30 Pieces of Chocolate

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With a h/t to Mthr Gemma

It was one Saturday night After Eight, and me and my mate Freddo, were being paid a Bounty to guard this tomb. ‘Guard a tomb? You say. Yeah that’s a Whole Nut of an idea, I know.

There was this guy, see. We’d executed him on the Friday, but he had said he would come back to life so we were there to make sure he stayed dead! No really, I’m not Lion! You think that’s mad? Join the Club! Now my mate is a bit of a Smartie, so while we were stood, guarding the dead body, we says, ‘why don’t we have a Picnic?’ And I thought, ‘Well why not? I could do with some Time Out’

So we sat down and ate our sandwiches Crème Egg and cress for me, then Chomping some Fruit and Nuts for one of my five-a-day, all washed down with a cold glass of Dairy Milk.

Anyway, back to the Topic. After our food we were Flaked out and… well… I’m not going to Fudge the facts, we fell asleep. I know we shouldn’t have, but we did. We loosened our Buttons, pulled off our Snickers (sneakers) and lay down under the Milky Way.

Next thing I know there is a Crunchie sound, like when you Rolo way the stone. Sat bolt upright and thought… ‘What a Kinder Surprise is this?’ I said. I couldn’t have been more shocked if a Penguin had arrived on a Double Decker bus!

So what was it, this surprise? Only an angel, clothes all Milky Bar white and hair all Curly Wurly – just sat there, on top of the stone! And the tomb was OPEN! (Open Hollow Egg)

Me and my mate, we were in a complete Twirl – we were so scared we called for our Mars – but just before we fainted, we heard a Ripple of fabric from the tomb. Seems he had come back to life after all!

I heard a Wispa as he stepped out. He winked at me and said ‘Aero!’

Lent 4: Prayer & Senses

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Well, we are nearly four weeks into Lent and I am wondering how it has been for you?

I hope that you have been able to find some time for reflection amidst the busy-ness of daily living. That is always a challenge for me – but very necessary. And I am wondering what has been happening for you in your praying? As we have considered time and place to pray, so today I want to consider Prayer and the senses. As I said at the beginning of this course, my aim was to be more practical than theological, and I hope that this evening I may be able to offer some new insights and things to try as we seek to learn more how to pray.

The Senses. Something integral to being human – and we are bodily people. Most of us, I suspect, take our senses for granted – hearing, sight, touch, taste and smell – unless and until we are deprived of them. A child born without any one of those capacities is, rightly, a source of sadness and pain to those close to them; for suddenly those around anticipate the sense of loss – of deprivation even – a sense of unfairness that a fellow human being should not have the opportunity to experience what we experience and enjoy what we enjoy.

Accident or age can deprive us of one or more of our senses later in life and we are suddenly bereft and left grieving for capacities we once knew and took for granted. Learning to live with such loss is not easy.

And yet there are many who will say that the body’s capacity to adapt is remarkable and where one sense is diminished, another develops extraordinarily to take its place…

The important thing to recognise is that because we are bodily creatures, our senses are very much a part of our praying, whether we recognise it or not. If we think about it, we will probably all agree that hearing and seeing are familiar parts of prayer: when we are together we hear words spoken, either as set prayers or biddings for intercession; and we see words printed on a page, which we read aloud and listen to as we speak them.

But that is only one dimension of hearing; only one dimension of seeing; and there are so many more. So let’s explore each of our senses in turn and stretch our minds, and in doing so, stretch the possibilities for our prayer.

Prayer is clearly about more than just words, but also about the non-words: silence is not just an absence of words, but rather it is a way of being attentive to God and to ourselves which can help us to go deeper than we might in other forms of prayer.

But when we are silent, we are still hearing – and we may well be using other senses as well, as we shall see in a few moments… When you sit in silence you need to hear both the external and the internal ‘noise’ – sounds from round about, but also the sounds from within: a phrase from Scripture; the words of a psalm or hymn that comes into your mind… But what other sounds are there and how might we be active in using our sense of hearing in our prayer?

Let me offer three particular areas you might explore: first, the sounds of nature. Sit in the garden or the local park, or go for a gentle walk on the Moor with your ears open and you will hear the sounds of nature: birds singing; the wind blowing through long grass; the trickle of a stream; the whistling of a buzzard; the scrunch of leaves underfoot; the brushing of a hedgerow against your jacket…. Whilst I’m not one for saying simply ‘You can always find God in the garden’, there is – for many of us – a deep inspiration that comes through hearing the sounds and seeing the sights of our created world. As Gerard Manley-Hopkins reminds us:

The sounds and sights of nature draw us beyond ourselves and can inspire us to praise and wonder at our Creator God. St Francis knew such wonder well and we hear it expressed, of course, in this extract from his Canticle of Brother Son and Sister Moon:

Video:  [youtube=”https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=d2AfJm5ZcCc”]

 

Most High, all-powerful, good Lord,
Yours are the praises, the glory, and the honor, and all blessing,
To You alone, Most High, do they belong,
and no human is worthy to mention Your name.

Praised be You, my Lord, with all Your creatures,
especially Sir Brother Sun,
Who is the day and through whom You give us light.
And he is beautiful and radiant with great splendor;
and bears a likeness of You, Most High One.

Praised be You, my Lord, through Sister Moon and the stars,
in heaven You formed them clear and precious and beautiful.

Praised be You, my Lord, through Brother Wind,
and through the air, cloudy and serene, and every kind of weather,
through whom You give sustenance to Your creatures.

Praised be You, my Lord, through Sister Water,
who is very useful and humble and precious and chaste.

Praised be You, my Lord, through Brother Fire,
through whom You light the night,
and he is beautiful and playful and robust and strong.

Praised be You, my Lord, through our Sister Mother Earth,
who sustains and governs us,
and who produces various fruit with colored flowers and herbs.

Praised be You, my Lord, through those who give pardon for Your love,
and bear infirmity and tribulation.

Blessed are those who endure in peace
for by You, Most High, shall they be crowned.

Praised be You, my Lord, through our Sister Bodily Death,
from whom no one living can escape.
Woe to those who die in mortal sin.

Blessed are those whom death will find in Your most holy will,
for the second death shall do them no harm.

Praise and bless my Lord and give Him thanks
and serve Him with great humility.

But what about the sounds of daily living? Perhaps we regard those as distractions? The traffic on the street; the crying child; the noises in the market place; the marital argument; the hoover; the washing machine. Our instinct is to say that this is ‘noise’ and we may try to escape from it. But these are the noises – the sounds – of life. And each, in its own way, can lead us to prayer: for the safety of those who travel; for family life; for all who trade; for relationships in conflict; for those who care for homes; for those with no-one to care whose labour is with hands and with back-breaking work. The sounds of daily living can be just as much part of our prayer as silence.

[vimeo 6017188]

For many people, however, music can play a special part in enabling prayer. It is, of course, so often a matter of taste. But, for each of us, there will be particular pieces of music – or styles or types of music – which help to still or stir us and which can often draw us to God.

Music can sometimes ‘reach the parts that others don’t’ in a way that it is hard to explain.

Music has the power to stir the soul, and is a uniquely personal thing. Whether it’s classical, modern, pop, rap, grunge, Taize or something else, music – with and without words- can lead us into prayer and sometimes even become the vehicle by which we pray. A Tallis chant or a Brian Eno piece, whatever works for you. Modern ways of delivering music: streaming online access to virtually the whole musical catalogues of the world give us unlimited opportunities.

[youtube=”https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=J6RgaPTo4hE”]

So much for hearing. What about sight?

Well, I have already spoken of nature and few of us would deny the power of a sunset or a glorious vista to stir us within. What God has made is indeed good. But what about the works of human beings? Art, sculpture, photography, icons….

The long history of association between art and religion has borne fruit since time immemorial and never more so than in the Christian era, in a wealth of carvings, engravings, paintings, frescoes, icons, woodcuts and more both inspired by and inspiring of the God in whose image the artist is made.

If you have never used a work of art to inspire you to pray, then please try it; look at it with eyes of faith and be amazed at what God unfolds for you….

And it’s not just works of art that can help us. We live in a visual technological world and the creative possibilities of the internet, YouTube and computer-generated visuals are enormous. Such materials may not be to your personal taste, but for a new generation they offer huge potential for expressing and communicating the truths of God.

Finally, while we’re thinking about sight, let’s not forget the simple power of the lit candle as an aid to focusing the mind and stilling the soul. Whether in light or darkness, a candle can be a hugely effective way of signalling attentiveness to God and to prayer – a way of marking out both the place and the time….

The sense of touch is one we may not have explored before. The classical use of the rosary, not only in the Christian tradition, but by other faiths as well, illustrates the way in which physical connectedness can both enable concentration and engage the body at a different level to the mind.

Holding crosses have become popular in recent years – a simple, off-centred cross which fits neatly into a person’s hand and which can often act as a great reassurance to those who are troubled or sick and otherwise unable to pray.

But what about holding other things from nature – stones, shells, leaves, grass or flowers – feeling their beauty and complexity as an aid to prayer rather than simply looking at them – beautiful as they may be to the eye. Or there may be the seasonal use of objects such as fruits or vegetables at Harvest-time, or nails in Holy Week. And then there is the whole question of the appropriateness of touch when praying with others – the laying on of hands; the holding of another’s hand when praying for them, or anointing the sick with the Oil of Healing (which is always for healing, and not as popular culture understands it as the last rites)

Jesus healed in a visceral way: spittle, mud, physical contact, and when appropriately given, touch can be an important part of the physicality of faith..

[youtube=”https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GBvf7Voj9i4&t=259s”]

Smell and taste are perhaps a little more diffuse when it comes to thinking about prayer, despite the fact that incense as long been an aid to prayer in the history of the Church; and all four Gospels give an account of the woman who anointed Jesus with fragrant perfume in preparation for his burial. There is the distinct smell of the Oil of Chrism used in Baptism, Confirmation, and Ordination.

But when we read Scripture and begin to imagine some of the smells and tastes that those in the stories may have experienced, it can become an inspiration to our own prayer and can open up the narratives in ways we have never thought of.

  • What might it have smelt like, for example, by the Sea of Galilee?
  • What might it have smelt like in the heart of the city of Jerusalem with sheep and goats roaming the streets and spices being sold, and bread baked, and the sweat of humanity all around?
  • What might it have smelt and tasted like when Jesus and his disciples broke the bread and shared the fish, and turned water into wine, and picked the figs, and plucked the grain….?

This might seem a long way from prayer and the senses, but in fact it is not. For Scripture can be a way in to encountering God with more than just our minds. It is a way of prayer (the examen) encouraged and developed by St Ignatius Loyola in the sixteenth century, and which has enabled countless Christians since to deepen their prayer lives as they have learned to enter in to the biblical narrative using their senses as well as their intellect.

There is much more that could be said. But I hope I have whetted your appetite (and I use the phrase deliberately) to experiment with new ways of praying for you; ways that encourage you to use the whole of who you are and not just your mind.

If you want to talk more about ‘how’ to use your senses, then please ask. And remember – God gave us our senses to use in all sorts of ways – not just so that we don’t burn the toast!

Next week we will finally come to explore Prayer and Words.

 

What is Prayer?

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There are probably as many different thoughts on prayer as people in the world, and this is the thing that I want to assure everybody with – no-one, but no-one thinks they are any good at it.

The kind of prayer that we may have been taught at our Grandmother’s knee or in Infant School hands together, eyes closed is probably as far from most people’s prayer lives as infant school itself is, but the danger is that we may not have moved on from that ideal, even though our reality is quite different.

There are two types of prayer: the personal, the private and the corporate, the communal either shared with one other person or a whole congregation and they are two very different things. The latter is a corporate thing: you are leading a whole community in prayer and so your prayers should be collective “We pray for…” rather than “I pray for…” because that is the realm of the private prayer. It’s not about what you think, but where the whole community is being led, so I encourage the leading of prayer with others as a corporate act. Don’t over use words like the prophets of Baal:

[youtube=https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9xiyljA9qz0]

The personal is just that: to an extent I cannot tell you, but to equip you with thoughts, ideas and maybe a few good prayers as a springboard, but you are, I am afraid, on your own.

When you started praying there must have been an intention to use Prayer like a Christmas List – a series of things reeled off for Santa or God to grant:

“God Bless Mummy and God Bless Daddy and God Bless Auntie Susan and help make me a Good Boy, Amen Oh and can I have a new bicycle for Christmas…”

But that is a one-way diatribe, not a dialogue, a conversation between two intimates. Prayer involves just as much listening as it does saying.

What God says might not be very loud or clear at all. At the times when his voice has been very clear, I have found it to be exhilarating, overwhelming, challenging and simply awesome, but it is not the everyday encounter with God in prayer. Often He is silent, and it may feel like he is not listening.

As I wait on God, often notions occur to me, as I think the matters on my heart through, some solution, strategy, action sometimes comes out. Often not the kind of thing I would usually think of and certainly not what I am willing to do. It is there, as I think things over, that those senses are guided by God.

For me at least, God seldom speaks, but often nudges. You might want to say that I have come to the conclusions myself, but they are so often so different from my own self-perception that I have to conclude they are Other. And if they are Other, then I can only conclude (because the fruits of these actions are always positive) that they are the promptings of God, rather the distractions of the Evil one.

This is why I say that distraction in prayer is not a bad thing, but rather the work of the Holy Spirit, leading you to think of those things done, not done, needing to be done, from the trivial to the critical, from the intimate to the global. If you are thinking of lunch, then so be it.

Prayer with God is not a test, either for Him or you. You are not being asked to reel off the sickest of our community in your mind, or the places of world conflict and tension (hint: the Middle East is a safe bet on that one). God knows this. It doesn’t matter is someone or something gets missed, for if we pray without ceasing (1 Thess 5:17) the opportunity will come around again. He knows the needs of the world and of you. Prayer is therefore an opportunity for you to recognise these people and places for yourself and to prompt you into action about them.

Prayer therefore becomes a cry for help, on behalf of yourself or on behalf of others and the help which is sought is not merely a passive seeking for the external, supernatural power of God to step into this world and sort it out, but a way for God to use us in these matters – to prompt us to say this, do this, be this, shout aloud for this and to be whatever is needed to sort it out. Prayer therefore becomes a springboard for action.

Prayer cannot do this, unless you are listening. That small voice, that sense that “this is the right thing to do” is God’s response to your prayers.

“But God doesn’t answer my prayers” you may cry, as your lottery ticket fails to deliver yet again. God always answers prayer. In three ways: “Yes”. “No” and “here’s a better idea”. My lack of lottery win is therefore because (and I hate to admit it is true) I would be ruined by untold riches and my worst character traits would destroy me. No is the right answer. There are times when the method of God saying Yes is not what I expected, because he always has a better plan and a wider perspective: I literally cannot see the forest because of the tree right in front of me. So, when I pray for the healing of a person and they die, why children get cancer or run over or lose their parents and are forced to flee alone from their homes I lack the perspective to understand how God works. My own desires, my own selfishness is not God’s purpose, and the seemingly arbitrary cruelty inflicted on innocent, good people is a mystery beyond all understanding. I must recognise that this is not the action of a cruel tyrant, pushing us around  like pieces on a cosmic chessboard, but of one who wishes to show us love and be loved in return and yet loves us enough to allow us the opportunity to fuck mess it all up.

What if God answered all prayers with YES? Bruce Almighty gave us an insight…

[youtube=https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WHBQC0XYvYg]

Similarly, the timescales of our lives do not fit the cosmic timescale of God. God is outside of time, it’s creator who transcends the boundaries of time and space. He will therefore answer prayer (however it is) in his own good time. It is wrong to seek to persuade or trick God into something simply because it fits our own selfish desires (one of the key reasons why the answer might be “No”). It is said that God has all of eternity to respond to the split-second prayer of someone throwing out a “help me” prayer as their car crashes. “Do not put the Lord your God to the test” demands that we do not ask the impossible, nor expect any response in our own timeframe: God’s response will be at the appropriate time (Kairos) and not earthly human time (chronos). Wait on the Lord and accept whatever might come, or be stirred into action to bring it about, under God’s guidance.

If the answer to “What is Prayer” is “Whatever you want it to be” then it might be worth providing a toolkit for you to explore some of the different ways of thinking about prayer. The exploration of place and time, silence, senses and words over the next few weeks of Lent will hopefully provide some ways of engaging in prayer: active, responsive, quiet, reflective or aloud; in stillness or bustle, in action and ritual, music, art or words.

[youtube=https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vescUPhdT2k]

There is no one way to pray and as you seek out what works for you, be aware that no one thinks they can really do it well, and that’s okay; for God will still hear our prayers…

…and he loves them all.

Quiet Day Lent 2017

Posted on Leave a commentPosted in inclusive, parish, sacraments, scripture, teaching

We are holding a quiet day on Saturday 8th April (the day before Palm Sunday) from 10am to 4pm at the Violet Evelyn Hall  Buckfast Abbey TQ11 0EE

This quiet day is open to all and costs just £5. There is a separate dining area for us, so bring your own lunch. As numbers become clear, we can arrange car-shares etc.

The day will include a couple of talks/reflections, opportunities for quiet prayer in and around the beautiful grounds, a series of creative rituals for Holy Week, culminating in a creative Eucharist


All are welcome – from all parishes, traditions and backgrounds


To express your interest/book a place

Payment can be made via Paypal from here if you wish (a small booking fee applies to cover the costs)

I intend to pay by
Paypal (most preferred)Cash - before the day (to Fr Simon)Cash - on the day

Payment can be made via Paypal from here if you wish (a small booking fee applies to cover the costs)

O Antiphons

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o-virgin-of-virgins

It is especially in the final week of Advent that our attention is fixed on the messianic promises proclaimed by the ancient prophets of Israel.  A distinctive feature of the Liturgy of the Hours in this week preceding the Christmas vigil is the antiphon sung at Vespers (evening prayer) before and after the recitation of the Magnificat.  Originally incorporated into the monastic office in the Middle Ages, these antiphons, often called the “Greater Antiphons” or the “O Antiphons”, are also echoed in the daily lectionary as the verse for the gospel acclamation during this week.  They add a mood of eager expectation to the liturgy that builds throughout these seven days and climaxes at Christmas.

 

The O Antiphons have been described as “a unique work of art and a special ornament of the pre-Christmas liturgy, filled with the Spirit of the Word of God”.  They “create a poetry that fills the liturgy with its splendour”, and their composer shows “a magnificent command of the Bible’s wealth of motifs”.  The antiphons are, in fact, a collage of Old Testament types of Christ.  Their predominant theme is messianic,  stressing the hope of the Saviour’s coming.  Jesus is invoked by various titles, mainly taken from the prophet Isaiah.  The sequence progresses historically, from the beginning, before creation, to the very gates of Bethlehem.

In their structure, each of the seven antiphons follows the same pattern, resembling a traditional liturgical prayer.  Each O Antiphon begins with an invocation of the expected Messiah, followed by praise of him under one of his particular titles.  Each ends with a petition for God’s people, relevant to the title by which he is addressed, and the cry for him to “Come”.

The seven titles attributed to Jesus in the antiphons are

Wisdom (Sapientia in Latin),

o-wisdom

[youtube=http://www.youtube.com/?v=8ngcQDQfhlA]

Ruler of the House of Israel (Adonai),

o-lord-adonai

Root of Jesse (Radix),

o-root-of-jesse

Key of David (Clavis),

o-key-of-david

Rising Dawn (Oriens),

o-morning-star

King of the Gentiles (Rex)

o-king

and Emmanuel.

o-emmanuel

In Latin the initials of the titles make an acrostic which, when read backwards. means: “Tomorrow I will be there” (“Ero cras”).  To the medieval mind this was clearly a reference to the approaching Christmas vigil.

Today the O Antiphons are most familiar to us in the hymn “O come, O come Emmanuel”.  Each verse of the hymn parallels one of the antiphons. In addition to their use in the Liturgy of the Hours and the gospel acclamation, they have been popularly incorporated into church devotions and family prayer.  An Advent prayer service for use at home, in school, or in the events of parish life can be built around the singing or recitation of the antiphons, accompanied by the related Scripture readings and prayers.  They can be prayed at family dinner times or with the lighting of the Advent wreath, with a short explanation of their biblical background.   The titles can also be depicted by simple symbols – for example, on banners and posters or in bulletin illustrations – to help us to reflect on these Advent themes.

Sermon: 1 Corinthians 15:1-11 Ordinary 5, Year C

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Text: 1 Corinthians 15:1-11

In the name of the +Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

“I taught you what I had been taught myself, namely that Christ died for our sins, in accordance with the scriptures; that he was buried; and that he was raised to life on the third day, in accordance with the scriptures;”

You probably don’t remember the name Nikolai Ivanovich Bukharin nor should you. But during his day, he was a powerful man on this earth. A Russian Communist leader, he took part in the Bolshevik Revolution in 1917, was editor of the Soviet newspaper Pravda, and was a full member of the Politburo. Although Communism in Russia is long dead and buried, we should not forget how aggressively Communism sought to undermine, even destroy Christianity and replace it with an atheist state.

There’s one particular story about Bukharin. It’s about a journey he took from Moscow to Kiev in 1930 to address a huge assembly on the subject of atheism. Addressing the crowd, he aimed his heavy artillery at Christianity hurling insult, argument, and proof against it.

An hour later, when he was finished, he looked out at what seemed to be the smouldering ashes of the people’s faith. “Are there are any questions?” Bukharin demanded. Deafening silence filled the auditorium, but then one older man began his slow but steady pace to the lectern.

Standing shoulder to shoulder to the communist leader, he surveyed the crowd first to the left then to the right. Finally, he mustered all the strength he had inside him and shouted the ancient greeting known well in the Russian Orthodox Church, “Alleluia! Christ is risen!” and en masse, the crowd stood to their feet and the response came crashing like the sound of thunder, “He is risen indeed! Alleluia!”

My dear friends: the Resurrection: This morning’s epistle outlines the core of our faith, the true Gospel proclaimed by the Church for millennia and as real today as it was in 55AD when Paul wrote to the Church in Corinth.

It is always before us: in our Creed, at the heart of our faith. Paul had to remind the church at Corinth, and we too need to be reminded of the gospel that we have received and on which, we have taken our stand.

This is the Easter message, even though we are not yet even into Lent, our faith is an Easter faith, we are an Easter people, liberated by the Resurrection. I stand here today, in this sacred space, to proclaim this word that…

Alleluia! Christ is risen!

Join me in saying, He is risen indeed! Alleluia!

Alleluia! Christ is risen! He is risen indeed! Alleluia!

We face interesting times: in our parishes, as we look to our mission and outreach and how we simply faithfully continue to worship; in his deanery as we face the challenges of the future; and in the Church as a whole – a fragmenting Anglican Communion with its divisions and hang-ups about the sexuality; all the while bible-bashing fundamentalists of bigotry and hate at home and abroad, seek to take a Gospel of love and inclusivity and draw a few selective passages of Paul and the Levitical law to condemn in ways that Christ never would.

Lurking behind all of this is the whole issue of how Christians engage with modern society, and explain what the Gospel has to do with them, and how it can transform them.

That Gospel has little to do with heavy-duty theology, or complex philosophy but at the heart of it, and at the heart of all that we do…it’s all about the Resurrection.

Paul said if there’s no Resurrection, then all the preaching is useless.

If there is no Resurrection, our faith has no value.
If there is no Resurrection, we become false witnesses.
If there is no Resurrection, the transformation that takes place within our lives when we know Christ is meaningless.
If there is no Resurrection, then we are to be pitied among humankind.

But Paul was quick to proclaim, “But Christ has indeed been raised from the dead, (he is) the first fruits of those who have fallen asleep.”

In a later verse in the same passage of I Corinthians 15, Paul says the resurrection will change us….

The body sown is perishable, but it will be raised imperishable;
it is sown with dishonour, it will be raised in glory.
it is sown in weakness, it will be raised in power;
it is sown as natural, it will be raised as spiritual” (15:42-43)

This Resurrection is our hope! It is our joy! It is our faith!

The resurrection of Christ from the grave is the cornerstone of Christianity. It is the Magna Carta of our faith. Everything depends on it. Nothing in the Christian faith is worth trusting without it. As a matter of fact, it is not stretching too far to say that all of the New Testament stands firmly on the event we call Easter.

And when we began to doubt, we need to be reminded that no event in history has shaped the world like the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ.

There is no other religion anywhere in the world that offers an empty tomb as its salvation. There is no other religion that has people lined up for hours in Jerusalem or elsewhere, to look at the empty place where their leader is no longer. In short, Christianity is the only religion that celebrates a Resurrection.”

The resurrection of Jesus Christ has stood the test of time because there isn’t anyone who has been able to disprove it. Even in the face of persecution, the apostles and those who followed them willingly underwent Martyrdom proclaiming Christ risen.

If they had made it up, then surely, at the first sight of an axe, a hammer and nails or a gridiron, surely they would have admitted that it was made up. But no, with faith in Christ resurrected, the glorious martyrs held fast to the Gospel. If anything is worth dying for, then it is worth credibility. That is why I believe in the resurrection and the power that it has to change lives: my life, your lives

And because of that Gospel message, hopes have been restored, attitudes have brightened, emotions have been positively influenced, and lives have been changed.

Let me tell you another story…

It was Easter Day 1973 . Uganda groaned under the terror of Idi Amin. Still fresh in the memory of young priest Kefa Sempangi’s memory was a faced burned beyond recognition, the sight of soldiers cruelly beating a man, and the horrible sound of boots crushing bones, all for the crime of being Christian.

But that East of 1973 Sempangi bravely and openly preached on the Risen Lord in his town’s home football stadium to over 7,000 people. After the service, five of Idi Amin’s Secret Police followed Sempangi back to his little church and closed the door behind them. Five rifles pointed at Sempangi’ s face.

“We are going to kill you for disobeying Amin’s orders” said the captain. “If you have something to say, say it now before you die.” Sempangi, thinking of his wife and little girl, began to shake.

But the risen Lord living in his heart gave him the courage to speak. “Do what you must, “ he said, “The Word of God says that in Christ I am already dead, and that my real life is hidden with Him in God. It is not my life that is danger my friends, but yours. I am alive in the risen Lord, but you are still dead in your sins. May He spare you from eternal destruction.”

The leader looked at Sempangi for a long time. Then he lower his gun and the other guns followed, “Will you pray for us?” he asked. Sempangi did, and from that day those five officers, now converted through the witness of Sempangi’s bravery, protected the Anglican Priest with their very lives.”

Nothing has ever shaped the world like the gospel message.

As we are reminded that it’s all about the Resurrection, and that nothing has ever shaped the world like it, I’m also reminded a very simple fact about life itself…Life on this earth, in these bodies, does not go on forever.

There is death. Every one of us must face our own mortality. There is no military victory, no medical cure, no global village that can prepare any individual to answer the ultimate questions in life any better than the Resurrection of Jesus Christ. It’s the hope of the Russian Orthodox standing against the atheism of Communion, It’s the hope of Paul and the Corinthian Church. It’s the hope of people like Sempangi, who in the face of death itself, stood firm and claimed that indeed Christ is risen!

Christ is risen! He is risen indeed! Amen.

Blessing of Throats for S. Blaise, 3rd January

Posted on Leave a commentPosted in parish, sacraments, teaching

Today we celebrate the feast of Saint Blaise (Blase, Blaize, who knows?), who was bishop of Sebaste in Armenia in the fourth century. Before being martyred, he is said to have healed a boy who was choking. Tradition also has it that he was martyred by beheading, face up. Since the eighth century, Saint Blaise has been venerated as the patron of those who suffer from diseases of the throat. We pray in a special way today for protection from afflictions of the throat and from other illnesses. The blessing of Saint Blaise is a sign of our faith in God’s protection and love for us and for the sick.

Candles with Red Martyr's Ribbon
Candles with Red Martyr’s Ribbon

GENERAL INTERCESSIONS

The celebrant says:

Let us now pray for those who are sick and suffering, for those who care for the sick, and for all who seek the blessings of good health.

We pray to the Lord Lord, hear our prayer.

For those who suffer from sickness and disease, that they may receive healing, we pray to the Lord. R.

For the mentally ill and for their families, that they may receive comfort, we pray to the Lord. R.

For those with physical disabilities, that the strength of Christ may invigorate them, we pray to the Lord. R.

For doctors and nurses, and for all who care for the sick, we pray to the Lord. R.

For those who seek the prayers of Saint Blase today, that they may be protected from afflictions of the throat and other forms of illness, we pray to the Lord. R.

PRAYER OF BLESSING

With the crossed candles touched to the throat of each person, the celebrant says immediately:

Through the intercession of Saint Blaise, bishop and martyr, may God deliver you from every disease of the throat and from every other illness:

In the name of the Father, and of the Son, + and of the Holy Spirit.

Each person responds: Amen.

Christingle 2015

Posted on Leave a commentPosted in mission, scripture, teaching

Christmas Eve

The Prezi which accompanies this can be found at: https://prezi.com/mj9bepkettmj/

Equipment:
Christingle Kits and Grace, Knitted Nativity given to various children around Church and asked to look after them carefully, Candles & Tapers, Fire Extinguishers and Water Buckets in Chancel. Voile covers the big nativity

People gather in Nave; while Micky Mouse’s Christmas, Tom & Jerry’s “Twas the Night before Christmas” and CJMs “Heaven’s Final Word” plays

Welcome

(coming in from the back) 10..9..8..7..6..5..4..3..2..1…

Christmas starts… now! Welcome to our Christingle Service

In the name of the +Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.
Amen

The Lord Be With You
And also with you

O Come All Ye Faithful

(vs 1-3) ( Number 12 on Carol Sheets)

1 O come, all ye faithful,
joyful and triumphant,
O come ye, O come ye to Bethlehem;
come and behold him,
born the King of angels:

O come, let us adore him,
O come, let us adore him,
O come, let us adore him, Christ the Lord!

2 God of God,
Light of light,
Lo, he abhors not the Virgin’s womb;
very God,
begotten, not created:
Chorus

3 Sing, choirs of angels,
sing in exultation,
sing, all ye citizens of heaven above:
‘Glory to God
in the highest:’
Chorus

  • Now I won’t want to keep you long tonight as I know you all have to get back to your beds
  • because some of you may be expecting something or someone later to call.
  • However, before then, I want us tonight to go on a special journey.
  • There are so many of us that we can’t actually move, but this will be a journey of the mind: a journey through the Christmas story, and through this journey, I hope that we will be able to remind ourselves of the reason why we gather on this special night, the reason for the season, the story of the birth of Jesus Christ, Our Lord and Saviour.

So, let us begin our journey by hearing what Isaiah foretold…

Listen to this:

A reading from the book of a wise man called Isaiah

“Once upon a time, everyone lived in the dark,
but now – we can see!
They used to live in a world that was so full of shadows
But now – we have a light to light up our way!

We have God with us
And he has made us happy
He has sent us a baby
Who is to be our King,
And he will keep everyone safe.

This is the word of the Lord
Thanks be to God

This is certainly an exciting time: and as we get all figitty with the sheer fun of seeing all our relatives, eating lots of scrummy food and may (if we’ve been good) opening the odd present or two! Sometimes, we can miss the reason for the season: sometimes amid the hustle and bustle, the noise, we can lose sight of the stillness, the pause.

God plan has been coming some time. A baby takes time to grow in their Mummy’s tummy and in the same way, Jesus grew inside Mary, slowly and over the past few weeks and months we have been looking forward to this wonderful thing which the prophets of old (like Isaiah) foretold.

Until God chooses to step into this world and become one of us,

GOD

IS

HERE

God is here to be a part of our lives, not remote and distant, but here in time and history and to be present today in the Church, in his word and in his holy sacraments.

Let us now sing The First Noel (Vs 1+6) as we turn round to the sanctuary

The First Noel

(Vs 1+6) (Number 5)
1 The first Nowell the angel did say
Was to certain poor shepherds in fields as they lay:
In fields where they lay a-keeping their sheep
On a cold winter’s night that was so deep:

Nowell, Nowell, Nowell, Nowell,
Born is the King of Israel.

6 Then let us all with one accord
Sing praises to our heavenly Lord,
That hath made heaven and earth of nought,
And with his blood mankind hath bought:

Nowell, Nowell, Nowell, Nowell,
Born is the King of Israel.

Knitted Nativity – dotted around with various children in the church, who should be there?

Mary / Joseph / Shepherds / Kings / Animals

Call children up to form mixed human/knitted tableau

No Jesus, because he is born tonight.

We have another crib in this church, before we see it let us sing While Shepherds Watched Their Flocks.

While Shepherds Watched their flocks

(Number 7)

1 While shepherds watched their flocks by night,
all seated on the ground,
the angel of the Lord came down,
and glory shone around.

2 ‘Fear not,’ said he (for mighty dread
had seized their troubled mind);
‘glad tidings of great joy I bring
to you and all mankind.

3 ‘To you in David’s town this day
is born of David’s line
a Saviour, who is Christ the Lord;
and this shall be the sign:

4 ‘The heavenly babe you there shall find
to human view displayed,
all meanly wrapped in swathing bands,
and in a manger laid.’

5 Thus spake the seraph; and forthwith
appeared a shining throng
of angels praising God, who thus
addressed their joyful song;

6 ‘All glory be to God on high,
and to the earth be peace;
good will henceforth from heaven to men
begin and never cease.’

The Voile is lifted from the Big Nativity

Here we can see all those characters that we collected at the front of Church.

Listen to the story from the holy bible:

A Reading from the Gospel of Matthew:

Joseph lived in the town of Nazareth
But one day he had to go all the way to Bethlehem with Mary
Even though she was going to have a baby.
While they were in Bethlehem,
The Baby was born – it was Mary’s first little boy,
And she dressed him up in baby clothes
And made a bed for him in a stable
Because there was no room left for them at the Inn.

This is the word of the Lord
Thanks be to God

This year has certainly been a good year for Christmas Adverts hasn’t it? Mog’s Christmas, and the one about the man in the moon. They’re all trying to make us buy stuff for Christmas, but the best gift is different.

This version of the Man in the Moon video ends a bit different

As we are all excited about all the gifts Father Christmas will bring, we need to remember that the best gift of all comes wrapped not in shiny paper with a big bow on it, but wrapped in human flesh.

Every time a gift is given, it says something doesn’t it? A gift means:

  • I care about you
  • I think you’re special
  • I love you

And this gift from God says exactly that.

God, the powerful creator of the world, could have sent his Son in power and glory and forced us to be good; but God loves us, and wanted his Son to show us, not force us.

God sent Jesus in the world as a tiny, vulnerable baby; in an obscure corner of the world; so that the saviour of the world would be one of us: tiny and vulnerable in this great big world.

It’s very tempting to only think of the baby Jesus and to forget that this is not the end of the story, but only the beginning. The child born in a smelly, cold, cave which sheltered animals would grow up, and the fabulous stories told of his birth would be mirrored by those wonderful things he did as an adult: to make the deaf hear, the blind see, the lame walk and to heal the sick; but none of that compares to the ultimate giving – the best present of all, the gift of our eternal life, won by the baby grown into the man, the man who offered himself on the cross.

So remember, don’t keep the baby in the manger, don’t cling onto the chocolate box image of the child, but allow the child to grow, and your faith will grow too – for the mature Jesus is the man who won us the ultimate freedom through the victory of the Cross.

Christingles

This is a Christingle Service, which means I suppose that we should have some Christingles around here somewhere… Oh yes, you have them in kit form! I hope no-one has opened and eaten the sweets yet…

Because this year, I thought it would be a good idea for us to make our own, and you have the kit here

Can anyone tell me what a Christingle is?

The Christingle was invented by Saint Lucia in Scandanavia to explain symbolically God’s goodness to the world. As this is quite a large crowd, I’m going to scale up my Christingle a little bit, so everyone can see. It features:

• An Orange, which represents the World that God made.
• Four cocktail sticks, representing the four seasons, the four corners of the earth
• … dried fruit, and sweets representing God’s gifts to the world.
• A Red Ribbon tied around the Orange, representing the Blood of Christ
• A Lighted Candle representing Jesus Christ, shining in the world today

Christingles not only signify the goodness of God to us, but also they can be a focus for Christmas.

If you can, replace the sweeties on the Christingle tonight and place it alit on your Christmas table, so as you gather as a family, you can be reminded of the place that Jesus Christ has amongst your festivities.

Say Grace before your meal, and thank God for bringing you together as a family. On the outside of the bag there is a special grace that you can say together when you have re-lit your Christingle

When you have completed your Christingle…

Start with your vial of iron powder – show it, sprinkle some between your fingers, back into the container. Explain what it is – it looks just like dust. In fact, it’s what the earth’s core is made of. It’s the most common element in our planet. It’s earth-dust, nothing more; we might remember that the Bible tells of God making the first human being from dust.  You can’t get anything more earthy than this. It’s grey and dull, really. It doesn’t look like anything special. It doesn’t look like it’s going to do anything cool.  Not on its own, anyway.

But look what happens when we introduce the dust of the earth to the light of the world. (Light your own Christingle at this point, dim the lights, and carefully sprinkle some of the iron powder into the flame – it’s worth practicing before the service so you get the right amount – the iron should turn to bright orange sparks, clearly visible in a dark church).

The dust of the earth comes alive when it touches the light of Christ – Jesus came into the world to bring it to life, to bring energy and joy to places that were grey and lifeless.  When Jesus said, ‘I am the light of the world’ he meant that he was bringing the light of heaven right into the midst of earth’s darkness.  When he said ‘you are the light of the world’ he meant that he could transform our dull dustiness into bright shining sparks of God’s love in the world!

At this service, we turn from dust to sparkles! The light of Jesus is with us, and is bringing us to life, so that we can bring his light and life to the dark places of this world – that’s our life’s work, and we do it in the transforming love and power of Jesus.  So shine as lights in the world to the glory of God the Father! (Ally Barrett)

Candles are lit.

The children will sing the first verse of Away in a Manger in the candlelight and then for the next two verses we will all join in.

Light Christingles LIGHTS OUT

Away in a Manager

(Number 6)
(in dark, Children first verse, 2nd/3rd verse, all)

1 Away in a manger, no crib for a bed,
the little Lord Jesus laid down his sweet head;
the stars in the bright sky looked down where he lay,
the little Lord Jesus asleep on the hay.

2 The cattle are lowing, the baby awakes,
but little Lord Jesus no crying he makes.
I love thee, Lord Jesus! Look down from the sky,
and stay by my bedside till morning is nigh.

3 Be near me, Lord Jesus: I ask thee to stay
close by me for ever, and love me, I pray.
Bless all the dear children in thy tender care,
and fit us for heaven, to live with thee there.

Now, tomorrow is the birthday of Jesus Christ, Our Lord and Saviour, and all these candles make it look a bit like a birthday cake.

I don’t know if we have 2012 candles here, but we have quite a lot… What song do we sing at someone’s birthday? Why don’t we all sing “Happy Birthday Dear Jesus” to remind ourselves of why we celebrate Christmas – the birthday of the most special man ever in the history of the world!

Happy Birthday to you

Happy birthday to you
Happy birthday to you
Happy birthday dear Jesus,
Happy birthday to you!

Blow Candles Out.

Poem

And that’s why we have Christmas and welcome the day
And sing and eat turkey and put on a play
And dress up like angels and get lots of toys
It’s not just because of that sweet baby boy
It’s because of the man he grew up to be
Who changed people’s lives and can change you and me
To live and to love just like God always planned
And turn what is sad into glad again
And turn what is sad
INTO GLAD!

Blessing

May the humility of the shepherds,
the faith of the wise men,
the joy of the angels,
and the peace of the Christ Child,
be God’s gift to us and to all people this Christmas
and the blessing of God Almighty,
the +Father, Son and Holy Spirit
be upon you and remain with you, this night and always.

Amen

Depart

Go in peace to love and serve the Lord.
Thanks be to God.

END

Reading for Christingle Service 1

A reading from the book of a wise man called Isaiah
(small pause)

“Once upon a time, everyone lived in the dark,
but now – we can see!
They used to live in a world that was so full of shadows
But now – we have a light to light up our way!

We have God with us
And he has made us happy
He has sent us a baby
Who is to be our King,
And he will keep everyone safe.

(small pause)

This is the word of the Lord
Thanks be to God

Reading for Christingle Service 2

A Reading from the Gospel of Matthew:
(small pause)

Joseph lived in the town of Nazareth
But one day he had to go all the way to Bethlehem with Mary
Even though she was going to have a baby.

While they were in Bethlehem,
The Baby was born – it was Mary’s first little boy,
And she dressed him up in baby clothes
And made a bed for him in a stable
Because there was no room left for them at the Inn.

(small pause)

This is the word of the Lord
Thanks be to God

How to use Prezi for Collective Worship (& other useful bits about using tech in worship)

Posted on Leave a commentPosted in geek, mission, parish, scripture, teaching, youth

Death by Powerpoint - a crime against humanityI’ve been speaking to people about Jesus (and in previous lives, other things as well) and supporting that with slides for more years than I care to remember. It started with Harvard Graphics for me, and if you too remember that on DOS then we are both way too old for this game. However, Powerpoint eventually took over and on Windows it has been and remains the dominant presentational tool used. However, we have all encountered Death by Powerpoint where a dull speaker simply reads dense and poorly set out text to a bored and lifeless audience.

Text on it’s own is dull. The visual media was intended for the visual, with text kept to a minimum. I see Dr Bex Lewis report from the many many conferences she attends and am struck by how wordy, how dull, how lifeless many of the slides on screen are like. Once when I was giving a Clinical Paper using traditional old-fashioned 35mm slides, as a poor and unfunded Staff Nurse I could not afford to have any extra slides made above the 5 which the conference would pay for. This focuses the mind somewhat on what you really want to illustrate so it was just the most important diagrams I needed. To fill the space, I went down to the National Gallery and interspersed my talk with classical paintings on 35mm slides (remember them?) and it went down a storm as people remembered images and what I said around the images far better. It was not what was on screen that was important, but the story that I told using the images as backdrop. Less words. More images. Images tell a story for you whilst you spin a yarn.

The TED talks have reinvigorated the scientific conference: short and pithy, scriptless 20 min talks direct to an audience which inspire and invigorate. Every Collective Worship should be like a TED talk and enable those in Worship to leave inspired and challenged.

image

The story is the important thing. Never read it, but internalise it: tell it from the first person, as one of the witnesses or one of the protagonists (but obviously not as Jesus himself), the woman who was healed, a disciple in the boat, or the Last Supper, someone in the Jerusalem observing the Crucifixion. I seem to spend a lot of time playing S. Peter – especially as he was good at stupid statements at critical times which make hugely useful teaching opportunities. Draw the audience in with what is going on and through that communicate the awesome truth of the Gospel of Jesus. None of these stories are very long. You probably grew up with them, and with a little prompt can remember it fully. It doesn’t matter if a word is out of place, for this is the Oral tradition which you are continuing: worry less about the words, but about the word – the overarching meaning of this story. It’s better also, given in your own accent, the accent of the people you are speaking with, as though we were all there.

Reading from the Powerpoint doesn’t work with Children, especially not in Worship

Children are the worst audience. They don’t hide their boredom or disengagement and the problem with many clergy coming into to Schools to lead Collective Worship (previously known as Assembles, but no longer) is that they have forgotten how visual the story we have to tell is. If you simply read a passage of the Holy Scriptures at them in a dull and lifeless way then they will come to believe that Scripture is dull and lifeless. This is a dynamic collection of stories inherited from an Oral Tradition, which was told and retold before anyone ever got to writing it down. It speaks powerfully and so your Collective Worship should also be powerful, driven and lively. I find that with a well-crafted retelling of a Gospel Story, one can hold a large hall of Children rapt with attention, because most of them have never heard the story. It is said that you have to hear the (whole) truth about Jesus dozens of times before it even starts to make an impact, so start here and repeat until evangelised.

“I won’t use the screen because I’m not technical” is not really an excuse, because the screen becomes the backdrop and the prompt for the important bit: the story. Later in this post, I will guide you step-by-step through effective use of presentation software with a minimum of technical skill. If you don’t know how to do it yet, then why not try and learn: baby steps at first because you have the most important task in primary evangelism later this morning, with undoubtedly the largest congregation you will have all week, to make Christ known through your Collective Worship.

Of course this is but one way to reinvigorating Collective Worship, and if you have a team of people, I highly commend the Open the Book project from the Bible Society which uses real live drama, and backs up my point perfectly. However, few of us have those human resources (on our own normally) and have to tell the story as best we can.

The End of Death by Powerpoint

I do use projected images in Worship, and there are some words on them. I always begin worship with “In the name of the Father…”, use “The Lord be with you” on absolutely every encounter with a group of young people, close with the Lord’s Prayer, the Grace and a proper Blessing and Dismissal because, well, it’s part of the Anglican liturgical heritage and how can you teach authentic Anglican values (as desired by SIAMS) if you don’t frame Collective Worship in an Anglican structure? I use the opening, blessing and dismissal and Lord’s Prayer in non-Church schools as well, but whether in Church or LA Schools, children are never forced to pray. “I invite you to pray. If you don’t want to pray, then that’s fine but please remain still with your own thoughts so as not to disturb those who do want to pray...” If the Humanists don’t think that this is adequate, then they really have no confidence in their misunderstandings.

To support the Worship, I use a presentation tool called Prezi.

screenshot-prezi.com 2015-11-27 11-14-25

Prezi is available online and for free, but you have only limited space for presentations and have to have an internet connection (although it has run very successfully over my phone). You can create a wonderful Prezi online and download it as a standalone, take anywhere presentation (and I have seen them used very effectively as an interactive kiosk tool) but obviously that is fixed and you can’t modify the Prezi rapidly without downloading a fresh, edited standalone file.

However, there is a very reasonably priced Educational/Non Profit licence which schools and churches can sign up for and which not only gives you much more space but the ability to work offline which is what I normally do, particularly as the firewall in most schools block access to YouTube and your carefully embedded video link won’t play. I always embedd a complete video inside my Prezi – of course it makes the file bigger, but it always works, even offline. You can edit and share really easily without Internet and they are synced with your online version. Editing and reusing is a doddle.

Prezi

Rather than having traditional “slides” it features a canvas around which the user may roam. Once can zoom in and out of sections, revealing text and images and moving around a graphic, a picture or even text. This means that for storytelling, it gives you a perfect backdrop.

I often call up an image: a painting or an icon of a given story, and then roam around it highlighting details as part of my story

You can call up an image or some text, and then zoom in to make a point, or draw attention to something, zoom out to get a bigger picture.

prezi_demo

Notice how little text there is above here.

You can link to YouTube Videos to illustrate or amuse or even help tell the story. I often take an animation like a lego brickmation and have the sound off in order to tell my story over the top. As I mentioned before, I have often reedited these slightly to either trim the beginning (the annoying titles are unnecessary and the audio is often not needed). Most of this basic editing can be done in Windows Movie Maker (free for PC) or iMovie (Mac), but you will need to get the movie from YouTube or Vimeo first.

screenshot-www.freemake.com 2015-11-27 17-52-33

There are many ways of downloading video off the Internet, but my current favourite is Freemake Video Downloader. It is free, but comes bundled with loads of bloatware, which you just have to be careful with and decline to install. Once you wade through that, it is a powerful and effective tool that can download in a variety of formats. My preferred format and which is perfect for Prezi is the one with the little Apple Symbol next to it – 640×480 MP4 (if this means nothing to you, don’t worry, just look for the little Apple icon and you’re fine. Prezi can import other formats, but it needs to upload them, crunch them and send them back (automatically) as the same format I just described – so saving a file directly means that you cut out the middleman.

All you have to do is find the video you want, copy the address of the video and then paste it into Freemake Video Downloader, choose your format and choose just Download.

Making a Prezi

screenshot-prezi.com 2015-11-28 09-23-38

As with all things, Prezi provides a host of templates which enable your presentations/worship to look like everybody else’s. My advice is to ignore those and concentrate more on your look and feel. There is a limited pallete of fonts for each Prezi which prevents the ‘I’ve just got a new presentation tool’ riot of colour, whizzy transitions and fonts which proliferate: Teachers, I’m looking at you. Choose a colour scheme to suit you. Choose fonts which are first of all legible. Non-Serif fonts are generally accepted as better. However if you use Comic Sans then you are patronising the children and you might as well leave now…screenshot-prezi.com 2015-11-28 09-22-37

screenshot-prezi.com 2015-11-28 09-21-52I tend to create ‘invisible frames’ which I suppose are the closest to slides Prezi has. By being invisible it does not clutter up the screen. There is only one form of transition, praise the Lord, which is the simple fade-in and is all you need: seriously, all you need.


Stop thinking in bullet points.

screenshot-prezi.com 2015-11-28 09-23-16It is possible to do bullet points, and I do occasionally use them, but it should not be your default way of thinking. Consider instead how to illustrate your story. Move through that story using the screen as your support, not your script. Engage by telling the story to, not at your young people.

The Zooming around concept in Prezi is awesome, but you should be careful with moving rapidly across a massive canvas, in and out quickly: it can disorientate, so better to make reasonable, non vomit-inducing moves. Or provide a bucket – your choice.

The rest of this tutorial

The only way to learn is to play: start basic and then progress. My first test Prezis were very basic indeed, then they got horrible and over-ambitious and so I scaled them back to where we are now. It’s a good tool, but it doesn’t replace YOU. Your story is the heart of this: short, pithy, challenging and with something to learn from: oh yes, just like the stories Jesus himself taught…

Hail Mary…

Posted on 1 CommentPosted in teaching

Hail Mary, full of grace,
the Lord is with thee;
blessed art thou amongst women,
and blessed is the fruit of thy womb, Jesus.
Holy Mary, Mother of God,
pray for us sinners,
now and at the hour of our death. Amen.

Here we are, sat in the Church of St. Mary the Virgin, and the intercessor has started expecting us to pray to Mary… how blasphemous!

…and how mistaken.

The Virgin in Prayer Artist: Sassoferrato Date made: 1640-50 National Gallery, London
The Virgin in Prayer
by Sassoferrato
1640-50
National Gallery, London

The Hail Mary prayer is not a prayer to Mary, but a prayer with Our Blessed Lady. This is an important distinction, and often the source of much confusion. Many accuse Anglocatholics of worshipping Mary, of elevating her to be perhaps a fourth part of the Trinity, if that were either mathematically or theologically possible; and yet we all know that prayer can and should only be directed at God: usually the Father, but also on occasion, the Son or the Holy Spirit, for which it matters not because three are one and one is three without division or exception.

Most people would have no problem if I asked them to pray for me. The Hail Mary does the same, and is (as with all proper prayer) rooted in Scripture: taken from Luke 1:28 and Luke 1:42. They recall the words of the Angel Gabriel to Our Lady and address her with her first title: as one filled with grace. This is not her own grace, but the grace of God. We can never achieve anything by our own merits, but only through God, and so the Lord takes this normal, very young (12 or 13 years old) girl and fills her with grace so that she may become the bearer of God in flesh. Mary travels to her cousin Elizabeth, also blessed by God with the bearing of John the Baptist when she had been written off as fruitless by society, and we echo her words, that she is “blessed amongst women” because of the fruit of her womb. To cite words of Scripture cannot in any way be blasphemous, and certainly not when it speaks of the Incarnation: the stepping of God to this world, the seemingly remote becoming intimate.

Incarnation (literally en-fleshment – the wrapping in meat) is an outrageous concept – that God chooses for us to be poured out (Philippians 2:7) into the frail vessel of humanity is unique and challenging, for it shows the value that God places upon us, and the value and dignity that should be accorded to humanity and human life. Many think that the focus of the faith is on the Cross, conveniently forgetting the Resurrection, whereas perhaps we should be more focused on the alltogether more radical idea that God loved us so much that he gave his only Son (and therefore himself) to the World (John 3:16). So often we think that Scripture is about the Cross when perhaps it should be seen as about the Incarnation. There are many people who forget that Jesus was an actual person, who walked this earth and whose real life is attested to in many (non-Christian) historical records.

We then turn to ask Mary to pray for us, giving her the ancient title “Mother of God”, in Greek Theotokos – “God bearer” – a title accepted for her at the Council of Ephesus in 431 in recognition that she bore Christ who was both Divine and Human, and the mix of those two cannot be separated. It is said that S. Athanasius likened the mixing of God and Man as not like the mixing of Oil and Water, which separate, the more divine oil floating on the top of the mundane human water; but rather like the mixing of water and wine where the two become innately mixed. This is why the priest adds water to the wine in the chalice as s/he prepares the altar “By the mystery of this water and wine may we come to share in the divinity of Christ  who humbled himself to share in our humanity.” You may wonder how God, present from before all time, can be Mothered by someone born in time, yet this is the paradox of the Incarnation, that the timeless one was born at a fixed point in human history: the immense and challenging privilege of bearing God into this world should be recognized as it is and rightly celebrated with honour. Honour and worship are different things, and the latter does not apply.

Asking someone filled with God’s grace to pray for us, recognizing that we are sinners, is therefore a logical step, and seeking that prayer for our present life and the end of our life isn’t such a bad idea therefore is it? Pray for me… I need God’s help, and as we are told, if more people pray for it, then we are strengthened by that prayer. God hears and answers all prayer, and more people praying for something doesn’t force God to listen to any given prayer, for each prayer is heard and responded to; but knowing that others are praying helps us. When someone says “I’m praying for you…” does that not give us confidence and strength? So, Mary, model of faith and devotion, taker-on of an incredible task to bring the Son of God into this world, first apostle, pray with me to God Almighty…