Notes from The Orchard 2012

Notes from The Orchard - 2  


December 2012


Here we are in Advent, probably pressured with getting ready for Christmas  not to mention the fact that a surprising number of us have relatives whose birthdays also occur in December  thats all the fruit of the old adage: In Spring a young mans fancy turns to thought of love. . .


There is a way to grab a respite from the pressures of the way we have come to celebrate December 25th.  Starting from a Christmas during the time of World War ll when everything wasnt written in lights, music wasnt loud and canned, money was short and advertising in its infancy, the recently dead boom-times have almost obscured the real meaning of Christmas, even among regular church-goers. . . Different forms of media announce the inexorable countdown as the days left to shop diminish. Hearts beat faster and panic mounts.


So then, how can we calm down?  


Go and find somewhere quiet, away from the lists, the cards, the wrapping paper.  Maybe make a cup of tea or coffee and take it with you - or a glass of wine, whatever you fancy - but do get away from all the things you are doing, right now.


When you are on your own, then relax and ask yourself Why am I doing all this?


Because its become a habit.  Its something you do every year.  Doesnt everyone?  Well, except the Moslems, the Jews, the Hindus and those who follow other-faiths-and-none who may not celebrate Christmas but they do the same sort of things, for different reasons, different festivals.


We all have special occasions to celebrate with friends and families and give gifts, its part of the way people are.


But why Christmas?


Two thousand and a bit years ago, a baby emerged into the world at an inconvenient time, in an inconvenient place to a young girl called Mary.  Joseph, her husband, rallied round to cope with the chaos which had hit him and his young wife.  Now, two thousand and a bit years later, we surround ourselves with chaos to re-celebrate this babys birth and often todays chaos insists on pride of place and the baby gets forgotten.


Try taking some time out to remember the baby and what and who he is.  Jesus, for thats his name, is God made man.  He is the son of the father, son of the creator of the entire universe in all its beauty, sent to show us how to share in the glory of God, to tell us we are loved and how much.  He lived as we live, life with its joys as well as its sufferings.  He could have chosen to arrive in splendour and glory, dazzling us with his magnificence to the point we ended up covering our eyes and cowering in the corner.


But he came as a sweet, defenceless little baby. over whom we could ooh and aah.  His gifts, the ones he would eventually give us, were packed away in his heart.  There would be time enough to discover them as he grew to manhood.


Enough for the day. . . is one of the future lessons he would teach us.  For Christmas then, lets just remember the joy of a new little baby and as we wrap our gifts, let it be with love and not just because its tradition.  Tradition can become a terrible tyrant!


And a very happy  and blessed  Christmas to us all.




Sarah Bell




Notes from The Orchard - 1  

November 2012



Change and decay in all around I see . . .  So go the words of that celebrated hymn where we invite God to stay, to come, live and be with us. Notably sung at Cup Finals, the hymn Abide with Me appears more regularly at funerals.


Most of us, who are not really brave and adventurous, much prefer the status quo, where everything stays more or less the same, with occasional high spots like holidays, sports events, trips to the theatre, family celebrations and so on.  


It is generally true that people feel much happier travelling through life in a cosy rut because change brings with it an element of fear.  Think of the changes in your own life:  if you look at a photograph of yourself when very young, and compare that with the view in the mirror today it is obvious that there has been an enormous change from the first point to now.   That alteration of course is so gradual we hardly notice it.   But think of the big changes:  school exams, first job, leaving home, commitment to marriage, birth of a child. . . Theres always a new fear mingled with excitement as we stand on the threshold of each new rite of passage.


And change never stops.  As we get older, to some extent it gets more frightening as we become more and more aware of death waiting as a final reality.


This is where we might perhaps start to think of taking the words Abide with Me seriously, if we havent already done so.


When we were little, unless we were very unlucky indeed, there was always someone big whose hand we could hold or whose skirts offered shelter for us when we were frightened.  As the years went by we began to feel confident that we could cope all on our own.  But age comes on and our bodies, like ageing houses, start falling apart.  Confidence falters when we understand it is we ourselves who are now the oldest grown-ups and there arent any others left to rescue us.


Is it time maybe to remember the last sentence of St. Matthews Gospel?  Is now the time for us to invite Jesus into our lives and stretch out a hand for help?   He will come to our rescue, because He loves us, because He said so and He is Truth.



Sarah Bell




Notes from The Orchard

11th October 2012


The following is a special introductory issue to mark the 50th Anniversary of Vatican II

by the writer of 'Notes from St. Francis of Assisi' which

have appeared monthly in Milford Parish Magazine

for the last ten years to October 2012 and now discontinued

at the request of the current parish priest.


Older members of the Roman Catholic Faith will remember how we celebrated our Faith before Pope John XXIII brought the great meeting together in Rome where old and dusty windows were thrown open and light flooded in.   Some found the light too dazzling, perhaps as Peter found the fact of walking on water, but others were delighted as they were allowed to move on from baby milk to a more mature approach in their faith and in the God of their Baptism.


Before this great switch of thinking, the road to heaven appeared to place most importance on liturgy and tradition.  In contrast Vatican II was based more on the words of the Gospels, together with the early letters of those called The Fathers of the Church, reckoned to have been the power force behind the preaching and the spreading of Christianity for about 800 years after the Crucifixion.  The Fathers teaching was strongly attached to the words of the Gospels themselves.  As the centuries rolled by, the webs of sacred Tradition and a pattern of Liturgy more suited to earthly kingship began to obscure the simplicity of Christs message. . .


Even before the fires of the Reformation forced the changes which reverberate to our own time, there were those whose allegiance to Rome could see things were going awry, notably St. Francis of Assisi, who recognised the simplicity of the message of Jesus conveyed by the Gospels, and the importance of returning to it.


Vatican II attempted again to nudge people to this understanding but as always in the history of man,  just as described in the Flanders and Swann song, the tendency to stick to the status quo and the opposing desire to move on and explore, clash with unsurprising regularity.


There is nothing new under the sun.  In the meantime, the rest of us who do care about the simple message of Jesus  to love God, who gave us everything we have, and our neighbour who is anyone whose life touches ours  we all echo His desire that we may be one. (John 17:21)


For Roman Catholics this 50th Anniversary year has been declared a Year of Faith and this is my effort to play a part by suggesting that we pray for all followers of Jesus, with the help of the Holy Spirit, to hear his message and to come together in love, which is the only thing which will save the world from disaster.


May God be with us and bless us all, from whichever tradition.  Whether we believe in Him or not He most certainly believes in us.


Sarah Bell


Ad Majorem Dei Gloriam

(Latin for to the greater glory of God.  Well, I try!)





How many of us, on hearing the parable of the talents as children thought that the whole thing was dreadfully unfair?  There was this person who had been given ten talents, who went on to make lots more and got a hefty pat on the back for doing so well.  The same happened to the one whod been given five.  OK, he didnt do as well as the chap who started off with a lot more but hed done pretty well.  Then there was the man whod been given a single talent.  Probably he was so delighted to be given something for nothing he was terrified of losing it:  better put it in a safe place so it would still be there when the boss man came back and he had to account for it.  After all, the giver-out-of-money had a fearsome reputation for getting cross with unsuccessful people. . .


And didnt we all know it was to do with money?  The Jewish currency at the time of the parables consisted of talents, didnt it?  60 shekels made one mina, 60 minas made one talent, which meant a talent was worth a great deal of money.


Because we live in a capitalist/money oriented society it is difficult to tear our minds away from the fact that in our own language a talent is not money at all, but a gift which can be used to affect our own lives as well as other peoples.  As there are flowers which range from gargantuan to tiny  through a whole variety of sizes, colours, scents and uses so also are there talents: big ones, small ones  somewhat like bits of our own bodies, from the head and its contents to ones little toe.  Until one bit goes wrong we take the whole lot for granted but then comes the day when even a little spot on the end of the tongue dominates our feelings of discomfort.  To feel good we need everything to be working properly.


With the massive interest on health and healthy living set so high on todays agendas, people go off to the gym, read the small print on their food, visit the doctor and dentist regularly, jog, take vitamin pills and generally look after the body so well that as the lifespan stretches upwards to the hundredth birthday and a telegram from the Queen, their going will seem a sad thing, Oh, so young! people will murmur as the death notice appears. . .


Of course not all of that applies to everyone.  There are plenty of people whose bodies start falling to pieces rather earlier at some point where they are invaded by unwelcome diseases which fail to respond to treatment, in spite of all the effort put into strengthening the ramparts as life goes along.


It is then we would be well advised to remember that there is more to us than our physical frames.  Inside the wrapping there is our real self, complete with the spiritual talents, the bricks we use to build up our relationships with other people.


As well as the heart which pumps the blood around us there is the heart we learn to love with, to care with, to warm with compassion for those around us.  We have the hands which we can put to use to develop talents God gave us  to paint, to play music, to dance, cook, embrace, to bandage wounds to add to the joy we can bring to the world.  We have lips to kiss people better as all mothers know how to do.  We have eyes to see with, eyes to see the suffering of the world and intelligence to dream up ways we might help to carry the load of those around us.


Here we are, newly arrived in an unspoilt New Year at a time when we are rarely given the chance to see what is good around us, assaulted daily as we are by evil tidings via the all-pervading media when strictly rationed amounts of joyful news are reserved for special weepie programmes at Christmas.


What about concentrating more in this Year of Our Lord 2016 on positive aspects outside our own private worlds?  Let us look out to see what is needed and consider whether we could provide something useful from the talents with which we have been blessed  even if it is just a smile to warm someones day.  These talents are given to us to use for the benefit of all our brothers and sisters throughout the world.  This use of inner resources does wonders for our own ills and discomforts as it concentrates the mind a long way away from us to others and with any luck we just stop feeling the pain in our broken toes or stinging tongues  whatever.


Happy New Year everyone and may God's blessings be on all of us, whoever we are!



Sarah Bell


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