Saturday, 17 August 2013

The Seed: Symbol & Mystery - Thoughts for Lammas

A seed is a mystery. It is both beginning and end, life and death, nothing and everything. A seed sits easily in the palm of the hand, and yet grows into a living structure which can be twice the size of house. It is a single grain, yet it is the source of a thousand grains. It can be stored for many years, and then be stirred into life in days. A seed is the whole universe in a grain of sand.

And so a seed is a rich symbol of the process of living and dying. It is no surprise that the seed is often used in faith traditions to illustrate the spiritual journey, and the moving from one season to another. In the Christian tradition, Jesus often used the imagery of agriculture, the language of the land. He spoke about crops and weeds, good and bad soil, sowing and harvesting. Jesus wisely rooted his teaching in the things people could understand, and he used the symbol of the seed to illustrate a profound message about what it means to be human, and to live a life of the Spirit.

At the harvest, which is celebrated in the Christian festival of Lammas, the crop is gathered in and enjoyed, but the seed from which it came is nowhere to be seen. The seed does its work secretly, and through its death others are given a life-giving gift.

The Pagan season of Lughnasadh also centres around the mysterious and wonderful work of the seed. It is a time for the celebration of the grain harvest when thanks are given to the Harvest Mother - she who is the Seed, the Womb and the Soil. The harvested grain represents both food to sustain us through the coming winter months, and also the promise of hope contained in the seed to be sown in Spring.

To read the whole of this article, visit: Mystic Christ

Friday, 21 June 2013

Losing my religion..?

The latest blog post from Jim Palmer has got me thinking. My first thought was: Well, I'm clearly not the only one... Which quickly led to the thought: So I'm not going insane, then..!

Now, I ought to explain that I don't think I'm leaving Christianity, though there are many parts of that religion which drive me mad. But I certainly think I'm on a journey away from the Church. So much of it just doesn't speak to me any more. It seems to spend so much of its time looking around anxiously, patting its pockets to check that everything is still in place. However, I still love the people - probably more than ever. It's the people that are important, and their needs, fears, joys and hopes. After all, they're the things that Jesus cared about...

So, here's Jim's blog post. And a few very short reflections from me along the way.

16 things people report about their shedding religion journey:

1. You’re losing your religion but gaining your sanity.

2. Maybe you left church because it wasn’t helping you know God or grow spiritually.

3. You know you are on the right path but trying to explain that path to others is like nailing Jello to a wall, and you often feel misunderstood.

Ah, yes! Probably a path blending Jesus, Druidry, Celtic Spirituality and other eclectic elements of Paganism (if such a thing exists!). Hard to explain to most of my colleagues...


4. Your new life beyond religion isn’t quite as defined as things used to be.

5. You have twice as many questions as you do answers but strangely you’re okay with this.

6. Sometimes you doubt yourself, and crave a religious fix to make you feel better.

Oh yes - I still often crave a Choral Evensong.

7. You desperately wish someone (anyone!) would just accept you where you are right now.

8. Oh, for just a couple of people you could sit down with face-to-face and talk with about all this stuff without the threat of judgment and condemnation!

Thankfully, there are some good friends with whom I can do this. Bless you!


9. On Monday you feel free, and on Tuesday you wonder if you are going crazy.

10. Christ without Christianity, truth without theology, and community without church makes complete sense to you but it also makes you a heretic among some of your former friends who avoid you in the grocery store.

Yes, I think this describes my thinking pretty well...

11. You don’t know how to answer the question, “Are you a Christian?”

12. You refuse to divulge the books you are currently reading because you know it’s going to alarm the people who already think you’ve gone off the deep end.

Glennie Kindred, Emma Restall-Orr, Philip Carr-Gomm, Donna Farhi, Cassandra Eason, Tess Ward, Erich Schiffmann... Wonderful authors!

13. You get nauseated when you hear Christanese.

Well, some modern hymns are getting harder and harder to sing...



14. You’re not sure where your Bible is.

No, I do know the answer to this one..!

15. Suddenly you’re liking the people who were previously classified as “them.”

Erm, yes...


16. Prayer is more an authentic and powerful desire for the liberation of others and contributing to it, rather than a magic God-wand to save the day.

Jim ends the post by asking: Does any of this sound familiar? Well, yes, Jim, it does. And thank you.

Saturday, 30 March 2013

Welcoming and blessing

When I was thinking about this year's Easter Day Eucharist, I felt that the words that the Church of England had provided for the welcoming of the Easter candle and for the blessing of the Easter garden were, well, very 'dry'. There was plenty of lofty language, but very little sense of the beauty of light, or of the freshness of the garden.

And so, I decided to write my own words. I tried to create a sense of joy, wonder and promise - three things which I find in the mystery of the Easter story. I hope I have achieved this. See for yourself:

Welcoming the Easter Candle

Praise to you, O Christ, Light of the Earth,
breaking into the darkness of our night in the rays of Spring's dawn,
bringing vision and joy, warmth and peace.

Bless us who welcome this Easter candle.
May it be to us a sign of our enlightening,
and of our re-awakening to new life on this Easter morn.
As we receive its holy flame
may we also receive Christ, the Flame of Love and Life,
into our hearts and into our lives.


The Blessing of the Easter Garden

Blessed be you, Jesus, O Holy Gardener, risen with the Sun,
as you come softly into the garden
to surprise us with the good news
that the winter of death is over
and the Spring of new life is come.

And bless, we pray, this Easter Garden,
a living picture of our thankfulness to you
and a symbol of our hopes for new growth within our lives.
As Mary came to seek you in the garden
in the promise of early morning,
may we seek your coming in the dawning of this new season.
As Mary turned to ask where her Lord had been laid,
may we eagerly seek your presence in our lives.
As Mary thrilled to hear you speak her name,
may we respond with joy when we hear your voice whispering to our spirit.

Bless us as we take a new path this day,
and lift our eyes to see you as our companion on the way.

Amen.


I will find out tomorrow morning what effect these words have. In the meantime, I wish you a blessed Easter. 

Monday, 25 March 2013

Calling the Spring

On Sunday, we celebrated the Spring Equinox at Forest Church where the theme was 'Christ the Gardener'. It was a beautiful ritual, and throughout it was the idea that Christ comes to bring new life in his role as the gardener in John's gospel.

And particularly moving was the element where we were invited to call up the Spring from the depths of the Earth and to draw down energy and warmth from the Sun, making ourselves into the place of connection between Earth and Sun. The ritual leader said:

We begin by drawing the energy up from the earth... Feel your feet connecting with the cold earth and, like a tree, send your roots deep, deep down, to where the spring has started to uncoil...

...Breathe in deeply, and draw the energy of spring... up through your feet and into your whole body. With each out-breath hold that heat in the body...

Extend your sense upwards to the distant sun... Draw down the warmth of spring into the cold earth beneath you, through that connection you have established in your mind and in your body...

This was a very profound moment for me: that I could be a co-creator in the birthing of the new season of the year, and that I was a part of the coming of Spring. It was not just happening around me - it was happening through me.

There was also a link to yoga practice in the drawing-up of energy into the body through the feet, as we do when we stand in Mountain Pose or Tree Pose. In this part of the practice I am always reminded that I am part of the tapestry of creation, and that I may grow by learning from the ways of creation. The mountain and the tree are my teachers.

Saturday, 2 March 2013

Figs, apples, trees

This Sunday I'm all into trees in my sermon. And, as we have the reading of the fig-tree in the vineyard (which has become the apple tree in the translation below!) I wanted to use that theme with my folks at church this Sunday.

Matthew's gospel, chapter 13 verses 6-9:

Then Jesus told them a story: “A man had an apple tree planted in his front yard. He came to it expecting to find apples, but there weren’t any. He said to his gardener, ‘What’s going on here? For three years now I’ve come to this tree expecting apples and not one apple have I found. Chop it down! Why waste good ground with it any longer?’

“The gardener said, ‘Let’s give it another year. I’ll dig around it and fertilize, and maybe it will produce next year; if it doesn’t, then chop it down.’”


Here is the final part of my sermon:

...Who is the gardener? Is this Jesus, coming to give us one more chance, to pick us up after we have fallen, to speak words of encouragement when we have failed to hit the mark and to set us on our way again? It seems likely that it is Jesus, for the gospel story is full of occasions when someone is given a second chance by Jesus. The key, it seems, is what we do with the second chance we are given - and the third, and the fourth and the fiftieth. Will we bear fruit? Will we strive to live up to our calling? Will we make the most of the opportunity to be who God calls us to be, acknowledging and valuing our differences and our individuality, and celebrating that in others? 

Thursday, 21 February 2013

Welcome

In this season of Lent Christians look towards the cross, the place where God most fully demonstrates his love for his world.

But though a sign of love for Christians, the cross has often been wrongly used to generate emotions which get in the way of our coming to God: guilt, shame, unworthiness, self-blame.

It may help to recall the one thing which Jesus leaves his friends before he goes to the cross. Not rules, not a list of instructions, not even a religion, but a meal:

When the hour came, he took his place at the table, and the apostles with him. He said to them, I have eagerly desired to eat this Passover with you before I suffer...Then he took a loaf of bread, and when he had given thanks, he broke it and gave it to them, saying, ‘This is my body, which is given for you. Do this in remembrance of me.’ And he did the same with the cup after supper, saying, ‘This cup that is poured out for you is the new covenant in my blood.'

A meal is a place where relationship is made and strengthened. A meal is a sign of welcome, acceptance and belonging. A meal is an act of equality and of healing, both for body and soul.

A meal cannot be forced or enjoyed under pressure; it is always an invitation. And there are many in 21st society whose lives are tired and bruised from having been mistrusted, betrayed or forgotten and who are seeking healing, welcome and acceptance. There are many who feel, through experience or intuition, that church does not welcome them, or that God is not interested in them or that faith is not possible. Where is their place at the table? Who is preparing the meal to which they are invited?

And what of you and I? Perhaps we are among this number, sharing some of these feelings. Perhaps we, too, need to hear the invitation which followers of Jesus have listened for down the ages. Or perhaps we simply need to be reminded of that invitation so that we can learn again how to offer it to others.

The poem 'Love' speaks beautifully of invitation and welcome. It is an encounter between the character of Love which is, perhaps, the figure of Christ, and a guest who seeks a welcome. As the poem unfolds, the guest cannot help but feel that she is not worthy to be present at the meal. Surely there is some great sin which means that she should be turned away?

But, no. Love will not hear of it and Love can see only the guest's need of rest and of refreshment. It can be our welcome, too, if we will accept it.

Love

Love bade me welcome: yet my soul drew back,
        Guilty of dust and sin.
But quick-eyed Love, observing me grow slack
        From my first entrance in,
Drew nearer to me, sweetly questioning
        If I lack'd anything.

A guest, I answered, worthy to be here:
        Love said, You shall be he.
I, the unkind, ungrateful? Ah, my dear,
        I cannot look on thee.
Love took my hand, and smiling did reply,
        Who made the eyes but I?

Truth, Lord; but I have marr'd them; let my shame
        Go where it doth deserve.
And know you not, says Love, who bore the blame?
        My dear, then I will serve.
You must sit down, says Love, and taste my meat.
        So I did sit and eat.
       
                George Herbert

Monday, 28 January 2013

The Wisdom of Brigid

This Friday, 1 Feb, is the feast day of St Brigid. I have recently been delving into the legends of Brigid both as Christian Saint and as goddess, and find her fascinating and amazing! Her divine feminine wisdom and healing energy are very inspiring. At a time when the Christian Church (or, at least, my part of it - the Church of England) is failing to display true welcome and wisdom, Brigid's spirit is sorely needed.

So, this week, we will celebrate St Brigid at the chapel Eucharist. Here is a brief extract from my short reflection for that morning:

Whatever may or may not be the historical facts about the life of Brigid, one of her most valuable gifts is that of feminine wisdom. 

For too long, the Christian Church has silenced and ignored the voices of women whilst being happy for them to carry out a large share of the practical work which holds communities together - caring, praying, visiting, comforting, welcoming. 

Brigid reminds us of the richness of the wisdom and vision of women - a richness which the Church desperately needs in order to open itself to the needs and wonders of our world.

May you be blessed by Brigid.

Saturday, 19 January 2013

The art of avoiding

On Elephant Journal today - an article which I can identify with: Yoga is the practice of dealing with the consequences of being yourself.

Why do I recognise this? Because when I miss out on my yoga practice, I'm often thinking something like:

I won't be able to decide what practice to do (my indecisivness)
I might not get all my work finished today (worrying about being respected by colleagues)
I might not be able to do the poses (worrying about not achieving)
It might be better to do it later (not living in the moment)
....or something else!

In the article, Caroline Scherer says:

A wonderful teacher of mine once told me that yoga is the practice of dealing with the consequences of being yourself. I’ve always thought that was a beautifully simple and eloquent way of explaining it.
Besides challenging our bodies and opening our minds, yoga forces us to really live with ourselves in a way that we are not accustomed to doing on a day-to-day basis. It asks us to have honest relationships with our true selves, and embrace those selves exactly as they are.

And if that is the case, which I believe it is, then I’m not avoiding yoga. Yoga has nothing to do with it.

I’m avoiding myself.

I’m avoiding my intolerance of imperfection. I’m avoiding the fact that I’m disappointed in myself for being out of shape. I’m avoiding the doubt that will inevitably sneak up on me when I get there and realize that I’m a little rusty.

She ends by saying:

The beautiful thing about yoga... is that it simultaneously evokes those feelings and cures me of them. It brings about physical discomfort, then offers spiritual peace. It hurts, but it also heals.

That's what I find too. As they say:  no time on the mat is ever wasted. 

Friday, 18 January 2013

My thoughts in a song

A couple of days ago I came across the wonderful Dar Williams, singer-songwriter (songwriter-singer?), and her song Christians and Pagans, taken from her album Mortal City.

The song sketches out what happens when an American family gets together for the Christmas holidays. Some members of the family are Christians, others are pagans. Dar doesn't try to make one group better than another; she simply tries to show that the season (Christmas/Yule) can be celebrated by those of many beliefs.

The choruses of the song vary slightly. Here's the first:

So the Christians and the pagans sat together at the table,
Finding faith and common ground the best that they were able,
And just before the meal was served, hands were held and prayers were said,
Sending hope for peace on earth to all their gods and goddesses.


I've listened to the song several times in the last few days. One line sticks in my mind - it's from Jane, the mother of the pagan family, as she speaks to her (Christian) nephew at the dinner table:

...it's true, your cousin's not a Christian, 
but we love trees, we love the snow, the friends we have, the world we share,
And you find magic from your God, and we find magic everywhere.'


Something about this line makes me want more, makes me want to find the magic everywhere. It says something which Christians seem to find it hard to do, or at least to express.

The song makes me wonder where I would sit at that table. On just one side, or on both?



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