StJohn&StStephens-logo

Three_Magi_1981web

Cafe Communion – Epiphany 2019

Journey of the Magi

TS Eliot

“A cold coming we had of it,
Just the worst time of the year
For a journey, and such a long journey:
The ways deep and the weather sharp,
The very dead of winter.”
And the camels galled, sore-footed, refractory,
Lying down in the melting snow.
There were times we regretted
The summer palaces on slopes, the terraces,
And the silken girls bringing sherbet.
Then the camel men cursing and grumbling
And running away, and wanting their liquor and women,
And the night-fires gong out, and the lack of shelters,
And the cities hostile and the towns unfriendly
And the villages dirty, and charging high prices.:
A hard time we had of it.
At the end we preferred to travel all night,
Sleeping in snatches,
With the voices singing in our ears, saying
That this was all folly.

Then at dawn we came down to a temperate valley,
Wet, below the snow line, smelling of vegetation;
With a running stream and a water-mill beating the darkness,
And three trees on the low sky,
And an old white horse galloped away in the meadow.
Then we came to a tavern with vine-leaves over the lintel,
Six hands at an open door dicing for pieces of silver,
And feet kicking the empty wine-skins.
But there was no information, and so we continued
And arrived at evening, not a moment too soon
Finding the place; it was (you may say) satisfactory.

All this was a long time ago, I remember,
And I would do it again, but set down
This set down
This: were we lead all that way for
Birth or Death? There was a Birth, certainly,
We had evidence and no doubt. I have seen birth and death,
But had thought they were different; this Birth was
Hard and bitter agony for us, like Death, our death.
We returned to our places, these Kingdoms,
But no longer at ease here, in the old dispensation,
With an alien people clutching their gods.
I should be glad of another death.

 

This time of year feels like a frantic liturgical race!

Jesus was only born a few days ago, and in a matter of weeks our liturgy takes us from baby, to precocious child, to (todays reading) a fledgling prophet in the temple!

I personally cannot handle that speed.. I prefer to stop and wonder for a little longer.. To linger and question.

For this week, I’m still basking in the glow of epiphany.. the first ‘revealing of a deeper meaning’. The visit of the Magi from the east.. not three.. probably not too wise either! maybe many, men, women, maybe like a band of migrants?

I want to dwell for a moment and take us away from the picture books, from the sweet images of star and camels,  crowns and gifts.

Instead I want to pause on the political nature of this story. The magi see a sign, a star, an invitation.

The air thick with magic and wonder… they leave behind comfort, security, they journey to an unknown destination – but they journey in hope.

And they encounter Herod… very powerful, and very insecure… a highly volatile megolamaniac.

They don’t do ‘wise’ very well – as they walk into a royal palace of an insecure and power hungry king and ask “where is the newborn king?”!

But then they find the child.. whatever they expected, whatever they anticipated, we cannot know – but was it this young child, toddler even?

What did they understand in this image?

We can only speculate…

But in this vision they change. Despite Herod’s insistence – they do not return. They see something dangerous and vulnerable.

They recognise that this is the time to disobey the powers of the nation.. there is something in the vision they have beheld, that compels them to effectively break the law.

They resist the powers of control, envy, greed and violence. They take another route home. They disobey…

I wonder .. as our times seem to become further and further vulnerable, what might we see in the nativity scene that could compel us to such insurrection?

Can the very nature of love, the gift of love so move us to resist the powers of violence, greed and power in our time? How far do we dare go to resist for Love? What are the smallest acts which breed such insurrection?

OF course, the politics doesn’t end there.. What happens next is nothing other than horror.. The justification of so many tyrants; ‘collateral damage, the loss of a few innocent lives in order to maintain ‘security’ to maintain the equilibrium of power, to resist that which threatens ‘our way of life’?

How many times have we heard such words – devoid of imagination, compassion or humanity. Entire systems designed to destroy the force of love and life.

It is this vision which we have hear d of in todays gospel… a gospel, which like the angel, can give us that helping hand, that secret inspiration, that call ‘to go another way’. This gospel tells us that Jesus has come to set the prisoner free. An act of imagination, emancipation, resistance and hope!

So… let us love the magi.. and their impossible, improbable story.. But let us hear the stark, harsh reality in their story too; as TS Eliot reminds us.. they travelled, they wearied, they persisted, and what they found prepared them for both life … and a new death.

Nothing would ever be the same again!!

 

Gary

Marvel-Superheroes

Not the Superhero we Imagine.

Once Jesus was asked by the Pharisees when the kingdom of God was coming, and he answered, “The kingdom of God is not coming with things that can be observed; 21 nor will they say, ‘Look, here it is!’ or ‘There it is!’ For, in fact, the kingdom of God is among[b] you.”
22 Then he said to the disciples, “The days are coming when you will long to see one of the days of the Son of Man, and you will not see it. 23 They will say to you, ‘Look there!’ or ‘Look here!’ Do not go, do not set off in pursuit. 24 For as the lightning flashes and lights up the sky from one side to the other, so will the Son of Man be in his day. 25 But first he must endure much suffering and be rejected by this generation. Luke 17:20-25

This week we heard of the sad loss of Stan Lee, the creator of the Marvel Comics and The Marvel Universe.
Stan Lee is a unique figure in the comic book, a legend really.. who helped revive a flagging comic book industry in the 1960s into a strong and culturally significant force through the last 40/50 years.. His comic book heroes, Fantastic Four, Incredible Hulk, Spider Man, Guardians of the Galaxy, X-men etc, etc, etc  enliven the minds and imaginations of children, youth and adults alike… and the growing film franchises only continue that powerful unleashing of imagination and wonder….

But there is more to Stan Lee’s superheroes than spandex suits and ‘Wahm, Kapow and Klunk!’…
they are flawed.. all of them.

In fact it is now widely recognised that the very thing that made Stan Lee’s characters so convincing and awe-inspiring was the subtle depiction of their broken lives… Stan Lee’s characters had as many problems as they had powers; they argued with each other, had fallouts, had ego-issues, were often scared, reluctant, and .. like us were very human. It was the humanisation of these superheroes which made them far more appealing… that turned comic-books into art!

His most famous character of all, Spider Man, (true identity – Peter Parker) would regularly save New York city from ghastly and destructive foes. Yet Peter Parker was scared to ask Mary-Jane on a date, and struggled to balance work and school, and to fix his acne! Spiderman was very human.

Stan Lee was also keen to explore difference within his stories; he opposed bigotry and racism.. showed the damage that comes from excluding others who are different. The X-men are all ‘mutants’ whose fight is as much against prejudice and fear, as it is with nefarious forces.

Which brings me to Jesus …

The Marvel Superheroes show us a world where people could achieve great things, but often with and in spite of their flaws and inconsistencies. They open the possibility of wonder and awe found within the present day and the humdrum. Where dreams dance with depression.

Jesus seems to be point the same way too..’don’t be looking out there.. don’t be looking for the next big thing, the next revival.. it’s not there’. This kingdom, will turn your lives upside down, will transform the entire world .. but you cannot define it, or hold it. It’s not about a superero rising above this life; it is found within it.. within you.’ God is not outside but inside our very human lives.. stirring, inspiring, cajoling and comforting.

The kingdom – and the God – Jesus is speaking of is far more elusive, and cannot be pinned down to doctrine, tradition; we too cannot say ‘look there it is…!’
This God defies all we expect of her … and yet surprises us with the possible in impossibility, with silence and thought and art and friendship, and in the ‘suffering and rejection’ which must come..

The God Jesus speaks of – the God he reveals – excites the wonder in the everyday; the good and the bad, the mess and the magic.. This God turns up in unexpected places – walks beside us… within us.. knows us flaws and all.. and still calls us Super.

GS Collins. Cafe Eucharist. Nov 18

Gormley-Another Place

A multitude of saints

John 11:32-44 NRSV

32 When Mary came where Jesus was and saw him, she knelt at his feet and said to him, “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died.” 33 When Jesus saw her weeping, and the Jews who came with her also weeping, he was greatly disturbed in spirit and deeply moved. 34 He said, “Where have you laid him?” They said to him, “Lord, come and see.” 35 Jesus began to weep. 36 So the Jews said, “See how he loved him!” 37 But some of them said, “Could not he who opened the eyes of the blind man have kept this man from dying?”

38 Then Jesus, again greatly disturbed, came to the tomb. It was a cave, and a stone was lying against it. 39 Jesus said, “Take away the stone.” Martha, the sister of the dead man, said to him, “Lord, already there is a stench because he has been dead four days.” 40 Jesus said to her, “Did I not tell you that if you believed, you would see the glory of God?” 41 So they took away the stone. And Jesus looked upward and said, “Father, I thank you for having heard me. 42 I knew that you always hear me, but I have said this for the sake of the crowd standing here, so that they may believe that you sent me.” 43 When he had said this, he cried with a loud voice, “Lazarus, come out!” 44 The dead man came out, his hands and feet bound with strips of cloth, and his face wrapped in a cloth. Jesus said to them, “Unbind him, and let him go.”

So today is All Saints Day.. The celebration that gives thanks for ‘All the Saints’.. and the big point of All Saints is the removal of notions that saints are only these premier league icons.. and reminds us that all are saints.. all those who have gone before us… our friends, parents, loved ones. It’s a daytto reflect, to give thanks, to acknowledge our losses and grief.. and day to take stock, and yet still to give thanks that tose we ave lost are the gifts

I was reminded of two artworks by the Sculptor Antony Gormley; The Field and Another Place, both echo something of humanity.. and the sainthood.. there is something haunting about te stories of people.. the multitude of voices that ave inspired us… pointed our eyes away (to Another place?) to something beyond and unexpected.. or something small vulnerable and seemingly insignificant (field)– yet which still amasses in our presence (so that one cannot enter the room – notice).

Gormley-Field

I wanted to work with people and to make a work about our collective future and our responsibility for it. I wanted the art to look back at us, its makers (and later viewers), as if we were responsible – responsible for the world that it [FIELD] and we were in. I have made it – with help – five times in different parts of the world. AG

 

At Fireside we start with a lighting ritual were we acknowledge that wisdom belongs to all. Te gift/mystery of god (pictured in a lighted candle)is reflected as a light in all gathered for discussion.. The light is given and reflected in everyone.

And what do people point us towards.. where do the saints tell us to look?

Gormley-Another Place

The idea was to test time and tide, stillness and movement, and somehow engage with the daily life of the beach. AG

For Gormley they point beyond. They cause a reflection on the life and world we are saturated in.. they provoke wide-eyed wonder, the magic of the everyday. The saints point to G-d.

These two instances, Gormley’s Art – and the Fireside Candle remind us that the kingdom Jesus points towards is a kingdom here, and in the midst of us. It is not some far off heavenly thing waiting to happen.. the life of God is given now.

Of course the story of Lazarus also reminds us that death and suffering are very real, the pain is vivid and no amount of ‘spiritualising’ will remove Grief, sadness, disruption and disturbance. And Cost. The story we have heard is full of humanity.. you can easily picture the noise, the commotion, Mary falling at Jesus’ feet, the confusion – could more have been done? The incredulity, the disgust, the clamor… all very human!

We don’t romanticise the tears of Jesus. Pain is real. Pain of misunderstanding, disagreement? of grief? The life of God – even Gods tears are found in the fabric of Gods creatures, women and men, and children and parents.

We might also ask where Jesus tears come from – thinking Christologically – from the divine, or the human? Ow many times have you heard it explained that this is how God understands human grief.. but maybe its how humans might understand God’s grief?

Once again… God and humans working together revealing glory, wonder, humility, tragedy and awe.

And finally, we must remember that this is John’s gospel.. rich in sign and symbol. For John miracles are less about events that break the flow of nature – thay are signs which point somewhere else.. the raising of Lazarus is a reminder of another (soon to come) moment of tomb, cloth, stone – of weeping women and resurrection…

This story remind us that Jesus is calling us now.. the story of Lazarus works for all saints day.. because it is about the unexpected life of God emerging wherever it wills – from even the darkness of a tomb.. God,s gift this very day is the fullness of life.. not an immunisation from its challenges – but a savouring of the life which is divine, holy, and a gift. The saints.. all saints would tell us the same..

 

GS Collins. Cafe Communion. Nov 18

 

 

 

PrayerFlyer-2_Page_2

Week of Accompanied Prayer – 10-15 June

What is a Week of Accompanied Prayer?
• a daily half-hour meeting with an experienced prayer guide.
• and a daily time of prayer (aiming at 20-30 minutes).

Who is it for?
• Christians who want to deepen their prayer life.
• anyone unsure of belief, but willing to explore prayer.
Either way, it is for any generous soul willing to
commit to the elements of the week!

What is in the programme?
As well praying for up to 30 minutes each day and meeting with your prayer
guide, there are introductory and closing meetings with helpful suggestions
about how to get the most out of the week.

There will also be optional evening workshops (open to non-participants);
• prayer and creativity
• the practice of living fully in the present
• discernment and decision making.

Why do it?
When we are generous, God is more so! We encounter a God who loves and
calls us: it can be a great help in making or confirming decisions, big or small.

How much does it cost?
We ask for a contribution of £20 from participants. (If this is a problem, talk to
one of the organisers and we’ll work something out).
Please contact Ali Marshall, Mark Laynesmith
or Christine Bainbridge, via the Parish Office