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
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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Revd. Giles King-Smith

We will wait

A poem-prayer by Ruth Galloway of the Iona Community:

 

Resurrection will come.

This year, it may not come for us

on Easter Sunday,

but we can

wait...

You are locked down with us, Jesus,

on this strange journey.

Help us to trust you to bring us

safe home.

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Revd. Giles King-Smith

Faced with ourselves

 

Our Lent group - before being interrupted by events beyond our control - was reading "Walking the Way of the Cross", a series of reflections on the Stations of the Cross. Today I found myself stopping at Paula Gooder's response to Jesus' exchange with the two thieves crucified with him (Luke 23:39-43), and in particular her suggestion that encountering Jesus brings to the surface who we really are, and that what really matters is how we respond to this truth when it's revealed.

Although I don't believe in a God who is intent on punishing us for our misdeeds, I do know (not least from experience of my own reactions) that failure to own our reality - usually accompanied by blaming others - is damaging to us, both psychologically and at a soul level. The first thief falls back on mocking Jesus, because he can't face his bleak reality; the second thief courageously takes responsibility for what he's done, and so is able to accept both himself and Jesus.

Which one are you and I more like?

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Revd. Giles King-Smith

Alone - or not?

The first verse from yesterday's Old Testament reading for Morning Prayer (from Lamentations):

How lonely sits the city that once was full of people!

One of the strangest things about this strange time has been the stream of images we've all seen of deserted towns and cities. Lonely streets - no people, no cars, no business. Almost everyone has retreated to their separate spaces, and physical proximity has been replaced by virtual contact, through emails, phone calls and social media. And many of us are more alone than ever.

Of course, for out-and-out introverts this enforced isolation may be a blessing. But for others, aloneness is a hard cross to bear. I use that last phrase advisedly, for one of many harsh things Jesus had to endure in his last days was the sheer aloneness of his predicament. Alone in Gethsemane, as his friends fall asleep; alone at his trial, his followers having fled; alone on the cross - his only company the onlookers' jeers and the sadness of those who love him. As he dies, Jesus enters into the final, fearful reality of aloneness: "My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?"

But in truth, not the final reality. Every time we face the pain of being alone, and so connect ourselves with Jesus' painful aloneness on the cross, we are invited to remember how his story ends, and how ours will too. No longer alone but joyfully together, within God's love for the whole creation - this is our final reality, this is the promise that we glimpse right now, in the kindness of friends and the beauty of spring. And, please God, this being-together will be a reality for us, in church and in our streets, before long...

In those telling words, used by the Queen in her address to the nation: "We will meet again". Amen to that. 

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Revd. Giles King-Smith

Humble like God

Printed below is one of the readings we would have heard in church yesterday (had we been there). It's the start of the 2nd chapter of Paul's letter to the Philippians; in it he makes what we might call the definitive link between the humility of God-in-Christ and the way Christians should treat one another. The second half of the reading is laid out in verse form because most scholars think it is part of a hymn of the early church.

 

If then there is any encouragement in Christ, any consolation from love, any sharing in the Spirit, any compassion and sympathy, make my joy complete: be of the same mind, having the same love, being in full accord and of one mind. Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility regard others as better than yourselves. Let each of you look not to your own interests, but to the interests of others. Let the same mind be in you that was in Christ Jesus,

who, though he was in the form of God,

did not regard equality with God

as something to be exploited,

but emptied himself,

taking the form of a slave,

being born in human likeness.

And being found in human form,

he humbled himself

and became obedient to the point of death -

even death on a cross.

Therefore God also highly exalted him

and gave him the name

that is above every name,

so that at the name of Jesus

every knee should bend,

in heaven and on earth and under the earth,

and every tongue should confess

that Jesus Christ is Lord

to the glory of God the Father.

 

 

These few lines express pretty much everything we need to know about what God has done in Christ - his birth, death, resurrection, ascension and ultimate lordship. But the grit of it is humility, and the gritty bit of our lives is where the humility we're called to meets our selfishness and pride. A colleague once complimented me in public on my humility - and immediately I swelled up with pride! As soon as you think you're humble, you're not. Humility isn't something we achieve; it's what happens when we are caught up in something so huge that, for a moment, we stop worrying about how good we are or how well we've done, and see our true scale and status - small, feeble, yet loved and cherished exactly as we are.   

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Revd. Giles King-Smith

Empty and silent

Our churches are closed, and I find myself wondering what they must feel like - almost as if they were sentient beings. Empty and silent, of course: no singing, no sermons, no chatter before and after the service. No people. It seems sad, and yet God will still be there, in those spaces where so many prayers have been said, and the power of those prayers will still hang in the air.

Hard though it is to be unable to enter and populate our churches, there's a strange sort of rightness in our being deprived at this time. Something of great value has been taken from us - as it has, in different ways, from everyone. And this week we remember One from whom everything was taken, leaving the empty shell of his body and a bleak, desolate silence.

Perhaps the hard fact that nothing is left of our gatherings for worship can help us feel more deeply the deprivation Jesus endured. But remember: Easter will come, Jesus will rise, and - though we may have to wait a while yet - we will meet again, in our churches, and they will be full of the sound of our praise.

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Revd. Giles King-Smith

A Litany for Holy Week

This Litany is taken from "Common Worship". Were we together in church, the minister would say the words in ordinary type, and we would all respond with those in bold. Perhaps, as we say these words at home, we can imagine being in church, with the beautiful solemnity of Holy Week descending on us, and with the sense it brings that nothing else matters - only this bleak reality of sin and pain and division, and the God who enters our unholiest places to make us holy like him... May we all know the riches of his mercy. 

 

For forgiveness for the many times we have denied Jesus,

let us pray to the Lord.

Lord, have mercy.

For grace to seek out those habits of sin which mean spiritual death,

and by prayer and self-discipline to overcome them,

let us pray to the Lord.

Lord, have mercy.

For Christian people, that through the suffering of disunity

there may grow a rich union in Christ,

let us pray to the Lord.

Lord, have mercy.

For those who make laws, interpret them, and administer them,

that our common life may be ordered in justice and mercy,

let us pray to the Lord.

Lord, have mercy.

For those who make our world a battleground,

and for those who have the courage to work openly for justice and peace,

let us pray to the Lord.

Lord, have mercy.

For those in the darkness and agony of isolation,

that they may find support and encouragement,

let us pray to the Lord.

Lord, have mercy.

For those who, weighed down with hardship, failure or sorrow,

feel that God is far from them,

let us pray to the Lord.

Lord, have mercy.

For those who are tempted to give up the way of the cross,

let us pray to the Lord.

Lord, have mercy.

That we, with those who have died in faith,

may find mercy in the day of Christ,

let us pray to the Lord.

Lord, have mercy.

 

Holy God,

holy and strong,

holy and immortal,

have mercy on us.

 

 

 

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Revd. Giles King-Smith

Thoughts on helplessness

None of us likes to be helpless. All of us like to have at least some degree of control over our lives. For some, it goes further than that: they like to keep tabs on everything that's going on, and - wherever possible - to manipulate their reality so that nothing escapes their grasp. We call these people control freaks, and while most of us don't go to quite these lengths, it's rare to find someone who is completely free of control-freakery. As I said, we don't like to be helpless.

But sometimes we are: when we're infants, dependent on parental nurture and protection; and when we're old, and the things we can do for ourselves are increasingly restricted. When we're born and when we die. And in between, there will be times of helplessness - especially through illness or disability - when we face a choice. Be consumed with rage or self-pity because we're no longer in control - or come to accept that being helpless offers us the opportunity to learn something important about being human.

And what might that learning be? Maybe something like this: we need others, and we need God. We are not, ultimately, self-sufficient; and sometimes we don't get to pick and choose how the help we need comes to us. Sometimes all we can do is accept our insufficiency, and be grateful when, once again, we get the message that we are not forgotten, our voice is heard, help is coming.

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Revd. Giles King-Smith

Pause for Prayer

Perhaps you're wondering - how can I pray at this time? How can I keep the connection with God, despite being isolated and unable to join others for worship?

I'm going to post prayers on this page, which you may find helpful (see below). But essentially, prayer is our connection with God, and it doesn't need words, or churches, or music, to happen - though these can be helpful. Maybe, just maybe, this is a time of stripping-back, when you and I can discover a simpler way of being with God. Just a look at the world outside, just a murmured "thank you" at a kindness given, just a still moment of thankfulness for being alive - all these you and I can do without any kind of intermediary or ceremony. (Vicar doing himself out of a job, or what?)

But sometimes words help:

Keep us, good Lord,

under the shadow of your mercy

in this time of uncertainty and distress.

Sustain and support the anxious and fearful,

and lift up all who are brought low;

that we may rejoice in your comfort,

knowing that nothing can separate us from your love

in Christ Jesus our Lord. Amen.

and:

God of compassion, 

be close to those who are ill, afraid or in isolation.

In their loneliness, be their consolation;

in their anxiety, be their hope;

in their darkness, be their light;

through him who suffered alone on the cross,

but reigns with you in glory,

Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

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Revd. Giles King-Smith

Beautiful irony

Funny how, just as we face up to one of the darkest times in our history, the sun is shining, the daffodils are blazing yellow, and the birds are singing with what sounds suspiciously like joyful enthusiasm.

Is all this beauty just a bitter irony - nature (or God) laughing at our predicament? Or are we being offered balm for our souls?

Well, I'd say - better for us if we can take it as a morsel of compensation for our present troubles. Actually, more than a morsel: if our eyes are open, we are being offered a banquet, a right royal take-away of colour and light and glory. We are being given something restorative, and perhaps there is a message in the way everything is waking up, coming back to life. Something like - "You, too, will recover, you will have life again, you will laugh and dance. Your sorrow, like the winter, will run its course and then give way to spring."

Creation is God's love for us. And nothing can separate us from that love.

 

 

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Revd. Giles King-Smith

And the people stayed home

Thanks to Dawn Murphy for passing on this little gem, a quote from Kitty O'Meara:

"And the people stayed home. And read books, and listened, and rested, and exercised, and made art, and played games, and grew gardens full of fresh food, and learned new ways of being, and were still. And listened more deeply. Some meditated, some prayed, some danced. Some met their shadows. And the people began to think differently.

And the people healed. And, in the absence of people living in ignorant, dangerous, mindless and heartless ways, the earth began to heal.

And when the danger passed, and the people joined together again, they grieved their losses, and made new choices, and dreamed new images, and created new ways to live and heal the earth fully, as they had been healed."

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Revd. Giles King-Smith

Love in a time of Coronavirus

It seems a long time since I last posted here, but it's just a week - a week in which so much has changed that it's hard to quite believe or understand what is happening.

We are the same people, and yet we're not. Things we took for granted, like gathering for social occasions or work meetings - or worship - have gone, probably for a good while. And so we're discovering how to do things differently. And, perhaps, discovering that nothing is to be taken for granted. 

I'm not sure how much wisdom I can offer. Like you, I'm trying to make sense of it all - and, like a judo player trying to overcome a stronger opponent, I'm looking for the hold that will enable me to flip this scenario over and turn its dystopian overtones - isolation, suffering, deprivation, uncertainty - into something good. Here are a couple of thoughts for starters:

- Some people, of course, will be busier than ever as this crisis deepens. Prayerful support for all healthcare workers is a given. But, for those of us who are having to slow down, might this be a God-given opportunity to do less rushing around and instead be still? A chance to no longer define ourselves exclusively by what we do, what we achieve? As well as flagging up the power of poetry to soothe and heal us in these times, the Poet Laureate, Simon Armitage, has suggested there's a message to be drawn "about taking things easy and being patient and trusting to the earth, and maybe having to come through this slightly slower, and wiser, at the other end, given that one thing that's accelerated the problem is our hectic lives and our proximities and the frantic way we go about things." The question is - when this is all over, will we go straight back into headless-chicken mode, or will things have really changed for good?

- And in similar vein: what lessons will we draw, from a time when economic activity has slowed (with beneficial short-term effects on the environment), about how we should in the future adapt all our activities to the deeper needs of our planet?

 - And: we can see already that one possible benefit of this crisis is a greater attentiveness (albeit at a distance!) to the needs of our neighbours, especially the elderly and the housebound. Examples of a caring community spirit already abound; will we be encouraged to keep this spirit alive, once we are free to come and go again?

- And finally, one for the Church. On one level, we are atomised now, split apart by the impossibility of meeting. What can the Body of Christ mean, when we are all sealed off from one another in our private spaces? One sketchy answer: we may be able to discover something deeper about our communion with God and one another, now that we are apart. We have always been part of a wider communion, with God and with those we can't see as well as those alongside us - or rather, those we can't see (like God) have always been alongside us. We've just been too busy with what's in front of our eyes to notice them, to sense the invisible web of love by which we are all bound together. But now we can.

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Revd. Giles King-Smith

Reading Room

As you can imagine, I've had a bit more time for reading recently. (Thanks for asking - yes, the leg is coming along nicely, but it's all slow, and meant to be so.) I've actually finished some books, and now that it's Lent I've found 2 or 3 books that have helped and inspired me. You could read them in Lent, or any time really.

"One for Sorrow" by Alan Hargrave is a memoir of the time before and after the death of his son Tom at the age of 21. It's an unflinching, honest, straight-talking account - no punches pulled, no soppy piety, just the struggle to hold on to faith and love. I found it very moving, and sometimes funny as well.

"The Wind, the Fountain and the Fire" is an exploration by Mark Barrett, who is a monk of Worth Abbey, of strands of imagery in the Bible - beautifully written, deceptively deep, and a reminder that to understand the Bible as a work of the imagination can help us move beyond dead-end arguments about what is or isn't true.

And "Sabbath" by Nicola Slee is a poetic investigation of the value of rest and stillness, using Wendell Berry's "Sabbath Poems" and her own journal entries and poetry. It reminded me that Sabbath - however we choose to do it - is not an add-on, but absolutely fundamental to our relationships with God and each other. Is stillness just a brief rest from all our frantic activity, or is our activity meant to arise from stillness? Is stopping (not-doing) something we can't bear to allow ourselves, or is it the way we make the deep connections that give meaning and value to our doing?

I hope we can all find time to read this Lent. "Be still and know that I am God"... 

 

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Revd. Giles King-Smith

Old guys rule?

Is it true that the over-60s tend to go on a bit about getting old? (Just saying)

Maybe, to avoid the inevitable self-pity, we need to plough on regardless, as if age were nothing but a number, and there are worlds still to be conquered (or better, discovered)...

But then - horror of horrors - I look at the two leading contenders for the Democratic nomination in the United States (not to mention their President) and see white-haired old blokes, still desperate to achieve, still driven, still convinced that their best years are ahead of them. And maybe they're right.

What keeps them from sitting around quietly in their slippers watching daytime TV? It must be some kind of fire within, some burning conviction that they haven't yet got there, haven't yet achieved (that word again) their potential. And that fire is, for sure, a noble thing, if it's about making other people's lives better. But if it's really about an insatiable ego, an all-consuming drive to get to the top, then we're all better off if the old guys just give it a rest. For good.

In the suggestions for prayer during Lent (see "Common Worship" Morning Prayer), there's a good phrase: "for those serving through leadership". Leadership that isn't anchored in and defined by service is deadly.

That starts with me, of course... 

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Revd. Giles King-Smith

Ashes to ashes

Ash Wednesday. Time to remember our weakness, our mortality, and the thousand ways in which we fail to embody the love of God. Time for humility, in other words. Not grovelling, not a big show of penitence, but a quiet, sober awareness that we are far from perfect, far from the finished article.

Sound a bit grim? Far from it - I think there is joy to be found, especially through Lent, in clearing out our cluttered hearts and making room for God.

From the Prayer of Manasseh, this beautiful verse:

"And now, I bend the knee of my heart before you, and implore your kindness upon me."

 

 

 

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