Beauty surrounds us, but we usually need to be walking in a garden to know it - Rumi
It has been frantic here these last few weeks. What with meetings to organise as Secretary, meetings to attend, parts to learn for our drama group, accounts to audit, appointments to keep, doctors, dentists – the list goes on! And why don’t people return phone calls when they promise to do so? Sometimes I wish the world would stop spinning so that I could get off! Yes, I know you all probably lead a much more frenetic life than I, but I am supposed to be retired. I am sure all this hustle and bustle is not doing anyone’s health, physical or spiritual any good. Looking at it from a spiritual viewpoint, and, as I have said before it is not possible to separate the spiritual self from the secular self, how much time do we really give to God each day, in prayer, Bible reading or simply reflection? Even Jesus took time out from His teaching and healing ministry to spend in prayer and contemplation. If He needed to do so then surely we need it so much more. So when at Sunday Mass Father Graham announced that he would be leading a time of Quietness and Reflection at the local Friends Meeting House at the end of November this seemed an ideal opportunity to take some time to rest, reflect and recharge the batteries.
Now, I have never been inside the Friends Meeting House although I have passed it a number of times, of course. It seems that a building was first acquired for a meeting house by 1698 according to D M Butler, who wrote The Quaker Meeting Houses of Britain, 1999, vol.1, p. 174 although the local meeting’s own history has 1704 as the date of the acquisition. Remember that the Pilgrim Fathers had settled in Massachusetts in 1602 to escape religious persecution in the Old World and at least one family came from our town. That meeting house closed and was sold (by 1800 according to Butler, in 1848 according to the local meeting’s history). It was not until 1937 that groups of Quakers started to meet again, initially at a private home, then in the Women’s Institute Hall. In December 1957, the sale of an old meeting house elsewhere in the district provided funds to buy the so called Red House, the site of the present building, and convert it for use as a meeting house.
Anyway, it sounds an ideal place and time for a Quiet time. As Father Graham said it will be a good way to prepare for Advent and Christmas. I think I am rather looking forward to it.
I think autumn is my favourite season of the year. It is as John Keats wrote in his poem To Autumn a ‘Season of mists and mellow fruitfulness....’
Yesterday we celebrated Harvest Thanksgiving at St Mary Magdalene. There was an abundance of gifts around the altar at the early Mass and I am sure more were brought to the later Morning Service.
You only need to look outside at the garden, along the street, in the fields or in the local park; open your eyes to the trees, plants and bushes that are now heavy with berries and seeds. The Pyracantha coccinea, more commonly known as the scarlet firethorn, across the garden is laden with bright red berries, on which the birds will fatten up for winter. The ancient oak trees will shed their acorns for the squirrels. Indeed, I met Brother Squirrel in the churchyard yesterday busily searching for food. He will eat his fill and then bury a supply for later in the winter; just so long as he can remember where he has buried them. If he forgets there will be a number of oak saplings appearing in odd places next spring! Soon the sycamore seeds will float down to earth on their double wings; whilst along some streets you will find an abundance of sweet chestnuts on the ground, or more likely their inedible cousins, the horse chestnuts or conkers!
Traditionally Harvest Thanksgiving would fall after the crops had been gathered in but this year I suspect the farmers are praying that the good weather holds so that they can harvest their crops of wheat, barley, oats and etc. Of course, we must not forget that in addition to the physical food for our table God also provides the spiritual food for our souls at the Eucharist.
Amazingly, God, Our Creator provides this glorious, abundant bounty each year for His creatures, human and animal. And whilst some seeds will be crushed underfoot accidentally or otherwise there will be plenty to feed the birds and animals, and indeed us, with some to spare. He truly cares for all His creatures. How great is that?
When we come to realise that God is our Creator and that He cares for us, undeserving as we are, our only response must be to bow before Him with humility and offer our unbounded praise and thanksgiving.
School’s back! Can you remember your school days or are they like mine just a distant memory? Do you remember reading the syllabus for the year and thinking how inviting the playing fields outside looked? Perhaps you had an inspirational teacher who pushed you, helped you, and guided you through the course which had at first seemed so daunting. Maybe you are now, or were at one time, that inspiration to your students.
In the film Dead Poets Society the late Robin Williams played such an inspirational teacher. He exhorted his students: “Carpe Diem, seize the day boys, make your lives extraordinary” Now whilst we might argue with the second part of that sentence since Jesus said: ‘Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or drink; or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothes?’ Matthew 6:25 But I suggest that Robin Williams’s character was simply telling his students to make themselves useful members of society and not to sit back and expect someone else to provide. So far as the phrase Carpe Diem is concerned Jesus deals with that too, later in the same sermon: Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own. Matthew 6:34
Here is a quote from Bread for the Journey, by Henri J.M. Nouwen, ©1997 which I find apposite: ‘Jesus reminds us that we do not belong to this world. We have been sent into the world to be living witnesses of God's unconditional love, calling all people to look beyond the passing structures of our temporary existence to the eternal life promised to us.’
And that surely is a lesson to us all. Our schooldays may be long past and who knows what tomorrow will bring; we only have today, this moment. So what are you going to do with the talents wherewith God has blessed you in your school days and since then? What are you going to do for God today? How are you going to be a living witness of God’s unconditional love?
At 10.30 am on Saturday 24 April 1993, the IRA detonated a bomb in a tipper truck loaded with almost a ton of fertiliser, parked right outside St Ethelburga’s Church, Bishopsgate in the centre of London. One person was killed and 40 others injured. The structural damage in the area was extensive, indeed, 70% of St Ethelburga’s was destroyed. Nearly seven hundred and fifty years of Christian worship on the site came to an end that day. However, it was the vision of Bishop Richard Chartres, the then Bishop of London, that it be rebuilt and serve a different function. In 2002 the new Centre for Reconciliation and Peace commenced its work in the rebuilt premises. St Ethelburga’s is a maker of peace-makers with the aim of inspiring and equipping people from all backgrounds to become peace-builders in their own communities and lives.
Their latest project is ‘Reconcilers Together’; an ecumenical network of Christian organisations across the UK and Ireland. Five centres across the UK, all organisations actively transforming conflict from broken relationships to community divisions to issues of injustice, have come together for this exciting project. The shared mission is to inspire and equip Christian leaders to be a reconciling presence in their churches and communities. The focal point of the network will be a fully funded training programme for 20 Christian leaders called Journey of Hope which will run from January to June 2019.
Prayerful spiritual discernment tells me that I am too old to train as a leader and then to set up and lead a new project like this. However, in his endorsement Right Revd Justin Welby the Archbishop of Canterbury says: ‘Reconciliation is poured into the church in such lavish quantities by the Spirit of God that it overflows into the world around us. We are called to be not only reconciled, but reconcilers.’ He goes on to remind us of St Paul’s words: "Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, the new creation has come: The old has gone, the new is here! All this is from God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ and gave us the ministry of reconciliation: that God was reconciling the world to himself in Christ, not counting people’s sins against them. And he has committed to us the message of reconciliation. We are therefore Christ’s ambassadors, as though God were making his appeal through us." 2 Corinthians 5:18-20. So we all do have a part to play. As Christians the ministry of reconciliation – to ourselves, to God, to creation, and to others – must be central to living out the gospel.
Please look at the website https://www.reconcilerstogether.co.uk/ to learn more about the project and support this worthwhile venture in any way you can. Pray for all those involved, and join with me in the prayer attributed to St Francis: Lord make me an instrument of your peace. Together we can make a difference.
Peter is a father and a grandfather who has been retired from full time employment for a number of years