Wednesday, 30 September 2015

blades of grass, rejoicing: finding the joy in Calvin

'There is not one blade of grass, 
there is no colour in this world 
that is not intended to make us rejoice'  
 John Calvin - from a sermon on 1 Corinthians
Poor John Calvin: he gets such a bad press as a joyless, dour, dusty and dry academic. 
There is so much more to him than the cardboard cut-out caricature. 
A man of his times, who had to make hard, occasionally unpalatable choices, 
yet he was not without joy. Behind the myriad words he left behind are gems 
such as the comment, above. 
Calvin took delight in order. 
Whether it was the manner of his faith and how it was to be arranged and attended to, 
the way governments were to be administered, 
the movement of one note to the next musically, 
or the tiny perfect detail found in the shape of a blade of grass, 
Calvin's faith was one based upon the beauty of simplicity, 
even amidst the very complexity of his theological thoughts. 
In an age of so much change, that quiet yearning for order, 
and of equating orderliness with godliness is wholly understandable.
There are hard sayings of Calvin, but that is not the entirety of the man.
I'm minded to re-read The Institutes once more, with a view 
to going deeper into an understanding of his spirituality. 
The last time around, I was just trying to get to grips with 
the thing as a system of theology in and of itself, particularly relating to church discipline. 
Now without the constraints of a thesis deadline, 
perhaps it's time to reflect on this work through a slightly different lens - 
to spend more time amidst blades of grass, rejoicing; finding the joy in Calvin.

Friday, 25 September 2015

Friday Five: push/pull edition

Well, my word, it's high time to play Friday Five once more!
Over at RevGals Deb is thinking about the 'push/pull' process:
I am fortunate to have some great encouragers in my life. The ones who know me the best are great at knowing when to challenge me, and when to just chill and let me figure it out myself. SO… think about the encouragers and challenges in YOUR life and tell us… 

1/ After achieving a goal, do you set the bar higher, or rest on your laurels? 
Having taken a wee breath and celebrated, time to crank up that bar - but only if need be.

2/Which is better: a kick in the pants or a hug and a cuppa? 
Depends on the context: both have their place.

3/What’s your baseline motivation? Fear? Competition? Not getting caught? ;) 
Ahhhh, no, none of these. It's more - 'ooooh!!!! shiny!!!!!' - it needs to capture my
imagination and interest, and which challenges in a good/ useful way. How might it
release potential/ gifts within the parish? How might it do the same for me wearing
my different hats?  So, perhaps it's not wanting to be bored!

4/When you’re facing a big challenge, do you need to talk it out, or puzzle it out yourself? 
I'm very much a verbal processor. My exceptionally heroic and patient PhD supervisor became
used to this very early on: I could go into the office and just say 'today, I need you to be
like a wall to bounce things off.' And, then, having done that, we'd work through the

5/Who is in your corner – always? Who helps you achieve more than you imagined you could? (You don’t have to give names) 
Pious answer: God. *grin*
I have a couple of pals who cheer and challenge - and who are utterly honest with me.
That's a real gift.

BONUS: A picture, piece of art or music that expresses your experience of the push/pull process.
I come back to this Sieger Köder painting time and again.
The 'push' here is that, 'if you want to walk on water, you have to get out of the boat' [Ortberg].
Pushing on, and out, in faith - not knowing whether you'll sink or swim.
The 'pull': when it becomes a matter of sink, the strong arm is there to pull you out.
Hugely significant painting for me on a variety of levels, but particularly due to
helping me come up for air when I was feeling completely overcome with multiple
bereavements within a 6 week period. No words. And then this painting came into
my head, a lifeline indeed.

Monday, 21 September 2015

Psalm prayers: Psalm 2

'Why do the nations conspire,    
and the peoples plot in vain?
The kings of the earth set themselves,
and the rulers take counsel together,
against the Lord and his anointed, saying:
"Let us burst their bonds asunder
and cast their cords from us."

Power: who thinks they're in control, and who's really in control?
It's a key theme within Psalm 2, which also has a strong Messianic context.  Regardless of how powerful the nations, the kings, the peoples think they are, both singly and collectively, it is the One enthroned in heaven who holds the real power. The earthly kings are advised to follow a more circumspect course, to be wise.
Wisdom here is found in acknowledging that they are not God.
Wisdom is found in seeking a humbler path: the path of service.
On that path, there is refuge, and blessing....

Might versus right, O Lord,
and you watch
the jockeying for position,
the posturing,
the pride.
All pointless.
That is not real power.
Real power is found
in the tenderest of touches,
in the feel of water
on foot,
and a towel
wiping dry.
Real power is found
outside the gates of the city,
where the flotsam and jetsam
of life hang,
suspended upon wood.
Real power is found
in an early morning garden
at the open door of a tomb.
Real power is not
brokering fear;
it is found in words of peace -
angel-voice saying 'be not afraid.'
Real power is not
nor plotting,
for when power is real
it has no need of such devices.
Real power is
compassionate, and self-giving.
You, who are enthroned in heaven,
You, who defined what real power is,
bless those who seek refuge -
the ones who walk,
the ones in boats,
the ones fleeing from misused power
that crushes dreams,
destroys hope,
that rides roughshod
over lives.
When the nations rage,
and the rulers of the earth
reach too high and
at too great a cost,
remind us anew that
real power
walks with the wounded
and the weary,
gives comfort to the suffering ones,
and creates a kingdom of refuge.

Saturday, 19 September 2015

Etched in the memory

It was Simmerdim, and the sun fell into the crossing of the Cathedral upon the orchestra.
The pink-red stone glowed under the soft light.
The music, delicate, stirring, delicate once more.
Reluctantly leaving once concert had done, the evening sky beautiful oranges, purples, pinks.
We drove out to the point, the lighthouse lamp blinking a welcome.
Watched the sun fall into the far sea.
The music, now playing in my head.
A time etched into memory.
When I hear the music, I am instantly back in that moment
of utter wonder, and my soul soars and sings with joy.
The music?
'Fantasia on a theme of Thomas Tallis,' by Ralph Vaughn Williams.

Friday, 18 September 2015


This time, last year, I'd voted.    
Marked a box with an 'X', and waited,
wondering what the morning would bring.
It was a time of anticipation and hope.
Morning brought a closer than anticipated 'no',
deep disappointment, but nevertheless, a desire to see how best to work together regardless of where 'X's went in boxes.

It was also a time of personal preparation: I was to preach as sole nominee of a lovely, rural charge. Before getting to that point, I'd thought up at least 27 very logical and sensible reasons for not applying before I was interviewed, and yet, I remember driving away from that interview, knowing that something had shifted inside. On a gloriously, almost impossibly sunny day, as I headed back home, I had one of those say it out loud moments in the car, as realisation dawned.
I found myself saying:
'if they ask me to preach as sole nominee,
I'm going to say "yes", aren't I, Lord?'
They asked.
I said 'yes'.

A year ago this Sunday - the Sunday immediately after the Scottish Referendum, I preached as sole nominee. Given what was happening nationally, in many ways, it was a bit of a scunner of a day to be preaching! While trying to keep an integrity to worship, and to honour the One we follow, there was also the knowledge that this was, in a sense, part 2 of the interview, moving beyond the Nominating Committee, and into the more public domain of the wider congregation.
I remember thinking that I just had to shake off the thought, and crack on with worship, and yet...
On that day, I asked.
They [mostly] said 'yes'.
I wouldn't swap it for the world, and, a little like the Referendum, here within the parish,
the same thought and desire is uppermost:
to see how we can best work together, regardless of the 'mibbes ayes', or 'mibbes naws'.
It's been an astonishing time so far.
God is good.

Tuesday, 8 September 2015

Psalm prayers: Psalm 1

I truly need to be much more intentional in making time just to be, and relax into Scripture. 
I'm in danger of the Bible becoming a work book. Time to build in reflection spaces that aren't centred on the job! 
Psalm 1 is a useful reminder, I feel.
1 Happy* are those
   who do not follow the advice of the wicked,
   or take the path that sinners tread,
    or sit in the seat of scoffers;
2 but their delight is in the law of the Lord,
    and on his law they meditate day and night.
3 They are like trees
    planted by streams of water,
   which yield their fruit in its season,
   and their leaves do not wither.
   In all that they do, they prosper.
4 The wicked are not so,
    but are like chaff that the wind drives away.
5 Therefore the wicked will not stand in the judgment,
    nor sinners in the congregation of the righteous;
6 for the Lord watches over the way of the righteous,
    but the way of the wicked will perish.
                                   *meh, I prefer the other translation, 'blessed'!
Which path, Lord?
What do we delight in?
What absorbs us,  
that we lose all track of time -
of light, of night? 
Let us drink deep from your word,
a reservoir of blessing.
So may we become
rooted and fruitful,
shot through with green;
blossoming, flourishing.
Prune away the scoffing cynicism
that withers budding leaf,
the restlessness 
of an ear inclined to listen elsewhere.
Open our hearts to delight,
to prosper in you.
In so doing,
may we look up,
branch outwards,
help others bloom and grow
and delight in you,
this day and always.