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.
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.
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.
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:
the thistle, reminding us that Scotland isn’t far:
Rosebay Willowherb in full song …
an Umbellifer that isn’t cow parsley (which is finished now) – let’s call it Queen Anne’s lace –
Meadow vetch –
clover in a meadow
and harebells reflecting the sky.
Nor should we forget the humble nettle and dock in flower:
The walk took us alongside the lake on the wooded south side.
Through Hudson’s Place, with its parquetry dating from 1741
and hay all gathered in.
Alongside ancient hedgerows
and over double stiles.
We walked to the lake
and found a spot
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.
They had baked scones in the kitchen.
Theo and Hsuan are here for a month, and it was lovely to spend time with them after the busyness of the weekend.
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.
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 …
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,
and afterwards we gathered for a photo – all the friends and family that had come for the occasion. A joyous time.
‘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.
Then Susie – Al’s mother – very kindly offered refreshment at her hotel.
Where she caught up with her son, discussing the football that was happening over our heads (over mine, certainly) …
Tilda caught up with her godfather, Bill – an old friend of Peter’s from Cambridge days …
Julia enjoyed herself
And Peter practised his listening skills.
We repaired to the Ristorante Adriano for a meal, before heading for home and cake, made by Lorna, St Michael’s parish administrator.
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.