Tuesday, July 11, 2017

Jim Cotter, Aberdaron and Mortality


St. Hywyn's Church, Aberdaron  sits at the end of North Wales' Llyn Peninsular.  It was once the jumping off point for pilgrims on their way Bardsey Island  - Ynys Enlli  -  The burial place of 20,000 saints.
"Sauntering Around St.Hywyn's : a brief guide to our church" is the work of a previous Vicar. Its final paragraph gives pause for thought:
If you think of a lifetime as a pilgrimage, say half a mile a year down the Llyn Peninsular, when you reach Aberdaron you will be near the end of your life. The peninsular narrows, the sea (the eternal?) gets closer and closer on both sides. Eventually it ends at a point. It is yet another "eye of the needle".
You can no longer return. You are slimmed down to get through that eye. Think, though, of how much can be stored on a microchip invisible to the naked eye. And the day comes to trust ourselves to that point, and launch into the beyond from the tip of the peninsular. Pilgrim soul, fare forth. Fare well.
Jim Cotter was the author of these lines. Both he and another former vicar, the poet R.S. Thomas, are buried in the churchyard of St.Maelrhys Church a mile or so south of Aberdaron. Thomas too wrote of Ynys Enlli .
There is an island there is no going
to but in a small boat the way
the saints went,

Did he write of death, or that island of the blessed towards the setting sun?

Sunday, February 12, 2017

Apolgies due........

Just back from church and an important discussion with Sylvia and Sue! I had read the gospel with my usual dramatic flair. They had heard it and nearly walked out! Why wouldn't you? St.Matthew's Sermon on the Mount - 

‘It was also said, “Whoever divorces his wife, let him give her a certificate of divorce.” But I say to you that anyone who divorces his wife, except on the ground of unchastity, causes her to commit adultery; and whoever marries a divorced woman commits adultery.'

I should have said something in a sermon to put it in its context! As it was, our discussion afterwards went someway to putting it right.
What I think is,  the teaching is related to that at Matthew 15.5  which is about people's hardness of heart

But you say it is all right for people to say to their parents, 'Sorry, I can't help you. For I have vowed to give to God what I would have given to you.'

A divorced woman might not have any means of supporting herself - save for prostitution. 
As I understand matters, men were permitted by Jewish law, but not advised, to have more than one wife. Whilst, a wife, who objected to a husband taking another wife, was entitled to a certificate of divorce.  So for my money, Jesus is saying  to husbands, " You can't just shake off your responsibility when you feel like it! 

The earthly Jesus is speaking to his first century audience and first century culture. What he might say today would be quite different.

For me, 'til death us do part' means just as much the death of a relationship. If the 'mutual society help and encouragement that one ought to have of the other' no longer exists, the marriage is dead.

On another vexed question, which the Church does not discus often enough, and with which some will take objection, where 'the mutual society, help and encouragement ' exists, as in some same sex relationships, then marriage ought to be possible!

Friday, February 03, 2017

A Candle Mass Pilgrimage


When she died in 1507, Agnes Parker owed a pilgrimage to St. Tebbald (St.Theobald) at Hobbies. In same year Thomas Wood of Coltishale left a legacies to the Guild of the Virgin at the Church of the Assumption of the Virgin Mary at Hautbois and to paint the new tabernacle of St. Theobald in the Church. Thomas and Agnes were going to be my Simeon and Anna.


Riding through Coltishall and past the Guides, Patterson Lodge Activity Centre,  I chained my bike to the fence and walked down the track to the ruined church.  To the right is the Golden Gates Pond where generation of village kids have grappled - without success - for the said, golden gates. I often wonder if the gates in question were from the tabernacle of St.Theobald and deposited there after the shrines were suppressed by Henry VIII in 1538.


Candlemas Bells - Snowdrops - are sprinkled around the churchyard.
Woodpeckers drum, Buzzards call overhead and  Anna's warning echoes in my ears -"a sword shall piece  your soul". How bitter were those days! And for all the silver (sanctus) bells, (pilgrims')  cockle shells and Pretty maids (nuns) of Queen Mary's reign there was no going back . Only forward!



In spite of it all, the faith was passed on, 'else why would I be here saying the Angelus, thinking of past generations who passed the faith to me and the generations to come, whose pattern of Christian devotion might be completely different from mine. Whatever! There's no going back! Only Forward!

Before I returned to my trusty bike, I spent a moment by the grave of the Miss Pattersons -  the house that is now the Guides Activity Centre was their bequest. I have stood there often, but today I read the scripture verse beneath Phillipa's details for the first timr. They are from the Song of Simeon,  "For my eyes have seen thy salvation"


Agnes, Thomas, Charity and Phillipa:
May they rest in peace
and rise in glory.

Monday, November 14, 2016

The Wrath of God

“In the beginning God created man in His own image, and man has been trying to repay the favor ever since.” This explains how some who claim the name "Christian" have used the idea of the Wrath of God to excuse their own inexcusable wrathful behaviour and use the threat of God's Wrath as a means of evangelism.

So for example, the capture of Jerusalem by the Crusaders in 1099 is excused by God's Wrath. An eyewitness account tells the history:

Now that our men had possession of the walls and towers, we saw some wonderful sights. Some of our men — actually the more merciful ones — cut off the heads of their enemies. Others shot them with arrows, so that they fell from the towers. Others tortured them longer by casting them into the flames. Piles of heads, hands, and feet were to be seen in the streets of the city. One had to pick one’s way over the bodies of men and horses. But these were small matters compared to what happened at the Temple of Solomon. You would not believe it if I told you. Suffice to say that in the Temple and porch of Solomon men rode in blood up to their knees and bridle reins. Indeed, it was a just and splendid judgment of God that this place should be filled with the blood of the unbelievers, since it had suffered so long from their blasphemies. The city was filled with corpses and blood.

Jerusalem - the City of God's Peace! The Jews of Jerusalem fought with the Muslims and were killed alongside them. Indeed,  the rank and file of the invading Crusaders did not differentiate between Muslim and Jew. The Crusaders attitude was this. "They had killed Jesus Christ, so they  deserved everything they got!"

No understanding of a Christlike God is evident in the Crusader camp. Crusaders were predominately from the West, giving allegiance to the Pope. By this time Eastern Christianity had split from Rome and their approach was quite different. They had lived in harmony with their Muslim neighbours before the Crusades and did so for centuries afterwards. The Muslim leader Saladin, who recaptured Jerusalem, had Christians among his high ranking officials. It was not until the image of the unjust Crusader was used in anti-imperialist propaganda in the 19th and 20th centuries that relationships soured. 

Thankfully, there was at least one person from the West who was embarrassed by the Crusaders' behaviour. St.Francis travelled to the camp of the Caliph during the Fifth Crusade with the intention of preaching the Gospel. He was concerned that they might have heard the good news of the Gospel. The Caliph listened, declined to convert, and sent Francis on his way unharmed. Francis was clearly a man of peace.

Another example of the way in which God's Wrath excuses one's own is the antisemitism. It has been encouraged and indulged in by many  who claimed the name Christian. As a person who calls himself a Christian,  I burn with shame for what has been done in Christ's name.  I  stand in solidarity with Francis and the Eastern Christians and rejoice in my friendship with people of other faiths.

It was a crude attempt to convert those who had gathered to mark the passing of a neighbour that raised the subject for me. The pitch was simply "Turn or Burn" and it was I think sincerely meant. Both the deceased and his minister seem to understand God as God of Wrath. OK if you submit but otherwise..... "And see we are giving you another chance." I observe that their brand of Christianity is strong on post-mortem judgement, something the C of E (wrongly in my view) tends to back peddle on, but it seems to me, they have a twisted notion of the Holy Trinity.  They appear to believe in a  Holy Trinity, in which God the Father does punishment and God the Son takes your punishment but only if you sign up for membership of their club.

That is not good news.  I don't like it when people try and manipulate me with threats. I certainly would not have such a person as a friend. I feel the same way about gods. Contrary to their understanding, I believe Jesus shows us what God is like. He is not wrathful, neither is he punishing. Rather he shows kindness in action and offers friendship if you want to travel the way he is going.

Where then does judgement come into the equation? It is simply this, if God is the source of life (love, truth, beauty, justice, peace etc..) then being cut off from him/her,  is being cut off from all those things. They  all  have an eternal dimension and one could have no existence in  eternity without being rooted in eternal things.  It follows, no life after death if you have no investment in them and  a poor quality of life in the here and now too.

Wednesday, November 02, 2016

An arguement with Jesus.......

Jesus,   I paid particular attention to your remarks about the "fowls of the air" ( Matthew 6.26). Taking you seriously I belong to Norfolk Wildlife Trust and the RSPB both organisations encourage proper stewardship of the created order as set out in Genesis 1.28. But reflecting on the Jay I find that they do store up food - see http://www.rspb.org.uk/birds-and-wildlife/bird-and-wildlife-guides/ask-an-expert/previous/acorns.aspx. So although I agree, they do not sow or reap,  they do gather.
What's more they are forgetful and some of the acorns they stash away for the winter are in effect sown. That is one way that oaks are naturally propagated.


So what ? I guess not being omniscient is all part of being human.............

Tuesday, October 04, 2016

Oh I do like to be beside the seaside 3

Trevaunace Cove is my number one surfing beach. For at least one week in the year this is where you'll find me hanging with the other surf dudes.



Mine is not a shiny fibre-glass board,  I am strictly retro and still use an old, wooden belly-board that I have had since the 60s. 

As a nod to modern developments I now wear a wet-suit!


( Wooden body-boards are making a come back.Check out the World Belly Body Board Championship Facebook Page

Surfing and Spirituality? I like Peter Kreeft on this  find it here

See also,   I do like to be beside the seaside.............. (2)



Oh, I do like to be beside the seaside (2)

I have a favourite walk part of the South West Coastal Path, on the north Cornish coast  from. Trevaunce Cove, St. Agnes to Perranporth .



Much has changed since I first walked the path over 60 years ago. I have changed, but the ever changing sea and the rocky coast seem untouched by time. Toiling up steep hills and making my way down over rocky paths, I make slow progress through a heritage landscape that still bears the scars of a tin mining past.








As I stop to  look back - at the cove and my life - different vistas open and I see things in a different lights and from different perspectives.













Time has not left the landscape, nor me, unchanged. Back in the day,  the Trevellas Valley was a noisy, busy place. Steam from coal fired boilers drove massive, thumping, pumps in engine houses. Water driven stamp mills crushed the ore.  Horses and traction engines and all manner of mining folk competed with each other on the narrow lanes. Now all has fallen silent -  save for the gulls cry, the pew pew call of buzzards and the chaj chaj of jackdaws.


Heather and gorse are reclaiming the slag heaps. There is a strange beauty about the place. As I turn my gaze inward, I note that a similar process is happening to me. Childhood's wounds, which gave me such trouble in the past, have become an established part of my nature. Without the scars, I would hardly be the person I am. My wounded-ness makes me sensitive to others wounds. I am, I suppose, not so much a wounded healer, but a beggar who can tell others where they can find bread.


The landscape has a long history. Tin has been mined since the early Bronze Age 2000 years before Christ. Legend has it that  Joseph of Aramathea came this way to trade tin. He brought with him the young Jesus of Nazareth .   "And didst those feet in ancient time, walk upon England's mountains green...." sings the poet William Blake (and I find myself singing along with him!).  Disbelieving though one may be, there is some truth to the legend. There was a long established trade between the tin mining West County and the Eastern Mediterranean.

The Psalmist teaches us sing,  "The days of our life are three score years and ten and if we have strength, four score." At 73 years of age, I cannot guess how my strength will hold out. Maybe this is the last time I will manage the steep  and the precipitous paths. This thought sharpens my awareness,  and I observe my attention switching between past, present and future, outward and inward and two further dimensions.

Beyond the land, the sea stretching beyond the horizon. Since I was a toddler,  the sea has held a deep mystical attraction to me. Sometimes at high tide, spray would come over the garden wall and I would watch American DUKW going down Abersoch's slipway to load ammunition ships in the bay. The fascination grew with me and has never left me in spite of 10 year spent at sea as a merchant seaman.

Underpinning all is the sense of God, the ground of my/our being,  I can't remember when the sense of God first became so certain. Once again the Psalmist helps. "Those that go down to the sea in ships and do business in great waters, these see the works of the Lord and his wonders in the deep". Even when it seemed that one could not survive the ferocity of the wind and the roaring of the sea, the fascination was still there. And on velvet dark tropical nights when stars shone as bright as jewels in the sky. "O lord, our Governor, how excellent is you name in all the world...  when I consider the heavens the moon and the stars you have set in their courses, what is man  that you should be mindful of him"

Turning my eyes once more to the Eastern Mediterranean, for the 7th/8th century John of Damascus,  the ever changing, always constant, limitless ocean was a  simile for the limitlessness of the divine.

The walk ends at Perranport, where legend tells of the evangelist St. Piran,  surfing into the beach on his (variously ) gravestone or tombstone, to bring Christian good news to the Cornish. I take refreshment in the Tywarnhale Inn and catch a bus back to St.Agnes.

More of this later......



Tuesday, September 27, 2016

"Oh I do like to be beside the seaside.. (1) ...."



From Norfolk to the Channel Islands





Dorset and Cornwall





 Most of my  holiday snaps are taken by the
seaside.













Walks by the waterside are a particular joy for me. They have become an essential spiritual exercise. What is that all about?