Monthly Archives: November 2013

A Weekend Away

The Lord's unfailing love and mercy still continue, Fresh as the morning, as sure as the sunrise.

‘The Lord’s unfailing love and mercy still continue,
Fresh as the morning, as sure as the sunrise’   Lamentations 3:22-23

Travelling on a Friday to spent the weekend away in a hotel in the leafy Buckinghamshire countryside sounds just what one needs to take a break from the stress and strain of juggling study and work. Except the person in the car next to you isn’t your husband, and your suitcase, as well as containing a swimming costume for possible use in the promised spa pool, also holds your laptop, essay notes and several course text books for bedtime reading.

This is the OMC weekend away and it turns out to be just what the doctor of theology ordered!

It starts well with an interesting and absorbing conversation in the car to the extent that we ignore the Sat Nav’s informative directions and find ourselves approaching the much dreaded and legendary [avoid it with a barge pole if you don’t want to spend your evening counting daisies in the central reservation] M25 motorway. Amazingly the way is clear!

What other wonders might the weekend hold?

Well the hotel turns out to be very comfortable; the meals delicious and the work enjoyable which is great but not entirely surprising… What the weekend does reveal more is the joy and pleasure to be gained from growing in fellowship and friendship with those who are with you

True fellowship comes as you begin to discover more about other people and start to understand what makes them tick. The fact that the introverts need to get away from time to time to recharge the batteries, and that having an early night isn’t anti-social but necessary. Whereas, the extroverts build up their strength by spending time getting together with others at the end of day, maybe over a glass of wine or beer in the bar

Mealtimes are also a great opportunity to discover more about each other, as you relax and converse between mouthfuls – literally chewing over life – as you uncover connections and things you have in common or different. In the same way a long walk during free-time in the companionship of two or three others, along some of the beautiful (but slightly muddy) footpaths and country lanes result in much chat and laughter

A view to gladden the heart

A view to gladden the heart

So encourage each other and build each other up, just as you are already doing
1 Thessalonians 5:11

As relationships start to blossom you begin to know that you can trust those around you more and more, and getting together with your prayer group affirms that; as you share the concerns that are on your mind, celebrate the good things that have happened and encourage each other lovingly.

None of the above need only take place in the confines of a hotel or a weekend or a theological college course setting. Getting to know, to understand and to love others takes place everyday in our ordinary, stuck in reality, lives. Just remember…

Life is short,
and we do not have too much time
to gladden the hearts of those who travel the way with us;
So be swift to love, and make haste to be kind,
And may the Divine Mystery Who is beyond our ability to know
but Who made us, and Who loves us, and Who travels with us,
Bless us and keep us in peace.

A benediction by Dr. Edmund Jones adapted from words by philosopher and writer Henri Frederic Amiel, 1821-1887

A Bible Is For Life, Not Just For Sundays?

Read the bible in whatever way possible

Read the bible in whatever way possible

At church recently we took the opportunity to think about the place that God’s word, in the form of the bible, takes in our worship and daily lives. Appropriately, it was on Bible Sunday*

It would be silly to ask you to put your hands up or answer out loud, but I’d like you to think what your answers might be to these questions…

I read the bible……

I read the bible every day……

I read the bible every day and then reflect on what I have read…

I read the bible every day and then reflect on what on what I have read and then try to apply it to my life…

The questions are not intended to be accusatory …. that you really should choose the last one in order to be deemed ‘saintly’. The most important thing is whether you actually read the bible!

At college we may not be required to bring our bibles to each lesson or lecture, where we talk about theology, liturgy and formation, but what has become obvious is just how vital Holy Scripture is to our faith. I don’t mean learning huge chunks of it off by heart or being able to recite whole gospels from memory, although it would be handy knowing exactly who said what, where and when sometimes… No, I mean looking to the bible to provide some guidance and answers to the many questions we have, not only about our faith, but about life in general. In the Book, or books to be more precise, lie all those answers. The problem so often is how we understand or interpret them – whether we accept them as instructions or guidance only.

Some people like to look up passages which have been selected as being particularly helpful for the different emotions we may be experiencing. When we’re worried, it might be calming to read, “Therefore I tell you, do not be anxious about your life” or when facing bereavement to be comforted by “Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted”, both from Matthew’s gospel or when showing gratitude and thanksgiving to proclaim from the psalms “Let us come before him with thanksgiving.”

Even here though we have to be careful that this is not the only way we experience and use God’s word. There is always the danger that these become our preferred readings, to the exclusion of other, perhaps more difficult passages… and are they simply sentences in isolation whereas the whole verse or chapter may actually have more to tell us?

We also have to be aware of bias. So often nowadays we hear people asserting that their stand on different issues is fully justified because of specific passages in the bible. They trot out verse after verse of carefully selected scripture and vehemently declare this is the truth of the matter because it’s written in the bible and that the bible is the Word of God and you don’t argue with God!

All the while they either consciously or unconsciously blatantly ignore other scripture that might contradict their point of view… just think back to how the ordination of women was debated in the Church or how homosexuality is viewed in general. Surely these contradictory passages too are written in the bible and inarguably the Word of God?

What is does show is that it certainly isn’t easy. This book is not really a teaching manual – but it still does contain all the answers. Whenever we think or talk about God we are allowed to do so using all of our previous knowledge and information, but very much aware of the context in which we do so. What have been our examples, our own life experiences? What have we absorbed though our families, our education, our culture? All of these will give us a unique and corporate vision of what God is about, how he moves in our lives and how he moves us to be in his world. Yet we can’t truly be so individualistic without referring it back to and centring on the Scriptures.

Some people might nowadays treat as laughable the simplistic motto from the 80’s and 90’s of WWJD – What Would Jesus Do, but the basic premise makes perfect sense. When we find ourselves in situations where we have to make decisions it might not be a bad thing to simply ask… if I am trying to be more Christlike in my attitude and behaviour then I really need to understand what examples Jesus has given us… and where do I find that out… in the pages of the Bible.

Whether we’re reading about what Jesus was doing or where he was pointing us to what God was doing through him, fulfilling the prophecies; embodying the word that had gone forth or bringing us hope for the future, if we want to get the truest picture, not just some intellectual theologian’s take on it or an experienced commentator’s exegesis or the humble preacher’s attempt at exposition, then we have to go back to the source.

All those other things are subjective and come with lots of layers of opinion and interpretation. Not that I am saying that any or all of them are incorrect, but we need to peel back those layers and expose the heart of the matter, whether you believe it is the word of God to inspire or the inspired word of  God.  “For whatever was written in former days was written for our instruction, so that by steadfastness and by the encouragement of the scriptures we might have hope.Romans 15:4

'Go back to the source'

‘Go back to the source’

My original question emphasised the fact that the bible is a book that needs to be read. We need to make sure it’s not sitting as a pristine but dusty tome in our bookcases, but that it’s placed where it can naturally come to hand. Why not see it as your bedside table book, full of ripping yarns and adventures. Or put it with your dog-eared and food-specked cook books – using it to create delicious recipes for life or maybe in the glove compartment of your car – a combined road atlas and ‘Haynes’ manual to keep you going straight on the journey?

Wherever you keep it don’t forget that unlike a library book there’s no restriction on who could borrow it, it doesn’t have a return by date and each and every copy, whether it’s an original or translation will only ever be a first edition. Happy reading!

*Bible Sunday was celebrated on Sunday 23rd October 2013. It is an annual part of the Church of England’s calendar and resources each year are produced by the Bible Society. Follow this link for more information

Oh For A Quiet Day!

Psalm 46:10

Psalm 46:10

Most of us long for a few moments of quiet in our lives, when the constant noisy demands of work and family fade away into the background and we can fall into silence; silence that may last for a few minutes or a few hours if we are lucky; silence in which we can hear ourselves think.

This might not be at a time we choose; it might just be a few snatched moments. It might not even be a true silence, as our thoughts whirr and chatter away in our head still. So what might it be like to voluntarily place ourselves into silence for a longer period of time – say a whole day – the whole 24 hours?

For some that could be scary and unsettling. What are we not going to say? Who are we not going to talk to? Why would we want to spend a whole day with our own thoughts?

Last week the college at Cuddesdon ran a quiet day, which was a day to momentarily put aside our studies, and spend time in rest and reflection, under the guidance of the college chaplain, Father Raymond Tomkinson. For some this was a very new unknown experience, for others a real chance to take time to recharge the batteries. No doubt all who took part got a lot out of having a day like this in many different ways, and these are just my reflections on some of the inputs that we were given to consider

Falling into silence

David J Evans’ hymn ‘Be Still For The Presence of the Lord’ contains the lines “How awesome is the sight – our radiant King of light!”. As a writer, I am always searching for just the right words to describe things, but the awesomeness of God somehow eventually leaves us clutching a redundant thesaurus and we can do nothing but lapse into silence thereby allowing ourselves to be fully in the presence of God

Listening with our hearts

Without living in a complete vacuum, it is almost impossible to place yourself in complete and utter silence. Yet by slowing and becoming aware of our breathing; by acknowledging the sounds that still intrude – the click of a door shutting, the rhythmic ticking of a clock, the muted sounds outside our windows – and putting them to one side, we can concentrate on allowing ourselves to listen with our hearts.

Incline your ear, and hear the words of the wise,
    and apply your heart to my knowledge,
                                                      Proverbs 22:17

Where God is concerned, our hearts and not our minds are to be the centre of our listening.

With sighs too deep for words

For we do not know how to pray as we ought,
but that very Spirit intercedes with sighs too deep for words.
Romans 8:26

If a picture paints a thousand words, then a sigh ‘speaks’ more words than are contained in God’s Encylopædia Cosmou! We do not always have to approach God with words, and it may not be through words that God speaks to us. He knows what is on our hearts and minds, he is aware of what we long for and he will provide answers for us. I cannot say what shape or form those answers might take, but I do know that any time spent getting to know God a little bit more, just as he knows you, can only be worthwhile.

Perhaps twenty four hours is a luxury that some of us cannot manage to set aside, but I would urge everyone to just try and break away from their busy lives to make more time for silence – and if you think you’ve never spent any reasonable amount of time in silence, as Father Raymond pointed out, you spent the first nine months of your existence in relative silence, being formed and created to then come kicking and screaming into the world!


As a post script to this blog – what does a silent community do when the fire alarm goes off whilst you are at breakfast? it would appear that you sit quite still for a time, looking at each other and wondering if it actually is a fire alarm. Then when the bell doesn’t stop, you all very calmly pick up the important things to hand that you wish to save from the imagined inferno – namely your cup of tea or piece of toast and calmly leave the building in complete silence by the nearest exit, gathering in a light drizzle outside (without your coat obviously!) and hoping that by the time you are let back in that your sausages and egg won’t have gone too cold. Maybe someone could keep an eye on the toaster timer next time?

It’s All Greek To Me!

It's All Greek To Me

It’s All Greek To Me

So apart from introducing the world to democracy, realising that the earth was round and working out some very difficult mathematical calculations… what have the Greeks ever done for us? Well one thing that they’ve done is give me a headache! What shame they didn’t invent analgesics (although they did give us its name from the Greek words ‘without+pain’

Languages can be fascinating – discovering that our everyday words have their origins in Latin, French or Anglo-Saxon with a smattering of Viking thrown in for good measure. The roots of words give us a hint of what they might mean in hundreds of languages

Most modern languages use the classical Latin or Roman alphabet with its 26 letters. So what happens when the letters themselves are unrecognisable? Now I’m not so naive to forget that there are a great many other languages that use scripts and hieroglyphics to enable billions of people to happily produce both beautiful and outstanding literature

This is what the Lord, the God of Israel, says: “Write in a book all the words I have spoken to you” Jeremiah 30:2

It’s possible that Jesus would have spoken and understood Aramaic and read Hebrew scripts – if not understanding a smattering of Latin and Greek. However, it is the Greek that is of interest to me as we undertake a Greek-lite course at college

First there is the basic alphabet with only 24 letters (25 if you double up on the ‘s’ sound). At first it lulls you into a sense of security as you recognise letters that seem familiar…. then you find out out that they say something different! A capital H (eta) says ‘ay’ and P (rho) becomes an R sound. Then there are the impressive squiggles that send your pen backwards and forwards in unnatural directions –

The Greek Letter xi

The Greek Letter xi

I do get the point that some words are masculine and some are feminine… and that just like French there’s no rhyme or reason as to which should be which – but then there’s also 2nd Masculine Declensions and definitive articles….and this is only in the 3rd lesson!

So why subject myself to such apparent torture? Well you have to remember that the Greek speaking world was a hotbed of philosophy and classical thinking and when St Paul chose to take his message to the Gentiles it was into this world that he made such inroads in spreading the Gospel – to the people’s of Corinth, Phillippi and Thessalonica amongst others; and Luke’s Gospel and Acts were almost certainly written with a Greek audience in mind

How wonderful then to make at least a small attempt to read some of the bible in an original language….. And the passage we are starting with – what else but John 1:1

John 1:1

John 1:1