Archive for the 'Faith' Category

Bright field of dreams

I was introduced to The Bright Field by a friend, Robin, whilst we were on a course a few years back.

The Bright field

The Bright Field [Buttermere, Cumbria ©AlastairCutting]

Curiously, it is Hillsborough that has brought the poem very much back to mind. Let’s have a reminder of the poem first, and there is an audio/file of RS Thomas reading it himself linked below:

I have seen the sun break through
to illuminate a small field
for a while, and gone my way
and forgotten it. But that was the pearl
of great price, the one field that had
treasure in it. I realize now
that I must give all that I have
to possess it. Life is not hurrying

on to a receding future, nor hankering after
an imagined past. It is the turning
aside like Moses to the miracle
of the lit bush, to a brightness
that seemed as transitory as your youth
once, but is the eternity that awaits you.

The Bright Field
by R. S. Thomas (1913-2000)

Audio file via PoeticTouch.

 

But why Hillsborough bring this poem to mind?

I’ve blogged before that I was a local curate at the time, and involved in some of the immediate aftermath. One of my strong memories, as I walked back down ‘the tunnel’ a couple of times afterwards, was the contrast of the bright green playing field in the sun seen from the shadows of the tunnel.

Tunnel 1989

Tunnel 2016

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The field is so inviting. You can see it. You can almost touch it. There’s ramp, a slope down to it. It’s just … there.

There is an American sports movie called the Field of Dreams, encapsulating the draw – particularly but not exclusively  – for some men to sports, to team games, and to the playing field, or pitch, or ground.

Hymns don’t often make good theology – though they may be better at theology than movies are. But even here we may get glimpsesof heaven, as Ray Kinsella found in the film.

John Kinsella: Is this heaven?
Ray Kinsella: It’s Iowa.
John Kinsella: Iowa? I could have sworn this was heaven.
      [starts to walk away]
Ray Kinsella: Is there a heaven?
John Kinsella: Oh yeah. It’s the place where dreams come true.
      [Ray looks around, seeing his wife playing with their daughter on the porch]
Ray Kinsella: Maybe this is heaven.
            The Field of Dreams – 1989 Phil Alden Robinson Universal/TriStar

Jesus likens the Kingdom of Heaven to treasure in a field, and to a pearl of unfathomable value, of great price; in Matt 13:44-46. Both are images that R.S.Thomas specifically references in the poem. Not a great surprise, perhaps, for the Welsh priest/poet that he was.

That field. Seen it. Forgotten it. But now having seen it again, illuminated, incandescent, Thomas goes on: I realise now that I must give all that I have to possess it.

These sports grounds, these football fields are often a focus for hurrying on to a receding future, [or] hankering after an imagined past. Many memories of matches remembered; of dreams and hopes for the future. The rise and fall of emotion; the tears wept, the joy unconfined. They hold a sense of the numinous about them – the singing, swaying, the shared liturgy and language – even prayers (!) – they are almost religious in their fervour. No wonder some talk of sport as their faith, of the great venues as their cathedrals, temples. Bill Shankly, powerfully linked to Liverpool, is famously quoted as saying “Some people believe football is a matter of life and death, I am very disappointed with that attitude. I can assure you it is much, much more important than that”.

I was recently reading back some of the witness stories of a number of Hillsborough survivors, and the camaraderie, the shared experience was a powerful memory; some saying the ‘we all came last year and we wanted to all come back again this year’ before the full portent of this particular pilgrimage unfurled before them.

Even after the catastrophe, faith remains a part of the story. I recalled in the previous blog post how 4 fans came in to our local church on the Sunday morning, just hours later. To another one of those ‘thin places‘ where heaven comes closer to touching earth. To come to seek, to pray, to place a loved one lost in to the hands of God. Nearly every anniversary since the first, there has been significant input of hymns & prayers, along with speeches & memories, at each of the ceremonies.

In the poem, Thomas looks: to the miracle … to a brightness that seemed as transitory as your youth once, but is the eternity that awaits you.

Looking back to the 15 April 1989, though much remains sharp in the mind of each of those most closely affected by Hillsborough, inevitable some of the memories become a little faded, a bit more transitory each year; the images of the ever-youthful 96 remain unchanged, even as ‘those who are left grow old‘. Perhaps that is why there is still such a strong sense of hope around Hillsborough – a very Liverpool – characteristic, the city with two cathedrals linked by a street called Hope.

For RS Thomas, the brightness that has shone on this field leads at last to the eternity that awaits you. May it lead to eternity for you too.

 

The BBC has a Profile of each of the Hillsborough 96, and the Liverpool Echo has created an image grid that links to each of the 96 too.

 

 

 

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On the Lord’s Prayer

Lord's Prayer

Prayers inspired by the Lord’s Prayer

I recently had to collect some prayers based around the Lord’s Prayer; some I sourced elsewhere, some I wrote myself. They are gathered together under the stanzas of the Prayer.

Our Father, who art in heaven

A Prayer to God our Father
Lord God, Jesus taught us to call you Father. Help us to grow in our understanding of you, that we may better each day learn to trust you, and to love you.

Remind us of the thrill a toddler feels when being swept up securely in a father’s arms; help us share in the glee of a child playing pranks with a parent.

As we feel the lifting angst of the teenager taking insoluble homework problems to a parent who can unlock answers; and the adrenaline rush of the learner driver discovering new skills with dad, so may we feel our relationship with you broadening, enriching and deepening.

Father God, may your love for us be reflected back in our love for you. Amen.

A Father’s Prayer
Lord, I need your special care. Like your earthly father, Joseph, I want to do God’s will, even if I may not always understand. Make me gentle and self less in the care of my family and children; help me guide them in the toils and troubles, the happiness and wonders of this life.

Like my father in heaven, Continue reading ‘On the Lord’s Prayer’

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Spirit of Christmas – past?

Lectionary and church diary purists hate it: that ‘Christmas nowadays appears to start in about October, and be over by Christmas Eve’, or certainly by Boxing Day. That’s not Christmas – clergy are heard muttering – that’s Advent… However, maintaining the cry that ‘the Christmas season starts on Christmas Day and carries on until the feast of Epiphany’ is about as useful as King Canute commanding the halt of the incoming tide; despite the popularity of the carol ‘The 12 Days of Christmas’.

However, one multinational still upholds tradition – the Apple iTunes Appstore!

iTunes 12 Dyas of Christmas App

iTunes 12 Dyas of Christmas App

The App Store provides a 12 free gifts over the traditional Christmas period, with a variety of music, videos and apps for iPhones, iPads and Mac computers. The variety is deliberately diverse – meaning that some items you might find excruciating – but you will probably find several you like. If you have appropriate Apple devices, try out the 12 days app. You probably wont find ‘5 Gold Rings’ – but you might have some fun, sing along with the carol, and celebrate the Christmas Season in it’s traditional position. And keep some grumpy liturgists happy.

12 Days App

12 Days App

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Chocolate Nativity

Last year [2010], David Keen circulated a version of the Chocolate Nativity to folks looking for an idea for an all-age  Christmas.

Who’s the real Hero of the Nativity story?

As my local shops had a few different chocolates to the ones in the story I received, I adapted it a little.

If it’s any use to anyone, please do borrow it. You may need to adapt it to local varieties of chocolate!

Chocolate Nativity script

Chocolate Nativity script

:: UPDATE ::
Ooops.
It transpires that I may have done an Emo Philips, as it may be that Stewart Henderson & J.John published a version of this a few years ago:

SweetChristmas

Stewart Henderson & J.John’s Sweet Christmas

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Woodmancote Martyrs

On 6th of June 1556, Thomas Harland and John Oswald, were amongst the ‘Protestant Martyrs’ burnt at the stake in Lewes. Harland, a carpenter, and Oswald, a ‘husbandman’ or farm worker, were both residents of Woodmancote, near Henfield in Sussex. After the English Reformation, and the opportunity of having services and hearing the Bible read in English, they were reluctant to come under Queen Mary’s edict that the church and services should return to Roman Catholicism, and in Latin. For this they were tried for heresy.

Bishop Kieran Conroy, Dean Nicholas Frayling, Rev'd Christina Bennett

Bishop Kieran Conroy, Dean Nicholas Frayling, Rev'd Christina Bennett at the Woodancote Martyrs Memorial

There is a record in Fox’s Book of Martyrs of the trial – recorded here:

To Thomas Harland I finde in the Byshop of Londons Registers, to be obiected for not commyng to Church. Whereunto he aunswered: that after the Masse was restored, hee neuer had will to heare the same, because (sayde he) it was in Latin, whiche hee dyd not vnderstand: and therfore as good (quoth he) neuer a whitte, as neuer the better.
Ex Regist.
Answere of Tho. Harland.

Iohn Oswald, denyed to aunswere any thyng, vntill Continue reading ‘Woodmancote Martyrs’

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Lesslie Newbigin – Bishop of Hope

2009 is the Centenary of Lesslie Newbigin‘s birth. Churches Together in Britain & Ireland decided to celebrate this with a Conference held at Queen’s College, Birmingham.

CTBI Newbigin Centenary Conference logo

CTBI Newbigin Centenary Conference logo

This post is….

  • part brief background on Newbigin;
  • part a quick glance at some of his theology;
  • part a ‘back of an envelope’ report on the conference;
  • and part a personal reflection on ‘Uncle Lesslie’
  • with a comment on the source of the CTBI banner photo above.
  • and… it should possibly be a ‘page’ rather than a ‘post’ – we’ll see.

    Background

    Lesslie Newbigin was a Presbyterian minister and missionary who – considering that background, and not really approving of church hierarchies – rather surprisingly became a Bishop of the united Church of South India at it’s formation in 1947. In fact not once, but twice – first in the Madurai-Ramnad diocese, then later as bishop of Madras, as Chennai was then known. In between, he was in Geneva with the World Council of Churches. On ‘retiring’ from Madras in 1974, Lesslie & Helen Newbigin made their way back to Britain overland using local buses, carrying just a couple of suitcases and a rucksack – I love that; sort of reverse hippy, on so many levels!

    Lesslie & Helen Newbigin, Cecil & Eleanor Cutting, Wilfred & Mary Hulbert 1937

    Lesslie & Helen Newbigin, Cecil & Eleanor Cutting, Wilfred & Mary Hulbert in India, 1937

    This photograph shows The Troika, or the Three Graces, as the three ‘girls’ were sometimes Continue reading ‘Lesslie Newbigin – Bishop of Hope’

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    Leaps of Christ

    Jumping in the sunset

    The Leaps of Christ - credit thriol

    The ‘Leaps of Christ’ was part of the theme taken by Bishop John Hind at the Chichester Diocesan Synod recently. I had heard of this Old English poem, but on being re-introduced to it, it led me to explore some of the wonderful Advent and Christmas within it.

    The section on the Leaps of Christ comes within the part known as Christ II, or sometimes Christ B, within the Exeter Book. The first book deals primarily with Advent, book two with the Ascension, and the third Continue reading ‘Leaps of Christ’

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    Amazing Persistence, Liberating Grace

    Watching the William Wilberforce/John Newton film Amazing Grace at a home group around the day the church remembers William Wilberforce (30 July) encouraged New Zealand vicar Michael Berry to use some of the themes in the Sunday sermon at church at St Heliers, Auckland, on Sunday 2 August 2009.

    Hearing him prompted me to look back at some ‘John Newton’ photos I took a while back.

    Robin Meredith Jones, actor & friend, has for many years been doing a show base on John Newton, also (inevitably) called ‘Amazing Grace’. On the 200 anniversary of John Newton’s ‘promotion to glory’ on 21 December 1807, Robin and his wife Christine Way did a version of the show in the London City church of St Mary’s Woolnoth, where John Newton was vicar for 28 years.

    Robin Meredith Jones as John Newton, in his original pulpit

    Robin Meredith Jones as John Newton, in his original pulpit

    Most people know that Newton was involved in the slave trade – though not all are aware that Newton was himself a white slave briefly early on, after an altercation with a the captain of a slave ship he was crewing on.

    What is well documented is John Newton’s conversion to the Christian faith, and his penning of the famous hymn ‘Amazing Grace’.
    Continue reading ‘Amazing Persistence, Liberating Grace’

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    Following Celtic footsteps

    In May 2008 I joined a handful of others on 5-day pilgrimage. I had been to Iona several times, but only ever seen LindisfarneHoly Island – from the train window. A year later, reminiscing our little pilgrimage to the North East, I thought I would put some photos etc. up.

    Lindisfarne Island from Cuthbert's 'Cuddy' Island

    Lindisfarne Island from Cuthbert's 'Cuddys' Island

    Today (26 May) may be the feast of St. Augustine of Canterbury, but I am reminded of comments by a previous Geordie Bishop of Sheffield, who over 20 years ago spoke to a group of us young curates of the diocese: his faith was built on the foundations laid by the British Christian Saints such as Cuthbert, Aidan, and Hilda, and he had little time for “those Johnny-come-lately Romans such as Augustine”. If memory serves correctly, it was these saints that adorned the stained-glass windows of the Woodlands parish, where I was then curate.

    Cuthbert’s base in Lindisfarne became a key launchpad for Celtic Christianity in North-East England in the 7th Century. The island, still cut off from the mainland by the tide twice a day, is traditionally approached by pilgrims wading barefoot across the causeway. (We cheated, went by bus, and then walked the causeway at leisure a day or two later.)

    Pilgrims Feet

    Pilgrim's Feet

    Being on Lindisfarne – in blustery May – was surprisingly idyllic. I can still hear the skylark’s singing in the sky above the meadows near Lindisfarne castle. Far from the physical extremes of weather, distance and austerity that drew Cuthbert and the early settlers there. We were a bit ‘fair-weather’ pilgrims; but the feeling of being in a ‘thin place‘, as the Celtic Christians called such holy places, where heaven and earth are somehow much closer, was still very evident to us. A short, but very inspiring and refreshing and spiritual few days.

    Some of the photos from our time are in this online Lindisfarne photo gallery; and we made a short photo journal book, which can be downloded in pdf format from the link below.

    Lindisfarne Pilgrimage photobook - click for 16Mb pdf download

    Lindisfarne Pilgrimage photobook

    Oh, and here’s another panoramic photo, also in my Flickr panoramic set. I probably have way to many photos – it could have beeen more! – per page on this blog, which probably makes it load very slowly; but they are fun…

    Lindisfarne Panorama - links to original on Flickr

    Lindisfarne Panorama

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    Simulators

    Friend is into flight simulators. I think his are computer based simulators like X-Plane, for learning the rudiments of flight, for fun.

    Gatwick FlightSim

    Gatwick FlightSim

    We have other simulators locally, being close to Gatwick, as much training of airline pilots takes place nearby. More than just for fun.


    billywells22 and friends landing with a bump at Gatwick!

    It got me thinking though about other simulators, perhaps for other jobs. If they can do it for flying aircraft and car driving perhaps they can do it for other professions…

    I have occasionally been involved in interviewing people for new positions, and there are times when I wish we could put people on some sort of simulator, to see what they may be like in practice on the job. Will they be any good? I suppose some places do it in some ways – I remember being sent off on Teaching Practice from Westhill College in Birmingham (sadly no more), which is that of a sort job simulation for teachers.

    The idea of an apprenticeship has been revived in recent years – and not just by Sir Alan. Working alongside a more experienced colleague, to learn from them, as many trades in Britain and abroad have done, has value. It is also a pattern we see modelled in the Bible, whether it is Moses & Joshua, Elijah & Elisha, or Paul & Timothy. Thinking about it, that is also why after sending people to theological college, after ordination, new clergy work as a curate alongside a senior colleague. I suspect that, as with some other simulators, not everybody qualifying via these various apprenticeships are always great practitioners. But many are, because of it.

    “Life is not a rehearsal”, as David Brudnoy would like to remind us. That is often the received wisdom, that we only have one chance at this life, so get on with it; make the best of it.

    Gavin Ashenden, however, would beg to differ. On his Sunday morning radio broadcast (26 April 2009, briefly available to listen again), he mooted the idea that for those who believe in a resurrection life, this is indeed the rehearsal. A chance to make mistakes, get things right. Perhaps this is the ultimate simulation.

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