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Prayer for a Pandemic

By Cameron Bellm

May we who are merely inconvenienced
Remember those whose lives are at stake.
May we who have no risk factors
Remember those most vulnerable.
May we who have the luxury of working from home
Remember those who must choose between preserving their health or making their rent.
May we who have the flexibility to care for our children when their schools close
Remember those who have no options.
May we who have to cancel our trips
Remember those that have no safe place to go.
May we who are losing our margin money in the tumult of the economic market
Remember those who have no margin at all.
May we who settle in for a quarantine at home
Remember those who have no home.
As fear grips our country,
let us choose love.
During this time when we cannot physically wrap our arms around each other,
Let us yet find ways to be the loving embrace of God to our neighbours.
Amen.

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Challenging Times

The following news update from The Church of England is sad but not unexpected:

In light of the Government guidance around non-essential contact, the Archbishops of Canterbury and York have issued advice that public worship is suspended until further notice. Churches should be open where possible but with no public worship services taking place.

This means that there will be no church services in the churches across the Crosslacon Parish for a while but we will keep St Paul’s OPEN, every day from 10am – 3pm for you to pray and have a place in which you can be still and reflect and hold yourself, your loved ones and all those affected by this pandemic in your prayers. We will be putting up prayer spaces for folks to use which will provide spiritual support at this difficult time.

We would ask that those who come in to abide by the Government’s guidance and wash your hands before entering and upon leaving. There are toilets in the church or you can use hand gel as well if you have some! We would also encourage folks to sit a couple of metres apart from each other. We will endeavour to keep frequently touched surfaces clean.

I’ll be posting more on what that might look like in the next few days. We hope that you will find comfort and solace and strength in this place. In the meantime, I will be updating my Facebook page regularly and I will also be updating the website: crosslacon.net.

Do get in touch if I can be of any help or support at this time ….

A prayer from the New Zealand Prayer Book for People Facing Great Uncertainty

God of the present moment,
God who in Jesus stills the storm
and soothes the frantic heart;
bring hope and courage to all
who wait or work in uncertainty.
Bring hope that you will make them the equal
of whatever lies ahead.
Bring them courage to endure what cannot be avoided,
for your will is health and wholeness;
you are God, and we need you.
Amen

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And so this is Christmas …

It’s Christmas! Why on earth are we having an election at this time of the year?
For many, the onset of Christmas questions the appropriateness of holding an election at this time of year … a time devoted to fun and festivities, and dreams of the perfect family Christmas … dreams that we cherish for they ease the harsher realities of life.

But when I read the Christmas story, I find little romantic escapism present. The events begin with a teenage girl who becomes pregnant with a special foretold child. In accepting her state she risks being cut off from family, friends, facing social exclusion, poverty ….

And that’s not the only person whose world is turned upside down. Her fiancé has his dreams dashed when his bride to be reveals she is with child … and not his child … but a child that in some amazing, head stretching way, is God in human form.

And just as they manage to get their heads around the pregnancy, just as they manage to bolster their flailing relationship, events from the world stage intervene.

In those days a decree went out from Emperor Augustus that all the world should be registered ….

We are reminded that this tale of a strained relationship and a teenage pregnancy takes place in real time. This isn’t a fairy tale existence. Israel, like so much of the world at that time, was an occupied state and its overlords, the Romans, called all the shots.

And so begins the long and tortuous journey to Bethlehem … the search for a place to stay, the birth in a mucky outhouse, but it doesn’t end there … for those early days of adjusting to parenthood, which are often cocooned, protected and supported, are interrupted harshly once more as the puppet king Herod, threatened by news of this long awaited child … a child who he hears will be king one day, unleashes a massacre of all the children in Bethlehem in an attempt to shore up his fragile position. The young couple and their precious child are forced to flee for their lives, taking on refugee status in a foreign land.

No, these events are far from romantic … they remind us that Christmas did not originate in a time of frolic and festivity. Christmas is far less about romantic dreams than it is about a God who cares so much for his world that he is prepared to take ridiculous risks, to take human form so that he can be present with us in the mess and murkiness of our existence.

And so this is Christmas …

Far from being an excuse to escape, the Christmas story invites us to engage with the world as it is …. To play our part as we work out in our lives a response to the birth of that God child 2000 years ago; a child whose birth set in motion a new way of being that questions a way of living founded on self-seeking short-termism, looking out for number one. This child initiates the growth of a new Kingdom, a kingdom which flourishes as we engage in acts of inclusive, self-sacrificial love of the other … in which we see the other as they truly are: made in the image of God, precious, cherished and of infinite worth and this planet as a precious fragile gift that reveals God’s goodness.

Some would say that religion and politics don’t mix, but it seems to me that they always have, right from the very beginning. And this Christmastide, yet again, we are invited to engage with the world as it is so that in and through our words and actions we reveal the world as God longs for it to be, a place of peace and joy and love.

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Remembering is important

November marks the month of remembrance in the church’s year. It begins with the celebration of All Saints, a time when we give thanks for those whose lives have inspired and shaped for the good the lives of others and the life of the world. And then there’s All Souls where we begin to mind our memories of all our loved ones who are no longer with us in body in this life. And finally just over a week later, we call to mind all those who lost their lives in and through war and conflict; civilians, those who died in concentration camps, those who took active part in the conflicts throughout the world.

But what is remembering all about? Remembering is a necessary and important part of our grief, an honouring of the lives of those no longer with us and a re-membering so that the gifts and the examples, the sacrifices of others may support us in embracing more fully life in all its fullness now. Remembrance reminds us of the preciousness of life and that light is only truly appreciated when the darkness begins to cover us … so November, the month where the light draws in, is well chosen for this season of Remembrance.

But there is more to remembering than mere recollection. Re-membering is at the heart of the Biblical story, ‘Do this in remembrance of me,’ are among the last words Jesus utters to his friends and ‘Lord remember me when you come in to your Kingdom,’ are among the last words offered to Jesus on the cross. When we gather for worship in church, we engage in this mysterious act of re-membering, in which we is a mysterious process in which the past, present and future acts of God become bound together in that moment; a process in which God is able to re-shape our lives so that we may more fully be the people God created us to be in this world.

As we gather together in these simple but profound acts of remembering this November, as we recall and reflect on the lives of others, as we pray and hold the silence, so we enable in some mysterious way the loving kindness, the dedication and self-sacrifice of those who have gone before, to come into the here and now. And in that moment we can receive both comfort in our loss and a deeper motivation to live lives that honour those whose lives have touched, shaped and inspired us.

So this year, as we take part in this season of re-membrance, let us remember all those who have kept and held us together when we felt we might fall apart, all those whose lives shaped and inspired ours. Let us do this in gratitude remembering that that we are held together and forever loved by a God who remembers each one of us, who holds each life as precious and of immeasurable worth and value. And may our memories this year spur us forward in the search for a deeper connection with God and through God, with others, that we might strive for a deeper understanding of our own and others dreams and hopes, and a strengthened motivation to seek all that cherishes and honours life in all its fullness throughout the world.

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A Season of Unabashed Delight

You might say that there’s not a lot to be thankful for in these times … and you may well be right, but the other week I was listening to the poet Ross Gay talk about a project that he had set himself last year … to write an essay every day on something which gave him delight.

I wonder what brings you delight? Here are just a few thoughts that occurred to me:

  • Finding my keys when I thought they were lost – and that’s just this morning’s delight!
  • Jumping into a pile of crisp autumn leaves and relishing the crispy crunchy textured sound of the leaves underfoot. I still do this when no one’s looking!
  • Watching a small baby sleeping, arms thrown back in abandonment, totally secure in the care of their parents.
  • The smell of fresh coffee brewing in the morning, especially when I haven’t got up to make it.
  • The sound of lots of post being delivered!
  • Hearing the whole-hearted, totally abandoned laughter of children.

Rather than being a self-indulgent, romantic, ‘head in the clouds’ kind of pursuit, Ross talks of delight and gratitude as essential practices in these times of anxiety and threat. How can we be joyful at a time like this? How can we not be, he writes?

If there was ever a festival for relishing the delights of our world it’s Harvest. As I write this, we have just celebrated Harvest in our churches. Harvest is a time of what Ross calls unabashed gratitude for all of life’s abundant gifts. Don’t you just love that phrase? Unabashed delight!

Some years ago, I recall a teacher in a local school questioning whether harvest was relevant to children in these times. Her question got me thinking. The harvests of my childhood, churches full of produce, a cornucopia of delights for all the senses, seem to have taken place in a different era when life was simpler and less anxiety provoking. But what has harvest to offer us today in a time when the gap between the haves and the have-nots is growing daily, when we seem more bothered about what divides us as a nation than what unites and holds together, and this rich and abundantly vibrant world is being threatened in ways that seem beyond our control and influence.

My reflections this week have led me to the realisation that harvest isn’t something to get sentimental or romantically nostalgic about. Harvest meets head on the less palatable truths of this world and invites us to engage with a powerfully subversive celebration that undermines and challenges some of the less than life giving human tendencies that many hold responsible for the state of the world today. Harvest has roots that go back to the beginnings of our faith. The Harvests celebrated by the ancient Israelites helped them to remember that the whole of the earth is God and that God longs for us to live in to and out of the recognition that he has poured his abundant blessings into the world. All that we have, all that we are is pure gift, and these gifts are to be celebrated and shared and valued.

Living with unabashed gratitude in our hearts means cherishing our world, a world which has been gifted to us by an abundantly generous God, and doing all that we can to safeguard its future; it means being willing to share what I have so that others have enough. And it can mean embracing a simple practice of waking each day and reflecting on what brings you delight … and sharing some of the joy and appreciation with those around.