Open air service : St Peters: 23/8/2020.
This is the Psalm and Reflection presented by Ghislaine at the open air service on 23rd August 2020.
Reading: Old Testament: Isaiah 56:1-6
Blessings in Store for God’s People
Listen to me, you that pursue righteousness,
you that seek the Lord.
Look to the rock from which you were hewn,
and to the quarry from which you were dug.
Look to Abraham your father
and to Sarah who bore you;
for he was but one when I called him,
but I blessed him and made him many.
For the Lord will comfort Zion;
he will comfort all her waste places,
and will make her wilderness like Eden,
her desert like the garden of the Lord;
joy and gladness will be found in her,
thanksgiving and the voice of song.
Listen to me, my people,
and give heed to me, my nation;
for a teaching will go out from me,
and my justice for a light to the peoples.
I will bring near my deliverance swiftly,
my salvation has gone out
and my arms will rule the peoples;
the coastlands wait for me,
and for my arm they hope.
Lift up your eyes to the heavens,
and look at the earth beneath;
for the heavens will vanish like smoke,
the earth will wear out like a garment,
and those who live on it will die like gnats;[a]
but my salvation will be forever,
and my deliverance will never be ended.
This is the word of the Lord.
Prayer:- Oh Lord – open our hearts to the glory of your presence. We with us always in our hearts and minds. Amen
This time last year who would have thought that we would be celebrating and worshiping our God out here in the open air. With nature all around us.
To some this would have seemed unthinkable and even radical. To others it would have seemed impossible. But life never stays the same and we all have to adapt to our ever-changing surroundings. The Corona Virus crisis has forced us all as a society to live life differently, to think differently and to worship differently.
So here we are today under Gods sky, surrounded by Gods creation and taking part in something new to many of us. Quite exciting really when you think about it.
Of course, open air worship is not something totally new to Christianity. In Biblical times during the life of Christ the newly baptized Christian community had no grand Temple to call their own. They worshipped together (often in secret) wherever they could. Sometimes in each other’s houses, or in the open tucked away from the eyes of the Roman soldiers.
The early British Christians built crude churches from stone and earth with altars made of roughly hewn wood. Sometimes they made altars in the woods where they could worship whilst surrounded by nature.
So here we are today – embracing all the natural qualities of our distant forefathers and mothers. God does not mind where we commune with him. God is not hung up on bricks and mortar because God knows that in life we have to be flexible, adaptable and innovative.
The important issue for us as Christians is to embrace togetherness, fellowship, neighborliness and love for our God and for each other.
Occasionally it takes a crisis for society to take a step back and re-evaluate what is important. To look around and realize that change can be for the better. Nothing stays the same forever except for Gods love for humanity and our love for him. He is around us at all times, day and night. He is with us now so let us embrace this special moment.
Ghislaine’s thoughts on Christmas this year.
It seems incongruous to be thinking about Christmas 2020 when we are only mid-way through August – and an extremely hot August. The thought of Christmas, which we often associate with snow, frost and ice, seems oddly out of context with the current weather and the time of year. Yet it is not quite as strange as it seems. Three reasons connect August 2020 with the same time of year 2000 years ago before the birth of Jesus.
Firstly, in Britain today there are thousands of expectant mums who are due to give birth in late December. They will be waiting for the birth of their baby(s) with mixed emotions because pregnancy can be a joyful time but also a time of anxiety. 2000 years ago, Mary will have felt exactly the same but perhaps feeling more perplexed and anxious than most. Around June the Angel Gabriel had visited and said to her:-
“ You will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you will name him Jesus. He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High, and the Lord God will give to him the throne of his ancestor David. He will reign over the house of Jacob forever, and of his kingdom there will be no end.” (Luke 1:26-38)
The teenage Mary must have been totally overwhelmed by this news not to mention frightened. In those days unmarried pregnant women were regarded as social outcasts. She must have felt very alone with her secret news. However, God was not going to let her suffer and he informed Joseph in a dream that he was to marry and protect Mary and the precious babe (Matthew 1:18-25). When Jesus was born in December it changed the world forever. Even in the 21st century it is still regarded as being quite special to have a baby born on Christmas Day.
Secondly, here in Britain we like to picture Christmas as a time of frosty leaves, glinting icicles, frozen lakes and snow. This has become a pipe dream because over the years of global warming the temperature has risen and British Christmas weather is now more likely to be murky rain or overcast dreariness. For the last few weeks, the British weather has been unbearably hot and 2000 years ago in the Bible lands it was even hotter, especially in the summer months. Even by December it would still have been warm during the daytime. Poor Mary will have had to endure her pregnancy throughout the heat, dust and insects. The Bible does not tell the reader how Mary dealt with life after she married Joseph, but we can assume that as a wife she would have carried out the household chores despite carrying the Son of God.
Thirdly, 2000 years ago it was a time of unrest in the Bible lands. The Roman Army was an occupying force and there was civil disquiet amongst the Jewish people because they resented being answerable to a foreign power. A census was planned and would be implemented later in the year. This would obligate all the Jews to sign it and opting out was not allowed. 21st century Britain has seen civil unrest in 2020 due to a variety of reasons for example the Black Lives Matter campaign, the Extinction Rebellion protests and anger by some by what they perceive as a curtailment of civil liberties by having to wear a mask in public, travel restrictions and the closing down of pubs, bars and restaurants. Britain may not be subject to an occupying foreign army, but our lives have been changed and restricted by a foreign virus.
So, we can see that despite the intervening 2000 odd years the Bible remains relevant to our daily lives. Our society is more sophisticated and our lives are more jam-packed with social media, television, radio, news media and so many other things. None-the-less at the end of the day the making, nurturing and birth of a human life remains precious to us a Christians as well as to God. We may think that here in Covid crisis Britain we have it bad, but every epoch goes through a bad time. The important point is to remain firm in our faith and prayer life. To support and protect those around us and to look forward to Christmas when we will celebrate the birth of our most precious Jesus Christ. It makes all the waiting worth it.
As we go forward into a new week perhaps we can take some time to think about Mary and reflect on the words in Luke 1:46-55 (Mary’s song of praise). It is such a beautiful passage and sounds even better when read aloud. You may like to do this alone or with friends of a family member. Let me know the thoughts that came into your mind when you read it and reflect on her words.
Mary’s Song of Praise
My soul magnifies the Lord,
and my spirit rejoices in God my Saviour,
for he has looked with favour on the lowliness of his servant.
Surely, from now on all generations will call me blessed;
for the Mighty One has done great things for me,
and holy is his name.
His mercy is for those who fear him
from generation to generation.
He has shown strength with his arm;
he has scattered the proud in the thoughts of their hearts.
He has brought down the powerful from their
and lifted up the lowly;
he has filled the hungry with good things,
and sent the rich away empty.
He has helped his servant Israel,
in remembrance of his mercy,
according to the promise he made to our ancestors,
to Abraham and to his descendants forever.
Ghislaine’s thoughts on wearing a Mask.
Last week I took the opportunity to go back to York to spend a few more days with my daughter. This time I went on the train. It was around four hours from door to door and for all that time I wore a mask. Many other travelers did likewise although a few decided that wearing a mask was not for them. At first I found it strange to have my mouth and nose hidden behind a barrier. After a while I got used to wearing the mask and gave it no further thought. I found that I became more expressive with my eyes, voice and body language to make up for the restriction on my facial expressions. I noticed that others were doing the same and I marveled at how adaptive we can be as a society when the need arises. Although we must not forget that in some cultures, women must always have their faces covered outside their home and they do this automatically.
The medical profession has long worn face masks as part of their professional practice. During the medieval plagues, many doctors wore masks in the shape of crow’s beaks to protect themselves from infection. However, the wearing of masks by doctors was by no means universally accepted. Joseph Lister (a British surgeon) put forward a theory in 1867 that wound infections in patients could be caused by bacteria and viruses. Particularly in the germs came from the saliva and hands of surgeons who were conducting surgical operations. Lister’s theory was adapted over the years and by 1897 the Polish surgeon, Johann Mikulicz, and the French surgeon, Paul Berger, were wearing masks when undertaking surgery. They recommended that fellow surgeons do the same. The idea being that the mask acted as a barrier to prevent droplets from the surgeon’s nose and mouth being spread in the air and falling into the patient’s open wound. In 1899 Berger published a research paper which outlined the merits of wearing a face mask. Sadly, this met with a very cool response from his peers and a slow up-take of the advice.
It is astonishing when looking back to think that there was such medical resistance to what is now regarded as a simple concept. However, there was widespread sceptisim that face masks could or would reduce the spread of infection. It was not until around 1923, after the worldwide Influenza Pandemic, that the wearing of masks by doctors and nurses became more fully accepted.
As I was sitting on the train to York I reflected on the dedication and sheer tenacity of Lister, Mikulicz, Berger and others who in the face of hostility persevered with their research and recommendation. Berger continued to operate wearing a face mask despite being openly ridiculed by other doctors. These men have been instrumental in bringing about change in medical and nursing practice to the benefit of humankind. I am somewhat surprise therefore that there are so many people today who still resist the current advice from the NHS to wear a mask when outside their home. There are times when we all must do things that we would rather avoid if it is for the common good. Jeremy Bentham was a strong advocate of this principle although he was an atheist.
Jesus never shied away from teaching Christians how to put aside selfishness and embrace neighbourliness. Jesus taught that as Christians we should put others before ourselves even if it means making a sacrifice of a personal wish or desire. As Christians there are times when we cannot stand aside and embrace individuality because our duty is to God and to humankind. That is why Jesus gave his life for us and we must not let him down.
I will end now with a prayer that speaks to our hearts about being part of a community:-
You grace each of us with equal measure in your love.
Let us learn to love our neighbours more deeply,
so that we can create
peaceful and just communities.
Inspire us to use our creative energies
to build the structures we need
to overcome the obstacles
of intolerance and indifference.
May Jesus provide us the example needed
and send the Spirit to warm our hearts for the journey.
Ghislaine’s thoughts about York.
Last weekend I visited the city of York with my husband. We went to see our daughter who has not been able to come home since Christmas. It was an emotional time for us all. I thanked God that she has been able to keep safe and well.
York is a wonderful city. It still retains so much of its architectural heritage and has not been spoiled by over commercialism and the giant building programs which have ripped the hearts out of so many British county towns. From a religious perspective it is the home of the Archbishop of York who is second only to the Archbishop of Canterbury. York itself has long been a city of Christian religious prestige and gravitas.
What I find so interesting about York is that its origins lay with the Romans and the Vikings. Both of which were civilizations that worshipped multiple Gods and yet embraced Christianity. There is some school of thought which argues that the Vikings, in particular, were draw to the Christian faith because it offered salvation and God’s love for everyone even the sinner. Also, it seems that as the Vikings settled, married and assimilated into English life they began to appreciate the benefits of a faith that was not predicated on war, slaughter, rape and pillage. Their reliance in their pagan Gods to authorize this way of life gradually gave way to the Christian understanding of love, forgiveness and redemption. That is not to say that English society became free from war, strife and hated but at least it began to develop into the beginning of a cohesive culture united under Christ.
As I wandered around York I stopped for a while outside the cathedral. Two passages of scripture struck me as relevant to the history of York:-
Galatians 3:28 : There is no longer Jew or Greek, there is no longer slave or free, there is no longer male and female; for all of you are one in Christ Jesus.
2 Corinthians 13:11 : Finally, brothers and sisters, farewell. Put things in order, listen to my appeal, agree with one another, live in peace; and the God of love and peace will be with you.
These two passages identify the strength of the Christian faith. We are all united under Christ to live in peace, but it is not easy and we have to strive to make it a reality. Through prayer and diligence we can only do our best but the love of Jesus Christ will sustain us through the difficult times.
Ghislaine’s thoughts on patience.
The date this weekend on the 4th of July I was to have bee ordained as a priest at Guildford Cathedral along with other colleagues. A year ago, when I was ordained as a Deacon none of us thought that one year on we would all be living our lives in a completely different way. Social distancing, PPE, church doors closed and sadly many deaths from Covid 19 have impacted on us as a nation and as a society. The ordination ceremony has now been postponed until October this year but there is no guarantee that it will go ahead.
I know that I am no different to many other Deacons in in the country both now and in the past. There must be hundreds of Deacons over the centuries whose ordination to priest was delayed for one reason or another. I am thinking about the dark times of war or pandemic infection. The most famous being the Black Death 1346-1353, Sweating Sickness 1485-1551, Plague 1666, Spanish Flue 1918. During these times it was unsafe for anyone to leave home to attend a ceremony and Deacons were no exception. Unfortunately, many will have died before they were able to complete their calling to God.
In the early 21st century it is the Covid 19 crisis and I join a list of the many other Deacons who are eagerly awaiting ordination to the priesthood. We all want to become fully ordained priests so that we can fulfill our calling from God and spread our wings in ministry. I know that I must be patient. Prayer and reflection have helped me greatly. The enforced social isolation of Covid 19 has enabled me to spend more time reading my bible, praying and reflecting on the greatness of our Lord. I have found three bible passages which have given me strength. I have shared them with you. If you too are feeling frustrated because an event that you have been looking forward to has been cancelled or delayed then patience is a virtue and the old saying goes.
Romans 12:12 : Rejoice in hope, be patient in tribulation, be constant in prayer.
Romans 8:25 : But if we hope for what we do not see, we wait for it with patience.
Galatians 5:22 : But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness.
Jesus was an impressively patient man who rarely lost his temper and had to endure trying and difficult circumstances in his ministry. He is our role model and our guide.
Ghislaine’s thoughts on friendship.
Now that the government has begun to relax the rules around “lock down” the nation is gradually emerging from isolation and endeavouring to get to grips with the “new normal”. Like a snail emerging from its shell when it is safe to do so, we are all taking tentative steps to come out of our homes and begin the slow process of adapting to a life with regulations. We may not like or agree with this new type of lifestyle but many of us recognise the bigger picture for the safety of us as individuals and as a nation.
Undoubtably the freedom to shop, travel and socialise will have profound benefits not only to the economy but for our mental well-being. The ability to meet, speak, eat, hug and kiss loved ones, family members and friends is so important for sustaining our social skills and mental welfare. However, for me the “lock down” has had some expected benefits, particularly as it has enhanced and strengthened my relationship with my friends. I have a wide circle of friends most of whom are friends that I went to school with or have trained with in the past. We have a strong bond of love and devotion. I know that any one of them would not hesitate to come to my assistance at a moment’s notice if I were to be in a crisis. As, indeed, I would assist them without question. I have no sisters, but I regard my close-knit circle of friends as my sisters and love them as if they were my family.
The Bible does not provide much detail about the siblings of Jesus. No detailed insight is given as to his home and family life before he started his ministry age 33. Neither does the Bible expand on who Jesus’ childhood or school friends were. Once he took up his ministry and called the disciples to his side, it seems that this is the time when we can see true friendships develop. Jesus did not confine his friendship only to men he also had female friends such as Mary Magdalen. In John 15:1-16 Jesus talks about friendship within the metaphor of a living and growing vine that bears fruit. Over the three years of his ministry his friendship with the disciples would have grown, matured and brought forth all the love that true friendship brings. However, the path of friendship is not always an easy one. Friends can and do let us down. Jesus experienced this when Judas betrayed him and Peter later denied that he knew Jesus. Friendships can be easily shattered and difficult to re-build when both sides stand on principle to the eventual detriment of all parties. It is during these times of disappointment that prayer is such a vital source of strength and comfort. It takes courage to apologise, to pick up the telephone or write a letter or send a card. Fear of being rebuffed is always a concern but perseverance can bring rewards when love overcomes ill feeling. As Christians we embrace the concept of forgiveness not only of others but also to ask God for forgiveness for ourselves.
When preparing for today I was touched by the words in Sirach 6:5-17. I have included them below as food for thought over the forthcoming week:-
Sirach 6:5-17 Friendship, False and True
5 Pleasant speech multiplies
and a gracious tongue multiplies courtesies.
6 Let those who are friendly with you be many,
but let your advisers be one in a thousand.
7 When you gain friends, gain them through testing,
and do not trust them hastily.
8 For there are friends who are such when it suits them,
but they will not stand by you in time of trouble.
9 And there are friends who change into enemies,
and tell of the quarrel to your disgrace.
10 And there are friends who sit at your table,
but they will not stand by you in time of trouble.
11 When you are prosperous, they become your second self,
and lord it over your servants;
12 but if you are brought low, they turn against you,
and hide themselves from you.
13 Keep away from your enemies,
and be on guard with your friends.
14 Faithful friends are a sturdy
whoever finds one has found a treasure.
15 Faithful friends are beyond price;
no amount can balance their worth.
16 Faithful friends are life-saving medicine;
and those who fear the Lord will find them.
17 Those who fear the Lord direct their friendship aright,
for as they are, so are their neighbours also.
Ghislaine’s thoughts about statues.
Over the last few weeks, we have seen a rising number of issues being identified and discussed about statutes of historical figures erected in parks, public places and public buildings across Europe and America. The debate has been brought to wide public attention by the death of George Floyd in America and the Black Lives Matter campaign. There has been widespread condemnation of the continuing presence of certain statues. For example, Edward Colston and Robert Milligan who were known for owning slaves and supporting the Slave Trade. Today this would be called Human Trafficking. Other examples of statues associated with this shameful era in history include American generals and politicians from the time of the American Civil War and British politicians and aristocracy who fought against the abolition of the trade.
The erection of statues to famous and notable historical or religious figures is a worldwide phenomenon. Throughout history many societies have chosen to honour those who they deemed, at the time, to be worthy of an image with which to remember them. However, the crux of the matter is that the choice of who is remembered with a bronze, concrete or stone statue is contextual. What seemed a fitting tribute in the 18th or 19th Century when society had different attitudes, beliefs and practices will look obsolete and insensitive in the 21st Century.
Islam does not condone representations of sentient beings in any form. That is why there are no representations of Allah. Islamic art is made up of beautiful patterns and there are few Muslim counties with statues on display. Iraq was an exception because Saddam Hussein, a Sunni Moslem, erected hundreds of enormous statues of himself all over the country. But he was a dictator and as such he would have wanted to remind his people who was in charge of their earthly destiny.
The Old Testament counsels against the creation of idols because there is the temptation to worship them instead of God. In the Book of Exodus (20:5-5) it says:-
“You shall not make for yourself an idol, whether in the form of anything that is in heaven above, or that is on the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth. You shall not bow down to them or worship them; for I, the Lord your God am a jealous God.”
In the New Testament Paul is very vocal about the dangers of false idols in his letters to the Corinthians, the Romans and the Galatians. Had Paul’s words been interpreted literally throughout the centuries, it is a moot point as to whether any statutes to the “great and the good” (as they were perceived at the time) would have been erected. Our parks and public spaces would have been devoid of images of men and women from time gone by. Their achievements and actions would remain only as a written record but not a visual one. I leave it up to you to consider and reflect on the merits of this over the forthcoming week. We cannot obliterate our historical past but perhaps moving contentious pieces of history to museums may be an answer.
Jesus taught us that we should love one another and treat out neighbour as we would treat our self. In our multi-cultural society that means everyone. If that means removing the odd outdated statue from a bygone age, then perhaps we as a modern society should take notice and act. That does not mean giving licence to a mob to tear down and destroy property. It means that thought, discussion and reflection should take place first by an authorised body. Prayer has a big part to play in this process and we pray that God gives guidance and support for a process of change for the good of all in our society today. Amen.
thoughts on 14th June 2020.
Today is the 14th June 2020 and due to the Covid 19 crisis I am sitting in my garden and giving some thought to what the future hold for our nation. The news tells us that there will be some relaxation of the strict rules on returning to work, social gatherings and the opening of shops and restaurants. But things are by no means back to normal : whatever normal means in the current context.
A quick review of the current news has proved to be depressing reading. The continued rioting in the USA and UK leading to the damage of monuments, shops and vehicles. A possible second wave of Covid 19 in Beijing, China and the downturn in the UK economy are all reasons to feel concerned. However, history shows that social and economic turbulence is not isolated to 2020. Many of you will remember the 1970’s with the three-day working week and the daily “blackouts” when the electricity went off in millions of homes across the UK. Or what about Black Monday in 1987 when the economy collapsed? Further back in UK history we as a nation have had to survive the Black Death, numerous wars, civil unrest and huge changes in social and economic conditions. With Gods support we have born the struggle with resilience and fortitude.
So, for all of us who turn on the nightly news in trepidation. Fearing that there will be more gloomy news; you must take heart and hear the words of the Jesus for they will truly raise you spirits and lift you to the Lord.
“Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.” (Matthew 11:28-30).
“Let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, since as members of one body you were called to peace. And be thankful.” (Colossians 3:15).
“Now may the Lord of peace Himself give you peace always in every way. The Lord be with you all.” (2 Thessalonians 3:16).
These are but a few of the many words of wisdom and comfort that our Lord advised us to consider and take into our hearts. Jesus is always there for us. He knows that these are turbulent and uncertain times, but he will never leave us. Over the forthcoming week it could be of assistance to choose a phrase or passage from the Gospels that reflects how the words of Jesus have spoken personally to you. Next time you turn on the nightly news and hear the negative sentiments then locate your chosen passage and recite it out loud. The words of God will give you comfort. Amen.
Ghislaine’s thoughts on problems in America.
Despite the rather grand title of this piece I would like to make it clear that I have no intention of penning a diatribe on the political and social situation in America at present. My intention today is to reflect on the sadness and turbulence that has been caused by the actions of a few which have left behind a dead victim (George Floyd), a grieving family and international outrage and protest.
On 25th May 2020 the world witnessed, via social media, the brutal suppression of George Floyd at the hands of a police officer. Floyd’s desperate gasps for breath were heard by a world, horrified by the images of a man being stifled by an officer of the law. His death was tragic and unnecessary. The pointless inhumanity of the officer has shocked us all and brought about loud condemnation in the form of rioting and civil unrest. This has taken place in America and other countries as people outraged by the officer’s action, have voiced their anger through protest. Sadly, some of this has degenerated into looting and violence.
The great Civil Rights leader Dr Martin Luther King said:-
“In spite of temporary victories, violence never brings permanent peace.”
He spoke these words in response to the violent civil rights clashes in the 1960’s, when many were killed and injured. King was of the view that however satisfying it might be to let of steam in the form of violence and protest; in the end it was not the only way to bring about change.
In the Old Testament there are several passages that advocate violent retribution. In Exodus 21:23-25 it says:-
“If any harm follows, then you shall give life for life, eye for eye, tooth for tooth, hand for hand, foot for foot, burn for burn, wound for wound, stripe for stripe”.
This is taken a step further by Leviticus 24:19-21:-
“Anyone who maims another shall suffer the same injury in return: fracture for fracture, eye for eye, tooth for tooth; the injury inflicted is the injury to be suffered. One who kills an animal shall make restitution for it; but one who kills a human being shall be put to death”.
It must be tempting for anyone who has been a victim of violence or lost a loved one through violence to embrace the sentiments in these words. However, this is not the way of Jesus because his teachings say otherwise. In the New Testament Jesus made it clear that meeting violence with violence was not to be encouraged (Matthew 5:38-40). His advice is echoed in numerous passages in the New Testament but two are especially appropriate. Firstly 1 Thessalonians 5:15:-
“Make sure that nobody pays back wrong for wrong, but always strive to do what is good for each other and for everyone else”.
Secondly Romans 12:19:-
“Do not take revenge, my dear friends, but leave room for God’s wrath, for it is written: “It is mine to avenge; I will repay,” says the Lord”.
From these passages we can see that as Christians it is our duty to tackle injustice by endeavouring to do what is best for us all. Not by satisfying a need in ourselves. Also, earthly justice falls within the remit of the secular authorities but in the Kingdom of Heaven it is God who has the final adjudication. We are all Gods children regardless of ethnicity or race. He will judge those who ignore this.
No one can imagine the heart break and pain felt by the family of George Floyd. They have lost their loved one in the most tragic of circumstances. They are probably torn between the emotions of revenge and the desire to see justice done in the right way. The bellowing of the angry mob rampaging through the streets of America is unlikely to bring them peace. Although it will probably make the rioters feel better. The words of Martin Luther King spoken so many years ago are as applicable today as they were in the 1960’s. He said:-
“The limitation of riots, moral questions aside, is that they cannot win and their participants know it. Hence, rioting is not revolutionary but reactionary because it invites defeat. It involves an emotional catharsis, but it must be followed by a sense of futility.”
Dr King wanted peace and an end to violence. Hatred, racism and injustice. He wanted to provide hope that one day the world would be a better place. He had confidence that this was achievable when he said:-
Ghislaine’s thoughts on birds.
For some reason I was awake this morning at dawn. As I lay in bed I could hear the dawn chorus through the open window of my bedroom. It was beautiful. So many different bird sounds all competing for attention from their mate or to sound the alarm if a cat just happened to saunter into view. Every now and again the crows would join in with their loud, harsh noise which momentarily silenced all the others. I lay there listening to the noise and wondering what they were all saying to each other.
Birds are mentioned often in the Old and New Testament in both a literal and a metaphorical sense. In the story of Creation God created the birds:-
“And God said, “Let the waters bring forth swarms of living creatures, and let birds fly above the earth across the dome of the sky.” So, God created the great sea monsters and every living creature that moves, of every kind, with which the waters swarm, and every winged bird of every kind. And God saw that it was good. God blessed them, saying, “Be fruitful and multiply and fill the waters in the seas, and let birds multiply on the earth.” And there was evening and there was morning, the fifth day. (Genesis 1:20-23).
Up until the 5th day the sky above the earth would have been empty and noticeably quiet.
One of the most well-known bible stories involving birds is when after 40 days aboard the Ark, Noah sent out a raven and a dove to find dry land. The dove eventually returned with a leaf from an olive tree. This told Noah that the flood waters were subsiding (Genesis 8:6-12). God had sent Noah a sign of hope that they would be able to reach dry land.
In the Synoptic Gospels Jesus uses the parable of the mustard seed:-
“He said therefore, “What is the kingdom of God like? And to what should I compare it? It is like a mustard seed that someone took and sowed in the garden; it grew and became a tree, and the birds of the air made nests in its branches.” (Luke 13:8-19).
Just as the mustard tree grows from a tiny seed and the birds of the air can find nest amongst its branches. Then so shall the Kingdom of God grow and spread across the Kingdom on Earth and humankind can find safety, shelter and a home within. It is a lovely metaphor because it conjures up an image of a huge tree full of thriving bird all tweeting and chattering. Just as Christians can find refuge in the love of Christ and sing to him in love and praise.
I do not have a mustard tree in my garden, but I do have a large magnolia tree in which the birds love to sit and chirp. This morning I was reminded of this parable as I stood by the window and thanked God for his love for us all and his support at this difficult and stressful time. Amen.
Ghislaine’s thoughts on scientists.
As part of prayer week for ‘Thy Kingdom Come’ I was asked to write a prayer for scientists. Of course the field of science is enormous and is sub divided into hundreds of categories. My prayer was for the all the scientists of the world who work hard to keep humanity safe and well. For their endeavours we offer our prayers of gratitude.
However, in this time of the Covid 19 crisis I could not help but notice that one of Britain’s most famous scientists, Edward Jenner, was born on 17th May 1749. It seemed such a coincidence that on the very week that I was writing a prayer for scientists, Edward Jenner had been born. Even more of a fluke was that at school I was in Edward Jenner house. I decided that I should undertake some research to find out more.
He was born in Berkley, Gloucestershire and his father was the vicar of the local church. At age five he was orphaned and went to live with an older brother. Throughout his school career he was avidly interested in science. At the age of 13 he became an apprentice to a surgeon and apothecary in Bristol. It was here that he learned that the local dairy maids rarely suffered with smallpox because they had been infected with cowpox, which gave them immunity. On completion of his training he moved to London to practice medicine. In 1796 he undertook an experiment by inoculating a young boy with the cowpox virus and then later the smallpox virus. The boy did not suffer with smallpox. Initially there was some theological objection because the inoculation process was seen as an attempt to prevent the will of God. Many doctors doubted that the inoculation could prevent or reduce the terrible ravages of smallpox. However, gradually other doctors and scientist recognised the value of his work and he earned the esteem and gratitude of his medical peers and Parliament. Eventually inoculation became widespread throughout Britain and Europe.
Edward Jenner chose not to become a rich man and make money from his discovery. He gradually withdrew from public life and lived in the country whilst practicing medicine locally. He would inoculate the poor and needy for free. He was a devout Christian and his faith influenced his work. Sadly a number of his children, wife and sister died of Tuberculosis. It is an irony that they should have died of a different disease for which there was no cure at that time. Edward Jenner died on 23rd January 1826 and was buried in the church where his father had served in ministry. Throughout his life he realized that there would always be opposition to his ground breaking work and he said to a friend “I am not surprised that men are not grateful to me; but I wonder that they are not grateful to God for the good which He has made me the instrument of conveying to my fellow creatures”.
It seems astonishing now in the 21st Century that anyone could have wanted to prevent or obstruct a cure for smallpox. It really was a most terrible disease. In the Book of Job, his predicament was initiated after a conversation between God and Satan. It is an unhappy tale and the overriding question for readers of the Book of Job, is trying to understand why God would allow a good man to suffer? This is a question that has troubled Jews and Christians for thousands of years. In the New Testament, however, Jesus demonstrated that healing was very much part of his ministry. Jesus had no reservation about healing the sick. Some examples are when he cured the lepers, the bleeding woman, the disabled and Legion who was suffering with a severe mental health problem.
Humanity has a lot to thank Edward Jenner and other scientists for. Jenner could have bowed to theological and medical pressure and never pursued the smallpox vaccine. He chose not to because his faith told him that it was the right thing to do. He knew that he had the support of Jesus to persevere and carry on. This week we should offer some prayers for scientists globally, both past and present, who are working on our behalf. Pray that they receive funding and facilities to complete their research. Pray that they stay safe and well whilst they persevere to find a cure for Covid 19. Amen.
Ghislaine’s thoughts on Joan of Arc
On the 16th May 1920 the Roman Catholic church canonized Joan of Arc and she became a saint. Born in 1412 in Domremy, France she was also known by the name of the Maid of Orléans.
She was born into poverty as the daughter of a tenant farmer and was no stranger to hardship and hard work. It was a time of political turbulence because the Crown of France was claimed by the French and the English. Joan’s village was positioned between the opposing forces and many villagers had already abandoned their homes to seek safety. Joan was a quiet and reflective girl who heard the voices of the saints speaking to her. She became convinced that her destiny lay with joining the French forces to drive out the English. Also, that any action she took to achieve this, would be with the support and blessing of God. After a great deal of negotiation, she was permitted to join the French forces, which was quite a feat for a 16-year-old peasant girl. Her acceptance was only after she had made several predictions which had turned out to be correct and she saw visions. She had her own armour made to fit her and she flew her own standard which was an image of Jesus and bore his name.
Joan was fearless in battle and her uniqueness spread amongst the English and French troops. She acquitted herself well in battle and gained quite a name for herself. On 23rd May 1430 she fell from her horse during a battle and was captured. Unfortunately for Joan she got enmeshed in English and French politics and ended up standing trial before a French ecclesiastical court. It seems that both sides felt threatened by her and her beliefs. She was pronounced a heretic and burnt at the stake. She died on 30th May 1431.Throughout her terrible ordeal at the stake onlookers noted her true courage and commitment to God.
When considering the life of Joan, one must wonder why the religious and secular authorities felt so threatened by a 16-year-old teenager. However, this was a vastly different era when faith, religious conviction and unorthodox behaviour was viewed with suspicion. Any man or woman who failed to comply with the religious norms and mores of the age risked being denounced as a heretic or a witch.
Thankfully, the Christian Church in Europe and the UK is more forgiving and tolerant in the 21st Century. Diversity and inclusion are something which many in the Church of England recognise as a leap forward in modernity and equality. God loves us all and we should embrace this. Would Joan face such vilification in the UK today? Hopefully, she would not. We can only hope that she would be recognised for her uniqueness, strength of spirit, commitment, and love of God. Amen.
Thoughts on VE Day.
This weekend saw the 75th anniversary of Victory in Europe Day. On the 8th May it was celebrated in Europe, America and Australia. On 9th May it was celebrated by the Russians. Amongst all the national celebrations with flags, bunting, speeches and television programs it will have been a time of mixed emotions for many. For the men and women who served in the Armed Services, Home Guard, Bevan Boys, Fire Service, Police, Public Transport, factories and hospitals, this weekend will have brought back memories that they may have tucked away in the back of their minds over the last 75 years. For my mother it is the mournful sound of the air raid siren, when she and her sister had to dash to the Anderson Shelter at the bottom of the garden. She lived in London and can still recall the fear she felt when she heard the siren which heralded the nightly bombing raids. My father (also a Londoner) was evacuated to Suffolk to stay with relatives. He could remember the hot summer days when he would help with harvesting fruit and vegetables and driving his uncles tractor. Both are very different memories and demonstrates that we cannot take it for granted that those who lived through World War 2 automatically recall the period with affection.
The Bible too has a mixed approach to military conflict. In the Old Testament the emphasis is very much on “holy war” and vengeance in the name of God. An example can be found in Exodus 17:4-16 when Amalek fought with the Israelites at Rephidim. Joshua is told by Moses to gather some men together and go out to fight. Joshua won the battle and the Lord spoke to Moses and said:-
“Write this as a reminder in a book and recite it in the hearing of Joshua: I will utterly blot out the remembrance of Amalek from under heaven.” And Moses built an altar and called it, The Lord is my banner. He said, “A hand upon the banner of the Lord! The Lord will have war with Amalek from generation to generation.”
We hear more about the conflict between the Amalekites and the Israelites in 1 Samuel 15:1-3, when Samuels tells Saul:-
“The Lord sent me to anoint you king over his people Israel; now therefore listen to the words of the Lord. Thus says the Lord of hosts, ‘I will punish the Amalekites for what they did in opposing the Israelites when they came up out of Egypt. Now go and attack Amalek, and utterly destroy all that they have; do not spare them, but kill both man and woman, child and infant, ox and sheep, camel and donkey.’”
The complete annihilation of the Amalekite community is shocking to us in the 21st Century but it is not peculiar to the Old Testament. WW2 certainly had its share of brutality and merciless slaughter. Although this war was based on ideology and not religion, it still brought out unconscionable actions of inhumanity which had lain deeply buried in the human psyche. Likewise it demonstrated the futility of using conflict to resolve political and ideological issues. One only has to remember the Jews who were killed in the Holocaust or the 27 Million Russians who died in the conflict or the atrocities at Malmedy, Belgium, Oradour-sur-Glane, France or Katyn, Poland to recognise “Man’s inhumanity to Man” (Robert Burns 1784: Man was made to mourn: A Dirge 1784).
In the New Testament the concept of war is more metaphorical and the focus is on the conflict between good and evil. The teachings of Jesus guide us on how we should behave towards each other. In Matthew 5:38-45 Jesus is clear that, as Christians, we should love our enemies and pray for the souls of those who seek to persecute us.
In 1939 these wise words of Jesus were difficult to reconcile given the actions of the Nazis as they marched into Poland. Their aggressive action was the catalyst for the devastating world-wide conflict that followed. If it were not for the bravery of the millions of men and women who stood firm against this tyranny the world today would be a very different place. As Christians we have a duty to stand up to tyranny and speak out. In WW2 some of the German clergy tried to speak out and lost their lives as a result. One of the most famous was Dietrich Bonhoeffer who voiced his opposition to the Nazi Regime in oratory and the written word. He was executed for his role in the plan to overthrow Hitler.
Over this VE weekend and the forthcoming week we have the opportunity reflect on the sacrifices made by others. We thank them from our hearts for giving their lives for us, so that we could have freedom. We thank the millions who kept the Home Front functioning so that society would not collapse and could function and keep going. We offer our prayers and support for the survivors of WW2 (military and civilian) and all the people who lives were forever changed. Support them O Lord for we owe them our gratitude. Amen.
Thoughts on a Cup of Tea
It is 3pm on Sunday afternoon and I am sitting in a comfortable armchair drinking a cup of team. I like to drink tea from a cup and saucer because there is something quintessentially British about tea drunk in this way. While enjoying the refreshing flavour, I fell to thinking. Did Jesus drink tea?
It seems that tea has been drunk for at least 5000 years. It was the Chinese Emperor Shen Nung who accidentally discovered that tea could be made into a drink. He was sitting under a bush and some of its leaves fell into a cauldron of boiling water nearby. This is the legend and it is rather short on details, particularly why an Emperor of high birth would happen to be sitting next to a pot of boiling water! In any event it makes a good story. From this unusual origin the drink of tea spread in popularity throughout China. Tea has also been a well-liked drink in India since 750BC. In the 19th Century it was grown and produced commercially in order to supply the British Empire.
Drinking tea became popular in England during the reign of Charles II, but it was not until the 19th Century that “afternoon tea” became fashionable amongst the upper classes. It was enjoyed as part of a social ritual and embellished with sandwiches, scones and cakes.
It is difficult to image that a simple cup of tea, the stalwart drink of choice in times of distress, emergency, national crisis and celebration could have had such a posh beginning. Since the early 20th Century tea has, quite rightly, been loved and enjoyed by all members of society.
So, this brings me back to the question: Did Jesus drink Tea? The answer is probably he did not. Although tea was available in China at the time of Jesus’ life, it appears that it had not become available in the Biblical lands. In any event the Book of Leviticus contained the strict dietary requirements that all Jews had to obey. Given that Jesus was born as Jew, there is no reason to suppose that he deliberately flouted these rules even when he became an adult. The type of fluid available at the time for Jesus to drink was essentially restricted to wine, fresh spring water, fruit syrups and occasionally fresh milk. There are references in the New Testament to some of these:-
John 2:1-11:- Jesus changes water into wine
Matthew 10:40-42:- Jesus will not forget those who give a cup of cold water to children.
John 4:7-31:- Jesus accepted a cup of water from the woman at the well.
Of course, it highly likely that the Israelites made hot drinks from boiling water and herbs. Such drinks would have been refreshing and had medicinal benefits. But I can find no mention of tea in my research. So here I am in my armchair ruminating about the Bible and tea. My conclusion being that there is a connection of sorts. A cup of tea can be refreshing, comforting, and warming. It can be used to welcome a stranger into our church, to help alleviate distress or promote a feeling of well-being. The Bible too has similar properties. It contains comforting passages in times of grief. It is always available in good times and bad times. Just as we have a daily cup of tea, so the Bible allows us to read the words of Jesus on a daily basis. He is there for us and ready to guide us and walk alongside us. Amen.
Thoughts about St George
Last week on the 23rd of April it was St George’s day. The patron saint of England. A saint who has raised mixed emotions in English culture. For some he invokes the fighting spirit of the English at times when England and her neighbours (Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland) have been under attack from a continental enemy. Think of the rousing speech from Shakespeare’s play, Henry V, in which the last line gives the impassioned plea:-
"Follow your spirit, and upon this charge
Cry 'God for Harry, England, and Saint George".
For others St George has become the standard bearer for political far right rhetoric and hatred.
What about the man himself? The human being behind the public imagination and religious image. In truth little is known about the real St George. He is thought to have been born into a noble Christian family in the late third century in Cappadocia, an area which is now in Turkey.
He followed his father's profession as a soldier and became part of the retinue to the Emperor Diocletian. The emperor ordered the systematic persecution of Christians and George refused to take part. George tore up the Emperor's order against Christians. This infuriated Diocletian, and George was imprisoned and tortured - but he refused to deny his faith. Eventually he was dragged through the streets of Diospolis (now Lydda) in Palestine and beheaded on April 23, 303AD.
It has been said that Diocletian's wife was so impressed by George's resilience that she became a Christian and that she too was executed for her faith.
He is respected by more than one religion. There is a multi-faith shrine and tomb in Beit Jala, Palestine, that is visited by Christians, Jews and Muslims. In this tomb lies the body of St George. The man whose dignity in life has united three of the leading world religions.
St George is the patron saint of a diverse and eclectic number of causes :- soldiers, archers, cavalry and chivalry, farmers and field workers, riders and saddlers. During his life he helped those suffering from leprosy, plague and syphilis and mental health. His ability to love and care for others in the face of adversity make him truly remarkable.
Given his outstanding qualities it is especially upsetting that this remarkable man should have become associated with the hatred and bitterness of political strife. Putting that on one side it is fitting that the Church of England has prayer for St George that is especially moving.
A prayer for St George's Day.
God of hosts,
who so kindled the flame of love
in the heart of your servant George
that he bore witness to the risen Lord
by his life and by his death:
give us the same faith and power of love
that we who rejoice in his triumphs
may come to share with him the fullness of the resurrection;
through Jesus Christ your Son our Lord,
who is alive and reigns with you,
in the unity of the Holy Spirit,
one God, now and for ever. Amen.
Caring for each other as Jesus taught us.
Each Thursday evening at 8pm I have been joining in with the rest of the nation to stand on my doorstep and clap for those brave people of the health and emergency services. Not forgetting the hard-working Care Staff who look after Care Home residents and people living in their own homes, who need assistance with daily living. They are all working so hard to care for not only the patients with the Covid 19 infection but also the thousands of other patients requiring care and treatment across the UK. It is a momentous task and we are all so very grateful for their dedication.
But it does not just stop there because there are very many other people who undertake their daily employment to keep our nation running. The diversity of these services are far too numerous to mention but they include refuse collectors, food retail personnel, pharmacists, bus and train drivers, members of the clergy, manufacturing personnel who have had to adapt their skills to making and producing new good such as medical clothing. The list is endless. Last but by no means least the millions of volunteers across the nation who have offered their services to raise money (Captain Tom Moore), make medical gowns in their own homes, deliver food and look after other people’s pets. It is awe inspiring how, when the chips are down, we can come together collectively to work for the good of others.
However, the concept of caring for others is not new to life in 2020. It is just more likely that the Covid 19 crisis has caused the nations of the world to re-evaluate how society deals with the emergency, each other and moves forward. As all Christians know it was Jesus who said:-
“You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind. This is the greatest and first commandment. And a second is like it: You shall love your neighbour as yourself”. (Matthew 2:37-39).
Notable examples of caring for others can be found from history. In the Middle Ages health care for the ordinary citizen was found in Monastic hospitals. The monks delivered care based on natural remedies made of herbs but importantly they provided food and rest for the sick. Later nursing was provided by nuns in Convent hospitals. Sadly, much of this much needed health care was dismantled during the English Reformation when the monasteries were destroyed, and hundreds of monks became destitute and forced to beg on the streets.
Jumping forward in time to the 19th Century, famous women such as Florence Nightingale (1820-1910) and Mary Seacole (1805 -1881) travelled to the Crimea war zone to care for the wounded soldiers injured in the battels. They had to contend with lack of facilities, medicines, huge numbers of wounded and overwhelming disease. They also encountered hostility to their gender from the prevailing paternalistic attitude of the time. Particularly Mary Seacole who was woman of colour. However, these women and their colleagues helped to change forever the provision of health care. Through them the love of God was brought to those crying out for help at a time of dire need. Through these women God walked alongside humankind here in the Kingdom on Earth. It is the presence of God here with us in our day to day life that gives us strength to deliver Christian Pastoral Care to others. J. Paton (1) said in 2005:-
“ The ministry of pastoral care is based theologically on the Christian affirmation that God created humankind for relationship with God and with God’s other creatures. God continues in relationship with humankind by remembering and hearing us. Our human caring is based in God’s care; we care for each other because God cares for us”.
This belief was endorsed by J. Whipp (2) in 2013 when she said that through the Trinity Christians are called into a conscious and:-
Today’s UK society is multi-cultural and increasingly secular. It is highly likely that millions of people are not familiar with words of Jesus’ words in Matthew 22. None-the-less if the Covid 19 crisis has demonstrated anything it is that when it really matters society is prepared to pull together regardless of all faiths or no faith. The essence of loving one’s neighbours is out there in the community daily. It is alive and vibrant. Last Thursday in my road we were all out on the pavement clapping when we were joined by a man driving a steam tractor. He rolled past tooting the steam whistle loudly. Further down the road someone was playing ”You will never walk alone” originally a hit from the 1945 musical Carousel and later a hit for Freddie and the Pacemakers in 1963 and Liverpool Football Club. It just goes to show that you cannot keep a good idea down. Jesus had good idea:- that we should love our neighbours as ourselves. That is exactly what we are doing, and we should be thankful to Jesus that he has shown us the way. Amen.
Patton, J,. 2005. Pastoral Care: An Essential Guide. Abingdon Press. USA.
Whipp (2013. p3,105) Whipp, M,. 2013. SCM Studyguide: Pastoral Theology. SCM Press. London
Some thoughts for Easter
As a society we have become accustomed to our freedom. Overall, we can travel where we please, eat what we like, shop, exercise, watch television, vote, worship and enjoy many other activities all unfettered by the state. Therefore, it has come as a shock to have rules and regulations imposed which prohibiting us from doing our favourite things. As a nation we are not used to being told what to do.
That is why it is so wonderful that we have all recognized the importance of the restrictions on our freedom. We are aware that staying in our homes and not going out to public places will help to protect the vulnerable in society from catching Covid 19 and keep the NHS Staff, Emergency Workers and others safe and well.
The concept of social isolation may seem strange to us in the 21st Century but it is not a new phenomenon. In the 4th Century the Desert Fathers chose to live in the solitude of the middle eastern deserts in order to meditate and pray. They sought an intense relationship with God which came from the rigours and harshness of desert life. Julian of Norwich was a famous anchorite who lived in permanent seclusion in her anchoresses’ cell inside St Julian’s Church in Norwich. She spent years on her own in contemplation of God. Totally dependent on others for food and water which they brought to her and passed through a window in the cell wall.
From a secular perspective some have become unintentionally socially isolated. For example, in 1914 the artic explorer Ernest Shackleton and others set off to explore Antarctica. Their ship became trapped in the pack ice and the men were forced to abandon ship. Rescue did not come for them until 1916. They were forced into a period of social isolation from the rest of the world. Their isolation meant that they had to pull together as a team to survive. In order to maintain team motivation Shackleton made certain that each man maintain his normal daily routine. The sailors swabbed the decks, hunted for food or made the meals. The scientist collected and analysed specimens. I mention this only because it is exactly what we are being advised to do today while we stay in-doors. Maintaining a normal routine of mealtimes, relaxation and time for prayer will help us to remain grounded. In his hour of need Shackleton regularly prayer to God for help with bearing the burden of responsibility. For us we can pray to God for his help and support of those in need and for the safe keeping of humankind in this time of turbulence.
In 1970 the ill-fated Apollo 13 mission to the moon ended when the spaceship was crippled by an explosion on board and the crew found themselves stuck in space with limited communication with earth. In essence they were socially isolated from the whole planet. President Nixon called for a day of prayer and millions of people worldwide prayed for the safe return of the astronauts. They touched down in the Pacific Ocean on 17th April 1970.
Lastly, in Matthew 4:1-11 Jesus spent forty days in social isolation in the Judean Desert. He fasted for forty days and forty nights. Life was hard for him and he found himself tempted by the Devil who chided him into turning stones to bread. Jesus firmly rejected this invitation and remained resolute. There must have been times when Jesus felt like giving up and returning to his home and family, but he chose to stay and endure the hardship. His Father in Heaven was with Jesus every single day and at no time did he desert him.
Jesus understands perfectly the hardship of being socially isolated from one’s family, friends and society. Jesus knows that it can produce feelings of unhappiness, depression and loneliness. For that reason, Jesus has not and will not leave people to be alone and excluded from their world. He healed the lepers and the bleeding woman so that they could return to their communities. He healed Legion so that he did not have to live alone in a cave as an outcaste.
Jesus walks alongside all of us as we undergo this time of turbulence and change in our lives. He will be there for us when we call. At this time of late Lent, we have the time and space in our social isolation to read the bible and reflect on the lonely journey that Jesus was to undertake on his way to the cross. Let us utilize this time of enforced solitude to be productive in our prayer life, contemplative in our thoughts and generous in our love for others. Amen