Thursday, 29 December 2011

Photo of the week

Sunsets are notoriously difficult to colour well. This one was taken on the Strand in the Cape, looking West towards Table Mountain, on an old Olympus digital camera. It has not been changed; the golden colour is exactly how it looked, and it was a magical evening.

Tuesday, 27 December 2011

God's overshadowing

The angel said to her, ‘The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you; therefore the child to be born will be holy; he will be called Son of God. [Luke 1.35]

How would you have felt if you were Mary, hearing the angel’s words: the power of the Most High will overshadow you? Daunted? weighed down? terrified? overwhelmed? or, just plain confused?

In the Lord of the Rings, you may remember how the Ring-Wraiths overshadowed Frodo, and struck terror into him. Tolkien says of them that at length even the stout-hearted would fling themselves to the ground as the hidden menace passed over them, or they would stand, letting their weapons fall from nerveless hands while into their minds a blackness came, and they thought no more of war, but only of hiding and of crawling, and of death.

But Mary’s response is calm, if a little awed; measured, even though she recognizes that this overshadowing bears the hallmarks of the hand of God: Then Mary said, ‘Here am I, the servant of the Lord; let it be with me according to your word.’

Mary was nobody’s fool, and she will have been brought up as a devout observant Jew. She will have known her scriptures, and would have interpreted Gabriel’s words about being overshadowed in the light of those scriptures. So think for a moment about what’s in the background:

  • A creation story in which the same Holy Spirit is said to have hovered over - overshadowed - the face of the deep and brought light and life out of chaos. God’s powerful overshadowing is the source of all light - God overshadows: and creation happens.
  • A story of revelation in which Moses comes face to face with a burning bush, and is introduced to God by name. I am who I am, says God. Moses is overshadowed, overawed by the bush, and discovers that God cares for the people he has created. God overshadows, and his people learn his name.

  • A story of salvation, with a pillar of cloud by day and a pillar of fire by night, both overshadowing the people of Israel and leading them out of slavery into the Promised Land: The cloud was seen overshadowing the camp, and dry land emerging where water had stood before, an unhindered way out of the Red Sea, and a grassy plain out of the raging waves… [Wisdom 19.7] God overshadows his people with an embrace, and his people are brought across the Red Sea.
Over time, this image of an overshadowing cloud came to be understood by the Jews as the powerful, sometimes terrifying but also reassuring presence of God, watching, guiding, challenging, judging, making things happen.

And it is this image that helps Mary to understand the angel’s message. God will make the impossible happen through this climactic overshadowing – all he needs is her Yes – and out of her obedience this overshadowing will bring healing to the world.

Fast forward to the first night after the birth of Mary’s son – another overshadowing, and a moment of consternation too: Then an angel of the Lord stood before them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified. But the angel said to them, ‘Do not be afraid. An overshadowing, a reassurance, and a message, just as with Mary.

Which brings me to your place, and mine, in this story:

You may think it would be so much easier for you if you’d had Mary’s, or the shepherds’, experience. And you have. Mary was overshadowed by the power of the most High, the shepherds by the glory of God and the angels song, we by the story of heaven breaking in on earth. The problem lies not with a God who has gone quiet, but with a world which has lost its ability to listen to the things that really matter. Stop, and listen, and wonder.

And of course, rehearse the message: the one whose birth we celebrate is Son of God, Messiah, Saviour, Lord. This is the most important news the world has ever heard, will ever hear: it’s God himself coming to us to inaugurate his Kingdom on earth, in us. Go, and speak, and amaze the world.

Monday, 19 December 2011

Photo of the week

In the wonderful Cath├ędrale Saint-Pierre-et-Saint-Paul de Troyes in the Champagne region of France, there is a Blessed Sacrament Chapel set apart - in a welcoming way, with angels at the door - for prayer. The extraordinary interplay of glass, stone and reflected and refracted light is exquisite. It is a place of great peace, and I was especially drawn by the tabernacle. It brings to my mind the Epistle to the Hebrews' description of the Christ as the reflection of God’s glory and the exact imprint of God’s very being, and he sustains all things by his powerful word.

Friday, 16 December 2011

Ancient, modern and postmodern

I love this photo [which I took :)] of BBC Norwich built in 2000 and a medieval church reflected in it. It says 'postmodern' all over it, and just wanted to share something beautiful with those who 'read' this blog.

Tuesday, 13 December 2011

Putting on the armour of God

I was asked some time ago to do a session on ‘putting on the armour of God’ in prayer. It’s not a new idea, and a quick trawl of the internet will unearth several variants of this. The key idea is, of course, Paul’s injunction in Ephesians 6 to stand firm against evil, with an early church background of baptism as the place where we are, among much else, delivered from evil’s power and commanded to renounce ‘the devil and all his works.’

So it’s part of the Christian journey of discipleship. But it’s not entirely clear what a prayer of putting on God’s armour might look like in practice. So I put forward just one simple ‘spiritual exercise’ that some of you might like to use.

In preparation, here are some things that this prayer is [not]:
  • we don’t pray in this way out of fear but simply to acknowledge that we are creatures, dependent, weak;
  • this is not a magical formula, but an act of trust in God’s total ability to save, to protect and to watch over;
  • it is deeply related to the early Christian tradition of praying the name of Jesus, and so to the Jesus prayer;
  • as I said above, it is related to the baptismal seal: we are 
           o   set apart commissioned for Kingdom work;
           o   commissioned for Kingdom work;
           o   guaranteed heaven – the hope that keeps us focused.

The Exercise
1.      Pray the opening verse of St Patrick’s Breastplate:
 I bind unto myself today
 The strong Name of the Trinity,
 By invocation of the same,
 The Three in One and One in Three.

2.      Read Ephesians 6.10-20

3.      In relation to each of the items of armour in turn [the order doesn’t matter: Paul is writing poetically], engage in the following 3 ways:

a.      examine your life. How have the world [out there], the flesh [you yourself and your weaknesses] and the devil undermined this area of your life?

b.       Confess these and ask for forgiveness.

c.       dress yourself imaginatively in the item of armour. For some of you, you may be able to picture yourself in this clothing, but for many, it is an act of the will. The will is best expressed in words, so write a prayer that incorporates what you want to say to God. Alternatively, use one of the Anglican collects or verses from St Patrick’s Breastplate suggested below.

4.     At the end of the exercise, go and intentionally do something missional, which could be as simple as praying for your neighbourhood standing outside your house, or as practical as buying a Big Issue and talking to the vendor.

Exemplary prayers that you might use in dressing up

Belt of truth
I bind this day to me for ever.
By power of faith, Christ's incarnation;
His baptism in the Jordan river;
His death on Cross for my salvation;
His bursting from the spic├Ęd tomb;
His riding up the heavenly way;
His coming at the day of doom;
I bind unto myself today.

Almighty and everlasting God,
you have given us your servants grace,
by the confession of a true faith,
to acknowledge the glory of the eternal Trinity
and in the power of the divine majesty to worship the Unity:
keep us steadfast in this faith,
that we may evermore be defended from all adversities;
through Jesus Christ our Lord.

Breastplate of righteousness
Against the demon snares of sin,
The vice that gives temptation force,
The natural lusts that war within,
The hostile ones that mar my course;
Or few or many, far or nigh,
In every place and in all hours,
Against their fierce hostility,
I bind to me these holy powers.

Almighty God,
give us grace to cast away the works of darkness
and to put on the armour of light,
now in the time of this mortal life,
in which your Son Jesus Christ came to us in great humility;
that on the last day,
when he shall come again in his glorious majesty
      to judge the living and the dead,
we may rise to the life immortal;
through him who is alive and reigns with you,
in the unity of the Holy Spirit,
one God, now and for ever.

Shoes of readiness to proclaim the gospel of peace
I bind unto myself the power
Of the great love of the cherubim;
The sweet 'well done' in judgment hour,
The service of the seraphim,
Confessors' faith, Apostles' word,
The Patriarchs' prayers, the Prophets' scrolls,
All good deeds done unto the Lord,
And purity of virgin souls.

O Lord Jesus Christ,
who at your first coming sent your messenger
to prepare your way before you:
grant that the ministers and stewards of your mysteries
may likewise so prepare and make ready your way
by turning the hearts of the disobedient to the wisdom of the just,
that at your second coming to judge the world
we may be found an acceptable people in your sight;
for you are alive and reign with the Father
in the unity of the Holy Spirit,
one God, now and for ever.

Shield of faith
I bind unto myself today
The power of God to hold and lead,
His eye to watch, His might to stay,
His ear to hearken to my need.
The wisdom of my God to teach,
His hand to guide, His shield to ward,
The word of God to give me speech,
His heavenly host to be my guard.

Heavenly Father,
whose blessed Son was revealed
      to destroy the works of the devil
and to make us the children of God and heirs of eternal life:
grant that we, having this hope,
may purify ourselves even as he is pure;
that when he shall appear in power and great glory
we may be made like him in his eternal and glorious kingdom;
where he is alive and reigns with you,
in the unity of the Holy Spirit,
one God, now and for ever.

Helmet of salvation
Christ be with me, Christ within me,
Christ behind me, Christ before me,
Christ beside me, Christ to win me,
Christ to comfort and restore me.
Christ beneath me, Christ above me,
Christ in quiet, Christ in danger,
Christ in hearts of all that love me,
Christ in mouth of friend and stranger.

Grant, Lord,
that we who are baptized into the death
      of your Son our Saviour Jesus Christ
may continually put to death our evil desires
      and be buried with him;
and that through the grave and gate of death
we may pass to our joyful resurrection;
through his merits,
who died and was buried and rose again for us,
your Son Jesus Christ our Lord.

Sword of the Spirit
Against all Satan's spells and wiles,
Against false words of heresy,
Against the knowledge that defiles,
Against the heart's idolatry,
Against the wizard's evil craft,
Against the death wound and the burning,
The choking wave and the poisoned shaft,
Protect me, Christ, till Thy returning.

God our creator,
who in the beginning
commanded the light to shine out of darkness:
we pray that the light of the glorious gospel of Christ
may dispel the darkness of ignorance and unbelief,
shine into the hearts of all your people,
and reveal the knowledge of your glory
    in the face of Jesus Christ your Son our Lord.

Sunday, 11 December 2011

Chatfield Christmas letter 2011

Dear all

Last year was the year of the snow, as those of you who read our Christmas letter last year may remember. That letter was distributed before we went away for a pre-Christmas break. It was a chance to try our ancient and tiny Eriba Pan Duo caravan - 6 by 10 feet and room for everything happy campers­ could wish for.  Off we went to the Cotswolds – shouldn’t be too much snow there. It turned out to be the coldest place in England -18° and -15° on our campsite, with somewhere between 8 and 12 inches of snow! We had a glorious walk in the blizzard that dropped the bulk of the snow and arrived back to discover the campsite managers ready to set out and look for us if we didn’t return by 5 pm – we made it with five minutes to spare.

We had a quiet Christmas on our own and then were joined for the New Year by Dad and Michael and Rachel and their families, and of course we did all the traditional family Christmas things.

Easter was a complete contrast. Another holiday in the caravan in the Lake District – an area that we have sadly neglected in the past. It was absolutely glorious. The temperature reached 25° in the sun on more than one occasion and we needed the sun cream as we walked and walked and BBQed. We did all the famous walks: Skiddaw, Scafell Pike, Helvellyn as well as walking round some of the Lakes. Jill made wreckage of her knees on the first really steep descent. Rathbones came to the rescue with the most serious (and ugly) knee straps I have ever seen. She managed all the rest of the walks. The scariest moment was driving over Hardknott and Wrynose Passes – steep and so narrow that you almost touch both sides of the little walls alongside the hairpins. It didn’t help meeting a really scared driver coming towards us who was paralysed at the predicament we faced as we came upon each other at the wrong moment.

In the summer, we went to South West France, not too far from Italy for yet more knee-challenging walks in the Alps. Duly strapped up (Jill!) we managed a number of mountain tops – some of the most spectacular hiking we have ever done. We tended to walk without the proper maps using books of walks, definitely a mistake as one path disappeared at the top. We couldn’t return as it was seriously ‘vertigineuse’ (guide book speak) and Jill decided she would never get down looking over the drop! Instead we came down a very steep descent with no paths on our bums – lost a rucksack which somersaulted several hundred feet, the GPS, a Tilley hat and other odds and sods. Adrian broke a walking stick prodded into the mountain side to stop a rather rapid descent and Jill shredded her walking trousers. 2 hours it took to get down that steep descent and then a 2 hour walk down the rest on a proper path. We got back at 9.20 pm, two hours after our booking at a very nice restaurant and twenty minutes after the little pizza shop closed. So the day ended with a shower, salad, wine eaten in the open air as the sun sank. We are definitely planning a return visit next summer!
You might have guessed by now that the flatness of Cambridge has seriously got to us and dreams are filled with hills and mountains! However we are both glad to be here in Cambridge. Ridley Hall is a dynamic and fun community as well as being exhausting at times, an excellent place to work. Jill continues to enjoy being part-time, although not always as part-time as she would like in term time. There is pay-back time in the vacations, which we are enjoying to the full. Jill’s immediate boss was on sabbatical in the Easter term so she did an extra day – it was okay for a term but she was glad to return to normal in the new academic year.
We took our Summer holiday early so that we were on hand for the final planning of the ‘Dying Well’ conference put on by the Simeon Centre. It was excellent. The speakers were of diverse opinions who respected one another and were very complimentary about the papers of others who differed in their opinions. There was lots of opportunity for ‘round table’ discussion and on the final afternoon some questions grew out of participants’ very painful situations and history. All took place in an atmosphere of great grace helped by some very sensitive and moving worship which held us all in the presence of God.

Adrian continues to roam the country speaking here, there and not quite everywhere! Jill is frequently asked ‘Where is Adrian?’ and oftentimes the answer is ‘I don’t know!’ as she has long since given up taxing a feeble memory with the effort of remembering the various dioceses and retreat houses to which he so often departs. If she gets desperate, she can always check on our shared Google calendar! A couple of firsts on the work front: Adrian has examined two doctoral theses this year and he’s supervising another on Christian Music among one of the tribes in the Sahel region. So he has added the word ‘ethnomusicology’ to his vocabulary. (Jill: however can you supervise a thesis when it is about something you have to have explained by your student?!)

Looking forward, next year brings the 3rd sabbatical of Adrian’s working life. The last was spent in the curate’s house at Greasley, sitting back to back with Jill, both at tiny computer trolleys (about an inch between!) in a dining room that doubled as a study and was too small for either! (Apologies to Greasley – we really loved living and working there.) This one will begin after the Easter term and last till the start of the Michaelmas term i.e. July to the beginning of January. At this moment he thinks he would like to write about enjoying being radical and Anglican – but who knows whether this might change before it begins. Jill is busy working out how best to enjoy some of the fun parts with him.

It will also be our 40th wedding anniversary. So, apart from the Alps, we intend to do a short cruise on the Nile. Normally averse to hotels, crowds of people, being stationary etc, we decided we could cope with it for a short while for a change and it might even be a fun thing to do to celebrate 40 years of a wonderfully happy marriage.

The fruits of that marriage continue to be well and happy. Michael is now based at RAF Northolt and Northwood, the UK’s principal military HQ site, although he is living at the decommissioned base in Uxbridge. His wife Helen is teacher training and Michael commutes to work (16 miles round trip) on a tandem dropping Naomi at school. Hannah boards at Plymouth College where she successfully combines study with swimming. Rachel and Dave are still at Stapleford. Charlotte and Lucy continue to thrive although four-year old Lucy’s theological questioning really needs an on-site theological educator. Her last foray took her to the Garden of Eden, the birth of Jesus, his death, his resurrection and his coming again – all in half an hour! She has already done some serious Advent theological reflection: if Jesus is coming again to establish God’s kingdom and to take people home to heaven, what happens to those that have already died?!

A good point to wish you all a Happy Christmas filled with remembrance of the One who left heaven’s splendour to live in this spoiled and damaged world in order to bring forgiveness, peace and hope as we wait for the consummation of all things.

Jill and Adrian