Priest in charge
Priest in charge
We have a lot of family chat around our house that regularly comes back to the question of my seemingly unerring faith in God. One discussion started thus: “So, Granny, I think all those Greek gods were much more interesting – what’s wrong with them and how can you just believe in ‘God’?”
I didn’t have an instant answer, of course, probably replying ‘I just do’. But now I’ve thought about it a bit more, so here’s my answer. The stories of the Greek gods were spread by word and they were indeed fantastic. According to ancient philosophy the first appearance of a single God was not in Jewish scripture but in the writings of the Greek philosopher Plato who wrote in the early 4th century BC, who took his ideas from Thales. Plato proposed that nature can be explained by reference to a single unitary principle that pervades everything.
To cut a long story short, along came St Paul and convinced the Greeks into a monotheistic, one god above all religion. How did he do that? Well, there are many great and learned essays that can help us understand. But I go for the simplest, and always return to my garden for the answer. We know from observing our gardens that nature is indeed regular but we are also aware of mutations in that regularity some for the good and some for the worse. St Paul taught that faith extols everything and has the ability to overturn regularity.
As Jesus told Doubting Thomas “Blessed are those who believe without seeing”. So I return to my original answer: I just do (believe, that is).
Holy Trinity, Markbeech
Easter – a time of excitement, promise and hope. Everywhere you turn there are signs of Spring, of new creation – new birth and new beginnings. The Easter egg symbolises new life, but also it is a reminder of the sealed tomb from where Jesus rose to a new life – a resurrected and transformed life. There are so many Easter traditions and games associated with eggs – egg hunts, egg rolling, egg colouring (with dyes and paints), and a new one for me – egg ‘jarping’, where contestants tap each other’s egg until one breaks. A good hit was called a ‘dunch’ – then the eggs were eaten – heaven for chocoholics!
Games like this can help us to recall that our Christian faith hinges on the reality of the Resurrection. Faith isn’t about facts and historical accuracy, it is about trust even when the evidence doesn’t seem to stack up. So, as we say on Easter morning “Christ is Risen. Alleluia!” it is a reminder that though the tomb in which Jesus was laid was laid was forbidding, cold and dark, this is not the end of the story – it is the beginning of a new story – a story of transformation, and it reminds us that nothing, not even death itself is out of the reach of God’s love and compassion and transformation.
Here is a very brief extract from a poem by J Crum ‘Love is come again’, a prayer reflecting on this transformation, something that is still necessary in the world of today:
When our hearts are wintry, grieving or in pain,
Thy touch may call us back to life again.
Throughout the Easter season there is so much happening on our Parishes (details in the centre pages), and I look forward to welcoming you whenever you can join us – even 6am on Easter morning is quite an experience! We greet the first light and go on to enjoy breakfast together.
I wish you a very happy and blessed Easter.
Priest in Charge
A tribute from us here, in these three beautiful villages, was sent last month to all those who served during the Second World War in the Pacific. The British Legion put these tributes into a special VJ Day Book of Remembrance. On Saturday 15th and Sunday 16th August the book was on display at the National Memorial Arboretum, in the Far East Prisoners of war Memorial building. This memorial commemorates the 55,000 FEPOWs from the Second World War and houses an exhibition telling their stories. The book is now on display at Haig House in London headquarters of the Royal British Legion.
In Four Elms Church on the 16th August, we commemorated VJ Day from Pearl Harbour to VJ Day 1941-1945, the 70th Anniversary of the end of the Second World War in the Pacific. After the Japanese surrendered, a two-day holiday was announced in Britain, America and Australia and the 15th August was declared Victory in Japan day. The Life magazine reported that they began celebrating ‘as if joy had been rationed and saved up for the three years, eight months and seven days since 7th December 1941.’
Historic buildings all over London were floodlit and as they had done on VE Day, people crowded into the streets of every town and city shouting, singing, dancing, lighting bonfires and letting off fireworks.
The Commemoration VJ Service was a quiet affair but those who attended were moved by the sharing of many personal memories of that time.
‘And we that are left grow old with the years, remembering the heartache, the pain and the tears. Hoping and praying that never again humanity will sink to such sorrow and shame. The price that was paid we will always remember; every day, every month. We will remember them.’ (Poppy Press)
We will remember them!
What a wonderful month we have just had in our communities and part of that month was looking at the story of ‘Transfiguration’ the setting on a mountaintop. In biblical tradition mountains are the usual settings for supernatural revelation and theophany’s-God appearing being made present This incident came at a crucial moment in Jesus’ life and ministry. He had begun his journey to Jerusalem because before this point he had worked mostly in Galilee. The journey was tough; the wilderness between the fertile plain of Galilee and fertile Jerusalem. He had met with opposition even in Galilee from Religious Leaders and he must have sensed that the same fate awaited him as had all the prophets; a violent death. Naturally he recoiled from such a fate but Jesus chose to walk up this mountain to pray. This was the most important thing in Jesus’ life, His relationship with His Father; it was the ground beneath His feet. So, at this moment when the powers of darkness were massing against him it was to His Father that He turned for guidance and strength. We do not know exactly what happened on the mountain. But it seems that on the mountain he heard again the words of affirmation from his Father that he heard at His Baptism: ‘You are my Son, the beloved; with you I am well pleased.’ (Mark 1:110.) On that mountain Jesus felt himself comforted and affirmed. He knew that his father was pleased with him and would give him the strength to face the ordeal ahead. With God on his side he could face anything. We also have dark moments when we must do what Jesus did and seek God in prayer. If we do we will hear a voice in our hearts; ‘You are my beloved son and you are my beloved daughter and in you I am well pleased. Once we have grasped as Jesus and come to a deep inner knowledge, a knowledge more of the heart than the mind, that we are born out of love and will die into love, then all forms of illness, death or evil lose their power over us. Despite the uncertainty of life with disappointments and losses, we are upheld by God’s infinite goodness. And infinite goodness is what we experienced this week here in the Benefice. The wonderful visit by Bishop Given from Kondoa in Tanzania. He came to Hever School for an assembly then to the Rectory to meet us all for coffee and cakes- he came to discus with us a possible mission link for us all and he has chosen Tarkwa. It is a very remote forgotten part of Africa where the slave traders used to stop. Bishop Given says the most important thing that we can do is to pray for them and to write to them to let them know they are not forgotten- so letters, photos, stories is what he would like us to send to them. Money is not the issue but relationship. Some of us have managed to send letters and photos before he left and we will soon have an address for us to write too. In the meantime if you would like to join us in this mission then let me know or send me your news and letters and I will forward them on. I am sure that all of us engaging in this work of mission in Africa will be transformed as we get to know a people who love God like we do not know and rely on God as we do not know. I am sure we will find a depth of God’s love that we might never have found and be transfigured as Peter, James and John on that mountaintop. (Mark 9:2-9)
Our Lord and our God. We rejoice in Thee. Without Thy Help we could not face unafraid the year before us.
We stand between the years. The Light of God’s presence is flung across the year to come and backwards over the past year.
Dwell not on the past-only on the present. Use the past as the trees use sunlight to absorb it, storing the blessings from God as if warming fire-rays. Bury the fear of the future, of poverty, of suffering, of loss. Bury all thoughts of unkindness, bitterness, resentments, failure, and disappointment in others and in yourself, let us leave them all, buried and go forward in this ‘New Year’ to a new and risen life.
Let us trust God to hold the year in God’s hands, to guide us to see the world as God sees. Let us not anticipate the gift of fears or thoughts of the year ahead but be filled by wisdom and strength from God’s gentle and life giving Spirit.
Love bade me welcome,
yet my soul drew back,
Guilty of dust and sin.
But quick-ey’d Love,
observing me grow slack.
From my first entrance in,
Drew nearer to me, sweetly
If I lack’d anything. (George Herbert)
Love which speaks of forgiveness and acceptance – the key to banishing anxious moods of the year ahead. Poems force us into the present moment, stop us from worrying about the future or regretting the past an antidote to stress. In prison where I worked before coming here, poetry workshops were used alongside the chaplaincy, the mental health charities; Depression Alliance and Mind.
Philip Emery the Director of ‘Changing Tunes’ and Ricky are joining us in a Joint Benefice Communion Service on February 1st at St Peter’s Church at 11am. Ricky will talk about his experiences and engagement with music through this charity, that has enabled him not to re-offend and have a life after prison. www.changingtunes.org.uk
‘Happy New Year!’
And, what a month it is going to be in our communities. The openings of a WWI exhibition, a talk by Major Streatfeild on duty in Afghanistan, plant sales, weddings, baptisms, births of new babies, ‘Archdeacon Visitation’s’ for our hard working Church Wardens, ‘Christian Aid Week’ culminating with a ‘Gift Day’ in Hever Church, on Saturday 17th May, with tea, coffee and cakes. David Muir will give a presentation, talk and show a film about Christian Aid at 11am about the work of this international organization; who works with agencies and governments to make peace across the world a reality and help put back lives back together. So do come and join us!
‘O, the month of May, the merry month of May,
So frolic, so gay, and so green, so green, so green!
O, and then did I unto my true love say,
Sweet Peg, thou shalt be my Summer’s Queen.
Now the nightingale, the pretty nightingale,
The sweetest singer in all the forest quire,
Entreats thee, sweet Peggy, to hear thy true love’s tale :
Lo, yonder she sitteth, her breast against a brier.
But O, I spy the cuckoo, the cuckoo, the cuckoo;
See where she sitteth; come away, my joy:
Come away, I prithee, I do not like the cuckoo
Should sing where my Peggy and I kiss and toy.
O, the month of May, the merry month of May,
So frolic, so gay, and so green, so green, so green;
And then did I unto my true love say,
Sweet Peg, thou shalt be my Summer’s Queen.
(‘The Merry Month of May’ was a part of Dekker’s play, The Shoemaker’s Holiday, first performed in 1599.)
In May, we also celebrate Rogation and the Ascension of Jesus into heaven. This enabled the ‘Holy Spirit” of God to come in power and live amongst us. It is a shame that the church’s debate about Women becoming Bishop’s and the issues of ‘Gay Marriage’ in church still rumble on and take us away from the very heart of the work in the Gospel which is to ‘Love one another’ and make God’s Love visible amongst us. May we have ‘eyes to see’ and the ‘wisdom to perceive’ ‘God’s Kingdom’ come. Amen!
‘O, the month of May, the merry month of May.’
Is it always cool to wear shades?
I used to think so but a report in ‘Harvard Health Letter’ says;
‘That a lack of light ‘might disrupt brain processes influenced by serotonin and dopamine, brain chemicals that play a role in mood.’
Daylight hits the optic nerve and travels through neural pathways to our brain to produce the body’s natural feel good chemicals. Exposure to the sun’s rays is crucial to our health and wellbeing, not just for these feel good chemicals, but to boost our levels of vitamin D – nicknamed the ‘sunshine vitamin’, which is not only good for our bones and for our immune systems, but also helps to guard against respiratory disease and diabetes. Research has shown that when produced naturally, it also reduces the risk of cancer, flu, colds and depression. In the summer just 10 minutes of sun between 11am and 3pm is enough or 30 minutes when the sun is not strong.
The sun not only brings new life in the spring but good health to us all!
Jesus in John’s Gospel tells Nicodemus, and us, several very important things about what it means to be born again into the Spirit of God. We cannot do it ourselves; it is a gift from God, that we cannot earn and neither will it be forced upon us; it is always our choice to receive God’s blessing or to reject it! To be born again means to see the world in a new light, it gives us the lenses that invite us to see the world in a special way. The invisible people in our community and in our world- the poor, the lonely, the sick, the oppressed-take on a sudden brilliance in our eyes.
To be born again draws our vision upward towards the cross and when we are finally willing to stand in the shadow of the cross, then we will know what it is to be ‘new creatures’ free from our burdens and pains. And, though we stand in the shadow of suffering, witnessed by the pain and death of Christ, it is also a place where the cool shade of God’s grace gives us refuge. The shade of the cross is where we find refuge; a place where we come for respite, to relieve our weary selves even for a few moments, but we must always move again into the world back into the light!
So let’s take off our shades and enjoy the sun! Happy Easter!
‘Love is in the air!’
It seems that we all have been given so many chocolates and gifts over Christmas (And, thank you all for my cards, chocolates, gifts and wine!) but chocolates, flowers and gifts will again be exchanged between loved ones this month; all in the name of Saint Valentine.
And, who is this Saint and where does this tradition come from?
Saint Valentine is shrouded in mystery and legend and February the 14th became the commemoration of his death and burial which was in AD 207.
One such legend was that Valentine allowed soldiers to be married which was forbidden and he was put to death by Emperor Claudius II. There was another saying Valentine was killed for assisting Christians escaping harsh Roman Prison’s and yet another Valentine whilst imprisoned sent the first Valentine greeting to a jailor’s daughter he had fallen in love with; ‘From your first Valentine.’
Others claim the tradition comes from a Pagan Celebration; ‘Lupercalia’ a ‘fertility festival’ dedicated to Faunus the Roman god of agriculture where people gathered at a sacred cave on February 15th , where the founders of Rome; Romulus and Remus were believed to have been cared for by a she-wolf. They used to skin a goat, soak it in blood and then they slapped the women and the crops with it and it was said to bring about fertility. Men and women drew names from a jar to make couples.
In the 5th Century, Pope Gelasius declared it un-Christian and Saint Valentine’s day it became. It was not until the Middle Ages that love became associated with this day once more and February was always seen as the mating season of the birds which added to this idea. The first recorded association of Valentine with Romance is Parlement of Foules (1382) by Chaucer;
‘For this was on seynt Volantyns day
Whan euery bryd comyth there to chese his make.’
(For this was on Saint Valentine’s Day, when every bird cometh there to choose his mate)
And, once again you are such a romantic community this year, we have so many Weddings and Blessings of Relationships and Renewal of Wedding Vows in our Churches and at the Castle.
After two and a half years of living with you in our beautiful three villages of Four Elms, Markbeech and Hever, when I write these two words ‘Dear Friends,” it is no longer just on paper, that I call you friends but in my heart.
Joanna Smith who recently died amongst us has taught me that. She had been for many years a Church Warden in our Benefice living in Markbeech.
For me personally she has been that most gentle ‘spiritual cairn’ that I needed in the midst of coming to live amongst you, changing from Prison Ministry to Parish Ministry. It has been an eventful journey; a life changing experience, but you have become home.
The Bishop, on appointing me here as Rector, said that I would not find it that much different! Hever and Prison – I questioned his judgement? But, in one way they are in juxtaposition to each other and in another exactly the same.
We are all human and have wounds and hurts, as did those first apostles living in hiding filled with doubt, grief, fear, failure and above all, by a sense of inadequacy before the coming of the Holy Spirit. A great task had been entrusted to them yet they had neither the strength, nor the will to begin it! But, after Pentecost they were changed people.
We are no different and our wounds and our hurts keep us from realising our true and full selves. We need someone to awaken us to what is inside us; someone who will bid us to live and help us to grow.
For us, just as for Jesus, that someone is the Holy Spirit. The power that changed the apostles is available to us too; this mysterious power within us gives us life and helps us grow.
The poet Pablo Neruda said: ‘ I want to do with you what the Spring does with cherry trees.’ That is what the Holy Spirit of God does.
Enjoy your garden!