Sunday, 28 October 2012

Listening to God

 I will lift up mine eyes unto the hills, from whence cometh my help.
My help cometh from the LORD, which made heaven and earth.
  It has been a busy but productive half term. I spent the first few days working and then, as is our custom, went away to the Lake District for two nights at the end of the week. We were lucky in that it didn't rain while we were away; although it was cold, it was also crisp and sunny with the sort of deep blue sky that reflects in the water and brings out the sheer beauty of the autumn reds, greens and golds. We spent a good part of yesterday walking and just drinking in the peace and glory of the scenery.

It is hardly surprising that poets and writers have so often seen in the landscape evidence of something or someone above and beyond us. When we look at the majesty of a mountain, or  wonder at the intricate beauty of leaves and flower,  or listen to running water, it calls forth responses such as awe, joy and peace, all things associated with God's presence.   We usually observe nature in silence, and yet the psalmist describes how in reality the silence of nature is a form of speech. Silence can pour forth speech and wisdom. Psalm 19 tells us how the silence of nature  is a universal language, one that can be listened to and understood by all peoples and ages:
The heavens declare the glory of God; the skies proclaim the work of his hands.
Day after day they pour forth speech; night after night they display knowledge.
 There is no speech or language where their voice is not heard.

In contrast to yesterday, today is grey and rainy, the sort of murky weather that hardly lifts the spirits. But  knowledge of God lies within, the beauty of nature simply speaks to us of a force we already know and  carry around with us always. We lift our eyes to the hills, but the voice that speaks to us comes from within because we are also made to be a part of all that glorifies God and proclaims his message.

Saturday, 20 October 2012

Reliance on God

by: Michelangelo (1475-1564)

The prayers I make will then be sweet indeed,
If Thou the spirit give by which I pray:
My unassisted heart is barren clay,
Which of its native self can nothing feed:
Of good and pious works Thou art the seed,
Which quickens only where Thou say'st it may;
Unless Thou show to us Thine own true way,
No man can find it: Father! Thou must lead.
Do Thou, then, breathe those thoughts into my mind
By which such virtue may in me be bred
That in Thy holy footsteps I may tread;
The fetters of my tongue do Thou unbind,
That I may have the power to sing of Thee,
And sound Thy praises everlastingly.

 Those of you who still bother to read this blog may have realised that I have been rather busy recently and blogging, as well as some other things, have rather fallen by the wayside. I always think that posting a poem is a good way to get back blogging; one of the rules of blogging is that the more you blog  the easier it is to blog!
I rather like religious sonnets, and  this seemed to hit the spot today. This beautiful sonnet has within it the idea of a God who, like the artist, is the source of all growth, creativity and being.  It reminds me of those times when we feel too exhausted or busy to pray, or those dry spells when  the " unassisted heart is barrren clay." There is a beautiful dependence on God in this sonnet, and all that matters is that we do keep looking to him and walking in his way and finding it in us to sound his praises as he unbinds the fetters and  breathes new life into us.

Sunday, 7 October 2012

Walking cheerfully

Today is the final day of Quaker Week 2012 and, although there have been various events running, I am sorry to say that I have been too busy to take part in any of them, unless you count turning up for the lunch organised at someone's house today and eating the food lovingly prepared by others, while bringing my own contribution which was rustled up on a trip around Tesco! Work, as you may gather, is very busy at the moment. I know it always is, and I am not wanting to complain, but it has been hard to fit things in of late.
Weekends are important to me, and I think it is essential that I try to do something every weekend that gives me space and time just to "be" rather than to "do". This may be a long walk,  worship, a visit to friends, a meal out with my family - anything that brings peace and joy and nurtures the soul. Friendship and fellowship today gave me that chance to feel peaceful and ready to face the week, and my mind was drawn to the following advice:
              "Walk cheerfully over the earth, answering that of God   in everyone."
                                                                                                   (George Fox)
I am not sure I spend enough time being walking cheerfully and I am not sure I spend enough time answering that of God in everyone. It is something that I try to do, but sometimes I get caught up in bitterness, or anger, or disillusion,  or a sense of the injustice or ugliness of life, or just sheer weariness. Of course, it would not  be good  for us to be oblivious to these things or to deny that we can have negative emotions. At the same time though, we  do need to balance them against the good, we need to recognise that bitterness against something means it has power over you, and we need to find a place in ourselves where we can be at peace with others and with God.
This week I shall try to walk cheerfully and answer to God in everyone, and I feel better simply at the thought that that is what I want to do!

Friday, 5 October 2012

WATCH and wait

I've really been too busy recently to follow the developments over Clause 5 of the Draft Measure. I did have a quick look at thing this evening and discovered that Reform is not happy and will vote against the "Appleby amendment" , while WATCH says its members are divided between those who can accept it in the hope that it will offer a way to compromise and move on and those who feel that Clause 5 is still  "too discriminatory", and should be removed.

I've got a few things to say about this:

1. I don't think there is much point in anyone within the Church of England pretending it is not  a discriminatory institution. The Church is exempt from sections of the Equality Act and it is able to discriminate, in particular against women and gay people. The Church IS discriminatory, that is the main reason I cannot call myself a full member of it. If you are going to stay within the Church at any level, you need to accept that it discriminates in ways that would be considered unjust and offensive and which are actually illegal within secular society and the secular workplace.

2. With or without Clause 5, the Draft Measure is discriminatory. Churches are going to be able to opt out from the authority of a female bishop whether she "delegates" that authority or not. Now, you can take the view that this is outrageous- it wouldn't be sanctioned in the "real" world- or you can agree with the Church that those who agree with the ordination of women and those opposed, are "both loyal Anglicans." Alternatively you may think that the prejudices of those" loyal Anglicans" still shouldn't be pandered to, but you have to accept that the Church's understanding is  is that some sort of provision should be made to allow for the theological belief of loyal Anglicans who are opposed.

3. Some people feel that, when being asked to "respect" theological beliefs opposed to women's ministry, they are being asked to respect discrimination. Would we agree to "respect" racism for example?  Those opposed would say that they are NOT sexist or discriminatory.  I am not sure "respecting" a belief means agreeing with it, or pretending you don't think it is wrong. It is possible to argue that you can respect the fact that someone genuinely sees their beliefs as rooted in theology and not in sexism or discrimination, even when you feel their belief is offensive and misguided. It is a difficult line and too tenuous for some people though.

4. Part of the problem, if we are honest, is the sheer level of bitterness the debate has engendered. There has to be a place for some sort of grace, healing or living together in the future but it is difficult for people to know if the measure will provide that in any kind or simply prove a focus for more bitterness and division.
That is the dilemma facing WATCH and it is seen is this paragraph:

The Amendment appears attractive because it may provide a form of wording that is vague enough to keep all sides happy. However the wording has not been subject to any sustained scrutiny and does nothing to resolve the fundamental disagreements at issue, As such it may serve to prolong the struggle to achieve equal treatment of women in the Church. The Act of Synod has often been used as a springboard for separatism and any ambiguity in the Measue which now effectively goes futher than the Act of Synod will again be used to shore up practices that are damaging for women and for the Church in further years.

Well, yes, sure it will!  So, where do we go from here? Fortunately it isn't my problem! If it was, I don't know how I would square it with myself. I think I would compromise. I would have grave doubts about doing so yet I would know that the alternative could be stalemate and more and more delays.
Can those who want women as bishops bear any longer to watch and wait?