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  • Maps, Memories and a bit of Apophasis!

    Yesterday morning as we explored the story of Philip from Acts 8, the creative option was to cover a gift box (of assorted shapes) with parts of old maps.  The photo shows my prototype, made with part of a VERY old map of London that has sat at the back of a cupboard for around 30 years, and was already at least 20 years old by then.

    On the edge of the lid, though not visible in the photo, is North Middlesex Hospital, where I was born, and Wood Green where my parents lived briefly around that time.  Other areas of London significant to my story are not there - those parts of the map were SO shabby that I shose not to use them.

    A little box into which I could place, if I chose, small items that are in some way meaningful for me.  I kind of treasure box or memory box perhaps.  Or a gift box, into which I could place some carefully chosen token for another person.

    A bit of a tenuous link with the avenue of exploration, which was that nothing and no-one is beyond the scope of God's redemptive love.  No situation and no person is too distant, too depraved, too dreadful for God to bring hope and love.

    Which sort of connects with our evening service reflections which I rather grandly subtitled "Faith, Hope and Love in Apophatic Perspectives".  The apophatic tradition, the theological 'via negativa' of saying what God is not, is often associated with the 'Dark Night of the Soul', though I chose to tweak this to 'Within Our Darkest Night' recognising that tragedy, illness, relationship breakdown, loss of a job or other personal circumstances can prove very dark times.

    I spoke about what faith is not - not proof, not certainty, not guarantee - as well as what it might be

    I spoke about what hope is not - not wishful thinking, not denial, not unrealistic - as well as what it might be

    I spoke about what love is not - not selfish or boastful or proud (thank you St Paul), not (just) warm fuzzy, not always getting it right (Job's comforters got an honourable mention), not easy to define - as well as what it might be.

    Overall the two services went well, and were each graciously received.

    Tiring - I fell asleep as soon as my head hit the pillow - but in a very good way.

  • Knitting 'Squares' - lessons in life?

    This is "Square" number eighteen for the blanket I'm knitting for the charity 'Sent With Love'.

    My orignial plan was to make a few squares and post them off - each a different design because the thought of knitting endless identical squares seemed interminably dull.

    This was fine until it very quickly became clear that despite using the same weight of wool and the same number of stitches, some patterns inevitably emerged larger or smaller than others.  My notionally 20cm squares varied from 18 cm to 22 cm.

    So I realised that I'd better carry on and knit a full set of 'squares' and make a full blanket.

    It has been fun, I've discovered 'magic arran' and 'self striping' yarn, that produces stripes and patterns due to longish regular lengths dyed in different colours.  I have done fairlisle and arran patterns, and rediscovered textures and techniques I had long forgotten.

    And I have a right old assortment of 'squares' that need some sort of order bringing to them in order to make a blanket that isn't a total eyesore!

    So I have been laying out the squares and working out how to arrange them so that it looks resonable, and deciding what less exotic squares are needed to fill the gaps...


    A bit like life really - the weird and wonderful is important and delightful, but without some routine and structure it degenerates into total chaos.

    I began the knitting as part of a response to the news that folk I knew had received blankets from this charity, one of whom enjoyed its comfort for only a couple of weeks.  The charity now has a waiting list of people to send blankets to - even though a few of their crochet contributors seem to make a blanket a day!  It would be sad to think of someone on that list never quite receiving a blanket.  So I suppose part of the motivation to get on with this blanket is recognition of the fragility of life.

    This 'heart' square was my own design, the colours oddments I had left from other squares that I wanted to use up. 

    It was also a very deliberate choice. 

    A symbol of love.  Love given and love received.

    A symbol of remembrance.  For P who loved her blanket, and for others whose lives, however briefly, intertwined with mine, including A whose I was privileged to marry and a few days later to lay to rest.

    A symbol of gratitude.  For those who loved, and continued to love me; for those whose professional care continues to give me good health; for live itslef.

    A symbol of hope.  Good wishes to whoever eventually receives the finished blanket.  Hope that, in the end, it all be OK.  Hope that, in God, all will be be well.

    Another twelve squares, some sewing up (a whole parable in itself!) and a border.

    I am setting myself a target date for completion - but if I miss it, so be it.  This is not a task to complete, it is a creative expression of life in all its fullness.

  • Interconnections

    Today I was fortunate enough to be treated to a visit to the Kelpies at Falkirk - a guided tour which was really informative and interesting - and then lunch.  Duke (head down) and baron (head up) are made from type 316 stainless steel, manufactured in sheet form in Scotland, laser cut into panels in Sheffield, transported back and erected by a team of just four men on site.  Roughly 30m tall, and set onpiles 35m deep, these are a feat of engineering as well as sculpture, and an incredible boost both to Falkirk and to Sheffield.

    Standing inside Duke and learning something of the story, I could visualise the huge steelworks in Sheffield where panels were cut, places I visited as a student as part of a course on industrial chaplaincy.

    It's been a week of connection making/spotting drawing on the time I spent working in an RC church in preparing a funeral and now the Kelpies linking with a couple of weeks spent in Sheffield.

    I had a lovely time today, very relaxed at the end of a busy week with some long and demanding days.  And it kind of made me smile how connections are formed and discovered often in the most unexpected ways.

  • Ritual Relaxation

    It's one of the many things they don't teach you at Vicar School - what do you do after a funeral?

    Interestingly, it is often my non-church friends who ask how I 'deal with' or 'process' the emotions, memories or whatever it is that are stirred up for me.

    So here's a secret - I have some rituals that make it copable.

    Part of the reason I "collar up" for funerals is that in so-doing I take on the persona of 'minister' and even, arguably, 'the church'... it is a sign to myself as much as anyone else that I am now 'in role', my professional head is on and I can do this.

    After the service, after the committal or burial, after the 'tea' if I am invited, I go home, change into jeans and a sweatshirt, make a huge mug of tea, grab a few digestive biscuits (if there are any in the house) and take time just to blob.  If I happen to get home close to a meal time then it'll be beans on toast (or something similar) eaten on my knee, washed down with said huge mug of tea.

    I don't do much if any active thinking, I just take time to be.

    If the weather is suitable, and the workload permits (or if it doesn't but my inner need demands it)  I may go for a walk, look at the trees and plants, watch the birds, see life being lived in its ordinariness and so move on again.

    Nothing clever, nothing overtly spiritual, but it does the job for me!

  • Three Services in One Week

    Once upon a time, any Baptist minister serving a Scottish church would prepare two Sunday services and one for midweek (often called a Bible study but it was really a serivce).

    When I began in full time ministry in Leicestershire, I used to prepare two full services every week... two sermons, two sets of intercessory prayers etc., etc.

    Nowadays I mostly have one service to prepare for, which keeps me more than adequately occupied.

    This week I have two church services and a funeral (non-church) to prepare.

    I can't say I am hankering for the old days, but I admire those who to this day prepare and deliver two or three fresh services every single week.  And that's without any occasional offices.


    One draft done, and one will get started this evening, all being well.