Thoughts and Prayers for our time
While All Saints is closed for worship for the foreseeable future, our vicar will provide thoughts and prayers on this page. There will also be occasional thoughts from other members of our team.
Advent, the season of spending and panic and possibly a few too many drinks as we anticipate Christmas, is very soon to start. It may even be under way when you read this.
Or Advent, a penitential season in which we prepare to reflect on the first arrival of Jesus to a hurting world over 2000 years ago and focus on the time when he will re appear in his glory at some unknown time in the future. Are we ready to meet Jesus when he comes?
It is a theme of many Advent Hymns, which often get obscured by too many renderings of “Away in a Manger” around the 3rd of December, or even before. Now I like hearing a group of children singing such carols as much as the next person, but we perhaps need a sense of proportion here. Many wonderful and insights into the season can get missed as Advent is kind of skated over, meaning December becomes Christmas.
One of my favourite Advent Hymns is Charles Wesley’s fine “Lo, he comes with clouds descending”, set to a tune called Helmsley. As we prepare to celebrate the arrival of the Christ Child we must not forget that he will come again, in a very different mode:-
Lo he comes with clouds descending, once for favoured sinners slain;
thousand thousand saints attending swell the triumph of his train:
Alleluia! God appears on earth to reign.
Every eye shall now behold him robed in dreadful majesty;
those who set at naught and sold him, pierced and nailed him to the Tree,
deeply wailing, shall the true Messiah see.
You can find the rest of the hymn in any hymn book.
Jesus makes it very clear that the timing his return in judgement (and we hope, mercy) is known only to the Father. Even Jesus does not know this. I remember preaching a sermon on the first Sunday of Advent many years ago when I was a curate in Margate. I think I said “Well, we don’t know when Jesus will return, but…”(pausing for effect and indicating the SW door covered in a large red curtain) “He could walk in through this door at any time” and lo and behold, the curtain parts…. and John walks in….he was a much loved member of the congregation who regularly came into services a bit late! There was a shocked silence and a strange frisson went round the church, then a few folk began to giggle nervously as the truth sank in. Afterwards I was congratulated on my immaculate timing and a few less charitable people enquired if I’d put John up to it…I said not, it was probably evidence of God’s sense of humour.
As we consider this year’s Advent, one like no other we have ever experienced, how will we live it? Is this an opportunity to live Advent in a way that we maybe haven’t before, to read the Scriptures in a thoughtful way, to consider prayerfully our own readiness to meet our Saviour.
I don’t want to end on a doomy note, so in this season we can also make time to prepare to enjoy the reality of Christmas, regardless of what politicians try to have us do, because what they say makes no difference whatsoever to the wonderful truth that God chose to become one of us and to enter our world. Cause for true celebration indeed.
Have a good Advent
A copy of the above for you to download here Advent Thoughts
OF CHRIST THE KING AND CHRISTMAS PUDDINGS
When we were kids Dad would stomp around the house some mornings, or other times when he wanted to get us all organised as a family (and there were rather a lot of us) calling out “Stir your stumps!”. This rallying call was supposed to get us out of bed, for a pre breakfast dip in the sea, a yomp on Dartmoor or some such adventure. I don’t know where this phrase came from but I suspect it was one of the more repeatable ones from his days in the Army.
I found myself thinking about this long distant time when I was reflecting on next Sunday’s concluding Collect. Next Sunday of course is now usually referred to as Christ the King, the last of the Church’s year, before the next one starts on Advent Sunday. But many of you will remember it as “Stir Up Sunday” for two reasons. Traditionally this was the day people made their Christmas puddings, which, of course if you use the proper recipes requires a fair bit of stirring, a task that could be shared by several family members. But why THIS particular Sunday? It’s down to the Collect I’ve just mentioned. In the BCP it was used as the main one for the “Sunday Next Before Advent” and in CW it is placed at the end of the service, it goes like this:-
Stir up, O Lord, the wills of your faithful people;
that they, plenteously bringing forth the fruit of good works,
may by you be plenteously rewarded;
through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen
At one level the Collect reminds us to literally “stir our stumps” in readiness for a new Church year and the rapidly approaching season of Advent, with its focus on preparation and being ready to welcome the Christ child into our hearts at Christmas, but also on being ready to meet Christ whenever he returns. And on a domestic level people could take it as exhorting them to make their Christmas pudds among all the other things they feel they have to do….
So how does this tie in with our current naming for this Sunday, Christ the King? If I somehow got wind of the fact that Jesus, the ruler of my life, was going to drop in tomorrow afternoon (for instance) I would do everything in my power to prepare for this momentous event, wouldn’t you?
By way of a slight change of tack, there’s a lot of talk about how Christmas might get “cancelled”…what a load of hubristic nonsense! As if it was in anyone’s power to do this, it certainly is not for politicians and so on to tell us this is/ maybe the case. I take encouragement from the fact that the Creator of the Universe chose to be born as a human being, and it is not for us or governments to change this. It is completely possible though, that a lot of the festivities and events around Christmas WILL be different and it will look and feel very different. But we can and must celebrate the coming of the Light of the World and a new dawn of hope for us all. And for this we need to prepare ourselves by keeping a good Advent.
With my love and prayers
A copy of the above for you to download here Of Christ the King and Christmas Puddings
The other day I watched, with a slight tinge of envy I admit, a skein of Pink Footed Geese flying overhead in their characteristic vee shaped formation, for aerodynamic efficiency I understand. They seemed free to go where nature and inclination took them. Unlike us in our present restricted lives. But it lifted my spirits to see them.
Then, this morning I opened my little window into Lincolnshire’s wildlife, a weekly Bulletin* from the LNU (Lincs Naturalists Union) which informs me of wildlife sightings and events all over the county. One post I keenly follow is the ongoing “soap opera” of the breeding Grey Seals at Donna Nook. Most years I make a pilgrimage to see them around this time of year, and to take yet more photographs and observe their interesting behaviour. I always see something new. Of course this is not possible this year, as the reserve is closed to visitors. But the joy is that they ARE there anyway, and the cows are producing the appealing white clad pups just as always. So far there have been well over 200 births, and of course we’re still counting, the season lasts well into December as the Cows and Bulls mate and the youngsters head off into the cold, inhospitable North Sea after a little while. Yes, the seals get on with what they do regardless of us, and I find that helpful.
And all this goes on as the days inexorably shorten and it gets cooler and more wintry.
So too does the season of Advent approach, the time when we have a chance to reflect on the coming of Jesus into the world, culminating in Christmas the Feast of the Incarnation. The churches (in the Northern hemisphere) have chosen to celebrate this momentous event during the darkest days of winter. And there is a 1 in 365 chance that they have picked the right day! But Advent also has a more sombre message, the readings often refer to what are sometimes referred to as “the Last Things” and appropriately some of the readings are a bit doomy as they reflect on the return of Jesus in his Glory to judge the world. Just as Mary, Joseph and other people in the Biblical accounts of the Nativity were ready to welcome Jesus into the world we are urged to be ready to meet and welcome Jesus whenever he arrives.
Right now I cannot guess how things will be during Advent and Christmas due to lockdown and so forth, Christmas will still happen as we cannot, should not, try to alter this fact. Even if we can’t sing carols (which looks pretty likely, except perhaps in the shower) and visiting and festivities be rather muted we can still welcome the Incarnate Christ into our hearts and lives after we have spent a reflective and hopeful Advent.
With my love & prayers for you and yours
*If you want to explore the LNU Bulletin, just let me know & I’ll send you a link
A copy of the above for you to download here Advent Approaches
LOCKDOWN NUMBER 2
I’ve been rather quiet postwise since the easing of the spring lockdown, but now at the start of another one I feel I should start up again.
There’s a sense of déjà vu about all this, we’ve all been here before and maybe have very mixed feelings about it this time round, plus of course the days are getting shorter, rather than longer. Some things feel very similar, but there are also a few significant differences. One that gives me hope, is that despite continuing high levels of Covid infection, the death rate is relatively lower. Our skilled medics are getting better at treating this virus, and while I personally don’t think it’s just round the corner yet, it looks as if there may be an effective Vaccine in the next few months. So there are grounds for hope
Sadly churches and other places of worship have to close for services again, though this time we can open for private prayer and for streaming services. Our two Archbishops and other faith leaders have asked questions this time, and would like to know the science behind closing places of worship who have carefully observed and taken on board all possible safety measures and cleaning. There is an obvious discrepancy between being permitted to hold a funeral in church with up to 30 in attendance, but not a normal Sunday service or other act of worship.
Something that has caught my eye and maybe would be of help to many of us is the suggestion from the Archbishops, though not just for Anglicans, that we use November as a month for prayer. They suggest we all put aside a time 6.00 every evening to pray every day. How we do this is open to us. We might choose to sit quietly, with a lighted candle, we may put on some suitably meditative and calming music, maybe a cross or other significant object to focus on. The great thing would be if we all try to do it! Imagine that great wave of prayer every day. Each day could have a different focus, and a simple pattern goes like this:-
Sunday – Family, friends and loved ones
Monday – Schools, colleges, children and young people, universities
Tuesday – The elderly, the isolated and the vulnerable
Wednesday – Businesses, workplaces, economic wellbeing, our community
Thursday – The NHS and keyworkers, hospitals, hospices and care homes
Friday – National and local governments Saturday – The grieving, those suffering with physical and mental health issues
There are also ideas to be found on the C of E website at prayerforthenation
Times will improve and we all long for the day when we can live in happier and safer times.
May God bless you and all for whom you pray.
A copy of the above for you to download here Lockdown Post 2
Reflections on living in lockdown by Elaine Southern Reflections on living in lockdown
THOUGHTS ON JOYFULNESS
Life at the moment seems to be a little grim. Even the summer seems to have vanished and day after day of dreary, damp, wet, windy and downright chilly days seem to be our lot at the moment. So we can’t even BBQ in the garden, enjoy a pleasant summer walk, or sitting outside enjoying the sunshine.
Then there is a nagging doubt among many people that somehow we may never return to life quite as we have previously enjoyed it. How many restrictions and health precautions will we have to continue to take, into an indefinite future? And when will kids be able to behave like kids again, instead of mini adults, forever washing their hands and worrying about Covid 19 and social distance? Many people are still reluctant to consider a holiday, even here in the UK, let alone anywhere else. There are still concerns about places, such as Leicester which is, as I write, back in full lockdown. The pubs might be open, but with so many restrictions that many will decline the pleasure. And if anyone there tests positive for the virus EVERYONE who was there on that occasion will have to quarantine, and the authorities can check up on you, because you will have given your name and contact details before you were able to get served.
There seems to be a general shortage of joy and spontaneity. A trip to a shop has to be planned and we have to wait in queues and the wisdom is we should wear face masks and “sanitise, sanitise, sanitise”, which rather takes the fun out of things. For me, I’ve delayed going into any shop, apart from my local newsagents and a supermarket now and again.
In my gloomier moments I think this all sounds horribly dystopian, we’ve all read or watched things like Brave New World, 1984, The Handmaid’s Tale and so we could be pardoned for thinking that truth is maybe stranger than fiction. Perhaps it is, but doubtless Orwell, Atwood or Aldous Huxley could have a field day with it.
After spending time with these thoughts, I decided it was counter-productive and maybe a little self-indulgent to stay with the gloom. After all I’m a Christian and we are supposed to be people of hope and trust in the ultimate good purposes of God. So what have I done about this?
I started with the idea of “Examen” which is a discipline in which someone reviews the day that has just passed, before going to bed. There is, of course scope for regret, reflection and repentance on where we’ve fallen short or in what we’ve left undone, and for bringing painful and needy situations into the loving sight of God. This is very valuable in our spiritual life, but what really spoke to me at this time is the question “where have you found joy today?” and of course to give thanks for it. This set me off on a healthier track…..I would not allow myself to go to bed till I had found at least one thing to be thankful for, and the more I thought about it, the simpler it became. Sometimes a kind word from someone, a beautiful sight or sound, relief at a changed situation, or the knowledge that I’ve done something well today.
I’ll give you a few random things that have brought joy to me over the last few days. Some will resonate with you, but you’ll find something else that reveals God’s goodness if you allow it. These were for me the stunningly beautiful full moon with silvery clouds a few nights back, hearing a real person play real music on the piano, recalling the best streamed service so far, a fresh Red Admiral butterfly that appeared as if by magic during a brief 5 minutes of sunshine, glistening drops of rain on leaves, a smile from a stranger. Joy is a reminder of God’s love and delight in us and all his world, if you look, you will find it.
May the joy of our living Lord be with you all. Alice
A copy of the above for you to download here Thoughts on Joyfulness
THOUGHTS ON PSALM 139
During the last few days I’ve been spending time with Psalm 139 and I’d like to share with you, a few thoughts as a result of this. It will probably be helpful to look it up and read it through, as space does not permit me to print it in its entirety.
The writer expresses a deep sense of God’s knowledge of us, a God who knows what we are thinking perhaps even before we do, and a God who is present regardless of where we go. We cannot escape God. I can cross the seas, I can descend to the depths of Hades, but God is still there – Jonah the OT prophet would be able to vouch for that! Even before we are born, God knows us as we are growing and developing in our mother’s womb. He knows exactly how we are “wired up”, our weaknesses and our strengths. Depending on how we may be feeling at the time this can be either terrifying, intensely consoling, or somewhere in between. But to me at this time, when I may struggle with prayer, as I do some of the time, and perhaps some of you do too, I find it reassuring, and God, who knows us, better than we do, can and will treat our thoughts as prayer itself. This, of course has echoes in St Paul’s writings, Romans 8: 26 where he draws a picture of the Holy Spirit helping us in our weakness “when we do not know how to pray as we ought but that very Spirit intercedes with sighs too deep for words”. So we don’t need to come to God, with a formal or elegantly turned phrase - an intended thought, bringing someone, or a situation to mind, a sense of pain or outrage, and awareness of our own fragility will be comprehended by God. And we may find we have started praying, speaking with God almost without knowing it. We can say to God something like “OK then, good Lord, you know the needs of this situation far better than I can tell you……please give them wisdom, (or show mercy…or…)
So far, so good, for the first 18 verses. Then suddenly out of the blue (v19) there is an abrupt change of gear “O that you would kill the wicked, O God…..I hate them with perfect hatred” and so forth. These verses often appear in the psalms in this manner, and are sometimes called the “cursing verses”. How do we deal with them? The easy way out perhaps is to ignore them, omit them from our reading, but is this honest? Or do we seek to come to terms with what they are saying in some more helpful way that speaks to our times. One way, and I certainly am not offering the last word on this, is to take them as a reaction to our own sinfulness, negativity and the bits of ourselves we don’t like very much. Trust me, we all have them. That way we may begin to see how God can help us deal with those bits that we would rather were not part of our lives. Certainly if we look at the two final verses (23/24) it is not unreasonable to read these verses in this way. The psalmist asks God to search him out, to test him and lead him away from his evil thoughts, into the way of life everlasting.
Take time to read and reflect upon this psalm, and praise the God who allows us to draw close to him, in confidence, because there is nothing in us that he doesn’t know, and be glad that he loves us, in spite of it all!
A copy of the above for you to download here Thoughts on Psalm 139
THOUGHTS ON RECENT EVENTS IN THE UNITED STATES
For the last 10 days or so, many of my thoughts and prayers have been about the terrible events in the US, as perhaps they have been occupying yours too. I was shocked and angered at the unnecessary death of an already handcuffed man by a knee in the neck from what can only be described as a brutal and thuggish police officer. I speak, of course, of the murder, in Minneapolis, of George Floyd, who was black. Even if Mr Floyd was guilty of his alleged crime, it is not for the police to decide, or administer any punishment, let alone death. And the thing that astonished me, was that a member of public got it all on their phone, thereby incriminating the policeman and his colleagues, who must have been aware of that possibility.
Quite rightly there has been an outpouring of grief and anger across racial and national boundaries. Protest and lament are ways of dealing with this, and countless other crimes against black or other ethnic groups of people.
Why so much anger at one death? Because it isn’t just “one death”, this is the latest in a long and shameful history of racism, in the US, but also here in the UK, and elsewhere. Sadly there’s probably no place in the world where this pernicious evil is entirely absent. The out pouring of anger is from years of pent up pain and grief at not being listened to, and this latest abuse of power, was the catalyst. While I don’t condone the torching and destruction of property or looting, it is all too easy to see how anger translates into it, leaving aside an element of opportunism. For years, the voices of the voiceless have been ignored by the powers that be.
And of course the situation has not been helped by the hate filled rantings of the current occupant of the White House, who last week had the temerity to demand that a street near his local Episcopal church be cleared of peaceful protesters by the use of teargas and threatening over armed police, so the HE could have a cheap photo op brandishing a Bible in front of the church.
Of course there have been cries of outrage about this from many people, including, but not exclusively Christians, not only in the States but elsewhere. To me, this is a disgusting misuse of the Word of God. I don’t use the word lightly, but it is blasphemy too.
Perhaps Mr Trump could take a closer look at what is actually IN this book, a Book that can be horribly misused, or brings hope and joy to countless people of all races and nations. The Old Testament Prophets might be a good place to start as there is an overarching theme of the need for mercy, justice and integrity especially from those who wield power (Isaiah 10 for example). Then perhaps he could look at St Luke’s Gospel to get a little insight into Jesus’ attitude to foreigners. Could a racist sincerely tell the story of the Good Samaritan? (10: 25- 37) I think not. Of course there are many other passages I could pick out, but space doesn’t permit, so my last allusion is to Genesis 1:27 “So God created humankind in his image, in the image of God he created them” (With a parallelism for emphasis, note).
In my reading of the Book that means EVERYONE regardless…..no ifs, no buts. And we too must look deep into our hearts and minds, as well as critically at our politicians and leaders to ensure we root out this evil, because if we say nothing we are complicit.
May our God of mercy, justice and love rule in our hearts and nations.
A copy of the above for you to download here Thoughts about Events in the USA
Also for you to download: