December 2014 - Part 2
8 days of Advent left
(Published 17th December!)
Really there is only 1 day left . . .
today, which is Christmas Eve
I am still trying to keep up with my original plans for Advent (see Part 1). One of the more difficult things to do is to avoid getting really cross with myself when I fail, which is all too often. Frequently it is not my fault directly but is a factor of getting old: I know this happens to many people of my age. You drop things, forget things, feel tired and depressed that simple jobs take so long or arent even possible and certainly dont reach the standards of the past. At this point really good people just keep calm and carry on (how deliciously proper), count up to ten or say Bother! with a gentle sigh. I explode and at the top of my voice I shout out all the naughty words I ever learnt and most of them arent pretty. My dear mother would be horrified and I do have the grace to feel immediately ashamed and resolve to do better next time, but I fail over and over again.
The next thought isnt at all Christmassy but someone once reminded me of the falls that Jesus had on his awful walk to Calvary. He didnt give up. He picked himself up and pressed on to the end. This thought keeps me going, not just on the run-up through Advent to Christmas, but every day as I fail on my journey through my life.
But I can see ahead the wonderful message of Christmas. My mind is full of how to get presents to the people I want to give them to. Everything has gone somewhat pear-shaped this year in England on the delivery front whether by courier or Royal Mail; my careful plans have been thrown into chaos by an unexpected illness of one of my sons, not helped by the fact that December birthdays of some of both my children and grandchildren are also thrown into the mix as well as Christmas. With all the presents whirring round in my mind to the point I can only think if Father Christmas were for real he could come in really useful at the moment. . .
But Christmas, the real Christmas? Aah, there is the answer!
Jesus didnt come to the manger just to receive gifts. He arrived with the biggest gift of all. (In fact he came with many gifts oh, just think about that. . .) The Shepherds came with a lamb, a lamb that represents all of us. The Kings came with earthly things, fruits of the earth: gold, frankincense and myrrh. Earthly things they may be, but they are gifts to us from our Creator just as the fruits of the earth that help us to eat and clothe ourselves. Jesus came with gifts that we can all pass on to each other. He gave us himself so that we could walk through the gates with him into his Fathers Kingdom and he gave us the knowledge of how to understand what love is. Having been given these things, every one of us, having savoured them, can pass them on to those around us, to everyone we have met, we meet and we will meet.
We can of course do the same with certainly one of the more tangible gifts. While frankincense and myrrh are rather rarefied to our 21st Century minds, gold survives in our earthly wealth. If we have any we must share it . . . and understand that it is at least immoral to indulge our own physical pleasures while others starve from lack of sustenance and die from lack of medical assistance.
I dont think too many people come to this site yet, but to all those who read this, I pray you will have a wonderful Christmas with no angst and hassle and I send my love and wishes that you will all have every Christmas blessing that is on offer from our prodigal God . . .
Sarah T M Bell
December 2014 - Part 1
(published on Advent Sunday, 30th November)
Getting ready for Christmas
In England the weather often changes with the month so perhaps we can hope for something dryer after a very wet and grey November.
Whatever happens, the mammon side of Christmas enjoyed by people of all faiths and none (as the PC saying of today goes) already see lights twinkling whether in frost or rain as houses, shops and Christmas trees are all dressed up to celebrate the festival with a ho, ho, ho from jolly plastic inflated Father Christmases while bells tinkle round the reindeer necks as they gallop imaginatively through the skies, tethered to the houses that have given birth to them.
People who never heard or have forgotten the original meaning of Christmas are not slow in complaining about how boring it all is as days get shorter and shorter and debts grow bigger and bigger. Choruses drown out the carols . . .
Only three weeks to go!
Only ten shopping days left. . .
Turkey or chicken? Or what about beef this year for a change?
Fresh or frozen?
Its such a pity that the season which promises so much should turn so quickly into one of the most stressful periods of the year!
This year I have decided to concentrate on two things only: (1) the real reason the world celebrates Christmas, even when they dont know why, and (2) make contact with as many of the people in my life I can before Christmas. I shall be on my knees for all my other people when I run out of time.
The real start for me will be when I start lighting the Advent Candles on this little web site. Theyre such clever little animations and I always enjoy doing them. I cant believe I started doing that about fifteen years ago with the Milford-on-Sea website and because for me it has become a tradition, I will carry on.
On Sunday afternoon, the first Sunday of Advent, I shall watch the excellent DVD produced by the Beeb which re-tells the story of the first Christmas, simply titled The Nativity which is available [ here ]. (Next week I shall click the Advent candles above!)
I shall then stop wasting hours of my time playing FreeCell and Spider Solitaire on my computer which will give me lots more time to concentrate on friends and family, visiting them, writing to them, Skypeing or simply old-fashioned telephoning them and also sending some Christmas cards though not in myriads as in years gone by, some in the form of hard copy and others on the internet.
I shall not get my knickers in a twist this year. I shall relax, pray and enjoy Christmas at the right tempo from the beginning of Advent to the end of the year, ready to launch forth with increased energy to face another 365 days, just one at a time.
Well, that all sounds rather nice. It's to be seen whether I can manage to do it and as St. Peter wrote in one of his letters, With God on our side, who can stand against us? Im feeling quite optimistic but time will tell and if it works, I will too. Like to join me?
More Notes from The Orchard - 12
November 2014: Part 2
November 27th - When America says 'Thank you'
Traditionally in England, especially in more recent times, the whole month of November with its gloom and foggy weather is becoming increasingly devoted to thinking about our dead relatives and friends. In the western world while the advancement of medicine keeps us alive for so much longer, death seems to have become a less frequent visitor and many of us survive well into our eighties and longer. Of course, it still comes once in a life time but as we are not bombarded with it we do not feel so threatened as we go from day to day. In fact we hardly think of death it seems a long, long way away and anyway, its something that happens to other people, not to us. But as the years go by and the wrinkles get deeper, death seems to have become something of a bogey rather than an inevitable result of birth and many people, especially those with little or no faith, develop a deep fear of dying as the idea of death and its proximity concentrate the mind.
So towards the end of what has even acquired its own name - Remembrance-tide - I thought it would be an idea to stop and take stock of life in England in the early 21st Century.
There will always be the naysayers, the pessimists who permanently look on the black side of everything but we dont have to join them. Its enough to be thankful we are still alive even before looking round to see things by the light of optimism. If we are blessed, we have friends and a loving family. We have a roof and a bed, enough to eat and pay the bills to keep us warm enough. We can go on holiday, collect a pay cheque or a pension. We have the NHS even if we have to wait a few days for an appointment with the doctor which will play its part in keeping us alive longer and longer. We can have our shoes repaired or buy a new pair if we can feel water seeping in as we walk in the rain. We can afford to eat when were hungry and for the moment at least we have the great blessing to be living in a country at peace . . .
It we can benefit and enjoy some or all of those things, let us be thankful. If we have money left after that, maybe we need to pass some of it on to those who arent so lucky.
With winter ahead, as we climb into our soft beds ready for sleep, let us be thankful that we are not looking for a shop-doorway out of the wind to crouch down, close our poor tired eyes and hope that no one comes to attack us in the darkness of the night . . . If we do nothing else we can at least pray for them. . . but adding a donation to some charity which does its best to brighten life for the less lucky might also give you an additional warm feeling inside.
Thanks be to God!
Something along these lines maybe?
Just a thought...
More Notes from The Orchard - 12
November 2014: Part 1
Goya - War
War 100 years ago, 75 years ago and again and again?
Every November we recall those who died during conflict. Those we call to mind are invariably the military and perhaps our own dear dead: family and friends. The years go by and even now we are trying to ignore the possibility that we may yet again be faced with the realities of war.
Unrest seems to be stalking the earth in so many countries, notably in the Middle East which at the moment is grabbing all the headlines, that we half close our eyes and ears to all the other warning signs and instead worry about the cost of living in England, how the NHS is coping, what to buy Auntie Gertrude for Christmas how old is she this year 105? 106? What on earth do you buy for someone whos 106? Back to November. . .
While we do this Remembrance thing, buy our Poppies and get through November in a haze of memories of glory and tragic young soldiers resurrected by the BBC and immortalised in poetry we really dont stop to think about the real casualties of war. The military, in these days and countries where conscription doesnt happen, at least choose to put themselves in the front line, for whatever reasons (of which testosterone is probably one of the foremost). Civilians have no choice. The old, the sick, the mothers and innocent little children hardly past babyhood are caught in the middle by so many dangers from which there is no escape, from snipers fire to wanton massacre and starvation, from the loss of everything and many they hold dear only to end their lives in exile or death, barely sheltered on their way from the elements or protected from disease.
At a time of commemorating anniversaries, two hundred and twenty-five years ago this month Benjamin Franklin wrote that nothing was certain except death and taxes to which I think should be added war. While we hate the idea of paying taxes we seem as a species to be unable to resist the practice of war.
We seem condemned to make the wrong choices every time in spite of the Makers instructions* which are so, so simple but no, we just love complicated cant resist that either oh, we are so, so silly!
Lord, dear Lord, have mercy on us.
Miserere nobis, Domine . . .
More Notes from The Orchard - 11
A time for planting,
A time for uprooting what has been planted
Here we are again, back to that time of year when we look at the garden and see all the summer bedding ready to be consigned to the compost heap, the dead and dying summer glory of the perennial plants waiting for the tidying up before the little death of winter.
Because nothing lasts for ever particularly technological advances which live a short life before their abilities are tweaked and trashed, to be replaced by ever more wonderful and more efficient capabilities life is changing in the garden of my own days.
The web site I set up in October 1999, www.milfordonsea.com, is, like the plants, in the process of dying. It should last for a while for reference purposes on the internet and that gives me time to set up a series of links to its more popular areas in this little website, Sarahs Pips.
At the moment theres an Andrew Lloyd Webber song that keeps running through my brain: Time to Say Goodbye, somewhat irritating because I can only remember the first very few bars. Since I can no longer come down from my bed first thing in the morning or even in the middle of the night to change the date and add bits and pieces to Milford-on-Sea Online, there is quite a hole in my heart at having to leave something which for fifteen years has been so very much part of my life. But isnt that the story of everything, and part of everyones life?
From our earliest days we have to learn the lessons of loss. They might be major, perhaps the death of a parent, a brother or sister, but in most cases they are lesser loss of a toy, a beloved Teddy, a pet hamster or guinea pig. School brings new experiences as we learn to make friends outside the family for the first time and so our lives progress, collecting people, experiences, things. Some stay, some go but everything changes.
It is always hard to say good-bye, to welcome something new and that is odd when you think how much practice we get.
I met an old friend recently a friend of many years standing who is also getting closer and closer to the four-score year barrier and is now mourning the possibility of having to say a permanent goodbye to a particular item of furniture given to a son. It is indeed a rather large piece but smaller than the Great Bed of Ware. When she found her son was downsizing and might have to dispose of the magnificent piece shed loved for so long, it began to cause something of a depression: how to live without it? Now, although this beloved had been living away from home so to speak furniture, not son! it seems her attachment to it is as strong as ever and in spite of the grief it is causing her she is extremely reluctant to let it go. I did wonder, when the grim reaper comes a-knocking at the door, whether the loss of this icon will be one of her priorities. . . I suspect not. So, I ponder, why does she let herself suffer now? There really is a lot to be said for out of sight, out of mind. Let it go, I wanted to shout, let it go!
Well, Im a fine one to talk! Over the years and so many of them I found I had become a hoarder. It starts quite simply: Oh, lets keep it. Im sure it will come in useful. Of course, such things rarely do but I persevered, to the extent whole rooms became cupboards on their own never mind the cupboards inside the rooms already. Fortunately for my heirs and executors I am learning the lesson of saying good-bye to things and its wonderful, so liberating and such a relief to be able to open some cupboards without a pile of things falling out. I am not yet brilliant but I am learning to let go.
There really is
'A time for keeping,
A time for discarding . . .'
and that is now.
I shall try to keep Sarahs Pips tidy and under control and that is my resolution for October. . .
More Notes from The Orchard - 10
Roll in the ammunition! Send in the planes with ordnance ordnance?* The dictionary says Guns, artillery how many people understand that word when mostly their contact with the word is limited to maps for going on walks through the countryside?
Although there are the mockers, how rightly the difference between mens approach and womens was described in the book Men are from Mars, Women from Venus. From time immemorial mens job has been to feed and defend their family while womens lot has been to stay at home and bring up the family while their men forage for food and defend them. Left with a bunch of often screaming and quarrelling children, women made friends with each other to help carry the load. They learnt how to compromise, get along with difficult members of the families and make life pleasant and live-able so that when their menfolk returned home from their often difficult role they could relax and get themselves ready for the next onslaught. Truly, life isnt fair, at least the way we live it.
This truism applies to all of us Jews, Christians, Moslems, Humanists and non-believers in anything. We all have so much in common but sadly, and above all, we are convinced that we ourselves are always right. After all this time you might think we'd have learnt this lesson: we arent always right and we never will be. But at least we have to be patted on the back for our perseverance and optimism that we do keep on trying to live in peace and fairness in spite of the historical cycles of war and peace, boom and bust.
We are all now aware fuelled by the rolling news on radio, TV and the internet which assails us morning, noon and night that the present moment is horrendous. This bunch of they can only be described as maniacs who are causing mayhem in Syria in their attempt to impose their vision - or is it a nightmare? - of Islam is a major problem facing humanity. In addition to this horror we have the ambitious Mr. Putin creeping up in the news, hoping to put the Soviet Humpty Dumpty together again.
Bombing them out of existence as the men from Mars suggest is unlikely to work: check your history books, folks!
All people of goodwill from whichever faith or none recognise that what is going on in Syria, with its branches throughout the world, is wrong, is evil and after consideration know that in the end violence will not succeed . . . a lesson learned by Cain and gradually being learnt through the centuries by all men of violence.
We can sit here in Milford, condemn such men and either press on with the desire to retaliate or we can pray for peace and put our trust in God who can accomplish the impossible. Sounds simple but do we believe it? Can we trust God? Mmmm are we brave enough braver than Peter walking on the water? Probably not but we must try it: dear Lord, hold out your hand and save us! Give us confidence and help us to be brave and trust in you . . . and oh, please, please grant us peace, grant us peace and let us learn that love is the only weapon that really works.
*Heard within the last two weeks in a BBC news broadcast
Sarah T M Bell
'Offer a sacrifice to God a sacrifice of praise;
to the Most High, fulfil your vows.
Then you may call upon me in the time of trouble:
I will rescue you, and you will honour me.'
More Notes from The Orchard - 9
Here we are then, holidays in full swing and since the middle of July or so, good summer weather. . . although many of us are now walking round, mopping our brows and complaining of this terrible heat! Well, well see how long it lasts.
What is lasting though, if you actually keep the old-fashioned radio sending out its messages through the day, is the continual and dreadful news the broadcasters want us to hear. As the saying goes, It was ever thus. Even Jesus knew how this longing to spread bad news has a definite appeal for the human race, although he counsels us not to be alarmed when such disasters occur, for these things happen.
This drip, drip, drip of doom and disaster finally switches off in us any sympathy or fellow feeling for the sufferers, only to be temporarily re-ignited by the next horror major earthquake, bombing, hurricane, plague as the journalists run round the world looking for the next dreadful newsworthy event and so on. If the media moguls dont find one, they spend a lot of time going over and over the previous one, like a tongue searching out a suspect tooth or mouth ulcer. . .
Is there no good news around anywhere? Again, as they say, good news doesnt sell newspapers and talking of good news, if someone asked you what you reckoned to be the message of Christianity, what would you say? Or would you feel too embarrassed to answer?
I listened this morning to Prayer for the Day by Alison Murdoch which extolled a beautiful Buddhist comment about patience and weapons. (Sadly it is no longer available (October 2014). I originally put a link to it.)
St. Paul declared that patience is one of the gifts of the Holy Spirit, but the real message of Christianity is the one given by Jesus himself. (Matthew 22:37-40). To save you looking it up right now, it is dead simple and covered by the two little sentences: Love God. Love your neighbour as yourself.
How does all this connect with, say, the appalling fighting going on between the rulers of Israel and those of Palestine in the Gaza Strip and us?
An examination of the history of violence in the Middle East shows that all of it springs from an unwillingness to forgive in some cases dating back centuries millennia even. Look at any of the wars which affect our lives, even little family wars. They always spring from the same root. How often have we heard someone say Oh, I can never forgive him/her. . . Never! Those angry words have often sown the seeds of war especially when they land on fertile ground where there is no love.
So what about our own lives? Remember the driver who cut in front of you the other day or that irritating cyclist who slowed you down while you were trying to get somewhere in a hurry? The person who nipped smartly into the parking place you were aiming for? I often laugh as I remember my husband being so cross, many, many years ago. His parking place was nicked by a cannier driver and he was furious. I shall never forget him slamming on the brakes and the car door prior to stalking up to the offender, glaring at him, then announcing in a tight voice . . . and I hope you have a puncture, sir!
I offer a solution which keeps my blood pressure down and also makes me feel good which is better than feeling cross and bad-tempered. Try offering a prayer for the person whos infuriated you that something really nice might happen to them today. One of my daughters has worked out another solution which keeps her happy. In the end, Mummy, does it really matter? Lifes too short! and she smiles and moves on. I have to say this doesn't always work - but she perseveres. . .
Sorry this has turned out a bit longer than usual I got carried away!
Oh, before I go: if I wait till next month there may not be the chance of enough free time to do a bit of reading and I would love to pass on to you news of a book I have tried reading for years and years and failed every time. It has been around for 1,700 years so I thought it must have something worthwhile to have survived for so long so I persevered. It does: there is an Augustinian priest who set himself a challenge to make a translation which a 16-year-old would enjoy. I can confidently announce he has succeeded beyond his wildest dreams and I havent been able to put it down. I bought a paper-back so I could lend it to a friend but first I bought the Kindle version. It is much less off-putting as you dont initially see the whole size of the book . . . just page after splendid gripping page. The paper-back versions print is a little on the small side for my aged eyes but the younger friend to whom I lent it is finding the content the same unputdownable! It is simply called The Confessions written by St. Augustine of Hippo and the translation is by Fr. Benignus ORourke. (Obtainable in UK from Amazon.co.uk lots too many dollars with Amazon.com!)
Have a great August!
More Notes from The Orchard - 8
The picture this month is of the idealised memory that some of us perhaps in Milford, many of us can remember from our childhood. This picture was taken a few years ago at the New Forest Show because we are now encouraged to give wildflowers a chance . . . and not just the wildflowers but also the bees who, it seems, are having a hard time at present since there arent enough sources of nectar.
This year many verges, both the public ones together with those in the usually neatly mown grass strips running through the groups of houses built over the last fifty or sixty years, have been allowed to stay uncut while they are covered with wild spring flowers: violets, daisies, celandine, buttercups and many more. They have added such a lot to the environment! It is fascinating to compare the delight on seeing such pretty groups against the vague feeling of disappointment experienced as eyes fall on the neighbouring prim, dull uniform green of mown grass. Well, the flowers have come and gone for this year to a large extent but they should look even more wonderful next year as the seeds have been allowed to set before cutting. How exciting is that?
In these more cynical times we have become a country of complainers nothing appears right: the weather, the government, the BBC, the NHS, the people whove moved in next door, the new doctor, priest, hairdresser . . . We spend so much time moaning that we dont notice the good things around us. What we really dont like is change, any change even something as simple as our usual shop or supermarket changing all their goods around. The shopkeepers think it will make everywhere fresher and more interesting and even tempt us to buy more. As we hunt for the things we came to buy, we just see it as another time-consumer when were very busy and rushing off to the next appointment.
When so many of us now live what is called 24/7, Sundays used to be a break to sit back and enjoy the good things of life. Obligatory church attendance where failure to comply induced the misery of guilt made Sundays a sort of penance instead of an occasion to get to know God and to thank him for the lovely world which surrounds us.
Mind, there is an idealised change many of us look forward to and are even prepared to spend money on: The Holiday. Sadly holidays rarely come up to expectations and its quite common to discover a longing to be back home with our own beds and loos quite shortly after weve arrived at the vacation spot. When we do find ourselves back to normal we start moaning about the holiday. We must be the most contrary creatures on earth!
Were now at the point of year when there is time to rest and relax the sun is warm. In the countryside free time is possible after months of work before the harvest and even if we live in the town, let us try to make the most of it by enjoying one day at a time and noticing now what is happening on a smaller scale, now not tomorrow, not next week but now.
Sit back and enjoy the little pleasures from say, a good cuppa, a nicely iced G&T, a call to an old friend you havent spoken to for some time, a warm smile to some poor soul who looks down in the dumps at the till, an unexpected new plant flowering happily in the garden. . . Enjoy the bigger ones: some of the great sporting occasions around at this time of year win some, lose some, theyre nothing to cry over but fun while they last and if you are going away on holiday, try to enjoy it piece by piece and dont let yourself view the thing as a whole where everything isnt quite right. Choose the good bits, forget the bad and come back refreshed, thanking God that you are one of the very few people in this world who even get the chance to enjoy a holiday.
More Notes from The Orchard - 7
Flower Show stmb
Tribalism, nationalism, sectarianism - we're lucky Christianity is an ity and not an ism! The latter seem to have a few problems. . .
At the time Jesus was walking around the local villages from Galilee to Jerusalem walking? Can you imagine, probably without shoes? Of course, there are still a lot of people in the world who go round unshod and we can only thank God were probably not of that number. . . but to get back on track: while Jesus was on his travels he met all sorts of groups of people starting with his own family then strangers in Egypt, on to neighbours, his own villagers, village leaders, scribes, tax collectors, Pharisees, Sadducees, Essenes, Samaritans, Greeks, Romans.
When we read the stories of Jesus we generally read about one person at a time: the sower who went out to sow seed, the widow whose son had died, the man who needed something to feed an unexpected guest, the publican at prayer, the little tax collector called Zaccheus and many more. The advice that Jesus gives us on how to live: to love God and love your neighbour as yourself really stresses the importance of the individual. Unfortunately the world is too much made up of grand sweeps - the poor, the rich, the sick, the Welsh, the Scots, the Irish, French, Germans, Americans, different genders, colours, religions, political divisions - so that in considering bunches of people we tend to forget the individual completely. Charity is given in lumps to groups and our consciences are eased while we forget the lonely person in the house a few doors away and perhaps old friends who have fallen on hard times.
The recent European elections show a shrinking away inside our own borders as each nation pulls away from the grand idea which launched the venture designed to make us all work together. It was thought that if we were friends and worked with each other, we might manage to avoid the danger of repeating the great wars which marked the 20th century. For a time this did indeed seem possible, but now? Time to wonder and re-think I wont say re-group! Sadly even our own United Kingdom shows increasing signs of splintering. . .
Sociology, offspring of the great god Politics, does not care to look at the individual and certainly doesnt seem to be a cure-all for the evils of the world.
Lets go back to the individual, starting with Jesus and go on to hold out hands of friendship, love and care to anyone and everyone whose path crosses ours and let that person be our neighbour. If we each do that we could start a revolution which needed arms only to care, not to blow each other to pieces. . .
Incidentally, what a brilliant idea of Pope Francis to take with him his old friends from back home a Rabbi and an Imam on his recent visit to the Middle East, and then to invite the two main antagonists to come and pray with him in Rome! I suspect the Holy Spirit is working hard to rescue us all from our stupidity so lets thank God and keep the prayers for peace going up!
More Notes from The Orchard - 6
The run-up to Easter this year was a sun-filled series of days though, sadly, in our part of England, the festival itself was drowned in heavy rain under grey skies.
While Christians are happy to acknowledge that before we got arrive at the Resurrection we have just celebrated, Christ died on the cross for our sins, how many of us ever wonder what sins really are, especially in view of the way Jesus reacted towards sinners much to the horror of the goodies of his time who thought that all his hobnobbing with them was really letting down the side! Jesus seemed to feel really sorry for the people labelled sinners by the great and the good of his time. Instead of condemning them he went out of his way to befriend them.
Probably most people today think that the word sin is so old-fashioned that the very concept should be put out with the rubbish. Mind, if we were asked wed probably agree war was a sin, murder, large-scale theft a bit of stuff from the office doesnt count, does it? Gossip, a bit of cheating here and there, with another person, the tax office and if they are sins at all theyre only little ones, they wouldnt really matter. . . The really big ones happen in other places, not here in Milford.
They might matter, if you think of these little sins as raindrops. It is amazing how delicate little flowers stand up to rain drops and bounce back as soon as the sun comes into view again but what happens when the sun doesnt come out again and the raindrops go on falling, falling, falling and dont stop? We all remember the floods of the past winter.
Our preachers and pastors tell us that God hates sin and he probably does because what he wants for us on this earth for us to be able to live life to the full. When we wander round with greed on our minds, anger and selfishness in our hearts, lies and deceit on our tongues even at a low level we cannot be happy, we cannot be having the best out of life. Any guilt spoils things.
What makes us happy, really happy, is being in love: in love with the beauties of nature Gods gift to everyone, in love with Jesus and with our families and friends. By extending the generosity of this love to those who have little experience of love or any of the good things of life we can expand our happiness level to something amazing.
So, lets fall in love. . . that can be the sunshine that starts to dry up the flood of evil in the world!
More Notes from The Orchard - 5
April 1st Celebration of April Fools Day gives us all a chance to lighten up after the winter and be silly and childish. Great! The link, alas, will take you back to the serious world of grown-ups as history and sociology experts produce academic-type opinions of how they think the tradition began. Enjoy the day if you read these words in time to dream up a good April Fool and play it before mid-day or you will be the fool . . . Too late? Ah well, theres always next year!
As these notes are being prepared, many people are still feeling the shock of the disappearance of the Malaysian Airlines jumbo jet with 239 people on board. At the same time as the hunt goes on for some trace of its fate, others are dealing with the huge landslide in the United States which cost so many lives, all of a sudden on a Saturday morning when peoples thoughts are full of plans for the weekend. The papers are full of murders and other untimely deaths both of which delight the newspaper owners and fascinate their readers.
Of course, we read such material from a distance, always assuming that we ourselves are safe and if we can bear to think of such a thing at all will eventually die as very old people in our own beds with the minimum of discomfort. Death is more something that happens to other people and our own will occur, if at all, in the dim, distant future. Although death and taxes are, it is said, the only sure things in our lives, we very rarely if ever think of our own death. We press on with what we think of as our daily lives, perhaps on the lines of eat, drink and be merry merry except when we have to pay our taxes!
Well, here we are, just over half way through Lent as Easter continues to dominate. Even if we dont actually count it as very important we would find it difficult to ignore altogether as fluffy ducks and decorated eggs surround us everywhere.
Easter and Jesus go together: the day celebrates the Resurrection and the whole point of the Resurrection is to let us know that life doesnt end with death. We are created immortal and are not just lumps of clay thrown together with an amazing stroke of chance together with all the wonders of the universe. Such an array of wonders is not the fruit of chance. It doesnt mean to say that the creator of them all sits there designing each individual particle in an hands-on operation to achieve its ultimate form. The creator is much cleverer than that the whole thing is set in motion to be a dynamic and brilliant creation.
In order to survive we humans need to be pushy or truly co-operative. Pushy wins pretty well hands down, causing lots of problems since in a push others get trampled. The creator looked at us and felt sorry for us in our mess, and sent his son to help us get back on the rails. Son agreed and arrived in the usual way as one of us so that he could understand us and with a bit of an effort we could get to know him. We could grasp his very simple instructions for us to regain our balance and enjoy the life for which his father made us. Sons name was Jesus. Incidentally, after God for that is the name of the creator after God looked at all the things he had made after the Big Bang he decided they were all very good, including us.
So what were the instructions of Jesus? To love God above all things, he who is my father and yours, then love the people you bump into on the way. It's also worth getting to know Jesus as well as you can through his words, by reading them in a modern version of the Gospels, by watching his life via a DVD or by talking to people who are already his friends.
Having been sent to rescue us, Jesus returned to his Father a return we celebrate on Good Friday in the hope that all of us would follow his advice and end up with him, happy ever after in his Fathers kingdom, a kingdom prepared for us all to enjoy after our unsuccessful initial practice run on earth.
Following his return to divine life, Jesus came back to us in human form to reassure us that he is waiting for us and will be there to greet us when we close our eyes for the last time on planet Earth.
So may we have peace in this difficult world and if death does come, we can move on with great hopes to meet our father God and his dear son Jesus who truly love us.
In the meantime, a happy Easter to all of us . . . but go easy on the chocolate!
More Notes from The Orchard - 4
Ash Wednesday this year falls on 5th March late, but not the latest possible date for it which is 10th March and it is always six and a half weeks from Ash Wednesday to Easter Day.
Most religions of the world have a time for fasting, penitence and reflection. With many Christians in the West, there is the thought that you give up something for Lent.
Since yesterday all of us have grown older, so is giving up something for Lent still what we should be thinking? Just as it was when we were small children?
We might consider other ways of benefitting the world, and also ourselves personally, during this time of, well, shall we say, tidying up our lives more in line with the way Jesus suggested in what is known as The Sermon on the Mount?
We live lives today which are often dictated by lists of what we have to do during the hours of the day God gives us. We rush from one job to another, from one form of re-creation to another, and we have little time to spend with people - our friends, our family and people who lack both. As I write, I have been summoned by my battery-operated timer to tear into the kitchen to sort out food in the oven. . . I just need time ah, theres a phrase today which worries me: its called Me-time.
Me. . . one of todays idols! I was asked once whether I knew the Haymees: I said Id never met them. The answer was Well, maybe you know the Haymee-Moores? I said I didnt know them either. Then the penny dropped: Hey, me! More!
Do you remember the Barbara Streisand song from way back, in which she tells us that people who need people are the luckiest people in the world? What comes out at the end of the song is that we all need people, and we do. Weve all heard the awful true stories about the poor souls whose bodies are found mouldering in their flats or houses because nobody missed them after they died, alone and presumably unloved by anyone.
Both government and politically correct fans talk a lot about Care in the Community. Nice idea, but who is going to give it? Who will make it possible? The Council? As soon as we get politicians of whatever status involved, money comes into the equation. Will no one do something for nothing any more? Volunteers are running short in many areas and even if they materialise, that involves getting a bunch together to organise the whole thing.
Maybe we could each do something on our own, just something between us, the lonely one and our dear Lord. Whatever that something is, no matter how small, lets do it with a smile on our face, always remembering that God loves a cheerful giver! (2 Corinthians 9:7)
It costs nothing to give our time, our company and our love to our brothers and sisters in Christ. . . so do it, and do make the most of Lent.
More Notes from The Orchard - 3
I know it's February now but these words were written towards the end of January, on the last day of this years Week of Prayer for Christian Unity. (Residents of Milford are opting to celebrate this occasion around Pentecost in June, quite permissible although somewhat unusual. . .)
When this Week of Prayer was originally proposed by two High Church Anglican clergymen in 1908 [Click here], the general idea was that Anglicans should unite with the Roman Catholics under the Pope. By the 1930s other Protestant denominations had also joined in and every year more and more people over the world pray together for the unity that Jesus wanted for us (John 17:21).
Earlier today I heard an interview on the BBC where an Englishman, now married to a Moslem lady from Syria, had been born and brought up as a Catholic but had never been particularly drawn to his faith. Hed studied Arabic and in the course of his studies spent time in the Middle East where hed met and married his wife. She had felt the same indifference about her own faith. Within his studies he encountered Islam and his interest captured them both and they are now happily practising their faith in England with apparent joy. They certainly didnt sound Islamist or extreme in any way. My reaction, as a practising Catholic Christian, was a bit sad and somewhat lacking in understanding, on the Oh, how could he! line. They, on their part, appear to be honest believers in what all people of faith agree to be our same God. His job as a lawyer is with Immigration where he helps refugees with their applications and relevant problems as they flee their own dangerous countries, seeking safety much as Joseph, Mary and their little son had to do in their own time.
In the first century AD, Jesus was well acquainted with Jerusalem which was a bustling and cosmopolitan city, full of all sorts of foreigners Jews, pagans of varying kinds, traders from the East, assorted Jewish sects and Jesus seems from the pages of the gospels to have been friendly to all those he met apart from the hypocrites including Roman soldiers of the occupation. When he later engaged Paul to carry on his work, Jesus didnt tell him not to bother with certain groups of people: it seems he wanted everyone.
None of us have much choice about our birth we just arrive one day, hungry, naked and screaming, to the parents we have, Jewish, Christian, Moslem, Hindu whatever. . . We are the people of the different flocks and Jesus wants to shepherd all of us into his Fathers kingdom. (John 10:16)
It seems to me that the worlds population, like the flowers of the field, of the jungle or even tidy suburban gardens, is totally variegated. We all belong to different groups, and like the varieties of plants, we all look for the sun. Our sun is the Son of Man, who asks only one thing of us: to love one another as he has loved us.
Lets do it!
And lets keep the bigger picture in mind, and remember Gods ways are not our ways. For instance, we would possibly not have chosen the disciples Jesus picked, especially not Judas Iscariot. . . but it does occur to me to wonder sometimes, where would our Redemption be without him?
More Notes from the Orchard - 2
Happy New Year to you!
How often we hear that phrase around the turn of the year! It slips so lightly off the tongue, usually accompanied by a smile before disappearing in the wind till we hear it from the next person we meet We in turn smile and repeat it and generally pass on by but what does it really mean? Has saying the phrase just become a custom without any real meaning?
Not quite: behind the words spoken as one year turns into the next there is still a feeling of goodwill, ignited by the light of Christmas. Alas, all too soon life is back chugging along the rails of everyday and - certainly in our northern hemisphere - the wet, cold or even icy winds blow the warmth of those fleeting words into the void. Life, we say, life is hard, life is earnest
Come on! Christmas is still very close with its wonderful message of light and hope. Lengthening of days, Easter and Spring lie bright with promise and light ahead. All we have to do is to keep the flame, lit by Gods gift of Christmas, shining and giving out its warmth through the dark days of winter. Maybe, as that is Gods gift to us, we should use his ways of keeping it going.
And just how do we do that? you may ask.
Surrounded as we are on all sides through most of todays media by cynicism, vulgarity, out-and-out lies as well as a passionate desire to fulfil our material longings with whatever is available, affordable or not, it is quite difficult to take time out and choose to do something Good.
Poor old Good, so often portrayed these days as something dull, boring and left in the corner to moulder. Maybe one day, we might think, well get round to Good but not yet. All reminiscent of St. Augustines prayer Lord, make me chaste, but not yet
There are plenty of faith sites, religious sites and if you are already blessed with a faith which brings you in touch with the dear God who created us, thank him. If you are not sure, I came across a web site while getting this months notes ready which might inspire you to start viewing poor, abandoned little Good in her dusty corner in a different light. It might help you recall the old phrase that if you want to be happy, be good oh, memories of a dim distant childhood!
With that in mind and with Gods grace, I say again
Happy New Year to you!