Wikio - Top Blogs - Religion and belief

Sunday, 31 January 2016

Searching for music is like searching for God

"Searching for music is like searching for God. They're very similar. There's an effort to reclaim the unmentionable, the unsayable, the unseeable, the unspeakable, all those things, comes into being a composer and to writing music and to searching for notes and pieces of musical information that don't exist." David Bowie

"In rock music, especially in the performance arena, there is no room for prayer, but I think that so many of the songs people write are prayers. A lot of my songs seem to be prayers for unity within myself. On a personal level, I have an undying belief in God’s existence. For me it is unquestionable." David Bowie

"All I've done
I've done for me
All you gave
You gave for free
I gave nothing in return
And there's little left of me

All the days of my life
All the days of my life
All the days I owe you

In red-eyed pain I'm knocking on your door again
My crazy brain in tangles
Pleading for your gentle voice
Those storms keep pounding through my head and heart
I pray you'll soothe my sorry soul"

Days - David Bowie

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David Bowie - Word On A Wing

Stations of the Cross 2016 events at St Stephen Walbrook




St Stephen Walbrook will be a venue for the Stations of the Cross 2016 exhibition across London in 14 iconic destinations. This exhibition provides an opportunity to experience the Passion in a pilgrimage for art lovers during Lent 2016 (Feb 10 - March 28).

St Stephen Walbrook will host Station Thirteen, Michael Takeo Magruder’s Lamentation for the Forsaken, 2016. In this work, Takeo offers a lamentation not only for the forsaken Christ, but others
who have felt his acute pain of abandonment. In particular, Takeo evokes the memory of Syrians who have passed away in the present conflict, weaving their names and images into a contemporary Shroud of Turin. The Shroud, of course, is itself an image—an ‘icon’ in Pope Francis’ words—better
known by its photographic negative than its actual fabric. Takeo’s digital re-presentation participates in and perpetuates this history of reproduction. But the real miracle isn’t the Shroud itself, it’s our capacity to look into the eyes of the forsaken—and see our Saviour.

Two events at St Stephen Walbrook in this period will foster reflection on the themes of Takeo’s
installation:
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David Bowie - Lazarus.


Saturday, 30 January 2016

Becoming the Other: Art as Empathy

This year's Glen Workshop organised by Image Journal has a great theme; Becoming the Other: Art as Empathy. This theme will provide a focal point for discussion throughout the week.

The folk at Image explain their theme like this ...

"Though the human race is one family, we have seldom lived as if that were true. Our ancient texts often address the cultural, racial, and geopolitical distinctions that fragment us into groups, real and imagined. When we meet an Other, someone who represents a difference, we call them stranger. While we can respond with hospitality, more often we feel uncertainty, envy, and fear.

Yet for as long as conflict has torn the human family, art has allowed us to see similarity within difference, offering a mode of reconciliation. The scriptures are clear: we are to welcome Others, treating them as we wish to be treated.

During the week we’ll explore this and other questions together: Can the arts allow us to imagine more deeply the lives of those who seem unlike us, and so move us to greater compassion, connection, and acts of justice? How can art make us more humble, reveal our own prejudices, and destabilize our tidy categories? In short, how can fostering the imagination engender true empathy?"

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Over The Rhine - All My Favourite People.

Friday, 29 January 2016

Windows on the world (377)


London, 2015

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Bloc Party - The Good News.

Thursday, 28 January 2016

Figurative Art Today


The Columbia Threadneedle Prize 2016: Figurative Art Today will be at the Mall Galleries from 3 to 20 February 2016, daily 10am to 5pm (closes 1pm on final day).

The Columbia Threadneedle Prize showcases the very best in new figurative and representational art.

The winner of The Columbia Threadneedle Prize will receive £20,000 plus a solo exhibition at Mall Galleries. The Visitors’ Choice Award, voted by visitors to the exhibition in London, is £10,000.

The exhibition will tour to Palazzo Strozzi in Florence, Italy in July 2016 in an unprecedented exchange with Florence’s largest temporary exhibition space.

The show includes Tea, a watercolour by Zi Ling.

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Florence & The Machine - Strangeness and Charm.

Wednesday, 27 January 2016

Bread for the World: Paying attention through art

Here is my reflection from tonight's Bread for the World Informal Eucharist at St Martin-in-the-Fields:

The artist Grayson Perry told this story in the last of his Reith Lectures: “Recently a friend told me that she was working on an education programme at the Whitechapel Art Gallery and at the beginning of the project she asked the children, she said, “What do you think a contemporary artist does?” And this very precocious child, probably from sort of Muswell Hill or somewhere like that, she put her hand up and she said, “They sit around in Starbucks and eat organic salad.” Now it was probably quite an accurate observation of many fashionable artists in East London, but I thought … you know anyway. So then after this, they spent some time looking at what contemporary artists did. And at the end of the project, she asked them again, “What now do you think an artist does?” And the same child, she said, “They notice things.” And I thought wow, that’s a really short, succinct definition of what an artist does. My job is to notice things that other people don’t notice.”

Noticing things that other people don’t notice; that thought is one area of overlap between the Arts and Christianity, because in his letter to the Philippians, St Paul encourages to look out for see those things that are true, honourable, just, pure, pleasing, commendable, excellent and worthy of praise (Philippians 4. 8) and, as we know, from the latest Christmas Appeal, Simone Weil says that to pay attention is prayer.

As a result, the art historian Daniel Siedell suggests that the Arts can help us with looking and paying attention. He says, “Attending to … details, looking closely, is a useful discipline for us as Christians, who are supposed to see Christ everywhere, especially in the faces of all people. If we dismiss artwork that is strange, unfamiliar, unconventional, if we are inattentive to visual details, how can we be attentive to those around us?”

Problems come, as he notes, when we dismiss what we see or when, as Jesus said, we are people who see but do not perceive, who hear but do not listen (Matthew 13. 12 - 14). Some more stories from the Arts can help us think more about how that happens.

In 2007, the Uffizi Museum in Florence lent Leonardo da Vinci’s The Annunciation to the Tokyo National Museum for three months. More than 10,000 visitors flocked to the museum every day to see the renaissance masterpiece. A number which, when divided by the museum's opening hours, equates to each visitor having about three seconds in front of the painting - barely long enough to say the artist's name, let alone enjoy the subtleties of his work.

By contrast, a well-known art historian observed as he entered the first room of the Leonardo da Vinci exhibition at the National Gallery went nose-to-nose with Leonardo's The Musician, and there he stayed for about 10 minutes, rocking backwards and forwards, before moving from side-to-side, and then finally stepping back four paces and eyeing up the small painting from distance. And then he repeated the exercise. Twice.

The 10,000 visitors per day visiting the Tokyo National Museum during those three months wanted to see Leonardo’s Annunciation, but did they really ‘see’ it? They certainly didn’t see it in the same way that the art critic saw Leonardo's Musician.

There are then different ways of looking and different ways of seeing and so, as Daniel Siedell suggests, the experience of looking at art can help us learn how to really see. So, what can art teach us about looking and seeing? The point of the story about the art historian was that he paid attention to the painting. To what might he have been paying attention?

An art historian or critic is likely to look at and think about an artwork in relation to four different facets. The first is the artwork itself as an artefact, in other words to look at what it is as an object in its own right. This is always the starting point and the thought to return to when looking at art. So, the first question to ask ourselves is, what is the essence of this artwork; what are the things that make it unique and differentiate it from other things? It is a question we can ask of anything or anyone that we see; what is unique about this thing or person?

Next, it is helpful to consider the ideas and influences of the artist. When God created human beings, we were said to be made in his image. As a result, something of the maker shows up in the thing which has been made. By knowing something about the artist, we may be able to see more in the artwork than we otherwise would. St Paul says the same thing about God in his letter to the Romans when he says that ever since the creation of the world God’s eternal power and divine nature, invisible though they are, have been understood and seen through the things he has made (Romans 1. 19 -20).

Then, the art historian or critic may think about the relationship that the artwork has with its historical and art historical context. At St Stephen Walbrook we will, during Lent, be showing a digital installation by Michael Takeo Magruder called Lamentation for the Forsaken in which the artist evokes the memory of Syrians who have passed away in the present conflict by weaving their names and images into a contemporary Shroud of Turin. This installation can’t be understood without reference to the current refugee crisis. We also understand each other more by observing how we react and respond to events around us.

Finally, we might think about our own response and that of others to the artwork. With works of art, we can often read articles, books or reviews about the work and with other people we are always hearing other people’s impressions or views of those they have met or whom we know. Paying attention to those impressions or views can help us shape our own impressions.

Thinking about each of these four facets can help us genuinely pay attention to art, to people and to the things around us. Thinking about these four facets can help shape our overall response to a work of art, a person or an object; often in ways that we wouldn’t otherwise expect or realize.

As we know from the latest Christmas Appeal, Simone Weil famously said that “Attention, taken to its highest degree, is the same thing as prayer. It presupposes faith and love. Absolutely unmixed attention is prayer.” When we pay attention in this way, we are also following St Paul’s advice to look at and think about those things that are true, honourable, just, pure, pleasing, commendable, excellent and worthy of praise.

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Gordon Gano (feat. Mary Lou Lord) - Oh, Wonder.

Sunday, 24 January 2016

'Lamentation for the Forsaken, 2016' and 'Stations of the Cross 2016'



St Stephen Walbrook will be a venue for the Stations of the Cross 2016 exhibition across London in 14 iconic destinations. Experience the Passion in a pilgrimage for art lovers during Lent 2016 (Feb 10 - March 28).

On the day he died, Jesus walked the Via Dolorosa through the streets of Jerusalem, a holy city for Jews, which would later become sacred to Christians and Muslims. Jesus’ journey is traditionally commemorated by the Stations of the Cross. Across the chasm of two thousand years, this tortured path resonates with current events for people of many faiths and cultures. In particular, it calls to mind the hazardous journeys of refugees from today’s Middle East.

This unique exhibition uses works of art to tell the story of the Passion in a new way, for people of different faiths. In this pilgrimage for art lovers, viewers will travel across London, mapping the geography of the Holy Land onto the streets of a ‘new Jerusalem.’

The Stations will weave through religious as well as secular spaces, from cathedrals to museums. The art on display will run the gamut from Old Master paintings to contemporary video installations. Artists will include Christians, Jews, Muslims, and atheists. Instead of easy answers, the Stations aim to provoke the passions: artistically, spiritually, and politically.

“Lamentation for the Forsaken”, 2016 by Michael Takeo Magruder, images copyright and courtesy of the artist (multi-layer digital print on clear acrylic, generated from the names of civilian casualties who have died during the present Syrian conflict digitally woven into an image negative of the Shroud of Turin - detail)
St Stephen Walbrook will host Station Thirteen, Michael Takeo Magruder’s Lamentation for the Forsaken, 2016. In this work, Takeo offers a lamentation not only for the forsaken Christ, but others
who have felt his acute pain of abandonment. In particular, Takeo evokes the memory of Syrians who have passed away in the present conflict, weaving their names and images into a contemporary Shroud of Turin. The Shroud, of course, is itself an image—an ‘icon’ in Pope Francis’ words—better
known by its photographic negative than its actual fabric. Takeo’s digital re-presentation participates in and perpetuates this history of reproduction. But the real miracle isn’t the Shroud itself, it’s our capacity to look into the eyes of the forsaken—and see our Saviour.

Two events at St Stephen Walbrook in this period will foster reflection on the themes of Takeo’s
installation:
  • 'Grief and Hope: reflecting on the refugee crisis’ will be an awareness raising event held at St Stephen Walbrook on Monday 15th February at 6.00pm. Takeo will speak about the motivations behind his installation and Dionne Gravesande, Head of Church Advocacy at Christian Aid, will speak about the refugee crisis and the work which Christian Aid is doing with partners in the ACT Alliance and other agencies to support practical and political action to help those fleeing, and address the longer term issues.
  • ‘Discover & explore: Soul’ will be a service of musical discovery at St Stephen Walbrook on Monday 21st March at 1.10pm. This service will explore the themes of Takeo’s installation through music and liturgy together with the Choral Scholars of St Martin-in-the-Fields, Dr Carolyn Rosen (ordinand at Westcott House), Jonathan Evens and Sally Muggeridge (ministers at St Stephen Walbrook). This service will be followed by an open discussion with Michael Takeo Magruder.
Visitors can take the full Stations of the Cross tour, which includes free entry to St Paul’s and the Tower, by downloading maps and podcasts from the project website (http://www.coexisthouse.org.uk/stations2016.html), along with a new app which will launch on 10 February. Details about an interfaith pilgrimage and other associated events at the National GalleryThe Wallace Collection, and churches across London are available on the website. Donations will be collected online and in person for Syrian refugees.

For more information - web: http://www.coexisthouse.org.uk/stations2016.html.
www.facebook.com/stations2016. Twitter: @Stations2016L. Email: stations2016l@gmail.com.

The exhibition is supported by King’s College London, Cambridge Inter-faith Programme, Coexist House, and Art & Sacred Places.

Locations: King’s College London, Parliament Square, Methodist Central Hall, Westminster Cathedral, Wallace Collection, Cavendish Square, National Gallery, Notre Dame de France, The Barbican and St Giles Cripplegate, Salvation Army HQ, St Paul’s, Tower of London, St Stephen Walbrook, Temple Church.

Artists: 
Old and Modern Masters: Jacopo Bassano, Eric Gill, Jacob Epstein, Jean Cocteau. Contemporary Artists: Bill Viola, Philip Jackson, Terry Duffy, Roland Biermann, Michael Takeo Magruder, Güler Ates, James Balmforth, Leni Dothan, Guy Reid, Hannah Habibi.

Curators: Dr. Aaron Rosen: Lecturer in Sacred Traditions & the Arts, King’s College London. Author of Art & Religion in the 21st Century (Thames & Hudson, 2015). Mr. Terry Duffy: Artist with exhibits in London, Paris, Berlin, New York, Cape Town. Shown during Liverpool Biennial & Venice Biennale.

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Sam Phillips - Reflecting Light.

Saturday, 23 January 2016

Homelessness Sunday and Bread for the World

This Sunday is Homelessness Sunday where we reflect upon the increasing rise in the number of people who are homeless. In the 10.00 am Eucharist at St Martin-in-the-Fields we will remember all those who have no home and feel they do not belong. We will also remember today migrants, asylum seekers and refugees and those who are poorly housed and live in fear of homelessness, especially all those who come to this country seeking a home and have ended up destitute on our streets. During the service we will reflect on what the Gospel teaches us about poverty and the longing for home and also what is the transformation we are all called to make.

The collection at the 10.00am and 5.00pm services will be going to The Connection at St Martin’s. In support of Homelessness Sunday you can also buy the Connection Cookie available every day in the Café in the Crypt. £1 from the sale of each cookie goes towards the Connection.

Wednesday evenings at St Martin’s are where we build our community, through a simple Eucharist called 'Bread for the World' with reflections, discussions, input from members of the community and from groups across St Martin’s.

The music for the evening is led by the Choral Scholars and we gather around the altar together as the first disciples did to share in the Eucharist together. The time in church is followed by a simple soup supper in the Austen Williams Room, No 6 St Martin’s Place, followed by the opportunity to reflect on and explore the bible together. It’s a great way to find focus during a busy week, to be close to God, make friends, pray and explore faith.

This Wednesday I will be sharing some thoughts on ways in which the Arts can teach us how to pay attention. We will pray, 'Purify our sight, Creator God, that we may see your glory in every place.'

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Gungor - Every Breath.

Alan Everett: Foundations of the City



'Foundations of the City' by Alan Everett will be at St Stephen Walbrook from 8th February - 4th
March, 10.00am - 4.00pm weekdays.

An exhibition reception will be held on Monday 8th February, 6.00pm, at which the speaker will be The Revd Dr Sam Wells, Vicar of St Martin-in-the-Fields.

Alan Everett will speak about his work to the Walbrook Art Group on Wednesday 2nd March at 1.00pm.

Alan Everett says: "Three paintings in this exhibition are entitled Rood, reflecting their genesis in the Anglo-Saxon poem, The Dream of the Rood. This poem of great imaginative intensity was written when much of England was in deep forest. The Cross appears to the narrator in a dream vision, telling how as a tree it was cut down to share in the Passion of Christ. The paintings show successive stages of the Crucifixion, as if the tree itself is being crucified (Rood I, III and IV). Two cross paintings address further aspects of the Crucifixion. Unclean Cross alludes to the pollution of blood; Salvage to the recovery of the Cross from cultural obliteration.



Three paintings elaborate the unpredictable nature of preservation, with reference to the written word: Fragment, Text and Code. Another group of three paintings represent – in style and content – processes of layering, with both architectural and literary associations. Scaffolding, Bricolage and
Palimpsest resonate with a church such as St Stephen Walbrook, constructed as it is to a neoclassical design, above a Roman city.

Finally, two paintings approach the difficult subject of martyrdom – viewed by early Christians as an
offering at the very foundations of the City of God. 10.00 pm 2 December 1980 El Salvador refers to
the rape and murder of a Catholic lay-worker and three nuns on that date; 12-15 February 2015
Libya to the beheading of 21 Coptic Christians."

Alan Everett - http://www.stclementjames.org.uk/who-we-are/.

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The Dream Of The Rood.

Fraser, Tolstoy, Dostoevsky, Collins & Houtheusen: The fool sees things the wise person never can

Giles Fraser had a great comment piece in yesterday's Guardian about Tolstoy and War and Peace:

"Tolstoy believed there was quite a lot to be said for foolishness, here goes: all Christians are fools. Politicians can’t allow themselves to look or behave like fools. Therefore, politicians cannot be Christian ...

Tolstoy reminds us that to be a Christian is to be a fool and a social outcast, that anyone who wishes to follow Christ has to be prepared to die as an enemy of the state, nailed to the cross. It’s a little bit more than a few verses of Shine, Jesus, Shine on a Sunday morning ...

the fool sees things the wise person never can."

Jim Forest reminds us that, "In Leo Tolstoy’s memoir of his childhood, he fondly recalls Grisha, a holy fool who sometimes wandered about his parent’s estate and even came into the mansion itself without knocking on the door. “He gave little icons to those he took a fancy to,” Tolstoy remembered."

In an article for the Financial Times, Harry Eyres writes:

"The holy fool, or fool for Christ, is a key figure not just in Orthodox religion but in Russian culture. Holy fools are disruptive; they go around half-naked, act as Robin Hoods, taking from the rich and giving to the poor; and, as Sergey Ivanov writes in Holy Fools in Byzantium and Beyond (2006), they “provoke outrage by [their] deliberate unruliness” ...

The figure of the holy fool appears repeatedly in the novels of Dostoevsky. There are “true” holy fools, such as Elder Zosima, the inspired preacher in The Brothers Karamazov, and Bishop Tikhon in The Devils; there are also false holy fools, such as Semyon in the same novel. But the most fascinating holy fool of all may be Prince Myshkin, the hero of The Idiot, who is never explicitly named as such. Myshkin represents Dostoevsky’s attempt to portray “a positively beautiful man”; naive to the point of gullibility, emotionally empathetic and open, Myshkin ends up ruining the lives of the two women he loves. Perhaps Dostoevsky’s point is that in a thoroughly corrupt society even attempts to do good are bound to come to grief."

The Fool became a major theme and life focus for the mystical painter, Cecil Collins. For Collins, the Fool represents “innate, inviolate, primordial innocence which sees clearly” with our purpose in life being to recover that direct perception; the vision of the Fool. The Fool “is interested … in love and its manifestation in that harmony and wholeness which we call beauty” but because he is in “a state of creative vulnerability and openness” the Fool “is easily destroyed by the world.”

See also my ArtWay article entitled The Spirituality of the Artist-Clown. The significance of the clown in the life and work of Albert Houthuesen.

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The Rolling Stones - Fool To Cry.

Windows on the world (376)


London, 2015

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Gary Cherone - Need I Say More.

Friday, 22 January 2016

Praying with Dementia


Praying With Dementia, Tuesday 23 February, 7.00-9.00pm, St Martin’s Hall, St Martin-in-the-Fields

We continue to explore the experience of dementia and faith following our very successful evenings
last year. Through the insight of lived experience and theological reflection we will continue to
look at how our church life and worship might grow in a more dementia-friendly way. We will explore what the experience of dementia might teach us about God, with input from those with lived experience, theological reflection and the opportunity to explore dementia-inclusive worship together. All are welcome, no tickets required.

The evening will be held in St Martin’s Hall.
Start: February 23, 2016 7:00 pm
End: February 23, 2016 9:00 pm
Cost: No tickets required.
Venue: St Martin-in-the-Fields

Phone: 020 7766 1100. 
All are welcome. 
Suggested donation £5.

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U2 - Walk On.
 

Thursday, 21 January 2016

St Stephen Walbrook: Spring 2016 Newsletter


The Spring 2016 Newsletter for St Stephen Walbrook is now available - click here to view.

Highlights include:
  • Lenten art, study & worship
  • Start:Stop
  • Autumn 2015 events
  • London Internet Church
  • Silent Retreat
  • Art & Music at St Stephen Walbrook
Lent at St Stephen Walbrook will begin with a Eucharist with ashing on Ash Wednesday and will include an art exhibition by Alan Everett, a digital art installation by Michael Takeo Magruder, art talks by the Walbrook Art Group, the Bank Churches Lent Course on The Creeds, Discover & explore services, plus our regular Thursday lunchtimeEucharist.

Download the latest newsletter.

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Morten Lauridsen - Sure On This Shining Night.

Discover & explore: hope, faith , life, love, dreams, joy, truth and soul


Discover & explore: A service series of musical discovery exploring themes of hope, faith , life, love, dreams, joy, truth and soul

St Stephen Walbrook, 39 Walbrook, London EC4N 8BN
Mondays from 1st February – 21st March, 1.10 – 1.50pm

Music and liturgy with the Choral Scholars of St Martin-in-the-Fields, based on Eric Whitacre's anthem 'Hope, Faith, Life, Love'.

Discover & explore services explore their themes through a thoughtful mix of music, prayers, readings and reflections.
  • “A perfect service of peace in our busy lives.”
  • “Spiritual food in the middle of the day.”
  • “Beautifully and intelligently done.”
Discover & explore is “like a little jewel with a number of facets drawing us in and lighting our path.”

All Discover & explore services begin at 1.10pm:
  • Monday 1st February: Hope
  • Monday 8th February: Faith
  • Monday 15th February: Life
  • Monday 22nd February: Love
  • Monday 29th February: Dreams
  • Monday 7th March: Joy
  • Monday 14th March: Truth
  • Monday 21st March: Soul
The Choral Scholars of St Martin-in-the-Fields have an essential musical role at that great church. Every year twelve scholars are appointed to sing regular services while also gaining concert experience, benefiting from an extensive training in all aspects of sacred and secular choral music.

St Stephen Walbrook is an Anglican Parish Church which is rich in heritage, but one which remains actively involved in the City of London. With an almost perfect acoustic for choral singing and a renowned organ famed for its regular Friday recitals for City workers, St Stephen Walbrook stands witness next to the Mansion House at the heart of the City it was built to serve.

Opening hours, Monday – Tuesday, Thursday - Friday 10.00am – 4.00pm, Wednesdays 11.00am – 3.00pm. Recitals on Tuesdays (1.00pm) and Fridays (12.30pm), Eucharist on Thursdays (12.45pm).

St Stephen Walbrook - Tel: 020 7626 9000; Email: office@ststephenwalbrook.net; Web: ststephenwalbrook.net.

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Eric Whitacre - Hope, Faith, Life, Love.

Tuesday, 19 January 2016

Start:Stop - Water into wine


Bible reading

“… standing there were six stone water jars for the Jewish rites of purification, each holding twenty or thirty gallons. Jesus said to them, “Fill the jars with water.” And they filled them up to the brim. He said to them, “Now draw some out, and take it to the chief steward.” So they took it. When the steward tasted the water that had become wine, and did not know where it came from (though the servants who had drawn the water knew), the steward called the bridegroom and said to him, “Everyone serves the good wine first, and then the inferior wine after the guests have become drunk. But you have kept the good wine until now.” Jesus did this, the first of his signs, in Cana of Galilee, and revealed his glory; and his disciples believed in him. (John 2. 6 – 11)

Meditation

Water is essential to life. The human body is 75% water and needs a constant supply of water to function. The average person can only survive for about three days without any water at all. So, water is a basic need for all of us and speaks to us of the basic needs that we all need to be fulfilled in order that we can live and live comfortably. This is why we pray, in the Lord’s Prayer, give us this day our daily bread. This is a prayer for our basic needs.

But God wants something better for us than a life based just on the meeting of our basic needs and the turning of water into wine gives us a clue as to what that better thing is. Wine reminds us of the sacrifice of Jesus on the cross; that moment when, out of love for all people, he lays down his own life in order to save us from all that is wrong with our lives and our world. So, wine is a reminder to us of the fact that the greatest love is shown through sacrifice.

This is the transformation that Jesus seeks to bring to human life. It is a change from human existence to human life; a change from the selfish experience of meeting our own basic needs to the spiritual experience of sharing what we have will others; a change from the evolutionary imperative of the survival of the fittest to the Christian imperative of sacrificial love.

We all have a need and a desire for there to be more to our lives than simply the survival of the fittest; the scramble to meet our basic needs. Yet when we are in genuine need and poverty, it is very difficult to think about anything else other than survival. But, then, when we are in the fortunate position of having our basic needs met, we have the time and space and (hopefully) inclination to look around us to develop a compassion, like that of Jesus, which sees the needs of those whose basic needs are not being met and responds to that by sharing at least some of what we have.

This transformation is symbolised in the pouring out of the wine from the water jars. It may even be that this is the moment of transformation. Just as what is drawn from the water jars to be shared with others is wine, so as we give to others we are transformed from selfish to sacrificial. It may be that it is in the act of giving that our transformation comes.

Prayer

Dear God, give us this day our basic needs; all that we need to be fulfilled in order that we live and live comfortably. We pray this, though, that we have the time and space and inclination to look around us to develop a compassion, like that of Jesus, which sees the needs of those whose basic needs are not being met and responds to that by sharing at least some of what we have.

Give us this day our daily bread, then use our lives in giving to others.

Dear God, You promise in Psalm 23 to be close beside us and protect us even as we walk through the darkest valley. We claim this promise for those who trek to get water for their families. Stay close to them, strengthen them, and protect them. We thank You for an end to drought in places such as the Horn of Africa. We pray that families in West Africa and elsewhere will have enough rain to grow food crops.

Give us this day our daily bread, then use our lives in giving to others.

Dear God, remind us of Your command to love our neighbours as we love ourselves. Don't let us rest until we know we have done everything we can to meet the basic needs of others, particularly for clean water. Give wisdom to Your people in relief agencies as they seek to bring clean water and other lifesaving interventions to millions more families around the globe. Thank You for equipping those who love You as they bring new health and opportunities to the world's most vulnerable people.

Give us this day our daily bread, then use our lives in giving to others.

Blessing

Meeting our basic needs, developing a compassion like that of Jesus, equipping us to bring health and opportunities to the world’s most vulnerable. May those blessings of almighty God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit, be with us and rest upon us, now and always. Amen.

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Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds - Oh My Lord.

Sabbatical Art Pilgrimage: Latest ArtWay report

My latest Church of the Month report for ArtWay focuses on St Paul's Goodmayes

'St. Paul’s Goodmayes has been a prolific and generous patron of the arts. It contains a vast array of artwork reflecting the movement in church art from the medievalism of the Arts and Crafts movement through the angular, Cubist influences of Leonard Evetts to the semiabstract work of contemporary artist Henry Shelton, as well as a range of materials, including stained glass, silver, brass, copper, stone, wood, oil, watercolors, wrought iron, gilding, and ceramics. Contributing studios include Fullers, Morris & Co., Whitefriars, and the Faith Craft Company, with designs from artists such as Sir Edward Burne-Jones, J. H. Dearle, Leonard Evetts, Alfred Fisher, Jane Quail, and Henry Shelton..'

This Church of the Month report follows on from others about Aylesford Priory, Canterbury Cathedral, Chapel of St. Thérèse of the Child Jesus and the Holy Face, Hem, Chelmsford CathedralÉglise de Saint-Paul à Grange-CanalLumen, Notre Dame du Léman, Notre-Dame de Toute Grâce, Plateau d’Assy,Romont, Sint Martinuskerk Latem, St Aidan of Lindisfarne, St Alban Romford, St. Andrew Bobola Polish RC Church and St Mary the Virgin, Downe, as well as earlier reports of visits to sites associated with Marian Bohusz-Szyszko, Marc Chagall, Jean Cocteau, Antoni Gaudi and Henri Matisse.

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Leonard Cohen and The Webb Sisters - If it Be Your Will.

Sunday, 17 January 2016

Sermon: The moment of transformation

This was my sermon for the Eucharist at St Vedast-alias-Foster this morning:

The writer of John’s Gospel says that this miracle is the first that Jesus performed but the word used for first also means that it is the key miracle, the one that unlocks and explains all the others (John 2: 1 – 11). So we need to ask ourselves what it is that we learn from this miracle that helps us to understand more fully what Jesus was doing through his ministry, death and resurrection.

The miracle is one of transformation; water being transformed into wine with this transformation bringing joy to the wedding guests. Dostoevsky, in The Brothers Karamasov, sees this miracle’s significance in the joy that Jesus brings to ordinary people: “It was not grief but men’s gladness that Jesus extolled when he worked his first miracle – he helped people to be happy … his heart was open … to the simple and artless joys of ignorant human beings, ignorant but not cunning, who had warmly bidden him to their poor wedding.” Later in John’s Gospel Jesus speaks himself about having come to bring life in all its fullness which must include this sense of joy and gladness in life. The filling of the water jars to the full also speaks of this sense of life being filled with goodness and gladness.

In Luke 6: 38 Jesus speaks again about fullness. Here he links our fullness to our giving: “Give to others, and God will give to you. Indeed, you will receive a full measure, a generous helping, poured out into your hands – all that you can hold.” This emphasis is important because the transformation of water into wine suggests that Jesus does not simply bless human life as it is but comes to transform it.

Water is essential to life. The human body is 75% water and needs a constant supply of water to function. The average person can only survive for about three days without any water at all. So, water is a basic need for all of us and speaks to us of the basic needs that we all need to be fulfilled in order that we can live and live comfortably.

But God wants something better for us than a life based just on the meeting of our basic needs and the turning of water into wine gives us a clue as to what that better thing is. Wine reminds us of the sacrifice of Jesus on the cross. That moment when, out of love for all people, he lays down his own life in order to save us from all that is wrong with our lives and our world. So, wine is a reminder to us of the fact that the greatest love is shown through sacrifice.

This is the transformation that Jesus seeks to bring to human life. It is a change from human existence to human life; a change from the selfish experience of meeting our own basic needs to the spiritual experience of sharing what we have will others; a change from the evolutionary imperative of the survival of the fittest to the Christian imperative of sacrificial love.

This transformation is also symbolised in the pouring out of the wine from the water jars. It may even be that this is the moment of transformation just as what is drawn from the water jars to be shared with others is wine so as we give to others we are transformed from selfish to sacrificial. It may be that it is in the act of giving that our transformation comes.

There is also significance in the reference to the role of the water jars in ritual washing. The water jars can be seen as signifying the Jewish faith that require such ritual cleansing but from those jars and from that faith comes a new wine that must be poured out and shared with others. The new wine is for all; not just for the first but kept for the last as well. Wine symbolises the blood of Christ which is shed for all. God’s grace is no longer contained solely within the confine of the Jewish faith; coming to God no longer requires the meeting of the standards of the Law. This new wine bursts the old skins and is shared with all people of every nation, race, gender, age and sexuality.

So we see depicted a change from the old order, the old covenant, to the new. And this change extends the transformation to all. What is depicted then is not solely a change for us as individuals but a societal change no longer affecting one nation but all nations. What is depicted is a new way of life, a new way of being human, which can, perhaps, be summed up in the words of John 15: 13, “Greater love has no one than this, that one lay down his life for his friends”. He looks at all of us, at all human beings, and says, “You are my friends”. Jesus allowed his own life to end so that all people could know what it is like to really live.

In 21st century Britain we live in a culture that is parched and dry and desperately in need of the water of life. I still remember a Guardian article outlining reasons why kindness has gone out of fashion in the age of the free market and the selfish gene. The writers noted that “for most of western history the dominant tradition of kindness has been Christianity” which “functioned as a cultural cement, binding individuals into society” until “the Christian rule ‘love thy neighbour as thyself’ came under increasing attack from competitive individualism.” Our society is parched of kindness and we need Jesus to bring transformation.

In Isaiah we read: “The poor and needy search for water, but there is none; their tongues are parched with thirst. But I the LORD will answer them; I, the God of Israel, will not forsake them. I will make rivers flow on barren heights, and springs within the valleys. I will turn the desert into pools of water, and the parched ground into springs.” (Isaiah 41. 17 & 18)

Our Psalm promised that we shall be satisfied with the abundance of God’s house; we shall drink from the river of God’s delights. For with God is the well of life and in his light shall we see light (Psalm 36).

Jesus is the river that flows in the desert of our selfish, self-centred existence because he shows us how to live in his new way of being human, loving God with all our being and loving our neighbours as ourselves. God wants us to look at Jesus and see how human life was originally intended to be lived before we chose the path of self-centredness. It is when we look at Jesus and begin to live life his way that transformation comes in our lives and our world. The water of our lives and our communities can become wine.

When that is so for us as individuals, as communities and even as a nation then, as we heard in our reading from Isaiah, we shall be a crown of beauty in the hand of the Lord, and a royal diadem in the hand of your God. You shall no more be termed Forsaken, and your land shall no more be termed Desolate (Isaiah 62. 1 – 5).

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The Waterboys - My Love Is My Rock In The Weary Land.

Saturday, 16 January 2016

Legal Aesthetics and the Architectural Ambiguities of St Stephen Walbrook

In this Research Seminar at the Courtauld Institute, Timothy Hyde addressed the theme of incongruity in modern architecture through examination of the installation of an altar sculpted by Henry Moore in 1972 into St Stephen Walbrook, a church designed by Christopher Wren in 1672.

Hyde began by noting a coexistence of eras in this installation with connections between the moments of rebuilding inherent in the 1960s and post-Great Fire of London. Neo-classical services had the pulpit as the focal point ensuring that those in box pews could see and hear the preacher, while the altar was smaller and less visible. By 1967, when the idea of a new stone altar began to emerge at St Stephen Walbrook, celebrations of Communion had become more frequent, the box pews had been replaced as part of the erosion of class privilege and the socially engaged Rector, Chad Varah, asked Henry Moore to forget all altars he had seen previously and think in terms of the primitive, rough-hewn altars of the Old Testament. In line with an increased sense of spatial and emotional proximities, it was proposed that a circular altar be centrally placed under Wren's dome.

There was no formal opposition to the altar at the beginning of the faculty process but, as the City and parish has few residents, the Archbishop registered an objection in order that the case be heard by the London Consistory Court. There, the arguments revolved around aesthetic and theological issues. Debate included the effect on Wren's severely geometrical design of introducing a form that was tactile and indeterminate. The resulting focus on the dome and the square within which it is set could also represss the longitudinal axis of Wren's design. These are debates regarding congruence and how it is defined and assessed. This debate saw similar aesthetic arguments made to those used at about the same time in relation to the extension to the National Gallery and the construction of both Lloyds of London and No. 1 Poultry.  

At the Consistory Court, however, it was theological issues that proved definitive. These concerned the definition of an altar in regard to the Canons of the Church of England and a precedent set in relation to a restoration of the Ecclesiological Society of the Round Church in Cambridge in 1845. There a fixed stone altar had been introduced as part of a restoration looking back to the original Romanesque design of the church. However, the Canons, based as they were on the theology of the Reformers, said that communion should be celebrated from a table not an altar, as Communion is a remembering, not a repeat, of Christ's sacrifice. The precedent set through the case of the Round Church was that a table, while it could be of stone, could not be fixed without becoming an altar. At the Consistory Court hearing Chancellor GH Newsom QC ruled that the Moore sculpture was an altar not a table and therefore was not congruent with the Canons. In doing so, he also established that uniformity of architecture cannot be given precedence over theological or doctrinal issues within the Church of England.

An appeal was then able to be made to the Court of Ecclesiastical Causes Reserved because the judgement had turned on a doctrinal issue. This Court was not bound by earlier precedents and could consider issue afresh. This Court preferred a broader definition of table to that used by the Chancellor and on this basis agreed that the altar could be installed. Their decision and debates in arriving at that decision were symptomatic of post-modern awareness of the ambiguities of language. The Consistory Court decision was compatible with the thinking of late modernity, while that of the Court of Ecclesiastical Causes Reserved was consistent with post-modern ideas.

The implications of this installation tested and exceeded conventional frameworks of explication such as intentionality or style, and in so doing opened a view onto intricate exchanges between otherwise incommensurable registers of judgment. Unfolding the complicated legal and aesthetic history of this particular architectural, sculptural, and theological act suggested possibilities for considering facets of architectural postmodernity outside of the disciplinary frameworks of architecture itself.

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Windows on the world (375)


London, 2015

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The Beach Boys - I Just Wasn't Made For These Times.

Friday, 15 January 2016

New doors at St Stephen Walbrook






This week St Stephen Walbrook has had new glass doors installed at the top of the stairs in its main entrance. These enable views from the street of our marvellous Wren interior which were not visible previously.

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David Bowie - Changes.

Thursday, 14 January 2016

Enterprising Redbridge: making voluntary organisations more entrepreneurial


Welcome to Enterprising Redbridge … making voluntary organisations more entrepreneurial

In the current climate a significant reduction in the availability of grants, particularly from public sector sources, has resulted in some voluntary sector groups closing – leaving a void in local service provision. We believe some of this can be avoided.

In order to help local groups move to a more sustainable future, we are offering a
programme of seminars, networking opportunities and one-to-one advice on becoming more independently sustainable. We believe this package of support can provide the positive encouragement such groups need.

We know that solutions are not always obvious, as you tend to be (rightly) totally focused on your day-to-day operations. So this programme gives you the opportunity to think beyond the day to day, the space to consider difficult questions in a safe place, and thechance to say the unsayable. We want this programme to inspire you, challenge you, support you and affirm the work you are doing.

Our goal is to inform and inspire 450+ Redbridge voluntary organisations to become more entrepreneurial through the provision of information and online tools. That’s a big ask. But it will depend on you. Your willingness to engage. Your desire to continue change.

For those most committed to trying new ideas or introducing change to their organisation, we will provide intensive tailored support to 10 groups not only to survive into the future but go on to thrive with greater independence.

Sophia Hubs and Redbridge CVS obtained Big Lottery funding to commission Aspiren andUrban Catalysts to take the lead on this project. Take a look at the website for more information and register your interest now. www.enterprisingredbridge.org.uk.

This is an initiative that aims to bring business skills to the voluntary and community sector. We hope that this will make a significant contribution to Redbridge by enabling the sector to learn ways to become less dependent on funding and more resilient.

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Peter Case - Until The Next Time.

Sermon: Becoming part of the story

My Christmas and Epiphany sermons at St Stephen Walbrook are up on the London Internet Church site and my sermon on 'The Revolutionary Magnificat' has been uploaded to the St Martin-in-the-Fields site. Here is the sermon from today's Eucharist at St Stephen Walbrook:

The favourite Christmas story of Stephen Cottrell, Bishop of Chelmsford, concerns a two year old called Miriam at a church on the edge of Chichester where he was parish priest. The red brick rectangular church seated about 80 and was full to overflowing for the Christmas Day service. As every space was taken, the crib scene had been placed under the altar.

During the service Miriam wandered into the sanctuary and stood for a while observing the nativity scene. It was a large nativity set and so the characters in the scene were about the same size as the two year old. After observing the scene for a while, Miriam carefully climbed in under the altar making her way around the characters to sit in a space within the crib scene where she then remained for the rest of the service.

What she did was essentially an acted parable to the congregation because she became part of the story. That is what happens – it is what we are doing – when we become Christians. In other words for many of us, it is what is going on when we are baptised. Baptism is our immersion in the Christian story; a story which begins with God’s creation of the universe and life on earth. It continues with our rebellion as human beings. Our saying to God that we know who we are and what we need to do and, therefore, will go ahead and do our own thing. We all live with the consequences of that right now.

But in the story which the Bible tells God does not leave us simply to do our own thing. First, he chooses the people of Israel and through his special relationship with them seeks to call all people back to their true identity and purpose and then he sends his own Son, Jesus, to reach out in rescue and return us to him. He does this so that each one of us can find our identity and purpose in God and play our part in bringing the kingdom of God in full on earth as it is in heaven.

When Jesus was baptised he was saying that he would immerse himself in this story and play his special, unique part within it. As he made that commitment, God the Father affirmed him in his identity and purpose by saying, “You are my own dear Son. I am pleased with you.” As we do what Miriam did and enter the story, then we are also affirmed by God in just the same way. St Paul writes in Romans 8. 14 – 17 that: “Those who are led by God's Spirit are God's children. For the Spirit that God has given you does not make you slaves and cause you to be afraid; instead, the Spirit makes you God's children, and by the Spirit's power we cry out to God, “Father! my Father!” God's Spirit joins himself to our spirits to declare that we are God's children. Since we are his children, we will possess the blessings he keeps for his people, and we will also possess with Christ what God has kept for him; for if we share Christ's suffering, we will also share his glory.” What he was saying is that as we enter the story we are adopted by God as his children and become brothers and sisters of Jesus, co-heirs with him of all he possesses.

How do we then play our part in the story? That all depends on our coming to know the story and what happens within it. We start by looking at what we know of the story to date – the things God has done in and through Israel, Jesus and the Church – and we also look at the hints we have about the way the story will end with the coming in full of the kingdom of God on earth as in heaven. Then we say to ourselves, ‘What is it that people do in this story? How do they act and behave? And then we start to do and say similar things as we have the opportunity. As Christians we are never given a script which has all our lines and actions printed on it. Instead, we have to improvise our part on the basis of what we know of the story so far, on the basis of the example provided by those who have lived in the story before, and on the basis of the opportunities provided in the places where we are and among the people that we know.

Living in the Christian story, therefore, is a challenge – something we should know anyway from looking at the life and death of Jesus – but it comes with the affirmation that we are part of God’s family; his dearly loved children, brothers and sisters of and co-heirs with Jesus himself. As we said last week, when we know this we can relax because whatever happens to us we are accepted, forgiven, loved and gifted by the God who created all things and who will bring all things to their rightful end.

When we do that we are like Miriam climbing in under the altar to become part of the crib scene. When we do that we become part of God’s story which makes us his children and gives us identity, purpose and meaning.

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Cristóbal de Morales - Et Factum Est Postquam.

Sunday, 10 January 2016

Silence and Honey Cakes: The Wisdom of the Desert

Consider the Lillies

Each Wednesday in Lent from 17 February until 23 March we invite you to join us at St Martin-in-the-Fields for our Bread of the World, an informal Eucharist 6.30pm.

We will be taking the wisdom of the 4th-5th century desert fathers and mothers as the theme for reflection. This will be followed by a simple Lenten supper before we divide into groups to share thoughts and our response to this desert wisdom. We will be using former Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams’ book: Silence and Honeycakes: The Wisdom of the Desert as our guide. In it he explores the extraordinary wisdom that comes from this desert spirituality much of which resonates so strongly with aspects of our won modern spiritual search:
  • How can we discover the truth about ourselves?
  • How can we live in relationship with others?
  • What does the desert say about recognising our priorities?
  • How do we learn to pray?
  • How can we create a fearless community?
The desert fathers and mothers offer a message of both profound simplicity and depth. Join us as together we journey into the desert to rediscover some of the most vital truth about our lives and faith. All are welcome

The cost of Lent Study is £15 which includes a copy of the book Silence and Honeycakes (plus a recommended to donation of £2 towards the supper each week). For those who already have a copy of the book the cost of the Lent Study is £8.

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John Tavener - Eternity's Sunrise.

Saturday, 9 January 2016

Southwell Minister: The Art of Mary


A major exhibition of new art on the theme of ‘Mary’ is to be shown at Southwell Minster during January 2016. Over 20 significant contemporary artists have made major new works specifically for an ambitious exhibition that will see art shown all over the cathedral, both inside and outside. Timed to coincide with the Patronal Festival of Candlemas at the Minster the exhibition will be supported by a programme of events and will be open to the public for free over the month.

The exhibition was planned by the cathedral art group, and Fr Matthew Askey says: “The Art of Mary is a rare opportunity for us to see a large collection of brand new art from many of the most significant artists working with Christian themes in Britain today. It is of national importance and is a once in a generation snapshot of these artist’s views of ideas and stories associated with Mary, the mother of Jesus, who is one of the most significant, but neglected, figures in our shared cultural story. Mary was remarkable for the time and she has many things to show us and inspire us with today. She was an unmarried teenage mother, on the run, a refugee really, and at the same time through both her vulnerability and her determined strength she embodies so many positive characteristics of motherhood and what it means to be a woman today. Mary ultimately said ‘yes!’ to life, and gave herself into the hands of God’s love, and this is something that resulted in the life of the most inspiring person who has ever lived, Jesus, and then the birth of the world-wide Church that followed. The Church has 2 billion members today world-wide, is still growing, and about 32% of the world’s population are involved in some way with its acts of charity and life-transforming message of forgiveness and love for all people. Mary is right at the root and start of this movement of love.”

Some of the artists showing new artworks at the Art of Mary exhibition include: Mark Cazalet, Chris Gollon, Susie Hamilton, Sophie Hacker, Iain McKillopNicholas MynheerCelia PaulAnna SikorskiRoger Wagner and many others.

The Art of Mary is at Southwell Minster from Sat 9th Jan – Fri 5th Feb 2016, admission is free. A full colour illustrated exhibition guide is available.

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Shirlie Roden and Adrian Snell - Look At Us Now.

Martin Harris, sabbatical and Lesslie Newbigin



The memorial above at St Matthias, Chennai was amongst the things that re-ignited Martin Harris' interest in Lesslie Newbigin in 2012. Martin is currently on sabbatical in Chennai exploring further the thinking of Newbigin. His sabbatical posts can be followed at http://martinspersonalblog.blogspot.co.uk/.

He writes:

'These words from Newbigin's 'On Being the Church for the World' are staying with me:
"[W]hen Jesus said to them, 'As the Father sent me, so I send you', he showed them his hands and his side. In other words, the Church will be recognizable as the bearer of this mission on which the Father sent the Son and on which the Son sent the Church, in so far as the scars of the Passion are recognizable in its body. So you have that classic definition of mission, which has been so much ignored, in St Paul's letters, where he defines his apostolic mission as 'bearing in the body the dying of Jesus, that the life of Jesus might be manifest in our mortal flesh'.
"I think we have often missed something by concentrating entirely on that Matthaean version which can produce the kind of triumphalist picture of the mission of the Church. Here, however, the Church is recognizable as the bearer of the Kingdom, the presence of the kingdom, in so far as it is marked by the scars of the Passion... And if you see the mission of the Church in that sense, then all this futile discussion between evangelism and social action disappears."'

My posts drawing on Newbigin's writings can be found by clicking here.

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Gungor - Church Bells.

Past Life - Present Mission (5.1)

The Open Gate

"As long as we are alive, we are on the move. To become static is to stagnate ... life is meant to be an adventure ... In Celtic folk-tales a curse that could happen to a person was to enter a field and not be able to get out of it. To be stuck in that place forever ... The Open Gate is the call to explore new areas of yourself and the world around you." (The Open Gate, David Adam, Triangle 1994). David Adam suggests that the open gate is the choice that God is always placing before us and that we "should look upon the open gate as a way to extend ourselves and our vision ... it may take a great deal of discipline to get off the old familiar track and to break with old habits, but, in return, it offers the excitement of new ground and new vistas ..."

"Every now and again our eyes are opened and we see beyond the narrowness of our day to day vision ..." into new spiritual dimensions of awareness and experience. I was privileged to have two such experiences whilst on Celtic pilgrimage. The first, whilst staying for a few days in a remote cottage on the Island of Lismore where I had an overwhelming experience of the awesomeness of God's presence together with an anointing that led to a great rejoicing in Jesus. The second was during my 'Celtic Pilgrimage of Discovery' when I experienced a new relationship with God and his physical creation.

For us, living in the inner city, some new gates may open at a point of crisis in our lives. When we are suddenly and unexpectedly bereaved, or made redundant, or "where we are having what the world calls a breakdown". Such events make us more aware of change because they have dislocated us. Pain, brokenness and loneliness may be involved in walking through that new gate.

At St. Edmund’s at that time we seemed to be moving into a spiritual field where there were new gates before us. Inevitably there was also a variety of responses. To some, the Lord was acting as a heavenly potter bringing change and re-moulding which involved brokenness, inner healing and a move through the gate marked spiritual renewal. To others, it included dislocating experiences that re-directed that person's pilgrimage. To others again, it was a gate of deepening awareness of the plans that the Lord had for that person.


Spirituality exercises

At St Edmund’s we encouraged people to reflect on spirituality with several ‘spiritual exercises’. Here is one that you might like to try:
  • STAGE 1: Get a blank sheet of paper and write at the top of it this statement on Spirituality – “Spirituality means ... the real, the effective understanding of Christian truth and experience from within our own human awareness (or consciousness). It's ... understanding ... it's experience of God's Holy Spirit Presence ... It's an inner awareness of The Lord; and the realness (reality of) Christian faith from within the person that is YOU. It is often surrounded by or part of prayer and it's a vital part of our personal commitment to Christ. It includes our understanding of ourselves in relation to the religious and moral values we believe and/or practice!”
  • STAGE 2: Write down what you've made of it. Add anything else you think it means and especially note if you think it's left out anything that's part of it ...
  • STAGE 3: Over the next three weeks add anything else that happens to you that is within you ... your thoughts, feelings, responses to being a follower of Jesus that day ... any awareness you had of the actual presence of God. Especially, how you became aware of His presence. Put it down on your spirituality sheet. If you are a housegroup member why not have a 'chin wag' about it together, and weld it together with prayer.
  • STAGE 4: Return your sheet so that all the replies can be looked at to see if something comes out that all can share in.
As part of all that, try praying to the Lord, say at the start of the day, in a way that starts to invite Him to make you aware of His lovely presence. Or, you never know, it might be a slightly different awareness!! In my case, who knows, God (in spite of His lovely presence) may need to give a bit of a 'kick on the ankle' over something or other!


The Tysley Prayer Vigil

At our Prayer Vigil in St Edmund's, on the day the UN deadline for the first Gulf war was reached, our burden was that war should be avoided. As we moved toward the end of the Vigil, the Lord spoke to us strongly in two ways. First, He brought to our notice, through the reading of Daniel 10: 1 - 18 and Ephesians 6: 10 - 18, that the Gulf War is part of a great cosmic struggle going on between the forces of evil in conflict with the forces of light. Second, one of our ladies shared with us something that had happened to her the previous night. She was unable to sleep and as she spoke with the Lord, He gave her a message which was to 'Prepare the Way'. All of us in the Vigil then sought the Lord to ask Him to share with us what He was now saying to us as a Church, how to prepare the way. Various ones then shared the following: That the Lord was saying to us, here in Tysley, that we needed to move into a time of preparing for the Way of the Lord. That the Gulf crisis, and our legitimate concern about it, shouldn't stop us from committing ourselves as a Church to earnestly seek the Lord's face that His Spirit might start to prepare us for His work here, in the days ahead. That God was also preparing the way nationally, and internationally, for His work and will to be done, even from within the war. Preparation was what we had been told to focus upon. A new commitment to prayer seemed to be at the heart of it. The Lord had spoken to us whilst we had been in a trough. He had all sorts of plans for Tysley and local people, and we were a part of that. He wanted us to share in that, even though we were a small congregation. The example of Gideon was relevant (Judges 6 - 8). God doesn't always need masses of people to be His local commando troop but He does require those who are prepared, when it comes down to 'brass tacks', to put Him first.

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David Fitzgerald & Dave Bainbridge - Though The Dawn Breaks.

Past Life - Present Mission (5)

Chapter 3: Christian life and mission in the light of Celtic Christianity (continued)

Spirituality: a target for growth in UPA Churches

Celtic Spirituality is filled with a great sense of spiritual presence, of Christ being present in all things, of an awareness of His immanence, of a spirituality rooted in a poor world where oppression, illness and danger were linked to fear and a poverty of spirit. In Christ the reality could be faced and the natural world was affirmed. There was a command to redeem the whole world. Joy and celebration in the Holy Spirit abounded, together with means through prayer for protection. This was the substance of the Celtic Spirituality provided through the ‘Woven Cord’ programme and the backcloth to the ‘Woven Cord’ programme supported that overall spiritual content.

The evaluation of key themes that resonated or did not resonate showed that Category 1 participants had absorbed the Celtic sense of spirituality. Such spirituality involves both body and soul, but is of a nature that links to all the realities, problems and joys of the real world of people, including that of Tyseley as an UPA.

Mission in UPAs: the Celtic Christian background

Patrick and Columba’s ministry was characterised by mission to established Christians and missionary evangelism to others, leading to conversion and Christian commitment. Their approach became a model for the wider work of Celtic Saints and countless monks who, within the practice of peregrinatio, integrated mission and evangelism. Hillgarth established that evangelisation in Ireland was carried on after Patrick’s death by ‘holy men’ who lived a life alternating between living as hermits or wandering preachers, teaching and evangelising. Patrick’s approach also involved a willingness to engage in open debate and opposition to Druidism. Thus, the Celtic Saints practised both mission and evangelism.

Nora Chadwick discusses this within the 4th-6th century context. She refers to the fact that Celtic monks, as part of their commitment to Peregrinatio, engaged either in missionary work or mission. Columba illustrates the difference between the two concepts. When Columba visited King Brude of the Picts, or when his monks subsequently worked among them, this was regarded as missionary work. It involved, in Chadwick’s view, a primary evangelistic introduction to them of the Christian faith. Whereas when Columba and fellow monks ministered to the Scotti, i.e. the Irish invaders who were colonising what is now Argyll in Scotland, they were engaging in mission. In Chadwick’s view the Scotti were already within the embrace of Christianity. Peregrinatio was the ascetic discipline behind such mission and missionary evangelism. In practice any distinction between Celtic mission and evangelistic mission as meaning missionary work is really quite tenuous.

In the context of this study, I have used an applied definition of mission and evangelism. The definition is closely based on Nora Chadwick’s explanation about Celtic mission and missionary evangelism during the 4th-7th centuries AD. The setting of this applied definition was strictly within Tyseley as a ‘deprived’ neighbourhood, defined nationally as an ‘Urban Priority Area:
  • Mission: Contemporary Christian work amongst established believers to encourage them in the growth of spirituality as expressed in daily Christian living within their UPA. This I regarded as a pre-requisite for the second aim to occur. 
  • Evangelism: To prepare and send out Christians into their neighbourhood and among those they ‘rub shoulders with day by day’, sharing the good news about the Gospel of Jesus. 
A contemporary definition of mission by Andrew Kirk is, “Christian believers being sent out into the world to witness in word and deed to Jesus Christ.” In many ways Nora Chadwick’s discussion of Celtic mission and missionary evangelistic activity in contrast, seemed more relevant to Tyseley and its people. The definition and approach to ‘mission’ in this study linked input to established Christians with the hope it would eventually lead to evangelistic/missionary outreach into the local area.

Mission and pre-Evangelism

While the ‘Woven Cord’ programme did not, within its time scale, prove to be a major pre-requisite for evangelism in Tyseley two new actions that involved direct outreach into the local neighbourhood were achieved.

The first involved undertaking a community survey to find out how local people saw the neighbourhood’s main ‘needs’. Members of the congregation took out a questionnaire to be completed at three key places within the streets of Tyseley: outside the Primary School; outside Tyseley Post Office; and outside St. Edmund’s Church. Members of the congregation who shared in this task in small groups, came back thrilled at the interest and response. The survey meant Church people were actively consulting Tyseley residents and publicising the work and future hopes about Stedicare and its wide ranging Christian outreach into the parish. This was a clear example of a move into pre-evangelism.

The second related to ‘The Tyseley Prayer Vigil’. This linked regular group prayer with direct outreach into the locality. During the ‘Woven Cord’ programme the Vigil group started praying specifically for each street in Tyseley, and any known situation that needed prayer and for its residents. This pattern continued and subsequently led to ‘Prayer Walks’ in a few streets.

Mission and Evangelism in UPAs

The Church of England, due to its commitment to a parish system, has always had direct involvement in disadvantaged urban areas. At times, some of its approaches have been particularly successful, as with the Anglo-Catholic ‘Slum Ministry’ early last century. Other Christian denominations at times have successfully maintained active ministry in UPAs’ such as the Salvation Army, built upon the challenge of General Booth’s 1899 book In Darkest England and the Way Out. The 1985 Faith in the City report compares with Booth’s book but updated to urban realities in the mid 1980’s. Following that report I surveyed UPA clergy in Birmingham and published a book illustrating the multi-facetted ways that front-line clergy in Birmingham were using creative ideas and initiatives to effectively minister in UPA parishes. Yet, it also brought to light that there was much despair and absence of hope in many UPA parishes. This piece of action research provides one example of a programme that addresses absence of hope in UPA parishes.

Whilst the Fieldwork Programme at St. Edmund’s was not epoch making, it did result in building up in the faith a small group of the Lord’s people who live in a UPA, with its marginalisation from affluent society around. Christian believers from the lower social classes were thereby helped to reflect and be strengthened in the living out of their faith using the Celtic Christian model of spirituality. Their perception and awareness of the possibilities of Christian living as something distinctive, in which they were no longer pushed into the mould of the world around them, was strengthened. It is my view, that for such programmes within this type of urban context, “small is beautiful”.

The Tyseley study as a starter programme needs to be further assessed, built upon and remoulded into the type of mission programme that would resonate with other UPA Christians. I feel confident that there is a place in deprived urban areas for such small, intimate, mission programmes built around blueprints of spirituality, of which the Celtic is an excellent example. There may be others worth identifying and considering. Whatever is chosen would need to be grounded upon prayer, in association with a group of committed believers ready to commit eighteen months or so of their lives to such a programme and to such a UPA area.

A significant but unheralded happening at the end of the ‘Woven Cord’ programme that related to the transfer of Celtic Christian principles to the practice of Christian living at St. Edmund’s was the ending of a concentration, within the fellowship’s worshipping life, on ‘thing’s Celtic’! The Celtic resource material and the ways in which individuals had been strengthened through an in-depth sharing of the Celtic Biblical themes had been effectively applied into the context of the participants’ own urban world. The individuals who had gained through the mission programme and the Church’s own growth in spirituality had been transposed into being a spirituality for believers living in Tyseley. It was now part of their shared experience, and in a holistic manner they owned ‘it’. We no longer referred to these matters as ‘Celtic’.

Conclusion

Wynton Marsalis, an American musician made a moving statement that I will use as an ending to this study, with the hope it may encourage others ministering in UPAs:

“I say to the kids in the schools, make sure you play a solo, all of you, and whatever you play, do it like it’s the last thing you’re ever going to play. Even if its sad, play it. But just don’t play too long! That’s my belief and the music is a reflection of that. Being in the process, that’s what counts. You might not be there at the end of what’s being worked out. Look at the cats who built those big cathedrals, put down the first stones. They weren’t going to see the thing finished, but they were putting those stones down with a certain vibration.”

Perhaps this study could become a tune for some sad and lonely UPA Church to re-discover ‘hope’ in Christ, and become established like a Celtic island ‘Inis’, an island base of Christian warmth, belonging and service to others, created within the hope of a new beginning. A place where believers could be sent out to re-establish a people for the forgotten God from among the dusty, noisy, stressful streets.

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Wynton Marsalis, Taj Mahal & Eric Clapton - Just A Closer Walk With Thee.