Will you walk a little faster – or slower…

turtleWhen I was at school, my English teacher encouraged us to learn one of the speeches from Macbeth: ‘Out, out, brief candle! Life’s but a walking shadow…’. She said there would be times in life when it was useful to be able to declaim it, and indeed I have enjoyed doing so on many an occasion. I have to work really hard to memorise things, but, as well as Macbeth’s speech, I used to be able to recite all eighteen verses of Lewis Carroll’s ‘The Walrus and the Carpenter’. I only ever managed the first four lines of the Mock Turtle’s Song: ‘“Will you walk a little faster?” said a whiting to a snail. “There’s a porpoise close behind us, and he’s treading on my tail.”’ Oh, and the chorus – Will you, won’t you, will you, won’t you, will you join the dance?’

I have found myself thinking of the Mock Turtle’s Song on several occasions as I have tried to navigate my way down a busy street whilst trying to stay socially distanced from other people. At times it feels very much like a dance. It is funny how we have all learnt a whole new set of social skills during the pandemic – we can veer our way down the pavement, stepping out into the road to allow space for each other. We can queue in a socially distanced way, more or less. We can sound out whether someone is happy to have you in their house or not. And I reckon I can judge a 2 metre gap almost to the centimetre, having had to measure it out so many times to sort out seating in our churches.

As we continue down the Government road map, the situation gets more complicated – partly because several of the ‘rules’ are now guidance rather than being mandatory. When meeting with family and friends, it is now up to us to “make a personal choice on whether to keep your distance from them, but you should still be cautious.” And we can travel to amber listed countries, but are advised that holidays abroad are not for this year. It is much harder to negotiate with others around social situations when the rules are ‘you can, but perhaps you shouldn’t’.

And it is, of course, further complicated by each of us coming at things from our own particular angle, influenced by factors like whether we have had one or two doses of the vaccine, whether we or our loved ones have particular health needs that make us more vulnerable, whether we are more cautious by nature or just have been yearning for contact with others – that hug, a pint in the pub with friends or a meal out.

quotesThe big challenge facing us all is learning how to respect one another’s choices, how to give each other the room that each of us needs, how to allow each other to move at the speed that is right for each of us. Rather than denigrating one another for being too cautious or not cautious enough, we need to learn to honour one another and support each other’s positions. Not a bad lesson for life generally!

queue of people
Alice Goodall

May

Come and Eat

I write this message the day after pubs opened for outdoor hospitality – a day which began with snow falling in the morning and ended with lovely warm sunshine and folk visiting our local village pub!

One of the things we have learned through Lock Down is just how much we appreciate being able to meet together to share hospitality. As we meet over drinks or a meal, we have time to catch up, to share our news and to listen to one another. In our Benefice we have used Zoom to have online coffee mornings and quizzes – these have helped us keep in touch and we always begin by finding out how everyone is, sharing what has been going on and listening to any concerns people might have. We have shared the good news of the vaccine roll out, as each age group and each village has been reached. We have offered each other support.

During Lent our Benefice used Bishop Steven’s sermons Come and See for our online Benefice services. He ended his series encouraging us to be thinking about how we would move from being an online community, back to one where we can once again meet up in our churches to share the Eucharist together – how we would move from “Come and see” to “Come and Eat”. This call to share hospitality reminded me of a book I had read a few years ago called Surprise the World by Michael Frost. It is a small book in which Michael explores the 5 habits for Missional People. The first two habits he suggests are Bless and Eat.

We have seen evidence of people looking for ways to bless others throughout Lock Down – people volunteering to help with shopping, delivering medicines, baking treats, dropping of bars of chocolates, writing letters or notes of encouragement, phone calls etc. Blessing others involves offering words of encouragement and affirmation, acts of kindness, doing a good turn and giving gifts (perhaps a birthday present but also random gifts just to show someone you care). I hope that most people reading this can attest to either being on the receiving end of such blessings or of being an initiator of them!

chaliceThe second habit Michael Frost suggests is eating together. Eating together was a central Christian practice for the early church. They did not only meet to celebrate communion together, to break bread and share wine sacramentally, but they also met to share “ordinary food” as part of an agape meal. Accounts of Jesus earthly ministry and the early church place meals at the very centre of sharing life together. The Apostle Paul relied on people welcoming him and his co-leaders into their homes; and through these opportunities Paul developed strong relationships.

Now that we are back to meeting in our churches we are able to celebrate communion through word and sacrament. We have the opportunity to explore God’s word and to break bread together. As Christians we believe that Jesus is present with us always, but there is something very special and life affirming about being able to meet and break bread together – something we have really missed during the pandemic. Communion creates community. Christ living in us brings us together in new ways. We have all had to be very cautious about meeting up, keeping to government guidelines and there may well be some folk who are hesitant about coming into our church building just yet, but would like to receive Communion at home – if that is you please do get in touch with the Benefice office or email curate@shelswellparishes.info and we will arrange that.

Michael Frost goes further as regards hospitality and encourages us to meet up with three people each week to eat together – not necessarily to eat a full meal but for a coffee, a sundowner, a walk – a chance to be together! Now that is a challenge I think we would all look forward achieving. The pandemic has taught us that time spent with each other is something money cannot buy. I hope that in the coming year we will find lots of opportunities to share hospitality in our gardens, our homes, our churches and in our villages!

Revd. Yvonne Mullins

April

tree

Passion Sunday 2021 – I walked across the footpaths to deliver some Fringford Village Voices to the houses by Fringford Mill. There’s a point where you reach an opening into a field that curves around towards the stream in the distance that feeds the water mill, and where the field also slopes uphill back toward the village. On the top of the slope there used to be tree, standing quite tall, but leafless and dry. I stopped and looked over the field, and suddenly noticed that the tree wasn’t there; it’s lying on its side, collapsed. I wondered when it happened. That great tree; when did it finally topple and fall, alone and unseen? In a storm? In the night? How many thousands of people across the world, recently, have slipped away in a similar fashion alone and unseen?

There has been much sorrow in the past year, either because death has hit us personally, or because the sheer scale of the numbers afflicted weighs on us all. The Archbishop of York, talking on the radio this morning said how the story in the gospels of the woman who had suffered with haemorrhages for twelve years had been a source of comfort to him in the pandemic. What struck him in the story is that Jesus, surrounded at the time by “a great crowd that pressed upon him” none the less senses the need of a specific individual who only dares to “touch his cloak”, and heals her. We need to know that no person or part of God’s creation is of indifference to God rather, as Jesus is reported as saying in Luke’s Gospel, “Are not five sparrows sold for two pennies? Yet not one of them is forgotten in God’s sight”. God sees us.

God is with each one of us, whether we sense it or not, in life and in death. Today, as we enter Passiontide, we are going to see what that ‘being with us’ means for God. As he journeys to the cross it means that God in Christ has “born our griefs and carried our sorrows.” In session 5 of the ‘Inspired by Art’ Lent Group we looked at a painting of Christ carrying his cross. It is by an unknown painter, Italian, Venetian, about 1500 [I will try to put it up on the Shelswell Churches website]. Made as a private devotional work, as an aid for prayer and contemplation, this unflinching depiction of Christ’s misery is an emotionally powerful image. The viewer is drawn above all to the eyes; they express such sorrow and suffering. This is what it means for God to be with us – a sharing of our humanity, our pains, our deaths. Only by going through this can God bring us to the other side, the empty tomb and the risen Christ. We cannot have Easter without the Crucifixion.

The meaning of the events often become clearer if we can ‘experience’ them in some way; so, during Holy Week [the first week in April] read the Passion narratives in the Gospels, journey through the week with Christ, contemplate the events, enter into the story as best you can. Then, on reaching Easter Day, rejoice that Christ is risen, and see that we are a new creation.
Penny Wood LLM

tree

March

There is No Cure for Curiosity

According to an old saying, ‘The cure for boredom is curiosity. There is no cure for curiosity Have you ever felt like asking a question during a sermon? What are you talking about? Could you explain that more clearly? A sermon is not the best setting for questioning. The disciples of Jesus asked him questions, not in the middle of him talking to the crowds, but when they had time and space for an explanation. Jesus also asked questions of the disciples.

questionsWhen I was in Waddesdon I placed an ‘Any Questions?’ box in Church. People put in questions they would probably not ask out loud. Although these were anonymous, I could usually guess who the most searching ones came from! From time to time I would attempt to answer the queries during a service

In another setting, a not-so-young person would come up to me regularly after a service. I soon realised that he was intent on asking me a question, probably one I would not be able answer off the cuff! Often my response had to be, ‘I’ll find out and let you know’.

‘Is it alright to ask questions?’ This query came from a senior police officer who joined a Home Group I was running in Autumn 1999. He was re-exploring faith after the birth of his child, having been brought up in a strict denomination where questioning was certainly not allowed. As his responsibilities included monitoring the movements of Apocalyptic Sects (easier to write than to say) in the run up to the Millennium, and we happened to be studying the Book of Revelation, it made for fascinating and fruitful discussions.

Home Groups are good places to ask questions, but such groups do not suit everyone, even when we are able to meet together in person. However, there are lots of opportunities on Zoom or for private study this Lent. We know from the ‘Food, Glorious Food’ course that Zoom is a format which can work well, giving people opportunities to learn, ask questions and share knowledge.

branch‘Curiosity must be outgrown or endured. A child is born with its mouth in position to utter the word “Why?” and when, at some later date, it is punished for asking too many questions, it thinks up enough additional questions during its punishment to make the Encyclopaedia Britannica look sick.’ Boston Sunday Post, August 1, 1915
Are you feeling bored? Have you outgrown the curiosity about faith you once had? Are you enduring questions about Christian belief, without having a chance to voice them? Lent is the time to let loose your curiosity and explore. If you haven’t already done so, do Zoom in to one of the courses on offer, or study at home.
There’s:
Inspired to Follow, produced by St Martin in the Fields and The National Gallery. How can art enlighten our Christian journey?
Come and See, from the Oxford Diocese. How can we question and explore the Christian faith afresh?
Pilgrim Journeys: The Creeds, 40 days of Reflections by Bishop Steven Croft. How can we reflect on and respond to the statements in the Creeds? Booklet or daily emails available.
There’s also: Inspired by Hope, from Embrace the Middle East. How do Christians in the Middle East still have hope, despite all they are facing? How can we learn from them? For a booklet, please contact me or see https://shop.embraceme.org/collections/church-resources/products/lent-study-guide-2021

I think questions are vital to our growth as Christians. They help us develop in our understanding of who God is, who we are, and what it means to live out what we believe. Of course, not all questions have easy, pat answers. Sometimes we have to live our questions for while, in the company of God and others, before we find our peace.

Liz Welters (Associate Minister)

February

‘I will give thanks to you, Lord, with my whole heart; I will tell or all your marvellous works.
I will be glad and rejoice in you; I will make music to your name, O most high’

Thus started this morning’s psalm (Psalm 9: 1 – 2). If only.

And the latest missive sent out from the Diocesan Bishops urges us to turn:

from the bitterness of thinking about what
we can't have at this time

from the misery that comes from our hopes
being repeatedly deferred by the pandemic

that surround us

to thankfulness for these things and a deeper
commitment to treasure them

to a deeper hope that rests in God and God's promises

to a focus on joy, 'a witness to eternal realities in the
midst of earthbound despair'

But that is very hard. Perhaps like me you feel your resources are low. Perhaps you too are finding the days to be dark, dreary and drab. And perhaps you also long for a hug from those you love but can’t see at the moment. I wish I was one of those people who are naturally optimistic, joyful, able to find light in the midst of any darkness. I have a friend like that. She had an abusive first marriage. She lost her first husband and her eldest son to suicide, and has faced numerous challenges since. But still she counts her blessings, effervesces with joy, and looks for things to be thankful for. She’s even written a book about her experiences (Choosing Eros – Julie Hagerty). But I’m not like Julie and I guess that is just how it is.

branch But although they may be personality traits, I guess that thankfulness and joy are also partly disciplines. There are loads of websites devoted to the practice of both. They tend to stress that although we cannot make ourselves feel joyful, we can become more open to the experience of joy. We can do things like being still, like practising being really present during the day, looking and listening inquisitively. trying to savour each moment – savour all the simple joys of life - the ability to see, to hear, to feel, to taste, and to touch, the beauty that is all around us, the miracle of our existence.

It is often when we stop, when we are still, that we notice things. In November, I noticed that amidst the black stubs of bygone blackberries and the few ragged leaves still clinging onto otherwise bare branches was one shrub that seemed to have large buds on it. A search on Google and I learnt that most trees have buds on them all through the winter. They protect the branches through winter and are there, ready to burst into growth in the spring. Everything we know witnesses to the fact that there will be better times in store. Winter leads to spring, the night to the morning, and as the psalmist puts it, ‘heaviness may endure for a night, but joy comes in the morning’ (Psalm 30.5).

I came across a poem on the internet – it had been written collaboratively on 5th April last year on Facebook by the Federation of Writers (Scotland) – people could only post one line, and 59 comments later, the poem emerged. I was going to just include an excerpt, but couldn’t decide which bit was best, so here is it all. I wonder that your recipe for joy would contain? And can you prepare some parts of it now?

Alice Goodall