching the news, we are confronted with what happens when politics does not work at all. From our political difficulties, our thoughts and minds are pulled away from the plushness of the Houses of Parliament across thousands of arid miles to the drought-hit, war-torn, provinces of South Sudan and Somalia. 

These are places where politics by another means - war - is disrupting the lives of millions of people. Three million have fled the warlords in South Sudan, leaving slaughtered family members behind. Many who have made it into Uganda are women and children, courageous women who have left behind the bodies of their slaughtered husbands and sons. Many more millions are besieged in cities and towns in Somalia. Cholera stalks the lands. But simple supplies of clean water and grain are saving lives. 

And then, we are taken to the Netherlands, where a nation divided votes in a couple of days time. It has a choice between a poisonous politics of backward-looking hatred and something more hopeful yet somehow with less momentum. 

Where is the hope? Where is a sign of another narrative?

A group of young people from 70 nations stood with their flags in front of Buckingham Palace today to signal the start of the Commonwealth Games' torch run across 140,000 miles linking every competing country. Sporting rivalry can bring hope. Young people can show us a better way.


Sunday, 12 March 2017

Sister Moon



TWELFTH DAY OF LENT: 

SUNDAY MARCH 12th 2017 

SPEAKING WORDS OF WISDOM
This evening the moon was full and beautiful over Warley Woods. Here in this image it seems to be caught in the upper branches of the tall beech trees at the top of Barclay Road. Sister Moon is what St Francis called it, in his Canticle of the Creatures:


Most High, all powerful, good Lord,
Yours are the praises, the glory, the honor,
and all blessing.
To You alone, Most High, do they belong,
and no man is worthy to mention Your name.
Be praised, my Lord, through all your creatures,
especially through my lord Brother Sun,
who brings the day; and you give light through him.
And he is beautiful and radiant in all his splendor!
Of you, Most High, he bears the likeness.
Praise be You, my Lord, through Sister Moon
and the stars, in heaven you formed them
clear and precious and beautiful.

In the light of the moon things can seem simpler and radiant. As a child I used to love to run in the moonlight, for it felt like I'd become more fleet of foot. Somehow it was liberating. It felt like I was flying, even. When something is beyond our control - like the moon and the sun - it is easier to have an attitude of letting go and letting be.

I have been thinking about the song of that name. Paul McCartney wrote 'Let it be' in the days running up to the break-up of The Beatles in 1970. It was the title of their last album and was released a month after he decided to go solo. In the song he tells of his mother, Mary, coming to him speaking the wisdom of 'letting things be'. He tells the story that his mother, who had died 10 years earlier when he was just 14, came to him clearly in a dream when he was in a state of great anxiety about the future. The dream brought him a state of tremendous peace. John Lennon reportedly hated the song. He thought it had Christian undertones. McCartney said fans could read what they wanted into the lyrics - many thinking that 'mother Mary' is Mary mother of Jesus.

When I find myself in times of trouble
Mother Mary comes to me
Speaking words of wisdom
Let it be.

And in my hour of darkness
She is standing right in front of me
Speaking words of wisdom
Let it be.

Let it be, let it be, let it be, let it be.
Whisper words of wisdom, let it be.

In the moonlight, perhaps you could whisper prayers of wisdom. Ask the God of all things to have control. Let it be, let it be, let it be.

Well dressed

ELEVENTH DAY OF LENT: 
SATURDAY MARCH 11th 2017 

FEAST FOR LENT

It has been a day off. Simple pleasures; a good breakfast, a little walk, an afternoon watching England beat Scotland handsomely, time hunkered down.

It is in the ordinary things that we often find greatest thankfulness. George Herbert, poet and priest, wrote of prayer in a whole series of word pictures in his wonderful poem Prayer. In one such run of phrases he describes prayer as 'heaven in ordinary' and 'man well dressed'. 

In Paul's letter to the church in Colossae, he suggested something ordinary and radical in one and the same sentence. He suggested that we 'put on' or 'clothe ourselves' in the character of Christ.

As God’s chosen ones, holy and beloved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience. (Colossians 3.12)

As we dress for ordinary days or extraordinary days, may we find this kind of well-dressed character becomes habit, not just an act.

Here is Herbert's poem to reflect upon. It is a feast for Lent.

Prayer
Prayer, the Church's banquet, Angels' age,
God's breath in man returning to his birth,
The soul in paraphrase, heart in pilgrimage,
The Christian plummet sounding heav'n and earth;
Engine against th' Almighty, sinner's tower,
Reversed thunder, Christ-side-piercing spear,
The six-days'-world transposing in an hour,
A kind of tune, which all things hear and fear;
Softness, and peace, and joy, and love, and bliss,
Exalted manna, gladness of the best,
Heaven in ordinary, man well dressed,
The milky way, the bird of Paradise,
Church bells beyond the stars heard, the soul's blood,
The land of spices, something understood.






Friday, 10 March 2017

In sure and certain hope

TENTH DAY OF LENT: 
FRIDAY MARCH 10th 2017 

FACING FEARS

Most times when God calls you to do stuff, we can come up with all kinds of reasons to say no. And so God, patiently, keeps calling. And eventually, we discover, that we have to face your fears.

My biggest fear about being a priest was having to take funerals. It was a fear of the unknown. And probably, let's be honest, a fear of my own sense of mortality. It meant facing mystery and trusting God. It also meant having to accept my own grief from personal and deep losses. And then, there was the huge sense of responsibility for others and their grief, of finding the words to bring truth and comfort as well as fearing I would make a terrible horlicks of taking a service.

So God said to me, face your fears and go and learn from others who do what you fear most.

During my training at Queen's, I spent many rainy Tuesday afternoons sitting at the back of various crematoria chapels watching and learning.

I discovered there were some extraordinary officiants and some dreadful ones. 

I witnessed comfort and I saw discomfort.

I found that some ministers seemed to be going through the motions and others had taken huge care to listen to the story of the family and friends of the person whose funeral they had taken.

I heard inspiring and profound connections made between the life lived and the love of God at work in their lives. 

I listened to men and women eulogize and praise and speak honestly about their loved ones - warts and all. 

And I never ceased to be amazed at the uniqueness of each life - and how ironic it is that only at the end of a life do we begin to understand and love even more that person.

So, I realized, as I listened and watched and learned, that, in fact, God had given me the skills needed - because up until then I had spent all my working life listening to the stories of people's lives, only for them to end up as column inches in the paper I worked for as a journalist.

Today, as I stood at a graveside of a much-loved family matriarch, and watched her son and grandson and nephews and other male relatives infill her grave with love and purpose - with the women of the family  singing hymns, and others laying flowers and bouquets oh-so carefully on the fresh soil; today as the stories were told, and poems recited, and music played, and prayers said; today, I remembered that long walk of discovery begun 15 years ago. And as I again, with trembling, reached to find the words and encourage others to utter the words, that made sense of the love and life and death of a beloved and precious person, I am so grateful that God gave me strength and perseverance to face my fears.

For out of my deepest fear has come a vocation which fills me with a huge sense of privilege and purpose. Fear makes you think about yourself. And so God gently, and sometimes forcefully, reminds us to think beyond ourselves to others.

What might God be calling you to do which fills you with fear yet may indeed bring liberty and hope to others?

Thursday, 9 March 2017

Light as a feather

NINTH DAY OF LENT: 
THURSDAY MARCH 9th 2017 

LIGHTNESS ON THE EDGE

When you walk, as opposed to drive, you have greater freedom to meander.

I have been struck by how living on foot rather than behind a wheel, there are more paths open to me to follow. When I drive, I can't responsibly meander all over the road. I have to stay in lane. But on foot I travel light. I can weave along a pavement or cross the road and stride a different path. And away from the concrete world, I can wander off the path altogether. I can walk to the edge of a precipice and lean into powerful winds. I can live on the edge. 


A poet I know has written about 'Edge Folk'. People who know things and travel strange paths under strange skies, with what he calls 'bent bones and bent minds, and souls open to the stars'; people who lean into the wind and live on the edge of falling.

In our ordered lives of getting from A to B in the most efficient and quickest way, we do not leave much space for wandering, getting lost or living on the edge of falling.

We have a more rigid heaviness, less space for wild wanderings, perhaps not terribly open to the Holy Spirit's murmerings.

Our minds and bodies become occupied by getting to the next thing, ticking off the next task, filling the day with achievements which somehow make us feel better about ourselves in our earnestness (well this is my experience anyway).

But walking between appointments and tasks is teaching me to create space for alternative possibilities. It is giving me a sense of lightness.

There is is an interesting play on words here for us that exists with the use of the word 'light' (in English at least). 

As Christians we are taught to understand that we are carriers of Christ's light. 

Jesus also teaches us in Matthew that his 'burden is light'. 

I wonder whether there was such a similar coming together of contrasting meanings from the same word uttered in Aramaic, Jesus' language two thousand years ago?

Walking in Lent is teaching me not to take myself too seriously. And this brings lightness. So does the daily conversation with a blackbird I hear (and see) each morning. It makes me almost light as a feather.

Wednesday, 8 March 2017

Our lives in their hands

EIGHTH DAY OF LENT: 
WEDNESDAY MARCH 8th 2017 

Do these stats surprise you?

About one million women work in the NHS.

On International Women's Day, it is important to see how the health of the nation depends upon women.

I know one of them very well!

Today, as we remember many amazing women who have inspired us: let us give thanks for the women in whose hands our lives are made safe.

Tuesday, 7 March 2017

Picture that!

SEVENTH DAY OF LENT: 
TUESDAY MARCH 7th 2017

HOPE PICTURED

Friends of ours were up on the Malvern Hills the other day. And from their sharing on Facebook (yes, I do look at Facebook from time to time!) came this beautiful photograph. I have their permission to share it with you, dear reader. It is Hope, pictured. Last night, I was watching an inspiring TV program about the history of British photography. In it, celebrated newspaper photographer and picture editor Eamonn McCabe took us back to the beginning of this wonderful art form... all the way back to the 1830s when the first photograph was taken. He reminded us that the word photography means, quite specifically, 'drawing with light' - from the Greek for light (photos) and drawing (graphe). In the days before digital (only so recent really), the art and science of photography was all about using chemicals and plates which turned a negative into a positive.

Light-drawing is a wonderful way of thinking about photography. 

Might it be for us, this Lent, a way of describing our vocations as Christians. We are called to be image bearers who draw or animate our lives with the light of Christ.


Where might we see such image bearers animating the light of Christ? Here is one story. This evening, at the Warley Deanery Synod we heard of an inspirational charity - Safe Families for Children - where volunteers from 563 churches nationwide are supporting 766 families (1,874 children) who are struggling. The charity has spread to Sandwell. And Kay, its co-ordinator in the Black Country, told us stories of the kind of vital befriending and support opportunities there are to help families back on their feet. 

Social workers in children's services are so hard-pressed these days that they only have time to prioritise children where intervention (such as taking children into care to protect them from harm) is needed in an emergency. Safe Families is working with the council to provide a safety net for families to prevent that kind of intervention from happening further down the line. 

Safe Families for Children supports families going through difficult times, reducing the flow of children into foster care. Single parents dealing with unemployment or illness can be lifted simply through one kind act of helping to clean the house or taking the children out to play in the park. Light-bringers can help a hard-pressed mother who simply needs a cup of tea and a chat. Such volunteers are having life-changing effects on many families.

Hope: picture that! (And all at a Deanery Synod - who says such meetings are dry, boring and irrelevant?)

Monday, 6 March 2017

Seeing Salvation

SIXTH DAY OF LENT: 
MONDAY MARCH 6th 2017

STEP BY STEP


Today's tally is 12,321 steps, or a little over six miles on foot around the parish. Quite pleased with that. 

Around 6,000 of those steps was spent in company of two others on a prayer walk around the north part of the parish - a route that took us down Hurst a few yards, then into Pheasant, across Norman and Thimblemill Brook, up Valentine, then right along Edmonds, a little way up Salop, left onto Eva and right into Beeches, left up Bristnall Hall, then up George and Sandfields, along Hill Top and finally down Pottery to Abbey and St Hilda's. 

There were a couple of diversions. One was up some steep steps to look at the underground reservoir just above Bristnall Hall Road, where you could hear the sound of rushing water underneath giant manhole covers. 

The second was a far more fruitful discovery. We were encouraged through a reading of Psalm 98 to look for signs of salvation as we walked... but especially to ask God to help us to see things we could not yet see. And so it was, behind a Tesco Extra store on the corner of Beeches and Bristnall Hall roads we saw a low slung municipal building we'd never before noticed. 

It is the home of the borough-wide service offered by the Black Country Partnership NHS Foundation Trust Carers Team. In short, the eight staff offer support to 600 families who care for people aged 18 to 65 with mental health issues. We turned up out of the blue, the three of us from St Hilda's, and were given a warm welcome by one of the support workers who then went on to give us a guided tour of the site and explained some of the amazing work they do to help sustain and empower people carrying the burden of loving and caring for a relative.

We were 'seeing salvation'.

It was moving to hear of the passion of the staff and their commitment to educate, befriend and make a difference to the hard-pressed lives of hundreds of people. 

And it was also so utterly depressing to hear that this vital service may yet face cutbacks. 

Later on we prayed a version of the Lord's Prayer inspired by the Polynesian and Maori Christians who make up the Anglican church in New Zealand.

It talks of God as earth-maker, pain-bearer and life-giver. 

As we walked the earth of Warley Woods, we met people who are both pain-bearers and life-givers: people who bring life to others while helping to bear their pain. This is the image of God seen in people following their vocation.

Here is the Lord's Prayer.

May it help you see salvation in your prayers.

Eternal Spirit,
Earth-maker, Pain bearer, Life-giver,
Source of all that is and that shall be,
Father and Mother of us all,
Loving God, in whom is heaven:
The hallowing of your name echo through the universe;
The way of your justice be followed by the peoples of the world;
Your heavenly will be done by all created beings;
Your commonwealth of peace and freedom
sustain our hope and come on earth.
With the bread we need for today, feed us.
In the hurts we absorb from one another, forgive us.
In times of temptation and test, strengthen us.
From trial too great to endure, spare us.
From the grip of all that is evil, free us.
For you reign in the glory of the power that is love,
now and forever. Amen.