Monthly Archives: April 2011

Des. Res.

Yesterday I went to the place with a friend. Despite that I had no news at all of the royal wedding until the evening. We went to Falkland Palace because my friend has a camera and the ability to use it, which at the moment is a dangerous combination, because it means I am very likely to exploit you. She took some really stunning images for me. And you too, if only you really want it, can make over a ruin into a des. res. Would you like to be inspired to create a simple bathroom?

Would you perhaps prefer somebody to create a relief of your children to ornament a small cupboard?

And if you need some woodwork restored, it can be done very sympathetically and still allow you to see where the old ends and the new begins.

As usual with Bute buildings, despite having already seen Falkland several times, I spent the first hour going ‘Wow’ and the second recovered enough to start looking at what is actually there in some detail, causing me to become every more inspired to do some serious academic work on the property. But for now all I can say is that I owe my friends a huge debt, and I think the illustrations in the book with be both varied and stunning.

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Sunrise and astonishment

But it does not end there, not with pain and absence and hard work. It ends gloriously – with a sunrise and astonishment and the promise that however dark things look, God can bring out the totally unexpected – that he can find the right work, the right person, the unexpected way. The women went to offer the last service to a beloved dead teacher. They found angels, and fear, and excitement and an astonishing realisation that the end was, in fact, just the very beginning. Alleluia is back – Jesus is with his people, and everything we never expect might happen.

Icons and absence

Saturday of this week is a funny old day. We have stopped focusing on pain. The young man is safely dead, and I feel as I have felt before when a beloved was in pain and then died: ‘Thank God for this release – this mercy.’ Instead, we go to church to clean and polish and dust. The worst of jobs is the kneelers. Heavy lifting and dust all over one. The best is the polishing of the eagle lectern, ‘my eagle’ – who to me is an icon. Through him I see the angel who become the symbol for the Gospel of John. [All my angles are gendered, this one happens to be male]. And through this icon, the window into heaven, I see how individuals each have a vocation, and yet may struggle to find it and see themselves clearly. This is an important lesson to me. Consequently, him being an icon and all, I am disproportionately fond of him and find it foolishly uplifting to polish him.

But behind these joys is a sorrow. Jesus is not there. A friend blogs of astonishment and misery of moving about the church, not bowing to him. The grief today is for ourselves, that we have lost the beloved.

No words serve

Christians blog frantically at Good Friday. There is a great need to communicate what we feel so deeply, a great urgency. And then again, on this day, of all days, words fall away. We are left with an enormity that defies speech. Perhaps that is why , in my heart of hearts, I find the actions of Maundy Thursday, and the silence of its Vigil, and the simplicity of the Veneration of the Cross so much more fulfilling than the Three Hours, fine as they are at St Mary’s.

On Good Friday we confront the agony of the world, and the suffering of God. On other days, we intellectualise in a desperate attempt to explain to ourselves and to others how we can speak of the love of God when his world is suffused with suffering at every level. On Good Friday, we stop and simply watch his slow torture. And what can one say about that?

Perhaps only this. That we also confront everything we do, and fail to do, that adds to the pain of the world. The beggar not helped, the angry word, the damage to waterways, the tree felled, the creature run over – every choice large or small which does not help to heal.

And we sit with this pain, the pain we cause and the pain we suffer. We sit very quietly. We do not pretend it is less than it is, or that it is somewhere else, or it never happened. We do not pretend that we caused all of it, or that we caused none of it. We just sit and try very hard to look at it.

And we hope there will be a circle. We hope that if we can bear to see the pain of the young man on that cross, then we may yet bear to see the pain of the ‘failed asylum seeker’ terrified of deportation and more suffering. We hope that if we can see the pain caused to the beautiful world by climate change, we may see the pain of that woman cradling her dead son more clearly.

We hope that if we can sit with their pain, we can also sit with our own pain. And this day, we do not seek to transform it, or be redeemed by it, or to rise out of it – we just ask for patience to see it and to bear it. And by the time we reach evening, we are exhausted, and wrung out.

I have some sympathy with those who say: ‘My faith is about joy’. Mine is too. But a joy which swallows up pain. Not a joy which evades it. And this day, this terrible day, is about simply sitting and looking at the cross. And there, no words serve.

Commandment Thursday

For non-Christians, it is the eve of the Bank Holiday – for us it is a switch-blade ride of joy, and exultation and agony. Today we remember the last supper Jesus ever eat, and his creation of a pass-over between one world and another, and his agony in the garden and arrest. Tonight we begin glorying in him, and end in the long consideration of our weakness and the sheer damage we do in our lives.

Through it runs the theme of love, giving, cost and service. And the new commandment – the Maundy of this Thursday – to love one another whatever the cost. And all of that is so beautiful and noble. Until it is four pm and we are still hoovering somebody else’s stairs. Or mopping up somebody’s vomit at 2am. Or whatever. Whatever is actually hardest for us.

Christian maturity seems to me to consist in two things. One is in being real about ourselves. Knowing what we can do, what we find hard, where we fail, where we hurt others, where we do and do not give the support others need. Part of this is the being real before God which is part of prayer.

The other thing is in being real about others. Seeing where they are, and what their struggles are. Allowing their pain to be vivid to us. Understanding what they can and cannot do, where we need to help, where we need to let them struggle. Understanding their motivations, and allowing they to be far better at some things than we are, and far worse at others. Never, every, putting anybody into a category and imagining it tells us anything about them – gay, straight, male, female, rich, poor, clergy, lay. None of these tell us anything. Only the person can tell us.

Real service is tough and terminally boring. Most of the people I know like what is seen as the morally superior position of not needing help, but instead offering it. Which is of course an illusion, as we all need help. But equally most of us get fed up with offering service. The people who ignore advice, who do foolish things, who are drunk and disorderly at 2am, and the endless, endless stairs, and hot Hoovers, and stained floors. What we want is the chance to offer service to appreciative people and then to sit back and feel better.

But Christian life is about seeing it through. About finding the real person, and dealing directly with them. It is about offering ourselves, and about receiving the other, themself. And this is the essence of that last supper, which we experience as the Eucharist. It is about God’s offering of himself, and our response, in offering ourselves. It is his service, and our service. It is about each of us, each Christian, and God himself, being as real as we can possibly be.

And isn’t this, too, beautiful and noble – oh yes. Until a young man is alone and terrified at midnight. Until the stairs need hoovered again. And until the clergy are difficult, and the laity uncommitted. And so we fail in our attempts at reality, and come back, full circle. We come back to the hope that, this year, living through the young man’s gift, and joy and terror, we ourselves will come to a deeper understanding, see ourselves, see others, serve better. Commandment Thursday. Love one another.

Colours and shadows

One picture says it all – back to Bute overnight. A joyful afternoon choosing fabric for my new living room with the help of a good friend, dinner with another, then a night of peace and bliss with the dogs at St Ninian’s Bay.

The dogs love camping. The little tent you can see cost me ten squid at Woolworth in the good old days – I had been searching for a tent with a very limited budget. I went form Tiso to Blacks to Millets, with increasing alarm – all too dear. then in Woolies, I found what appeared to be the exact same tent, with the same specs, and the same fabric – only with a different pattern. The choice was Barbie Pink or camouflage. I have never regretted it – and it does just hold one woman and two large dogs. I am never cold – though sometimes too hot.

I lay at night, happy in the consciousness of glorious colour to deck the living room if it is ever finished, and listening to the oystercatchers. Max soon came to the conclusion that if I was resting he should, and Bridget too finally decided she could call it her bed. They lay up against me, and moonlight alternated with showers. There was no sound but wind and rain and water and birds and soft breathing.

But the next day when I came back to Ayrshire, it was home. The barn owls were very busy with the raising of their family. Bernadette and Martha were hopeful of food, and the ponies jostling for position, and I could see, at least, that one day the house WOULD be in order. I came back with renewed zest to get on with it all.

I will always go back to Bute – sometimes. The people, the peace, the wild flowers. But things are happening in Ayrshire, and I want them to happen. I have moved.

All Greek to me

I wonder if next Lent I should resolve that the only books I read will be fiction. I struggle to read novels.

On the other hand, I get really excited by books that I know some consider up-hill work. Recently I have embarked in re-reading Mark in Greek. I’ve done it before but this time I am aided by a help in the form of parallel text. It cut down a lot on the need to look things up – though to suck all the marrow from a passage, there is no doubt that a good dictionary is still indispensable. And I am riveted, excited and stirred – it is so very far from the heavy struggling English. Though a lot of the time it seems very rough Greek indeed. Rough but full of colour.

I am so luck to have learned it. It pains me so much that so few in the church learn it. It is so illogical. Muslims learn Arabic, Jews, Hebrew. We seem to think it is impossible for all but the highest flying clergy, and we don;t even suggest it for the laity. Why? It is not that hard, not that complex, and it opens doors through which vivid, life-giving images spring.

Gentle reader – if the Bible interests you – learn Greek.