Pilgrimpace's Blog


may day 1
April 30, 2017, 5:36 pm
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advent journey – light in the darkness

We are reeling from the terrible news from Peshawar yesterday. 141 people, mostly children, slaughtered in an attack on a school.  Things don’t seem to have changed much since the massacre of the Holy Innocents in Bethlehem which the Church remembers each year on December 28th.  It is bleak and dark.  We are shocked, we doubt, we lament, we cry, we light candles.

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As the news of this started to come through yesterday, I was in amongst it in one of those busy pre-Christmas days.  I spent the early afternoon helping at the Learning Disabilities Chaplaincy Christmas Service.  This is up the road at Monyhull.  This is special for many reasons.  There are strong links.  When St Bede’s were rebuilding after the fire, our congregation were welcomed in by the church made up of folk with learning disabilities and their carers and, for a few years, the two congregations were one.  My Grandad spent his life as Head Porter in a similar place.  It is wonderful to be with this Church and I have such a lot to learn there.  It was good to be joined by Bishop David who cemented his reputation there as the man who lies down in services.

The current austerity and attack on the NHS is in evidence though.  There were far fewer residents present than usual.  Many of the homes are now run by private companies, making it very hard for the Chaplaincy to work in a coherent way; staffing is cut to the bone; there are not enough staff to enable everyone who wants to to attend.  After Mass and carols we ate mince pies together.  I’m not sure if J. broke his record for eating them.

I was then kindly by Councillor Barry Henley to accompany Bishop David and Sior, the Chaplain, to Barry’s house where we joined in the lighting of the first candle of Hanukkah.  It was moving to reflect together on the meaning of this miracle against the background of the school massacre.  Light shone in the darkness; oppression is faced by justice and righteousness.  Some of these thoughts should be broadcast soon on Radio WM.

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In the evening I went to Woodthorpe Junior and Infant School for their Christmas Concert.  It’s been wonderful to have a link with this school for many years.  I sat in a hall full of parents and grandparents as the children sang wonderfully Christmas songs.  This excitement and joy is a response to the darkness of terrorism.  Children and schools acting in the way they should so that children grow and flourish, learning practically to respect other people and value life.

The light shines in the darkness.



advent journey – gaze
December 12, 2014, 1:33 pm
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'Jesus on the Soup Line'. Mural at the Catholic Worker House in Los Angeles by Gary Palmentier

‘Jesus on the Soup Line’. Mural at the Catholic Worker House in Los Angeles by Gary Palmentier

Advent is a season that deals with tough things.  It would be easy and tempting to avert our gaze and hurry on to the joys of Christmas.

But it is important to keep our nerve and to keep our gaze steady.

In the last days we have seen a major report on food poverty in Britain.  It is clear from the report and from living here and knowing those around me, that food poverty has increased massively over the past years.  In short, people are hungry.  Many of these are in work but paid very low wages.

The Churches and many others have stepped in with massive generosity, setting up a raft of formal and informal foodbanks.  Such spirit should be encouraged.  However, as a basic point of justice and human decency, no one should go hungry or have to depend on charity to eat.  Structures need to be changed.  Let’s get on with this too.  Let’s all be hungry for justice.

It is all too easy to avert our gaze from people or situations which disturb us.  An Advent challenge is to pay attention, to give time and energy, even when it might be hopeless.  A good friend near to here as given a great amount of hope to us this Advent by becoming righteously angry about someone being made homeless.  It has tested him to the limit, but he has succeeded in keeping the person housed.

Winter, for me, often means entering into journeys with those who are very ill and their families and loved ones.  If you pray, could you pray for several people here who are very ill and those who care for them.  And for me that I may have the resources, grace and energy.

Let’s keep looking for love, for hope in the darkness.  Let’s keep looking for what we are required to do.  And let’s get on with it.



hope and hardness of heart
October 11, 2012, 9:30 am
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I’ve got the joy today of time for reflection.  I’m leading a Quiet Day on Saturday for the Franciscan Companions in Birmingham and am preparing the addresses and praying it through.  There is also a lot on my mind to think about.

These days when I preach, I often use a dialogue form.  I raise questions arising from the Bible reading or a particular issue or area of belief, and the congregation and I work together on figuring out answer and response as much as we can.  A delight of this is that I can sometimes get something utterly profound and unexpected.  Something that has stuck in my mind – like the piece of grit which produces the pearl – was an occasion several years ago when Barbara put her hand up and asked “Why did God harden Pharoah’s heart?” (You will remember the part of the story of Moses in the Book of Exodus when the people of Israel are trying to leave slavery in Egypt but, whatever happens, Pharoah refuses).

This question as to why there is hardness of heart is very much on my mind and heart at the moment.  I think of life in this country as austerity begins to hit those with least hard.  As a priest serving in communities of multiple deprivation I see first hand the fear and anxiety faced by people with disabilities as official attitudes harden and access to benefits tighten.  I see more people who are unemployed and cannot find work.  I see more people who are hungry.

Against this I read a Bible which tells of love and liberation and which puts those with least at the top.  Against this, I am glad to be part of a Church which, however imperfectly, ensures Churches in wealthier areas subsidise those in poorer.  Against this, I am glad to be part of poor Churches which show enormous and instinctive generosity to those in need and which ask questions as to why people are in need.

As Moses and the people of Israel hoped in the Promised Land, so we hope in the Kingdom of God.  And as bell hooks reminds us, hope is a piece of work not a state of mind.



after the deluge

It’s been quite a couple of days.  There was a storm on Thursday in which a month’s worth of rain fell in a couple of hours.

As I’ve written before, one of the good things of the past year has been the renovation of St Gabriel’s Centre to a really good standard.  Unfortunately the roof didn’t hold up to the deluge and it poured through.  We mopped up, we spoke to the insurance company, we moved the Breakfast and After School Clubs into the Church, we had to tell our other users that the Centre is out of action for a while.  It looks like a new roof or extensive repairs, a new floor and substantial redecoration are needed.

I’ll reflect with you on all this later, although I want to say that there are a lot of positive things emerging for this amongst all the difficulty and exhaustion.  Could you pray for us – myself, St Gabriel’s Church and Centre and Weoley Castle.

And then there is also the profound joy of my colleague Kate Pearson being ordained deacon at Birmingham Cathedral tomorrow.  Pray for her and her ministry.

Flicking through The Green Book of Poetry this morning, I found this by Anna Akhmatova.  A real poem about hope:

Everything has been plundered, betrayed, sold out,

The wing of black death has flashed,

Everything has been devoured by starving anguish,

Why, then, is it so bright?

.

From fantastic woods near the town

Wafts the scent of cherry blossoms by day,

At night new constellations shine

In the transparent depths of the skies of July –

.

And how near the miraculous draws

To the dirty, tumbledown huts …

No one, no one knows what it is,

But for centuries we have longed for it.

 



hope and history
June 19, 2012, 7:19 pm
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I’m indebted to Andrew Teal for posting this today.  I have never been convinced by Seamus Heaney before, but this combination of him with Sophocles is incredible.  I will look again.

Human beings suffer.
They torture one another.
They get hurt and get hard.
No poem or play or song
Can fully right a wrong
Inflicted and endured.

History says, Don’t hope
On this side of the grave,
But then, once in a lifetime
The longed-for tidal wave
Of justice can rise up
And hope and history rhyme.

(Seamus Heaney, from ‘The Cure at Troy’ (1990), Voices from Lemnos, IV (Chorus). In Opened Ground. Poems 1966-1996 (London: 1998, Faber & Faber, 330-331).



for the holy innocents day

On retreat recently, I was privileged to spend time praying in front of this beautiful Icon of the Flight into Egypt.  We remember today the Holy Family becoming asylum seekers, refugees escaping the murderous hate of Herod.

 

We remember too that this is not just part of the Bible stories but a part of the stories of the world today.  We look to Syria, Egypt, the Democratic Republic of Congo to see murderous rage against innocent people as power seeks to keep power.

And innocence can be destroyed in so many ways.  I was reminded of Charles Causley’s  Innocent’s Song while watching the first part of the BBC’s excellent new adaptation of Dickens’ Great Expectations last night with the games being played with the life of the young Pip.

Who’s that knocking on the window,
Who’s that standing at the door,
What are all those presents
Laying on the kitchen floor?

Who is the smiling stranger
With hair as white as gin,
What is he doing with the children
And who could have let him in?

Why has he rubies on his fingers,
A cold, cold crown on his head,
Why, when he caws his carol,
Does the salty snow run red?

Why does he ferry my fireside
As a spider on a thread,
His fingers made of fuses
And his tongue of gingerbread? 

Why does the world before him
Melt in a million suns,
Why do his yellow, yearning eyes
Burn like saffron buns?

Watch where he comes walking
Out of the Christmas flame,
Dancing, double-talki ng:

Herod is his name.

But we can react to all this with the hope of childhood, the hope of Christmas:

santiago de chile 2011