The Tao of Fred.

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I have wanted to write something about Fred Astaire for some time now. I have watched the films he made both with Ginger Rogers and on his own for years now and watching them dance always brings a smile to my face. Watching him also puts me in mind of what was reportedly said about him almost at the start of his Hollywood career; “Can’t sing. Can’t act. Balding. Can dance a little.” A verdict that Fred himself later amended to “Can’t act. Slightly bald. Also dances.” and the producer David O. Selznick commented “I am uncertain about the man, but I feel, in spite of his enormous ears and bad chin line, that his charm is so tremendous that it comes through even on this wretched test.” Despite these reservations (which must be on a par with the comment that Decca Records is supposed to have made on refusing to sign The Beatles because “the day of ‘guitar bands’ were over!) Frederick Austerlitz went on from strength to strength.

Fred went on to have a long and well documented career as a singer and a dancer. The films are widely available and are always worth watching not just for the incredible technique but also for the wide smile on his face as he goes into another great routine (which Ginger Rogers had to perform “backwards and in heels”)!! When I was in my late teens and an avid buyer of books I came across a collection of the cartoons of Jules Feiffer (whom I am pleased to discover is still active in his 80’s). One of the cartoons in this collection concerned ‘The Curse of Fred Astaire’, it’s protagonist is a man who dances through life to avoid all kinds of commitment, the closing line of the panel is this; “sensational but isolated I dance on – The Curse of Fred Astaire”. The cartoon is a powerful piece of contemporary art with a powerful point to make about our (still) atomised society but Fred Astaire was different, one of the first dancers to gain virtual autonomy over choreography and an artist whose commitment to dance shone out from his joyful smile and his flashing footwork.

In later life he appeared in other films (I remember being surprised by his straight role in the 1970’s disaster film ‘The Towering Inferno’), he indulged his love of drumming, and became something of a skateboard champion. Even though he always said that he couldn’t sing many critics rate him amongst the finest singers of his generation. I think that this is borne out in a series of 4 albums he recorded for Norman Granz in the 1950’s. ‘The Astaire Story’ was recorded with a crack band led by pianist Oscar Peterson and boasted in its ranks such fine players as trumpeter Charlie Shavers and guitarist Barney Kessel amongst others. In 1999 these records were given a Grammy Hall of Fame Award, a special Grammy award to honour recordings that are at least twenty-five years old and that have “qualitative or historical significance.” Oscar Peterson spoke warmly of the sessions that produced The Astaire Story in his autobiography, noting that vocally, Astaire was naturally attuned to jazz phrasing, and that Astaire enjoyed playing the drums at home.

Watching Fred dance always gives me great pleasure, and part of me is that nine or ten year old in front of the television when there were only 2 or 3 channels in the UK and there was always a Saturday and a Sunday matinee which invariably would show Fred and Ginger dancing with such joy and grace. Singing in the company of such great  musicians only magnifies the pleasure, not bad for what some would just call a ‘song and dance man’!!

**

(Some time ago I saw a book called ‘The Tao of Pooh’ – using A. A. Milne’s character to explain the basic principles of the philosophy of Taoism. I borrowed the word ‘tao’ – which means ‘way’ or ‘channel’ to reflect and celebrate Fred Astaire’s art. ‘The Astaire Story’ is available wherever good music is streamed from and is worth listening to. Jules Feiffer’s cartoons will brighten any day – and make you think at the same time!).

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Hopeful…..

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I wrote a post the other day about one of my favourite psalms (139) and its effect on me in these difficult times. After posting this I returned to the thought that these times demand honesty and openness about where we are, but it strikes me that what we also need is a note of hopefulness. Of course I write as a Christian and within that tradition there is a great deal of speculation and opinion about ‘the human condition’ and not all of it is helpful or positive! But then there is also a wide body of experience that suggests that the one story does not fit the case. If  we turn to the psalms and look at number 8. This song describes humans as little lower than the angels yet other psalms deal openly with revenge, where the writer pleads with God to destroy his enemies. Indeed, reading the psalms you find their beginnings are worth reading for the peerless poetry which raises your heart and spirits but then the same song ends in a very different way and you are back to the darker side of the human experience.

It seems to me that this apparent dichotomy sums up the ambivalence of human experience; we are creatures who readily raise their voices in praise but it is not long before the darker impulses come into play. The psalms demonstrate the importance of a piece of advice I received from my New Testament tutor at college so long ago. He suggested that we should listen for the different voices we find in scripture and pay attention to them. In fact, reading the bible is often a lesson in making sure that we read what the bible actually says and not what we imagine. I have come to the conclusion that the bible is foremost a record of human interaction with a mysterious God, and it does not pretend that everything in the garden is rosy. Indeed the whole of human life is there, in all its glory and deceit.

And yet I believe that the diligent reader can discover that overall the message of the bible is a hopeful one, as the human experience of God grows and the journey continues we discover that this mysterious God is not just an observer of human foibles but is revealed as a constant companion on the journey. I believe that, in these increasingly difficult times, this is an indication of the loving hope that is at the heart of creation. And that is a source of a real and abiding hope!

(This post has come out of some things I have been reading and experiencing in the last few days. Thanks to all those people who encourage me endlessly.

The photo was taken (again) from my driveway on a glorious day!).

 

 

Darkness and…….Light!!

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I have written here before about my frustration at the lack of reasoned theological reflection on the COVID 19 phenomena but even a fairly liberal believer like me can see that there are resources around, if we would only reach out for them. No matter how many seem to reach easily for the old (and exhausted?) tropes of sin and judgement the bible has a lot more to say about the light and the hope that comes from faith in the pilgrim God.

Over the last few days I have been in a low place, a place where I almost thought that I had been abandoned by God; prayers seemed useless, my family far away and my anxiety levels were high. As a doctor told me yesterday “these are the times we are living through” and although anxieties remain today my resolve has redoubled to take what faith I have and to rest in the love of God. Last night before sleep I read again these words from Psalm 139 which are worth quoting;

“Where can I go from your spirit? Or where flee from your presence? If I ascend to heaven, you are there; if I make my bed in Sheol, you are there.

If I take the wings of morning and settle at the farthest limits of the sea, even there your hand shall lead me, and your right hand shall hold me fast.

If I say, “Surely the darkness shall cover me, and the light around me become night”, even the darkness is not dark to you; the night is as bright as the day, for darkness is as light to you”

It was that last sentence that struck me with some force; “the darkness is as light to you” – and I found myself trying to imagine what sort of a being could operate as if darkness and light were the same. Of course trying to apply human logic to God’s ways seems like a useless pastime, until you remember that the biblical writers had no problem with it  – they kept faith until the words ran out! And isn’t the Incarnation just a way of doing just that? I understand this as saying that God is the same (the loving, forgiving, gracious companion) whether it is light or dark. Yet this sameness is not meant to lead to any suggestion that the dance of love within the Godhead stops or is paused. It is a dynamic thing, endlessly renewing and making me continually welcome. Even if I wanted to ‘hide’ from this it is impossible for to do so would deny life itself!

In his book ‘The Message of the Psalms’, the Old Testament scholar Walter Brueggemann explores the book of psalms in three ways; he writes about “poems of orientation, poems of disorientation and poems of new orientation”. These themes allow reflection on “gratitude for the constancy of blessing” as well as lament over hurt and loss, and times when “joy breaks through despair” when a new direction is discovered. Psalm 139 is not considered in the book but I have always thought that the motion of the poem and the many references to travelling (both inward and outward) suit his approach very well.

In many ways these are dark days (somewhat belied – or mitigated – by the glorious sunshine outside my window as I write this!) yet, for me, they are also days when the light is not far away. I suggest that, even though we navigate these days without our usual companions, we are still accompanied by the one whose promises hold true, whether it is dark or light.

The Time Machine?

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Even a cursory examination of popular culture will show a multitude of time machines. You could start with the three films in the Back to the Future series and it’s ironical tag phrase “You built a time machine out of a DeLorean?” , or you could look at the films in the Terminator series where similar themes are explored. When I was growing up here in the United Kingdom time travel was a staple of family viewing every Saturday tea time with the adventures of Dr.Who (traditionally viewed from behind the sofa) and the longevity of this particular character is television history. Examples are too numerous to list here, what about Hermione Granger’s ‘time turner’ in the third Harry Potter book which enables her to take many classes at once, or the phone booth in the film ‘Bill and Ted’s Excellent Adventure’ (a device with similar curricular intentions!).

Imagine that you could travel in time. You could go back and put things right; all those terrible mistakes, those ill thought out words which caused harm to those around you – it would be a chance to put everything ‘right’. And don’t forget those macro situations that could be remedied; change history to prevent the bloodiest tragedies and the awful abuse that humanity has wreaked upon each other for centuries – what an amazing chance to put everything ‘right’!!

But every time travel tale comes with a word of caution – try to change something and you run the risk of altering something else. Marty McFly’s experiences in the BTTF films illustrate this, part two brings the nightmare vision of Hill Valley as a massive casino, but part three wraps everything up – Marty’s family are successful, Doc Brown has a family – but the DeLorean is destroyed by a train. The sheer ambiguity of time travel is summed up in The Grandfather Paradox which involves a time traveller inadvertently killing his own grandfather and making his own conception impossible, or, more dangerously, creating another alternate reality! My favourite illustration of this appears in Ray Bradbury’s short story ‘The Sound of Thunder’ (1952/ 3) where a hunter goes back in time to shoot a dinosaur, steps off his designated path and on his return finds a butterfly crushed under his boot. This event has changed history bringing a fascist into the presidency and altering everything.

Before multiple realities bloom all around me I should conclude with another Bradbury story that presents us with the only time travel we can (at present) experience. ‘The Time Machine’ was written in 1957 and two boys (Douglas and Charlie) are so enchanted by the reminiscences of Colonel Freeleigh about his service in the American Civil War that they come to the conclusion that he is a time machine; “Come aboard any time” he says to them as they leave him to do what all boys in Ray Bradbury stories do – jump over fences in a long, hot, summer afternoon. This story put me in mind of something that the actor Jeremy Irons said (Irons played an ‘uber Morlock’ in the most recent film adaptation of another time travel classic H.G. Wells’ ‘The Time Machine’). He said; “We all have our time machines don’t we? Those that take us back are memories. And those that take us forward are dreams”.

A Totally Unreasonable Post?

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“We sit silently and watch the world around us. This has taken a lifetime to learn. It seems only the old are able to sit next to one another and not say anything and still feel content. The young, brash and impatient, must always break the silence. It is a waste, for silence is pure. Silence is holy. It draws people together because only those who are comfortable with each other can sit without speaking. This is the great paradox.” (Nicholas Sparks The Notebook).

Over the last few days I have been thinking a great deal about silence and how little there is of it in the ‘normal’ course of things. Even in this strange time I am surrounded by people who want to try to explain what is happening and using many contradictory statements to do so! Politicians are at the top of the list, when I watch them speaking they look as if they think they are actually making a difference. Here in the United Kingdom I have noticed a subtle gap opening up between the health professionals and the politicians – between what is health policy and what are ‘political decisions’. It seems to me that there is a real tension between the government’s primary duty to protect its citizens and the grubby political agendas that are never far away. And there are so many words!!

I find that the church is not immune from this logorrhea, again so many words pouring out, some full of intelligent comment and others full of the usual cliches (“believe in/ accept Jesus as your saviour and all will be well”) that serve nobody. No doubt someone will a quote me the scripture (from I Peter 3) “Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope you have. But do this with gentleness and respect”. This language speaks more about mounting a defence, or making an apology, for the faith that is held than it does of rhetoric that has no practical substance.

There is clearly a time for words and a time for action and I feel that this is such a time. These days people of faith are judged less on the words they use and more on what they actually do because of what they believe. Politicians know they have to deliver in practical terms what they promise in windy rhetoric (“politicians campaign in poetry and they govern in prose” as someone said!) and so often the poetry is not matched by the prose. Similarly I strikes me that if we learned when to speak and when to be silent the good news of Christianity would be better served as would its Lord.

Sydney Carter the writer of one of my favourite hymns ‘Lord of the Dance’ wrote this;

“Your holy hearsay is not evidence.
Give me the good news in the present tense.
What happened nineteen hundred years ago
May not have happened.
How am I to know?
So shut your Bibles up and show me how
The Christ you talk about
Is living now”.

The sense of those words strikes me afresh every time I hear them. I believe there are many people who are looking for hope in the current crisis – in the church as in the wider world there are so many examples of caring, practical work in many fields – deeds not ‘holy hearsay’. As someone who has used his fair share of words through the years I think we would do well to stop and listen to that, and to the ancient song that reminded us so long ago “Be still (or stop) and know that I am God”.

A Walk in the Woods.

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“Ah, what an age it is/ When to speak of trees is almost a crime/ For it is a kind of silence about injustice” Bertolt Brecht.

Today we went for a walk in the local forest, at least a part of the forest easily accessible without getting the car out and making sure we stay local. There are the trees and the flowers and all the usual things you would find in a forest but I found myself thinking about some of the other things going on. Like the way that the trees you see above the ground are, to mix up the images, just the tip of the iceberg – there are the roots and the constant growth that goes on under our feet. As I have remarked before here, I think that Tolkien was right when he wrote about about trees and their life in ‘The Lord of the Rings’. In a sense the trees and nature around us are alive and fizzing with the energy of the creator.

Walking in the woods like this has often struck me as some kind of poetic activity – there is no paper or pencil involved, there is just the quiet industry and grace of the trees and nature all around you. I know that in many ways what I call ‘natural world’ is the result of many years of human interaction and in many cases manipulation, but for all that responsible stewardship (and irresponsible abuse!) the power of nature seems undiminished, and if anything these past few weeks have seen a resurgence of the natural world. There is cleaner air, more birdsong and a lot more silence. It all reminds me of how cluttered we make everything is our relentless pursuit of gain and power.

Although I have written poems about nature I found myself looking to other writers. Robert Frost, always a reliable guide to the natural world and the changing seasons, wrote this in his poem ‘In Hardwood Groves’ about the cycle of decay and new birth that is essential for the health of the world;

“Before the leaves can mount again/ To fill the trees with another shade,/ They must go down past things coming up,/ They must go down into the dark decayed”

And another poet of the open spaces Henry David Thoreau has this in his poem ‘Nature’;

“In some withdrawn unpublic mead/ Let me sigh upon a reed,/ Or in the woods with leafy din/ Whisper the still evening in,/ For I had rather be thy child/ And pupil in the forest wild/ Than to be  the king of men elsewhere”

As Bertolt Brecht suggests in the lines at the top of this post, it can almost be wrong to spend so much time musing on trees and the natural world when there is so much wrong elsewhere. Brecht was writing in 1939 (the lines are from his poem ‘To Posterity’), and facing the horrors of totalitarian rule and there are some who suggest that the current crisis is giving unscrupulous politicians the chance they need to erode personal freedoms and human rights even more.

Even in this time of crisis we must all remain vigilant to protect human freedoms and the ever renewing poetry of this good earth. As I walk in my local woods I find myself drawn back to that ancient poem of beginnings in the Bible we hear the writers (reflecting in a time of exile and restricted freedom) that the creator’s verdict on the completed work is “and it was good”.

(The photograph above was taken in the Somerset Forest County Londonderry April 2020. The Brecht quote above appears in some places like this ;”What kind of times are these/ When to talk about trees is almost a crime/ Because it implies silence about so many horrors”).

Thankful…

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As I have mentioned before, for Christmas my daughter Rebecca gave me a glass jar containing suggestions for what I should blog about. One of the suggestions was ‘write about what you are thankful for’. It is some time since I thought about this but the present situation seems to suggest that this us the time, so here goes –

I am thankful for my family, both near and distant, their patience with me is amazing, especially Heather as we are locked down together. I am proud of her work and industry, and of the service she gives to the community. My daughter and son make me proud with their gifts and graces and I am thankful for my friends (especially the ones I am back in touch with the help of social media) and those I have learnt so much from through the years I am always conscious of standing on the shoulders of giants.

I am thankful for my faith, even though it has ebbed and flowed with experience I feel that I am coming back to a new appreciation of faith, and particularly of the bible. I have been reading this mysterious book for years now and it never ceases to amaze me in its complexity and frustrate me with its silences. I now no longer read it as a guide book but more as an unfolding invitation to participate in God’s gracious actions.

I remain thankful for all the writers, musicians, poets, mischief makers and serious thinkers who encourage me every day. They continue to break the skin of my many complacencies and jolt me into new ways of thinking and walking, as well as reminding me of the well trodden paths that are well worth revisiting.

A list like this is far from being exhaustive but it is a good place to start. I am also thankful for what I have taken to calling the ‘commonplaces’, those small instances of grace that ‘grace’ every moment. For me the best way to be thankful is to value each one as the good gifts of a good God. Some words from the poet George MacDonald may suffice as a postscript here, they come from his poem ‘A Song Prayer’ from a little collection called ‘God’s Troubadour’ which I have for ages and only looked at again recently;

“There under

The wonder

Of great wings of healing,

Of love and revealing,

Teach us anew

To sing true”.

*****

(The photograph is a view of the evening sky taken in my driveway).

An Old Question, A New Life; A Sermon for Easter Day.

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“Wouldn’t it be easier if Jesus was here with us, surely he would be able to tell us what to do” This is a popular sentiment that  sometimes turns into the phrase ‘What Would Jesus Do?’ This catch phrase has found its way onto wristbands, tee-shirts and coaster mats. Now I would not disagree with anyone trying to emulate Jesus but sometimes this popular sentiment can easily lead us to miss the truth that all Jesus has left us is his spirit and his presence. The frequently quoted words of St Teresa of Avila about Christ having no body now but that of his followers is almost a cliché but they retain a challenging truth. This is that when our words about Jesus are easily emptied of meaning, practical things done in his name often have the durability of true witness. It is this focus on ‘works’ or ‘deeds’ or as Eugene Peterson puts in it in The Message; “the evidence of the actions that are right before your eyes” (John 10; 25) that I want to explore here. John invites us to imagine Jesus walking in the Temple court. Like many Jews of his generation he is possibly thinking of the rededication of the Temple after its desecration and destruction by the Seleucids. Of course we don’t know whether Jesus was thinking about the Maccabean rebellion but the Jews who “gathered around him” know all about the importance of the Temple and its dedication. What they are not sure about is Jesus. Their question has relevance for us too; “How long will you keep us in suspense. If you are the Christ, tell us plainly” (John 10; 24 RSV). Jesus answers his interrogators by referring to ‘the works’ he does and to those belonging to his ‘flock’. He also offers an image of the Father who is “greater than all” and that he and the Father are ‘at one’ together. What does this mean for us today?

First we need to ask an old question; who is Jesus for us today; “tell us plainly” the Jews ask – with the stones in their minds if not yet in their hands – they want to know whether Jesus is the Messiah, but they also want to tie him down, to make him into an agent of the Temple and of the God they know they are defending. We are asking the same question today; we want to make Jesus into an agent of the church, complicit in all our schemes and the guarantor of our way of seeing things…but Jesus will not be confined by our schemes or be made complicit in our way of seeing things- he remains beyond all these sordid things. Because Jesus speaks for God, indeed because Jesus brings the life of God into our lives he remains deeply mysterious and yet at the same time available to us in ways we cannot foresee; in the strange stories told about him which are of an age gone by yet also oddly of every age; in the people given to us who sometimes reveal new perspectives on faith. These are the ‘angels’ we often entertain unawares.

Then I think we need to ask what the risen life looks like; if John’s gospel is anything to go by the mystery of resurrection is best understood in what happens once the idea of it gets to work on a group of people or an individual. New possibilities are glimpsed, new ideas understood; faith ushers us into a new world of possibility. Like the Jews who interrogate Jesus in the gospel we are invited to look at what happens, what works are done and how those works reveal a shepherd God who is constantly offering care and nurture to those who will believe. Jesus pictures himself as the good shepherd who offers the very life of God to all who will believe and follow. This story is set in the Temple itself, in the Portico of Solomon. This detail reminds us of the way that Jesus functioned within the Jewish religious system; how he brought new ideas and a new sense of God into the most familiar thing in the life of the Jewish nation. Perhaps we need to look for the signs of resurrection within the very familiar things we live with every day.

Finally, I suggest that this story asks us to go further and consider what the mystery of the resurrection is, it is surely the possibility of new life itself; this gift is bound up with stories of healing (Acts) and with the life of heaven itself (Revelation). Do we not pray regularly that the will of God may be done on earth as it is in heaven? Is this not asking for the risen life in the here and now? In John’s story the Jews must make that pivotal decision to believe that Jesus is doing the works of God and so must we. It follows that that belief and the deeds that spring from that belief are the cornerstones of any understanding of Easter. I love the way that the late Australian poet Les Murray writes about the impossible resurrection in his poem ‘Each Morning Once More Seamless’. He asks us to imagine the New Testament as a cabinet full of small drawers, the kind which holds record cards;

“Most battered of all are the drawers

Labelled Resurrection, The.

Bashed, switched, themselves resurrected

Continually. Because it is impossible,

As the galaxies were, as life was,

As flight and language were. The impossible,

Evolution’s prey, shot with Time’s arrow.

But this one is the bow of time”

Of course the resurrection is impossible, but if the writer Richard Rohr is correct and resurrection is something that is going on all the time, then this phenomenon is less a proposition to be proved and more a mystery to be embraced. Paul reflects on the mystery of “(making) the word of God fully known” with this startling phrase; “Christ in you- the hope of glory” (Colossians 1; 27 RSV). We are caught up in the mystery of God and the things we do to make that life known and to understand it ourselves are the true response to what God is doing in Christ.  I conclude with that prayer by St. Teresa of Avila, Jesus was content to let the work speak for itself; I suggest that we can do no less…..

“Christ has no body but yours,
No hands, no feet on earth but yours,
Yours are the eyes with which he looks
Compassion on this world,
Yours are the feet with which he walks to do good,
Yours are the hands, with which he blesses all the world.
Yours are the hands, yours are the feet,
Yours are the eyes, you are his body.
Christ has no body now but yours,
No hands, no feet on earth but yours,
Yours are the eyes with which he looks
compassion on this world.
Christ has no body now on earth but yours”.

******

(The readings here are Acts 9. 36- 43/Psalm 23/ Revelation 7. 9- 17/ John 10. 22- 30. The extract from Les Murray’s poem ‘Each Morning Once More Seamless’ comes from his collection ‘Subhuman Redneck Poems’ (1996). St. Teresa’s peerless prayer is available all over the place).

 

We Call This Friday Good?

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Sometimes I find it best to reflect on the events of a religious feast after the event as it were. In my previous life as a minister it was often difficult to focus properly on each part as they tended to blur into one another in public worship, and we are ‘only’ talking about one weekend!! So here’s a reflection after the fact, like many believers I am still trying to understand what happened when Jesus died. I am stuck between considering it as a theological statement (what does it say about God?), and, like the resurrection, a profound mystery that will take a lifetime of reflection and prayer to absorb. This is, like so much of what I write here, a work in progress….

In this world violence is everywhere. In the media if your choice is the Transformers movies or superhero movies, or even (in the UK originally but I also understand worldwide) the countless rural homicides of a TV show like ‘Midsomer Murders’ or the current fad for ‘Scandi- noir’. No matter what age we are we are regularly exposed to all sorts of violence; computer games like ‘Call of Duty’, soap operas, not to mention news reports which do not spare us the gory details of the latest terrorist outrage or story of abuse. In our world violence is everywhere and it is impossible to avoid. And of course it is impossible to deny that there is an act of terrible violence at the heart of the Christian faith, a vision so horrible that whilst it should rightly repel any right thinking person it is where we find ourselves on Good Friday.

But what can be said on this day; Let me say that I believe there is nothing in the cross to commend itself; it is a sad and tawdry end to a wonderful story, and indictment on all of those who use power to achieve their ends, or who get others to do their dirty work for them. It is an event so awful that not even popular piety or religious masochism can redeem its pointlessness. In itself the cross is a dead end but while we have to reflect on its horror today, it is far more important to reflect on what God did with it. At its heart this is a story of God ceaselessly at work in the mess we make to bring about new creation.

We are told that Jesus went to the cross willingly but that is to discount the anguish of the garden of Gethsemane. I believe that Jesus was willing to give himself in the hope that God was at work in his choice. We can ask endlessly about his motives and wonder whether anyone go to a violent death in a selfless way. That Jesus had a choice is clear from the Gethsemane narrative, but then he was arrested and handed over and all choice was gone forever, the impetus of events carried him away. BUT we are told that the cross is a triumph, something I have always struggled with, I think it is a mystery that makes way for a greater mystery, namely the empty tomb on Easter day.

Both of our readings today speak about abandonment; the psalmist reflects on his own experience of being abandoned by those he trusted. There are no more chilling words than those which end the extract I have chosen; “for trouble is near and there is no one to help”. And Matthew’s gospel recounts the journey of Jesus to the place of the skull and we hear again the way he makes the psalmist’s words his own to speak of a darkness we hope will never enter. Once again the favoured one is rejected and we believe that in some mysterious way that we are involved in this abandonment- ‘we believe it was for us he hung and suffered there’. Imagine having all of that on your conscience!!

It takes courage to stay at the foot of the cross and not to rush to the mystery of Easter day. There is no way to tidy this up, that is why many leave Good Friday worship in silence – there is nothing more for even our wordy faith to say!! The shouts of faith and triumph will have to keep for another day because today the hero dies and there is no hope, except the persistent hope that God is at work in all our sorrows and defeats, bound by grace to seek a better outcome. But that is perhaps invisible in a world and a church that insists on a happy ending. Maybe this true work of God can only be seen by risking everything on divine grace and opening the eyes of faith.

(The readings I had in mind here are Psalm 22; 1- 11, Matthew 27; 33- 54).

 

The View From Here.

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Like many people at the moment I am waiting for something to change, perhaps for a return to normality (whatever that may mean!!). And while my social circle was never that big I miss it. There is something about being with other people that is irreplaceable. Social media fills the gap, but I have noticed a paradox here; seeing loved ones on a screen is great and unmissable, but it seems to magnify the distance between us. It is a bit like looking at photographs, I am moved by them but they speak mostly of an absence, of some who are no longer here. But, as I am reminded again and again, it is better than nothing!!

So I look outwards, through the window at the still garden and the birds walking and digging – their natural rythmn has not changed, in fact it seems to have been enhanced by the fall in human activity. I watch the people walking past the house, some of whom pause to look at the fine Easter tree in our front window that Heather always makes at this time of year. We can only exchange greetings from across the road, through windows or from path to porch but there is a lot more ‘streetlife’ than I normally see when work or school is the first order of the day.

And I look inward; reading to myself I enter the world in the novel ‘Northanger Abbey’ by Jane Austen  and I am transported into the society of the city of Bath in the 19th century. The pages of the novel open out into a different world. The online course I am completing about Austen’s craft takes me from the books to a consideration of celebrity and myth making where the reluctant author is transformed into something she never wanted. Another book, about the Atonement takes me into the thicket of reflections on the multiple meanings of Easter and reminds me that, as a Christian, I am drawn back to the reality of the God who is not, as the mothers and fathers of the church remind us ‘elsewhere’ but is right here. With me in my looking out from this room, in my many anxieties about these days and in the surprising silences of these days. But more importantly, it reminds me  that this God is also deep within the many calvaries that this virus has brought in its wake. Easter always fills me with hope, that no matter how dark things become, the light is always breaking in.

I do not think that my view is privileged, I am just looking around, filling in time but not ‘killing’ it! I have always thought that the expression ‘killing time’ was a strange one – and that reminds me of my father who when asking what the time was “with a good watch” would say “how’s the enemy”! Maybe in these strange days I am doing my best to redeem the time, the recognise what is important and to use this space to reflect on who I am and what I believe. I cannot thank God for this appalling tragedy but I can hope and pray that Godself is working alongside others to bring something new out of this situation. Maybe it is time for the worldviews of many, especially the rich and powerful, to be changed and for everyone to benefit. But, all that said, I am just looking out of my window!!