Clergy Blogs

Periodic contributions from Revd. Giles King-Smith, Vicar of the three coastal parishes. We also continue to show contributions from the late Associate Minister Revd. Linda Walters

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Revd. Giles King-Smith

Brazening it out

 

We love to judge, don't we? And we know that Jesus told us not to, don't we? So where does this leave us when it comes to a certain senior Government advisor? 

Maybe it helps to remember just how angry Jesus became with those in positions of (religious) authority who failed to live up to the rules they imposed on others. "Woe to you lawyers! For you load people with burdens hard to bear, and you yourselves do not lift a finger to ease them." (Luke 11:46) Not quite the same scenario, true, but if hypocrisy is the target, then - bullseye!

I'm not sure where to draw the line, in this case, between genuine anxiety for your family's health and the casual arrogance of the rule-breaker. But one thing is clear: the many people who have made sacrifices - with difficult and sometimes heartbreaking consequences - have every right to be infuriated by someone who appears to see nothing beyond his own immediate need.

And the "instinct" argument may be an explanation, but it is no excuse. In the words of John Inge, Bishop of Worcester: "The PM tells us that Cummings "followed the instinct of every father" ... The point is that thousands and thousands of parents, including me, have not been able to follow their instincts because they felt they had to obey the rules!"

And another thing, maybe the main thing, given that we're all capable of hypocrisy and should therefore be wary of judging others for it, is the failure to apologise. But then it's hard to apologise when your career depends on insisting you've done nothing wrong. I suspect the main reason politicians are disliked and distrusted is that they never say sorry. 

Essentially, the anger that's flying about at the moment comes from a sense of injustice. Something is "off" here, and we don't like the pretence that it's all fine, really. Being alert to injustice, and being determined to point it out, as loud and long as necessary, isn't judging - it's being truthful.

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Revd. Giles King-Smith

Peering round the door

 

Now that churches have developed all kinds of online resources and services to help us to continue worshipping during Coronavirus, it appears that many more people are logging in than ever used to come through the door on a Sunday. Why? Maybe partly because you can maintain anonymity online - and we know what a psychological barrier that church door can be for those who are hesitant about commitment, or who had a bad experience last time they ventured in.

Also - when you've had a look (or had enough) online, you can just log out, whereas walking out of church needs a lot of nerve (or an outrageously offensive sermon). So maybe any self-congratulation over the figures for online attendance needs to be tempered by the likelihood that many of those "worshippers" are, in effect, poking their heads round the church door to take a look at what's going on - and then leaving.

Still ... we shouldn't dismiss the possibility that there are many people who, in these strange times, have found themselves drawn to explore God, prayer, spirituality, faith. So one of the questions facing the churches, as we move towards a tentative physical re-opening, is: how can we be as open to the casual, uncertain, hovering worshipper as we were during lockdown?

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Revd. Giles King-Smith

The Joy of Art

You may already have found this gem in the TV schedules - and please don't imagine I've spent the whole of my lockdown gazing at screens - but can I recommend "Grayson Perry's Art Club" (8.00 pm, Mondays, Channel 4)? 

Each week, renowned and slightly eccentric artist Grayson Perry invites members of the public to submit their artworks on a theme - the most recent being "What you see from your window". The results are hugely varied and often remarkably good; he also interviews celebrities about their love of art, and gets them to produce some work - all of it displayed remotely, of course. What I love about this programme is the sense of enjoyment and delight which Grayson and his wife Philippa radiate, as they enthuse over all kinds of creations. It's an hour full of laughter and surprise, and it restores my faith in our human creativity.

One thing that really interested me was a remark Grayson made at one point, about the need to be relaxed in order to be creative. This flies in the face of the conventional view that great art arises from some form of mental or spiritual torment. Instead, perhaps we can see creativity as a type of playfulness - a carefree messing about with the gifts and the materials we've been given, without fear of failure or disapproval. 

I don't always manage it, but I like this idea of freedom in creating (whether it's the Sistine Chapel or a sandwich). And - is there an echo of how God feels as he creates, and as he watches us create? Enjoyment, delight, laughter - whether we're creators or spectators, these feelings are worth aiming for, in every part of our lives.

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Revd. Giles King-Smith

No more enemies

 

The other day I watched a short film of a meeting, arranged by the BBC, between the campaigner and lawyer Gina Miller, and a man who had been trolling her - adding his "voice" to the many thousands of spiteful, venomous messages she has received as a result of her opposition to Brexit. It must have taken courage on both their parts to agree to such a meeting. But it worked, and it left me with a couple of thoughts.

First, it was (thankfully) impossible for the troll to maintain his hostility to Gina Miller when faced with the real person opposite him. He backed down (I think "repented" is the technical term here) as he saw that the differences between them are skin deep by comparison with their shared humanity. (I'm sure he wouldn't put it like this, but that's what I think was going on.) I was reminded that it's when we actually meet the person we disagree with, and hear their story, that we are no longer able simply to dismiss them as different, as an enemy.

And, for her part, Gina Miller refused to play the "injured party" card, but instead engaged with her troll by trying to find common ground with him - talking about their similar experience of parenting. At the end of the clip, she expresses her longing for the divisions caused by Brexit to be replaced by a new and deeper sense of being together, by which we can overcome our disagreements. I saw two vulnerable people taking small steps towards a future free from fear of "the other", and I found this inspiring.

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Revd. Giles King-Smith

Old and disposable?

 

The awful scale of illness and death in our care homes is becoming clearer, along with the heroic dedication of staff in these homes, many of whom are poorly paid for looking after our most vulnerable citizens. Questions are rightly being asked about the failure to prepare properly for this eventuality, and about the lack of protective equipment, which has forced staff to work in unsafe conditions. By one estimate, the proportion of care home workers who have died of Coronavirus is double that of hospital staff. One day, when the dust has settled, and we're no longer inhibited from asking "What went wrong?" by the constant refrain of "We're in this together", there will be a reckoning.

For now, I'm reminded that, until this crisis, care homes and their residents and staff were basically out of sight, out of mind. So there are some big questions to ask. Do we, as a society, do enough to ensure the well-being of the old and the frail? And do we recognise (not least by proper attention to pay and conditions) the work done by carers on our behalf? And ... (here you can add in all kinds of other issues, from transport to NHS funding to a green economy) will we learn lessons from this traumatic time, or will we succumb to the pressure to fall back into old ways? 

One other thing: as we look for reasons why this country has suffered so badly from this pandemic, it will be easy, but perhaps misleading, to focus on the failings of individuals. Instead, we will need to expose the systemic failings - lack of preparedness, underfunding of health and social care, deep-rooted inequality - which have made this tragedy so much worse than it might have been. Hindsight is easy, of course; but the failure to create a just society, in which the weak and the vulnerable are honoured and protected, is a disgrace of long standing. 

Oh, and one more other thing: the Church may not have the heft it once did in public affairs, but we can still stand for justice, truthfulness and compassion - the values of the Kingdom - in the way we lead our lives, and in our advocacy for those who are so easily overlooked. Over the time that lies ahead, we can play our part, along with many others, in working for a healthier society and a fairer world.

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Revd. Giles King-Smith

Living with uncertainty

We don't like uncertainty - and yet we live with it and can't avoid it. Given that we don't know how each day will unfold - even when we think we have a fixed agenda, it never works out exactly as we expected - or how we will feel and what we will think as it unfolds, uncertainty is pretty much the only thing we can be certain of!

But we don't like it. We crave the security of knowing what's going to happen, even though we know that would be a terrible idea. And when things are going wrong, we long for someone to tell us exactly what needs to be done to put them right. We want our authority figures - doctors, priests, politicians, scientists - to save us from uncertainty by giving us precise and foolproof instructions that will guarantee the right result. But...they can't always do this. SHOCK HORROR!!!

So, unexpectedly, I find myself having some sympathy for our Government, as they come under fire for not giving us absolutely precise instructions, which would produce absolutely certain outcomes. Beyond legitimate concerns about how we can safely return to work and school, I think the Government is right to say, in effect: "Look, we don't really know how things will go, as we ease the lockdown - we're going to have to play it by ear and make further decisions on the hoof." This, at least, is realism rather than incompetence. 

In terms of faith, the calling (however much we dislike it and cry out against it, like the Israelites in the desert) is to accept that the future is unknown - or rather, the only thing we know for certain about the future is that God will be with us. That doesn't mean planning is pointless, it means planning is conditional. The challenge is to embrace uncertainty, while trying to be clear and purposeful in our response to events as they unfold. Can we enjoy the fact that we don't know what's coming next - or will we always be longing for a map, clear instructions, definite outcomes?...

 

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Revd. Giles King-Smith

The man who is God - Gospel Reading & Address for Easter 5

John 14: 1-14 (NRSV)

Jesus said to his disciples:

"Do not let your hearts be troubled. Believe in God, believe also in me. In my Father's house there are many dwelling-places. If it were not so, would I have told you that I go to prepare a place for you? And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and will take you to myself, so that where I am, there you may be also. And you know the way to the place where I am going." Thomas said to him, "Lord, we do not know where you are going. How can we know the way?" Jesus said to him, "I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me. If you know me, you will know my Father also. From now on, you do know him and have seen him."

Philip said to him, "Lord, show us the Father, and we will be satisfied." Jesus said to him, "Have I been with you all this time, Philip, and you still do not know me? Whoever has seen me has seen the Father. How can you say, "Show us the Father"? Do you not believe that I am in the Father and the Father is in me? The words that I say to you I do not speak on my own; but the Father who dwells in me does his works. Believe me that I am in the Father and the Father is in me; but if you do not, then believe me because of the works themselves. Very truly I tell you, the one who believes in me will also do the works that I do and, in fact, will do greater works than these, because I am going to the Father. I will do whatever you ask in my name, so that the Father may be glorified in the Son. If in my name you ask me for anything, I will do it."

 

----------------------------------------------------

 

All through John's Gospel, right from the beginning, with that extraordinary statement, "The Word was with God, and the Word was God", we are presented with a clear message: Jesus is God in human form, and Jesus and the Father are one. All the signs that Jesus performs, and all the declarations that he makes about his relationship with the Father, point in the same direction: this man, this Jesus of Nazareth, the carpenter's son, is the image of the invisible God. This is God, walking among us, sharing the joys and sorrows of our human life, and in the end allowing himself to be wounded, humiliated, crushed, so that we can begin to see how very far from the image we often have of an aggressively dominant emperor our God really is. Jesus shows us that God is love and goodness in the service of others - and that this love and goodness ultimately triumph over evil by refusing to be anything other than what they are. In Jesus we see, and in our world (perhaps especially now that we are so aware of the power of practical love and goodness) we see that there is nothing greater than this love.

None of this is necessarily easy to believe or to understand - as we see from Thomas' and Philip's questions, and as we know from our own stumbling progress on the path of faith. The greatest minds of the early church wrestled for centuries with the difficulty of accepting Jesus' divinity without losing his humanity, and vice versa. What could it mean for him to be both human and divine? Not, they realised, a neat 50/50 split down the middle, but fully human and fully divine; and not God pretending to be human, but God fully inhabiting and experiencing our humanity. How can we get our heads around this? And yet, it was clear, and it is clear, that there is no other conclusion to be drawn from Jesus' birth, life, death and resurrection, as presented in the Gospels: this is the man who is God. With our minds, wonderful as they are, we will never find a formula that can resolve this logical impossibility - God as a human being. Yet we know that here is the deepest truth we will ever find.

Poor Thomas! "Give us a map, Lord, or some directions at least, or we won't know where to go." Poor Philip! "Just pull back the curtain, Lord, so we can see this Father you keep talking about, and then it's all sorted." They want what is a mystery broken down into bite-sized chunks, so they can swallow it, digest it, possess it. And Jesus just says, "It's all here. All you have to do is look at me. I am all you need, and I give you all you need."

For us, as for them, I suppose it's really about trust. What Jesus was asking his poor bewildered friends to do was to put their trust in him. Not a blind, unthinking trust - for they had witnessed everything he said and did, they had the surest basis you could imagine for trust in him. And while the devastating events of the next few days in Jerusalem would shatter that trust, the fragments would be gathered up and put back together, in the new life that dawned on Easter Day. And they would remember his words, and realise how right he was to reassure them: "Do not let your hearts be troubled. Believe in God, believe also in me." 

 

 

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Revd. Giles King-Smith

A prayer for VE Day

 

Here is a different kind of prayer - one which expresses a commitment to the cause of God's Kingdom, as we remember the cost of war, and the joy and relief of its end:

Lord God our Father,

we pledge ourselves to serve you and all humankind,

in the cause of peace,

for the relief of want and suffering,

and for the praise of your name.

Guide us by your Spirit;

give us wisdom;

give us courage;

give us hope;

and keep us faithful, now and always. Amen.

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Revd. Giles King-Smith

Just ask

It's a lovely thing when someone says, "Anything you want - just ask". In a time of need, this is reassurance, a sense of being held. Of course, there is a danger that the person who says this won't be able to keep their promise. Words are cheap. And - as in fairy tales - it's possible that what we ask for won't be good for us. Add in the reluctance most people feel to ask for help, and the process is clearly not quite as simple as it sounds.

My previous posts have suggested that, to start prayer, we need to stop everything (including what we normally think of as prayer). But obviously that's not all there is to prayer - we generally come to it in order to ask God for something we need. Often we come with an extensive "shopping list", and my advice to drop everything is intended as an antidote to the breathless recitations which can get in the way of our simply being with God, like a weaned child with its mother, resting, content. But then the child looks up at the mother and asks for what it needs, in confidence and trust.

And sometimes, when we're ready to listen, the question comes from God to us :"What do you want?" Remember Jesus, on the road out of Jericho in Mark's Gospel (10:46-52), met by the yelling of the blind beggar Bartimaeus - "Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!" It's obvious what he's going to ask for, and yet Jesus makes a point of asking him: "What do you want me to do for you?" It matters that Bartimaeus should articulate his need, should shout out the thing he wants most of all. And when he has received his sight, Jesus' parting shot is, "Your faith has healed you." In other words, the moment you asked me, really asked me, for what you wanted is the moment it was done for you.

For me, there's something deep here about God's love for us and how we can respond to it in prayer. We are asked to identify and to voice the thing that we most long for. Not the thing we ought to long for, not the thing that we reckon will please God, but the thing we actually want. Leave it to God to strip away all the unworthy, unhealthy stuff, and to get to the heart of our longing - which will always be some variant of what Bartimaeus asked for: healing, wholeness, hope, for ourselves or for others.

Above all, I think God wants us to be honest in our relationship with him - that is, in our prayers. He knows what we want, but we need to know it, and own it, and say it. Just ask.

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Revd. Giles King-Smith

Laughter as grace

 

I really like this quote from Samir Selmanovic:

"Laughter is one of the ways we cope with the discrepancies of our lives. There is a dream we all have for this world, and then there is, well, this world. There are expectations we have of our religions, and then there are our religions ... Our capacity to love God, ourselves, people and all of life grows with our capacity to laugh. We are ridiculous, and not to laugh at our religions, our worldviews, and our philosophies (that is, ourselves) would be a false witness ... This ability to laugh in the midst of our imperfections in the presence of God is what we call grace."

Especially that last sentence. When, as often happens, I do or say something that would normally send me into a tail-spin of exasperation and shame, just occasionally I find myself laughing instead. And in that moment I am convinced that this is also God's laughter, and it is a freeing thing. 

G.K.Chesterton said something similar: "It is a test of a good religion whether you can joke about it." And maybe it's a test of a good faith whether we can laugh as we fall over, yet again.

Samir Selmanovic's book is called "It's really all about God: how Islam, Atheism and Judaism made me a better Christian". 

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Revd. Giles King-Smith

Something more

 

Well, obviously something more is needed, replies the activist (who has found time in his/her busy schedule to read the previous post). If you're just going to sit around doing nothing, how will the Kingdom be built? How will all those lost souls be saved? How will we play our part in ensuring that God is "all in all"?

All right, let me lay my cards on the table. I am a lazy person who likes staring out of the window. Sometimes - quite often, actually - I am railroaded into doing things; and sometimes I really enjoy doing things, and some of those things might even be of benefit to others. But - building the Kingdom? Give me a break. Whatever the Kingdom is, it isn't going to be built by my conscious effort - or yours. The moment I say to myself, "Oh look, I'm building the Kingdom!", I am stuck fast in a mire of self-satisfaction, and God is somewhere else. When my left hand becomes aware of what my right hand is doing, the beautiful gift  that's been entrusted to me turns to dust.

So what can I do? Learn to be authentic. Which means - learn to be myself with God. Everything will flow from that. (And, of course, I won't know what that "everything" is until it happens.)

I am very far from having this sewn up. Despite my inherent slothfulness, I still rush around, quite a lot of the time, as if the world will end without my input. But I do believe that the best foundation for my doing stuff is doing nothing, and the best starting point for my prayer is stopping praying. Ten minutes of silence, sitting still, listening for the voice within  - that's all I need to remind me of what matters most. God is real, and God is here.

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Revd. Giles King-Smith

Calm and quiet

 

"The best way to start praying is actually to stop praying" - another quote from Pete Greig's book "How to Pray". Sounds a bit Zen, doesn't it? But it makes sense, if we understand prayer not as an extension of all our other activity, but as something quite different which requires a re-setting of our mind and our senses. Psalm 131 says it:

My heart is not proud, Lord,

my eyes are not haughty;

I do not concern myself with great matters

or things too wonderful for me.

But I have calmed and quietened myself.

I am like a weaned child with its mother;

like a weaned child I am content.

I notice the sense of humbling which is involved in coming to prayer. All those great and important things which I think I'm meant to be doing, and which I don't really understand anyway, are to be left, put aside, forgotten, as I sit quietly and allow my soul to come to rest, like a child. And sometimes they include all those worthy causes and needy people for whom I know I ought to pray. The weaned child is content to be with its mother, and nothing more is needed.

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Revd. Giles King-Smith

Heroes

 

Aside from heroism that is generally recognised (of the kind currently being shown by the key workers who are protecting and serving the rest of us), we all have our personal heroes. Thinking about two of mine, I realise that what I value in them is a quality associated with prophets: the clarity of vision, and the courage, to stand for what is right and good.

I've just finished reading a biography* of a man who has a strong claim to rank alongside Churchill as the greatest Prime Minister of modern times - Clement Attlee. Despite being the polar opposite of Churchill in temperament and gifts - self-effacing, understated, consistent - Attlee worked well with him as Deputy PM in the wartime government, and then headed the Labour Government of 1945-51, which brought into being the foundations of our welfare state, most notably the National Health Service. Often, though not always, supported by the Conservative Opposition in these great reforms, Attlee's administration changed the landscape of our society forever. His vision was of a country in which everyone accepted their responsibilities as citizens, and in which every citizen received the care and support they needed. Duties and rights, in other words; arguably, the present crisis has revealed how much more attractive and healthy such a vision can be, in practice, than the me-first stampede of greed and materialism into which we so easily fall in times of apparent stability. And - without claiming too much for Attlee, who abandoned Christian faith in his youth - is it fanciful to see something of God's Kingdom and its all-embracing compassion in the idea of a welfare state in which nobody is neglected?

And second, Jane Goodall. Google "Jane Goodall Channel 4 News" to find a 5-minute interview with the 86 year-old primatologist and activist, renowned for her pioneering work with chimpanzees, in which she calls out, in clear and simple terms, the destructive human activities which are endangering other species, threatening further pandemics, and causing potentially terminal damage to the world we share with all these remarkable creatures. The delusion she skewers is that we are able to do as we wish with the natural world because we are somehow above it, and thus able to exploit it mercilessly without incurring damage to our own life and health. On the contrary, we are part of the natural world, and our health is inextricably linked with the health of the planet as whole. As Jane Goodall says, we have disrespected the earth. Humility is needed, to start afresh. This, too, is the work of the Kingdom. "Dominion" over the earth and its creatures, as given to humans by God in Genesis 1, must mean, can only mean, taking responsibility for the world we have been given, in a spirit of reverence for all that is. Can we learn this lesson and make it "the new normal"?

I wonder who your heroes are. Do they, like these two, remind you of what really matters, what is worth fighting for, standing up for, living by?

*"Citizen Clem" by John Bew

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Revd. Giles King-Smith

Just showing up

 

In his book "How to pray", Pete Greig says: "99% of prayer is just showing up - making ourselves consciously present to the God who is constantly present with us".

In other words, stick at it. Don't become disillusioned if there are no fireworks, if you're not overwhelmed by joy and peace; just find a place and a time for prayer, and show up. When Archbishop Michael Ramsey was asked about the time he set aside for prayer, he replied: "One minute, but it takes me twenty-nine to get there".

It's easy for prayer to feel like a chore - one more thing we "have" to do, with no guarantee of satisfaction. So maybe it's best to start small, with no great expectations of ourselves, or of God. No hurdles to jump, no exams to pass. Just show up: find somewhere to be still for a few minutes, and do nothing, say nothing. Wait. Get rid of words, for a little spell, and be yourself, be with your self. God is already with you, of course.

I know, that's hardly a comprehensive guide to praying. But it's a start. Someone described prayer as "the soul's native language". We spend a lot of time and effort trying to translate prayer into words, when it's already there, waiting for us to be quiet, to stop buzzing around. Just show up...

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Revd. Giles King-Smith

A Litany of thanks

I know, it's not always helpful to be told that, whatever is going on in our lives, we must be thankful. Sometimes this approach invites a short and unprintable reply. A bit like being told we have to love one another, enforced thankfulness is a pain.

On the "Love one another" theme ... I remember, as an earnest young curate, preaching on the need to love our neighbour, only to hear an elderly lady in the front row say in a stage whisper: "Love my neighbour? I bleedin' hate her!"

Anyway - at a time when it's easy (but totally misleading) to think that our country is mainly populated by online trolls, panic buyers and social-distancing refuseniks, there really are a lot of people, and things, to be thankful for. Here are a few I've thought of - please add your own...

- The BBC, and all truthful reporting and journalism. There is still plenty of it!

- Our families, friends and neighbours, and all small acts of kindness and thoughtfulness

- The staff in care homes across the country, many of them low-paid, as they care for vulnerable people

- All the people doing easily overlooked jobs that are actually essential: bin men, pharmacists, delivery drivers, supermarket and shop staff, and more...

- The extraordinary resilience and cheerfulness of so many ordinary people

The beauty of the natural world around us, and the way it just carries on...

- The chance to do less, think more, read more

- Board games! Home baking! Having a tidy-up!!!

- Captain Tom Moore, aka Captain Incredible (£23 million raised for the NHS)

- Face time with those we can't meet in the flesh. Specifically - asking my grandson Otto (4) if he could send me some of his Easter egg in the post. (Can you guess the answer?)

- Finally and rather obviously: all the brilliant, courageous and caring men and women who work in our National Health Service. Boris was right - the NHS is the best of our country, and it is powered by love. When this is over, our job is to make sure it always gets the funding and resources it needs...

Of course, no-one can make us be thankful. But I believe our mental and spiritual health depends on it. And it isn't hard, at the end of each day, to find something, however small, which is a token of God's love for us, and for which we can be truly thankful.

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Revd. Giles King-Smith

Unbusy

These days after Easter are traditionally a time for the clergy to take a breather after all our strenuous exertions over the previous few weeks. Only, this year it hasn't been particularly strenuous for me. I haven't been rushing around to services and meetings and visits  - initially because of my leg issues, and latterly because, well, none of us has been able to get out much, have we?

And I'm glad of this. Partly because I'm quite lazy by nature, but mostly because I resist and resent the pressure (mainly self-imposed, it's true) to define myself by activity, by how busy I am. When people say to me, as they quite often do, "You're a very busy man" - by which they often mean, "...and so you won't have time for me" - I want to reply: "I'm not so busy, here I am". I want to be available, and that isn't the same as being busy. In fact, to be really available, I need to be deliberately un-busy. I need to sit still, watch, notice, listen - then I might be some use as a person whose calling is to be attentive to God.

So, with all due respect to Archbishop Justin, who was, understandably, keen to point out that the Church is alive and well despite our buildings being closed, I have to disagree when he says, "The Church is emphatically not closed, it's probably busier than it's ever been." On the contrary, I'd see this as a time when all of us can find value in stillness and slowness. And the Church, rather than echoing our society's addiction to activity and busy-ness, has the opportunity to lead the way in re-discovering the benefit, and the delight, of doing nothing much other than breathe and be thankful. "Be still and know that I am God".

Time to practise what I post. See you next Sunday...

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Revd. Giles King-Smith

Strange Easter, death put in its place

A week to let the strange glory of Easter sink in. Here are some thoughts by the priest-poet Malcolm Guite:

On this strange Easter Day, we will discover that Jesus is not lost somewhere in our locked churches, any more than he was sealed in the sepulchre. He is up and out and risen, long before us. He is as much at work in the world as the spring is at work in the blossoms. On this Easter Day, the Risen Christ, who might have been a wafer in the hands of the priest, will be strength in the hands of the nurse, a blessing in the hands of the carer. He goes with them to their work as surely as he came to us in our church. Victory over this virus is some way off, but victory over death is already achieved.

And Malcolm quotes this defiant sonnet by John Donne, putting death in its place:

Death, be not proud, though some have called thee

Mighty and dreadful, for thou art not so;

For those whom thou think'st thou dost overthrow 

Die not, poor Death, nor yet canst thou kill me.

From rest and sleep, which but thy pictures be,

Much pleasure; then from thee much more must flow,

And soonest our best men with thee do go,

Rest of their bones, and soul's delivery.

Thou art slave to fate, chance, kings, and desperate men,

And dost with poison, war and sickness dwell,

And poppy or charms can make us sleep as well

And better than thy stroke; why swell'st thou then?

One short sleep past, we wake eternally

And death shall be no more; Death, thou shalt die.

 

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Revd. Giles King-Smith

Waiting Saturday

 

We're all in a waiting game just now. We don't know when or how we will emerge from this state of suspended animation, and we don't know how bad the damage will be, in terms of lives lost and lives changed for ever. We just have to wait.

I once waited 5 days for a train to come, in Sudan. Nobody knew exactly when it would come, but we were sure it would, eventually, at some unspecified point in the future. So we adapted and got on with making a routine, cooking, playing games and so on - a bit like now. We accepted that we couldn't be in control of the future. But we kept faith in the train - and in the end, it came!

Today - Easter Eve, Holy Saturday - is a day of waiting. Of course, we're privileged: we know when the waiting will be over, we know that tomorrow will be a day of rejoicing. But on another level, today stands for the whole of the time in which we live, the in-between time. Jesus has died and is risen, and yet we toil on in our imperfect world, with its flashes of glory, waiting for that finality when God will make all things right. In this sense, all our days are Holy Saturday, and our job is to keep on waiting, using the time we have to good effect, and not to lose faith. 

Is that a train I hear coming?

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Revd. Giles King-Smith

Praying at the Cross

Reading the account of Jesus' crucifixion, something different caught my attention this time: the women, watching at a distance - Mary his mother, Mary Magdalene, and the mother of James and John.

I found myself wondering: how did they pray, as they stood there? And, more generally - how is it possible for us to pray for those who suffer, especially when we witness that suffering? What words can we possibly find to express the impotent anguish we feel? 

Perhaps there are no words - just a jumble of tears and shudders and sobs. And the desperate sense that this is so wrong, and so needs to be put right, somehow, right now.

You will probably have your own experience of something like this - struggling to pray in a time of great hardship. And today, as we picture Jesus on the cross, we can hold in our prayers - with or without words - all who suffer pain, all who feel abandoned as he did, and those who watch and wait with them. May God give them comfort and hope in their time of need.

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Revd. Giles King-Smith

What we're missing

 

Maundy Thursday. Normally, some of us would be gathering tonight at St. Mary's for a Eucharist that recalls the first Eucharist, with the symbolic washing of feet; then lighting candles on the tomb, waiting for a while in the holy darkness, entering into some sense of Jesus' desolation as he awaits his harsh fate.

Normally...but this is no normal Holy Week. We won't be following the cross from St. Sabinus' up Potter's Hill; we won't be sitting in silence, in St. Matthew's, to hear the story of Jesus' Passion; and we won't be sharing in that great explosion of joy on Easter Sunday, as we remember again that it's true: death has been conquered, Jesus is risen, we have nothing to fear.

There's no point in sugar-coating it: we will miss that unique, extraordinary feeling of journeying together through the stages of this great story. Instead, we can use memory to recall that feeling, as we've shared it in years gone by. We can use our imagination to trace Jesus' steps, walk behind him, and wonder how we might have reacted to the unfolding drama. And we can find time (we have plenty of that now) to do no more than sit and stare at the beauty around us, and realise that this is all one love - the generosity of creation is the same as the generosity of the dying Christ who calls his Father to forgive us all. It is all the same love, the same kind of love; and wherever we are, whoever we are, this love is given to us. We don't miss out on God's love for us.

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