Lesley Shatwell, our Reader in training reflects on prayer:
As part of my course, I have been asking people about their experience of prayer and have been surprised at the variety of response. Of course, I shouldn’t have been surprised because there is no one right way. God has made each of us unique, the fun comes as we try to discover what works for us.
Does prayer come easily to you? Have you ever been climbing a sheer rock face, knowing that your climbing partner is relying on your skill to lead the way, knowing that if you fall off, whilst you might be safely dangling at the end of your rope, there is always the chance you might tumble to the ground? I was pleased to find that prayer came very easily to even the most agnostic of my interviewees given those circumstances.
Does prayer in church do it for you? Sadly it seems that my respondents didn’t really get a lot out of formal prayer in church, although in fairness one said it depended on her mood. Sometimes she wished people didn’t dawdle through the service, but she had her favourites who set the right pace for her. Another said that the formality was part of the problem, it didn’t leave enough space for him to reflect, he’s more of an ad lib man. Hum … there’s no pleasing everyone it seems.
However, they were all quite clear that other people are a great influence in their prayer lives, but even this isn’t as straightforward as I first thought. There was the influence of a kindly man giving a prayer poem to someone when she was seven. She told me that this prayer has stayed with her all her life. On the other hand, another told me about his experience of wondering why he had to go to Sunday School put his hands together and close his eyes and be told all about the missionaries in Africa. He was totally put off by these self-righteous folk when all he wanted to do was go out and play on a Sunday. Thank goodness things have changed in the sixty or so years since he went to Sunday School!
So what is prayer? One old lady told me that she doesn’t like to bother God after all this time when there are so many other more important things which need His attention. So she goes out into the garden and has a conversation with her husband who passed away over 30 years ago. Between them, they work things out as they always used to. I think that probably is prayer, or at least it is no less a prayer than the one the climber sends out into the abyss as he wonders how he’s going to get up the rock face.
In 2011, the General Synod of the Church of England requested that the baptism service should be made available in more accessible language. It was felt that many people who do not attend church regularly feel disconnected and mystified by the language of the service. In particular “The Decision” does not help friends and family understand and engage with the intention of those responsible for supporting the newly baptised. Also, the “Prayer over the Water” feels more like a theological treatise than a prayer. Hence, a new trial liturgy has been written and the Parish of Hale with Badshot Lea along with 400 other Parishes around the country have been asked to use it and feed back whether any changes need to be made. Please help us do this by giving your opinion. The services were on 12th January at St Georges, the 26th January at St Mark’s and will be on the 23rd February also at St Mark’s. Please give Lesley or Alan your feedback.
Below are comparisons of the Tradition Form and Trial Form of the liturgy for two sections – “The Decision” and the “Prayer over the Water”.
Alan and I are really excited about the new liturgy because when comparing it to the old one it is using a language that people will understand, it is shorter, less wordy and less preachy, and relates more to the exciting journey of faith and to the God of Love.
Happy New Year everyone. This is the sketch that Peter and I did on Christmas Day, if anyone is interested 🙂
The Saturday after Christmas in a well-known high street shop:
Man: I would like to return this please.
Shop Assistant: Ah right you are sir, do you have a receipt?
Man: Err… no it was given to me as a gift…
SA: Oh well – let’s have a look – What’s this???
Man: It umm… well… it’s err – the Baby Jesus.
SA: Oh, I see! You mean God made Flesh come down to earth in human form that we might know God’s eternal love for all of us?
Man: That’s the one.
SA: Right you are sir, and exactly what is wrong with the Baby Jesus?
SA: Wrong colour perhaps?
Man: No, no, not at although, although I must say I was a bit surprised to find that he was Jewish.
SA: Yes people always are sir.
Man: But it’s just…
SA: You’ve already got one?
Man: No I haven’t, in fact I’ve been meaning to get a saviour for years, but… he’s just not what I was expecting.
Man: I mean – he’s a baby!
SA: That’s right sir, indeed the Son of God is only available here on earth as a poor helpless child.
Man: Exactly, I mean that’s not God is it? How can this here be God and a baby at the same time? I mean it doesn’t make any sense.
SA: That’ll be the mystery of the incarnation, sir.
Man: You what?
SA: The ineffable mystery of God incarnate.
Man: I have no idea what you are on about.
SA: No sir, they never do.
SA: Right sir, I’m afraid I can’t refund you, as this is a gift, given to you, I might add by the grace of God himself, but I can offer you goods in exchange. So what will it be? A Tardis playset and remote control Dalek?
1 In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. 2 He was with God in the beginning. 3 Through him all things were made; without him nothing was made that has been made. 4 In him was life, and that life was the light of all mankind. 5 The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.
6 There was a man sent from God whose name was John. 7 He came as a witness to testify concerning that light, so that through him all might believe. 8 He himself was not the light; he came only as a witness to the light.
9 The true light that gives light to everyone was coming into the world. 10 He was in the world, and though the world was made through him, the world did not recognize him. 11 He came to that which was his own, but his own did not receive him. 12 Yet to all who did receive him, to those who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God— 13 children born not of natural descent, nor of human decision or a husband’s will, but born of God.
14 The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the one and only Son, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth.
How do you see faith?
St John saw it like a word, like a song. And this song, this rhythm has been playing since the dawn of time, it is a song that moves us, and people throughout the ages have heard this rhythm and played along with it… and when we do something mean or we gossip or we steal or we lie, it is discordant… and when we see something kind or loving, it lifts our souls because the person is playing the song, the song that is within our soul. And it can be that people who say they have no religion play to the sound of the song, and others who are very religious confuse us because they seem to be hitting all the wrong notes…. And the song just keeps on playing.
All through the Bible the will of God is like a breath and in this passage John doesn’t refer to Jesus and God’s Son but instead the “Word”, Jesus is like God’s breath. That is how intimate God and Jesus are related. I see “The Word” as God’s breath, God’s intention, God’s song, God personified.
The passage then tells us that in the Word was life and light and the light shines in the darkness… I see this as the song playing, the rhythm of God being there, whether others are playing it or not… it resonates through everything.. through us…
Now John the Baptist came as a witness to the light… and that is the same for us. Our job is to try to listen to the song and to try to play in tune, even if we aren’t joined by others.. we need to keep playing. And we are the priesthood of all believers – each of us has a priestly duty to try to listen as best we can for the song, listen for God, look for the light and then to order our lives to that rhythm.
It is my belief that we are most “ourselves” when we are in tune with God. We are Children of God – it isn’t that we have to repress our personalities, or put a Christian mask on… when we are most in tune with God we are most ourselves. I don’t think that when we are in tune with God we are all clones of Jesus either, we are all created differently, unique, each like a different instrument in the orchestra, playing our little bit as best we can…
And so what is darkness? I believe that it is the places in our communities, in our families and in our hearts where that tune doesn’t seem to reach. It isn’t the odd wrong note, more it is the places where fear or hatred or hopelessness dominate. But we have hope – we need to keep playing the song.. and we have hope – in the words of St John “The light shines in the darkness and the darkness has not overcome it” or in the words of Desmund Tutu:
A vicar is reported in the Telegraph as describing people who go to church only at Christmas as hypocrites. Well, I don’t agree!
People come to church at different times for different reasons and I see absolutely no reason not to welcome them – indeed I see every reason to welcome them. Our role is to help people encounter God, and move forwards in their faith – whether that be at Christmas and Easter or a Wedding or Funeral.
So if you are in our parish come on in – you will receive a warm welcome.
When they had finished eating, Jesus said to Simon Peter, “Simon son of John, do you truly love me more than these?” “Yes, Lord,” he said, “you know that I love you.” Jesus said, “Feed my lambs.”
Again Jesus said, “Simon son of John, do you truly love me?” He answered, “Yes, Lord, you know that I love you.” Jesus said, “Take care of my sheep.”
The third time he said to him, “Simon son of John, do you love me?” Peter was hurt because Jesus asked him the third time, “Do you love me?” He said, “Lord, you know all things; you know that I love you.”
Jesus said, “Feed my sheep.
I remember that day, on the beach.
Jesus asked me whether I loved him –
the word he used was agape,
the highest form of love, unconditional love.
I hung my head.
We both knew I didn’t love him unconditionally,
when the chips were down I had denied him.
‘Yes Lord, I said,
you know that I love you’,
but the word that I used for love did not match his,
it was philio,
a friendship love,
a lesser love.
‘Feed my lambs’, Jesus said.
What did that mean?
Why choose a man like me?
A second time Jesus asked me the same question
and I gave the same answer.
He asked whether I loved him unconditionally
and I replied that I loved him as a sort of friend.
He answered saying ‘take care of my sheep’.
I felt desolate, empty,
he knew me completely,
why was asking me these questions?
Then a third time he asked,
and I was hurt.
Hurt for two reasons.
Firstly, he now asked me whether I loved him using the word philio.
He had dropped his standards,
had he lost hope in me?
surely he was asking me this to punish me,
why else would he keep repeating the question ‘do you love me?’
Something inside wanted to scream
‘No, no you know that I don’t love you –
you know that denied you,
you know that I ran away when you faced your suffering,
you know I gave up on you,
you know I doubted you,
for goodness sake.. YOU KNOW’
And then something broke inside of me.
Yes, of course he knows,
and I know,
and yet he loves me still,
he loves me with the agape love,
he loves me unconditionally,
no matter what I do,
no matter how badly I let him down.
He loves me.
And in those moments of realisation my heart was stilled.
I was a forgiven man,
forgiven by Jesus
and forgiven by myself.
A peace passed through me.
I am broken and weak and loved unconditionally.
I looked up at the face of Jesus and for the first time I saw the love in his eyes.
“Lord, you know all things;
you know that I love you.” I said,
this time with conviction.
Jesus smiled ‘Feed my sheep’, he said.
And suddenly I knew
I was a new man,
the old Peter could never have fed Jesus’s sheep.
The unbroken and unmended Peter
would have fixed Jesus’ sheep,
would have forced Jesus’ sheep,
would have forged ahead and expected Jesus’s sheep to follow.
But the new Peter,
beaten by my own weaknesses,
wounded by my own words,
remembering always the suffering of the cross,
restored and forgiven by the man before me
and loved unconditionally.
this humbler man,
might be able to feed the sheep.
My heart swelled with thankfulness,
but no words were needed to express this.
I could see the tenderness in the eyes of my Lord.
32 When Mary reached the place where Jesus was and saw him, she fell at his feet and said, “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died.”
33 When Jesus saw her weeping, and the Jews who had come along with her also weeping, he was deeply moved in spirit and troubled. 34 “Where have you laid him?” he asked.
“Come and see, Lord,” they replied.
35 Jesus wept.
36 Then the Jews said, “See how he loved him!”
37 But some of them said, “Could not he who opened the eyes of the blind man have kept this man from dying?”
Jesus Raises Lazarus From the Dead
38 Jesus, once more deeply moved, came to the tomb. It was a cave with a stone laid across the entrance. 39 “Take away the stone,” he said.
“But, Lord,” said Martha, the sister of the dead man, “by this time there is a bad odour, for he has been there four days.”
40 Then Jesus said, “Did I not tell you that if you believe, you will see the glory of God?”
41 So they took away the stone. Then Jesus looked up and said, “Father, I thank you that you have heard me. 42 I knew that you always hear me, but I said this for the benefit of the people standing here, that they may believe that you sent me.”
43 When he had said this, Jesus called in a loud voice, “Lazarus, come out!” 44 The dead man came out, his hands and feet wrapped with strips of linen, and a cloth around his face.
Jesus said to them, “Take off the grave clothes and let him go.”
How many English Heritage workers does it take to change a lightbulb?
Jesus came to change the world, and that is what I want to talk about today.
Today, we are celebrating All saint’s day. Sometimes people think of Saints as people with halos in stained glass windows. They aren’t. Saints in the bible are anyone who follows Jesus. Saints are you and me.
Sometimes people choose to celebrate the lives of those who have gone before us on All Saint’s day, but I prefer to do that at the All Soul’s. Jesus came to change the world, and the church, the disciples, the saints… us… we are the means through which Christ changes the world.
Incredible as that seems.
Sometimes people tell me that Christianity is about being nice.
Sometimes those of us in the Church can give others the impression that the church is all about me, and my comfortable worship space, and the people who make me comfortable.
But it isn’t.. Archbishop William Temple said:
“The Church is the only organisation that exists for the wellbeing and fraternity of its non-members”.
Of course the church exists to bring forward, to bring into existence the Kingdom of God. The place where Love, Joy, Peace exist. The place where people journey towards loving God and one another. The Good News that we offer is that there is a pathway towards light, and not darkness, towards life and not death, towards love and not hate.
This is dramatic, life-changing stuff. Which brings me to the Gospel passage.
Lazarus had been dead for four days. Jesus could have come sooner, but he didn’t. Martha’s words ring like an accusation, “If you had been here, my brother would not have died.”
I guess anyone who has experienced grief has experienced that one.
She is talking about the past, but Jesus is very much in the present. I believe that the resurrection isn’t a historical event on Easter Sunday, it is something within us, we are an Easter people.
And so Jesus came to the tomb, the place of death and called out:
LAZARUS, COME OUT!
And so “The dead man came out, his hands and feet bound with strips of cloth, and his face wrapped in a cloth. Jesus said to them, “Unbind him, and let him go.”
My old Bishop – Bishop Alan once spoke of the church like the figure of Lazarus – we are brought back to life by the power of Jesus – struggling towards the light, covered in grave clothes, staggering, hampered…
I was a lecturer at New College in Oxford and there was a sculpture of Lazarus by Henry More. A huge thing, grave clothes draped around this half dead, half alive body, head at some rather alarming angle, like some sort of zombie. I rather hated it, if I am honest. But since listening to my Bishop I have become more at peace with it. Yes, of course we are half dead, but we are struggling away from that and towards the light.
It reminds me of a quote from Howard Thurman
Don’t ask yourself what the world needs; ask yourself what makes you come alive. And then go and do that. Because what the world needs is people who are alive.
So for you, for me, for us,
Where is the life?
Where is the fire?
And let us get unbound and let go. I can almost imagine Jesus laughing – for goodness sake let’s take all those bindings off and let poor old Lazarus free.
What is binding us? Individually or as a church?
Unbind our prejudices and let us go with a new view of others.
Unbind our tiredness and let us go refreshed.
Unbind our thinking that the glory days are behind and let us go into a new vitality.
Unbind our fearfulness and let us go trusting God.
Unbind our smallnesses and let us go thinking big.
Unbind our hearts where love stops short and let us go to love everyone.
Alan encouraged me to preach at the All Soul’s services this year as one who has been bereaved in the last year. It has been a year when I lost my mum. It has certainly taught me more about grief than I learned when I was training for ordination.
I guess the word that sums up grief for me is “loss”. Initially, I was so shocked that I literally kept losing things. I couldn’t remember where they were. And there was the loss of control of my emotions. I descended into tears at the library when I returned mum’s book, at the dump when I took the contents of my dad’s shed there, at the charity shop where I give them both my mum’s and my gran’s clothes. Hundreds of things that I would see no more. But the objects were only symbolic of the people I would see no more.
We lose part of who we are when someone dies – one of our identities dies with them. In the case of my mum she was a touchstone, a voice who reprimanded and praised, a running commentary on my life really.
I did gain things when she died though. I don’t really mean the furniture or the extra glasses in the cupboard; I mean new insights into who she was and who I am. In reflecting on her life and writing her eulogy I recognised similarities between us that I had never spotted before. In ringing up her friends I noticed who she cared about and why. And her friends cried at the other end of the phone line, expressing their sorrow and telling me stories of her kindness that I never knew before. Of course, it would be nice to share these things with her, but it is too late.
Not that my mum was perfect. Amongst her quirks was a life-long struggle with anorexia. As her daughter, on the one hand she panicked dreadfully if I didn’t eat, and on the other hand she perpetually told me I needed to be thinner. This I hated, but now she is gone it seems odd to have no one carping at me about my weight!
Clearing my parent’s house was something sacred. Hundreds of pieces of paper, folded, treasured. The summation of a life, the sorrows and the joys. I felt like I was intruding – I would never presume to go through my parents things ordinarily. But it was my task; the one ordained to me as their child, no other could do it.
I have been surprised how much I have missed my mum. She was the one who I called for from the day of my birth. And there is something rather beautiful about the grief. For it tells me how precious we all are to each other. It gives me hope that my mediocre efforts do affect others for good and when I die I too will be remembered and missed. Each one of us is interconnected and each one of us loves and is loved, probably far more than we know. The corollary of all this interconnectedness and love is grief when a soul dies.
So remembering is good for those who have gone, for it is fitting and comforting to know we will be remembered. But it is also good for those of us who remain, not to idealise or sentimentalise the dead, but to remember truthfully. For we see ourselves more clearly in the light of those who have gone before us. This knowledge of our own mortality is humbling, but reminds us to leave the world a better place than we found it. And most of all to follow the example of those who we miss most in their loving, giving and caring.
Serving the Villages North of Farnham: Badshot Lea, Hale, Heath End & Weybourne