June 2015


8, The tomb of Bishop Lancelot Andrewes, who helped translate the Authorised Version of the Bible[1]

 

A prayer of Lancelot Andrewes

 

 

Guard Thou my soul,

Strengthen my body,

elevate my senses,

direct my course,

order my habits,

shape my character,

bless my actions,

fulfil my prayers,

inspire holy thoughts,

pardon the past,

correct the present,

prevent the future ……

 

AMEN

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The Windows

 

 

 

Lord, how can man preach thy eternall word?

He is a brittle crazie glasse:

Yet in thy temple thou dost him afford

This glorious and transcendent place,

To be a window, through thy grace.

 

 

But when thou dost anneal in glasse thy storie,

Making thy life to shine within

The holy Preachers; then the light and glorie

More rev’rend grows, and more doth win:

Which else shows watrish, bleak, and thin.

 

 

Doctrine and life, colours and light, in one

When they combine and mingle, bring

A strong regard and aw: but speech alone

Doth vanish like a flaring thing,

And in the eare, not conscience ring.

 

 

 

 

Herbert

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From 1998 through to 2009, I had the privilege of working with many hundreds of older people in an Almshouse charity. We lived together in rather splendid seventeenth-century buildings which were surprisingly adaptable for modern use.

I remember meeting one frail older woman on her admission for care into our community. This move was for her and her children a last resort but keeping her at home with part-time support was simply no longer safe or feasible. When I met Nancy she was withdrawn and anxious. Her children had brought with her a number of personal effects including some pieces of furniture together with some pictures, photographs and four boxes which were stacked in the corner of her new sitting room.

I returned a week later to find our newest resident a little more settled and dressed, making a cup of tea in her kitchen. I joined her in some mid-morning refreshment and asked her whether there was anything practical I could do to help, acknowledging as I did so the difficulties and  challenges  that faces all when negotiating the transition .  ‘ Oh good ! ‘   she replied to  the  offer of my help.     ‘I was a bit bothered  that you are going to ask me  about all that church stuff ‘.  We talked a little more and I explained something of the history of this particular charity and my role as both the Chief Executive Officer and the Vicar of the parish. We talked about the church school which was on the site as I learnt in the opening up of our lives to each other that she had been a  teacher .’  I’d like some help with those boxes ‘ is,  she said .  I placed them into the middle of the room and struggled a little with their size and weight. On opening the first box I discovered a  collection  of books –  ‘  There are precisely enough books in those four boxes  to fill the two oak bookshelves  – now let’s  organise organise them?’ Is  was Nancy’s  clear direction !

 .

So the next two hours was spent looking through this small collection of books. I learnt that they were but a fragment of a much larger library and that a great deal of time and effort had gone into deciding which books should come with her into this new home. They were an extraordinary collection. There were travel books and guides and we talked about Suffolk, Northumberland, Central London and Wales. We exchanged reflections on buildings and people and accents. There were poetry books and movingly she recited poems by heart, telling me very firmly which one she would like to have read at her funeral service. There were novels and classics such as Chaucer and Shakespeare. There were books about photography and painting, and above all,  history. ‘ ‘History is my thing’ she exclaimed,   Gradually The library  took shape  and I was careful to organise them according to her wishes. Each book told a story. Each book was carefully inscribed with her name, the date of purchase and the place of purchase. Often there was a card tucked into the inside cover with notes about questions or issues to follow-up or parts of the book that she wanted to be reminded about. In some of the books there were letters and postcards and bookmarks, all of which told a particular story.

I often think of this particular morning spent with those books and how they enabled us to connect with shared interests and enthusiasms. They enabled that old, frail woman, who, as it happens, was only months away from her death, to have a voice and a history and a narrative. They enabled me to see beyond her immediate physical needs into the richness of her experience. I glimpsed what a difference she had made to many generations of children through her work in education. I deliberately share this personal story rather in this way because it focuses some of what working with older people and reflecting on the place of age in contemporary society might mean for researchers and practitioners. Nancy taught me about listening carefully to the experience of older people in all its richness and complexity. As we listen we learn that older people have a particular range of spiritual and religious needs that we easily overlook if we do not take time tolook beyond the immediate and indeed the physical.

Whatever our age, we should also be cognisant of how our inner lives might be shaped by our ability, or otherwise, to negotiate loss, change and ultimately our mortality. Churches may well have a unique role in enabling these conversations to take place. I  hope that we will expand our awareness and understanding of the nature of the spiritual needs of older people as together from our various professional perspectives, we work for justice for older people, their dignity and empowerment in the provision of the best possible support and care wherever and however they age.

 

 

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Affinity

Consider this man in the field beneath,
Gaitered with mud, lost in his own breath,
Without joy, without sorrow,
Without children, without wife,
Stumbling insensitively from furrow to furrow,
A vague somnambulist; but hold your tears,
For his name also is written in the Book of Life.

Ransack your brainbox, pull out the drawers
That rot in your heart’s dust, and what have you to give
To enrich his spirit or the way he lives?
From the standpoint of education or caste or creed
Is there anything to show that your essential need
Is less than his, who has the world for church,
And stands bare-headed in the woods’ wide porch
Morning and evening to hear God’s choir
Scatter their praises? Don’t be taken in
By stinking garments or an aimless grin;
He also is human, and the same small star,
That lights you homeward, has inflamed his mind
With the old hunger, born of his kind.

R. S. Thomas

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glass

 

It is like the light coming through blue stained glass,
Yet not quite like it,
For the blueness is not transparent,
Only translucent.
Her soul’s light shines through,
But her soul cannot be seen.
It is something elusive, whimsical, tender, wanton, childlike, wise
And noble.

Joyce Kilmer

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‘Between Dark and Daylight’ by Joan Chittister

I am busy at the moment embarking upon a major exercise of downsizing in preparation for my move to Sarum. This must include books! The process is illuminating. What do we attach ourselves to? All this ‘stuff’ faces me with the paradoxes and contradictions of living and even confronts me with some quite disturbing questions about attachment, loss and the inevitability of change.

This is the context within which I read this book. Some books emerge as offering us just what we might need when a life faces us with deeper questions, our frustrations and fears. We ignore this at our peril! Embracing the essential contradictoriness of life is the essence of what it might mean to flourish.

Chittister is a wise, humane and honest spiritual guide. In 32 short chapters she faces her reader with life as it is; materialism, loneliness, doubt, insecurity, failure, noise, distraction and much more. Faith offers no escape but a deeper wrestling with life. The book draws deeply upon the Christian tradition to enable and empower the search for wisdom in the geography of our loving. She describes those liminal spaces where human beings best grow with   disarming common sense. Optimism is rooted deep within the soil of a realism about the journey into those darker places of what makes us hurt. In this struggle prayer lies at the heart of the transformation.

This really is an extraordinary book and no reader will be disappointed. However I am challenged to ask how far the community of the Church can live and share this wisdom when so much of its organisational life seems so unfocused and distracted. Can we recover our pastoral heart and listen more carefully to our questions and experiences? Indeed how might we work together in imaginative ways of nourishing the human spirit?

In this task Chittisher is a voice we shall want to listen to.

And don’t forget to visit the Sarum College web page and especially the Bookshop

http://www.sarum.ac.uk

 

 

 

 

 

 

and listening to the voices ……

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Erich Fried

 

 

When we were the persecuted

I was one of you

How can I remain one

when you become the persecutors?

 

Your longing was

to become like other nations

who murdered you

Now you have become like them

 

You have outlived those

who were cruel to you

Does their cruelty live on

in you now?

 

You ordered the defeated :

‘Take off your boots’

Like the scapegoat you drove them into the wilderness

Into the great mosque of death

Whose sandals are of sand

 

But they did not take upon them the sin

You wished to lay on them

The imprint of their naked feet in the desert sand

Outlasts the traces of your bombs and your tanks

 

[ referring to the instruction given after the six day war to Egyptian prisoners to walk home through

the burning sand without boots ]

The poem is written by Erich Fried after the Six Days war in 1967. He is Jewish, born in Austria, exiled to Great Britain when the Nazis overtook the country, and because of the background of his own experiences with an extremist regime he became one of the harshest critics of Zionism – a mix of theocracy and racism. He is one of the most important post-modern poets of German language.