Personal patronal

Statue of St Richard, Chichester Cathedral
A Prayer of St Richard of Chichester (1197-1253)
Thanks be to you, our Lord Jesus Christ,
for all the benefits which you have given us,
for all the pains and insults which you have borne for us.
Most merciful Redeemer, Friend and Brother,
may we know you more clearly,
love you more dearly,
and follow you more nearly,
day by day.

Today is, I guess, a kind of “personal patronal”. My parents were married in St Richard’s church in Chichester, and I am named as a result.

I cannot claim to live a life of frugal vegetarianism, nor can I hope to cultivate figs as a hobby. But in some small way, I can aspire to be like St Richard by aspiring to his aspiration. And on the occasions I do get to take a few moments in Chichester Cathedral when visiting my parents, I pause to echo his famous prayer at the shrine of St Richard.


ABC Day 37: The end is a new beginning – returning by another way

An Epiphany. A striking revelation.

Advent has been and gone; it is twelfth night. Today the church remembers the visit of the magi – trusting in the revelation through study of scripture, they followed a star to Bethlehem.

And having been warned in a dream not to return to Herod, they left for their own country by another road. Now after they had left, an angel of the Lord appeared to Joseph in a dream and said, ‘Get up, take the child and his mother, and flee to Egypt, and remain there until I tell you; for Herod is about to search for the child, to destroy him.’ Then Joseph got up, took the child and his mother by night, and went to Egypt, and remained there until the death of Herod. This was to fulfil what had been spoken by the Lord through the prophet, ‘Out of Egypt I have called my son.’

When Herod died, an angel of the Lord suddenly appeared in a dream to Joseph in Egypt and said, ‘Get up, take the child and his mother, and go to the land of Israel, for those who were seeking the child’s life are dead.’ Then Joseph got up, took the child and his mother, and went to the land of Israel. But when he heard that Archelaus was ruling over Judea in place of his father Herod, he was afraid to go there. And after being warned in a dream, he went away to the district of Galilee. There he made his home in a town called Nazareth, so that what had been spoken through the prophets might be fulfilled, ‘He will be called a Nazorean.’

Matthew 2:12-15; 19-23

This is the third time I’ve thought about this passage since Christmas. I’ve heard it preached on twice, and now I’ve been enjoying reading Maggi’s thoughts on the passage as well as those of Pam, Graham and Ruth.

Journey of the magi
Journey of the Magi, by Stanislav Lvovsky on Flickr.
Creative Commons License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 United States License.

An unexpected journey then – or rather several unexpected journeys.

A few days ago we thought about how Joseph probably hadn’t been planning to bring a pregnant Mary all the way to Bethlehem to give birth. Yesterday we thought about the magi’s trip to Bethlehem.

Today we get both return journeys. Maggi points out that these are unexpected journeys because of an encounter with Jesus. The magi are scared to return the same way because of Herod’s attitude to the challenge of a new King; Joseph has a similar concern about Herod’s son. Both of their paths changed by an encounter with God.

Now, I suppose, is the time to admit that the #adventbookclub has led to some unexpected journeys for me. Virtual journeys to share the views of both friends and those I’ve never met. Thoughts about the journeys of faith that have brought some of the club’s ‘members’ to an unexpected place in their ministry (ministry isn’t just for the clergy, either!). Our journey outside yesterday in the rain to chalk our door. And my own journey to think more deeply about the passages of scripture picked for us by Maggi (unknowingly, perhaps, as in 2007 the idea of a virtual book club may not have been top of her list!).

May each of our onwards journeys be unexpected – surprised by God when we most need it – and hopefully I will meet some of my fellow ABCers along the way. Amen.

Finally, I thought I’d share a sonnet by Malcolm Guite:  listen to ‘Epiphany sonnet’ on Audioboo. He’s promised more for the other Sundays of the Epiphany season, so you might want to keep an eye on his blog…

ABC Day 35 – Born in a borrowed room

Hello. Remember me? I was blogging every day with the #adventbookclub. And, whilst I’ve been following along the words of others, and reading Maggi’s book, and praying, actual blogging time has been limited. Half-formed thoughts just haven’t made their way onto the laptop; the laptop couldn’t make its way onto my lap during a prolonged parental visitation; a cold struck; and I’m still struggling to get the iPad app to talk to my webhost. But I’m hoping to now be able to complete the last few days, God willing…


Luke 2:7 And she gave birth to her firstborn son and wrapped him in bands of cloth, and laid him in a manger, because there was no place for them in the inn.

All Saints Church, Bracknell Road, Ascot, Berks – Reredos of the Last Supper by John Salmon [CC-BY-SA-2.0 (], via Wikimedia Commons

Luke 22:7-13 Then came the day of Unleavened Bread, on which the Passover lamb had to be sacrificed. So Jesus sent Peter and John, saying, ‘Go and prepare the Passover meal for us that we may eat it.’ They asked him, ‘Where do you want us to make preparations for it?’ ‘Listen,’ he said to them, ‘when you have entered the city, a man carrying a jar of water will meet you; follow him into the house he enters and say to the owner of the house, “The teacher asks you, ‘Where is the guest room, where I may eat the Passover with my disciples?’” He will show you a large room upstairs, already furnished. Make preparations for us there.’ So they went and found everything as he had told them; and they prepared the Passover meal.

Before Maggi’s book pointed it out to me (there’s a reason I’m not a theologian by profession, you know) I’d never spotted that this was two borrowed rooms at each end of the story – the stable of the nativity and the upper room of the passover meal – the last supper.

I was struck Maggi’s observation that, whilst an Englishman’s home is his castle, a rented castle is somewhat less secure. This fits with a lot of the news of the last few days – for example, the latest Shelter survey here. The second of the borrowed rooms set in train the ultimate in insecurity – betrayal and death. Yet Jesus trusted in God the father.

Finally, I am struck again by the links between Christmas and Easter. I didn’t enter into the debate sparked by this post here – my views will have to wait for another blog post (be warned, there might be life in this blog between the Advent Book Club and the Big Read 14).

So, setting aside the question of preaching to the ‘unchurched’ at Christmas, for those of at least some traditions within the ‘churched’ there is a focus on the four last things – death, judgement, heaven and hell – throughout Advent. I give you, for example, my thoughts from last Advent here. And with that focus, the Incarnation is all too close for comfort – a baby born young and innocent, in the knowledge that sacrifice on the cross is the endgame. Which brings us neatly back to the symmetry I was struck by at the start – the borrowed room is the beginning of the beginning as well as the beginning of the end.

You can follow the Advent Book Club on Facebook, on Twitter, or read about it on Pam’s blog.

ABC day 22: Coming, ready or not…

The secret is out today. Mary goes to visit her husband Elizabeth, who knows Mary is pregnant (Luke 1:39-45). Not just the normal excitement for Elizabeth at good news in the family; she knows that the baby will be her Lord – the fulfilment of the promise God has made to all generations, as well as the fulfilment of the promise God had made to her about her son, John the Baptist.

Maggi tells us about her own experience of finding herself pregnant and finding a church not ready to deal with a pregnant ordinand; something then rare enough that there were no policies. Yet her baby wouldn’t wait to be born whilst the dear old CofE tried to work out what to do with her – her frustration and that of her tutor with the system that didn’t know what to do was palpable.

And so – are we ready for the arrival of Jesus at Christmas? I thought about this yesterday as I fought through the present-buying hordes. By the end of the day the hordes had died down – in part due to the rain, but in part due to either resignation or achievement.

Somewhere amongst the hubbub, about 4,800 people decided to take half an hour(isn) out to get ready by coming to one of our six Carols on the Hour services. 3,000 people did the same at Gloucester Cathedral last Saturday. The two services I was stewarding at had a “Big Sing” choir who weren’t even a choir six weeks ago, yet had spent every Wednesday since getting ready. Last Wednesday, carols at The Boot saw several hundred people come and go – and stay rather longer than they planned for the sheer joy of carolling with each other.

Yes, some of these may have been more or less devout than others. Yes, not everyone will have gone home converted to the faith. But each of them has opened their hearts, just a little, to God. Lord, I pray that however we can open the hearts of your people to your message, we do. Maybe they are firm believers; maybe “that’s not for me – I just like the tunes”. Yet somehow they witnessed a warm welcome, the joy of Christmas, and maybe heard something that might strike a chord. From small acorns, great oaks will grow; from a simple shoot from the stem of Jesse came your son who will redeem us all. From the small seeds of our own faith, let us grow in faith to be witnesses to the Word made flesh, amongst us still. Come, thou long expected Jesus…

Maranatha. Come, Lord Jesus.

You can follow the Advent Book Club on Facebook, on Twitter, or read about it on Pam’s blog.

BigRead13 Day 36 : Stream

Day 36’s post from the BigRead13 can be found here.

From The Silver Chair we have an excerpt where Jill is scared of Aslan (a lion – not unreasonable to be scared of a lion) – and doesn’t want to approach him when he might swallow her up, yet he stands in the way of the only life-giving stream around. It’s paired with John 14:16:

And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Advocate, to be with you forever.

171/365 Alban, Martyr, with the Crown of LifeThinking, as we were asked, about how we feel about there being no other stream – how do we feel that there is one God, and that he is the only way to the truth?

Reassured and disturbed.

Reassured, because I can feel confident in my choice to take up my cross and follow him. Disturbed, because of what that means we are asked to do. Taking up our cross and following is hard, particularly where secular pressures call for our time, our attention, our care. Yet ultimately, we have no choice because of the compelling logic – a man willing to die for us; a God willing to give his only son.  No wonder Alban, who lived and died just a couple of hundred yards from our house, was willing to give his life saying “My name is Alban, and I worship the only true and living God, who created all things.”

BigRead13 Day 22 : Fix

You can find day 22’s post from the #BigRead13 here.

Hebrews 12:2 today:

Looking to Jesus the pioneer and perfecter of our faith, who for the sake of the joy that was set before him endured the cross, disregarding its shame, and has taken his seat at the right hand of the throne of God.

We’re asked how often we remember to fix our eyes on Jesus?

The answer is, probably, daily, but not often enough and hard enough. All too often we can take a fleeting glance when instead we should be fixing our eyes. That said, it can be hard to really, firmly, unflinchingly fix our eyes on Jesus.

If we contemplate the awfulness of the cross; the pain, the suffering, the anguish, it is hard not to turn away. But only when we force our eyes back to the cross do we finally learn of his pain and suffering and understand just how much was done that we might be saved.

Lent 2013

Why is Lent important to me?

Lent is here again. It seems early – yesterday there was a serious threat that the clergy’s annual humiliation entry in the town’s pancake race might be snowed off. To be fair, they do handicap themselves by racing in full fig – cassocks flowing, birettas flying – but this year they did manage to beat at least one team.

From yesterday’s light-heartedness then to the serious business of Ash Wednesday. We were reminded on Sunday that all loyal Anglicans would be in church today. I made it to the noon service and found myself in good company, kneeling behind +Alan, amongst about 60 folk. There will have been a lot more this evening for the Choral Eucharist. Maybe not all of the Abbey congregation, but a fair proportion.

This led me to ponder – why do we find Lent important?  I was helped by two posts I read online today.  Firstly, Maggi Dawn’s reflection “Remember that you are but dust” reminded me that ashing reminds us of our own mortality, and thence the challenge as to what we do with the time we have left on Earth. Secondly, Beth Routledge’s “From dust you came” made me think even more about Ash Wednesday being about us, rather than God. And the words she quotes from Walt Whitman’s text for the Vaughan Williams Sea Symphony were beautiful.

Lenten discipline

And so to some Lenten discipline. Today we are called “in the name of the Church, to the observance of a holy Lent, by self-examination and repentance; by prayer, fasting, and self-denial; and by reading and meditating on God’s holy word.”  Blogging about fasting and self-denial is probably as unhelpful for me as it is for anyone reading. I did, however, find that writing for the Advent Book Club helped me form my thoughts and prayers far more than just reading alone.

So – I am hoping to dip in to the #BigRead13. In amongst reflecting on some of their posts, I’m hoping to find time to read a couple of other books and may share some thoughts on those.

Advent Book Club Bonus Day 10

Be still before the Lord, and wait patiently for him;
    do not fret over those who prosper in their way,
    over those who carry out evil devices.

Refrain from anger, and forsake wrath.
    Do not fret—it leads only to evil.
For the wicked shall be cut off,
    but those who wait for the Lord shall inherit the land.

16 Better is a little that the righteous person has
    than the abundance of many wicked.

21 The wicked borrow, and do not pay back,
    but the righteous are generous and keep giving.

Psalm 37:7-9, 16, 21

 Today Nouwen tells us to be generous – each time we are, we move from fear to love. That those we are asked to be generous to – and to forgive – are our family – because we are all one kin – one body in one Christ.

I think perhaps many of the previous day’s readings have been pointing towards this.  That only by becoming generous like God can we be closer to God.  Today’s action proved hard – not to moan and groan about the challenges of life – after a sleepless night, no seat on the train etc. But actually, none of that mattered.  The sleepless night was love for my son (who is ill) and my wife (who was exhausted); the train was not intruding on others (though tweeting about it meant I moaned even though I didn’t allow my displeasure to be felt by the offenders).

How then to be generous when we are seriously wronged?  Prayer may be the only way… By praying we may come to see wisdom, to care less and understand more. We may yet be seen to be radical in our love of Christ and our fellow humankind as we were exhorted to be right back at the start of Advent in a sermon in church. A few snatched words of a kyrie may calm us down before we say something we regret, and allow us to respond graciously and gratefully.

This being a Christian stuff sure isn’t easy, is it?*

And for generosity, some music about the ultimate act of generosity. John Ireland’s Greater Love Hath No Man:

* understatement of the year so far.

An intermission… What are the Great ‘O’ Antiphons?

There are many good explanations of what the Great ‘O’ antiphons of Advent are, and meditations on each. For example, this one, this one (click forwards for the rest of the antiphons) and this one.  And even Wikipedia has some good material.

What am I talking about?  The seven antiphons historically used by the ancient church at ‘vespers’ – the evening service – sung before and after the Magnificat.  Each is a short cry to the Messiah to come to us. Each echoes a different prophecy about the coming of the Messiah.  Taking the seven different daily titles for the Messiah in Latin and reading backwards, you get the phrase “Ero cras” – “Tomorrow, I come” – a true Advent prayer.

These antiphons have been used since ancient times by the Benedictines, and now appear in the liturgical materials of many denominations and traditions – including the Church of England, the Lutheran Church and the Presbetyrian Church.

Why might they find them helpful? Why do I find them helpful? Clearly, I cannot speak for anyone but myself – I can but speculate. But here are some thoughts:

  • each is a cry to God – a prayer in itself. It is a call to God to come soon.  We know Christmas will come, Mayan predictions notwithstanding. But that doesn’t make the longing any easier.  These are not simple words of comfort – they are an echo of our own sense of longing;
  • each is biblically grounded.  The Wikipedia article sets out some references which they reflect. Common Worship‘s Times and Seasons volume (p58-9) also provides helpful biblical analogies for each as well as accompanying readings. I tire sometimes of people criticising the use of good liturgy rather than relying on the Bible and preaching. Like much of the best liturgy, this is biblically grounded and made to be striking;
  • each has a connection with the ancient Benedictine way, harking back to a time when many more people lived a life of prayer than in today’s secular world; and
  • each can be reflected on.  Why do we want Jesus to come to us? What do we want him to do? What do we need him to do?

Whether it is in beautiful choral settings, the well known paraphrase of the Advent carol “O Come, O Come Emmanuel”, or reciting the words at a service of said Evening Prayer (Evensaid?), they form a striking, poetic reminder of God’s greatness, the need to praise him, and the need to call to him to come to us.

Advent – a musical interlude

Some of you may have spotted by now that music is a big part of my Advent preparations. Somehow it sets the soul and soothes away the general background hubbub of my commute and lets me start to focus.

I posted at the start of the #adventbookclub about our church Advent Procession and the melding of word, music and candlelight to set a prayerful mood for the start of Advent.

Until now, my normal choice of Advent music when walking around London was the rather wonderful Advent Procession with Carols from King’s. This features some truly beautiful music of perhaps the more traditional bent.

Equally good, but less well known, are some of the tracks on this new disc, Advent at Merton by (unsurprisingly) the Choir of Merton College, Oxford.

The centrepiece of the disc is seven newly commissioned Advent Antiphons – the seven great ‘O’s of Advent – by modern composers – Howard Skempton, John Tavener, Rihards Dubra, Gabriel Jackson, Cecilia McDowall, Matthew Martin and Ėriks Ešenvalds. Averaging around 2’45”, varied in style, they work as a cycle despite normally only being performed one a year.

Around the ‘O’s are a range of beautiful music from across the centuries – Byrd’s Roarte Caeli Desuper and Ecce Virgo Concipiet are well enough known, as is the Victoria Ave Maria and perhaps the Praetorius pieces. These are beautifully set off by some more modern numbers – James Macmillan’s Advent Antiphon melding together English and Latin, and Judith Weir’s setting of Drop down, ye heavens from above is intensely moving.

With many thanks to Chris Phillips for alerting me to this disc’s existence.