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Monday, 29 February 2016

Images of Pleshey (2)







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Brian Doerksen - Refiner's Fire.

Discover & explore: Dreams


Here is the reflection from our latest Discover & explore service. The next service in the series is on Monday 7th March at 1.10pm, when the theme will be Joy. All are welcome.

Dreams

Last year Louisa Johnson became, at 17, the youngest X Factor winner. She said, ‘My dream has come true!’ and ‘This has always been my dream.’ Everyone who enters X Factor is following their dream but only one contestant can actually win the competition; so what happens to the dreams of those who lose?

In a piece in ‘The Guardian’ Heather Long questions whether doing what we love in life and our careers is actually a fallacy. She writes: ‘Many 20 and 30-somethings (if not those older and younger than that) grew up hearing the advice that all you need to do in life is "find your passion". The implication is that if you "do what you love" (in shorthand: DWYL), success – and presumably happiness and money – would follow.

People like Apple's Steve Jobs and Facebook's Mark Zuckerberg were held up as examples (if not gurus) of this "DWYL" trend, alongside people who quit investment banking jobs to become cheese farmers, plumbers or yoga entrepreneurs.

But writer and art history scholar Miya Tokumitsu argues that this romanticized notion of the working world is a dangerous fallacy. It's the modern-day equivalent of the emperor's new clothes myth …

Tokumitsu writes:

‘DWYL is a secret handshake of the privileged and a worldview that disguises its elitism as noble self-betterment. According to this way of thinking, labor is not something one does for compensation but is an act of love. If profit doesn't happen to follow, presumably it is because the worker's passion and determination were insufficient. Its real achievement is making workers believe their labor serves the self and not the marketplace.’

The ‘silent evidence’ is, as Dan Perez has written, that ‘for every J.K. Rowling there’s a few thousand equally talented (and dead broke) writers whose books will never be published. For every Steven Spielberg, there’s a few thousand equally talented filmmakers living in the basements of their parents' home who will never get a shot at Hollywood. For every Jerry Seinfeld, there’s a few thousand equally talented comedians sharing one bathroom apartments with two roommates in New York’s East Village and other cities around the country.’

One of the many issues with the idea of following our dreams is that so often the dream we are following is selfish; a dream about personal achievement and no more. When Dr Martin Luther King Jr spoke the words, “I have a dream” in 1963 he was not talking primarily about something for himself, instead his was a dream about others and the future of society:

“I have a dream that one day on the red hills of Georgia, the sons of former slaves and the sons of former slave owners will be able to sit down together at the table of brotherhood.

I have a dream that one day even the state of Mississippi, a state sweltering with the heat of injustice, sweltering with the heat of oppression, will be transformed into an oasis of freedom and justice.

I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character.”

His was a dream rooted in scripture: ‘I have a dream that one day every valley shall be exalted, and every hill and mountain shall be made low, the rough places will be made plain, and the crooked places will be made straight; "and the glory of the Lord shall be revealed and all flesh shall see it together."’

Being rooted in scripture it was inspired by and mirrored Jesus’ teachings about the kingdom of God and the vision of that kingdom which St John recorded in his Revelation:

“See, the home of God is among mortals.
He will dwell with them;
they will be his peoples,
and God himself will be with them;
he will wipe every tear from their eyes.
Death will be no more;
mourning and crying and pain will be no more,
for the first things have passed away.”

And the one who was seated on the throne said, “See, I am making all things new.”

As a result Martin Luther King’s dream was able to withstand setbacks and struggle and counteract the ‘silent evidence’ that we considered earlier: ‘With this faith, we will be able to hew out of the mountain of despair a stone of hope. With this faith, we will be able to transform the jangling discords of our nation into a beautiful symphony of brotherhood. With this faith, we will be able to work together, to pray together, to struggle together, to go to jail together, to stand up for freedom together, knowing that we will be free one day.’

Like him may we dream the dream of the coming kingdom of God and pray: ‘The Kingdom of God is justice and peace and joy in the Holy Spirit. Come, Lord, and open in us the gates of your kingdom.’

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Gerald Finzi - Nightingales.

Paying Attention: Mystery

Here is the third of addresses from 'Paying Attention', the Silent Retreat at the Retreat House, Pleshey, organised for the communities of St Martin-in-the-Fields and St Stephen Walbrook. We explored ways of paying attention to people, creation, events, emotions, absence and mystery. Earlier, at St Martin's, I had also spoken about paying attention in terms of the Arts.

Paying Attention: Mystery

The singer-songwriter Bruce Cockburn sings, “You can't tell me there is no mystery / It's everywhere I turn.”

Andrew Davison has helpfully explained why this is so:

“It is fairly obvious that theology concerns topics beyond our full comprehension. This is illustrated in science by the way our basic picture has to change for time to time: Newton eclipsed Aristotle; quantum mechanics eclipsed Newton. Such shifts are no disaster, unless your only standard for intellectual success is completeness: having things cut and dried, sorted out. Scientific revolutions show us that the world is always beyond our grasp.

Knowledge is always partial because, frankly, the world is rather strange. Human knowledge goes only so far; behind it there is mystery. The development of science over the centuries confirms that mystery rather than denying it. The fact that science is forced to shift, again and again, demonstrates that human knowledge is constitutively incomplete.

I would give the name “faith” to this mixture of knowledge and mystery; we understand in part, as St Paul memorably put it.

Science grasps something of the truth about the world, but it is partial, and it develops. Religion and theology grasp something of the truth about the world and about God — although I would rather say that they touch God than that they grasp him. That is also partial knowledge, and it develops. As Aristotle said, one can take great joy in even a little knowledge of the highest things …

Finally, science knows only in part, just as theology knows only in part. We never fully know what we are talking about; but we can talk about it. Saying that you know in part is not a weakness; it is reason at its strongest and most mature. There is to everything a mysterious depth that eludes us.”

St Paul writes in 1 Corinthians 13. 9 – 12: “For we know only in part, and we prophesy only in part; but when the complete comes, the partial will come to an end. When I was a child, I spoke like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child; when I became an adult, I put an end to childish ways. For now we see in a mirror, dimly, but then we will see face to face. Now I know only in part; then I will know fully, even as I have been fully known.”

In thinking about the way scripture speaks to us about God, Stephen Fowl notes that, “When it comes to almost any topic in Christian theology, but particularly to God, we will not get off to a good start if we expect the scriptures to demonstrate a unified, cut-and-dried doctrine of God.

Viewing scripture as a receptacle of doctrines will frustrate us, because on the one hand scripture’s accounts of God are rich and variegated, but on the other these accounts are not systematically organised.”

It is more theologically fruitful, he suggests, to see that scripture recognises this diversity and theologising about how we can organise and account for this variety.

In their book ‘The Abundant Community’, John McKnight and Peter Block suggest:

“A competent community creates space for what is unknowable about life. This is another major distinction from systems. In system life, living with mystery is considered poor planning. Systems are organized around the desire for certainty, science, and measurability. Planning, goals, blueprints are a defense against mystery. Institutions are about eliminating mystery. They are concerned with risk reduction or risk management. Taking uncertainty out of the future …

“Mystery is the answer to the unknown. In actualising its abundance, a community welcomes mystery, for that is a catalyst for creativity. Mystery gives us freedom from the burden of answers. Answers are just a restatement of the past …

Mystery is to the unknown as grief is to sorrow. What do you do when you do not know what is going to happen to you? You name it a mystery. It lets you go. It is a name for things we cannot fully know or control …

“The reason we need art in all its forms is to grasp the mystery in our lives, to recognize the mysteries around us. To get away from the pre-ordained structured way of seeing things. That is why you can listen to a song over and over. You know exactly what is coming, and it still holds an element of wonder. Which may be the primary function of art and why it is so essential to sustaining community.”

One gift that poetry, in particular, has to offer to us “is not an affirmation, but a negation of the power of any formulation.” Malcolm Guite writes that:

“Because poets push language to the limit, they are especially aware that language has its limits. Often a poet’s greatest art is to bring us to the brink of language, and gesture wordlessly beyond it.

This is especially T. S. Eliot’s art in his greatest achievement, Four Quartets. The fifth section of each quartet constantly returns to his theme of words that “strain, Crack and sometimes break, under the burden . . . Decay with imprecision” (“Burnt Norton”).

Even the radiant spiritual poetry of these quartets has, as it were watermarked into every page, Eliot’s explicit confession of the limitations of language: “only . . . Hints followed by guesses” (“The Dry Salvages”).

All of that is summed up in two lines from “East Coker”:

The only wisdom we can hope to acquire
Is the wisdom of humility: humility is endless.”

If we are to pay attention to the mystery of God, there are ultimately only three responses we can make. The first is to keep exploring. Eliot writes in ‘Little Gidding,’ “We shall not cease from exploration,” and that is right because if we stop searching, if we stop questioning, then we get stuck and stagnate. We only have to look at nature to see the way in which all growth involves change; the caterpillar and butterfly being one of the most dramatic examples. Our own bodies are constantly changing throughout our lives with many of our cells being replaced as we progress through life. Growth involves constant change and if we apply this same principle to our thought life, our emotional life and our spiritual life then, as Eliot wrote, we must not cease from exploration.

The second is to express our sense of awe and wonder by kneeling in worship. Once again, T. S. Eliot’s ‘Little Gidding’ describes this well:

“If you came this way,
Taking any route, starting from anywhere,
At any time or at any season,
It would always be the same: you would have to put off
Sense and notion. You are not here to verify,
Instruct yourself, or inform curiosity
Or carry report. You are here to kneel …”

The answer to our questions is a person, not a fact, and the person who is the answer to our questions turns out to be God himself. Because God is infinite, he cannot be fully known or understood by human beings. With God, there is always more for us to know and understand. Knowing God in this way is exploration; like diving into the ocean and always being able to dive down deeper

The third response is to give gifts. Christina Rossetti expressed the gift we should give in her carol, ‘In the bleak midwinter’:

“What can I give Him, poor as I am?
If I were a shepherd, I would bring a lamb;
If I were a Wise Man, I would do my part;
Yet what I can I give Him: give my heart.”

I began by quoting Bruce Cockburn and I’d like to end doing so again. Death is the ultimate mystery for us and here Cockburn pictures it as entering into mystery:

"There you go
Swimming deeper into mystery
Here I remain
Only seeing where you used to be
Stared at the ceiling
'Til my ears filled up with tears
Never got to know you
Suddenly you're out of here

Gone from mystery into mystery
Gone from daylight into night
Another step deeper into darkness
Closer to the light"

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Bruce Cockburn - Mystery.

Saturday, 27 February 2016

Images of Pleshey














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Latest ArtWay visual meditation

In my latest visual meditation for ArtWay I reflect on work by Giacomo Manzù who "experienced both the support and censure of the Roman Catholic Church in relation to his work":

"The key debate over twentieth century ecclesiastical commissions concerned the extent to which the ‘secular masters’ of the day should be commissioned by the Church. Manzù, as a cradle Catholic whose father was sacristan of Sant'Alessandro in Colonna, Italy, gained such commissions from an early stage in his career but, as his anti-Fascist and Communist political convictions developed, found his work censured by the Roman Catholic Church.

For the traditional wing of the Catholic Church he became an emblem of all that was opposed to the Church, whilst still using Christian iconography in his work. Later he found support for his work in Pope John XXIII. The by-now atheist sculptor became the personal friend of and sculptor for Pope John, creating the masterful Door of Death for St Peter’s Basilica."

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Randy Stonehill - King Of Hearts.

Paying Attention: Emotions

Here is my second address from our Silent Retreat:

Paying Attention: Emotions

Many of the great figures in the Bible seem to have viewed prayer as being more like a constant conversation with God than they did a scheduled time for making requests. In some ways there seems to be a greater understanding of this in Judaism than in Christianity. I’ve been helped and challenged by some of what Jonathan Sacks, the former Chief Rabbi, has said about this understanding of prayer in a fascinating lecture called Judaism, Justice and Tragedy - Confronting the problem of evil.

He sees Abraham as being the starting point in scripture for this kind of dialogue between God and human beings and said that “there begins a dialogue between Heaven and Earth which has not ceased in 4,000 years”. He calls it the dialogue in which God and Man find one another and says that the mood of these dialogues between the prophets and God has been a never-ending feature in Judaism.

Have a look at the conversation between God and Abraham in Genesis 18. 16-33 and see what goes on there. The first thing to see in verse 17 is that God invites the conversation. He could have hidden his thoughts and plans from Abraham but he chooses not to. Instead he shares with Abraham and invites not just conversation but challenge from Abraham. Because that is what Abraham does in this conversation – he challenges God. What Abraham says to God, recorded for is in verse 25, is stunning - "God forbid that You should do such a thing! To kill the righteous with the wicked so that the righteous should have the same fate as the wicked, God forbid! Shall the Judge of all the earth not do justice?" It sounds blasphemous that a human being, who as Abraham says of himself in verse 27 is “nothing but dust and ashes”, should speak in this way to his creator. It sounds blasphemous until we remember that God chose to initiate this conversation and this challenge.

What is God doing then through this conversation? Let’s go back to what God said about Abraham before beginning this conversation. In verse 19, God says that Abraham has been chosen to “direct his children and his household after him to keep the way of the Lord by doing what is right and just”. Remember that phrase, “what is right and just” because it the phrase that Abraham throws back in God’s face – “Will not the Judge of all the earth do right?” - “Shall the Judge of all the earth not do justice?". Through their conversation, God is teaching Abraham to argue passionately for what is right and what is just. As Abraham learns to do this he becomes more able to righteousness and justice to his children and household.

In the same way, God wants us to be in conversation, in dialogue, in debate, in arguments with him so that we can find him for ourselves and actually embody his characteristics and interests ourselves. He wants us to learn to do right through discussion rather than by rote. If all we do as Christians is to learn a set of rules then we will never be able to apply those rules to real life. Because in order to do right we need to apply the Spirit of the Law, not the letter of the Law. Jesus did this constantly and his application of the Spirit of the Law continually brought him into conflict with the religious leaders of his day who were concerned with the letter of the Law. A good example is the story of the woman caught in adultery in John 8. 1-11.

We can see this acted out for us by the people of Israel at Mount Sinai. Let’s look quickly at Exodus 19. In verse 6 we read of God saying that the Israelites “will be for him a kingdom of priests and a holy nation”. Priests in Israel were the people who went into the holy place, into God’s presence. So God is saying that he wants all the people of Israel to come into his presence and to speak with him face-to-face. But turn over the page to Chapter 20.19 and you’ll find the people of Israel saying to Moses, “Speak to us yourself and we will listen. But do not have God speak to us or we will die”. In other words, they are saying we’ll obey God’s rules but we won’t speak with him face to face. They appoint Moses to be their mediator, to go into God’s presence on their behalf.

Moses learns to mirror God from his conversations and debates with God. So much so, that his face begins to shine with the reflection of God’s glory. But the people never really learn what God is like because they will not speak with him face to face. They keep him at arms length by using Moses as the mediator and by trying to keep rules which they know but don’t understand. Paul says in 2 Corinthians 3.18 that we, like Moses, with unveiled faces, seeing the glory of the Lord as though reflected in a mirror, are to be transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another. That transformation comes as we dialogue, debate, argue and converse with God.

Other people in the Bible who have these kind of conversations with God include: Jacob; Samuel; Job; Jeremiah; Jonah; Habakkuk; Jesus and Paul. The Psalms though are where most of the conversations between people and God are recorded. Virtually all the Psalms are conversations where it is assumed that the hearer is either God or the people of Israel. Some of the Psalms are actually written as conversations though e.g. Psalm 12. In verses 1-4 the Psalmist cries out to God for help, in verses 5-6 God answers and in verses 7-8 the Psalmist responds by expressing confidence in God. Psalm 77 is the record of a similar conversation with God. In verses 1-6 the Psalmist tells us how he cried out to God, in verses 7-9 he tells what he cried out, in verses 10-12 he tells us how God answered his cry, and in verses 13-20 he tells us of his response to God’s answer.

This approach to prayer is one that a number of Christian poets have picked up and used over the centuries:

•             DialogueGeorge Herbert
•             Love III – George Herbert
•             Bittersweet – George Herbert
•             Thou art indeed just, LordGerard Manley Hopkins

The conversations with God that are recorded for us in the Psalms are one’s that involve a whole range of different emotions. You might like to read through some Psalms and identify what is the emotion being expressed. Once you’ve done that then choose three of these different emotions that connect with you and think, if you were to have a conversation with God which involved that emotion, what you would be talking about with him and what you would be wanting to say to him. 

We are often quite restrained in our relationship with God and in our praying. Therefore, we often praise God and say that we will obey or follow him but we rarely argue, protest, complain or question him, at least not publicly. Would today be a good opportunity to start including some of these more difficult emotions in your prayer life?

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Mark Heard - Strong Hand Of Love.

Windows on the world (381)


Arranmore, 2015

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Paying Attention: Events

Here is my first address from the Silent Retreat at the Retreat House, Pleshey, organised for the communities of St Martin-in-the-Fields and St Stephen Walbrook. Entitled 'Paying Attention', we are exploring ways of paying attention to people, creation, events, emotions, absence and mystery. Earlier, at St Martin's, I spoke about paying attention in terms of the Arts.

Paying Attention: Events

The Bible is full of encouragement to reflect. The words, reflect, consider, ponder, meditate and examine, crop up everywhere. God encourages us to reflect on everything; his words (2 Timothy 2.7), his great acts (1 Samuel 12.24), his statutes (Psalm 119.95), his miracles (Mark 6.52), Jesus (Hebrews 3.1), God's servants (Job 1.8), the heavens (Psalm 8.3), the plants (Matthew 6.28), the weak (Psalm 41.1), the wicked (Psalm 37.10), oppression (Ecclesiastes 4.1), labour (Ecclesiastes 4.4), the heart (Proverbs 24.12), our troubles (Psalm 9.13), our enemies (Psalm 25.19), our sins (2 Corinthians 13.5). Everything is up for reflection but we are guided by the need to look for the excellent or praiseworthy (Philippians 4.8) and to learn from whatever we see or experience (Proverbs 24.32).

Clearly all this reflection cannot take place just at specific times. Just as we are told to pray always, the implication of the Bible's encouragement to reflection is that we should reflect at all times. We need to make a habit of reflection, a habit of learning from experience and of looking for the excellent things. How can we do this?

One of the ways, I would suggest is that we use all that is around us – what we see, do and experience. Everything around us can potentially be part of our ongoing conversation with God, part of which is reflection. The Celtic Christians had a sense of the heavenly being found in the earthly, particularly in the ordinary events and tasks of home and work, together with the sense that every event or task can be blessed if we see God in it.

David Adam, who has written many contemporary prayers in this style, says that: “Much of Celtic prayer spoke naturally to God in the working place of life. There was no false division into sacred and secular. God pervaded all and was to be met in their daily work and travels. If our God is to be found only in our churches and our private prayers, we are denuding the world of His reality and our faith of credibility. We need to reveal that our God is in all the world and waits to be discovered there – or, to be more exact, the world is in Him, all is in the heart of God. Our work, our travels, our joys and our sorrows are enfolded in His loving care. We cannot for a moment fall out of the hands of God. Typing pool and workshop, office and factory are all as sacred as the church. The presence of God pervades the work place as much as He does a church sanctuary.” (Power Lines: Celtic Prayers about Work, SPCK, 1992)

Other examples of similar styles of prayer include, Alexander Carmichael’s Carmina Gadelica, a collection of Gaelic prayers and poems collected in the late 19th century, which “abounds with prayers invoking God’s blessing on such routine daily tasks as lighting the fire, milking the cow and preparing for bed.” Many of George Herbert’s poems use everyday imagery (mainly church-based as he was also a priest) and are based on the idea that God is found everywhere within his world. People like Ray Simpson and Ruth Burgess have provided series of contemporary blessings for everyday life covering computers, exams, parties, pets, cars, meetings, lunchtimes, days off and all sorts of life situations from leaving school and a girl’s first period to divorce, redundancy and mid-life crises.

Similarly, Martin Wallace suggests that: “Just as God walked with Adam in the garden of Eden, so he now walks with us in the streets of the city chatting about the events of the day and the images we see.” (City Prayers, The Canterbury Press, 1994) He wants to encourage us to “chat with God in the city, bouncing ideas together with him, between the truths of the Bible and the truths of urban life” and, “as you walk down your street, wait for the lift, or fumble for change at the cash-till … to construct your own prayers of urban imagery.”

One helpful way of beginning to do this is to identify the times and spaces in your normal day when you could take time to pray in this way. Before ordination, when I worked in Central London I used to use my walk to and from the tube station in this way and also had a prayer on my PC that I would pray as I ate lunch at my desk. As a result, since being ordained I have been sending emails to working people in the congregation of which I have been part with a brief reflection and prayer that they can use in these ways.

If you would like to pay more attention to events in this way, why not start by making a list of all the things that you see and do in a typical day? Then think how you could use these to reflect and pray. Then, as Martin Wallace suggests, you might like to try writing your own prayer, reflection or blessing using some of these things as your starting point.

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The Jam - News Of The World.

Friday, 26 February 2016

Stations of the Cross: Refugees in Art & Religion


Stations of the Cross 2016 are providing an opportunity to view ‘Sea of Colour’ followed by an interview with the artist Güler Ates by Dr Aaron Rosen and a Scriptural Reasoning workshop on Thursday 10 March at 5.00pm at the Salvation Army International Headquarters, 101 Queen Victoria, London EC4V 4EH.

To book a place go to: refugeesartandreligion.eventbrite.co.uk.

Work by Güler Ates can also be seen currently in Unexpected: Continuing Narratives of Identity and Migration at the Ben Uri Gallery.

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Stations of the Cross 2016 - The Journey.

Monday, 22 February 2016

Walbrook Art Group talks


Last week at the Walbrook Art Group we heard excellent presentations from Stephen Baxter on photo collages and Lynda Keen on photographs of wildlife in the city.

This week's meeting will feature two more artist-led presentations. This week's speakers are Sarah White and Dharshan Thenuwara. Both are young artists and will be telling us about their work.

On Wednesday 2nd March, the speakers will be Alan Everett and myself. Alan will give a guided tour of his exhibition 'Foundations of the City', while I will give a brief overview of twentieth century Sacred Art.

All meeting are from 1.00 - 2.00pm at St Stephen Walbrook.

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Enya - Paint The Sky With Stars.

Praying With Dementia


Tuesday 23 February, 7:00 pm - Praying With Dementia

We explore in our continuing series at St Martin-in-the-Fields what it means to become a more dementia-friendly church and 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.

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Peter Case - Long Time Gone.

Discover & explore: Love


This week's Discover & explore service at St Stephen Walbrook explored the theme of Love. The service was led by Sally Muggeridge and featured the Choral Scholars of St Martin-in-the-Fields singing 'Set me as a Seal' by William Walton, 'Dieu, qu'il la fait bon regarder!' by Claude Debussey, 'Rise up, my Love' by Healey Willan and 'A New Commandment' by Thomas Tallis

Sally spoke about Julian of Norwich who said in her 'Revelations of Divine Love' that our soul is naturally rooted in God in endless love.

Sally also chose for this service 'The Magic of Love' by Helen Steiner Rice:

'Love is like Magic and it always will be,
For Love still remains Life's Sweet Mystery!
Love works in ways that are wondrous and strange
And there's Nothing in Life that Love cannot change!
Love can transform the most common place
Into beauty and splendor and sweetness and grace!
Love is unselfish, understanding and kind,
For it sees with its Heart and not with its Mind
Love gives and forgives, there is nothing too much
For Love to heal with its Magic Touch!
Love is the language that every heart speaks,
For Love is the one thing that every heart seeks!

The next Discover & explore service is on Monday 29th February at 1.10pm. The theme will be Dreams.

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Twitter Trail: Stations of the Cross 2016

Picture





Stations of the Cross 2016 was inspired by the perilous flight of modern day refugees, which led the curators to examine which led the curators to examine Jesus' journey afresh.

The exhibition has been spread over 14 different venues, both religious and secular, and combines contemporary pieces with Old Master paintings and Renaissance treasures. In this way the exhibition invites visitors to take their own artistic pilgrimage across London. 

On March 22, all 14 destinations in the exhibition joined together for a Twitter Trail, which took the visitors on a digital tour of the exhibition, which you can experience in its entirety by clicking here.
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Mavis Staples - Action.

Saturday, 20 February 2016

Unseen City: Martin Parr - Guildhall Art Gallery


From 4 March, at the Guildhall Art Gallery, the City of London can be viewed through the lens of acclaimed Magnum photographer Martin Parr. Explore the pomp, ceremony and behind-the-scenes activity as in Unseen City Parr brings the City to life, capturing the traditions and people who make up the colourful Square Mile.

Martin Parr has been the City of London's photographer-in-residence since 2013. Over the years, he has documented the life of the City, across three mayoralties. During this time, Parr has been granted unprecedented access to high-profile occasions where guests have included Her Majesty The Queen and dignitaries. The resulting images offer a new perspective on the City of London and create a significant documentary record of its colour and character for years to come.

Through Parr's playful eye for detail and visual dynamism, visitors will gain access to the world of private ceremonies, ancient and modern traditions, processions, banquets, public occasions and informal behind-the-scenes shots. Parr offers a human perspective on ceremony and those moments unseen to the general public, capturing the unguarded moments that would otherwise go unnoticed.

Whether the public are familiar or unfamiliar with the City of London, this exhibition will display the unique character of the traditions, quirks and people who make up the City. This exhibition provides the opportunity to see how the City operates, up close and personal; sparking debate, dispelling myths and sharing surprising insights.

Parr’s work also appears in Strange And Familiar: Britain As Revealed By International Photographers at the Barbican Art Gallery, London EC2, from 16 March, and The Rhubarb Triangle & Other Stories at the Hepworth Wakefield until 12 June.

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Cajun Roosters Trio @ City of London Festival 2015.

Mavis! Her message of love and equality is needed now more than ever



Mavis! is the first feature documentary on gospel/soul music legend and civil rights icon Mavis Staples and her family group, The Staple Singers. From the freedom songs of the ’60s and hits like I’ll Take You There in the ’70s, to funked-up collaborations with Prince and her recent albums with Wilco’s Jeff Tweedy, Mavis has stayed true to her roots, kept her family close, and inspired millions along the way.

Featuring powerful live performances, rare archival footage, and conversations with friends and contemporaries including Bob Dylan, Prince, Bonnie Raitt, Levon Helm, Jeff Tweedy, Chuck D, and more, MAVIS! reveals the struggles, successes, and intimate stories of her journey. At 75, she's making the most vital music of her career, winning Grammy awards, and reaching a new generation of fans. Her message of love and equality is needed now more than ever.

As she sings on her new album Livin' On A High Note:

"The simplest things can be the hardest to do
Can't find what you're looking for even when it's looking for you
The judge and criminal, the sinner and the priest
Got something in common, bring em all to their knees

Do what you can, do what you must
Everybody's trying to find the love and trust
I walk the line, I walk it for us
See me out here tryin' to find some love and trust"

"Chicago wasn't always easy
But love made the windy city breezy
I've got friends and I've got family
I've got help from all the people who love me
I got friends and I got
I got family
I got help from all the people who love me"

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Mavis Staples - MLK Song.

Creativity & Reflection: Lent Oasis & Silent Retreat






We enjoyed a great time of creativity and reflection at St Martin-in-the-Fields today in our Lent Oasis. We shared a time of quiet scriptural reflection and practical art. For our reflection we used Lectio Divina to look at Psalm 27. We then utilised a wide range of art and craft materials to respond creatively to this Psalm.

There will be more creativity and reflection at the Silent Retreat we will share at the Retreat House, Pleshey next weekend. In this retreat we will be exploring through art the theme from the Christmas Appeal in relation to prayer, inspired by Simone Weil’s words: “Attention, taken to its highest degree, is the same thing as prayer. It presupposes faith and love. Absolutely unmixed attention is prayer.”

The things we pay attention to are our life experiences: people, creation, events, emotions, absence and mystery. These themes will lead us through the retreat as we seek to pay attention to God, to the world and one another.

How we do that is inspired by our faithful living out of the Gospel in the world in the spirit of Philippians: "Finally, beloved, whatever is true, whatever is honourable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is pleasing, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence and if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things." Philippians 4.8

The retreat is for members of the St Martin-in-the-Fields and St Stephen Walbrook communities. The retreat and reflections will be led by Revd Katherine Hedderly and myself.

The Retreat House at Pleshey, situated a few miles from Chelmsford, was established in 1909 as a House of Prayer, and is now the Diocesan Retreat Centre for the Chelmsford Diocese. The spiritual writer and spiritual director Evelyn Underhill led many retreats here and called it a place of peace and stillness where we can come into the presence of God and rediscover the power of his love.

The object of the weekend is to provide a place of prayer, space and quiet reflection, to be used as best suits each person, set in the context of the shared experience of reflections, art, worship, prayer, and relaxation. We simply hold the ‘silence’ as a gift for one another.

The structure of the weekend is as follows. Arrive at the Retreat House on Friday night in time to meet and chat to each other before and over supper. After supper there will be an introduction to the weekend, followed by a welcome liturgy. We shall then enter into silence, interspersed with talks, reflective services and free time over the weekend. Silence will end with the Sunday morning Eucharist, and we follow this with lunch together, before making our way home.
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Adrian Snell - Psalm 27.

Friday, 19 February 2016

Windows on the world (380)


London, 2015

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Mavis Staples - High Note.

Review of 'Foundations of the City'


Nicholas Cranfield reviews 'Foundations of the City' by Alan Everett, the current exhibition at St Stephen Walbrook, in today's Church Times:

"There is something Mark Rothko-like in the way that the artist has explored the contrast between the coloured shape of the cross and the stark background of unrelenting darkness ...

I particularly enjoyed Cosmic Cross, in which stars and nebula appear inside the shape of the cross, as if we are glimpsing the night sky through an open window. In the cross we see not just salvation, but the whole purpose of God’s creation, albeit darkly."

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Carson Cooman - A Cosmic Prayer.

Prayers on the Move @ Stations of the Cross 2016





Station ​Two on the Stations of the Cross 2016 trail is Philip Jackson's statue of Mahatma Gandhi (2015) in Parliament Square.

"Jackson took inspiration from a 1931 photograph of Gandhi standing outside Downing Street, where he had come to argue the case for Indian self-governance. Befitting Gandhi’s radically egalitarian vision, the sculpture stands on a modest plinth, humbly approachable by passerby. As Gandhi himself recognized, his dedication to non-violence and the pursuit of truth resonate powerfully with Jesus’ teachings in the Gospels. Jesus was, Gandhi wrote, ‘the highest example of One who wished to give everything, asking nothing in return, and not caring what creed might happen to be professed by the recipient…I believe that He belongs not solely to Christianity, but to the entire world; to all races and people.’ Much as Jesus stood before Pilate, Jackson’s Gandhi looks toward the Houses of Parliament with gentle but steadfast resolve. Both were imprisoned and killed for the principles they espoused. Are we willing to take up the cross for our beliefs?"

Today, Revd Rose Hudson-Wilkin, Speaker's Chaplain, spoke and prayed at this Station as part of the prayer walk organised by Prayers On The Move. The prayer walk started at Westminster Abbey and ended at Trafalgar Square. Along the way, those walking stopped off at some major landmarks and discussed prayer and spirituality in the modern world. Most importantly, they joined together in some prayer! Speakers included the Bishop of London and Seth Pinnock. A free #prayersonthemove Oyster Card Wallet was given to all participants and the walk involved multiple prayer exercises and discussions.

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Aretha Franklin - I Say A Little Prayer.

Thursday, 18 February 2016

Exhibitions update

Zi Ling's watercolour entitled 'Tea' is in Figurative Art Now, the Columbia Threadneedle Prize exhibition, at Mall Galleries which showcases the very best in new figurative and representational art. This year many of the works selected for this exhibition will go on tour to Palazzo Strozzi in Florence, the city’s largest temporary exhibition space, for a special four-week exhibition opening in July 2016. Ling's watercolour work 'Cigarette Break' (2015) has been selected for the Lynn Painter-Stainers Prize 2016. This exhibition will take place at the Mall Galleries from 7th to 13th March. Ling creates portraits or explorations of relationships by working from photographs with which she feels an intuitive connection.

Working in collaboration with Counterpoints Arts, Ben Uri’s latest exhibition, Unexpected, continues their exploration of the themes of identity and migration, emphasising a wide-ranging contemporary response. Following on from their centenary exhibition, Out of Chaos, held last autumn at Somerset House, the exhibition returns them to their principal location at Boundary Road, NW8. 

Works by Ben Uri artists including Frank Auerbach, Eva Frankfurther, Julie Held and Josef Herman will be shown alongside those by invited artists – all from migrant backgrounds – across a range of disciplines and media. This includes paintings by Tam Joseph and Eugene Palmer; drawings by Behjat Omer Abdulla; sculpture and installations by Ana Cvorovic, Joyce Kalema, Jasleen Kaur, Fokowan George Kelly and Zory Shahrokhi; photography by Güler Ates, James Russell Cant, Juan del Gado and former Community Partners Oxford House; textiles by Salah ud Din; an audio-visual piece by Jessica Marlowe and an HLF commissioned film responding to Out of Chaos by Edwin Mingard. 

Both individually and collectively, the featured works touch on themes of journeys, displacement, loss, memory and identity, evoking powerful and sometimes unexpected juxtapositions and responses.

CNB is presenting Britannic Myths, the gallery’s second solo show by the acclaimed British artist Joe Machine. The twelve paintings that make up the exhibition have been created in collaboration with the academic and writer Dr Steven O’Brien, and are based on a dialogue around his soon to be published book, Britannia Stories.

Britannia Stories explores twenty myths. While all of these are commonly associated with the British Isles, many originate from other civilisations, countries and cultures, and were adopted – and adapted – as a consequence of invasion and conquest. The two men worked closely in examining the origins of all the stories, and on determining the relevance of each to the 21st century, with Machine’s paintings influencing O’Brien’s writings, and vice versa.

Says Machine: ‘The power of the stories lies not so much as folk tales from isolated islands, but in their universal connection to ancient cultures. These dialogues with the divine, and struggles of the human spirit are timeless, and show us how myths are as important today as they ever were.’ 

Joe Machine's next exhibition will be at St Stephen Walbrook in May.

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Kate Bush - The Sensual World.

Silence and Honey Cakes: The Wisdom of the Desert


The 4th and 5th century Desert Fathers and Mothers offer a message of profound simplicity and depth. Yesterday, at St Martin-in-the-Fields, we began to journey together into their desert of wisdom this Lent to rediscover some of the most vital truths about our lives and faith.

Each Wednesday in Lent their is the invitation to join us for our Bread for the World informal Eucharist where we take the wisdom of the Desert Fathers and Mothers as the theme for reflection. This is followed by a simple Lenten supper before we divide into groups to share thoughts and our own responses to this desert wisdom.

We are using former Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams' book Silence and Honey Cakes: The Wisdom of the Desert as our guide. With him we are exploring the extraordinary wisdom that comes with this desert spirituality, much of which resonates so strongly with aspects of our own 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?
Our reflections were led yesterday by Richard Carter. Next week Sam Wells will lead the reflection and the following week will be my turn to contribute. Katherine Hedderly and Alastair McKay will also contribute reflections.

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John Tavener - Darkness Into Light.

Wednesday, 17 February 2016

Start:Stop - A menu for Lent


Here is yesterday's Start:Stop reflection from St Stephen Walbrook. Our next Start:Stop session will be on Tuesday 23rd February from 7.30 - 9.30am. All are welcome to drop in within that time period for 10 minutes of quiet reflection.

For more prayers and reflection that fits your working day, see also Prayers on the Move. You may have seen the Prayers on the Move project advertised on public transport networks around the country. The posters, booklet, website and app encourage us to give praying a go, or to try doing it more often. If you’ve ever wondered why people pray, or you’d like to know more about what prayer is, see ‘Why pray?’ You don’t need to be religious to pray, but praying may help you to develop your spirituality and to connect with something bigger than yourself.

Bible reading

“Beware of practicing your piety before others in order to be seen by them; for then you have no reward from your Father in heaven.

“So whenever you give alms, do not sound a trumpet before you, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and in the streets, so that they may be praised by others …

“And whenever you pray, do not be like the hypocrites; for they love to stand and pray in the synagogues and at the street corners, so that they may be seen by others. Truly I tell you, they have received their reward. But whenever you pray, go into your room and shut the door and pray to your Father who is in secret; and your Father who sees in secret will reward you

… when you fast, put oil on your head and wash your face, so that your fasting may be seen not by others but by your Father who is in secret; and your Father who sees in secret will reward you.” (Matthew 6. 1-6, 16-18)

Meditation

I grew up in non-conformist churches where Lent was never a feature of their annual programmes. As a result, for a long time I never really understood the value of Lent. It seems to me now, still looking at Lent a little bit like an outsider, that there are three main ways of using Lent; all of which are ultimately to do with deepening our relationship with God.

The first is to give up something for Lent. This way of approaching Lent clearly derives from Biblical teachings on fasting, where fasting is either be a response to a particular circumstance or part of a regular pattern of abstinence. In the first instance, we have a strong and particular sense of our unworthiness and need for forgiveness and our fasting is a part of our repentance. When fasting is part of a regular pattern of abstinence then it is usually more to do with freeing up time in which to spend in prayer and study of the scriptures than it is about a specific need for forgiveness. The reason people in scripture abstained from food for certain periods was in order to use the time gained in prayer and study of the scriptures. So, if we do the former but not the latter then we are missing out on the real benefit and purpose of Lent which is to deepen our relationship with God by spending more time with him in prayer than is usually the case.

The second approach is to take something up for Lent. Traditionally, in Churches, this has meant attending a Lent study group or reading a Lent book; both of which are intended to take us deeper into an aspect of our faith and relationship with God. In more recent years however taking something up for Lent has developed beyond study and reading to encompass actions and, in particular, acts of kindness. You could, for example, try the ‘Love Life Live Lent’ initiative where a different act of kindness is suggested for each day of Lent.

The final approach to Lent is to view it as being a time of preparation for Easter by reflecting on all that Jesus went through for our sake and all he achieved for us through his Passion and Resurrection. Some traditional ways in which people have done so have included regularly praying the Stations of the Cross or meditating on the Seven Last Words that Jesus spoke from the Cross.

So these are some of the menu options before us as we begin this Lent. Which will we choose? They are not, of course, mutually exclusive and some might choose a gourmet Lent by taking up all the available options while others may pick ‘n’ mix by sampling a little of this and some of that. Whatever you decide the challenge is to make active use of the next forty days in order to deepen your relationship with God. I wish you a holy Lent.

Prayer

Let us pray for grace to keep Lent faithfully. Truly dust we are, and to dust we shall return; and truly yours we are,and to you we shall return. Help this to be a time of turning around and beginning again. Through the forty days of Lent, help us to follow you and to find you: in the discipline of praying and in the drudgery of caring – in whatever we deny ourselves, and whatever we set ourselves to learn or do. Help us to discover you in our loneliness and in community, in our emptiness and our fulfilment, in our sadness and our laughter. Help us to find you when we ourselves are lost. As we walk, God, be our way. As we learn, God, be our truth. As we grow, God, be our life.

Help us to follow you on the journey to Jerusalem to the waving palms of the people’s hope, to their rejection, to the cross and empty tomb. Help us to perceive new growth amid the ashes of the old. Help us, carrying your cross, to be signs of your Kingdom. As we walk, God, be our way. As we learn, God, be our truth. As we grow, God, be our life.

If we have grown soft, cushioning our lives with excuses, expose us to the toughness of your way. If we have grown lazy, cushioning our minds with easy, thin thoughts, expose us to the rigour of your truth. If we have grown comfortable, cushioning our living with satisfaction and success, expose us to the challenge of your life. As we walk, God, be our way. As we learn, God, be our truth. As we grow, God, be our life.

Blessing

Grace to keep Lent faithfully, discovering God in our sadness and our laughter, new growth amid the ashes of the old, becoming signs of God’s Kingdom. 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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Stuart Townend - The Lord's My Shepherd.

Monday, 15 February 2016

Grief & Hope: reflecting on the refugee crisis




Grief & Hope: reflecting on the refugee crisis began with Michael Takeo Magruder sharing his interest in working with a range of digital technologies and physical materials to blend new and old, aligning contemporary art and theological study, creating new ways of looking at ancient texts and making them relevant for modern audiences

For Stations of the Cross 2016 he was commissioned to create an artwork for the 13th station, in which Christ’s body is taken down from the cross. His work, Lamentation for the Forsaken, “offers a lamentation not only for the forsaken Christ, but others who have felt his acute pain of abandonment. In particular, he evokes the memory of Syrians who have passed away in the present conflict, weaving their names and images into a contemporary Shroud of Turin”

Dionne Gravesande explained how Christian Aid work with partners in the ACT Alliance and other agencies to support practical and political action to help those fleeing conflicts, and address the longer term issues. Christian Aid urge governments to play a full and constructive role in efforts to find safe routes, and provide adequate support for refugees world-wide. And we appeal to them to meet fully their own international, legal obligations to all those affected, respecting their universal rights and demonstrating care and compassion rather than just being driven by alarmist headlines at home. To support refugees in Europe and to help people in the countries they are fleeing from, please donate to Christian Aid's Refugee Crisis Appeal here.

Revd Richard Carter spoke of the way in which many at St Martin-in-the-Fields have been coming to see, listen and learn more about the people that are very much part of our congregation. They are not “homeless people”, they are people, real people with such gifts to share. At the Sunday International Group which offers welcome and hospitality to foreign nationals facing destitution in London, they have met people from more than 26 different countries and have been enriched by each other. Many people talk about this meeting being the highlight of the week and that includes both guests and hosts. Why? Richard believes it to be because they discover in one another how we all long to belong and the joy of both giving and receiving. It is not an exaggeration to say that in this meeting they discover our humanity.

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Michael Takeo Magruder - Apocalypse Now?

Discover & explore: Life



In today's Discover & explore service at St Stephen Walbrook we explored the theme of Life using Alan Everett's 'Foundations of the City' exhibition and through choral pieces sung by the Choral Scholars of St Martin-in-the-Fields. These choral pieces included: 'Jubilate Deo' by Orlande de Lassus; 'O Jesu Mea Vita' by Claudio Monteverdi; 'My Spirit Sang All Day' by Gerald Finzi; and 'The Call' by Richard Lloyd. In addition, we reflected on a reading from 'The Dream of the Rood' and the Parable of the Wise and Foolish Builders. Next Monday's Discover & explore service will be on the theme of Love and will be led by Sally Muggeridge.

The reflection I gave today and the intercessions I led were as follows:

I am thrilled to have Alan Everett’s current exhibition here at St Stephen Walbrook for the next few weeks. In inviting Alan to exhibit here I was engaged by the organic nature of his work as he combines the deliberation of his rhythmic mark marking with the more random effects of drips and splashes; all cohering through his overall perception of the evolving work. This way of working is ideally suited to the exploration of construction and destruction, layering and fragmentation, life and death which is to be found in these works and this exhibition. As a result, these paintings are a welcome and contemplative addition to the reflective and prayerful nature of this sacred space and will guide us in our meditation during Lent.

The paintings which use a style of rhythmic mark marking are composed of blocks of colour built up into walls of colour. They take fragments of colour and layer these, thereby building harmonies of difference. In doing so, Alan is demonstrating the way in which fragments of ancient texts or architecture can be brought together to create something greater than the whole. St Stephen Walbrook is itself an example of this occurring, with its modern reordering set within a neo-classical design which is itself built on the ruins of a Roman city.

I want to suggest that something very similar happens in relation to our lives. One of the big debates in child development is about nature versus nurture; whether a person's development is predisposed in his or her DNA, or whether it is primarily influenced by life experiences and environment. The reality is probably that a combination of both occurs in each of us. Our development and maturing is as a result of a mix of factors from genetics, through life experiences to our beliefs. As Christians, it is sometimes easy to think that our development is or should be wholly based on our faith but, again, the beliefs we hold are, in practice, a potpourri or amalgam of our understandings or interpretations of our faith or the Bible held together with all sorts of other influences on us. This is, in part, why we differ in our views as to what the Bible is saying to us or how we ought to act as Christians.

As a result, our lives, like Alan’s paintings, are composed of fragments which we have brought together in unique ways. His exhibition is called ‘Foundations of the City’ and his initial inspiration for the paintings included in it was found in an Anglo-Saxon poem called ‘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 cross paintings in this exhibition point us to the foundational event for Christians, which is Christ’s crucifixion. In ‘The Dream of the Rood’ we read “my hope for support / Is turned towards the cross.”

All buildings need a foundation on which to be built, just as most paintings need a canvas on which to be painted. Our lives are no different. Jesus pointed out in the Parable of the Wise and Foolish Builders that all our lives need to be built on a firm foundation. He provides that foundation. St Paul states that, “no one can lay any foundation other than the one that has been laid; that foundation is Jesus Christ” (1 Corinthians 3. 11).

Why is this so? It is because, in Jesus, God is made known and seen in human form and flesh. Therefore, Jesus provides the perfect pattern for us to follow; the perfect basis on which to build a Godly life. Anything else is fallible and will fail us but if we build our life on the pattern or foundation provided by Jesus we can be absolutely sure that we are building on God’s will and way for human beings.

With that confidence, our lives have the strength to survive the storms of life which affect us all. As the hymn writer, Edward Mote, has us sing: My hope is built on nothing less / than Jesus' blood and righteousness; / I dare not trust the sweetest frame, / but wholly lean on Jesus' name. / On Christ, the solid rock, I stand; / all other ground is sinking sand.”

In the storms of life, keep us founded on you and enable us to stand firm. Lord, in your mercy, hear our prayer.  

In the complexities of life, may we build on the pattern of your life and see the different aspects of our lives come together and cohere. Lord, in your mercy, hear our prayer.  

Take the fragments of our lives and build harmonies of difference creating something greater than the whole. Lord, in your mercy, hear our prayer.  

Enable us to build Godly lives by building on Jesus, so we can be absolutely sure that we are building on your will and way for human beings. Lord, in your mercy, hear our prayer.  


Build our hope on nothing less than Jesus' blood and righteousness, so that we may stand when all around is sinking sand. Lord, in your mercy, hear our prayer. 

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Richard Lloyd - The Call.