Wednesday, 30 September 2009

'H' is for...

Some more from the gently meandering attempt to build an alphabet of gratitude... today's letter being 'H', which is for:

History - mid-late 16th c. Scottish ecclesiastical history in particular... my beloved thesis is set in this era.  Even tho' reading 16th c. Scots is destroying my spelling, it's a fantastic and fabby period to be researching.

Healthcare and hospitals in the UK - given the news from across the pond regarding healthcare costs in the USA, I am more and more thankful for the wonder that is the NHS.

High tide at Fisherrow... especially when it's at the same time as twilight... birds resting resting on the water chatting to each other after a hard day's scavenging, the sounds of small waves splashing on the sand.  All balm for the soul

High days and holidays - special days of celebration, and days of relaxation

Home/ Hospitality  for having a place to hang my hat, a 'sanctuary' space, and a place to share with others... barbecues and dinners and movie nights. Which also links to:

Hanging out - with friends over cups of coffee and good conversations

Humour - that vital safety valve to let off steam as well as to poke fun at my pretentiousness a bit!  Life would be a dull, grey place indeed without this!!

Hugs - self-explanatory, I think!!

Hope: life-giving, life-sustaining... creating spaces of light in the dark... and leading to...

Heaven perhaps?  Understanding that we are 'strangers in a strange land' making our way to our true home... That place where every tear shall be wiped away, where death has been conquered, and where we shall see Him as He truly is

Tuesday, 22 September 2009

Is confession good for the soul? Lectionary thoughts - James 5: 13-20

One of the passages for this coming Sunday, if following the RCL, is found in the epistle of James 5: 13-20...
13Are any among you suffering? They should pray. Are any cheerful? They should sing songs of praise. 14Are any among you sick? They should call for the elders of the church and have them pray over them, anointing them with oil in the name of the Lord. 15The prayer of faith will save the sick, and the Lord will raise them up; and anyone who has committed sins will be forgiven. 16Therefore confess your sins to one another, and pray for one another, so that you may be healed. The prayer of the righteous is powerful and effective. 17Elijah was a human being like us, and he prayed fervently that it might not rain, and for three years and six months it did not rain on the earth. 18Then he prayed again, and the heaven gave rain and the earth yielded its harvest. 19My brothers and sisters, if anyone among you wanders from the truth and is brought back by another, 20you should know that whoever brings back a sinner from wandering will save the sinner’s soul from death and will cover a multitude of sins.

This is a passage which seems to jump about - the author almost seeming to write in what appears to be a fast-moving stream of consciousness.  

It's a passage of 'action' and 'reaction' -
for those who suffer: pray.                                
For those who are cheerful: praise.
It's about community - those who are ill call upon church elders for prayer and anointing with oil [not sure if that's in the current CofS job description for elders?!], and all the community are to confess to one another, and to pray for each other.                                            
It's about faith: an understanding that to pray in faith can cause healing and forgiveness. 
It's about reconciliation... which, in a sense, also ties in with healing and forgiveness.
And in the midst of this passage, verse 16, concerning confession: all are to confess to each other...

Over the last couple of years [and the next couple for that matter] my research has touched upon the identity of the community of the godly as 'holy', and of rituals of confession, penitence and reconciliation: these used in order to effectcontinue the community's holiness.  Perhaps it's why reading the passage, that this particular verse sticks out.                                                                                                                            
Is confession, as the old saying goes, good for the soul? 
But what is confession?
My sense is confession falls into several types:
  • there's the traditional context of confession as the telling of offences one has done - a recounting of one's own sins;
  •  there's also the confession of telling of offences that have been done to one - a recounting of another's sin/s upon you;
  •  there's also the confession of recounting what Christ has done - the confession of belief.
At the heart of all are:
telling - speaking out - verbalising what has happened: sins done, sins perpetrated upon one, sins forgiven by One.
truth - that what is told is held to be true for the one doing the telling.
Simplistic, I know, and stating the flippin' obvious.  However, essentially then, confession is a kind of truth-telling.  Raw, honest, naming a thing for what it is kind of stuff.  So... back to the question: is confession good for the soul?

It's been fascinating to trace the patterns of confession/ dealing with sin historically.  Initially, a movement towards open confession and penitence in the gathered body... then the gradual move to private confession and acts of penance... and with the Reformations a split: the re-formation of private penance via Trent, while the Calvin-inspired [pedantic note - here insert: Bucer/ a Lasco - who are so overlooked but hugely influential on Calvin] Protestant reformers move back to public confession... and who eventually move back to the private realm with the advent of government less closely tied to the kirk....  All that a whistle-stop history that isn't necessarily answering the question.

The James text seems to imply that there's a healing context to confession - here both individually, but also and possibly more importantly, communally.  This would apply to all three types of confession outlined above... and yet, truth-telling - the whole warts 'n all, hard telling of difficult stories is something that we as humans also struggle with - not just to tell, but to truly hear.  I've been thinking a lot recently of one of the conference sessions regarding training for ministry that we had at St Andrews: the context of the confession of sins done by others to the one confessing.  And the reactions of those who hear those particular confessions... disbelief, blame of the victim, a second attack.  In this case, for the one truth-telling something that is painful beyond belief and which may have been put in a jar and placed in a cupboard and locked away for years, the sense of being punched in the gut, the sense of betrayal all over again... makes me wonder: is this confession, this truth-telling good for the soul too?

And yet... to open the cupboard and let the light and fresh air pour in... and to open the jar brings a strange release too, even in the midst of villification and scapegoating.  Scapegoating: I'm thinking about Rene Girard again - he's been a huge influence on my thinking when it comes to inclusion/ exclusion and community.
And Jesus was a truth-teller, confessing the glory and love and grace of God... and was crucified. 
Is confession good for the soul... when it can lead to scapegoating, violence and even death?   
Even in the midst of that, yes, I suspect it is:perhaps there is never a 'good time' for truth-telling/ confession.  It is inconvenient.  It requires the teller and the hearer to respond in some way.  And yet, to be rid of the heavy, heavy stuff which grinds down the life and soul is liberation, brings healing and relief... and while it might not bring about human reconciliation every time, there is a restoration of the soul that does go beyond the pain required by the act of truth-telling.

And in response: how then can I learn to be a compassionate listener to those who are confessing their offences, or confessing the offences done to them...?  And how do I confess Christ compassionately and with grace?   Because when the rubber hits the road, as someone in training for full-time ordained ministry, I am going to be listening to a lot of truth-telling: people telling me their stories.

I guess back to James - who'd say in the text - pray, pray, pray.
And so, some rambling thoughts on an overcast, windy Tuesday....

Monday, 21 September 2009

'G' is for...

Gardens bursting forth in outrageous colours throughout the year; from ordered stately gardens [a favourite is Direlton Castle], to country cottagey helter-skelter and wild flowers in fields and hedgerows... gorgeous.

Gumtrees and their graceful drooping tear-drop leaves... for gum leaves in billy-tea accompanied by freshly cooked damper wound around a smooth gumtree branch... the smell of forest gums... and distant hazy blue on warm summer days when the oil evaporates... mmmmm.

the GĂ idhealtachd - and my Gaelic-speaking grandfather, born at Port of Ness, Isle of Lewis... for an amazing history and language and culture.

Ginger beer - in all its glorious spicy-sweet yumminess.  And remembering the soft 'pop', 'pop', 'pop' of home-brewed bottles occasionally bursting open in the lean-to outside... definitely a childhood summer sound.

Gregorian chant for its complexity and simplicity and beauty: prayer-song floating to heaven and following the musical theme...

Guitar - listening to great guitarists like John Williams - love his version of Concierto de Aranjuez - wonderful, inspiring stuff.
And tho' I'm quite a dire guitarist, I'm glad I taught myself to play years ago, and can sit and strum and sing and just 'be'...

Gloaming a wonderful word for a wonderful time of day: between sunset and nightfall

Gentleness: quiet, soft moments - spoken and unspoken, of tenderness and care and loving-kindness

Gratitude :) and being able to give thanks and maintaining the positivity that defies the urge that would too easily harp and whine and criticise.  And that there is Someone Other to thank: I'm mindful of the old question regarding faith/ non-belief... on a wonderful day when all feels right with the world, and the natural mood within is one of immense gratitude and thanksgiving, what do athiests do?  Which leads me to... 

God who is the ground of my being, who holds me in the palm of his hand, who loves me beyond my wildest imaginings, who gives meaning to this existence, who is closer to me than breathing and yet beyond all comprehension, who is mystery and mercy... who has demonstrated

Grace beyond measure and who inspires me to make stumbling efforts to mirror that grace.

Friday, 18 September 2009

'F' is for...

falling asleep... falling in love... fooling about
for festivals, fez, and fluffy french bread.... 

Flora and fauna: forests and flowers and flying things:

for fairytales, fingerpainting and frankincense ... and fleeting moments of wonder and beauty.

for friends and friendships and shared funny moments

for feather quilts on cold winter nights...    

for faithfulness and faith and a reason to believe

'E' is for...

Epistles, expresso, elephants, entertainments of all kinds... and also:

Eating - good meals with good friends with easy, flowing, funny conversation.  I love the communal intimacy and the strengthening and nurturing of relationships of all kinds that occur when eating together.  Hmmm, and thinking of various occasions in the gospels where eating meals together feature: both the miraculous and the mundane.  And the sense of sacred in the ordinary that can occur in profound moments of conversation at the table.

Earth - this amazing robust/ fragile planet with all its colour and noise and diversity of life and loveliness.  For green and growing things, for things that creep and things that fly or climb or jump, for watery wonderfulness - creeks, rivers, streams, oceans, for gentle rolling hills or craggy snow-peaked mountains, for the sun and moon and stars that shine down upon it all.  It is good, it is very good indeed.

and Earth - the smell of freshly ploughed fields.

Exceptions that fly in the face of conformity and which refuse to be put in a box and labelled.

'Erudition' - because of its context in an overheard conversation by two very earnest, tweed-wearing young people, many years ago on a train.  They were discussing someone [and to the day I die I will never know who it was, and I quite like the delicious not-knowingness of it] who apparently 'wore his erudition like a badge.'  Ever since, I've just adored that pompous turn of phrase.

Easter and new life,
new beginnings,
new possibilities,
new ways of being:
of hope in the darkness and restoration and release.

Monday, 14 September 2009

'D' is for...

Food, academia and the occasional animal today... :)

- as in chocolate
as in fairly traded as in 'omigosh lovely'. Chocolate in this context is truly 'food of the gods'. Mmmmm.

Donuts - whether or not I actually eat the things they
make me smile and think of the Simpsons and subversity and silliness.

Dolphins - and leaping and splashing and playing and joy.

Divinity - as in New College School of Divinity: a place where I've grown; where I've wrestled joyfully with words and concepts and occasionally some Scottish Reformers; and where I've sort of 'lived' for the last 5 years and moving into year 6 and the...

Doctorate - wow - gosh...! A little amazed that I'm doing this. Huge thankfulness and lots of joy. Maybe some tears a little later when the Latin grammar really becomes horrific and when I just can't read the handwriting on ageing manuscripts after several hours in the Archives. :)

Diversity - thankfulness for a wild, weird, wide and wondrous world in all its amazingness

Daffodils in Spring on Castle Hill, Princes St Gardens, hundreds upon hundreds of 'em - joyfully lifting their cheery heads to the sky and grinning at God. A happy sign of spring, new life, and riotous colour.

Wednesday, 9 September 2009

Codename: 'Voldemort'

I've been thinking once again on the moratorium concerning discussing same-gender relationships within the Church of Scotland.
I've taken to referring to the current situation as 'Voldemort', given the fear attached to uttering that particular character's name in the Harry Potter series.
Re-contextualised for the CofS, instead of:
'you-know-who' and 'he-who-must-not-be-named'
we have:
'you-know-what' or 'that-which-must-not-be-named'.

This has gently bubbled back to the surface for me due to several factors:
The first was due to a very good conversation with someone concerning the power of language: she is a non-native English speaker. We agreed that words are powerful tools which can be used to both include and exclude, sometimes intentionally and sometimes deliberately.
By not discussing 'the elephant in the room' within a CofS context for the next 2 years, I wonder what message the non-verbal gives out to LBGT folks, and folk outwith the church? Do we truly think that if we don't discuss it, people will think that we've moved on...? And actually, are we deemed so irrelevent by society in general in the UK that they don't even know or care about what the church thinks anyway?

The second was prompted by the last day of ministry training conference in St Andrews, when we sang 'All are welcome'. It's a hymn I like immensely for its prophetic vision of church and celebration of diversity in all its contexts. But that morning, I found it stuck in my throat: it was hard to sing those words knowing that at this point in time, we as church welcome some less than others.

And laterally, perhaps too, my thoughts have wandered this way again due to last week's lections - in particular the passage in James 2: 1-17 concerning partiality:

1My brothers and sisters, do you with your acts of favoritism really believe in our glorious Lord Jesus Christ? 2For if a person with gold rings and in fine clothes comes into your assembly, and if a poor person in dirty clothes also comes in,
3and if you take notice of the one wearing the fine clothes and say,
“Have a seat here, please,”
while to the one who is poor you say,
“Stand there,” or, “Sit at my feet,”
have you not made distinctions among yourselves, and become judges with evil thoughts?
Listen, my beloved brothers and sisters. Has not God chosen the poor in the world to be rich in faith and to be heirs of the kingdom that he has promised to those who love him?
But you have dishonored the poor. Is it not the rich who oppress you?
Is it not they who drag you into court?
7Is it not they who blaspheme the excellent name that was invoked over you?
You do well if you really fulfill the royal law according to the scripture,
“You shall love your neighbor as yourself.”
But if you show partiality, you commit sin and are convicted by the law as transgressors.
10For whoever keeps the whole law but fails in one point has become accountable for all of it.

I'm tempted to change 'rich' and 'poor' to 'heterosexual' and 'non-heterosexual'. The point is that partiality is about power and privilege. In a society dominantly heterosexual, power and privilege is in the hands of that majority. It's a clumsily made point, I'll grant, but I think the principle carries through.

Is might right?

Is straight great?
Aren't we as church called to be counter-cultural, to be revolutionaries?
To question existing power structures and challenge those structures when they use a steamroller to crush a butterfly's wings?
But then again, maybe I'm just an ageing hippy....

I look forward to the closet being opened concerning debate and discussion: unless we can talk about it, like Voldemort, it becomes a creature of the shadows, creating fear, creating partisan divides.
We are not ruled by the lord of darkness, but the Lord of Light.
Let's get open the closets, let's name 'that which can not be named' and use the power of words as tools of inclusion, peace and liberation, which creates a church for all God's children.

I long for the day when I can sing 'All are welcome' as a truth in the now, as opposed to the not-yet.

Sunday, 6 September 2009

'C' is for...

This week, the letters 'C', 'D', and possibly 'E' will feature in the ongoing 'gratitude attitudes'...

'C' is for -
Cornucopia - one of my favourite words. I love the sensuality of it:
the wa
y it rolls off the tongue,
the lusciousness of the sound of it when spoken,
the roundness and fullness of it as it sinks into the soul.
It's a great word, evocative of the promise of good things, of plenty,
of fulfillment, of peace.
And as I write this, there's a tune
on the mental i-pod that's just wandered in...
We plough the fields, and scatter
The good seed on the land,
But it is fed and watered
By God's almighty hand;
He sends the snow in winter,
The warmth to swell the grain,
The breezes and the sunshine,
And soft refreshing rain.

All good gifts around us
Are sent from heav'n above,
Then thank the Lord, O thank the Lord
For all his love.

Communion - the meal that speaks of both promise and present, the great now and not yet of God displayed in the feast of bread and wine [am trying to think of the feast aspect of this even in the face of cubes of dried out bread on a plate... but let's not go there!!!], the meal that transforms the common things of earth into holy mystery and reminds us to taste and see that the Lord is indeed good.
Good Presby that I am, it's at this point, where I move into...

Calvin and his understanding of mystery and ordinary within the context of sacraments. I love the room he has to allow for the unexplainable and yet explainable God who asks us to follow. I give thanks for good orderly systematic theology and for adiaphora which gives room for all to breathe.

Community and companions on the way - for the many communities I'm a part of; for broad and diverse gifts, for encouraging words, for deep conversations and awful jokes, for not walking this journey entirely alone.

Cats and their sheer contrariness: a dog worships you, but you worship a cat. They ensure you know your place in the world which is good for the humilty.

Saturday, 5 September 2009

'For the waters shall break forth in the wilderness.'

'Say to those who are of a fearful heart,
"Be strong, do not fear! Here is your God."

Blinking eyes, opening:
Seeing possibilities,

Potential, light.
Blocked ears, now unblocked:

Hearing good news -
The words of life.
Those unable,
Now able.
Those voiceles
Rejoicing in song.
In the midst of the dry, parched place,
Pools and streams and overflowing refreshing.
Springs sprung -
Erupting out of dry desert dust.
All thirst quenched
By the bubbling water of life.
'For the waters shall break forth in the wilderness.'
God of refreshing,
You do all things well:
You refresh us
And we are astounded beyond measure.

[based on Isaiah 35: 4-7 & Mark 7:37]

Friday Five: recharged/ recharging

This week's Friday Five - Sally over at Revgals writes:
A few weeks ago my lap-top battery died, suddenly I found myself looking at a blank screen and was rather relieved to find that it was only the battery and not the whole computer that had failed. This morning a new battery arrived in the post, and suddenly I am mobile again!

After a week with what feels like wall to wall meetings, and Synod looming on the horizon for tomorrow I find myself pondering my own need to recharge my batteries. This afternoon Tim and I are setting off to explore the countryside around our new home, I always find that walking in the fresh air away from phones and e-mails recharges me. But that is not the only thing that restores my soul, so do some people, books, pieces of music etc....

So I wonder what/ who gives you energy?

1. Is there a person who encourages and uplifts you, whose company you seek when you are feeling low?
Yup, several - I am well blessed in that department :)

2. How about a piece of music that either invigorates or relaxes you?
Tallis. Below a not-brilliant recording, but does the job. It also takes me to a magical summer night on Orkney, in the Cathedral, when this was being played at the St Magnus Festival and a glorious orange sunset over the sea...

3. Which book of the Bible do you most readily turn to for refreshment and encouragement? Is there a particular story that brings you hope?
Lamentations 3: 21-26; Rev. 21: 3-4; various Psalms... and Peter never quite getting it even tho' Jesus was walking with him along the hot 'n dusty roads.

4. A bracing walk or a cosy fireside?
Cosy fireside wins every time!!

5. Are you feeling refreshed and restored at the moment or in need of recharging, write a prayer or a prayer request to finish this weeks Friday Five....
Still tired from all the recent stuff of life, but in a good chilled out kind of way, so maybe restoration in process :)

Wednesday, 2 September 2009

'B' is for ...

Continuing the 'gratitude attitudes'... the letter 'B' is for:

Bread - 'give us this day our daily bread'; the smell of freshly baked, just-out-of-the-oven bread... and the steam rising as it's broken; Jesus as the 'bread of life' who sustains, satisfies, nourishes and nurtures; the breaking of bread in communion, in community, at meals... and for all the 'holy in the ordinariness' of it.

Back as in 'ain't it good to be back home again'... Today was last day of training conference. It was good; it was maddening; it was hilariously funny; it was a super learning experience on many fronts - both in and out of sessions. On the 'back' of this...

Blethers and banter, bonding and building up: during pyjama parties [staying in segregated dorms which someone christened 'Mallory Towers'], as well as chats over coffee and the endless rounds of meals wheeled out, as well as in our set reflection groups at conference.

Breathing is always a very good thing and I give thanks often that I still do it!! For days when the air is just that little bit cooler and the mist of breath hangs in the air: a silent reminder of God's good gift of life.

the Bible is a cracking read:

2 Timothy 3:16-17 ...
All scripture is inspired by God and is useful for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, so that everyone who belongs to God may be proficient, equipped for every good work.

Books - lots of lovely books to pore and ponder over, and the wonder of God-given desire for knowledge and wisdom througout the centuries which has left a marvellous heritage. Truly, we do stand on the shoulders of giants...

Birds and birdsong - God's airborne choir??!

Beaches for walking, sitting and playing on; as a place of space and solitude and quiet contemplation and inspiration; as a place to exhale the busyness and stress and tiredness and to inhale salt-tanged rest and refreshing.

[with thanks to Fi for the pic]