Wednesday, 30 December 2009

deep and crisp and even...

With the snow flying in thick and fast just before Christmas, I went into 'Narnia' mode.  Apparently we've seen the heaviest snowfall in 20 years and while it was beautiful it was soooo very cold as well.
And of course the inevitable bad white Christmas joke:
What kind of pizza does good King Wenceslaus like?
Deep pan, crisp pan, even.

There was a part of me that really, really, really wanted to bump into a faun carrying parcels.  And, as in Narnia, Christmas did arrive in Scotland: neither the power of the White Witch or the darkness could overcome it.
There's something about hearing those words in the first chapter of John, read over Christmas in this darkest time of year, that have the power to fill me with a joy that goes beyond my ability to articulate.  The words hit home, strike a chord, breathe new life into a sometimes ragged hope and give me courage to keep going:
In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things came into being through him, and without him not one thing came into being. What has come into being in him was life, and the life was the light of all people. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it. 

'The life was the light of all people... and the darkness did not overcome it.'  Something changed this year over Advent and Christmas for me: I noticed a shift from sadness and loss and the sense of inevitable dread of Christmas - and what has felt for these last several years as jolliness being imposed upon me - to renewed enthusiasm, the thrill of expectation and the knowledge of joy being not only in the head, but in the heart also.
Christmas has, since 2001, been associated with bereavement: within 8 weeks the loss of a significant relationship, loss of home and loss of my grandmother.  The first two were hard, but those wounds healed pretty well.  It was the last which went beyond emptiness and needed more time.  Nan was that one person everyone should have in their life - the one who cheers you on, who loves you utterly, who believes in you and who understands you and fights for your causes.  It was a fierce, protective love and she was my point of stability, support and sanctuary.  She gave me the gift of allowing me to be just me - and if I am vaguely sane, it is due to her.  And, of course, if I'm not vaguely sane, then I guess I could be a heck of a lot worse...!
As I moved through Advent into Christmas this year, and even bought a tree, I began to realise that the long season of mourning had run its course.  The light had finally pierced through that long, dark, winter of my soul and Christmas arrived... as indeed it does, each year and every day in the wonder of the incarnation and the Word made flesh.

As a postscript there was a comedy moment involving the tree:
Possibly having a car would have been useful for doing this....
A walk to the local tree place, which promised delivery, resulted in arriving at gates firmly bolted on the Sunday before Christmas.  Whilst heartily endorsing the scruples that perhaps wanted to 'keep Sunday special', to have a business which was solely for the purpose of flogging Christmas trees shut on the Sunday nearest Christmas did seem slightly batty in my mind.
This meant trogging up to the outskirts of Fort Kinnaird to find, and bring home, the Christmas tree.
As I paid for the tree, the chap heaved the thing over his shoulder to take it to my non-existent car.  I smiled regretfully and told him I'd be doing this the old fashioned way.  Heaving it over my shoulder, away I slid over the icy path to the roundabout.
Bemused drivers, taking pity on me, stopped on the busy roadway and watched a rather short person carting a rather large tree across the road to the bus stop a looooooong way away.
This was followed by a bus driver who looked mildly stunned as a Christmas tree walked onto the bus followed by my grin and greeting of 'merry Christmas'.
And then bemused looks from onlookers as I carried the thing the 3 blocks home, on my shoulders in the snow and ice.  Given my shoulders could hardly move the following day, plus the arrival of some very oddly shaped bruises, I discovered other reasons why it is not often I bother with getting a tree!
But she has been lovely: I'm sitting looking at the gold and purple decorations and twinkling lights and thinking she's going to last quite happily until the Epiphany party next week.  She will then be tenderly chopped [an oxymoron?!] up, stored until the wood dries out and then used for the fire for next Christmas - and I quite like the symmetry of that.

Friday, 25 December 2009

'P' is for... Prince of Peace

Hail the heaven-born Prince of Peace
Hail the Son of Righteousness!
Light and life to all he brings
Ris'n with healing in His wings
Mild He lays his glory by
Born that we no more may die
Born to raise us from the earth
Born to give us second birth
Hark! The herald angels sing
Glory to the newborn King!

May the Son of the One who created all things bless us this Christmas, this coming year, and this life... and may we be a blessing to all who we meet.  Amen.

Thursday, 24 December 2009

breath of heaven

Love this song, told from Mary's angle.
And so the journey to the stable nears its end...

I have traveled
Many moonless nights
Cold and Weary
With a babe inside
And I wonder
What I've done
Holy Father
You have come
Chosen me now
To carry your son

I am waiting
in a silent prayer
I am frightened
by the load I bear
In a world as cold as stone
Must I walk this path alone
Be with me now
Be with me now

Breath of Heaven
Hold me together
Be forever near me
Breath of Heaven

Breath of Heaven
Lighten my darkness
Pour over me, your holyness
For your holy Breath of Heaven

Do you wonder
As you watch my face
If a wiser one, should of had my place
But I offer-all I am
For the mercy-of your plan
Help me be strong
Help me be
Help me


Wednesday, 23 December 2009

O Emmanuel...

O Emmanuel

O Emmanuel, Rex et legifer noster,
exspectatio Gentium, et Salvator earum: 
veni ad salvandum nos, Domine, Deus noster.
O Emmanuel, our king and our lawgiver,
the hope of the nations and their Saviour:
Come and save us, O Lord our God.
A reading from the book fo the prophet Isaiah, 7: 14 -
Therefore the Lord himself will give you a sign. Look, the young woman is with child and shall bear a son, and shall name him Immanuel.

The last of the Great Antiphons, traditionally sung at vespers, falls on the 23rd of December.  On the 24th the Christmas vigil takes its place. 

Pausing now...
for breath
from preparation
and for preparation
when hoped-for promises are birthed
and God, enfleshed.
God with us,
God for us.

Oh, come, oh, come, Emmanuel,
And ransom captive Israel,
That mourns in lonely exile here
Until the Son of God appear.
Rejoice! Rejoice! Emmanuel
Shall come to you, O Israel!

Tuesday, 22 December 2009

O Rex Gentium...

O Rex Gentium
O Rex Gentium, 
et desideratus earum, 
lapisque angularis, qui facis utraque unum:
veni, et salva hominem,  
quem de limo formasti.

O King of the nations, and their desire, 
the cornerstone making both one: 
Come and save the human race,
which you fashioned from clay.

Readings from the book of the prophet Isaiah, 2: 4 - 
He shall judge between the nations, and shall arbitrate for many peoples; they shall beat their swords into ploughshares, and their spears into pruning-hooks; nation shall not lift up sword against nation, neither shall they learn war anymore.

and 9: 6 -  For a child has been born for us, a son given us; authority rests upon his shoulders; and he is named Wonderful Counsellor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. 

Today's antiphon, with its metaphor of humanity as fashioned from clay, reminds me of the work of Anthony Gormely.  It fascinates me: particularly the way in which he brings people together to create living art.  It is a collaborative process, one in which place and space are explored.
His most recent project was a live piece entitled One and Other - or what came to be known, in shorthand, by the place and space on and in which it was created: the plinth, Trafalgar Square.  Another of his works, the Field Project has seen the creation of hundreds of thousands of tiny clay figures.  This too, was a community-oriented project, in which Gormley enlisted local groups of people to make the figures, in a sense, representing themselves and creating what he calls 'surrogate populations'.  The collected figures are compelling.
The link to the Field Project has an interview with Gormley from a couple of years ago, discussing the project.  In it he comments on space and lack: the viewer, confronted in a room filled with these small figures can feel crowded out... and yet the focus of the gaze of all the figures is on that which they lack: life.  He notes on the sensation of the viewer feeling somehow diminished, excluded and unimportant that: 'Well you are important. You are where all those gazes want to be. They want what they haven’t got, which is life and you haven’t got what they have, which is this space. There is a kind of exchange of lack.'   

It is this phrase 'exchange of lack' that strikes a chord.
And yet... in the incarnation, it is less an exchange of lack - lack for lack, than an unequal and wonderful exchange: life for lack.
We are like the little clay figures gazing at God, wanting life, movement, breath and being.
And in the child in the manger, we are offered life in abundance.
Do we dare to live a life fully lived?
O come, o come, and save us from the life half-lived that we may rejoice in you...

Oh, come, Desire of nations, bind
In one the hearts of all mankind;
Oh, bid our sad divisions cease,
And be yourself our King of Peace.
Rejoice! Rejoice! Emmanuel
Shall come to you, O Israel!

Monday, 21 December 2009

O Oriens...

O Oriens                                                                           

O Oriens, 
splendor lucis aeternae, et sol justitiae:  
veni, et illumina sedentes in tenebris, et umbra mortis.

         O Morning Star, 
         splendour of light eternal and sun of righteousness:
        Come and enlighten those who dwell in darkness and the shadow of death.
A reading from the book of the prophet Isaiah, 9: 2

The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light; those who lived in a land of deep darkness—on them light has shined.

Accept surprises
that upset your plans
shatter your dreams,
give a completely
different turn
to your day
and - who knows? -
to your life.
It is not chance.

Leave the Father free
himself to weave
the pattern of your days.
                 Dom Helder Camara in A Thousand Reasons For Living

Oh, come, our Dayspring from on high,
And cheer us by your drawing nigh,
Disperse the gloomy clouds of night,
And death's dark shadows put to flight.
Rejoice! Rejoice! Emmanuel
Shall come to you, O Israel!

O Clavis David...

O Clavis David
O Clavis David, et sceptrum domus Israel;
qui aperis, et nemo claudit;
claudis, et nemo aperit:
veni, et educ vinctum de domo carceris,
sedentem in tenebris, et umbra mortis.
O Key of David and sceptre of the House of Israel; 
you open and no one can shut;  
you shut and no one can open: 
Come and lead the prisoners from the prison house, 
those who dwell in darkness and the shadow of death.

readings from the book of the Prophet Isaiah:
9: 7 His authority shall grow continually, and there shall be endless peace for the throne of David and his kingdom. He will establish and uphold it with justice and with righteousness from this time onwards and for evermore.
22: 22  I will place on his shoulder the key of the house of David; he shall open, and no one shall shut; he shall shut, and no one shall open.
42: 7 To open the blind eyes, to bring out the prisoners from the prison, and them that sit in darkness out of the prison house.

I've just finished reading The Alchemist.  It is a brief novel telling the story of a young shepherd's search for hidden treasure.
The search takes him beyond all he has ever known: family, friends and the fancying glances at a girl in one of the villages he travels through.
The search is costly: he sells his sheep - his livelihood and security, he is beaten and robbed, he trusts and is betrayed, he faces death.
The search is a voyage of discovery: he meets guides - good and bad, he finds out that his heart is the best guide and learns to listen to it....
Many times he thinks of ending the search for the treasure, but something always turns up to compel him to keep going.
He does and finds that which has been sought for over time.
One of the  factors that keeps him searching is found in watching the lives of others: others who have chosen not to find the treasures of the heart, but to close themselves off to the possibility - either through fear or idleness.  They are happy enough... and yet... sometimes from deep below the surface, the murmur of vague discontent, the heart's yearnings to seek the life that should have been sought, emerge briefly....  It is enough to encourage the boy that unless he seeks his treasure with all his heart, he will never rest.

Which reminds me of Augustine and his search for God...
'Late have I loved you, O Beauty ever ancient, ever new, late have I loved you!
You were within me, but I was outside, and it was there that I searched for you.
... You called, you shouted, and you broke through my deafness.
You flashed, you shone, and you dispelled my blindness.
You breathed your fragrance on me;
I drew in breath and now I pant for you.
I have tasted you, now I hunger and thirst for more.
You touched me, and I burned for your peace.'  Confessions.

O Key of David
Open our fearful, timid hearts.
Shut out the sounds of gnawing, biting doubts
that eat away the fruit of your promises
and which imprison us
and which close the door upon the greatest journey:
the treasure
that is you.

Oh, come, O Key of David, come,
And open wide our heav'nly home;
Make safe the way that leads on high,
And close the path to misery.
Rejoice! Rejoice! Emmanuel
Shall come to you, O Israel!

Saturday, 19 December 2009

O Radix Jesse...

O Radix Jesse
O Radix Jesse, qui stas in signum populorum,
super quem continebunt reges os suum,
quem Gentes deprecabuntur:
veni ad liberandum nos, jam noli tardare.
O Root of Jesse, standing as a sign among the peoples; 
before you kings will shut their mouths,     
to you the nations will make their prayer:   
Come and deliver us, and delay no longer.

A reading from the book of the prophet Isaiah, 11: 10 -
On that day the root of Jesse shall stand as a signal to the peoples; the nations shall inquire of him, and his dwelling shall be glorious.

 I'm currently playing about with the word 'witness' within the context of a chapter in the thesis.  It is a hugely loaded word - multiple levels, multiple layers, of meaning and I'm enjoying the digging down through the layers.  The text from Isaiah states that 'the root of Jesse shall stand as a signal' - the root of Jesse as a witness of God to the people of God and reaching beyond those who would think within terms of particularity... reaching out to all peoples, to all nations.
Perhaps the root of Jesse witnesses to the paradox of God's particularity which encompasses all humanity?
All loved,
all favoured,
all God's own.
Definitions once again overturned as God refines, and defines.

Oh, come O Rod of Jesse's stem,
From ev'ry foe deliver them
That trust your mighty pow'r to save;
Bring them in vict'ry through the grave.
Rejoice! Rejoice! Emmanuel
Shall come to you, O Israel!

Friday, 18 December 2009

O Adonai...

O Adonai 

O Adonai, et Dux domus Israel, 
qui Moysi in igne flammae rubi apparuisti, 
et ei in Sina legem dedisti:
veni ad redimendum nos in brachio extento.

O Adonai, and leader of the House of Israel, 
who appeared to Moses in the fire of the burning bush
and gave him the law on Sinai: 
Come and redeem us with an outstretched arm.
a reading from the book of the prophet Isaiah, 11: 4-5 -
with righteousness he shall judge the poor, and decide with equity for the meek of the earth;
he shall strike the earth with the rod of his mouth, and with the breath of his lips he shall kill the wicked.
Righteousness shall be the belt around his waist, and faithfulness the belt around his loins.

O Adonai:

You stretch out your arm to redeem:
no 'slacker' God -
no casual God -
but passionately,
calling us close.
God at full stretch:
reaching out,
reaching in,
moving in our lives.
God appearing:
eternal, boundless -
breaking into finite time and space.
Becoming human:
Righteous ruler:
voice of the voiceless,
liberator of the oppressed,
beacon of justice
shining hope into the world.
O Adonai.

Oh, come, oh, come, our Lord of might,
Who to your tribes on Sinai's height
In ancient times gave holy law,
In cloud and majesty and awe.
Rejoice! Rejoice! Emmanuel
Shall come to you, O Israel! 

Thursday, 17 December 2009

'O' is for the O Antiphons of Advent... O Sapientia

Over the next seven days, as we come speeding down the final stretch of Advent, we meet one of the great liturgical traditions: the O Antiphons.
The O Antiphons were the inspiration for that great hymn 'O Come, O Come Emmanuel'.
Each of the seven antiphons is based on the words of the prophet Isaiah, and is a name / attribute of Christ.  In the Latin texts, the first initial of each of the words run as:  S - A - R - C - O - R - E.
Reversed, in Latin, it becomes 'Ero Cras', meaning 'tomorrow I will come' - so a mirror image, if you like, of the antiphons.  And on the 'mirror' theme, my plan for this next seven days is to hold up a reflective mirror to the antiphons....
And so we start with:

O Sapientia - O Wisdom...

O Sapientia, quae ex ore Altissimi prodiisti, 
attingens a fine usque ad finem,
fortiter suaviterque disponens omnia:   
veni ad docendum nos viam prudentiae.
O Wisdom, coming forth from the mouth of the Most High,
reaching from one end to the other mightily,
and sweetly ordering all things:
Come and teach us the way of prudence.

From the book of the prophet Isaiah, 11: 2,3 -
The spirit of the Lord shall rest on him, the spirit of wisdom and understanding,
the spirit of counsel and might, the spirit of knowledge and the fear of the Lord.
His delight shall be in the fear of the Lord.
He shall not judge by what his eyes see, or decide by what his ears hear;
28: 29 -
This also comes from the Lord of hosts;
he is wonderful in counsel, and excellent in wisdom.

Earlier this year, I was wondering just what wisdom is.
Moving towards the birth of Jesus, this first of the O Antiphons is a powerful reminder of God overturning definitions, of refusing to be contained by what we might call common sense pragmatism.
How wise is it, to come into a harsh, and terrifying world,
a world in which life is cheap and where might and power crush the weak and the vulnerable?
To save the world from itself, surely the wise thing would have been to match power with power, to fight might with might?
And yet...
Wisdom is born:
in a draughty stable.
Wisdom is heard:
in the wail of a child.
Wisdom is seen:
in the tiny scrap of human flesh,
brought shivering into the world,
dependant on the hospitality of the human heart to take him in.
God all powerful,
God all vulnerable.
Overturning delusions and illusions of what power truly is.
Wisdom is born when we, too, like him are prepared to strip away the defences,
to be vulnerable,
to be real.   
O Sapientia, O Wisdom,
teach us your wisdom this day, and always.

O come, O come, Emmanuel.

Wednesday, 16 December 2009

Ten reasons why... men just shouldn't be ordained

It's been seen before in other places, but the following 10 reasons on why men should not be ordained still makes me grin.  I quite like #7  :)

10. A man’s place is in the army.

9. For men who have children, their duties might distract them from the responsibilities of being a

8. Their physical build indicates that men are more suited to tasks such as chopping down trees and wrestling mountain lions. It would be “unnatural” for them to do other forms of work.

7. Man was created before woman. It is therefore obvious that man was a prototype. Thus, they represent an experiment, rather than the crowning achievement of creation.

6. Men are too emotional to be priests or pastors. This is easily demonstrated by their conduct at football games and watching basketball tournaments.

5. Some men are handsome; they will distract women worshipers.

4. To be ordained pastor is to nurture the congregation. But this is not a traditional male role. Rather, throughout history, women have been considered to be not only more skilled than men at nurturing, but also more frequently attracted to it. This makes them the obvious choice for ordination.

3. Men are overly prone to violence. No really manly man wants to settle disputes by any means other than by fighting about it. Thus, they would be poor role models, as well as being dangerously unstable in positions of leadership.

2. Men can still be involved in church activities, even without being ordained. They can sweep paths, repair the church roof, change the oil in the church vans, and maybe even lead the singing on Father’s Day. By confining themselves to such traditional male roles, they can still be vitally important in the life of the Church.

1. In the New Testament account, the person who betrayed Jesus was a man. Thus, his lack of faith and ensuing punishment stands as a symbol of the subordinated position that all men should take.

Monday, 14 December 2009

'handles for forks...' and other Advent songs!

Over Advent we have been singing a wee ditty after the lighting of the Advent candle/ prayer/ kids talk.
The last verse begins, seemingly innocuously, with:
When we have four candles...

It is now getting harder and harder to sing it without totally corpsing, and am enjoying immensely the choir's valiant effort not to... and to keep very straight faces.  Here's why:

Friday, 11 December 2009

'N' is for...

New College...
on a foggy early morning - [in what is a delayed 'alphabet of gratitude' posting!]

I love it when it's a proper, good old fashioned foggy day in the 'Old Town' of the 'burgh.  And it makes New College look even more like Hogwarts.  So, giving thanks for being at this venerable institution today: for the incredible privilege of being able to do my doctorate in 16th c. Scottish Church history here and for the privilege of being able to train for ministry in the kirk.

Pic on the left is of the steps in the New College quad, leading up to the entrance where the General Assembly meets each year in May.
Pic on the right is taken from the bottom of the Mound, looking up from by the National Gallery of Scotland.

Tuesday, 8 December 2009

Madonna and Child...

Although this coming Sunday should, in theory, be about John the Baptist, we're not going there due to a Nativity play the following week during worship.  Instead, this Sunday, we'll focus on Mary and angel voices and suchlike.  As part of worship, I'll be reflecting on Mary and possibly using this poem I wrote a wee while back:

Madonna and Child

So young,
so young to bear the One
to bear the weight
of all the world
inside your womb
and yet,
to bear that weight
has always been
a woman's fate,
her lot.

So small,
so small first-born for all
who bears the weight
of pain and weeps
and heals the wounds
and yet,
who bears that weight
as Son of Man
for pure love's-sake,
as God.
                   c. Nikki Macdonald
                                               picture by Sieger Koder

Saturday, 5 December 2009

Advent 2C: 'Be Prepared... to be amazed' - sermon for Sunday 6th Dec '09

Sermon for Sunday 6th Dec. '09   

Readings: Malachi 3: 1-4; Philippians 1: 1-11; Luke 1: 68-79

In a far away land,
In a far away time,
There lived a people oppressed by a foreign power…
Occasionally, some amongst them would shake their fists at their overlords, and some would rebel…
but they were too weak and too powerless to resist for long. 
Mostly, the people kept their heads down and just got on with the business of living and making the best out of a bad situation.
In this far away land, so long ago,
the people felt forgotten by their God…

In their distant past, their God had travelled with their ancestors,
had rescued them from other opressers
and spoken with them through inspired visionaries – prophets…
The voices of the prophets had given hope, reassurance, in the dark times…
The voices of the prophets warned and promised:
Warned of judgement, spoke of justice,
promised God’s mercy, rescue, love and grace.
But the prophets had long since gone.
God seemed far away.
And then…
the silence was broken by the cries of a wailing infant.
A prophet was born.
His name was John.

John was the answer to prayer of a childless couple: Elizabeth and Zechariah.  And it was said by folk far and wide that the hand of the Lord was upon John and all wondered what would become of him.
And Zechariah, filled with awe, thanksgiving and the Holy Spirit prophesied:
He saw God once again saving his people – liberating them from oppression.
He saw the beginnings of God’s promise to his ancestors coming true, coming to fulfillment…
 and his son was the one who would usher in that fulfillment… preparing the way, preparing God’s people…
John, prophet of the Highest.
John, messenger of God.
God’s voice once again sounded through the land in John’s words of repentance, salvation, forgiveness, and compassion. 
In John’s message were words of light and life and peace and hope.
John’s words were words of preparation for the One who would follow, who would be greater than him:
‘Be prepared.
Be prepared to see
what God has done
what God Is doing
What God will do…..
Clear the decks
Make the roads straight
Get rid of the obstacles…
Get rid of anything that will stop you hearing and seeing what God is doing’
That, in a nutshell, was what John was all about – calling God’s people to stop, look, listen and prepare:
To be prepared for the coming of Christ.

And if we were to continue reading the gospel, we’d find out that many people did listen to John, messenger of God.
They flocked to hear -
And, on hearing
They chose to change, to repent…
to turn their lives around to face God, not look the other way.

And, there were also those who didn’t listen.
They were just busy getting on with their lives
And the sounds of their busyness blocked out the sound of God’s words….
God’s life-giving words.
…Such extraordinary words –
Words about God’s Word – Jesus –
God become human... Jesus - 
God’s ‘extraordinary’ Word…
The Word ignored in the routine humdrum of the everyday.
But whether God’s people responded or not,
Whether God’s people prepared… or not.. light grew in the darkness regardless…
a light which the darkness has never been able to fully extinguish:
the light which shines, on those who live in the darkness under the shadow of death….

On this second Sunday in the season we call ‘Advent’ we encounter John… who called God’s people so long ago to prepare for an encounter with God.
And down through the years, John continued to call God’s people to prepare to encounter God…
And his message meets us here … now …
In this time
In this place.

As we were reminded last week, Advent is the season of waiting… and in the waiting time, we, too, prepare to encounter God.

It can be a hard thing to swim against the tide of tinsel and glitter in the headlong rush to Christmas.
In the jangle of tills and the jingle of carols we find it harder and harder to hear God’s voice…
Pressurised to worship at the altar of consumerism, to worship the retail God who is never satisified, it takes all the energy we can muster to fight against it and to remember the real ‘reason for the season’…
We can easily get caught on the merry-go-round that seems to twirl faster and faster ….
Almost unable to stop and take time.
But sometimes… the busyness is also a way of avoiding that encounter with God. 

The reading from Malachi talks of God’s coming in dramatic terms:
Of a refining fire, of purification…  
Malachi says:
‘Who can endure the day of his coming?  Who can stand firm when he appears?’
Perhaps sometimes it just feels safer to hide under the tinsel and glitter?

Dietrich Bonhoeffer, a German pastor killed by the Nazis for speaking out against Hitler,   talked of the way we sometimes approach this encounter with God.  He said:  
‘We have become so accustomed to the idea of divine love and of God’s coming at Christmas that we no longer feel the shiver of fear that God’s coming should arouse in us.  We are indifferent to the message, taking only the pleasant and agreeable out of it and forgetting the serious aspect:  
that the God of the world draws near to the people of our little earth and lays claim to us.   
The coming of God is truly not only glad tidings, but first of all frightening news for every one who has a conscience.
Only when we have felt the terror of the matter, can we recognize the incomparable kindness. 

God comes into the very midst of evil and of death, and judges the evil in us and in the world.  
And by judging us, God cleanses and sanctifies us, comes to us with grace and love.’
Dietrich was a man who knew at first-hand what it was to have the light of hope in the darkest of times and in the darkest of places. 

In this time,
In this place,
how are we preparing to encounter God, made flesh, this Advent?
John’s words challenge us.

They force us to stop,
to think…
And to ask questions: 
Is there something we need to do to make it easier for Christ to enter our terrain… and to be known in the world?  
Is there some path through our souls which we need to straighten, to smooth? 
Is there some mountain of an obstacle that needs to be levelled so that Christ will meet less resistance in us?[1]

As we prepare to encounter God, I’m reminded of an old Celtic saying about meeting Christ in the stranger’s guise. 
It reminds us that we are all created in the image of God…
As we encounter one another – even, or especially in the midst of this busy waiting and preparing time – are we prepared to see and to encounter Christ in one another?  As Paul saw Christ in and at work in the lives of the Philippians, do we see and encourage one another to be little Christ’s?

Someone once said that Advent is ‘preparing for the long view :
we reflect on the coming of Christ…
past, present and future.' [2]
Christ past – in the miracle in the stable in Bethlehem;
Christ present – born again in our lives now;
Christ future – when he will come again at the completion of all things.’
Advent is a time that prepares us for more than Christmas…
At Christmas it is right to sing the well-loved carols of joy, that tell the story of the Christ-child… but the story is bigger, so much bigger:
We are also telling the story of the God who sees the pain of His people and who breaks into His world to lead us out of pain and darkness. 
God gives birth to hope where there is despair,
Light where there is shadow,
And life where there is death.[3]
It is the greatest story
A story deep and rich and beautiful;
A story which lasts forever;
A story that makes sense to prepare ourselves for.

If we stop and listen, perhaps we might just hear a miracle:
The beating of a tiny heart…
The heartbeat of the One who became one with us and for us.
Let’s watch.
And prepare to be amazed as we encounter God.  …

Let us pray:
Loving God
You are not distant or detached
You meet us where we are.
In this season of Advent
Help us prepare to look for you behind the tinsel and the glitter,
That we may worship you in spirit and in truth,
and in hope-filled joy.  Amen. 

[1] See Jan Richardson's fabby site The Advent Door
[2] Rev. Dr. David A. Killian on the wonderful Sermon Nuggets site
[3] from the wonderful Gord Waldie

Friday, 4 December 2009

Advent Conspiracy

This wee movie kinda sums up some of the thoughts I've been having over the last couple of days...

Monday, 30 November 2009

Santa, Baby...?

Christmas time is here, by golly,
Disapproval would be folly,
Deck the halls with hunks of holly,
Fill the cup and don't say "when."
Kill the turkeys, ducks and chickens,
Mix the punch, drag out the Dickens,
Even though the prospect sickens,
Brother, here we go again.

No, no, no, no, no! 
It is not Christmas time yet!
It's the first week of Advent - a season often trampled to death in the rush to the shops, and lost amongst the sparkle of lights and decorations for Christmas.   
[Think the earliest Christmas tree sighting for me was at the beginning of September in the local pub!] 
In the midst of a growing frenzy of activity and of the ever-increasing demands of 'consumer-god', who is never satisfied, the noise of jingles - tills and carols - blocks our ears.
But if we stop and listen... perhaps we might just hear a miracle: the tiny heartbeat of the One who became one with us and for us.... 
and prepare to be amazed.

Friday, 27 November 2009

It's bin a busy week... :)

Monday making sure all papers present and correct...for

Tuesday morning: appointment concerning citizenship application - an early morning drive to Carluke - South Lanarkshire Council being the only local authority in Scotland to have opted into the UK government's Nationality Checking Service [meaning you don't have to send valuable documents away like passports and such like to the Home Office... who are currently taking about 6 months to process citizenship applications].  Really super interview - the person on duty was incredibly helpful, and exceptionally nice... more than just a  civil servant - a lovely one.  So, within the next six months, all paperwork now done and submitted, I shall hopefully be a UK citizen... after having finally gotten around to it after 18 years of living here!
Tuesday evening: dinner party chez moi... learnt a lot about spiritualism from a New College PG friend who happens to be a medium.  He's lovely and was very generous with regards to letting me ask lots of gormless questions.  What I found fascinating was the way we used language: there were words that were the same and yet meant quite different things....  Still unpacking - it's quite an unknown area for me and a very different world view.

Wednesday: church supervision - Advent / Christmas / Epiphany discussions.

Thursday: graduation day - I am now BD [hons], MTh by Research...  was a lovely but surreal day.  The uber boss of the university, Timothy O'Shea talked of us being released from the slavery of our studies... I think I muttered under my breath, 'well some of you have been!'  It is an odd thing to be graduating and yet doing the doctoral research at the same time!!! 

And today... after the graduation of yesterday, am now back in the office, about to wrestle with Mr Knox once more.

Life is slightly crazy, but I suspect I wouldn't have it any other way... :)

Monday, 23 November 2009

a simple act of mindfulness...

Wantonly stole this idea from Danny's blog! Who borrowed it from someone else, who borrowed it from 'the simple woman's daybook' blog. It's a nice idea... so thought I'd play along and practice 'mindfulness'...

FOR TODAY... Monday 23rd Nov, 2009:
Outside my window... is, as ever, the vaguely uninspiring mini carpark which takes you out to the Royal Mile, where I can see tourists walking by - all wrapped up in winter woollies and waterproofs.  

I am thinking... that I'd really better do some serious John Knox wrestling for the thesis.

I am thankful for... a warm, quiet room, the occasional passing grins of my colleagues and that I actually do get to spend time wrestling with John Knox on a daily basis and that I'm paid to do so!

I am usual student uniform of jeans and black polo-neck jumper and my natty and very comfy new shoes which don't let the rain in - yay!

I am creating... a thesis of wonder and delight?!

I am going... down to the Rainy Hall - which looks a little like Hogwart's - for my lunch in a very short while.  Alternatively, I am going quietly insane, but this has been a lifelong journey, so it's all good, really.

I am reading... John Knox's 'Order of the General Fast, 1565'

I am hoping... to stop reading the above at some point this week and have it all analysed and written up into a beautiful and potentially uniquely wonderful conference paper.... But at this point, just finishing the thing would be good too.

I am hearing... the gentle clatter clatter of folks writing on keyboards.

Around the house... is a fireplace that needs to be cleared from the debris from last night's gorgeously lovely and cheering fire; several large dust-motes which have been around so long that they now have names; swathes of notes and books on my kitchen table for both thesis and worship preparation; washing on the line that really should come in today and dry via the central heating.

One of my favorite things... drinking coffee with friends - which I will be doing this afternoon - result!

A few plans for the rest of the week... continue the citizenship process by visiting the lovely toon of Carluke on Tues, to meet with the Nationality Checking Service peeps; Wed. meeting with church placement supervisor and planning and prepping for Advent/ Christmas services and activities; Thurs. is the little matter of my Masters graduation, followed by a nice lunch with pals; and Sat. is a wee jaunt to North Berwick to see a friend's new house and to have lunch together.  Nice week!!

Here is picture for thought I am sharing... the preferred way of doing the Doctoral thesis!!!!!

Friday, 20 November 2009

'M' is for...

...time to think thoughts of thanksgiving once more [not as in the holiday of that name - tho' we are apparently close to the date!] and today's letter is the letter 'M', which is for:

Morning and movement: this morning's walk from Iona Abbey in the darkness before dawn to the Jetty...
seeing and hearing the waves of a very full tide crashing on the jetty, smelling the salt, watching the stars...
waiting and watching the twinkle of tiny ferry lights slowly approaching from Mull to come and collect an odd assortment of folk...
morning light breaking over Mull as the bus travelled from ferry to next ferry... morning munchies on the MV Isle of Mull - sausage and egg roll with steaming hot chocolate.  Excellent and wonderful and exhausting and exhilarating all in one.

MTh - and having survived it - and for Masters graduation on the 26th Nov. even while now guddled in the midst of the Doctorate... and so it goes on!!  :)

Music.... and ... Mendelssohn given the Iona/ Hebridean morning... and for the very evocative Fingal's Cave:

Tuesday, 17 November 2009

be back soon...

On Iona...
normal service will recommence shortly...

If you're going to have to be in a lot of committee meetings, at least it's a nice place to endure them :)

carved hands, Iona Abbey cloisters...

Thursday, 12 November 2009

Ordinary 33, Yr B 'it's the end of the world as we know it, and I feel fine'

Some thoughts for this coming Sunday....
Psalm 16 
Mark 13: 1-8
Hebrews 10: 19-25 

Was involved in a 'flurry of emails' style discussion the other day with a friend and noted the apocalyptic delights awaiting those of us who tend to follow the lectionary cycle for preaching.  I remember saying 'well, you've got to love the apocalyptic readings... no, really, you do... nobody else does.'  

Readings this Sunday include Mark 13: 1-8, in which Jesus predicts such cheerful matters as the destruction of the temple, wars and rumours of wars, earthquakes, famines and alien invas... um, maybe not the aliens bit.  But certainly the pre-cursor signs signifying the end of the world as we know it.  

So what are we to make of all of this stuff?  My sense is, that when it comes to such readings, folks like La Haye and Jenkins with their whole money-spinning 'Left Behind' business have a lot to answer for. But they are not the first ones to jump on the doom and gloom bandwagon - they follow a looong historical path.  Johnny Knox made fine use of judgement and apocalypse [having moved on from Order of Excommunicaiton, I'm now working on his Order of the General Fast - oh happy day] and so it goes right back to the early church.   What I've always wondered is why this particular path continues to be walked down... but then, not only is fear good for business, it's a useful form of social control.  What conveniently seems to be forgotten is hope.  

So even in the midst of terrible things, as I read the passage from Mark, what strikes me is not fear, but hope.... Jesus says 'do not be alarmed'... it's sort of the textual equivalent of carrying a towel with the words 'don't panic' printed on it [not being one to resist a good Hitchhikers Guide reference wherever possible!].  Teamed up with the latter half of the Hebrews text, [Hebrews 10: 19-25] the reason not to panic can be seen.... 
Although things can appear to be awful - things collapsing, wars, violence - 
we have confidence to approach God, and we also have hope, because He who has promised is faithful.
While a normal reaction on reading apocalyptic literature might be one of fear, the actual purpose is often the opposite: it's to instil hope.
It's to remind us that God's in charge.
The Mark passage talks of 'birthpangs' - it's not the end... it's a new beginning.  
And the writer to the Hebrews talks of 'a new and living way.  

These passages are hope-filled passages, not fear-filled passages... 
They're about: 
transformation and restoration,
and also reconciliation...
the healing of old hurts. 

Teamed up with the psalm for the day, Psalm 16, we get a picture of who we have faith in... believing in God who:
we cry for protection and God is our refuge;
we seek wisdom and God gives good counsel/ instructs us; 
we feel abandoned or afraid and we are reminded that God is constantly at our side and never lets us go;
we despair and God teaches us to rejoice and makes our hearts glad [and not in a Pollyanna kind of way];
we are lost, or not quite sure of the way, and God shows us the path of life.

Change will come - and that can make us a little fearful.
Change will come - that's always been a given in a finite universe.
But that change is in the hands of the One who holds all things and who is faithful, and who loves us.
That change will be a radical transformation of all we've ever known. 
To steal a line from Star Trek: 'it looks like life, Jim, but not as we know it....'  

The end is just the beginning, and that beginning is greater than our wildest imaginings.  
The 'Day' is approaching.
The 'end' is nigh.
'It's the end of the world as we know it... and I feel fine'

Tuesday, 10 November 2009

the wheels of uni. admin go 'round and 'round...

Oh. good. grief. 

I have spent the last couple of days wrangling with various admin. departments at university trying to get permission to graduate.  
MTh had been submitted at the end of August.  Moving into the doctoral programme, I wasn't able to officially matriculate until the College that the School is a part of had sent word to Registry.  
Several weeks later, my identity as 'student without status' came to an end and I was allowed to matriculate as all my results had been received by the College.  
thinking life was hunky dory and graduation was in sight for the end of November, I continued getting to grips with the thesis, waiting for the College to send out notification of the award... 
which I would then send to Registry to enable me to graduate....            

and waited...                                         

and waited...
and the deadline loomed... 
there's a 3 week cut-off point, after which you can't graduate and have to wait for the next lot of graduations [winter and summer].
Waiting stopped.
Pro-active initiative [induced by slight alarm] seized the day.

I began to chase it up last week as time was rushing past.
I talked to Registry...
they confirmed I could not register until I had been given my award...
I talked to the College of Humanities...
They told me to register for graduation.
I went back to Registry...
Then back to the College, asking why, given that they had all my records and had allowed me to actually matriculate... why couldn't I graduate please?

I began to get dizzy...
verrrrry dizzy.
Circular discussions have a way of doing that to a person.
After several hours yesterday and today chasing all of this at last:

Letter of award sent to me via email from College whilst simultaneously on the phone to Registry guy who was telling me the deadline had just passed but we could do this... but we needed confirmation from College committee who were meeting on the 16th to discuss the MTh Research major dissertation folks... oh, but this was waaaaaay too late to graduate... oh, wait a minute... ahhh, we have an email... you'll be okay.

Still with me?  
after all this running around, to-ing and fro-ing... 
Cinderella does get to go to the graduation after all.  
Not so sure about a mate of mine, who is still in the dark about whether he has passed or not.

Sing with me...
The wheels of uni. admin go 'round and 'round
'round and 'round
'round and 'round
The wheels of uni. admin go 'round and 'round
all day long... 

Still, the admin. labyrinth of academia is good training for the church, I suspect!
[cartoon from Dave Walker]

Sunday, 8 November 2009

...and now for something completely different: the ukelele

carrying on the theme of 'tainted'... the Re-entrants and their magical ukeleles: hit it boys

Saturday, 7 November 2009

there's nothing that is not tainted, and nothing which can't be redeemed

Okay, I'm struggling a little with something....

It is good to have good intentions
[although the road to Hell is apparently also paved with them].
It is good to act on those good intentions.
It is even better when good intentions are acted upon in as ethical a manner as possible.
So far... so 'good', but what happens in a world which is full of contradictions and multiple shades of greys and underneath so many good acts there is the possibility for sub-texts and agendas to lurk?
There is nothing that is not tainted....

Why am I rambling on about intentions - the good, the bad or the just downright ugly?  I need to try and tease something out in my head to which there are no 'right' answers... and the wisdom of friends is welcomed here.  Although I suspect this post won't really make much sense at all...!

I won't go into what prompted this line of thinking - suffice to say it involved good intentions and some comments about the unethical practices of a particular organisation [which was not the organisation that was actually being used, but of course it's always useful to be as fully informed as possible].  This recent situation is not isolated, but similar scenarios have occured from time to time...
trying to wade through the mire in the hope of doing something good,
searching for what is hoped to be the best / most ethical way of doing something...
acting upon it while knowing that no matter how ethical or good an organisation is, that there will be flaws, that there will be folks who are somehow offended by the manner in which that group do something. 
And I've often wondered what one does?
I'm one of life's cheerful optimists, but even I begin to feel paralysed by it all. 
It is a quandary.
If I choose to point fingers at any organisation which might in some way be 'tainted' and refuse to work in some way with them what is the possible outcome?
Do I congratulate myself on the strength of my ideals?
Do the service users/ those who benefit lose out on the support, but warm themselves with the knowledge that at least they won't be helped by an organisation that some see as 'tainted'?

There is nothing that is not tainted...
but do I do nothing?

And then I begin to think that somehow, there is also a subversiveness about the fact that even in the process of using tainted structures for good... they can somehow be redeemed.  And in the very act of employing the structure for good, you have more of a way in to be able to voice concerns and try to effect change from within.
And in the process... people can still be helped.
All things can be used for ill.
But all things can also be used for good.

There is nothing that is not tainted, and nothing which cannot be redeemed.
Hmmm, I am quite Augustinian at times!

Tuesday, 3 November 2009

surveys and questions and stuff like that...

Over at RevGals it is 'meet and greet day' and I'd forgotten about the interview questions they ask... had a look and decided I'd have a crack at them...

1. Where do you blog?
Over at
The Church of Scotland are asking wannabe ministers to keep a journal to encourage us to engage with and in reflective practice... and I thought blogging might comprise a part, but not all, of this. 

2. What are your favourite non-revgal blog pal blogs?
I love, love, love
Peacebang is awesome and hilarious and wonderful. 
I also like Roddy's blog at
He's a liturgical creative genius and all-round good guy.

3. What gives you joy?
Jesus pretty much floats my boat... as does ginger beer, kite-flying on the beach in the sunshine, conversations filled with laughter and love, and the banner pic is the beach at the end of my street - I am blessed indeed to sit on it, listen to the waves, watch wonderful sunsets, be blown along it in the wintry gales, watch the lights twinkling on the other side!

4. What is your favorite sound?
Sitting on the beach at twilight, hearing birdsong and waves.

5. What do you hope to hear once you enter the pearly gates?
'Welcome home!'

6. You have up to 15 words, what would you put on your tombstone?
'And now for the next great adventure...'

7. What color do you prefer your pen?
I presume this is ink, not casing???  If ink - and if a proper fountain pen as opposed to a throw-away cheapie, I love brown ink.

8. What is something you want to achieve in this decade?
Over the next 4.5 years to have done my PhD, finished training for ministry, and found a church to be called to and to be ordained there.  Oh, and to have kept my sanity and sense of humour vaguely intact. 

9. Why are you cool?
I live in Scotland, the frozen wastes of the North, in the UK... I am generally always cool and sometimes very cool... brrrr.

10. What is one of your favorite memories?
A glorious mid-summer in the Orkneys: was a most amazing sunset, casting the most incredible and beautiful light all about the place.  Was sitting in St Magnus Cathedral listening to the Scottish Chamber Orchestra playing 'Fantasia' on a theme from Thomas Tallis by Ralph Vaughn Williams... and the light was drenching the old, old stone a wonderful orange-pink.  I floated out of the concert feeling caught up in a waking dream and then drove with friends to the cliffs looking out to sea, gasping at the loveliness and wonder of it all.

Sunday, 1 November 2009

'rabbits', relaxation, and reflections...

It has been crazy busy over the last wee while.  So busy that I realised I'd fallen into the not taking time off trap - bad Nik.  The susequent knock-on effect of all of that has been utter tiredness and the sense of feeling overwhelmed, not too mention rabbit-in-the-spotlights inability to actually accomplish much at all.
I finally took myself in hand the other day, said cross words to myself, and decided to rationalise some things... and so I've been cutting away some of the mental undergrowth and clutter... as well as divesting myself of a couple of responsibilities.
Much better.  Good plan.
And time off was had Thurs and Fri nights going out with friends and getting my perspective back at last.  Was great doing something other than PhD work or church work: good to feel like I was doing something vaguely normal again.
Within several days I'm surprised by the change and how much more relaxed and focused I finally am.
Hurrah.  I wonder why I always have to re-learn this one?

'Parish by the Forth' placement has been poddling on for nearly a month now and am getting to know new folks and new ways of doing things.
Enjoying it.  Good bunch of people.
So utterly different from previous 'big Kirk in the toon' placement [which was great, but very, very different indeed!].  And of course, different from having been doing locum in 'leafy parish in the burgh' over summer - where I was just left to get on with stuff.

Am pondering the noticeable difference between degrees of responsibility: between being a placement student with minister;
and locum with more responsibility without minister - but if it goes horribly wrong still not as responsible as minister would be;
and also thinking back to times when I've 'parachuted in' to do the occasional pulpit supply.

There's a sense of slight surrealism being back in supervised placement after the freedom of the summer locum - it's fine, I'm not chafing under the bit... it just feels slightly odd, lol!!!

Am also teasing out difference between gathered church and local community church dynamics and particularly what it is like to be living in the parish in which I'm also working - I wanted to try to get an understanding of what the 'goldfish bowl' felt like and it certainly is providing food for reflective thought - will blog on that at a later point.  The immediate effect is that I find myself walking down the street and smiling at anybody who walks by for fear of being told I've totally ignored someone.  Sigh!!  I'm sure this will settle itself down, but it's definitely an odd feeling.

I am very much enjoying the fact that there are kids around - even if that does mean having to occasionally do all-age addresses - like this morning.  Which was a hoot and very interactive and seemed to go well.  I have a group of small people who seem to have now befriended me, which is lovely.

I'm also getting to grips with the 'everyday stuff of life' such as visiting folks....  At some point I really want to take a bit of time to sift through my thoughts but this is being blogged almost as a 'note to self' for later.

I'm currently working my way quietly through a list given to me by my church supervisor.
There is a vast world of difference on several levels when it comes to visiting because of a need: baptism/ wedding/ funeral/ home communion, and the 'just popping in to say hello' visit.  I find the former much easier - guess I'm just more used to that sort of visiting - than the latter.  Might be a good exercise to sit down and ask 'why' the 'popping in' visit feels a little more tricky.  And yet this afternoon's visit was very good, and out of it stuff arose that was immensely satisfying.  As opposed to visit on Tues where I felt it hard, hard, hard to get any conversation and yet I knew it had been appreciated.  Ah well.

This week is prep. for Remembrance service on Sunday, more visiting, Guild on Wednesday.  At some point, my thesis may even get a wee look in.  But I am pleased to be feeling more in step with everything.

Tuesday, 20 October 2009

'Passing' thoughts

It's funny, when I really boil it all down, how much the context of identity comes into play in my research.  How a group or a society perceives itself is often found in the laws/ codes of conduct it creates and the church is no exception.  Who is out?  Who is in?  Who makes the rules determining who is in and who is out? Who can be a citizen or who can't - whether in the community of the kindom of heaven on earth or, in the more prosaic sense, in the community found through national identity?

Although having grown up on that big island, Australia, smaller islands also play their part in my genetic makeup...Lewis to the west, and Eday to the north....  I have lived here in Scotland nearly 18 years and have strongly identified with the notion of 'home' as being here.  I remember the first time I crossed the border from England: sitting on a train bound for Edinburgh and crossing the imaginary line dividing up geography and culture and outlook. I had an overwhelming feeling of finally being 'home'.  I had not, at that point, physically ever set foot in the place and yet somewhere deep within - maybe the land, maybe my ancestral DNA - called out with a wild, fierce joy: identity and belonging are powerful things.

And so today I sat, and passed, a small test as part of the journey to make official what is already a matter of the heart.  It doesn't deny the Australian side of me: I rejoice in that too... but perhaps moving towards UK citizenship is about rejoicing in that other part of me as well.  This way, perhaps, both halves are acknowledged, combined and comprise an integrated whole?  But whatever this is all about, I'm glad I'm doing it.  It puts an identifier marker in the sand perhaps.

And the tie in with my research?  It's loose, but... my Masters thesis has been dealt with: I not only pass, but meet the criteria to continue onwards and do the Doctorate [which I've sort of been doing anyway] - research which continues to have at its heart issues of identity.
All is well and all is busy and all is very good indeed.

Monday, 19 October 2009

'L' is for ...

'Life in the UK test' not sure if it's a quite a 'gratitude' thing yet... but I'll be taking this test Tues 10.30am.
Perhaps the point of thanksgiving here is in the fact that, suddenly, I have found it useful to be an early modern historian: the online practice tests keep coming up with huguenots as an answer to a migration question.  Nothing like a bit of random knowledge to throw at folks.  Bet most Brits don't know which group of immigrants arrived in the UK in the 17th c. due to religious persecution....!!!  Why does one need to know this, I ask myself?!
Watch this space for pass or fail result.... I swear the percentage questions regarding what percentage of Brits are N. Irish/ or Scottish/ or Welsh/ or English will come up, as will the how many constituencies are there in the UK... and how many MSP's are there / where would one find an MSP?  [127, and they're all at the pub, presumably?] 

Thursday, 15 October 2009

'K' is for...

Kermit the frog and the Muppets in general... and for providing lots of childhood grins and giggles 

Knox - as in foxy Knoxy - my 16th c. homie and part of the Scottish reformation landscape, resulting in the which I'm training to be a minister - once Mr Knox has released me from the doctorate :)

Kookaburras, kangaroos and koalas - why is it that 'k' animals are from Oz??

Kindness - the joy of knowing there are some in the world inclined to, and inspired to, practise random acts of kindness 

Kissing - possibly an obvious one!!! 

Krauss... as in Alison Krauss and Union Station - gorgeouso music