Pastoral Letter - 1st April
I was reading something this past week which Stanislavski, the Russian dramatist and thinker, wrote: "The longest and most exciting journey is the journey inwards."
Most of us have not travelled far recently, our cars have remained relatively idle, our travel passes have not been used as much as in previous years, petrol stations have not made the profit from us they have grown accustomed to making and we have all had to content ourselves with our most immediate surroundings. Life has been quieter. Life has been simpler. Life has been more restricted. For some of us the change has felt as dramatic as turning off from a motorway which we have been speeding along for years, steering our vehicle to a standstill at a motorway service station and switching off the engine. For a while our inner pace continues at the remembered speed of the traffic, but gradually our inner equilibrium also slows down and we realise that we have stopped, allowing us to become one with the silence and the stillness around us. The metaphor of being on a journey is a popular one. So many of us see our life as a journey, of constant movement, hopefully forwards! Without the momentum of movement, we feel out of kilter, as if something is wrong. We measure our lives by movement, achievement, increase in wealth, position, power, popularity, possessions. Freed from this tidal wave that has dictated the pace of our lives for decades, some have floundered, some felt threatened, some have had a crisis of identity akin to those who suffer these things in the aftermath of redundancy or retirement: the engine is still running but there is no imperative to go anywhere. Some are caught up in the "I work, therefore I am" mentality. But who are we beyond our professional role? What are we "for" if not to constantly move forward and "achieve"? The call to "Be still and know that I am God" (Psalm 46 verse 10) as a way of life in cell or cloister, is one which is seen as increasingly unpopular and unnecessary. Few now harken to it as a way of life in our complex, materialistic, spin of 21st century living. It is anathema to many to remove themselves from the established pattern of career choices, professional development, the sourcing of a partner, settling down with them and perhaps extending the family unit with children, progressing along the prescripted path of amassing wealth, developing a career, gaining possessions, moving to the next property up and all the other inevitabilities of the culture we are born into, become part of and, in our turn, contribute to. In this the holiest of weeks, when we are invited to think about the core things of our lives as well as of our faith and as you and I prepare to emerge from the experience of twelve months of lockdown, perhaps not unlike Lazarus wandering, bleary eyed from the gloaming of his tomb into the bewildering light of the living landscape, let us not lose sight of the opportunity of examining:
What we have found difficult and why? What has helped us and how? Who has become important to us? What has become important to us? What have we really valued? What have we missed this past year? What have we not missed this past year? What have we discarded and have no real use for? What have we learned? primarily about ourselves..... I have heard many people say over the years that a period of Military Service would stand people in good stead, if they undertook such training in their formative years. It would teach them about team work, personal discipline, accountability, responsibility and the ability to focus on achieving positive goals. I wonder whether a similar period might be well spent in a monastery or a convent, in order to build up other resources and abilities, such as facing up to the undisguised truth of oneself, reflecting on what one does and why, putting right by repentance and apology the things one has done wrong, pondering what to lend one’s energies to in life and what not to lend our energies towards. We might all have been able to deal with the challenges of the last year had we been exposed to such emotional education as part of our preparation for life.
We are invited to consider in a deeper way, through the unfolding of Jesus’ journey through the events of Holy Week, our journey through life: where we are going, who we may be required to carry with us, what we need and do not need for the journey, whether we have taken wrong turnings which need to be corrected, in this context perhaps Stanislavski’s words are for us, "The longest and most exciting journey, is the journey inwards". In our case, not inwards to introspective indulgence, but to that place, that sacred space, sometimes buried deep within us all, where God’s Spirit dwells, in our essential, spiritual DNA, "created in the image of the living God," selves. Many of you have written or spoken to me over these last 12 months about that journey inwards, which you have embarked upon in a more deliberate and conscious way, albeit enforced by circumstance. Sometimes it has been anything but exciting, but rather exasperating, exhausting, difficult, demanding. Sleep patterns have been disturbed and disturbing, dreams have erupted exposing unfulfilled, unresolved areas of the scarred, papered over parts of one’s life. Tempers have been frayed, we find ourselves getting annoyed, even angry, about things we would probably previously have dealt with differently. Make no mistake, this last year has shaken the established foundations of many people`s lives, but the Gospel shows us again and again in people’s encounters with Jesus Christ, that such self-revelation can lead to experiences of growth and coming to greater life. Just think of Nicodemus (John Chapter 3 verses 1-21) Even at a subconscious level, many of us have been reminded of the reality of our mortality. Statistics of those who have lost their lives have been uncomfortable to listen to. We have all been made aware of the fragility of life, in such a way that perhaps we do not now take it for unthinking granted, as we may previously have done. One of the things I find compelling about the Christian faith and the life of Christ’s Church is that it seeks to deal with the core truths and realities of who we are as human beings. God is seen to connect, be concerned with, the significant moments in our lives. We are not just born, we are given the opportunity to be Baptised. We don’t just meet someone we fall in love with, we are given the opportunity to pledge ourselves to them in God’s presence and with His blessing. When you or I feel pain, anguish, fear, concern, we have the opportunity of communicating those feelings to God in prayer. When we feel guilty, aware of the weight of sin or shame our consciences place upon our souls, we have the opportunity of allowing God to remove those burdens and fill us with His acceptance and forgiveness, through the absolving grace of His love. When we die, we are not just buried, we are prayed for, given thanks for and commended to God`s love, forgiveness, healing and resurrection life. Christianity deals with the truth of who we are, as people who love, give birth, get hurt, hurt others, sin, fail, ache, lust, long. And the God it reveals, particularly in Holy Week, is seen to be one who is interested and involved in the truth of who we truly are. A life which engages truthfully, honestly, humbly, gratefully with God, is a life which becomes more rooted in reality, more authentic, transforming and empowering. Death and resurrection. Darkness and light. These are the realities the Church invites us to expose ourselves to and explore more deeply and consciously in the great events of the coming days. To bring into God’s transforming presence our vulnerability in the face of our mortality; our need to feel loved and be capable of deeper loving; our desire to feel useful, valuable, needed; our wanting to make a creative difference to the world and not be just a passive onlooker; our need to feel free from guilt and inadequacy, to forgive ourselves and forgive others; our longing that God may look upon us and, in spite of the truth of who we are, see someone worth loving and believing in. All these things and so many more besides, you and I are invited to bring into the tomb of our Saviour, especially in this week of weeks. To lay down and leave with Him such things as for us represent the things of death and pray, that as surely as light breaks upon the morning horizon, transforming darkness into dawn, so too the bright beams of Christ`s resurrection may reach with light and warmth and kindle hope and healing in our lives, relationships and world. This Easter, as we begin to emerge from our tombs and from any oppression which we may feel has been restricting us, may we all walk confidently into the future which God is even now preparing for us: deeper into the light, refreshed and reinvigorated by our meeting with Him in the saving events of Holy Week, with laughter and with a light step, with a renewed sense of optimism and purposefulness, with fresh commitment to be a creative presence in the opportunities which await us and with the presence of the Risen Lord directing and inspiring every step that we take. May your ongoing journey be one which leads you to greater happiness, fulfilment and wholeness of life. This week more than ever, I will be praying each and every you into the saving death and life-giving resurrection of Christ. Please also pray for me. Your priest and friend. Jeff
EASTER DAY: Do please join us on Zoom at 9.30am for our special celebration, the church will also be open for you to come in and pray to the Risen Lord on Sunday afternoon from 3pm until 4.30pm. The Gospel of the Resurrection will be proclaimed at 3.30pm, the EUCHARISTIC PRAYER will then be offered and you will be able to RECEIVE COMMUNION individually at the Communion rail. May we remind you to wear masks at all times other than when receiving Communion.
READING FOR EASTER DAY:
JOHN CHAPTER 20, VERSES 1-18
COLLECT FOR EASTER DAY: Lord of all life and power, Who, through the mighty resurrection of your Son Overcame the old order of sin and death To make all things new in Him: Grant that we, being dead to sin And alive to you in Jesus Christ, May reign with Him in Glory. This we ask through the same, Jesus Christ Our Lord, Who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit One God, now and for ever.
AMEN. ST MARY’S CHURCH will be open on Sunday afternoons at 6pm for the Celebration of the Holy Eucharist from April 11th. As Government restrictions still apply, please book your seat by using the following email address: firstname.lastname@example.org Please also make sure that you have a face mask with you at all times and wear it throughout your visit to our church. We shall also be opening the church on Wednesday mornings from 10am-11am from Wednesday 28th April.
We look forward to seeing you.
Blessings and best wishes,
Fr. Jeff Hopkin Williams, Vicar of St Mary`s Twickenham.