Showing posts from 2014

New Year's Eve 2014

Fireworks have become an expected part of celebration at the end of the old year and start of the new. The cynic in me says that's good for winter tourism in cities like London or Edinburgh. I don't know when New Year fireworks became popular in the UK. I don't remember this from childhood. I just know that now the start of each New Year seems to be noisier than the year before.

For my Scottish grandparents 31 December was the day to complete a thorough house-cleaning, especially fireplaces, in preparation for the big celebration tonight of clearing out the old year and welcoming the new. At the same time it was important to ensure all debts were cleared before midnight. The origin of Hogmanay is very ancient, but today's Scottish tradition probably owes most to Viking invaders and their Yule winter festival traditions. 

I come from a long line of Scottish Presbyterians, who frowned on the celebration of Christmas as a 'Popish' or Roman Catholic feast. From the l…

Christmas Prayer

Christmas Prayer
Thank you,
scandalous God,
for giving yourself to the world,
not in the powerful and extraordinary,
but in weakness and the familiar:
in a baby; in bread and wine.

Thank you
for offering, at journey’s end, a new beginning;
for setting, in the poverty of a stable,
the richest jewel of your love;
for revealing, in a particular place,
your light for all nations.

Thank you
for bringing us to Bethlehem, House of Bread
where the empty are filled,
and the filled are emptied;
where the poor find riches,
and the rich recognize their poverty;
where all who kneel and hold out their hands
are unstintingly fed.

Kate Compston, from Bread of Tomorrow.
Image Credit: Commons Wikimeida, public domain

Shortest Day of the Year

I don't like long nights and short days, so I'm grateful not to live further north than I do. Here in the Northern Hemisphere today is the one with the shortest hours of daylight. After today we look forward to gradually lengthening days.

So it seems fitting that the Advent Antiphon said or sung today before the Magnificat at Vespers in some Christian traditions is 'O Oriens' meaning 'O Rising Sun' (or Morning Star or Day Star). It is inspired by these words from Isaiah:
"The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light; those who lived in a land of deep darkness - on them lights has shined." Isaiah 9:2Here is one English translation of the original Latin words of 'O Oriens':
"O Day Star,splendour of eternal lightand son of justice:Come, and illumuninate those who are sitting in darknessand in the shadow of death.And here is one sung version together with Mary's Song (the Magnificat).

Image Credit: Commons Wikimedia

Rachel weeping

Christmas celebrations often focus on sentimentality with attempts to recapture childhood innocence and wonder at all things magical. So to be plunged into a heart-rending description of the inconsolable rawness of a mother's grief in the second chapter of Stephen Cottrell's book Walking Backwards to Christmas is painful. This book is my rather slow Advent reading this year.

In the chapter called 'Rachel', Stephen Cottrell puts himself in the shoes of one of the mothers whose child was slaughtered in Bethlehem after Jesus' birth, according to Matthew's account:
"When Herod saw that he had been tricked by the wise men, he was infuriated, and he sent and killed all the children in and around Bethlehem who were two years old or under, according to the time that he had learned from the wise men. Then was fulfilled what had been spoken through the prophet Jeremiah: 'A voice was heard in Ramah, wailing and loud lamentation, Rachel weeping for her children'…

Anna and Advent Waiting

This Advent I am reading Stephen Cottrell's book 'Walking Backwards to Christmas'. It is written for those who thought they knew the Christmas story well. Each chapter has a key character telling the story from that person's point of view. The 'backwards' element is immediately apparent in the first chapter in which Anna the prophet tells her story.

Anna does not appear in the birth narratives until after Jesus' birth and the church usually remembers her story after Christmas. She was a faithful old woman who lived in Jerusalem and spent all her time in its temple. Along with Simeon she met baby Jesus when Mary and Joseph brought him for ritual observances after Jesus' birth. Her name is the Greek and Latin form of the Hebrew name 'Hannah' and means 'grace' or 'gracious'. 

Only 3 verses in Luke's gospel tell us something about Anna:
"There was also a prophet, Anna the daughter of Phanuel, of the tribe of Asher. She was of g…

A voice crying in the wilderness

Reflection for 2nd Sunday of Advent, Year Bbased on Mark 1: 1 - 8
I heard a voice
crying out in the wilderness.

I heard a voice
echoing from long ago.

I heard a voice
arriving and calling now.

I heard a voice
'prepare the way of the Lord'.

I heard a voice:
urgent beginning of good news.

I heard a voice
shouting of one more powerful to come.

I heard a voice:
crying good news at the edge.

I heard a voice:
shouting truth in lost desert fringes.

I heard a voice:
changing hearts towards God and neighbour.

I heard a voice
proclaiming through muddy Jordan water.

I heard a voice
pronouncing, 'you are forgiven'.

I heard a voice
announcing the One to come.

I heard a voice
like a finger pointing to One who is good news.

I heard a voice
and began to look for Christ in the wilderness.

I heard a voice
and replied, 'ready or not, come, Lord Jesus'.

Image Credit: Commons Wikimedia, CC License

St Nicholas Day

This morning I was excited to see that St Nicholas had arrived on the right day in a nearby town - the 'right day' being his saint's day.

At second glance it was obvious that it was not someone dressed up as the 4th century bishop, as in this photo from the Netherlands. He was after all just another Santa Claus complete with sleigh and reindeer and no sign of a bishop's mitre and crozier.

And he was not giving small gifts to children as St Nicolas used to do and according to legend still does in many countries of Europe on 5 - 6 December each year. He, or rather his helpers, were collecting money for charity. I suppose that too is in the spirit of St Nicholas' inspiration.

Facts about the St Nicholas are very thin on the ground. He was certainly Bishop of Mrya in Lycia, which was then Greek, but is now part of Demre in modern Turkey. He probably died on 6 December in AD 343 or in another year. He was imprisoned for his faith under the persecution of the Roman Emperor …

Advent: what are you waiting for?

What are you waiting for?
Much of life is spent waiting:

Waiting in a check-out or check-in queue. Waiting for a delivery. Waiting for a response to a call, email or text.Waiting for a bus or train.Waiting for the car to be fixed.Waiting for someone to do what they promised.Waiting for someone to leave or someone to arrive.Waiting for justice.Waiting for pain to end, sickness to pass.Waiting for a war to be over.Waiting for an expected birth or death...You can go on.
I won't.

What are you waiting for?

Waiting is a recurring theme in Advent, the four weeks of preparation before Christmas.

Advent waiting is a particular sort of waiting.
It may be silent or noisy, calm or exciting, but never passive. It isn't waiting for Christmas. It's more like looking forward and preparing for a guest. This guest has promised to come but doesn't say when.

This Guest is so much more than an ordinary guest.
This Guest comes in ordinary ways:

just one among many newborn babiesquietly in the heartin…

Advent preparation

Advent begins next Sunday. What? Already? where did the last year go?

The trouble with Advent is that it rushes at me and by me too quickly. It can be hard to make best use of it in a 'watching' and 'waiting' sort of way. Perhaps it is the same for you?

I've found that planning ahead can help. It seems odd to think about preparing for Advent, when Advent itself is a preparation season. On the other hand when I don't plan to prepare I don't prepare well.

If you are wondering how to take a few regular quiet moments for prayer or reflection during Advent, here are a few suggestions to choose from:

Dreaming of a "White Christmas"? Why not dream of a green one instead? Better still - do something about it. A Rocha has an online Advent Calendar 2014 with daily "life-altering tips and ideas for a greener Christmas and beyond". Jon Kuhrt has a simple Advent Challenge to use between 1st and 24th December. The idea is to set aside 10 minutes a day for…

Where is God?

Where is God?
People sometimes ask that question when bad things happen. The underlying question is 'why doesn't God do something to stop it?' I think that's a question that never has a fully satisfactory answer. I tried and failed in 'Bird-watcher sets cat among pigeons' among other posts about suffering. The best I can do is to find ways to live with the question,with all its accompanying tensions and paradoxes. This post is about 'where is God?' That's also a hard question to answer, unless your god is one you have managed to neatly package to fit in your pocket. In which case, to use John Bertram Phillips' term, 'Your God is too small'.

Where is God?
At its simplest, that question may be posed by a child or someone expecting a literalistic answer, as if God is only located in a particular place, like 'in heaven'.

When one of our children was about 4 he wondered about the idea of God being everywhere and wanted to check it out. &#…

Christ the King; a reflection

Hidden King when did we see you? We saw no King, only a scrounger begging on the street.
Hidden King, when did we refuse you food, drink and clothes? We could have given our best if we had seen you.
Hidden King, when did we refuse you care when you were sick? We could have cared for you if we had seen you.
Hidden King, when did we ignore you when you were imprisoned? We could have helped if we had seen you.
Hidden King where is your throne? We saw no throne, only a dead tree and a man hanging there.
Hidden King where is your crown? We saw no crown, only a brutal wreath of piercing thorns.
Hidden King, why did you come naked, with no royal regalia? We could have bowed if we had seen you.
Hidden King, is it our fault that we neglected you because we did not see you?

Inspired by Matthew 25: 31 - 46
Image Credit: Wikimedia Commons

For some much better posts for Christ the King Sunday see: Malcolm Guite's The Feast of Christ the King; a sonnetThe Beaker Folk of Husborne Crawley's Another Kind of ThroneSheep, Goats and Ext…

Church of England Bishops and the Amending of Canons

It doesn't sound very exciting - that 2nd item on the agenda this morning for the Church of England's General Synod -'Amending Canon 33'.  And part of me wants to say, why should it be? Today is just the rubber stamping (or so I hope and trust) on a process that goes back decades.

Amending Canon C2 in the way I assume will happen today has been a long time coming. The legislation has gone through General Synod, through both Houses of Parliament and has received the Royal Assent.  Today's business dots the 'I's and crosses the 'T's and should go through without a problem. There will be no additional discussion, just a vote, which is almost certain to gain the required majority. After today we will have these new words at the start of Canon C2:

1. Canon C 2 (Of the consecration of bishops) is amended as follows –(a) The following paragraph is inserted at the beginning –“1. A man or a woman may be consecrated to the office of bishop.”;Simple!
You can read…

Armistice Day 2014

Ironmongery from WW1 is now arranged artfully in the garden at Hooge Crater and the deep craters themselves turned into lakes in a hotel garden.

I took these photos during a visit earlier this year to the Flanders battlefields of World War 1 around the Ypres Salient.

There is nothing like being in a place to help understand past events. My overwhelming impressions were twofold:

what a waste of resources and liveshow young were those men of many nations who died in Flanders fields

2 minutes silence is observed in many parts of the world today to mark the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month of 1918 when the guns fell silent at the end of the 'Great War', bringing peace of a sort but certainly not an end to war or the situations and attitudes that lead to war. Sometimes the only appropriate response to such horrors is silence, then prayer, then action for peace. But first - the silence - introduced in this video with the Last Post. (Pity about the spelling of Remembrance!)


Remembrance Sunday 2014

A universal prayer for Remembrance Sunday or any time:

Our globe is nothing but a little star in the great universe.
It is our duty to turn this globe into a planet
whose creatures are not tormented by wars,
nor tortured by hunger and fear,
nor torn apart in senseless divisions
according to race, colour or creed.
Give us the courage and foresight,
to begin this work even today,
so that our children and grandchildren
may one day take pride
in being called human.
Stephen Vincent Benet, from 'Prayers Encircling the World', SPCK 1998
This is the prayer of the United Nations.

Image Credit: Wikimedia

Previous Posts for Remembrance Sunday and Remembrance Day: Remembrance Sunday Remembrance Sunday 2013 Remembrance Day 2013

Please to remember the 5th of November

"Please to remember the 5th of November,
Gunpowder, treason and plot!"So begins the rhyme I used to chant as a child around this time of year as excitement grew in preparation for 'Bonfire Night' or 'Guy Fawkes Day' or 'Fireworks Day' - take your pick as to what you call it.

The bonfire pile was built, a 'guy' created out of old sacking stuffed with straw, fireworks bought and stored in a tin box. In my childhood, it was usually a family fun night in our garden or a neighbour's garden. Rockets were precariously balanced in empty milk bottles, ready to be fired into the night sky, providing the bottle didn't fall over. Catherine wheels were pinned to a fence, ready for their fiery rotation. I liked Roman Candles best - beautiful changing colours without too much scary noise. Bangers I found terrifying - and still do. We children were allowed to hold sparklers, but only while wearing gloves. The dog was shut up in the kitchen, where, once …