I lift my voice to praise you

David Candlin reflects on the joy of music-making and the gift of praising God with this talent. 

 

At Morning Prayer in the Edmund King Chapel on Thursday I’ll jump up at the blessing, put on my guitar and strum the opening chords of a contemporary worship song.

 

Then we’ll start singing and, in the next two or three minutes, we’ll express our thanks and praise to almighty God for the innumerable gifts he bestows on us. It’s something we’ve done many times this past two years.

 

It’s thanks to the warmth and generosity of this community that I have rediscovered the gift of music-making. I learned guitar at primary school and played in bands as a teenager at school and university. But then I got a job and life got serious.

I stopped making music.

 

Looking back I can see that – without realising it – I thought you had to be really good at something to do it. My role models were driven people who focused on what they were good at.

 

There was simply not time to do everything and it seemed you needed to drop peripheral things to succeed in your chosen field. Or maybe I just wasn’t good at finding balance in my life.

 

God rejoices when we offer up our gifts in worship and praise. Thank you to all at Cuddesdon who have so warmly embraced and encouraged me as I rediscover the gift of music-making and the joy it brings to us and to God.

 

guitar jpg

 

Magenta

A poem by Dr. Cathy Ross

 

Magenta

I hold the large key, ancient, iron, trefoil,
Cold to touch.
It slides easily into the lock
Turns smoothly.
No creaks for this door. Well oiled.

 

A tiny chapel
Hidden on a rocky outcrop in north Wales.
Sunlight rainbows in reflected by the stained glass windows.
Seven of them.
Purple, yellow, blue, orange,
Green, red, turquoise, magenta.

 

Eight colours.
Seven stained glass windows.
Magenta is missing.
Where is magenta? worries my tidy mind.

 

Slowly I absorb the sound of the refracted colours.
Red for strength; green for healing,
Purple for longing, yellow for curiosity,
Orange for vitality, blue for tranquillity,
Turquoise for sheer beauty.

 

Magenta for completion.

 

Eight colours on the wheel,
Seven windows in this chapel.

 

Magenta for completion,

Wholeness.

 

Magenta is missing.

 

Magenta calls me on,
Out of the chapel,
Into the world.

 

 

St Beuno’s, 12 Aug, 2017.

 

Snapchatting the Sistine Chapel

 

A poem by Sorrel Wood.

 

I looked for you in the Sistine Chapel,

Peering through a bustling scrum of tourists.

One tour guide waved a faded Minnie Mouse

Precariously flopping on a selfie-stick

To herd his chattering, snap-chatting flock.

 

Then I saw you: bearded, robed, reclining;

Your Father Christmas face so iconic

That it was all a disappointing déjà-vu.

Your accusatory finger pointed

Towards a languid, naked, tight-muscled Adam

Genitals small as a bunch of shrivelled figs.

 

A megaphone bellowed demands for silence

And I tried to pray, I really tried

But a backpack swung in my praying face

And I was carried by the rushing crowd

Like a rootless branch of river driftwood

Out of the chapel, towards the cafe.

 

I sought you out in the vast corridors

Of the Vatican art collection.

I found you, a thousand versions of you:

Baby doll eyes, girlish hair, impotent

Bearing faint traces of Christ-likeness

Like the almost-familiarity

Of meeting someone’s cousin.

 

I tried to buy you in the gift shop.

A glittering, gold cross (five hundred Euros)

Sparkled in the soft, Italian light.

“Nothing made in China! Everything blessed!”

A wrinkled nun informed me with a grin.

I wondered if the blessing extended

To the red-rimmed shot glasses, key rings,

The black and white “sexy priests” calendar.

 

I pined for you in the almost-quiet

Of a shrine at St Peter’s Basilica.

I lit a turgid electric candle

Longing for the warm light of a real flame.

And as the cameras clicked I understood

 

That I would find you where you’ve always been:

Healing leprous scabs, washing grubby feet

Kissing the smudged-lipstick face of the whore

Scooping up the knee-grazed child again

And when I found you, I would come to see

I was already lost in your embrace.

 

 

Sistine-Chapel-Michelangelo

 

Just a Cup

The Rev’d Morna Simpson, author of  tea and theology, reflects on preparations for ordination. 

 

What does it mean to be a deacon or priest? Where does our time get used and what do we memorialise? This reflection is also based on the idea of salt and light; being in the world but not of it is part of the calling of all Christians…but what about when not being ‘of the world’ takes us so far from the world that we are seen as misunderstood misfits…?

 

 

A cup is only a cup, regardless of what it is made of or holds, surely? Material cannot drastically change something which we understand to have been made in our mutually accepted ‘cup’ form as Plato suggests in his Theory of Forms. Even a cup made of glass, if it has clearly taken on the form of cup with a handle and a wide rim, is not a glass, but is universally known as a cup.

 

There are cups of different colours, shapes and sizes, some might be more correctly termed as mugs, mugs which do not generally team up with a saucer as cups do; yet they so often find themselves posing in the widening ‘cup’ category. It does not seem to matter how much liquid they hold, or indeed what liquid they hold, whether it is hot or cold; regardless of all of that it is still just a cup.

 

Is it always just a cup though? It might be a cup of tea or coffee, or on a good or bad day (very much depending on the circumstance) it could be a cup of hot chocolate. On the odd occasion it might even be a cup of water or wine…or water mixed with wine even water turned into wine.

 

At what point would the regular tea cup become a precious reminder of the cup that Jesus had to bear?

 

At what point in our church history did the humble and well known household item of ‘cup’, the one that Jesus asked God the Father to take away…”yet, not my will but yours be done”; when did that become a ‘chalice’ which people may identify with far less than the good old fashioned tea cup? Who knew that a chalice is also a term for a cannabis smoking pipe? Talk about losing context!

 

I mean if we’re talking about context, real unadulterated context, the last supper was a meal with friends. It began with Jesus washing the feet of his friends, properly washing them as an act of loving service. The meal was then punctuated with bread which represented Jesus’ ‘body broken’ at the beginning and wine or ‘blood shed’ at the end. Then Jesus told them to do this in remembrance of him.

 

But which bit? How much of this has just got lost over time? Did Jesus really mean for us to take out two components from that whole meal and focus solely on those? Are we right to ignore the foot washing as loving service for 364 days of the year and only wheel out the bowls of warm water and towels for Maundy Thursday when for one day of the year we honour that meal fully?

 

And so we focus on the cup, but I am not convinced that we understand that cup of wine, the cup that Jesus drank, significantly enough as transformative. How can it be just a cup when it led Jesus to the cross to die that we might live? That is the cup of wine which in the words of George Herbert “my God tastes as blood, but I as wine”. It is surely never ‘just a cup’ is it, even if that’s all we have….

 

cup
image by Morna Simpson

Being Fully Human

A poem by Sorrel Wood

 

Perhaps the moment we are born:

Naked, screaming and messy

Completely dependent on the provision of the other for survival

Vulnerable, miraculous

As ordinary and extraordinary as snowfall and the stars,

Perhaps that is the moment we are most fully human.

 

As quickly as the breath in our lungs transforms itself

Into air for the trees,

Step by step, we forget our true humanity.

 

We forget that we deserve to be loved unconditionally

Before we have achieved or amassed anything

Because we are unique.

We refuse to acknowledge that our presence

Infinitely and irrevocably changes the lives of those around us.

We forget the terrifying truth

That each time another disappears from our vision (however briefly)

We may never see them again.

We forget how to scream the depths of our pain

With every atom of our being.

 

We pretend that we are insignificant,

We pretend that we are God.

 

We deny the truth that we are

Miraculous

Irreplaceable

Uninsurable

And that every other is as fully human as we are

No more, no less.

 

We shirk the weighty responsibility

Of treating every other

As intricately connected to our story

And equally worthy of love.

 

We forget that we are precious.

 

We forget that our brief, significant life

Is a journey of re-remembering every day

How to be fully human.

 

Instead, we run and hide from the fragility

The responsibility, the co-dependency

The spark of divinity

That characterises our humanity.

Because the cost of being fully human

Is too heavy a cross to carry in our fragile, human hearts.

 

 

hands

 

Kingdom People

A hymn and a reflection on collaborative hymn-writing

by Sarah Brush and Michael Brierley.

 

Tend us, Lord, as Kingdom People

planted in the world, your field:

love, compassion, justice, freedom

are the crop we long to yield.

 

At our root, in depth and richness,

love divine provides the ground,

that our lives, secure and nourished,

may in love for all abound.

 

Forth from love there stems compassion:

we will weep with those who mourn,

staying with the lost and lonely

through the darkness to the dawn.

 

From compassion, justice blossoms

for the weak, outcast, oppressed,

casting down the rich and mighty

so that meek and poor are blest.

 

Freedom is the fruit of justice –

not the choice of our own way,

but the God-giv’n grace to follow

Christ in every step each day.

 

Love, compassion, justice, freedom –

grant, creator God, our call

by your Spirit so to grow

’til Christ our Lord fills all in all.

 

Sarah Brush (1974) Michael Brierley (1973)

Tune:  Servant Song

 

Below is a collaborative reflection about a piece of creative collaboration in the writing of the hymn above.  The words of the Revd Canon Dr Michael Brierley, Precentor of Worcester Cathedral and Cuddesdon alumnus are in black and the words of the Revd Dr Sarah Brush, Tutor in Pastoral Theology at Cuddesdon are in green.

 

The Diocese of Worcester has an initiative ‘Kingdom People’, which seeks to enable Christian communities more fully to embody four ‘kingdom values’  –  love, compassion, justice and freedom.

 

I’d always thought those four words had such a good rhythm to them and, as I was preparing to leave a diocese I’d worked in for nearly ten years, I tried to put them to music. At an earlier diocesan event we had used the hymn Brother Sister Let Me Serve You for which I’d written a couple of extra verses reflecting the particular prayer activities at the event. I thought using that tune would be a suitable echo for people to half hear in their minds as they sang the new words; linking life as Kingdom People with the Servant Song.

 

I worked on several versions of the words but couldn’t get them quite right. Thinking it would be good to have someone else reflect on it, I sent it to our cathedral Precentor, Michael Brierley who had incorporated other modern hymn compositions by young clergy, like Ally Barrett, in various services for the diocese.

 

Sarah Brush, then a curate in the diocese, sent some hymn words on this theme for possible inclusion at the diocesan services which I help to arrange at the cathedral.  I was both excited by their freshness, their structure (a verse on each value, introduced and concluded) and their topicality, and also found myself wondering whether one or two corners could be further polished.

 

I’d never worked on a hymn before, and found that a couple of train journeys to London on the sluggish line through the Cotswolds were the ideal setting for the polishing.  I ended up re-writing more than I expected.  The metre (and tune) was 8787, and the difficulty of filling the unemphasised, last syllable on the first and third lines spilt over into altering other lines.

 

It wasn’t always an easy process; sometimes we would critique phrases the other had painstakingly constructed or pitch for a change of one particular word. Often, changes meant more changes were needed and sacrifices of other words were necessary. Yet most of the time, perhaps begrudgingly on my part at times, Michael’s suggestions improved what I’d written and even expressed something I’d been trying to say but hadn’t quite achieved.

 

There was also the issue of focusing on a single metaphor – that of a plant – to run through all the verses.

 

This was one particular development which was a truly collaborative creation: the hymn transformed from reflecting the Kingdom People values with only a passing allusion to the vine logo which accompanied them to one which was woven throughout with an extended metaphor of a growing plant. This development gave us lots of new challenges but resulted in something so much better than my original version.

 

Several email exchanges later, the result was premiered at the chrism eucharist in Worcester Cathedral in Holy Week 2018.  All the better for being a genuinely collaborative exercise, it was a harder task than I imagined: but having done one, a next one – given a train journey or two through the Cotswolds – might turn out to be easier …

 

 

kingdom people

 

 

 

 

 

 

First Light

In this poem and reflection, Rev’d Vicky Barrett considers the paradox of the women’s silence after visiting the tomb and meeting Jesus, and the experience of reading in Mark’s Gospel, two thousand years later, of a resurrection which refuses to be silenced.

 

First Light

(a poem based on Mark 16:1-8)

 

They must do what they can
now the Sabbath is over.
Back to work.
Their oils are sharp and pungent,
Stripping dawn’s thin grey curtain.
Their steps, directed, urgent,
to soothe the scarred body,
move the lovely limbs
lying wound up and wounded
in the dank dark of a borrowed grave.

 

How? How? the doves cry,
an echo of their anxious words,
the weight of the stone
wedged between them and their love.
Pounding hearts:
as the oils glow like slow amber pools,
spices tease their nostrils.
Tick, tick. Birds shrill the alarm.

 

Breath snags on a barb.
Surprise? Confusion? Hope? Jealousy?
Has someone come ahead of them
to offer the rituals which are theirs?
Has someone stolen the precious freight
from this stony barque?

 

Who is this man in white?
What is his news?
Not here.
Their eyes trace the outline of the tomb.
Not here.
Not there, where they laid him,
Escaped, unbound, fetterless.

 

The sun rinses the mouth of the tomb,
A widening ‘O’ of light.
The spices fall to the ground.
Oil finds a new course.
The earth gleams and is fragrant.

 

They turn and feet flutter a fleeting path
like sparrows’ feathers.
Breath unravels in rags,
muscles shriek with exertion.
The burden of their news
lurches and sways and batters them
mad-eyed with joyous fear.
Teeth chatter riddling messages.
But who would believe these harpies
who say they have seen an angel?

 

Better to roll the stone back again,
be safe, familiar, silent.
Let the men
wrap the words like oilcloth round the carpenter’s tools,
stitch up the fishing nets
and not
dare to believe
in the terrifying mystery
who comes in majesty
to greet them.

 

Vicky Barrett Easter 2018

 

Reflection

 

Mark’s Gospel is full of silences, no more so than that of Chapter 16, verse 8:

 

So they went out and fled from the tomb, for terror and amazement had seized them; and they said nothing to anyone, for they were afraid.

 

How is it then, that out of the women’s paralysis of terror and amazement, we find ourselves responding to the good news of the risen Christ today?

 

We may find ourselves silent, paralysed also by terror, amazement; scepticism or apathy too, perhaps. But the wonderful good news is that Jesus has done this thing anyway; that’s how much he loves us. Our Creator God is able to bring the news of Jesus’ resurrection to the world in spite of us. As Luke puts it when the Pharisees ask Jesus to tell his disciples to be quiet, “I tell you, if these were silent, the stones would shout out.”

 

Mark’s Gospel account gives us the encouragement to explore our response, to fill in the narrative gaps and colour them in, to play in the shadows of this amazing message.

 

I found myself doing this as I prepared for Easter morning and ended up writing a poem.

 

How can you find your way of expressing a response to this Easter story?

 

empty tomb

The Two Trees

The Rev’d. Dr. Joanna Collicutt reflects on the stark visual juxtaposition of Christ crucified next to the hanging Judas, depicted in the Fifth Century Maskell Ivory. 

 

 

On 7th February I was part of a panel invited to reflect on an image from the Imagining the Divine exhibition currently taking place at the Ashmolean Museum in Oxford. The exhibition contains artefacts from what it refers to as the ‘Five great world religions plus paganism’ (a contentious notion in itself, but not the subject of this blog piece).

 

Maskell Ivory

The Maskell Ivory (c.420-30 CE), probably originating in Rome.

Ivory, Height 7.5 cm, British Museum.

 

I chose this tiny and exquisitely carved panel that was originally part of a box whose sides depict incidents from the life of Christ. This has a claim to be the earliest surviving depiction of the crucifixion and is therefore hugely significant in the history of Christian art. In fact there are very few surviving depictions of the crucifixion from the first millennium at all, and we should ask ourselves why this is. For an intriguing account take a look at Rita Nakashima Brock, and Rebecca Ann Parker’s 2008 book, Saving Paradise: How Christianity Traded Love of This World for Crucifixion and Empire.

 

Perhaps the first thing one notices is that this is not the crucified Christ with whom we are so familiar from mediaeval art – an agonised, contorted, dying or – more usually – already dead victim full of pathos. Instead we are faced with a victorious Christ, very much alive, even perhaps smiling, standing erect with eyes and arms wide open as if to welcome all comers, ready to fly off the cross.

 

There is lots here that is reminiscent of John’s account of the death of Christ; the emphasis on glory, the presence of the Mother of Jesus and the Beloved Disciple, and the Roman Soldier (known in later tradition as Longinus) who inserts a spear into Jesus’ side. Yet, like a Gospel harmony, we also find Judas’ suicide as told by Matthew, complete with the thirty silver pieces, and the completely charming detail of the birds of the air nesting in the branches of the tree from which he hangs, surely alluding to the story of the mustard seed from Mark and Matthew.

 

This would have been an image used for personal devotion and, like the texts and traditions that inspired it, it is not simply telling a story; it makes demands on the viewer. These are intensified, literally thrown into relief, by the three dimensional nature of this artefact that dissolves the threshold between the world of the viewer and the scene depicted. The figures move out towards towards the viewer, who in turn is drawn towards them.

 

And what does she find?  The juxtaposition of the death of Judas and the death of Jesus is highly unusual in Christian art and it should tell us something. It reminded me of the opening verses of that early Christian text, the Didache: ‘There are two ways: one of life and one of death.’ The cross is the tree of life in which all may come and find a place, but it is the tree of death for those who, like Judas, don’t ‘get’ Jesus. Judas is dead, defeated, flaccid, and crucially alone. Jesus is alive, victorious, erect, and crucially surrounded by his loved ones (Jews) and one who in the tradition becomes a faithful witness to his death (a gentile).

 

The viewer is faced with the fact that the cross presents a moral and existential demand to make a life and death choice, a repeated choice that must be made daily.

 

Personally, I find yet more in this image. I find a visual way of making sense and making real that very difficult but important verse from Paul’s letter to the Galatians: ‘Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law by becoming a curse for us; for it is written ‘Cursed is everyone who hangs on a tree’. There is something here about God’s transformation of guilt, shame, and death in Christ that is communicated better visually than in words.

 

But there is also hope. Is Christ reaching out to that tragic figure on the tree? Is this the moment that the gibbet is brought to life? Is Jesus’ touch transforming even this, the loneliest and most desperate of places?

 

The Testament of Mary

The Testament of Mary

 

Tim Middleton reflects on the tangible, immersed experience of Christ incarnate, and that of his mother Mary, and the challenge of meeting God in the pain and truth of life on earth. 

 

‘Conceived by the Holy Spirit, born of the Virgin Mary, suffered under Pontius Pilate, crucified, dead, and buried’—the Apostles’ Creed puts it all very succinctly. If you’re in church on a Sunday, this terse summary of the key moments in the life of Jesus is sometimes all you get. But Colm Tóibín’s play (and subsequent novella) The Testament of Mary includes rather more.

Mary the mother of Jesus has been the focus of Christian adoration for centuries and we’ve inherited a tradition replete with images. When people talk of Marian devotion, one might hear the haunting opening of Arvo Pärt’s setting of the Stabat Mater, a sorrowful hymn to Mary. Or one might conjure to mind the exquisite marble of Michelangelo’s Pietà in St. Peter’s Basilica in Rome. According to tradition, and indeed much of our greatest sacred art and music, Mary is serene, obliging, self-sacrificing and God-fearing.

But what if you had been the mother of Jesus? What if you had been at the foot of the cross when your own son was crucified? What if you were thoroughly exhausted by everybody else trying to re-interpret what the life of your son meant?

It’s not necessarily easy to read: Tóibín’s book can disturb, upset and provoke. In places it is anachronistic, chronologically disjointed or in direct contradiction with what you find in the Bible. For me, though, to be concerned by this is to miss the point. What I have gradually come to realise is that, by definition, there has to be something very gritty about the incarnation. I used to be very bothered by the idea that Jesus only came at one time and in one place—the so-called scandal of particularity. How could a supposedly universal God be as thoughtless as to not give us easy, universal access? But I have come to appreciate that the messy, historically contingent way in which God came to Earth is not a weakness but a strength—in fact, it is taking the notion that God became fully human very seriously indeed. The human condition is messy, and so the life of Jesus must also have been messy. What’s more, each of us views life through our own subjective prism: parts of life are unfair, parts of life don’t work out in the way we had hoped, and for much of our lives we are dependent on other people for support and happiness.

So what would all of this have looked like through Mary’s eyes? It might well have been baffling. The crucifixion might well have been so dangerous and terrifying that she decided to flee. And, in an echo of Dostoyevsky’s The Brothers Karamazov, it may well have felt like the whole thing just wasn’t worth the pain and anguish. Our abstract, creedal formulas have a certain place, but it is only in gritty, lived experience that we fully grasp the reality of things. Perhaps it was all rather tougher for Mary than we are sometimes led to believe.