We are delighted that Greg Skidmore has taken over as our musical director. After a highly successful Carol service at Christmas, we are planning a regular evening choral service. We begin with a choral evensong at 6pm on February 2nd, to celebrate Candlemas.
The Second Coming” by W B Yeats.
and turning in the widening gyre
The falcon cannot hear the falconer;
Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold;
Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world,
The blood-dimmed tide is loosed, and everywhere
The ceremony of innocence is drowned;
The best lack all conviction, while the worst
Are full of passionate intensity.
Surely some revelation is at hand;
Surely the Second Coming is at hand.
The Second Coming! Hardly are those words out
When a vast image out of Spiritus Mundi
Troubles my sight: a waste of desert sand;
A shape with lion body and the head of a man,
A gaze blank and pitiless as the sun,
Is moving its slow thighs, while all about it
Wind shadows of the indignant desert birds.
darkness drops again but now I know
That twenty centuries of stony sleep
Were vexed to nightmare by a rocking cradle,
And what rough beast, its hour come round at last,
Slouches towards Bethlehem to be born?
The Wise Men and the Star – U. A. Fanthorpe
place for stars is in the sky
lighting the whole world, but negotiating only
with the highly qualified – master mariners, astro-physicists,
professionals like ourselves.
This one came unscheduled, nudged us roughly
out of routine, led us a wild-goose chase,
and perching here, above unspeakable rafters,
common as a starling on a washing line,
whistles to every callow Dick and Harry,
idling amazed around : OK, pals, I’ve done my bit.
Over to you, now, Earth.
The Journey of the Magi. By T S Eliot
A cold coming we had of it,
Just the worst time of the year
For a journey, and such a long journey:
The ways deep and the weather sharp,
The very dead of winter.’
And the camels galled, sorefooted, refractory,
Lying down in the melting snow.
There were times we regretted
The summer palaces on slopes, the terraces,
And the silken girls bringing sherbet.
Then the camel men cursing and grumbling
and running away, and wanting their liquor and women,
And the night-fires going out, and the lack of shelters,
And the cities hostile and the towns unfriendly
And the villages dirty and charging high prices:
A hard time we had of it.
At the end we preferred to travel all night,
Sleeping in snatches,
With the voices singing in our ears, saying
That this was all folly.
Then at dawn we came down to a temperate valley,
Wet, below the snow line, smelling of vegetation;
With a running stream and a water-mill beating the darkness,
And three trees on the low sky,
And an old white horse galloped away in the meadow.
Then we came to a tavern with vine-leaves over the lintel,
Six hands at an open door dicing for pieces of silver,
And feet kicking the empty wine-skins.
But there was no information, and so we continued
And arriving at evening, not a moment too soon
Finding the place; it was (you might say) satisfactory.
All this was a long time ago, I remember,
And I would do it again, but set down
This set down
This: were we led all that way for
Birth or Death? There was a Birth, certainly
We had evidence and no doubt. I had seen birth and death,
But had thought they were different; this Birth was
Hard and bitter agony for us, like Death, our death.
We returned to our places, these Kingdoms,
But no longer at ease here, in the old dispensation,
With an alien people clutching their gods.
I should be glad of another death.
A mixture of traditional carols and choral music.
We are delighted that our new director of music Greg Skidmore is leading this.
It is at 6pm on Sunday 15th December and will feature traditional carols and choral music, by John Taverner , Vaughan Williams and others.
Across this country this week the same words will be said over and over again as a prelude to silence in memory of the lost.
They shall not grow old , as we that are left grow old:
Age shall not weary them, nor the years condemn. At the going down of the sun and in the morning
We will remember them.
These loving and gentle words were written by the poet Laurence Binyon.
Or should I say they were written by the keeper of oriental prints and drawings at the British Museum? Because he was that too.
A man who was 45 years old at the time.
Someone who had seen no kind of military service and certainly had not experienced the brutality and squalor of trench warfare.
In fact, when he wrote it the Great War had hardly begun and he was very far away.
It was early in September in 1914, just after news had broken about the casualties at the battle of the Marne, when he was on holiday in Cornwall- sitting on a cliff- that the poem came to him.
On his 70th birthday, just as World war 2 was about to break upon the world, he said that the first line that came to him, and the whole poem grew around was ‘ They shall not grow old’
It strikes me that these words of immense power and durability were written by a spectator, not a participant.
Most of us who attend such services as this are in the same position as he was. Except we are at a distance through time as well as location.
But that should not stop us grieving and reflecting too.
There are people amongst us today who have seen, experienced and suffered war close at hand. And we should be willing to hear what they have to say, and honour what they have risked and been through.
But we sometimes forget the hidden participants. Due to families finding refuge in Britain there are many people living amongst, and that includes children, who have witnessed bombings and atrocities first hand, but are for all sorts of reasons silent about it.
I met a local bus driver recently who to escape the vicious war in Somalia had worked his way to London 20 years ago.
But for most people now their- our- experience of war is second or third hand.
At the annual Remembrance service we do outside here every year with Southfields Academy , the Lieutenant Colonel who commands the Royal Marines Reserve said a number of moving and wise things.
One was that we should bring to mind the people we have known.
I immediately thought of my great uncle who developed listening devices to spy on the German military during the last war.
And then the ceremony in September 1995 I conducted on the 50th anniversary of the end of the war in Asia.
The nation had been all street parties and celebrations earlier that summer. That September morning, as the traffic roared obliviously by, a handful of us stood by as one surviving member of the forces which had fought in Burma, trembling from head to toe, laid a wreath to remember all his comrades.
Other memories of people who had been traumatised by experiences of war also came, but the artist Francis Gower, also came into my mind. He was a great friend of mine, and I have a number of his paintings on my wall at home. He was a conscientious objector during the Second World. He wouldn’t fight but worked in a mental hospital instead, later producing paintings, of compassionate intensity, to communicate to the world what the residents’ invisible suffering looked like.
You will all have different memories and thoughts today. Personal to you. Even if what you know comes from books or school lessons, just think of what you can imagine and feel.
All are ways to show honour to all those who have suffered in war in the past and are suffering today.
Until the time the hopes of the Prophet Micah are fulfilled and weapons of war become instruments for peace.
Sermon for Creationtide 2019.
I have an article out this week on the C19th French- although technically Basque- missionary priest, explorer and naturalist Pere Armand David.
You might not have heard of him, but if you have marvelled at the antics of the Giant Panda or have a butterfly bush, a buddleia, in your garden he has already had impact on your life.
He brought knowledge of both of these to the west.
During an intense decade of exploration in China he made an immense amount of discoveries but also suffered great hardship.
He travelled, sometimes on donkey, at others on foot, up to 30 miles a day, had to contend with brigands and bandits and cope with a series of dire diseases, including typhus. It might owe something to his Basque origins in the French Pyrenees that he was hardy enough to survive all this and live 74 years.
The seeds of what he achieved were clearly sown in his childhood. His father was the town doctor in Espelette and a keen naturalist, and he passed on to his son a fascination with local wildlife, so before he even left school young Armand was already roaming miles to observe and collect flowers and insects.
The last animal companion he is known to have had was a pet spider, who apparently was with him when he died.
A couple of other coincidences of timing. Pere David was born on the 7th September 1826. The famous giant panda Chi Chi, who can probably be called the first celebrity panda arrived at London Zoo on the 5th of September 1958.
Pere David’s life was an example of great love bearing great suffering.
We have two readings today which have often been seen as problematic. We heard the entirety of St Paul’s letter to Philemon, which has been seen by those who like to judge the past by the values of the present as an embarrassment because St Paul does not urge Philemon to free the escaped slave Onesimus, but simply to take him back.
And the passage from St Luke seems another of those really hard sayings of Jesus- to be a disciple means to hate your family and carry your own cross. At first glance this seems incredibly harsh, and even inhuman.
And it would remain so if we took it in isolation from the rest of St Luke’s Gospel, where love, family reconciliation, generosity of spirit, and self- sacrifice on behalf of others are recommended.
Jesus, as elsewhere is using exaggeration and rhetoric to make a point.
To love, to be selfless and self- giving, after the nature of God, is costly.
Which brings me back to that letter to Philemon. Some people home in on the fact that St Paul, who self describes as an old man, is in prison. They would see that as a perfect example of the cost of discipleship. St Paul like Pere David endured because of his faith and convictions; he refers to shipwrecks and beatings as well as imprisonment, but I am more interested in what is asked of Philemon.
From what we know from the letter itself Onesimus is not only a runaway slave but a thief. Roman law was severe for such cases. And yet St Paul urges him not only to receive him back into his household but to cherish him and treat him no longer as a slave, but as a beloved brother.
St Paul expresses this request in intensely emotional language .
He refers to Onesimus as ‘my own heart that I am sending back to you.’
And writes that if Philemon would do as he asks, it would ‘ refresh my heart.’
Although that is how the translation we use on a Sunday puts it. The Greek is literally more visceral- using the word for guts and innards. The same word that is used in the gospels for Jesus’ reaction to suffering or something unjust- wrenching anguish leading to compassion and action.
Here again is that link between love and suffering. We sometimes forget that compassion means to suffer alongside.
The Church of England has very recently introduced a creation season beginning on the 1st September and extending to the feast of St Francis on October 4th. Which was in turn inspired by Pope Francis when he wrote his encyclical ‘On care for our common home’ in 2015.
It is not compulsory, but is an aid during what is, traditionally, the time that harvest festivals are celebrated, to connect faith with concern for the environment.
Part of the intention is to draw on our religious traditions to move us deeper than pragmatism and panic.
Appreciation and wonder at creation, which might compel us to protect and treasure it, and an awareness of the human spiritual malaise which so often drives destruction are just some elements that Pope Francis has drawn attention too.
Also, he has reminded us that such attitudes are not novel but deeply imbedded. He pointed out that St Francis instituted a wild garden in his friary, nearly a thousand years ago.
When Christians joined the campaign for the abolition of slavery in the C18th century it was as a consequence of the penny finally dropping that people can not be property, because they are worthy of love and respect, of brother and sister hood- as St Paul wrote to Philemon all those years ago. Philemon lost his property but gained a friend.
It was love that led Pere David into his pursuit of science and nature- and the arduous challenges that followed. His journals show how much he missed his family when in China. But the satisfaction and joy his researches brought him and us were immense- he also discovered the pocket handkerchief tree, and the remarkable deer which bears his name.
Ignoring what is happening to the environment, washing our hands of it, panicking etc,will have far less effect and reward than loving it enough to change and act differently. Love does hurt but loss can be rich gain.
The household of the early church was called the home- the oikos. Ecology comes from the same root. When we consider the travails of our fellow inhabitants, human or animal, and grieve because of them we are looking after and loving our shared home.