Christmas is comming ...
I have always enjoyed buying or making Christmas presents for family and friends. In our family it was never about how big or expensive a gift was, but rather how well we knew each other. It is still the same today – last year I took a photo of my Christmas present from my husband to share with my family in South Africa – Rich gave me a box filled with edible treats which he had bought at the South African shop in St Albans – cans of Cream Soda, biltong, rusks and crisps! My mum’s comment on my photo was, “I got the same sorts of things for your brothers!”
I remember one year my younger brother found that he just didn’t have the funds for Christmas gifts. He got some green cardboard and made a book of tickets; the cover said “These tickets can be used by you at any time throughout the year.”
The tickets said things like:
Please serve me Breakfast in bed.
Please take my turn to wash the dishes.
Please make my school lunch today.
Please take my books to the library.
Please go to the shops for me.
I used quite a few of the tickets and I kept the rest as a reminder – in fact I still have them in box of mementos – reminding me of his gift, his handwriting at that young age and of course the things he thought I would appreciate him doing for me!
This year, I imagine, Christmas may end up being very different. The giving and receiving of gifts may also be quite different. Thinking about my brother’s gift to me, reminded me of a reflection I once read called “Daily Gifts” by Charles Swindoll; in which he encouraged everyone not to wait until Christmas to start giving things away. He suggested that in the lead up to 25th December we could give daily gifts, one per day from now until then. Here are a few of his suggestions:
“Let’s make Christmas one long, extended gift of ourselves to others. Unselfishly. Without announcement. Or obligation. Or reservation.” C Swindoll
The true spirit of Christmas is to be found in being loving, in caring for neighbours, in building bridges, in giving our time and ourselves to others and remembering and celebrating God’s gift of his Son Jesus Christ to us.
Revd Yvonne Mullins
If any of you remember the ‘Songs of Praise’ books used in school assemblies some 20 years or so ago, you may recall this song:
Autumn days, when the grass is jewelled
And the silk inside a chestnut shell
Jet planes meeting in the air to be refuelled
All these things I love so well
So I mustn’t forget
No, I mustn’t forget
To say a great big thank you
I mustn’t forget.
We remember so that we don’t forget - don’t forget that as followers of Christ we are both citizens of the Kingdom of God, and citizens of the country in which we live. The saints remind us of our calling to head ‘God-ward’ - as St Paul, writing to the Philippians, urges them to do: “whatever is honourable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is pleasing, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence and if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things. 9Keep on doing the things that you have learned and received and heard and seen in me, and the God of peace will be with you.”
At All Souls we remember the lives of the departed, our family and friends, those who loved us and whom we loved, those from whom perhaps we learnt, and amongst whom also had to practice, the way of the Christian – living by the Spirit, trying to grow the fruits of the Spirit “love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control”.
And on Remembrance Sunday we remember the millions who have died in wars, laying down their lives for the countries of which they, like us, were citizens. One of the readings set for that day is from St John’s Gospel, Chapter 15, “This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you. No one has greater love than this, to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.” We remember their sacrifice, that “for your tomorrow, we gave our today”.
And all this remembering, so the song suggests, is in order that we never forget to say a great big ‘Thank You”. Yes, we should say a great big “thank you”; but our thanks are empty words unless we try to embody the attitudes and behaviours which inspired those who went before us, and in our turn do something of good in the time that has been given to us.Penny Wood LLM
An aunt of mine was a very expressive letter writer, with words in capitals or heavily underlined, and lots of exclamation marks. In letters to our family she would often write, ‘I am going to do such and such… DV.’ As a child I remember asking my mum, ‘What does DV mean?’ She explained that it means, God Willing, a translation of the Latin phrase, Deo Volente.
These days, we might be more likely to use the abbreviation VP - Virus Permitting. So many changed plans, cancelled holidays, family events put on hold or scaled down, face to face meetings moved on-line, so much uncertainty, so much anxiety. Our Golden Wedding celebration at the end of August was a meeting with family and friends on Zoom, rather than the live gathering originally planned. It was enjoyable despite the restrictions.
The illusion that we are in control of things has been shattered by something so small it can only be seen under an electron microscope. Until recently I think there had been a growing tendency for people to feel they ought to be able to do what they liked, when they liked. If our plans did have to be altered because of bad weather or transport delays, or if other people failed to do what we expected of them, we might get seriously annoyed. Now we are becoming aware of what previous generations better understood – that life can be uncertain and unpredictable for many reasons.
1662 Book of Common Prayer contains prayers for various situations, including:
In the time of Dearth and Famine; In the time of War and Tumults;
In the time of any common Plague of Sickness.
One prayer says:
‘From lightning and tempest; from plague, pestilence, and famine; from battle and murder, and from sudden death, Good Lord, deliver us.’
The phrase ‘If the Lord is willing’ is found in the New Testament letter of James, chapter 4.v13-15.
Now listen to me, you that say, “Today or tomorrow we will travel to a certain city, where we will stay a year and go into business and make a lot of money.” You don't even know what your life tomorrow will be! You are like a puff of smoke, which appears for a moment and then disappears.
What you should say is this: “If the Lord is willing, we will live and do this or that.”
The pandemic has highlighted more clearly that some people have little choice in life, who are never able to do what they want, when they want, virus or no virus. Perhaps those confined to home through illness or disability or caring for a loved one, those with little or no opportunity to make a living wage, those who have no cash to go out and splash.
May these uncertain times remind us to be:
More thankful for what we are able to do;
More careful and prayerful in our planning;
More creative in finding ways round obstacles and constraints;
More considerate of those who options in life are limited.
PS Brian and I are looking forward to a few days away next week in north Somerset – DV, VP!
The new normal? Another new normal? How many more new normals?
"So answer me this, just how many people can meet in a public place? How many people can you have in your house? What is the recommended social distancing and just what does count as mitigating factors? How many people can meet in a church and is it different for a wedding or a funeral? I think most of us would agree that the guidance from the Government is complicated, at times seems to contradict itself, and does not always seem logical. And it keeps changing! Not only is this hard for us to keep track of, but it makes it very hard to think about the future, to plan. It adds huge dollops of uncertainty into life. Indeed probably the only certain thing at the moment is that things will continue to change. And we will continue to live with this increased level of uncertainty.
And this presents us with a challenge Because as human beings we find it very difficult to live with lack of clarity, with uncertainty. Our brains are designed to seek clarity and certainty. Otherwise the world would be unbearably stressful. There have been various scientific experiments that show uncertainty to be harder to cope with than the certainty that bad things will happen. One study, for example, found that It was much more stressful waiting for a diagnosis than being given a bad diagnosis. Once you know how things stand, at least then you know what it is you have to deal with.
Lack of certainty impacts on our whole beings. It affects our brains and can lead to a state of both hypervigilance and outsized emotional reactivity to negative experiences or in formation. In other words, uncertainty acts like rocket fuel for worry; it causes us to see threats everywhere we look, and at the same time it makes us more likely to react emotionally in response to those threats.
Because of this, I think that for many of us, the current situation is even more difficult and more challenging that when we were in total lockdown. Then we knew where we were. The rules were simple – largely ‘no, you can’t’. But now we have to thread our way through all the different guidance, try to understand what that means for us and our situation.
Life can only be understood backwards, but it must be lived forward.
Søren Kierkegaard (1813-1855)
One of the things that we do when faced with uncertainty is find ways of reducing it. We try and make the world more black and white, make our own certainty in the midst of it all. And once we have done that, we stick to it as firmly as we can! The thing is, though, that in our attempt to achieve some certainty, we draw our particular conclusions, come up with our own way of making sense of things, which is bound to be different from how someone else things of it.
So we have people right across the spectrum. One person might think ‘what a lot of fuss about nothing – just a big overreaction on the part of the Government / schools / church / etc (delete as applicable) – we just need to get on with it’. Someone else might think ‘the virus is still really dangerous, we ought to be continuing to take the utmost precautions – it is best to avoid going out’. And then there is a multiplicity of variants in between, as people try to find their own path through it all. The position we take depends on all sorts of factors – age, experience, our health and the health of those we love, personality, whether we bear particular responsibilities and so on But one certainty in the midst of all the uncertainty is that we will meet people who hold a different view to ourselves.
That goes for people’s views about what is happening in our churches at the moment as well. I know that some of you are disappointed that the Government felt it necessary to close churches, even for private prayer, in the first place. Some of you feel that we should, by now have returned to our old pattern of worship, with several services each Sunday in our different church buildings. In contrast, others feel that it is too early to venture out, and would be reluctant to place themselves at risk by attending a church service. And as a ministry team, we are doing our best to get to grips with the reams of guidance coming first from the Government and then from the church, and act in a way that seems both safe and manageable.
I am reminded of St Paul and the church in Corinth. They were facing very different issues as they tried to work out just what it meant to live as a follower of Jesus amidst the thriving multicultural city of Corinth. One particular issue was whether there was any problem with a Christian eating food that had been sacrificed to a Greek or Roman deity. It is not entirely clear what Paul’s answer was, but it seemed that he was encouraging them to think less about their own opinion and to have more understanding of the opinion of others: ‘Be careful, however, that the exercise of your freedom does not become a stumbling-block to others’. (1 Corinthians 8:9). Maybe this is good advice for us to. Whatever your view of how we should be managing the threat of Covid at this time, don’t let it become a stumbling-block to others.
As we continue through these uncertain times:
gentle protector in time of trouble,
pierce the gloom of despair
and give us, with all your people,
the song of freedom and the shout of praise
in Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.
Time for EverythingA quick Google search for sayings about time reveals that popular Time Quotes include:
I am usually on time, in fact not just on time, but very early – my parents were always late for things and so I blame them for my compulsion to always be on time! I would rather get somewhere an hour ahead of time to ensure that I am where I need to be; than find myself stuck in traffic or lost and running late. The advantage of this is that I usually get some “me” time, probably sitting in my car, before I need to “arrive”!
One of the strangest things for me during Lockdown and beyond has been the passage of time. Alice and I meet every morning and evening for Daily Prayer, and during Lockdown we also began to do a Midday reflection on Facebook Live. School with Mark each morning and these three Prayer times have formed the structure of my day – but I find myself having to set alarms to remind me to get ready – without them I could quite easily get distracted and lose hours! In fact, there have been weeks when I can’t really account for where the time has gone.
As I read this passage from Ecclesiastes recently, I was struck by how much I could relate to it in these strange times; strange times forced upon us by the Corona Virus Pandemic. In fact I chuckled as I read some of the lines!
1 There is a time for everything,
and a season for every activity under the heavens:
2 a time to be born and a time to die,
a time to plant and a time to uproot,
3 a time to kill and a time to heal,
a time to tear down and a time to build,
4 a time to weep and a time to laugh,
a time to mourn and a time to dance,
5 a time to scatter stones and a time to gather them,
a time to embrace and a time to refrain from embracing,
6 a time to search and a time to give up,
a time to keep and a time to throw away,
7 a time to tear and a time to mend,
a time to be silent and a time to speak,
8 a time to love and a time to hate,
a time for war and a time for peace.
This passage was popularised by The Byrds (1959) in their version “Turn! Turn! Turn!” Apart from the addition of “a time for peace, I swear it's not too late" and the title phrase "Turn! Turn! Turn!" Pete Seeger used the King James version of Ecclesiastes 3:1-8 word for word. His song emphasises that the world is full of pain and injustice, but that there is also hope and the will to struggle to make things better.
Ecclesiastes 3:1-8 reflects the ebb and flow of life, the ups and downs we all go through. We are currently going through a new phase as we find our “New Normal” – something which we can’t control as much as we would like to.
It is not something we can rush, and it will be something we look back on in a year or so and say “Aha, that’s how we did it.” Certainly our first Sunday back in church was different –
All we can do as we find our “New Normal” is take one day at a time, knowing that the only thing we can be certain of is “that this too shall pass”. The constant is God, who is the same yesterday, today and forever and in whom we place our hope and faith.Revd Yvonne Mullins
Next week, 28th June (it’s still June as I’m writing) on the Radio 4 Sunday Worship Service at 8.10am John Bell of the Iona Community will take as his theme “Looking to the Future”. I shall probably listen because that’s something that’s been on my mind. What have we learnt over the last 4/5 months? What might we do differently in the months to come?I’ve learnt that being ‘locked down’ -
The prophet Micah wrote these words:
He has told you, O mortal, what is good;
and what does the Lord require of you
but to do justice, and to love kindness,
and to walk humbly with your God?
As we look to the future, can we be part of shaping it more justly, acting towards others with love and kindness, and each one of us come closer to God?Penny Wood
A Message from Nature
Did you know that June 5th is World Environment Day? We have probably come to appreciate our local environment more fully during the lock-down, especially with such a beautiful spring. But how much thought do we give to the global environment?
The UN’s environment chief, Inger Andersen, says that nature is sending us a message with the coronavirus pandemic. Scientists have found that about 75% of newly emerging infectious diseases in humans are zoonotic, meaning that they are transmitted to people by animals.
Diseases that have emerged or re-emerged recently include avian influenza, Ebola, Middle East respiratory syndrome (MERS), severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS), West Nile virus, Zika virus disease, and this new coronavirus.
Research shows that such diseases are on the rise. Factors contributing to this include deforestation and other land changes, illegal and poorly regulated wildlife trade, intensive agriculture and livestock production, toxic pollution, climate change, and antimicrobial resistance. Encroachment on wildlife habitats brings people uncomfortably close to animals which harbour diseases that can jump to humans. Livestock often serves as a bridge between wildlife and human infections. The Ebola outbreak in West Africa resulted from loss of forests leading to closer contacts between wildlife and human settlements, and the emergence of bird flu was linked to intensive poultry farming.
Conserving nature and protecting biological diversity are effective ways of managing zoonotic diseases. Having a wide diversity of species makes it more difficult for one disease-causing organism to become dominant or spill over to people.
The United Nations Environment Programme (www.unenvironment.org) supports global efforts to protect biodiversity, to put an end to the illegal trade in wildlife, to safeguard the handling of chemicals and waste and to promote economic recovery plans that take nature and the climate emergency into account. Such measures help reduce the likelihood of new diseases emerging.
It is easy to blame other counties, other people, over-population and so on, but in this inter-connected world we need to consider how our habits of consumption and travel, etc, contribute to the problem.
In Psalm 50.10-11, God says,
‘All the animals in the forest are mine
and the cattle on thousands of hills.
All the wild birds are mine
and all living things in the fields.’
What steps can we take, however small, to become better stewards of God’s wonderful creation? Perhaps we can buy local, buy eco-friendly, buy fair trade, use less … plant a tree … pray for and encourage those in positions of power and responsibility to seek a ‘new normal’ once the pandemic is over, one that takes the environment fully into consideration. For more ideas, see: www.worldenvironmentday.global
Every day needs to be World Environment Day.Liz Welters, Associate Minister
Covid-19 – A Worldwide Pandemic – 2020
2020 will be a year we all remember! If you had asked me on New Year’s Eve what I was going to be doing in 2020 I would have reeled off a whole list of things – Baptisms, my Priesting in June, weddings over the summer, a family holiday in August and all the usual “same old, same old”!
Little did I know that at that time the WHO were receiving information about a new virus in Wuhan that would go on to shut down the world and change our lives as we knew them within 3 months. Covid-19.
LOCK DOWN. Gatherings cancelled. Baptisms and Weddings postponed. Schools closed. Churches closed. Work from home, home school, furloughed, no income, lost jobs, only essential shops allowed to stay open. No visiting family – Stay home, protect the NHS and save lives.
For our family this immediately meant me helping Mark with his school work every day and Rich going to work to complete some dental cases that needed to be sent to patients. Once those cases were done, all his work stopped and it will stay that way until the dentists get back to work. Alice and I stopped meeting in churches across the Benefice each morning and began having Morning and Evening prayer together on Zoom, praying particularly for everyone in the different villages each day. We’ve also had Ministry team Prayers on Mondays on Zoom, and we started to Livestream a Midday Reflection on the Shelswell Facebook page which is available later on YouTube. Alice and Joe have mastered livestreaming Sunday services, so that on Sunday mornings we’ve all been able to be “together” for services at 10 am via Facebook or later on YouTube.
The internet, the invention that my little brain will never really be able to understand, has become even more vital for us. Schoolwork sent out and then uploaded when completed, meetings held face to face though we sit in different homes. We are able to pray and worship together even though we can’t physically be together. It works and has been a real blessing for me personally. But it has also made me realise even more how much I love being with people! Being with people – the one thing we have been asked to avoid to slow down the progress of the virus and save lives.
I wonder, what you have learned during this pandemic. What has self-isolation taught you about yourself? What has brought you comfort? What has kept you going?
I have found that I have good days and bad days. Some days I feel swamped, worried and sad. Some days completely stressed out. Some days I feel very encouraged by all the good I see happening. Most days I thank God for the gift of music and the arts and the people sharing their talents across the world – the free concerts, theatre shows, the generosity of others. I feel encouraged when clever people come up with new designs for PPE equipment or breathing apparatus, or start sewing bags for scrubs. I cry when I see and hear the desperate stories of people who have died in horrible circumstances, families who have had funerals in isolation with no one there to comfort or even offer a hug to the bereaved. I feel helpless when I see the poor facing the consequences of this pandemic in their extreme poverty. It is hard to describe those ups and downs.
What has helped me is reading and praying using this poem written by Gerald Kelly:
In the center of your storm
May you discover
What it is to be still
Still at peace
Though the pieces
Fall around you
When you feel
At your most powerless
May his presence
Fall like tears
May it settle all around you
May it soften and surround you
His comfort a cocoon for you
His pulse the pace you hold to
His breath the only sound
You need to hear
When the harshest howl of pain
You’ve ever known
Erupts within you
May it meet
The gentle strength
Of his embrace
May you know
When fear enfolds you
That he holds you
May you sense
When darkness falls
He sees it all
On the toughest trail
May you taste
Of his beauty
Of his mercy
The true and
Of his great love.
I hold on to that love – the love of God.
Love is the one thing that holds us all together. It is because we love, that we feel so sad when we see others suffering. It is because we have loved, that we mourn. It is because we love, that we want to encourage one another. It is because we love, that we want to be there to help one another.
On Maundy Thursday we were reminded of Jesus’ final address to his disciples. He said: I give you a new commandment, that you love one another. Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.” John 13: 34-35
The message was simple. Love one another. Jesus is not talking about romantic love. He is saying love one another by what you say and how you say it, and by what you do and how you do it.
We have seen as the pandemic and Shut Down has evolved that we have moved from “I need to buy as much stuff as possible so that I have all that I need” to “We need to look out for our neighbours, to serve in any way we can. We need to help, support and protect the vulnerable. We need to give heartfelt thanks for those who are putting their own lives on the line for us.” Love triumphs and we see God at work all over the place.
As we continue to remain in Lock Down, I pray that we would know God’s love and his peace deep within us. May we continue to look out for one another and when it finally ends, may we truly treasure being with one another, in person, once again.
Live hopefully, love generously and pray earnestly
What a difficult couple of weeks. For me, it started with having to make endless coronavirus contingency plans, and every time I was ready to go with them, or had sent something out by email, new advice came in and I have had to go back and change them. I have rewritten my articles for this magazine more times than I can count. I have begun to master the challenge of live streaming and video conferencing. But more difficult than all that was saying a hard ‘good bye’ to my mum who had been staying with us for the week - she is being very stoical about things, but like many of us is fearful of the virus, and now is having to cope with self isolating. Both my daughters’ jobs have been suspended, and their partners expect theirs to change drastically. And meanwhile I am supposed to live out the reality that Christ is the water of life, that he brings deep peace and joy. Not exactly what I have been feeling.
Water of life – on the last Sunday that we were able to meet together for services, both our readings were about water. The first had the Israelites wandering around in the wilderness with Moses. God had brought them out of slavery in Egypt, had divided the Red Sea for them, and had given them food to eat. But now they were thirsty. They became fearful that they would die in the desert. And in spite of their previous experiences of God’s love and care, they said ‘is the Lord among us or not?’ I guess at times that is how I have felt as I have worried about what the coming months hold for all of us. I have wondered where God is in all of this.
Of course, Christians do believe that Christ is among us. He is there with those who are fearful, with those who are suffering from the virus, with those who are nursing them or worried about them, and with those who grieve loved ones lost to the virus. He is there alongside those who are struggling with planning and decision making, or working on the front line. He is there alongside those who are alone, or who are worrying about finances. He is here with us too, meeting us wherever we may be, and offering us his living water.
That was the second reading we had, the one from John’s gospel (John 4: 5 – 42) where Jesus stops to rest at a well and engages a woman in conversation. He asks her for a drink of water, and then talks of the living water that he gives, water that become in people a spring gushing up to eternal life.
I don’t know about you but I feel the need of great draughts of that living water right now. Because of Jesus’s gift of living water, we can stand firm, even in times of suffering. That living water, the Holy Spirit, dwells within us bringing us God’s love, not just a few drops at a time, but in abundant quantities poured into our hearts.
More than that, when we reach deep into Christ, drink deeply of his living water, then we will be able to live, even now, in a way that reflects God’s love for each and every person. We will be able to follow the advice of Bishop Olivia, the Bishop of Reading, and live hopefully, love generously and pray earnestly. We will be able to bless each other by the way we behave. By not panicking, by not trying to find as many toilet rolls and bags of pasta as we can, by not despairing. But by sensible and responsible behaviour. By self isolating if that is what we are meant to be doing. By observing social distancing (unlike Jesus in that picture). By maintaining an awareness of those around us, particularly of those who are self isolating. Phone calls, letters, messages, cards, food left on the doorstep, are all signs of us caring for one another, as are fetching shopping or medication for a neighbour. Reminders that we belong together, are community together.
Things will change. Things will improve. Our God is not just with us in our suffering, but is there beside the empty tomb. Our God is a God who brings water from the desert rocks, light in the darkness, life out of death. I was heartened a few months ago to hear on the radio about the Chenobyl area. 34 years since the Chernobyl disaster which left the area uninhabitable. The ecological impact was devastating. In one area of forest, many coniferous trees died. The dying needles turned rusty red, earning the region a new name: the Red Forest. Many soil invertebrates were killed, and the small mammal population plummeted. But now, things are very different. Plant life is swallowing up the remnants of buildings. And whilst the level of radiation is still too high for humans, much is recovering and thriving. There are elk, wolves, wild boar, roe deer and foxes. Beavers, badgers, lynx and bison. In fact it seems that there were seven times as many wolves there than in other reserves.
Things will change, but meanwhile we need to stand firm in our faith, in our faith in the God of the cross and the empty tomb. And we need to show that in how we live from day to day, in how we relate to others, in how we think about the needs of others.
But to do that, we are going to need to be drinking deeply of that living water. And for a period without being able to meet on a Sunday to worship God. But that doesn’t mean we can’t worship. So I would urge you, however you pray, do it. Find time to hunker down into God and refresh yourself, gain strength. Because you will need that in order to be sustained, and you will need it in order to be a channel for God’s love and peace to flow to others.
May you know God’s peace deep within you in the coming months.Alice X
Sunday 16th February, Storm Dennis is howling through the trees, it’s raining though not heavily, and I decide to challenge myself and walk to Cottisford for ‘Snowdrop Sunday. Crossing Bancroft to get onto the Fringford/Cottisford road the field is sodden and muddy, so I don’t take any footpaths and stay on the road. Getting there seemed to take ages, but the church is warm and welcoming with plants for sale, a tombola, and friends. Resisting offers of lifts home, and strengthened by the most excellent slice of buttered tea bread, I set off for home, at a good pace (rather to my surprise), when all of a sudden the sky clears, areas of blue appear, the sun emerges and everything is lit with that particular clarity that often comes after a storm. It felt like Spring. It reminded me of lines from a Lenten hymn by Percy Dearmer (priest, scholar, author, liturgist, and musician);
Lent comes in the spring,
And spring is pied with brightness;
The sweetest flowers,
Keen winds, and sun, and showers,
Their health do bring
To make Lent's chastened whiteness;
For life to men brings light
And might, and might,
And might to those whose hearts are right.
The tune it is sung to is a French carol melody, "Quittez, Pasteures”, and it is not at all gloomy like many Lenten hymns.
And Lent was what I had supposed I should write about for the March Shelswell News. I’d been thinking about it on the walk; but what about Lent? On 9 February at Evensong the Old Testament reading was Isaiah 28, verses 1 to 9, some verses of which really struck me - the prophet points out that the kind of fasting God would like to see is:
“to loose the chains of injustice
And untie the cords of the yoke,
to set the oppressed free
and break every yoke.
Is it not to share your food with the hungry
And to provide the poor wanderer with shelter -
When you see the naked to clothe him ……”
Whatever Lenten discipline we might observe should not make us miserable, or proud, but serve the needs of others. What to do? There’s a challenge to take up! But such service can bring joy, as Dearmer also writes:
Then shall your light
break forth as doth the morning;
Your health shall spring,
the friends you make shall bring
God's glory bright,
your way through life adorning; and love shall be the prize.
Arise, arise, arise! and make a paradise!
“There is always in February some one day, at least, when one smells the yet distant, but surely coming, summer.” Gertrude Jekyll
As we wait for signs of spring and summer it is good to have reminders of bright times. For some the highlight of February will be Valentine’s Day. Early Christian records tell of two St Valentines whose feast day is on 14 February. They lived in the third century and were both martyred in Rome for their religious convictions. Neither seems to have had an explicit link to romantic love.
The connection between St Valentine’s Day and romance is at least as old as Geoffrey Chaucer. In his 1382 poem, Parlement of Foules, he wrote, “For this was on Saint Valentine’s Day, when every bird cometh there to choose his mate.” The medieval belief was that birds start making nests and mating on this day of the year. However it is not clear whether the link between romance and Valentine’s Day started with Chaucer, or whether he was recording a well-known tradition.
As this tradition spread young men felt required to express their feelings through verse and poetry. The Young Man’s Valentine Writer, published in 1797, contained a selection of romantic verses. Those who were not gifted in verse-writing could copy out pre-written valentines to express their love. By tradition women could propose to men on 29th February, as this day was thought to have no legal status and so the normal rules did not apply - 2020 is a Leap Year!
Some authorities think the custom of choosing a partner on St Valentine’s Day retains elements of the Roman Lupercalia, a rowdy festival which took place in the middle of February. This was a time to ward off evil spirits and purify the city of Rome, and to release health and fertility. The word February comes from the instruments of purification which were used, called februa.
Whatever the origin of Valentine’s Day, it now seems that more than a penned verse, original or otherwise, is expected. In 2018 the amount spent in Great Britain for Valentine’s Day was £650 million, an increase of more than 25% since 2015. It has been said,
“February days are a marketing gimmick; love happens every day.”
On February 26th Christian Churches mark Ash Wednesday, a day of devotion and self-examination at the beginning of Lent. Lent is a season when Christians try to focus more on prayer and spiritual studies and on ‘spring cleaning’ their lives.* This helps to prepare for Holy Week and the coming joy of Easter when we especially celebrate God’s self-giving, all-embracing love.
Love happens every day and the word love covers much more than romantic love. However we spend Valentine’s Day or Ash Wednesday, may every day in February be a day when we glimpse something of the sunshine of God’s love, and may we strive to love one another, just as Jesus told his disciples to do.
“I give you a new commandment: love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. If you have love for one another, then everyone will know that you are my disciples.” John 13.34-35Liz Welters, Associate Minister
* The Church of England's Lent Campaign, #LiveLent: Care for God's Creation, has 40 reflections and suggested actions to help us live in greater harmony with God, neighbour and nature. See www.churchofengland.org/livelent
A Brand New Year
So both the scales and the buttons on my clothing were telling a sorry story, so I decide to go on a diet. Again. And a week later, I had managed to put on one and a half pounds. Glum face. The problem is that the choice is between a yummy mince pie now, or being marginally thinner in a week or two’s time. And it is very hard for most of us to go for the delayed reward.
Climate change is not just something for the future. "It's shocking how much climate change in 2019 has already led to lives lost, poor health, food insecurity and displaced populations," said Dr Joanna House, from the University of Bristol. On a day-to-day basis, the impacts of climate change play out through extreme and 'abnormal' weather. Heat waves and floods which used to be 'once in a century' events are becoming more regular occurrences. Countries ranging from the Bahamas to Japan to Mozambique suffered the effect of devastating tropical cyclones. Wildfires swept through the Arctic and Australia,
Christians believe that ‘the earth is the Lord’s and everything in it,’ (Psalm 21:1), and that God has entrusted it to us to love and care for it. It is God’s gift to everyone and we cannot think of ourselves as isolated from others or from creation. Instead we have a responsibility towards the earth and towards each other to look after it, so that both it and us can flourish.
So as we stand at the start of a brand new year, regardless of all the other very many pressures around us, let’s challenge ourselves once again to do a little more. And no, it probably won’t affect CO2 emissions in China or India, but neither should we underestimate the impact of all our ‘small efforts’ added together.
If you can’t think what you can do, then check out the Church of England’s website on ‘Sustainable lifestyles’:
They suggest we think about: