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  • Emily Bainbridge

Pastoral Letter - 22nd May

Dear Friends,

Inevitably, I have been speaking quite frequently over recent months with those who are confined to their own homes. Some have not even been out of their front doors for months, others, only their gardens. It got me thinking................... You will no doubt be aware of the poetical works of Samuel Taylor Coleridge. For many of us when we were at school, it was studying the likes of Coleridge which made us aware of what lay beneath the surface of things, opened our eyes to the beauty of things, provoked our minds to consider the essential truth of things and stirred us to want to make a creative difference to others in society. Primarily of course, rather than being merely a poet, Coleridge was a thinker. He acquainted himself with the new philosophies which were circulating around Europe at the time and was a pioneer of a different way of understanding things. Apart from his philosophical writings, he is known primarily for a handful of poems which generations of school children have scribbled notes against down the decades. I owe Coleridge a huge debt of gratitude, it was he who probably opened my eyes and my mind more than any other to the truth and beauty and purpose of things. I remember being on holiday from school at one point when I was around 16. My parents were at work and I was entertaining myself at home. I was at my desk in the bay window of my bedroom, overlooking the Gower peninsular and the Loughor estuary. There for the first time, I read Coleridge's poem "This Lime Tree Bower My Prison." You may recall the explanatory note which precedes it. His wife, Sarah, had at breakfast one morning, accidentally poured scalding milk on Coleridge's leg. He was seriously burned. They had friends staying with them at the time at the cottage and because of the accident, our friend was unable to accompany them when they went on their walk through the neighbouring countryside. Nature and creation was as a manifestation and revelation of God Himself for Coleridge and of this he was now deprived. To engage with creation was to engage with its creator. To be one with nature was to be ennobled through the senses right into the depth of one's moral identity. Frustrated in his desire to walk and see and experience beauty and Presence, Coleridge retires to a small arbour in the garden and imagines the journey his friends are undertaking. It is this God given capacity to imagine which is celebrated in this poem. He realises that through the gift of imagination, he has no need to physically experience the wonder of the landscape, as his visual memory and his imaginative capacity allow him to experience the wonder of it all in all its fullness and intensity. (Lines 40-43) "gaze `til all doth seem Less gross than bodily; and of such hues As veil the Almighty Spirit, when yet He makes Spirits perceive His presence." Reading these words were the Abracadabra moment for me, the blinding flash on the Damascus Rd, opening my mind, my heart, my imagination, my intellect, such as they were, to the God who caused all to be, to the God who could be experienced through His creation. We hear of miracles in the Gospels, stories of Jesus touching people's eyes and making them see. Such was this moment for me. I saw in a different way, as veil upon veil disintegrated, revealing the wonder, the essence, of things as they truly were. I saw, as for the first time, the vividness of things and sensed the Spirit which inhabited and animated all things. And I mention all this to you now because so many of us are similarly trapped, as was Coleridge, though hopefully not through having had scalding milk poured onto our legs at breakfast! We, like him, are prevented from walking the cliffs and beaches, fields and forests, galleries and avenues, as we might wish to do. Some among us have not ventured beyond their front doors for over two months now. But God has given us the most wonderful gifts of sensory memory and imagination, which can ignite at the prompting of a thought or image and take us to places where our souls once more can breathe. My mother quite frequently on a rainy afternoon, when she could not get out to her beloved garden, or go out for trips in the car with my father, used to look through old diaries, where she had recorded where they had gone on previous afternoons. She would have written down where they had gone, what the weather was like, what plants they saw, the amusing things they had overheard, and thus, through imagination and recollection, she would once more experience the joy, the pleasure, the wonder of the moment. The older I get, the more vivid my sensory memory: motes of chalk dust floating silently in a shaft of light in my infants school class room; the sounds I woke up to at Paddington Station when we had caught the sleeper there when I was six and the heady smells of London; the strange smell of animals at London Zoo and the sweet, brittle crunch of meringue at the Restaurant on the same visit; the sound of a different world when waking up to hear before I saw through the curtains, that it had snowed overnight at the age of five; the myriad of marvellous smells, tastes, sounds, textures, sights of so many recollected stimuli to my senses that are there to be discovered in the treasure chest of memory. Such things about our created being cannot be there by accident, to everything there is a purpose. Those who study the human body tell us that there is an evolutionary point to everything about us, so why the imagination? Why such an acute and developed capacity to imagine if not in some way to contribute to our wellbeing and to our completeness as biological entities, as human beings? Perhaps as a resource for times in hibernation? Perhaps as part of the equipment we need to make sense of things and of the world which surrounds us? Perhaps to negotiate the Winters and remember the Summers of the emotional as well as the physical landscapes we inhabit. Or perhaps because we have been created in the image of a God who may also have imagination.......... So, in the context in which we now find ourselves, should we not be more aware of and engage with our imagination, the better to deal with our experiences of lockdown? Should we not be more conscious of our God given capacity to imagine and allow it to contribute to how we may deal more constructively with our present circumstance? To do, as did Coleridge and imagine the paths once taken through wood or field, along country lanes or cliff paths, on beaches or moors, to smell, taste, hear, touch, see with our inner eye, the things which feed and stimulate the soul? This weekend, let us be more mindful of our imagination; let us offer to God that capacity to experience internally with our inner eye; let us allow our minds to awaken to places in the past which have enriched our sense of beauty, stimulated our feelings of wonder, given us an experience of peace and let us "travel there to gaze thereon/ and be refreshed and made more whole." God gives us the gifts we need to navigate our paths through life even, perhaps especially, in challenging times such as we are all currently experiencing. As we give thanks for the gift of imagination, let us allow it to take us to those places God would have us go, there perhaps to find what we most need to remind us of times when we felt attuned to His presence and aware of His love, there to find the refreshment and renewal our souls may crave. Blessings and best wishes Jeff


Please join us for our Zoom Service this coming Sunday, 24th May at 9.30am.

Our theme will be The Ascension of Christ and our readings are:  Acts Chapter 1 verses 6-14 and John Chapter 17 verses 1-11.

The Collect:

O God, the King of Glory

You have exalted your only Son Jesus Christ

With great triumph to your Kingdom in Heaven,

We beseech you, leave us not comfortless, 

But send to us your Holy Spirit to strengthen us

And to exalt us to the place where 

Our Saviour has gone before,

Who lives and reigns with you and the 

Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever



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