Saturday, 21 November 2015

7 Quick Takes: The Advent of Advent


There are tons of signs I am getting ready for Advent. Firstly, I have gifts to wrap and cards to write and post, and in my head this is the thing I do before Advent, so I can participate fully. So guess what? Everything is just sitting there, with no time scheduled in to do these things. What a good starting point to reflect on my humanness and await the divine....


But it has been Bonfire Night. I know in the USA that the holiday season – and Starbucks squabbles – hit as soon as Halloween was done, but here in England we had the death of a revolutionary to celebrate. Guy Fawkes’ Night meant two weeks of pretty incessant fireworks. We had spontaneous firework and bonfire craft at home, and FabDad took the three eldest sisters to a firework display. 4thSister and I watched one from the window.

Tissue paper bonfire and fireworks


Speaking of dead revolutionaries, everyone in our house is being made to listen to Hamilton: The Musical which 1stSister picked up on even before I realised Hallie Lord had. My life may be complete – a historical musical with rap. It sounds terrible written down, but listening to it, it is amazing. The rhyming couplets and cheeky references (Gilbert and Sullivan operettas anyone?) are MAKING ME SO HAPPY.


 It is another sign that I am ‘getting ready for Advent’ when I start to procrastinate and listen to musicals rather than actually doing much.


Thankfully despite being on placement at a different church for the next month or so, I am helping with a Songs of Praise service on the 1st Sunday of Christmas so I’ve just spent a couple of hours absorbed in Jesse Tree stuff, Bible readings, prayers and poems to celebrate Christmas – and if that isn’t getting Advent-y I don’t know what is J


When my 5 year old asked whether we were going to get the candles of all different colours out and light them, I didn’t ask her seven times whether or not she meant the rainbow candle 1st Sister had made, I straight away piped up “you mean the Advent Candles, don’t you?”


Finally – there is an extra compline service at church for Tuesdays in Advent which is in my diary. I am finally back on my feet fully post-op and scheduling in time with friends, the outdoors, playtime with small children and enjoying dates with my husband. It is requiring A LOT of self-discipline to balance everything within our domestic unit so I am relying on a lot of prayer. Advent gives me an opportunity to revisit my rule of life, in a way that’s slightly less penitential than Lent and slightly more about delayed gratification (mustn’t eat the Christmas goodies before it’s time, now.) I don’t really want to wait to get my act together this year, because I want to make the time to wait on Him properly. It’s inevitable in my humanness that there will be things that slip through the net. I know regular prayer won’t get the gifts wrapped. But it gives me a starting point, the very best starting point of all.

Friday, 13 November 2015

Mulch, mulch, glorious mulch

"They will be called oaks of righteousness, a planting of the Lord for a display of his splendour." - Isaiah Ch 61 V 3 (part)

I’ve always found the metaphor of a tree to be both personally and professionally important to me. On an Ignatian Quiet Day in Sheffield, I first really, really thought about my role in the Church, in Christianity. I was starting to put down roots, both in the church I attended and my developing faith. As I watched an oak tree outside, I could almost feel those roots hooking into the ground, being nourished. Like my roots. But there was also growth –  not only a tree growing upwards and outwards, but also producing fruit, launching acorns into the world, to start new life.  I knew God wanted me to give something back; this helped me see it fully. And this oak tree image has resonated with me in a variety of situations just when I needed it – acorn d├ęcor in the moulded plaster on the ceiling as I waited to be interviewed about my vocation to the priesthood, for starters.

As with that small acorn, in the Gospels we hear about how it only takes a mustard seed, a teeny tiny wisp of faith, to start a transformation. (I remember leading the Pram Service with under 5s and actually taking in some of those teeny tiny seeds.) As church, we are often brilliant at planting seeds and starting a chain reaction in people.  We are less practised, I believe, at following up and sustaining new Christians. We may think about that first spark of life, but not support the spiritual sapling that is making its way in the world, trying to put down strong roots in the earth.

A little while ago I mused about the wonder of leaves – their role in the life of trees, and in our lives, as they engage our senses in their colourful death. This past week, however, I was thinking about ow dead leaves become mulch (and not just because my Dad subjected me to no end of gardening programmes on TV as a child!) I remembered that although it is the seed of the tree that makes a beginning, in the death of the leaves something also happens; the soil in which seeds grow is fertilised. Leaves decay; in doing so, they enrich. They retain moisture. They stop the weeds growing. As such, spiritual mulch can help provide a nurturing environment for people wherever they are on their faith journey. They ensure that the plant will put down strong roots and grow fruitfully.

Being part of an ageing church population means that I have had several friends who I feel have “gone too soon” – they have seemed too young, too part of things, to take their place amongst the dying and dementia sufferers. But they set an example. They were themselves. They were accepting. They were caring. They didn’t engage in self-publicity. They met you where you were. Their hearts were big. They didn’t need to know you well to know you. They helped sustain the life of the church through the Christmas Bazaar and other behind the scenes work and oh so much more without ever inviting credit. Just for the love of God, the love of Jesus, the love of people. We can use their inspiration to continue this being alongside our congregation, following in the footsteps. Let the richness of their faith sustain the faith as others.

Gardeners don’t have to use fallen leaves as mulch, either. There are lots of other varieties now available, which have been created over time to meet a specific need. Does your church have multiple ways of encouraging children, new Christians, those who are challenged in their faith, struggling on their spiritual journey? How do we help them to grow? Do we make sure they are seeing enough light? That they are well fed and watered with prayer, music, the Word, pastoral care, us knowing their name, giving them love?

We need to be encouraging as congregations – without being overwhelming! – in part by not expecting perfection, conformity or people who know what they are doing and instead inviting humanity, creating a learning environment and dispensing grace. In order to establish strong roots there needs to be a soil that is safe and stable, yet is rich in breadth and depth, with occasional threads of absolute beauty and plenty of earth that is nothing special to look at on the surface but has itself been nurtured and inspired by the lives – the leaves? – of those that have gone before us.

New life. New wine. New Testament. And always, a newness of approach, where it is needed, to gently nurture new faith.

"You did not choose me, but I chose you and appointed you so that you may bear fruit" - John Ch 15 V 16

Friday, 6 November 2015

7 Quick Takes: Saints and Sinners


1stSister is there underneath the make-up!

We definitely had a 'bit of both' last week. The kids were determined to show the devil who's really boss and wear their scary costumes. And were they scary! (Well I thought they were scary. Scarier than usual, anyway. Ahem.)


I know there are detractors against Halloween 'celebrations', particularly amongst some Christians I know, but it was a wonderful time of community and family where we live. So many of our

neighbours made such an effort to receive our littles and make a fuss of them, commenting on their costumes and sometimes dressing up themselves. It was lovely to see our girls working together to get ready, helping out.


Furthermore, some of us couldn't look scary if we tried!

Pumpkin Princess


And we had a fabulous Saints' tea party where we talked about relics (bowl of chicken bones), St Crispian and St Crispinian being tortured and beheaded (eating crisps), St Catherine and the breaking wheel (coconut ring biscuits), St Elizabeth of Hungary (a basket of bread for the poor), St Swithun (eggs that he made whole), St Peter and St Andrew (tuna fish) and St Rose (Cadbury chocolates)!

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I told the girls that the first step to sainthood could be taken by filling shoeboxes full of gifts for "the poor children" overseas for Operation Christmas Child.


And I had the privilege of attending Holy Communion on Tuesday, where we said the Collect for all the Saints, and the priestly robes and altar decorations were still celebratory red from All Saints and All Souls.


And finally, finally - the season is still all about the squash! As well as the fallback squash soup, there has been squash and vegetable curry, made entirely from scratch, and tonight I am going to attempt the squash and kale mix-up I didn't get around to last week. Slowly working my way through these beauties....