Pastoral Letter - 5th June
Failing to reach the "OFF" switch in time after listening to the News Broadcast on Radio 4 a few days ago, the emotive strains and nostalgic melody of Eric Coates' "By The Sleepy Lagoon" heralded the start of another edition of "Desert Island Discs." A programme which, as you know, has been running since 1942. Over that time I believe the format has been unchanging: one is cast away on a desert island, alone, allowed one luxury, a copy of the Bible and the complete works of William Shakespeare, the choice of 8 records and, presumably, the means of playing them. So many celebrities have taken part over the years, it is almost a rite of passage toward fame to be invited as a guest on one of the shows. Many of us down the years have gained great insight into well known personalities, through the self revelation choosing music provides. But it made me think, especially during these Covid months that, although one's choice of music may be significant, so too would be one's choice of books. In our context perhaps we could call it "The Lockdown Library" and each of us would choose 8 books to add to the two already provided. Perhaps like me, you have hundreds of books of all kinds. In my case, I have novels of course, poetry, plays, speeches, spirituality, theology, picture catalogues, maps, cookery books, children's books, biographies, autobiographies, anthologies........ Choosing 8 from all of them would be a challenge and one which you too may like to consider for yourselves, but in case you are interested, here's the ones I would take! THE CHILDREN OF GREEN KNOWE, by Lucy Boston. Children's books are surely amongst the most precious for us all. Many of us recall the feel, smell, look, even taste of the books we had as children, treasures as they undoubtedly were. Some of us had the joy of being read to at bed time, closing our eyes and allowing the words to paint pictures in our minds. As you may know, Lucy Boston lived in the Manor House in Hemingford Grey, near Huntingdon and she set her novels there. It was built in the 1130s and is one of the oldest continually dwelt in residences in the country. Unfortunately, as is often the case with older buildings, lots of repairs and maintenance work needed to be done, all costing colossal amounts of money, so Lucy B was encouraged to write some of the wonderful old stories she had told her own son when he was a child, in order to make some money. She began at once and told us of strange and wonderful happenings in the house down the centuries, introducing us to ghosts of children who had run through corridors, peered through windows, played in the grounds in centuries past. Her description of firelight and candle flame, sun shining on sheets of snow, of the longing for a puppy and for a sense of home............all are evocative and exciting. She kindled in me a love for the evening hour of story telling, an appreciation for sensory description, a joy of visiting historic buildings and an openness to the mysterious and unexplained. THIS SUNRISE OF WONDER by Michael Maine. This one of the most warming and inspiring books I have read. It always accompanies me on holiday. It unashamedly encourages us to contemplate the core things of life and effectively argues that, without cultivating a sense of wonder, we will never experience the richness life has to offer. Like any grandparent, or indeed anyone getting on in life who wants to impart something of life's beauty and meaning to those following after them, Michael Maine is prompted to write a sequence of twenty-four letters to his grandchildren, who are, at the time of his writing, far too young to understand or appreciate what he has to impart to them of life, of faith, of art, of theatre, of thought, of landscape or of love and describes his volume as "Letters for the Journey." As you may know, Michael Maine was for a time Head of Religious Programmes for BBC radio. He also became a much loved Dean of Westminster Abbey. If I was confined to a desert island, with but a few volumes to read, this would be an invaluable one to have, as he quotes from hundreds of different sources, juxtaposing jazz with justice, theatre with theology, art with science, scholarship with horticulture. It is an enthusiasm of life, a testament to hope, a miscellany of marvellousness. I recommend it heartily. THE PAINTINGS OF MARK ROTHKO. I hope I am not cheating here by having a volume of illustrations rather than a book of words, but as it is I who have invented this present format, surely I can make it up as I go along! As you may have realised by now, I primarily think in images. I read pictures long before I read words. I learned to count using Cuisenaires, different coloured rods denoting different numerical values. Mathematics is a conundrum to me, possibly in part because of the way I was taught it, but I can tell you now what each of those colours imparted to me of the character and nature of "nine" and "five", far more than their numerical value. After all, having been introduced to this way of thinking about and understanding numbers, how can a teacher expect a child who is sensitive to colour to then multiply pink by green?! Colours spoke to me, evoked in me meaning and mood, and colour still plays a significant part in my life. I could no more live contentedly without being surrounded by certain colours which are in harmony with each other, than I could live without food. Three of the books by Michael Maine, spoken of above, have paintings by Mark Rothko on their covers. You may recall that Rothko came from a strict Jewish family and was therefore taught that it was against God's law to make an "image" of anything created by God. A decidedly problematic matter for a budding painter. Therefore, instead of painting that which was recognisable as "things," Rothko built up his own visual language and iconography. He put colours together in bands, in horizontals, framing them with other colours and creating visual harmony and even a "landscape" of colours, which invites one to enter and find something secret which is to be discovered there. Things thrilling, exciting, overwhelming, daunting, silent, serene, full of longing, aspiring, aglow with wonder. I would crave the sense of beauty on my island and, as is often the case, it is artists who train the eye to see the aesthetic in the ordinary, colour harmonies in the natural world, significant form in the seemingly random. I would definitely pack a copy of Rothko's paintings in my bag, for my time on my desert island. A TESTAMENT OF DEVOTION, by Thomas R. Kelly. This book, together with Enid Dann, the lady who introduced me to it, deepened and informed my sense of what the compelling business of prayer is all about. Kelly was a Quaker, one who waited on God, free from any ritual or liturgy, simply making himself available to the Divine Presence and allowing "one depth to call unto another." From that sacred connection sprang a series of chapters concerning different aspects of the spiritual life. The book is startlingly simple yet the complexity of the challenge to live out its teaching would take me far more than a lifetime. Listen to the wonder of the tiles of the chapters: The Light Within, Holy Obedience, The Blessed Community, The Eternal Now, Social Concern, The Simplification of Life. He goes right to the heart of things. Not a word is wasted. Not for Kelly is prayer an exercise of detaching oneself from the realities of the the world, there to escape into a spiritual haze. Rather, it speaks eloquently of the synthesis between being and action, one's relationship with God and one's interaction with other people, praying continually, whilst engaging in the world, having an ear always open to the prompting of the Spirit. It is a profound book which is obviously informed by an authentic encounter with the Lord. I would take a volume with me, as it would remind me of my essential calling as a human being, which is to live in relation to the loving presence of my Creator and to be mindful of His saving truths. I would need this book to centre me and inspire me, so as to use my "aloneness" creatively. BEYOND THE CITY WALLS, by Dorrie E. Coupland. It was Enid Dann who introduced me to the previous choice of book, she also introduced me not just to this book but also, personally, to its author, who became in turn, a close, loving and supportive friend. Dorrie was a lady who, when still a child, had an illness which resulted in her technically but briefly, dying. She describes seeing herself float above the room, the house, the street where she had been, and then her soul soared into a strange and different place, one which she likens to a courtyard with staircases leading off in various places. There she observed people wandering and sometimes congregating around guides who spoke with them about the truths of things. Again, the titles of the chapters may help: The Departing and The Returning, Paradise, And Now a Universe, What of Our World?, Humanity and Until He Comes. I would feel absolutely inclined to take a copy of this book with me, as I would then have a chance to read it deeply and reflect on each revelation it offers with clear, unhurried attention. THE COLLECTED POEMS OF R.S. THOMAS. As you will know, R.S. Thomas was a Welsh poet and a Welsh priest. His sparse verse, smouldering with a sense of the beauty of the Welsh landscape, a fascination for the light science sheds on the reality of things and his constant search for the presence of the God who seems always, tantalisingly, just out of reach, makes him for me, one of the most compelling of companions. He it is who offers us such lines as "Peering at eternity/Through the cracks in each other's hearts"; "The silence of the heart is where we live best/Within listening distance of the silence we call God." Poems of the Crucifixion (The Musician) the enticing business of prayer (Folk Tale) the serenity of accepting the gift of life without striving (Gift) have become part of the rich spiritual heritage of more than just the Welsh, but of all those whose souls crave a sense of God in their lives. On a desert island, this volume would be a prayer book, a hymn book for my longing soul and searching mind. This poem, entitled The Gift is the perfect Poem for a Desert Island and indeed for a Pandemic, offering us the sense that all we need to sustain and nourish our souls, we already have access to: "Some ask the world and are diminished in the receiving of it. You gave me only this small pool that the more I drink from, the more overflows me with sourceless light." Maaaaaaaarvellous! THE LIGHTHOUSE AND THE PRIVATE PATIENT by P.D. James. I am afraid I cannot choose between these two books, so will seek to persuade a publisher to issue a volume comprising the two, so as to fulfil the Desert Island Book criteria! I relish a good detective novel, and they don't come better plotted or written than by P.D. James. A Christian, a Church Goer, a Prayer Book enthusiast, an Anglo Catholic, a Peer of the Realm, a once employee of the National Health Service and then the Home Office, first in the Police Department and then in the Criminal Policy Department, she has an exact mind, a forensic perspective, a feel for language, an eye for character, an appreciation for architecture, a developed skill for plotting, a delight in landscape and the ability to describe it atmospherically. Dalgliesh, also a poet, is amongst the most sympathetic and sophisticated of detectives, who craves time alone, takes pleasure in beauty, fine wine, excellent food, solitude and listening to classical music and jazz. For me, the last paragraph in her last Dalgliesh novel stands out and demands re-re-re-re-re-reading: "The world is a beautiful and a terrible place. Deeds of horror are committed every minute and in the end those we love die. If the screams of all earth's living creatures were one scream of pain, surely it would shake the stars. But we have love. It may seem a frail defence against the horrors of the world, but we must hold fast and believe in it, for it is all that we have." (Private Patient) AND LASTLY.................. Again, I am going to cheat! The final book I would choose to take with me would be a large book of empty pages on which to write. For, if I have learned anything about myself over recent weeks, it is that I have a need to write my way toward the light, toward meaning, toward the truth, toward the harmony, beauty and the wonder of things. I need to write and I humbly thank you for reading what I have written. These are my choice of 8 books. I wonder which ones you would choose, the better to deal positively with the experience of being on a Desert Island and indeed which luxury you would choose?! Without doubt, whatever the rules, I would take my Labrador Mahler! Blessings and best wishes, Jeff
ZOOMING ON: Many of you may have been disappointed that we were not able to listen to what Bishop +Graham had to say about the Gift of The Holy Spirit last weekend at our service. Should you wish to do so, his video may be viewed by clicking the following link:https://vimeo.com/423579741/a77c474345 SUNDAY SERVICE Please join us on Sunday 7th June for our Zoom service at 9.30am, as we will be celebrating God as a Trinity of Life-Giving Love, and do please feel free to forward this email to anyone you wish to invite to join us too. Collect: Holy God, faithful and unchanging, Enlarge our minds with the Knowledge of your truth, And draw us more deeply into the Mystery of your Love, That we may truly worship you, Father Son and Holy Spirit, One God, now and for ever. AMEN Our Readings will be: Isaiah Chapter 40 verses 12-17 & 27-31. Matthew Chapter 28 verses 16-20.