Starfish

16 July 2018

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Tilds and Al came over on Saturday evening, and with Hugh and Sammy, we walked on the Workington beach at low tide with Blisco and Cora, their dogs. The tide was just on the turn, with a fresh south-westerly wind. The manmade cliffs of slag shaped the land,

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with St Bees Head in the distance as we walked.

Tilda called me over. ‘Look at this!’

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She pointed at an orange starfish, and picked it up. I’d never seen starfish washed up – and of course it brought that simple parable to mind:

One day, an old man was walking along a beach that was littered with thousands of starfish that had been washed ashore by the high tide. As he walked he came upon a young boy who was eagerly throwing the starfish back into the ocean, one by one.
Puzzled, the man looked at the boy and asked what he was doing. Without looking up from his task, the boy simply replied, “I’m saving these starfish, Sir”.
The old man chuckled aloud, “Son, there are thousands of starfish and only one of you. What difference can you make?”
The boy picked up a starfish, gently tossed it into the water and turning to the man, said, “I made a difference to that one!”

We too threw it back – and the others we found. One was there, regenerating one of its limbs.

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Later I googled starfish, and found out that they are the species that first led to the designation ‘keystone species’. If you’ve read George Monbiot’s Feral, you’ll know that he argues convincingly that wolves also are keystone species – their presence in an environment controls other species that are likely to become dominant and diminish biodiversity – like deer. Keystone species enable diversity. The term was first used by Robert Paine in 1966 as he studied the low intertidal coasts of Washington State. Paine found that the predation by a particular starfish controlled the mussels that, when the starfish was removed, out-competed other organisms.

Starfish also clean surface films and algae, so enable regeneration of organic matter that fish, crabs and sea urchins feed on.

That evening, on Workington beach, the water was clear, the sea weed clean, with oyster catchers crying.

It’s been quite a week. Trump throwing his weight around Europe, the UK, even HM the Queen. Theresa’s Brexit blue print unravelling; and now Justine is calling for another referendum. We could do with some keystone species in our political systems to enable diversity, such is the monochrome boringness of it all. Boring, if the sort of populism Trump – and Boris, and Jacob – represent wasn’t so dangerous for Western liberal political systems. And there’s Putin, too, gnawing away at the West, undermining the foundations. I dread to imagine the Helsinki conversation between him, with all his 18 year’s experience of political Machiavellianism, and Trump’s baby naiveté.

There’s been no escaping the sport. Even I watched the England/Croatia match, and Djokovic winning, as I pulled my rag rug. At least that won’t unravel any time soon.

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‘We must walk to St Bees’ Head from Workington some day’, Peter and I agreed. The coast looks intriguing, over those slag cliffs and through Whitehaven, and up onto that prominent head land. On Friday we’d been in St Bees, and seen, in the rain (so welcome), how the headland had been affected by fire.

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The ground is seriously dry still. We need more rain.

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Though the rose-bay willow herb, and native willow herb are in full bloom.

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And the chickens enjoy a moment in the shade.

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St Bees was disappointing. A great café above the beach (somewhere to go for a quiet, anonymous time to read and reflect).

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But I’d been looking for a craft shop at least to satisfy my insatiable desire for retail therapy. Especially when it’s raining.

No matter, though – as we had been on our way to the Animal Rescue Centre near Egremont. There we met Cleo. She’s being rehomed because her current owners don’t have time to walk her properly. She’s an unfit lurcher, aged seven, black, with white paws, a white breast and tip to her tail – the size of a medium sized labrador. We walked along the road with her and were pleased that she didn’t pull, that she sat when asked to, and chased a ball with a lurcher’s turn of speed. She was so anxious though, at the separation from her owner, it was difficult to tell what she’s really like. Lisa, the staff member who organised the visit, has arranged to do a home visit on Tuesday, and bring Cleo with her. It’ll take her a good month or two to relax though, if she comes to us.

Peter is resigned – no, more positive than that. Mainly he’s relieved it’s not a puppy we’ll end up with. Cleo’s gentleness appealed to him.

As we walked on the beach, I imagined her running with Blisco and Cora. It would be good to give her the exercise and attention that a dog needs. Something makes me think the owner may change her mind, though, so I’m not building up my hopes.

I dreamt about Joe Hawes last night. A good, affirming dream about the good impression he makes as he meets all sorts of people. He’s been installed as the next Dean of St Edmundsbury now. He preached well, I’ve been told. I’m sure he’ll be great, with his excellent experience in Fulham and his lively, positive outlook and sense of fun. I sent a card, wishing him and Chris all the very best. He’s in my mind all day Sunday as he’ll be presiding for the first time.

It’s been a week of settling down into our new home. Peter’s been out and about, visiting people, and at various meetings in the Mission Community. He’s finding his feet. On Sunday we had the visiting priest and his wife for lunch. David and Anne had been in Cumbria all their ministry together, and have now retired to Aspatria. It was good to get to know them, to hear of their experiences.

I’m beginning to work at the blog book, which will be titled Larkrise to Skipton – (obviously) as it relates the voyage on the narrowboat through May and the first half of June.  I don’t have a publisher yet, but will write it first – not the usual way around, for me. Putting all the blogs together – there are twelve, and the word count is 33,000 words. So that’s well on the way. There are aspects I want to research more deeply, and it’s a book that I hope will be about transitions and coming to terms with what has been, a meditation on the Psalms, drawing on the wide range of human experience found there, particularly where water is the element.

Richard Sudworth and I talked on the phone about the next Littlemore group book, on Preaching. We’ve got to persuade the contributors to write their chapters by the beginning of September. My chapter is on the encounter with Christ that each sermon should enable. Each of us is engaging with a classic sermon, and I’m going to work with St Paul, as he preached to about the Unknown God at the Areopagus, in Acts 17. I also have in mind the statues to unknown soldiers that are all around us, in towns and villages across the country, as we remember the war a century ago. Ecce Homo. And then Nietzsche wrote a short book with that title. I can’t find my copy, so have ordered another from Abebooks.

I preached on Sunday evening at St Michael’s. About the daily office, and how important it is. Peter and I have been saying Morning Prayer, with his training incumbent, establishing a routine on Tuesdays, Thursdays and Saturdays at 7.30 am. We’ve had people joining us each time, building up a core group.

I borrow a story to begin – one I heard ordinand Jill use in a sermon at Mirfield, where it went down particularly well.

A new monk arrives at the monastery. He is assigned to help the other monks in copying the old texts by hand. He notices, however, that they are copying copies, and not the original books.
So, the new monk goes to the Abbot to ask him about this. He points out that if there was an error in the first copy, that error would be continued in all of the other copies. The Abbot says, “We have been copying from the copies for centuries, but you make a good point, my son.”
So, he goes down into the cellar with one of the copies to check it against the original. Hours later, nobody has seen him. So, one of the monks goes downstairs to look for him. He hears sobbing coming from the back of the cellar and finds the Abbot leaning over one of the original books crying. He asks what’s wrong.
“The word is celebrate not celibate,” says the old monk with tears in his eyes.

The sermon I preach continues, with the reading from Deuteronomy in mind (28.1-14).

It’s a story about handing on traditions, isn’t it? How we shouldn’t just do things blindly, because that’s the way it’s always been done. We should ask ourselves, why do we do it this way? We should think it through, and check back, as the Abbot did, into the past. Ask questions about now – as the new monk did. And wonder what’s going to be the best thing for the future.
In a world – and church – where there’s much change, and much talk of change, it isn’t always easy to work out what changes are right and good, and which changes are just for the sake of it.
Take this service of Choral Evensong, for instance. There will be those who argue that it should be allowed to die. That it’s old-fashioned and doesn’t speak to today’s generations. And in many ways, such people are obviously right. Gone are the days of the photo on the choir vestry wall from the 1920s when there’s a choir that most Cathedrals would be give their eyeteeth for. Culture around us has changed; surely we should change too?
I’m not so sure. When it comes to change, the pattern of our prayer and worship isn’t just about what culture around us is doing. The prayer life of the church is altogether more important.
Choral evensong belongs within the daily round of prayer that has traditionally been called the offices – morning and evening prayer. The daily office has for centuries been the bedrock of the church. Priests and deacons take a vow to say the office – and hopefully they are joined by others too, and that’s a good tradition – because it means that the church, on a daily basis, is filled with prayer.
Choral evensong is the service where we offer that much more, because it’s Sunday. We sing hymns, listen to two readings from the bible, sing the responses, we have a sermon. It’s special, because it’s Sunday, and it’s special because it belongs within the observance of the office through the week.
If we look back, as the Abbot did, to the original texts, we find good reason to pray the office on a daily and weekly basis.
You can’t go much further back than Deuteronomy. There obedience to the commandments of God means blessing on our lives.

If you will only obey the Lord your God, by diligently observing all his commandments that I am commanding you today, the Lord your God will set you high above all the nations of the earth; all these blessings shall come upon you and overtake you, if you obey the Lord your God.

If we pray – daily, and weekly – God will bless us. We will grow and flourish.
I wonder, sometimes, if all the talk of change and all the new initiatives in the Church of England today are really about a loss of heart in God. A fear that we’re going into decline because the old traditions don’t work anymore. Some old traditions don’t work anymore, but prayer will always work. It’s always worthwhile to pray. To come together, as the Church of England has done through the ages, to pray, to say or sing canticles, to listen to the bible, to share thoughts.
Because when we do, we recognise God’s blessing amongst us.
You’ll know that Peter, Julia and I and others are saying morning prayer at 7.30 on Tuesdays, Thursdays and Saturdays in the Lady Chapel. On the other mornings, Peter is out at Harrington Church. We’re continuing that tradition of prayer that goes back as far as Deuteronomy. Hopefully, before long, even more will join us, so it becomes a habit in our lives. The ancient texts support regular corporate prayer – so we’re in no danger of being caught out in our celibacy. Indeed, it’s a reason to celebrate – the gift of prayer.
For prayer takes us to the heart of the God of grace and love.
It’s very hard to continue to pray off our own bat. Unless we realise that we depend on God’s support and love, we soon dry up. If it’s just down to us, it’s really hard work – particularly when it’s cold and dark on a winter’s morning, or the World Cup  is on. When we know, though, that our prayer life is a gift, that God gives us the structure, handed down to us through the ages, then our prayer life becomes something we celebrate.
So I celebrate that we gather here, every Sunday evening, to worship God. Let us continue to give thanks for the living tradition of prayer in this church. Because it does bear fruit, as Deuteronomy says. It bears fruit as people come to know that that’s what we’re about. Prayer and worship of God, first and foremost. Fellowship and togetherness, and service of the world around us. Deuteronomy had it right, all those centuries ago.

Blessed shall be your basket and your kneading-bowl. Blessed shall you be when you come in, and blessed shall you be when you go out. The Lord will establish you as his holy people, as he has sworn to you, if you keep the commandments of the Lord your God and walk in his ways. All the peoples of the earth shall see that you are called by the name of the Lord.

Last week, Peter told us the story of Paul’s travels, when he had got as far as Malta. Now, Paul has got to Rome. He meets with the Jewish leaders of that great city. He tells them that their hearts are hardened. He quotes Isaiah back at them: “Go to this people and say,

You will indeed listen, but never understand,
and you will indeed look, but never perceive.
For this people’s heart has grown dull,
and their ears are hard of hearing,
and they have shut their eyes;
so that they might not look with their eyes,
and listen with their ears,
and understand with their heart and turn—
and I would heal them.”

When we pray together on a weekly, on a daily basis, we open our ears and eyes to God. We continue to seek God’s guidance and presence in our lives. We are open to what God brings to each of us, to this church, to this town and to our nation. The daily office, which includes evensong, is our offering to God, that keeps us fresh and attentive to the God of grace, in whom we celebrate all our days.

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I liked throwing the star fish back into the sea. It felt like giving back something to the immensity of the ocean. That hymn came to mind, the one about hands that flung stars into space.

Perhaps our prayers are like that.

Offering into the immensity of God’s love our own selves – our confession, petition, intercession, thanksgiving and praise.

 

 

An Abbey, Cathedral and Minster … and Little Gidding

Monday 9 July 2018

It might be turning into a routine, swimming in Loweswater after evensong, on Sunday evenings. Well, obvs, a summer routine …

Yesterday evening was just as glorious as the previous Sunday – the water inviting, the mountains surrounding. In the pub afterwards we had a pint of Loweswater and a bowl of plum crumble. ‘You’ve been swimming too. There’s been quite a few this evening.’ Said the bar attender as she took our order. ‘Not sure.’ She said in response to Peter’s encouragement that she should go after work. ‘It’s not so romantic when it’s just you.’ The water was dark, less playful, this time. I took the odd mouthful as I swam, to taste its depths.

Between swims in Loweswater, much had happened in the week. I’ve travelled all over the country, and worshipped in three of the most prestigious churches – an Abbey, a Cathedral, a Minster. I’ve also been to Little Gidding, which has its own contribution to make to the spiritual wealth of this nation. All a good distance from Workington.

Last Monday saw me heading south to stay at Westminster Abbey with Jane, to be there for Viv’s consecration as Bishop of Bristol on Tuesday at St Paul’s.

Jane is Canon of Westminster and Rector of St Margaret’s Church, which means she is often in and around the Houses of Parliament, at the heart of government. She chairs the Westminster Institute, which fosters engagement between the Church and public life. I’ve asked if Full of Character can be launched there when it’s out.

On Tuesday morning we went to Morning Prayer in the exquisite St Faith’s Chapel. ‘It used to be a store room’, she said. Built as part of the development from 1245 by Henry III, your eye is captured by a large feminine form above the altar, carrying what looks like a chart or table. ‘Who was St Faith?’ I ask Jane. ‘No one really knows. It seems she was martyred on a girdle’. Now the painting is lit beautifully and the walls resonate with prayer.

We look around Poets’ Corner, and bemoan the lack of women there. Where’s Dorothy L. Sayers? Rose Macaulay? Iris Murdoch? Jane told me of a series of lectures, Excellent Women, they’d held here, in Poets’ Corner, to celebrate Anglican Women Novelists from Charlotte Bronte onwards. There’s a book of this title, edited by Judith Maltby and Alison Shell, that’s coming out shortly, to be published by Bloomsbury.

We wandered over to see the memorial stone to Stephen Hawking – “Here lies what was mortal of Stephen Hawking, 1942 – 2018” – between Isaac Newton and Charles Darwin.

Then off to St Paul’s in a taxi, with cassock, surplice and red stole. Before the service, the Dean and I caught up with family news under the shadow of John Donne. This memorial belongs here, the only stone to survive the Great Fire of 1666, that destroyed the 17C St Paul’s. I love it – just as I love John Donne. His fascination with death and dying, and life and love.

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Paula Gooder was there to preach. She invited me to Birmingham to talk of being a freelance theologian.

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Then the service began in the cool of Christopher Wren’s great St Paul’s. It’s not a building I get on with, somehow. It performs itself too ostentatiously.

Paula preached on Doubting Thomas, and how he didn’t really deserve his nick name. The acoustic in St Paul’s is notoriously hard; and it was not always easy singing the hymns.

We sat as we were reminded of the role of the Bishop.

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Then hands were laid, rings blessed and given, and crooks received. Viv explained later that hers was made of the last oak to remain from the 1984 fire at York Minster.

Some clergy can’t switch off. Someone in earshot provided a running commentary on the service to his neighbour all the way through.

I was left reflecting on the Church as the means of God’s grace in Word and Sacrament – the real presence of Christ in bread and wine – and how lacking in reverence we are, so often, in our worship; how little we prepare in silence to receive. Anglicans are so good at chatting, at making light, at being messy. I’m sure we would have more impact if we took it all more seriously, more formally. The Church as the means of God’s grace, through Word and Sacrament. A Church that bears the weight of holiness, in its worship and practice. At Mirfield we were in silence before the service – a deep well of communion, as hearts and minds become still before the Lord. I miss that.

The weight of holiness lightened with joy, of course.

Here’s Viv, on the steps of St Paul’s.

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Here you see her crook and ring.

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And then to Lambeth for lunch.

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The chance to catch up with old friends over excellent food in the marquee.

Rachel was there. I haven’t seen her since she was a priest in Manchester. She’s now married to Mike – who was also a priest at that time in Manchester.  It was a delight to see them both again and hear their news.

John and I fell into an animated conversation about the Lakes and his familiarity with the fells at the head of Borrowdale. He spoke of his wife’s death of MS, some years ago now, while he was with his small children in Borrowdale. How there was nothing to be done, but walk and spend time with them.

The Dean of Bristol is absolutely delighted that Viv has been appointed.

I walked to the Tube with Bishops Frank and Alison and we talked all the way. Euston, and the train journey home.

Wednesday morning, and great Cathedral number three, as I travel the train to York.

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Twice a year the cell group I belong to meets – in December for the day at Westminster Abbey, and overnight in York, at the time of General Synod.

Cell groups often establish at Theological College, and many continue with the same membership for decades, each with their own pattern of meeting. I’m not sure how long this one has been going, but it evolved to include me about four years ago. The members take about 40 minutes or so each to talk through the priorities, concerns, hopes and fears of their life at the present, and listen with emotional intelligence to each other. A meal out at a restaurant in York that evening, and we talk of the bishop’s ring, made of amethyst – traditionally, to signify no drunkenness – following the injunction in 1 Timothy, chapter 3, verse 2, that bishops be sober. We enjoy that. We talked of mitres, and how they should be worn; how ridiculous they look when worn on the back of the head. Of moves and transitions, and the state of the world and the Church.

Morning Prayer on Thursday is in the Zouche Chapel, and to my delight I’m accompanied by stained glass birds.

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The scaffolding beyond is a nice reality.

We see the East Window, revealed in May after 12 years of scaffolding to enable repairs.

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The website says ‘All 311 stained glass panels were removed from the 15th-century window, which is the size of a tennis court, in 2008, so York Glaziers Trust could begin the mammoth task of restoring the fragile masterpiece.’

The space below is waiting for new furniture, to pull it all together as a glorious place to be and to worship. We examined the marble altar that used to stand against the great East wall. What to do with it? It belongs there, but perhaps not as an altar any more.

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The Cell Group talked of our future pattern to meet. I’m now the only Northern member. Previously we’ve tied it into General Synod, meeting in York. They all said they’d be happy to come to Workington. I’ll have to hold them to that.

Home on the train – through Durham, to Newcastle, and then across the north, through Hexham to Carlisle, and onwards around the coast, through Dalston, Wigton, Aspatria, Maryport and Flimby, in time to spend time with Theo and Hsuan, and to listen carefully to their views on the football. There’s a big match coming up on Saturday against Sweden, I gather. We watch it, when the time comes. Or at least, they head off to a pub in town, as we don’t have a TV, and Peter and I see the highlights, drifting in and out as I work at way at the garage, and Peter chops up an old chest of drawers for firewood.

Our new chickens are now settled enough to be allowed out to free range the back garden.

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They are Wyandottes – so will look rather glorious when they are mature. One of them is a cockerel. That could be fun.

And in the Lady Chapel at St Michael’s Workington, the cock crowing in the St Peter window.

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A bit late in the day when I return from York on Thursday, I prepare my report for the Little Gidding Trust AGM, which I chair.

It’s a long drive across the A66 and down the A1, on Friday, to get there – but a good meeting. We’re making progress as we oversee the properties and improve their quality as homes. That’s been the main priority of the last year. Soon, we need to turn our attention to developing the place further as the spiritual resource it needs to be. The T S Eliot festival happened there this Sunday.

It’s a great place to visit. After all those wonderful Cathedrals, a delicious taste of tranquillity and peace that leaves its enchantment long after you’ve left.

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It’ll mature nicely …

That was a weekend to remember.

One of the delights of blogging is that it’s all about catching the drift. The ongoing passage of time, with its highs and lows, is captured and shared with others – instead of just receding gradually into the background of our minds, and then into the mists of forgetfulness.

I don’t want to forget Peter’s ordination, or his first sermon at St Michael’s and the lunch that followed, or the weekend of gathered loved ones. Life is rich, full of gifts, and writing it, catching its drift, is a deeply satisfying pleasure.

And now my phone has just reminded me to say the office – West Malling Lauds – as the sisters sing it at 6.50.

Instead of a sense of interruption, and irritation, I remember that my time is not my own, but belongs to God.

 

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I became an oblate last year – making West Malling my spiritual home. It is a deep river of prayer that holds and carries me. The River she is flowing, flowing and growing. The River she is flowing down to the sea. Mother Earth carry me, a child I will always be.

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Sunday evening – let’s begin at the end of the weekend – saw Peter and I swimming in Loweswater. The water was delicious; the scenery stunning.

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We’d already swam there, during the afternoon on a lovely walk that saw us noticing the wayside flower.

Elder – just going over towards its blood red berry:

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the thistle, reminding us that Scotland isn’t far:

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Rosebay Willowherb in full song …

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an Umbellifer that isn’t cow parsley (which is finished now) – let’s call it Queen Anne’s lace –

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Meadow vetch –

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clover in a meadow

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and harebells reflecting the sky.

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Nor should we forget the humble nettle and dock in flower:

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The walk took us alongside the lake on the wooded south side.

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Through Hudson’s Place, with its parquetry dating from 1741

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and hay all gathered in.

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Alongside ancient hedgerows

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and over double stiles.

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We walked to the lake

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and found a spot

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to skinny dip in a quiet spot in the woods.

After choral evensong – at which a PhD student, studying at Workington branch of the National Nuclear Laboratory joined us – we were back for more, this time in suitable garb, with Theo and Hsuan who watched us from the bank.

Very quickly you’re out of your depth. I swam out a good distance and then lay there, on my back, with eyes open to the skies, allowing the water to carry me, buoyed up by the heavy depths below. The water plays with your body, rippling over and through you, nudging and reminding you that we are largely water ourselves. I breathe in, my chest fills, and I rise noticeably; then out, and I sink slightly, back towards the depths. My ears are full of water; I have entered another element. I trust it so, I could fall asleep, cradled in all the oceans of time and space. Walt Whitman comes and goes, as my thoughts sink away from words.

On the beach at night alone,
As the old mother sways her to and fro singing her husky song,
As I watch the bright stars shining, I think a thought of the clef of the universes and of the future.
A vast similitude interlocks all,
All distances of place however wide,
All distances of time,
All souls, all living bodies though they be ever so different …

I close my eyes, and the sun shines red and gold through my eyelids. I feel myself turning in the drift, and wonder if I imagine it; the water taking me, and turning me, as a boat turns with the tide. It is an element I love – water. I love its risk, its weight, its potential and power. My frailty in its depths.

I’m thinking I should write up the blogs of the canal trip for book publication, interweaving that travelogue with engagement with the psalms, and particularly those that use watery images.

Out of the depths I cry to you, O Lord.

The book would also be a reflection on transitions; on the Church of England today; on failure and the future, on seeking to know God’s will when one has come to terms with one’s sense of drive. I’d be interested in whether loyal readers think that would work.

The best way of saying yes is to encourage more to follow the blog! A potential publisher will want to see at least 100 followers. At the moment, larkrise to Skipton has 51 … so do sign up if you haven’t already by clicking the black button and giving your email address.

We went on to the Kirkstile Inn for a pint after our swim/float.

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They had baked scones in the kitchen.

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Theo and Hsuan are here for a month, and it was lovely to spend time with them after the busyness of the weekend.

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We talked of their plans to marry and the difference between Taiwanese and British traditions. Theo is doing some research about whether UK marriage is legally recognised in Taiwan, and vice versa. They have booked a venue in Taiwan for October 2019 for family there (would this be marriage? Or an engagement party?) to which we’ll all go; and plan to come and live in the UK, as Theo hopes to begin a PhD in 2020. We talked of their being married here in April 2020 – perhaps in Carlisle Cathedral? Perhaps at St Michael’s? Theo thought he’d like to explore further with the Cathedral staff what might be possible.

Hugh and Sammy had left after lunch, and Tilda and Al a little later. Lunch was provided by the parish – a great spread. And even better puddings.

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St Michael’s folk are full of life. Al and Tilda think they might start coming on the Sundays when their local church at Waberthwaite doesn’t have a service. They were – we all were – impressed by the Sunday school with its good number of children, by the warmth and reverence of the liturgy, with Julia (Peter’s training incumbent) as president, and yes, by the sermon.

A gathering before they all went their own ways …

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Peter preached on the gospel – the healing of the woman with a haemorrhage and of Jairus’ daughter – Mark 5. 21-end.

Here it is. It was very good indeed.

It is a privilege to be here among you the lovely people of Workington as your Curate, preaching for the first time. Thank you for your welcome.

It never ceases to amaze me that God speaks to us through the words of the Gospel in ways that hit the spot every time.

Today’s Gospel speaks of the love of God, shown as fully as is possible in the person of Christ, among the people, answering their need for healing and insight.

We have not one but two healing miracles. Wonderfully set alongside each other. And in each one we learn how Jesus unfolds the mystery of healing in two very different ways. He is the supreme Physician, listening and responding to each person and each situation to show what the power of love can achieve.

These miracles of healing are a challenge to Doctors. The first poor woman had spent all she had for twelve long unsuccessful years going to Doctors. And they had failed to cure her. In fact, she was getting worse.

The second, even more challenging to me as a former Paediatrician, a young girl of twelve short years, critically ill and then apparently dead. Here just taking her by the hand, and saying ‘Talitha cum’, ‘little girl, get up’ was enough to revive her.

They are wonderful stories that ask us to go deeper than simply taking things at face value.  At first, without this more profound reflection on these two encounters, if we fail to see the deeper meaning and miracle of the encounter, we might respond with scepticism or even with doubt and disbelief.

The disciples, especially in Mark’s Gospel often give us this superficial misunderstanding.  Someone touched you! Jesus, you are pressed in on every side by the crowd, of course someone touched you!  They don’t see the deeper truth of the transforming touch, the special nature of this particular healing encounter. The humble reverence of the woman’s approach, her faith invested in that touch that it would offer her health and wholeness.

 And when Jesus asserts that the child, Jairus’ daughter is not dead but sleeping, the crowd of people weeping and wailing for her simply laugh at him. What nonsense he is saying.

These two stories tells us a deep truth about how we can be transformed, healed, made whole, made beautiful again by being touched, by the closest of encounters with God. When we are loved, when we are cared for, we become beautiful, gracefully made real.

Twelve long years of suffering, twelve short years of life. Each transformed in an instant by Jesus’s healing touch.

And each situation teaches us more about the truth of God’s love for us here and now and how our lives can be transformed just as radically as the woman and the little girl.

The healing is available for all. For rich and poor alike.

The synagogue leader; an important figure in the community; able to order and command people; rich perhaps, but with all his status and money, he could do nothing for his sick child, nothing to bring her back to life, to ‘wake her’ from a death like sleep. Only Jesus hands and words could. Freely given, in the quiet stillness of her bedroom with all the commotion dismissed.

And for the destitute woman, ground into poverty by her long illness, amid the great tumult and crowd of people, she has the insight to know that she needs the the briefest of encounters with Jesus to help her. Just to touch the hem of his cloak and immediately she is cured, healed of her disease.

Rich and poor, young and old, realising their need or oblivious of it. In the business of a crowd or in the stillness of a private room. In each case the encounter is powerful and immediate. The situation is transformed.

For us, the message is clear, coming close to God, recognising our illness or debility without God’s healing presence in our lives, encountering God through Jesus the Christ, his true Son, fully human, fully divine, is what can meet our deepest need.

St Augustine once famously described how we all have an aching and a longing for something in our lives in our very souls that is only really satisfied by a closeness to God. Our souls are ‘restless until they rest in thee’. Made in the image of God, we have a God shaped hole inside us. An aching for love which so many of us try to fill in other ways until we recognise the truth.

What makes us healthy and well? Healthy relationships.

Healed and transformed by God’s pattern, God’s good news to us, shown to us in the life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. What did Jesus keep banging on about- Your sins are forgiven, the Kingdom of God is at hand. God loves the world, the universe into being, creates miraculously all the fabric of the universe, sustains and creates human beings as part of this great mystery and gives us the freedom to chose between right and wrong between right relationships with God, with each other and with the beautiful creatures of the created world, and wrong ones where we put ourselves in the place of God, think we are the ones controlling things, controlling others, living for simply selfish ends.

But even when we make mistakes and wilfully selfishly think we can do things our way, for our own selfish narrow needs, even then God never stops loving us and offers us a way back to restore healthy relationships in the life shown to us by Christ.

A pattern of selfless service to others of generosity of forgiveness.

And that presence of Christ in the world, at our best, is ourselves, we are the hands and feet that go out into the world in the power of the spirit to show the world the truth that love is stronger than death and that nothing can separate us from the love of God.

Christ’s real presence, his body is here, in symbol and in reality, in the sacrament freely given to us. We are invited to come and touch and take the presence of God into ourselves, to be offered his healing presence and to take that out into the world. We are invited to become the Body of Christ present in the world.

Al said it was one of the very few sermons he listened to all the way through.

 

And so – as we seem to be going backwards – we come to the Ordination.

It was a lovely service – moving and wonderful in Carlisle’ Cathedral’s Quire, holding us in the holiness of the place. Peter looked suitably calm, excited, trepidatious before hand,

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and afterwards we gathered for a photo – all the friends and family that had come for the occasion. A joyous time.

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‘You use the word ‘lovely’ a lot’, said Thelma, an old friend from Bradford.

‘Yes, and ‘absolutely’ is another word I use a lot’, I reply. ’Today’s absolutely lovely.’

We gathered then, with members of the Cathedral Chapter, for a short and sweet ceremony in which the Bishop licensing me with a general licence across the Cathedral and Diocese to be a theologian to resource and serve as best I can.

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Then Susie – Al’s mother – very kindly offered refreshment at her hotel.

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Where she caught up with her son, discussing the football that was happening over our heads (over mine, certainly) …

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Tilda caught up with her godfather, Bill – an old friend of Peter’s from Cambridge days …

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Julia enjoyed herself

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And Peter practised his listening skills.

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We repaired to the Ristorante Adriano for a meal, before heading for home and cake, made by Lorna, St Michael’s parish administrator.

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A fruit cake. It will last.

‘Give the remainder a bit of time and it’ll mature nicely,’ Lorna said.

Words that go in all sorts of directions.