Pastoral Letter - 3rd December 2021
My dear Friends,
I wasn’t even studying 20th Century American Literature, I only attended the lecture because a girl I was fond of at University was going and it was a way of spending more time with her. What was more, it was an afternoon lecture, immediately after lunch, when I am never at my best. It was a measure and an indication of quite how fond I was of her that I went, but having gone, I was spellbound.
The lecture was on the American poet, William Carlos Williams, about whom, I confess, I had not previously heard. I had been used to lectures being sometimes being interesting, oftentimes not, and then I heard this poem read:
"so much depends upon
a red wheel barrow glazed with rain water
beside the white chickens"
I am not sure I knew why my mind was stilled when I heard it, but stilled it was, as though something profound, life changing had been imparted, but I couldn’t really make out what. As any decent teacher, the lecturer expanded, explained. Sometimes a text is ruined by analysis, othertimes it is as if a light has come on, illuminating what is being observed. Rather like D.H. Lawrence’s distinction, I think in "Women in Love," between those who kill a butterfly, pin it down and peer at it through a microscope to understand it, and those who choose rather to look at it in flight and in repose, appreciating its essence while it is living. Thankfully this lecturer was from the latter category of observers.
As the weak afternoon sun tried to shine through the smudged glass of the windows high above us in the hexagonal 1970’s lecture theatre, our lecturer tried to shine a light for us to see and sense and understand the text more clearly. What the poet had observed, he said, and sought to celebrate and evoke in verse, was the perfect arrangement of objects, the complementarity of colours, a moment of dazzling perfection, a zenith experience when ordinariness, randomness, fleetingly became something which evoked a sense of harmony and unity, in an otherwise out of kilter world where discord and imbalance reigned. The poet did not merely observe it, he absorbed it and observing and absorbing such harmony and balance, found things balancing and harmonising within himself, as his outer and inner landscapes found synthesis. And in such deft brush strokes, in but a few lines, the poet preserved for posterity the perfect balance which he had perceived.
Such balance, such harmony, for which we too perhaps long, eludes many of us most of the time. So much so that, perhaps without the poet or the prophet to remind us of their existence, we wander through the world oblivious of their occasional manifestations.
You will perhaps recall the furore decades ago when the Tate Gallery, when there was only one Tate in those far off days, purchased for the nation what became known as the "pile of bricks." One of Carl Andre’s "Equivalent" series, made up of 120 firebricks. I remember going to see it at roughly the same time as I attended the lecture I mentioned earlier. Again it was an afternoon, this time golden sunlight was shining gloriously. The bricks were not of course in a pile, as I had imagined from what was said about them in the media, they had been placed in a very specific arrangement: two bricks high, six bricks across, ten bricks long, laying on the floor. A gentle and perfect formation, as though completely at ease with itself. I vividly recall the play of light on the textured surfaces, the roughness at odds with the symmetry of form, as though something wild had been tamed, the sequence of the arrangement creating a calm in the onlooker. But what for me caused the greatest impact on seeing this artistically arranged "pile of bricks" was that, on leaving the hushed corridors and contained spaces of the galleries for what lay beyond the portico of the Tate, having looked so carefully and for quite some concentrated time on the bricks, my eyes were, as though, trained to see the symmetry, the harmony, the beauty in the ordinary, everyday things all around. The experience, as it were, revealing the not so ordinariness of ordinary things and their intrinsic beauty. The artist had transformed my ability to perceive the aesthetic in the everyday.
Jesus, in His earthly ministry 2,000 years ago, must have similarly looked at the seemingly randomness and ordinariness of life, having spent hours attuning Himself in His prayers to the balanced harmony of Heaven, and also seen potential for harmony, unity and beauty all around. It was surely that vision of a transformed creation which prompted and provoked His response to so many things: the desire to take the raw material of selfishness and sin and transform it into the wonder of selfless serving in others; lame limbs into dancing ones; blind eyes into seeing ones; broken lives into whole and integrated ones; dead ends into new beginnings; rejection and isolation into acceptance and togetherness; introspective guilt and shame into outward looking wonder and openness.
Jesus, with His artistic eye, looked for harmony, unity and balance and where He found it not, He created it: taking wild winds and stilling them to refreshing breezes; looking into the hearts of those who were not at peace and projecting His sense of wellbeing into their deepest selves; taking a random group of people and forming them into a community.
When God created, He did so creating balance and harmony and unity in all that was. All things lived in harmony with themselves, each other and with Him, their Creator. When discord entered, when disproportionate attention was paid to a part, not to the whole, and things were not seen in relation to others, imbalance marred creation and we are still dealing with its implications and repercussions. Still people lend their energies to that which promotes imbalance in creation, through greed, lust, desire, envy, covetousness, you know yourselves what I mean.
Worship (for those who seek, who long, for the re-establishment of balance, unity and harmony) is to explore and celebrate who we are in relation to who God is, thus allowing things to assume their rightful balance once again. To praise, to lift our hearts in adoration to the God who adores us, to allow His life to flow into ours, to see things as they truly are. "So much depends upon a red wheel barrow...." So much depends on our being in the right place in relation to all else that is, in the symmetry and harmony of creation. And you and I can experience that through giving ourselves to the influence and inspiration of the Holy Spirit in our prayers. You and I, as followers of Jesus Christ, are required to find our rightful place in the creation of which we are part. If God is this relationship of self giving love between Father, Son and Holy Spirit, then we will only find our true identity through our relationship with Him and with each other, for God always, always, draws us into ever deeper relationship with Himself and with others.
We are required to consider how we fit in to the eco system of which we ourselves are part: to respect creation, not exploit it; to compliment the created order, not to abuse it; to love creation, not just barge our way through it.
If we are serious in our prayer that God’s kingdom may come on earth as it is in Heaven, if our daily work is the promotion of such a vision, then perhaps we need to look again and delight in those things which balance and thereby evoke a sense of wellbeing in those who look thereon. To open our hearts and minds to see the things which are in harmony with each other and their Creator, take delight in them and be inspired and emboldened by them to allow balance and harmony to be created through all we do and are and say.
The patriarchs, matriarchs, prophets and protagonists in the Christmas story, who have lived whole and holy lives before us, have always been those who have sought to be who they truly are in the complementarity of creation; been those who have listened for the promptings that invariably come in whispers to the mind, nudging us in the right direction toward unity. They are the ones who not only seek, day by day, moment by moment, decision by decision, reaction by reaction, to align themselves with Christ, but who seem, through that enterprise, to shift something indiscernibly within us so that, when we engage with them, when we emerge from our encounters with them, we do so being a little more balanced, a little more whole, a little more in harmony with ourselves and with the source of our being.
Perhaps we all need to reawaken to the call to search for, see and celebrate the harmony and balance discernible to the human soul in epiphanies and revelations. Perhaps we all need to lend ourselves to that process of alignment with divine life and will, that we may not just be more balanced and harmonious within ourselves, but promote and project that influence upon a world aching to be so too. In this endeavour, may the Good Lord, our Creator God, direct and inspire us as we hearken to John the Baptist’s cry to "prepare a way for the Lord" to manifest Himself to us anew this coming Christmas.
With blessings and best wishes
WELCOME to our worship at St Mary’s at this, the Second Sunday of ADVENT, as we worship in church and on Zoom.
Today at both the 9.30am Eucharist in church and the 5pm Zoom service online, we shall be reflecting on the Gospel passage, which this week is Luke Chapter 3 verses 1-6
Today’s Collect, O Lord, raise up, we pray, your power, And come among us, And with great might, succour us: That, whereas, through our sins and wickedness We are grievously hindered In running the race which is set before us, Your bountiful grace and mercy May speedily help and deliver us; This we ask through Jesus Christ Our Lord Who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, One God, now and for ever. AMEN
You can find the names of those we shall be remembering in our prayers by following this link to our website "Services" page https://www.stmarytwick.org.uk/services and clicking on the button for 'Our Current Intercessions List'.
The hymns we shall be singing at our Eucharist today are 565, 98, 567.
4pm CHRISTINGLE SERVICE, CELEBRATING JESUS THE LIGHT OF THE WORLD.
No booking is necessary for these services. Please use the hand sanitizer provided before entering the church. We would ask that you place your collection envelope in the basket as you enter the church which will be brought up to the altar at the Offertory (or use the contactless/tap payment card facility close by). Given the Government’s recent ruling, we would ask that everyone wears a facemask throughout the service, except of course for those exempted from doing so on medical or age grounds. Please do not come to the church if you are displaying any Covid symptoms and please seriously consider whether it is wise to attend if you have cold or ‘flu symptoms, in fairness to others. Communion will be offered in the form of the consecrated host, which you may receive in your hands and which we would ask you to consume immediately. You are welcome to join us in the Parish Hall for refreshments after the 9.30 service.
CHRISTMAS SERVICES We are delighted this year to be able to offer you the opportunity to come to St Mary’s Church to celebrate Christmas. However, due to the Covid infection rate, we are having to make certain changes to how this is arranged. If you would like to attend the CRIB SERVICE on Christmas Eve, at either 3.30pm or 4.30pm, please book on one of the following links: For the 3.30pm Service: https://www.ticketsource.co.uk/st-marys-twickenham/t-zvlxap For the 4.30pm Service: https://www.ticketsource.co.uk/st-marys-twickenham/t-qldyqo Numbers at each service will be limited to 160. Please arrive in good time, bringing your tickets with you and please comply with our requests regarding doing a lateral flow test before coming and only attending the service if the result is negative. To accommodate those who wish to join us for a CHRISTMAS EUCHARIST, we will be offering three opportunities for doing so: 11pm on Christmas Eve 10am on Christmas Morning 10am on Boxing Day. You will not need to book for these, but we will obviously need to limit numbers should more turn up than we can safely accommodate and would ask for your understanding about this. These plans are of course subject to any later instructions issued by the Government.
We would strongly advise wearing facemasks throughout all the services unless you are not able to do this for medical reasons and the regular taking of lateral flow tests, as we all seek to keep ourselves and others healthy. With blessings and best wishes Jeff Hopkin Williams, Vicar of St Mary`s Twickenham.