A child, lost and found

Here we have a curious incident from the childhood of Jesus. If you are a parent, it is a little difficult to imagine leaving one of your children behind and not realising she or he was gone until a whole day later. Let’s look at Luke 2:41-52.

41 Every year Jesus’ parents went to Jerusalem for the Festival of the Passover. 42When he was twelve years old, they went up to the festival, according to the custom. 43 After the festival was over, while his parents were returning home, the boy Jesus stayed behind in Jerusalem, but they were unaware of it. 44 Thinking he was in their company, they travelled on for a day. Then they began looking for him among their relatives and friends. 45 When they did not find him, they went back to Jerusalem to look for him.

The implication of this story, though, is that a large group of people had travelled together to Jerusalem for the Feast of the Passover, a regular, annual event in the life of the community. Jesus is 12 and this is just about the only insight we get in the Gospels into his life between birth and adult ministry. 

After the ceremonies for Passover, the parents of Jesus and, who knows, possibly their other children, turn for home. A day later, they realise the boy is not with them. 

A key phrase here is “thinking he was in their company”. This is not a small family group of four or five. This is a whole community on the move, a group of family and friends who share in the care of their children. Each look out for the other. If a particular parent is not looking after their child, it is assumed that another trusted adult would be doing so. 

Do we not see here – much as we do in the Acts of the Apostles – another glimpse of the ideal Christian community? One in which love and trust exist to such an extent that our children, our most precious possessions, are cared for by the whole community. This group comprises not just relatives, but friends also, all looking out for each other.

During the pandemic, our experience of community has been changed. Meeting together, exchanging news, swapping stories, looking out for the other – these have all been difficult, if not impossible. We have had to adapt to new ways of being community. For a Christian community, our church building has always been a resource, a place to gather strength, a spiritual well on which to draw, in order to face the challenges of the week ahead.

All of this has been swept away and a new way of being community has emerged, albeit hopefully a temporary one. There is a model for us to follow here.

46 After three days they found him in the temple courts, sitting among the teachers, listening to them and asking them questions. 47 Everyone who heard him was amazed at his understanding and his answers. 48 When his parents saw him, they were astonished. His mother said to him, “Son, why have you treated us like this? Your father and I have been anxiously searching for you.”

49 “Why were you searching for me?” he asked. “Didn’t you know I had to be in my Father’s house?”[a] 50 But they did not understand what he was saying to them.

51 Then he went down to Nazareth with them and was obedient to them. But his mother treasured all these things in her heart. 52 And Jesus grew in wisdom and stature, and in favor with God and man.

In the midst of today’s reading is the child Jesus, boy who seems wise beyond his years. He is discovered in the temple courts, sitting with the teachers. For some reason, I had recalled this incident as Jesus being the teacher himself. But, in fact, Luke tells us that the boy Jesus is, at first, listening and asking questions.

I’m currently reading a book by the Jesuit James Martin called Jesus, A Pilgrimage. He has an interesting discussion about the self-awareness of Jesus. How much did he know about his own ministry? How much of his life was a journey of self-discovery?

This incident in the temple courts may have been a key one for Jesus. He is not preaching to the teachers in some miraculous way which we might expect of a child genius. At first, he is listening. Then he is asking questions. Only then, does he begin to draw his thoughts together. 

Here, perhaps, is a pathway we might follow. To listen to our inspired and sacred scriptures, calling out to us across the centuries. To ask questions which have sprung into our minds. What is the point of this story? How does it speak to us today? What, then, must we do? And only then, when we have listened and questioned, can we determine the right course to take.

As we face the uncertain beginning of another year, as we turn from the mixed blessing of another joyful season, may we also gain the wisdom which Jesus found. With that knowledge, may we be equipped to cope with the new year and find in it, new ways to understand our saviour, new ways to be Christ to others, new ways to be community and to bring about the reign of God.

Discussion Questions

  1. What can we learn from our children?
  2. How much did Jesus know about the role God had for him?
  3. How can we listen and ask questions about our faith?

I am in the process of writing a commentary on the Gospel of St Luke. My main focus so far has been on the passion story. You can find the full list of reflections here.

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It could be lonely this Christmas

Mud’s number one song for Christmas, 1974.

Back in the 1970s, when I was growing up, one of my favourite pop groups was called Mud. They had some giant hits with The Cat Crept In and Tigerfeet. But one of their biggest sellers was a festive number one called It’ll be lonely this Christmas.

Some of you may remember the refrain:

It’ll be lonely this Christmas,
Lonely and cold,
It’ll be lonely this Christmas,
Without you to hold,
It’ll be cold, so cold, without you to hold, 
This Christmas.

Christmas can be a time of great joy, as different generations come together to celebrate. But it can also be a time of isolation, especially for those who are single, bereaved or where difficult relationships mean family gatherings are more stressful than relaxing.

This year could be even more challenging. Many people are facing the dilemma of whether they should meet to celebrate with others. How much risk is it worth taking, especially when some family members might be in vulnerable groups. It is not an easy decision for anyone to make. 

Churches are almost always packed at this time of year. Last year at St Andrew’s, here in the centre of Rugby, the church was bursting with people of all ages, attending concerts, our carol services, Christingles, Midnight Mass and Christmas Day communion. It is not an exaggeration to say that several thousand people must have passed through the church in the space of a few weeks.

But because of the pandemic, everything is different this time around. Many of our Christmas services have to be online or at home. Celebrating is possible, but gathering is difficult. So a time of hope is tinged with sadness, and the need to wait.

I used to have a friend called John Burrows, a well-known policeman in Rugby, now sadly no longer with us. John became a deacon in the Catholic Church and often preached about the job he had before he joined the force.

John had worked as a miner. Deep underground, the work was tough, the darkness complete. At the end of his shift, he would make his way into the tunnel leading back to the fresh air. To begin with, he could see nothing, only his headtorch helping him find his way.

Underground Mining
A glimpse of daylight in the distance.

But then, there would be a glimpse of daylight in the distance. Gradually the light became stronger and, as he continued walking, it grew into the glorious natural daylight which meant the darkness was over. The dark was finished, replaced by the light.

We are all in that tunnel at the moment. But our footsteps are taking us towards the light. And that great light comes with the birth of a child, the birth of Jesus Christ, 

How silently, how silently, the wondrous gift is given.

Wherever you are, however difficult your situation, please keep your eyes on this light. All the time, it is growing brighter. And it will never be extinguished. 

Prayer: what do we expect to happen?

Tbilisi - September 28, 2015: A woman praying in an Orthodox church outside  Tbilisi, Georgia stock photo - OFFSET
What happens when we pray?

In the new edition of the St Andrew’s Church parish magazine, now available from the back of church, our new rector, Canon Edmund Newey, writes about the importance of prayer. 

He says prayer is foundational to our lives and quotes the former Archbishop of Canterbury, Rowan Williams, saying that we have to put ourselves where the light can get at us.

The rector adds: “God knows our needs far better than we do, and all that is required of us is that we open our hearts to his light and life”.

I really like this idea of prayer and have always been uncomfortable with lengthy prayer lists and lengthy pleas for God’s attention and action in our lives. After all, Jesus says in Matthew 6:

And when you pray, do not keep on babbling like pagans, for they think they will be heard because of their many words.

As Canon Edmund continues in his article, “Let’s open ourselves to bathe in God’s light.”

I am much more comfortable with this approach. Whilst preparing this reflection, I looked back on an article I wrote a few years ago about prayer. This is what I wrote:

“What sense, then, is there to pray? Well, we pray to tune ourselves into the mind of God. We do not pray to change the mind of God because God does not change her or his mind. God cannot be swayed by the amount or sincerity of prayer. God cannot be made to be more compassionate because God is the ultimate in compassion. God is totally love and totally good. She or he cannot get any better. Instead, it is we who need to change: we can always become more understanding and more active in the world. We can become bigger players in bringing about the kingdom of God on earth.”

So prayer is more about listening than asking. There is nothing wrong with going through a list of people we commend to God. I do this myself. I do this because it reminds me of who I should be caring about, even though my subsequent actions are imperfect and uneven. Of course, God already cares about them and is working through me to bring about that care. Lists and structure help people with their prayer and it is a good practice to have a regular time to reflect on how we are treating those within our influence.

But prayer is more than list-making. Perhaps it is mainly about hearing, about waiting in the silence. When we reflect in the stillness, somehow God’s word comes to us. We are not going to hear voices, at least that is not a usual experience. But we can come to a sense, a realisation over people, issues and actions which are important to us.

God’s word can help us see more clearly, and it is often in the silence of prayer that we find these things out. Sometimes, the silence is deafening and there is nothing there. All is bleak and seemingly lost. Sometimes, if we give it just a little longer, we can get a sense of how God is working in our lives. How a little change here or there can make us more God-like, can make us a little more able to bring the presence of God into the lives of those around us.

Again, from my reflection a couple of years ago:

“We pray to discern how to act and what to say. When we pray for a loved one, we call that person to our minds and consider how we can be God to them. How can we exercise the love of God towards that person? This is what prayer does for us. 

“When we pray for the homeless, we are praying to know how to help the homeless person. I see little purpose in praying for victims of an earthquake if we are not to get up from our knees and do something to help those victims.”

The Benedictine monk John Main described prayer as “being with, not talking to” God.

So prayers are not magic. We don’t send a prayer to God, asking for a miracle and expecting immediate results. We know life is not like that.

But we do pray to change ourselves and allow God to work through us to the best of purposes.

I am much more comfortable with this view of prayer and it seems to make great sense to me.

I really like this quote from St Mother Teresa in which she seems to indicate a change of heart over the purpose of prayer. She said:

I used to pray that God would feed the hungry, or do this or that, but now I pray that he will guide me to do whatever I’m supposed to do, what I can do. I used to pray for answers but now I’m praying for strength. I used to believe that prayer changes things, but now I know that prayer changes us and we change things.

So I urge you to give this a try. Prayer is not easy. There are a thousand other things to do and demands on our time. But, perhaps, we can try to set aside a few minutes in a day to be still, to reflect on those we love and care for. To reflect on how God can work through us to make the world a better place, to make the Kingdom of God more apparent in our troubled world today.

Are you for us or against us?

Photo by Lina Kivaka on Pexels.com

This is the text of a reflection on Mark 9:38-50 given on September 27th 2020 for Evening Prayer at St Andrew’s Church, Rugby.

At the start of lockdown in March, there appeared to be a general sense of national unity, of pulling together to help each other through the pandemic. People gathered on doorsteps to applaud emergency service workers, people shopped for neighbours in need and dutifully stood aside on pavements and paths to ensure safe distancing was maintained. 

But the longer the lockdown continued, and the more desperately people wanted to return to normal, the more divisions have appeared in our society. Only recently, a health service worker was savagely beaten on a London bus for moving away from someone not wearing a mask. People have been jostled for leaving space on our streets for others to move safely. We are encouraged not to stand with our neighbours, but to report them to the authorities if they break the rule of six. And even a lobby now exists opposed to a vaccine, which is seen by some as a Government conspiracy to reduce the population.

It doesn’t take long for a consensus to build and then to break down. And the question we inevitably face is: whose side are we then on?

In tonight’s reading, Jesus is plunged into the politics of his day by being asked to rule on whether those healing in his name are actually doing a good job and representing his interests. His wise response is worth unpicking: “Whoever is not against us is for us.”

Whoever is not against the forces of good, is working for the forces of good, what we might call, the common good. So today, it is our job, by reading the signs of the times, to discern what is the common good.

And it does involve choosing sides. This is nothing new. History is full of people choosing sides for the common good. God chose the side of the Israelites as they fled to safety through the Red sea to escape slavery. The Confessing Church in 1930s Germany chose to oppose Nazism at great cost because it was the right thing to do. Martin Luther King and his followers chose to oppose racism in post-war America, and the church in South Africa chose to fight apartheid because it was wrong. Christianity has never been neutral, it has never been able to sit on the fence. 

Jesus recognised that there are those who are for us, and those who are against us. So what are we for when we follow the Way of Jesus?

We are for the love of God expressed through our love of neighbour. We are for the poor and the lost. We are for tolerance, peace and justice. We are for those who mourn. We are for those who are anxious or who are unwell. We are for those in prison. We are for joy, hope, resurrection and everlasting life. 

We are for that inner calm, that inner stillness, that inner confidence that God is at work in this world through us. 

And we are not alone. Because we join with those other faiths, and of no faith, who share our dream of a peaceful and just world.

So tonight gives each of us an opportunity to reflect on what we are for, and whether Jesus would recognise us as being against his work, or for his work. 

Intercessions for Sunday September 6th

File:Ivanov Christ's Appearance to Mary Magdalene after the Resurrection  1834 gtg 17631.jpg - Wikimedia Commons

These prayers were shared with members of St Andrew’s Church, Rugby on Sunday September 6th, 2020.

Loving God…

The pandemic continues and changes. We remember those starting school this week, as students or staff, facing unfamiliar surroundings and new anxieties. Help us to bring comfort and reassurance to them. In some way, may we be Christ to them.

Lord in your mercy, hear our prayer.

We remember families still physically divided because of the pandemic. Those who haven’t seen or touched relations for many months. Those taking the first steps to making contact. Those in care homes for whom separation has become the norm. In some way, may we be Christ to them.

Lord in your mercy, hear our prayer.

We think of this church community of St Andrew and its ministry to share our hope in Jesus Christ. We think of those unable to attend this service today but wishing they could. We think of those dozens, maybe hundreds of people who would usually come through our doors this week – to pray, to chat, to sing, to reflect, to laugh, to cry. In sorrow, in celebration, in joy, in desperation, in hunger, in frustration. As gradually we re-open our doors, in some way, may we be Christ to them.

Lord in your mercy, hear our prayer.

Thursday this week was World Suicide Prevention Day, remembering some 7,000 people who take their own lives in Britain and Ireland each year. We pray for all those with different forms of mental illness and needing the comfort of friends and strangers. We remember the many volunteers giving time to stand alongside them. In some way, may we be Christ to them.

Lord in your mercy, hear our prayer.

And in this troubling era, let us not forget to give thanks for the things that keep us going. Our faith, our church, the created world around us, our families and friends, things that change and delight us – music, reading, film, art, sport, crafts, puzzles. May we find calm and joy in the normal things that bring us closer to God and to each other.

Lord in your mercy, hear our prayer.

Merciful Father, accept these prayers for the sake of your Son, our Saviour, Jesus Christ. Amen.

Step inside – love

Ask some people what comes to mind when they hear the words “St Andrew’s Church, Rugby” and they are most likely to talk about the wonderful 19th century building designed by architect William Butterfield.

Its imposing and magisterial appearance towers over the centre of Rugby and gives its main thoroughfare a classy and historic feel. It is ideally positioned to attract the passer-by and – under normal circumstances – plays host to a variety of cultural events throughout the year.

Yet there is more to the word ‘church’ than that. Theologians will tell you that the church is not a building: it is a people. We are the church – the followers of the Way of Jesus Christ. We are the community, and we would exist even if the building didn’t exist.

This has been proven throughout the land with a series of what are called ‘church plants’, often in inner cities or new estates, where groups of followers of Jesus Christ launch a new church, sometimes in school halls or community centres, which don’t have a dedicated building. There, they aim to share the good news about Jesus and invite people to find out about the hope which Christians have about this life and the next.

During the lockdown, this idea of the community of Christ – operating without a building as its focus – has become even clearer. Churches have continued to meet without access to a building. Many have taken to the internet to continue services, continue supporting each other, and continuing to reflect on this ancient faith, its ancient scriptures and what they all mean for our lives today.

It has been testing, but it has made us all think about what the church is and how God is working through us all during this pandemic.

For me, like many people, the past three or four months have been challenging. I love going to St Andrew’s Church in Rugby. I love the formal beauty of the Sunday service, I love going to the quieter and more reflective Tuesday morning service, and I enjoy meeting friends in various groups and visiting the cafe at other times. It is like a second home and to be without this has been difficult.

But perhaps it has made me appreciate the importance of this building – and gathering within this building – even more.

Our church building, like many others, is a sacred place restored by William Butterfield in 1877, but on a site soaked in prayer since 1140. It’s a place of gathering, a place of stillness and a place of hope. Listen and maybe you can hear the whispers of all those who have gone before. Step inside and you find yourself in a place of calm, where you can contemplate the meaning of your life, what God is saying to you and find that you are never alone with whatever troubles weigh down your mind.

To me, the sanctuary, where these ancient ceremonies are re-enacted each week, is the gateway to heaven, a portal to eternity, a place out of time and beyond time, and, yes, beyond our understanding.

We need these special places and, thankfully, we are now able to return to them, albeit very carefully. If you are listening to this reflection, you may have a special place in mind where you can find meaning and context to your life. For some this may be an encounter with the natural world or listening to a piece of music. All these experiences are of value.

But there is something special about a place of worship that has been in continuous use for centuries. The poet and priest Malcolm Guite wrote these words after venturing back into an historic church for the first time after lockdown:

“For in his courts
Time is transfigured, opened out and ample,
It touches on eternity. I stay
Awhile within this church, its simple
Furnishings, and storied windows say
More to me of heaven than the pale
Abstractions of theology. A day
Spent in an empty church has been as full
Of goodness as an age elsewhere. I feel
Its peace refresh me like a holy well.”
(More from Maclolm Guite here)

In the sixties, the Liverpudlian singer Cilla Black had a hit with the Paul McCartney song, “Step Inside, Love”. It’s a terrific song. In a way, that is the message from St Andrew’s Church:

Step inside love
Let me find you a place
Where the curse of the day
Will be carried away
By the smile on your face
We are together now and forever.

And when we do step inside, what do we do?

I came across these words that women recite when they seek admission to a Benedictine monastery. They say:

“I seek to listen. I seek to know myself, others, and God-with-us more fully, and to recognise ever more the divine at the centre of all, calling us toward love. I seek to be grounded in a place, and, from that foundation, to allow my heart to be opened to the world.”

Step inside your holy place. Step inside St Andrew’s Church – check Facebook for opening times, of course, – and be grounded. Sit and listen. Recognise the divine at the centre of your life. Allow your heart to be opened to the world. 

Peace be with you this day and always.

Coping with anxiety

A Response To Christians Who Are Done With Church - CareyNieuwhof.com
Can faith help us cope with anxiety?

There’s a joke that goes something like this. I’ve just been on one of those positive thinking courses. Yeh, it was rubbish.

It seems to me there are two types of people – the optimists and the pessimists, and, unfortunately, I have always classed myself in the latter category.

I have spent most of my life worrying about things which never happened. This is the classic outlook of the pessimist and something which psychotherapists refer to as “catastrophising” – that is, looking at a set of circumstances and being in fear of the very worst thing happening.

And this was certainly the case for me last week when a dearly loved one had some less than good news from a hospital test. My immediate reaction was to fear the worst. In the past, I have had very good reason to do so. But this fearing of the worst is a symptom of the anxiety I have felt since a very small child, the son of anxious parents worrying about things which, mainly, never actually happened.

So my mind almost shut down with fear last week. I couldn’t do anything for the best part of a day. I couldn’t speak, I couldn’t go for a walk, I couldn’t read or listen to anything, I certainly couldn’t eat. All I could do was fixate on this fear, however irrational, which had gripped me. 

What I want to focus on in this talk though, is not some quick fix which is going to cure us of this condition. There is no simple solution, but there are strategies. And the one that has repeatedly helped me is the presence of other people, the opportunity to share with others and the knowledge that I am not alone.

What changed things last week for me was teaching a lesson online, and then going along, virtually, to our gospel discussion group at St Andrew’s Church. I wasn’t particularly looking forward to either experience and on neither occasion did I get the chance to talk about what was weighing on my mind. But what I did gain was the sense that we are all in this together – we are all on this bumpy journey of life together. The whole world does not revolve around my own problems, although that does not diminish those problems in my own eyes. I gained the sense that many other people have issues in their lives and are somehow managing to cope with them. 

I also encounter people who have managed to find that inner serenity in their lives. I am full of awe for these people and wish I could find the same sense of peace. But even if I can’t get there at the moment, I can still draw inspiration from the way they see life and its many problems.

For me, the Christian faith, expressed here in the community of St Andrew in Rugby, is the path I have chosen to follow. For you, listening, it may be a different path and I’m not here to sell Christianity to you as a better product. But I can be here to share what I have experienced and to urge you, when feeling anxious, to look for solace in other people.

I once read an account of an American Christian who went to a church which was big on sending out its members to evangelise their town. They would go up to people and ask them: “Have you made Jesus Christ your personal saviour?”

He was uncomfortable with the approach. He found it aggressive and often counterproductive. So he tried a different approach.

He worked on the counter in a DIY store. One day, a man came up to pay for a product. Whilst he was dealing with the purchase, he asked this customer: “How are you today?” Not in a casual, I-don’t-really-care sort of way. But in a way that genuinely invited an honest answer.

The customer responded, reluctantly at first, by talking about his estranged son, how he wanted to be reunited with him, how the distance between them hurt so much.

The man listened. He couldn’t offer any cheap solutions, but he listened. The moment soon passed. But the customer felt a little better for sharing. The man felt a little better for having listened.

So my question to you today is: Can we be how-are-you sort of people? Can we genuinely consider how other people are and give them an opportunity to talk? I know people who are really good at this and I know others who can talk to you for half an hour about themselves without ever enquiring how the other person feels.

If we can seriously ask the ‘how are you’ question with the expectation that the answer may be long, that it may delay the next thing in our day, then we can become part of that healing presence.

I cannot honestly say that my faith in Jesus Christ is always enough on its own to deal with these difficult fears. But, when that love is expressed through other people who also share my faith, that is when it is so much more powerful and so much more loving. 

There are a couple of lines from a prayer said after Communion in the Church of England which sum up our challenge as followers of Jesus Christ. It goes:

“May we who share Christ’s body live his risen life;
We who drink his cup bring life to others;
We whom the Spirit lights, give light to the world.”

Prayer after Communion

If you are feeling anxious, seek out a how-are-you person and share what is on your mind. I know there are plenty around at St Andrew’s Church, Rugby as, I’m sure there are in the circles in which you move. Seek them out. And, if there are not so many around, consider becoming one yourself.

An anniversary we cannot forget

Britain Drafting UN Resolution on Srebrenica Genocide | Voice of ...
Memorial to the victims of the Srebrenica Massacre.

In January this year, we held a service at St Andrew’s Church to mark Holocaust Memorial Day. We gathered to remember those who were murdered by the Nazis during the Second World War – but also those who had perished in subsequent genocides.

This week is the 25th anniversary of the Srebrencia massacre.

And you may be wondering what this has to do with the town of Rugby, and, more specifically, the parish church in that town.

Well, it has everything to do with how we live and the sort of world we may wish to live in.

Let me tell you a little more about what happened

On 11 July 1995, Bosnian Serb forces, led by General Ratko Mladić overran and captured the town of Srebrenica in Eastern Bosnia which had been declared a UN Safe Area. In the days following, more than 8,000 Bosnian Muslim men and boys were systematically murdered and buried in mass graves. Thousands of women, children and the elderly were forcibly deported. 

Srebrenica was a culmination of a campaign of ‘ethnic cleansing’ used by Bosnian Serb forces during the conflict. This was implemented to achieve the aim of a ‘Greater Serbia’, free from non-Serbs. Throughout Bosnia, between 20,000-50,000 women and girls suffered sexual violence, a weapon of war used to systematically ethnically cleanse the region and terrorise the populace. Concentration camps were established in the Prijedor area, and many Bosnian Muslims were forced from their homes to be internally displaced or become refugees.

The genocide at Srebrenica was described by the United Nations as “the worst crime on European soilsince the Second World War”. 

Yet denial of this atrocity remains widespread. Many in Bosnia-Herzegovina are still struggling for justice including the Mothers of Srebrenica who campaigned  for the recognition of the deaths of their loved ones. (Source: srebrenica.org.uk)

July 11th is the official date of remembrance each year when we honour the victims and survivors – and it gives us a chance to consider how, as Christians, we should be living.

Over the past few weeks, there have been renewed manifestations of racism in our societies, especially the killing of George Floyd in the United States. The Black Lives Matter movement has galvanised public opinion and demonstrated widespread outrage at the treatment of minorities.

Never has it been more important to stand up for fairness and human rights. As Rev Dr Martin Luther King said: “Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere”. 

And, for us, that starts here and now – in our own lives and in our own society. Our great teacher, Jesus, spoke of the qualities God expects to find in those who follow God. They will be those who thirst for righteousness, those who show mercy and those who work for peace.

In this time of remembrance for those who perished in 1995, we are invited to make a series of pledges to ensure nothing like this happens again. I will read them in full.

We pledge that when we hear the language of “us and them”, we will reach out and find common ground with our neighbour. 

We pledge that, when we hear stereotyping and scapegoating, we will find and share alternative positive stories. 

We pledge that, when we see discrimination in our schools or workplaces, we will challenge this and promote equal opportunities for all. 

We pledge that, when we hear dehumanising language, we will remind the speaker of our common humanity. 

We pledge that, when we see members of our community becoming disenfranchised, we will make a concerted effort to engage and include them.

We pledge that, when we hear divisive propaganda, we will challenge this effectively. 

We pledge that we will protect those who speak out against human rights abuses. 

We pledge that, where we see persecution, we will do everything in our power to protect those who are suffering. 

We pledge that, where we believe that extermination is taking place, we will call on our governments and the international community to take immediate action. 

We pledge that we will always challenge denial by believing the victims and sharing their stories. 

We pledge that we will always choose the side of those who are suffering over the side of the oppressor. 

Times are hard at the moment and it is perfectly understandable that we are preoccupied with our own survival and our own relationships.

But, if the pandemic has taught us anything, it is that we live in a global society. What we do affects others. What we say affects others. What we think affects others.

So please join with me in making these pledges and in saying the Srebenica Prayer.

We pray to almighty God, 
May grievance become hope 
May revenge become justice 
May mothers’ tears become prayers 
That Srebrenica never happens again 
To no one, no where.

For more information, click here.

Into the Mystic

File:Evelyn Underhill 50 Campden Hill Square blue plaque.jpg ...
Evelyn Underhill, Christian writer and mystic.

On Monday this week, the Church of England commemorated the life of Evelyn Underhill. A convert to Christianity, Underhill was a writer who had a great interest in mysticism.

So what is mysticism? An online definition suggests it is the belief that we can somehow be absorbed into God, somehow know or experience God, through contemplation and self-surrender.

And Underhill believed that mysticism – achieved through contemplative prayer – shouldn’t be exclusively the realm of monks and nuns. She thought it was within the experience of any Christian.

Now, this is not necessarily something you’re going to find yourself chatting about over the garden fence.

But is it something within the grasp of ordinary people whose faith comes and goes, scrapes along the bottom a bit and has the occasional blip when God seems to be more within reach than other times?

The idea of being absorbed into God or experiencing God’s presence in a real way can seem a million miles away for most of the time. The very struggle for existence over the past few months has been enough to occupy our minds – where is the next food delivery coming from? Do we have to quarantine the newspaper? Have we spoken to or sent a message to our elderly relatives today?

Isn’t contemplation more suited to the religious professionals? To the enclosed monks and nuns who have plenty of time to spend an hour in the chapel gazing into space and absorbing the presence of God?

Maybe so, but those of us living IN the world shouldn’t feel ourselves excluded from an experience of God.

In his book, Turned by Divine Love, John Stroyan – Bishop of Warwick – says that we need a monastic dimension to our lives.

“God is with us,” he says. “But we are not alert to his presence.”

He calls on us to be still in the presence of God, echoing the words of the prophet Zechariah: “Be silent, all people, before the Lord.”

St. Clare of Assisi - Saints & Angels - Catholic Online
St Clare of Assisi: Place your mind in the mirror of eternity.

My favourite saint, Clare of Assisi, urged her followers to take time for contemplation, saying: “Place your mind in the mirror of eternity. Let your soul be flooded with the splendour of glory.”

And Esther de Waal, who has written extensively about the way to live a Benedictine life out in the world, says: “Unless I am silent, I shall not hear God. Until I hear God, I shall not come to know God.”

This is all very well but how do we do this? I speak to you today as someone who is not good at this, but I haven’t given up trying. This is how we could start together.

Give five minutes of your day over to contemplation. Just five. And I know even that is a struggle, especially if your house is full of people in Lockdown mode.

Find a place in your home if you can where you can sit calmly for these five minutes. Maybe light a candle, maybe focus on a picture that inspires you or brings you peace – an icon of Christ, perhaps. If it helps, listen to a piece of music that might be about five minutes long.

Then, do nothing. Do absolutely nothing. This is not a time for wordy prayers. This is not a time for commending all our loved ones to God, though that is important for them and for you. This is a time for silence, listening and an emptying of the mind. And it is a treat for our busy minds and bodies. Our minds will wander, of course. But try to refocus that calm for only five minutes. Try to repeat this every day, maybe at the same time. You may begin to look forward to it. You may find yourself refreshed by the experience.

Philosopher Blaise Pascal said: “All the troubles of life come upon us because we refuse to sit quietly, each in our rooms.”

Could this be a moment of transformation in our lives? Could this be the beginning of what Evelyn Underhill was describing as mysticism?

In her book on the Franciscan way of life, Poor Clare nun Sister Francis Teresa urges everyone to consider God by reflecting. She says: “Contemplate God. Sit and be steeped in this God. Allow yourself to be changed. This leads us, step by step, into the heart of God.”

Into the heart of God. What a journey that might be. And it is a journey we can all go on. It can start with five minutes of peace a day. I’m sure you will be much better at this than me. But why not give it a go?

A glimpse of the kingdom

I don’t think I have to say too much about these two pictures by Gustav Dore, except that I find them utterly overwhelming. Painting around the same time as the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood, Dore captures the drama and the colour of his understanding of the great events of Christianity.

Who knows if the Ascension actually happened like this? And – with depictions like this – who really cares anyway? Just look at the multitude of souls awaiting Christ in the afterlife. Too many to be counted. Maybe the Ascension story is mythological but it also has something to say to us about eternity and about the continued presence of Christ in the world.

This one, also by Dore, is called the Triumph of Christianity. It shows Jesus Christ reigning in glory. I don’t like the idea of Christianity triumphing over other religions and sincerely-held beliefs, but I do like the idea of the triumph of Christianity over paganism and secularism. Triumph not in the sense of winning a battle, but perhaps in the sense of the triumph of love, the triumph of care, the triumph of generosity and kindness.