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Friday, 3 July 2015

Discover & explore: Perfect service of peace in our busy lives

Here is the latest feedback on the 'Discover & explore' service series at St Stephen Walbrook, which has been organised in partnership with St Martin-in-the-Fields and the Guildhall Art Gallery:
  • Awesome Palestrina. Exquisite pianissimo at end of anthem. Singing Ubi Caritas properly!
  • Thought provoking. Enjoyed the musical part of the service very much and the reflection.
  • The theme and the length and the timing.
  • Spiritual food in the middle of the day. Lovely choir.
  • Beautiful music, as ever, and wonderful readings. I feel strengthened by it. Thank you.
  • Good music and sermon.
  • Readings – especially enjoyed the first reading, and the involvement of the excellent readers. Music. Reflection. Opportunity to think/engage with the topic.
  • Its originality. 
  • Perfect service of peace in our busy lives.
All are welcome at Monday's service (1.10pm - 1.50pm) which is on the theme of Work. Click here, here and here for reflections from previous services on the themes of faith, home and love.


Thomas Tallis - If Ye Love Me.

Thursday, 2 July 2015

Faith, trust and persistence in the face of disbelief

I used the poems and reflections of Malcolm Guite to form today's homily at St Stephen Walbrook:

‘The feast of the Visitation celebrates the lovely moment in Luke’s Gospel (1:41-56) when Mary goes to visit he cousin Elizabeth, who was also against all expectations bearing a child, the child who would be John the Baptist. Luke tells us that the Holy Spirit came upon them, that the babe in Elizabeth’s womb ‘leaped for joy’ when he heard Mary’s voice, and it is even as the older woman blesses the younger, that Mary gives voice to the Magnificat, the most beautiful and revolutionary hymn in the world.’

Malcolm Guite describes their meeting like this in his Sonnet on the Feast of the Visitation:

Here is a meeting made of hidden joys
Of lightenings cloistered in a narrow place
From quiet hearts the sudden flame of praise
And in the womb the quickening kick of grace.
Two women on the very edge of things
Unnoticed and unknown to men of power
But in their flesh the hidden Spirit sings
And in their lives the buds of blessing flower.
And Mary stands with all we call ‘too young’,
Elizabeth with all called ‘past their prime’
They sing today for all the great unsung
Women who turned eternity to time
Favoured of heaven, outcast on the earth
Prophets who bring the best in us to birth.

Mary needed that moment of empathy and inspiration because the experience of being the Theotokos, the God-bearer, was a difficult one. Difficult, because she was not believed - both by those closest to her and those who didn’t really know her. Mary was engaged to Joseph when the annunciation occurred. As she was found to be with child before they lived together, Joseph planned to dismiss her quietly. He had his own meeting with Gabriel which changed that decision but, if the man to whom she was betrothed, could not believe her without angelic intervention, then it would be no surprise if disbelief and misunderstanding characterised the response to Mary wherever she went.

We can imagine, then, how important it was to her to be with a relative who not only believed her but was also partway through her own miraculous pregnancy. The relief that she would have felt at being believed and understood would have been immense and then there is the shared moment of divine inspiration when the Holy Spirit comes on them, the babe in Elizabeth’s womb leaps for joy, and as Elizabeth blesses Mary, she is inspired to sing the Magnificat. In the face of so much disbelief and lack of support, this confirmation that they were both following God’s will, would have been overwhelming.

We can learn much from Mary’s faith, trust and persistence in the face of disbelief, misunderstanding and probable insult. We can also learn from this moment when God gives her both human empathy through Elizabeth and divine inspiration through the Holy Spirit to be a support and strengthening in the difficulties which she faced as God-bearer. Our experience in times of trouble and difficulty will be similar as, on the one hand, God asks to trust and preserve while, on the other, he will provide with moments of support and strengthening.

Mary has been given many titles down the ages but ‘the earliest ‘title’, agreed throughout the church in the first centuries of our faith, before the divisions of East and West, Catholic and Protestant, was Theotokos, which means God-Bearer. She is the prime God-Bearer, bearing for us in time the One who was begotten in eternity, and every Christian after her seeks to become in some small way a God-bearer, one whose ‘yes’ to God means that Christ is made alive and fruitful in the world through our flesh and our daily lives, is born and given to another.’ In his poem ‘Theotokos’, Malcolm Guite suggests some ways in which Mary’s experience can speak to us and inspire us in the challenges we face as we go through life:

You bore for me the One who came to bless
And bear for all and make the broken whole.
You heard His call and in your open ‘yes’
You spoke aloud for every living soul.
Oh gracious Lady, child of your own child,
Whose mother-love still calls the child in me,
Call me again, for I am lost, and wild
Waves surround me now. On this dark sea
Shine as a star and call me to the shore.
Open the door that all my sins would close
And hold me in your garden. Let me share
The prayer that folds the petals of the Rose.
Enfold me too in Love’s last mystery
And bring me to the One you bore for me.


Malcolm Guite - Singing Bowl.

Tuesday, 30 June 2015

Start:Stop - Let The Day Begin

Bible reading

This is the day that the Lord has made;
let us rejoice and be glad in it. (Psalm 118. 24)


In a song called ‘Let the Day begin’, The Call’s Michael Been raises a toast to the beginning of a new day celebrating the human activity that begins with each new day. He celebrates babies born into a brand new world, teachers in crowded rooms, workers in the fields, drivers at the wheel and doctors with their healing work, among others:

‘Here's to the teachers in the crowded rooms
Here's to the workers in the fields
Here's to the preachers of the sacred words
Here's to the drivers at the wheel’

Such work brings benefits ranging from personal income to conferring purpose and meaning by way of meeting needs of clients, customers, shareholders and within society more generally. Been ends by raising a toast to his loved one, praying blessings from above on that person and affirming that they are ready for the new day to begin.

In Psalm 118. 24 we read, ‘This is the day that the LORD has made; let us rejoice and be glad in it.’ Michael Been’s celebration of human activity and the value of our daily work gives us one reason why we can give thanks, rejoice and be glad at the beginning of each new day that the Lord God has made.


Here's to the cleaners who work through the night
Here's to security guards patrolling buildings
Here's to receptionists greeting clients
Here's to call centre operatives answering queries

Let the day begin, let the day start
This is the day that the Lord has made
let us rejoice and be glad in it

Here's to CEO's developing strategies
Here's to HR creating policies
Here's to trainers developing staff
Here's to traders spotting opportunities

Let the day begin, let the day start
This is the day that the Lord has made
let us rejoice and be glad in it

Here's to insurers creating reassurance
Here’s to recruiters helping us advance
Here’s to restaurateurs providing sustenance
Here's to the Police cracking down on crime

Let the day begin, let the day start
This is the day that the Lord has made
let us rejoice and be glad in it

Here’s to administrators keeping offices running
Here’s to accountants tracking money
Here’s to shareholders providing funding
Here to the City promoting London

Let the day begin, let the day start
This is the day that the Lord has made
let us rejoice and be glad in it

Here’s to regulators checking procedures
Here's to Emergency Services saving lives
Here’s to retailers providing saleable goods
Here’s to Livery companies and their charitable tasks

Let the day begin, let the day start
This is the day that the Lord has made
let us rejoice and be glad in it


In this day which the Lord has made
may we know and give thanks for
the blessing of purposeful human activity
As this new day begins
may the blessing of God,
Father, Son and Holy Spirit
rest upon us and remain with us evermore.


Simple Minds - Let The Day Begin.

Art events update

Tonight the Private View for the 82nd Annual Exhibition of The National Society of Painters, Sculptors & Printmakers was held. The exhibition is at the Menier Gallery until Saturday 11 July. The National Society is a charity with 80 artists showing a wide variety of art, from modern to classical styles in three disciplines. The aim of the society is give emerging artists a platform to exhibit in a major London gallery. The exhibition includes work by commission4mission artists, Elizabeth Duncan-Meyer and Peter Webb.

Yesterday, at St Martin-in-the-Fields, a reception was held to celebrate the loan of the painting Parameter by Mark Francis as part of the St Martin-in-the-Fields Art Programme curated by Modus Operandi and overseen by the St Martin-in-the-Fields Arts Advisory Panel.

Mark Francis says of this work: “Parameter is one of a series of paintings created between 2011 and 2014. The main concern of this series revolves around the use of the grid in relation to different types of networks. Earlier paintings focused on more organic and fluid forms with more chaotic connections. The grid has been an important form throughout my painting practice as it presents a structure within which more ‘random’ incidents can occur. Amongst other influences, the internet, cartography, circuit boards and transport systems provide a stimulus to make the paintings.”


M. Ward - Psalm.

Monday, 29 June 2015

Discover & explore: Love

Here is my reflection from today's Discover & explore service at St Stephen Walbrook:

When I preach at weddings I often tell the story of the Love is … cartoons. ‘Love Is...’ began as shy love notes from the artist Kim Casali to her future husband, Roberto. Each of these notes involved a little drawing and a personal sentiment that perfectly captured Kim's thoughts and feelings for the man she loved. She began these drawings when they were dating, and she would leave the cartoons where Roberto would be sure to find them. After they were married, he showed her that he'd kept them all the drawing she had made for him. The cartoons were picked up by the press, were first published in The Los Angeles Times in January 1970, and then their popularity grew globally and they were published daily in 50 countries around the world and translated into 25 languages.

I use this as a way of introducing the original ‘Love is …’ from 1 Corinthians 13: “Love is patient; love is kind; love is not envious or boastful or arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice in wrongdoing, but rejoices in the truth. It bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. Love never ends.”

The ‘Love is …’ cartoons and 1 Corinthians 13 both agree with another well-known ‘love is’ statement; ‘Love is a many-splendoured thing.’ Love cannot be captured or summed up in one cartoon or phrase or even in a series of cartoons or phrases. Love constantly bursts the bounds of our descriptions or definitions and this is why there is no end to songs, poems, novels, films, dances and plays about love. At the Guildhall Art Gallery we can see that the subject of romantic love preoccupied Victorian artists who addressed themes of unrequited love, social incompatibility, family disapproval, and separation at war.

Nearer our own time, C.S. Lewis is well known for looking at some of the different loves described in Greek thought - familial or affectionate love (storge); friendship (philia); romantic love (eros); and spiritual love (agape) - in the light of Christian commentary on ordinate loves. Despite his writings on The Four Loves he was himself surprised by love as his own relationship with Joy Davidman developed. The experience of love confounded his earlier more academic perceptions of it.

It is possible that the definitive Biblical statement on love is that which is found in 1 John 4. 16 where we read that, ‘God is love’. This is also where Ernesto Cardenal takes us. Our experiences of friendship, familial and romantic love all enable us to know God as love. Therefore, he writes, ‘My former loves have taught me what love is. I know how you love me because I too have loved, and I know what passionate and obsessed love is and what it is to be madly in love with someone. And God is mad about me.’

The strength of God’s love for us was revealed among us through his sending of his only Son into the world so that we might live through him. ‘In this is love, not that we loved God but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the atoning sacrifice for our sins.’ Christ searches for us like the Good Shepherd searching for the lost sheep. His journey of salvation shows how much we are loved by him as he gives up all he has in order to seek us out and rescue us.

The extremity of God’s expression of love in giving all in self-sacrifice reveals the limitless nature of love which constantly escapes the limits of our experiences, descriptions or definitions. If God is love then, just as God is infinite and cannot ever be fully grasped by our finite minds, so love also must be inexhaustible. As St Paul stated in 1 Corinthians 13, ‘Love never ends’. Love, like God, is an infinite ocean into which we dive and can always swim deeper and further.

In The Last Battle, the final volume of his Narnia stories, C.S. Lewis sums up the reality of God, heaven and love in the phrase, ‘further up and further in.’ The children in his stories discover heaven as the real Narnia which is bigger and better than the shadow Narnia in which they had lived out their finite lives. When they reach the centre of this real Narnia, they find that their journey begins again as there is always a deeper layer to this real Narnia, meaning that there is no end to their exploration of the reality of Narnia. If God is love and love is God then, as T.S. Eliot wrote in Little Gidding, ‘We shall not cease from exploration / And the end of all our exploring / Will be to arrive where we started / And know the place for the first time.’


Healey Willan - Rise Up, My Love, My Fair One.

Genesis: Steeped in a great weight of human experience

A major new exhibition, Genesis, by artist Julian Bell is at St Anne’s Galleries, Lewes this summer. The exhibition presents an extraordinary series of 37 panel paintings in oils that represent a bold new interpretation of the first thirty three chapters of the Bible.

'Julian Bell started working on his Genesis project some 18 months ago after re-reading the Bible's opening book for the first time since his youth. The initial series of drawings were burnt in a catastrophic fire in March 2014 that destroyed his studio and all its contents. This is Bell’s first major project since the fire. He describes what initially drew him to the subject:

“Genesis is about stories that are steeped in a great weight of human experience. They're about what there was in the world, back in the Stone Age and the Bronze Age, and in fact about what there very largely still is - the relationships that humans have with each other and the relationships that they have with God and the environment. So to me, Genesis is absolutely full of substance. It points me to things that are enduring and strongly typical in many, many human lives. That's why to me it is the best of subjects.”'


Bruce Cockburn - Creation Dream.

Vingt Regards sur l’Enfant-Jésus: From occupation to liberation

Ahead of a recital, Michael Symmons Roberts explained in The Guardian at the weekend how the composition of Vingt Regards sur l’Enfant-Jésus by Olivier Messiaen at the end of the second world war, and its filmic qualities, inspired his response in poetry to the work

Messiaen wrote his piano piece Vingt Regards sur l’Enfant-Jésus (20 Contemplations of the Infant Jesus) in 1944. It was originally a Radio Paris commission, based on some poetic tableaux by the French writer Maurice Toesca.

Symmonds Roberts writes: 'What I hadn’t realised was that Messiaen began to write the piece in Paris under German occupation in March of that year, and finished it in September after liberation. Although his commission was to write music to accompany the 12 sections of Toesca’s text, Messiaen soon abandoned that, pursuing his own poetic vision into wilder and stranger territories.

My work on the poems began to reflect aspects of this story. I was fascinated by the idea of Vingt Regards being written in a city as it crossed from occupation to liberation. Not only does the nativity story take place under Roman occupation, but “occupation” is not a bad metaphor for “annunciation”, even if it starts with a willing “yes’”. And in Christian theology, the arrival of God the creator into his own world as a helpless baby is both a huge risk and – ultimately – an act of liberation.'

Pianist Cordelia Williams is presenting ‘Between Heaven and the Clouds’, a year-long series of events setting Vingt Regards alongside words and images, including specially commissioned poetry and paintings, in order to explore these universal themes and Messiaen’s rich variety of inspiration.


Olivier Messiaen, Vingt regards sur l'Enfant-Jésus.