I marked Easter this year by mulling on the Resurrection stories in the Gospels, and found myself led from those in John’s Gospel to John’s account of the raising of Lazarus, where I was struck by both the similarities and the differences between the stories of Jesus’ Resurrection and that of Lazarus.
In the story of Lazarus, Martha and Mary arrive at their brothers tomb with a crowd of witnesses. Lazarus’ body has been there for four days. Jesus commands that the stone in front of Lazarus’ tomb be taken away. Martha is concerned at the probable stench from Lazarus’s decomposing body, but nevertheless the stone is removed. Jesus commands Lazarus to “come out” and he does, still wrapped in his grave clothes. Jesus tells the onlookers to “Loose him, let him go,” and as a result many of them place their faith in Jesus. The story says nothing more of Lazarus save that later when Mary & Martha give a supper at home in honour of Jesus [not Lazarus!], their brother Lazarus is amongst the guests. Throughout the story the focus is on Jesus not Lazarus.
I was talking with a friend recently, and he mentioned the vision that Julian of Norwich had in which she saw God as a Lord and human beings as the Lord’s servants. I had to admit that while I understand that image of God in my head it doesn’t engage with either my heart or my soul, and it’s therefore not an image that has ever spoken to me. Obviously it spoke to Julian through her vision, and continues to speak to some today, so I found myself pondering why it doesn’t to me?
Recently a friend told me that she had been to receive Communion for first time for some months as her church was now open for worship: she was delighted to have been able to do so, as others are, as lockdown is beginning to be eased. Unlike my friend I haven’t been to worship in a church for a long time, worship there doesn’t currently feed my soul & it often leaves me feeling irritated & depressed. So its better for me to absent myself and look elsewhere. But rather than being a problem its become a gift, a challenge to think outside the box, and in a number of ways.
When I became a trustee of the Spiritual Counsel Trust (SCT), Bishop Dennis Hawker, then Bishop of Grantham, was soon to retire. I can still remember the words he used telling the trustees that he had been speaking with the new Bishop of Lincoln, Robert Hardy, about the work of the trust, and Bishop Bob had said to him that it “sounds like just the sort of thing I’d like to get involved with.” So, in 1987 Bishop Bob (as he liked to be known) became our chairman, and our trustees’ meetings were from then on held at The Bishop’s House, just across the road from the Cathedral. Bob indeed revealed a lively interest in spiritual direction and the tradition of Reginald Somerset Ward, (RSW). David Smith, a priest in Lincoln Diocese who had taken early retirement from parish ministry, was then full-time warden.
My friend Colin and I have met regularly to talk over many years. He retired early as his wife Joy was not well, and as her illness progressed and she was confined to her bed, he became her full-time carer. As he could no longer visit me I started to visit him at their home. Joy and I knew each other quite well, so one day when I was there I asked her if I could sit and talk with her for a while. She agreed and we ended up talking for most of the afternoon, to the surprise of both of us. Thereafter our afternoon conversations became a regular part of my visits.
Last summer I was reminded that the autumn would mark the 50th Anniversary of my ordination, and that prodded me to think about whether I should mark it and if so how. A personal review seemed like an obvious thing to do, but I reckoned that might benefit from some outside questioning. So I wrote to people who’ve known me over the years in a variety of different contexts, explaining what I hoped to do, and asking if they’d “be willing to help me by offering a thought provoking question? Any question they liked.” I ended up with a very stimulating set of questions. I mulled them through the autumn, wrote a considered response in early December, and shared it with all who’d helped me. Their reactions encouraged me to then publish what I’d written on this web-site. That in turn has led to quite a few comments, either posted on the web-site, or expressed to me personally. Some people have found that particular things that I wrote resonated with them, others have been prompted to consider a similar review of their own callings. With the latter particularly in mind it seemed that it might be useful if I published the questions, hoping they might stimulate others as they did me.. So here they are, in the order in which I received them. Please bear in mind that they were offered with respect to my ordination, so if your calling is other, you’ll probably need to adapt them.
After William Shakespeare, John Mason and John Cage’s musical composition 4’33”
I loved your silence, your sun; as birdsong bathed the stillness I dreamt that blazing star could purge by fire unimaginable pain seared by your reign of terror pulsating through every tribe and caste.
I loved your silence
your air that was good to breathe more freely disguised too thinly your murderous poison sliming through flesh and soul stifling livelihoods, masking truth, demeaning hope, stealing touch from human kin and dislocated lovers; a smoke raised with the fumes of sighs.
I loved your silence
it made a home in me; a nest where I could curl and brood the warmth of human love enriching shadowed lives. A sea nourished with loving tears. Farewell dear year, a madness most discreet, a choking gall, yet a preserving sweet has marked your almanac. Let dust in dust and silence lie
When I first sensed a call to ordination, I naively thought it would mean that ‘I shall have paid time to walk in the woods to wonder about the big questions of the existence of God and the meaning of life, and that I will find myself in conversation with others about these questions.’ Being brought up as an Anglican in a Christian culture, priesthood seemed the obvious means of exploring this vocation. Had I been born into a Jewish, Muslim, Hindu, Buddhist, Animist or atheist culture then the means of exploration would have been different but I assume that the exploration would have been similar.
I met Roy Gregory many years ago when we were both members of a group of spiritual directors in Soul Space at Greenbelt. He was the Pastor of Ashley Church in St Albans. We became good friends. He was responsible for setting up The Annunciation Trust web-site, and became our web master. It was his idea that led to he and I editing “The God you already know”. We’ve stayed in regular contact ever since.
The other day I received an email from him, which I’d like to share:
I recently came across a quotation of John Henry Newman, a Roman Catholic Cardinal, which I recognised as having truth in it. He wrote:
No revelation can be complete and systematic, [because of] the weakness of the human intellect; so far as it is not such, it is mysterious … The religious truth is neither light nor darkness, but both together; it is like the dim view of a country seen in the twilight, which forms half extricated from the darkness, with broken lines and isolated masses. Revelation, in this way of considering it, is not a revealed system, but consists of a number of detached and incomplete truths belonging to a vast system unrevealed.
I like his image of revelation as “the dim view of a country seen in the twilight……consisting of a number of detached & incomplete truths belonging to a vast system unrevealed” very much. We only see little bits of the bigger picture, yet they are enough to evoke trust, and to give us a sense of what we don’t see.
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