Saturday, 29 September 2012

Imperfectly yours

GospelMark 9:38-43,45,47-48 


John said to Jesus, ‘Master, we saw a man who is not one of us casting out devils in your name; and because he was not one of us we tried to stop him.’ But Jesus said, ‘You must not stop him: no one who works a miracle in my name is likely to speak evil of me. Anyone who is not against us is for us.
  ‘If anyone gives you a cup of water to drink just because you belong to Christ, then I tell you solemnly, he will most certainly not lose his reward.
  ‘But anyone who is an obstacle to bring down one of these little ones who have faith, would be better thrown into the sea with a great millstone round his neck. And if your hand should cause you to sin, cut it off; it is better for you to enter into life crippled, than to have two hands and go to hell, into the fire that cannot be put out. And if your foot should cause you to sin, cut it off; it is better for you to enter into life lame, than to have two feet and be thrown into hell. And if your eye should cause you to sin, tear it out; it is better for you to enter into the kingdom of God with one eye, than to have two eyes and be thrown into hell where their worm does not die nor their fire go out.’


Mark is generally a 'what you see is what you get' writer. A sparse reporter, at best; the challenge is usually padding out the verses with experiences and understanding.

But not here.

The disciples complain about someone doing good in Jesus' name; someone who is not one of them. In a world where the number of Christian groups now number tens of thousands, this message seems clear. We have spent too much time judging each others worth to speak in Jesus' name. When we comment that someone is not one of us, we immedately raise our status; give ourselves authority; we take ownership of God's power. We have conveniently disregarded the fact that the power of healing, of reconciliation lies in Jesus' name and not in our own tongue. We can count ourselves chastised and promise to be more ecumenical; more accepting; more appreciative of those who are not 'like us' - or we can try.

But the next part is altogether more obscure.

These verses remind me of one of Matthew's tirades against the Pharisees and scribes. A repetition of imagery that feels more and more unconfortable as the 'worm' gets nearer and nearer. How can it be better to be lame, blind, disabled. How can I make the choice to maim myself; how can this be what God could ever want?

I wonder if it is my 'self' or my ego that Jesus is talking about.

The Gospels constantly warn against the power of the ego. How easy it is for a seemingly authentic faith to place itself in a place of authority over others even with the warning that we should not be called father, master, leader or teacher. These are the titles we give ourselves and that we allow others to confer on us. And, often, we work hard to achieve them with the justification of vocation and talent being fulfilled - surely as God would want?

And maybe God does want; and maybe God also wants us to remember what the mission is. To call people to change and to believe. Not to stand in the way of that belief; not to tell them how and if they have changed; not to put ourselves up as examples of the perfect Christian even when there is no such thing as perfect.   Jesus says that only his Father is good; Jesus sees himself as 'less', as the servant, as the friend. We can do no more.

Programmes such as the Twelve Steps can only begin with the knowledge and acceptance that we cannot solve our problems by ourselves. In Step One, the person is immediately and voluntarily disabled; they have to accept that they are at the bottom of the heap and that there is no way up without turning their life over to a Higher Power who will guide and heal as long as they stay in that relationship of need and dependence.

We imagine that our faith is best supported with confidence; with justification . Maybe not if that confidence is self- grown. We need to be 'disabled' - from our pride; our certainty; our personal prejudices and envy of others. God, it seems, cannot bear ego, pride or certainty. 

We are worth more without these earthly tendencies; when we can act - even teach or lead - with compassion; forgiveness; understanding and, most of all, love; when we can do all these with acknowledgement of our weaknesses.

 We are never more completely God's than when we are broken.


In Jesus' name

wordinthehand2012




Friday, 28 September 2012

Feast of St Michael and the Archangels




The Eighth Day 

After the Day of Rest, God looked out on the universe that he had made. God saw the ripples and the rhythms; the flow and the ebbing of all Creation. Here and there, God saw that there were eddys in the flow and sometimes the tide was turned aside or even back on itself.

God called the archangels and sent them to visit Creation and tell of what they witnessed.

Gabriel spoke of the music of the spheres, the birdsong; the call of the wolf and the midnight song of the nightingale; the rustle of leaves and the thunder of waterfalls; it was all good.

Raphael spoke of the growing of life; the play between the butterfly and the bee; the patterns of the flowers and grain; the colours of the coral reef and the rainbow of the myriad sealife that moved across it; it was all good.

Uriel spoke of the sunrise and sunset; of clouds racing across desert skies; of the midnight sun sparking off glaciers; of death and how new life came from death; it was all good.

Michael stood silently for a moment; frowned; opened his mouth then closed it again. His eyes went up to the higher heavens and then he sighed.

'Michael', God said, 'speak of what you saw.'

'Almighty, You are good and everything you do is good. It's just the little ones; the humans -they don't seem to know their place; they don't seem to know how to 'be' good. They wander here and there; they build homes only to destroy them; they dig up the earth only to plant something else; they love - they love wonderfully but they hate as wonderfully as they love. They don't seem to know You; they don't seem to know themselves. They seem - unsettled - unfinished somehow.'

Michael opened his eyes wide, lost for what else to say, and looked across at the other archangels.

'You made them last of all, Wondrous One,' murmured Gabriel, 'perhaps they are not quite ready?'

'I made them last of all , but I love them most,' replied God, 'and I have given them so much. Maybe they could do with some guidance; some support; maybe someone to watch over them?'

The archangels bowed in agreement. 'Maybe more than one?' suggested Uriel.

'Then,' said God, 'I am sending you, Uriel, to watch over their days and nights and show those with eyes that see, signs of my presence. Gabriel, you will speak to those with ears that hear, of my love for them. Raphael, you will teach those who are willing of the healing power of my creation and guide them on the right paths.

And Michael, Michael, you will watch over them - if you have seen their weakness then others will have too and I will not lose even one. You will guard them whilst they live and, at the end of this Day you will bring them Home to me.'

The archangels bowed deeply to their Almighty Beloved and turned in formation to take up their guardianship.

'I have a feeling,' commented Michael, 'this is going to be a really long Day.'

Circle of Protection
I call on the mercy of the
Sacred Three
To send circles of angels
To protect me.
And the mighty Archangels
To stand over me
To shield me with their wings.
To the North, stand Michael, Prince and Warrior
To the South, stand Gabriel, Speaker of Truth
To the West, stand Raphael, Healer and Defender
To the East, stand Uriel, Lightbearer.
May they be comrades in arms
Guardians of faith
Beacons against the darkness
Sentinels of God's Love

in Jesus' name 
Amen


wordinthehand2012

originally posted here

Monday, 24 September 2012

V.I.R.T.U.E.

Since the change in the school syllabus for upper school students, which has done away with coursework and returned exams to a single test after two years of study, we 'elders' have been revisiting some of our revision and memory tricks from long ago. After a lifetime of being told that they would never have to remember very much - as information is both readily available and quickly obsolete - this has come as something of a shock and created some challenges to the students' understanding that, now, knowledge is a thing to be laid down and built upon. Of course, some of the older folk in the staffroom are nodding sagely that it all comes round to basics in the end. As my love of technology is tempered by a reticence to rely on it -  I was - mostly-  nodding along too.

At the beginning of the summer holidays I was nodding with enthusiasm to a talk on another 'back to basics' study. A week's study and workshop with two Jesuits, on the positive values of Christian Virtues in the world today. Supported with moral theological considerations and psychological studies, the Virtues were presented as a 'back to basics' guide to almost every part of life. They are an antidote to an ever-increasing narcissistic society that appears to be evolving out of an extremist understanding of self-esteem and a media-fed belief that the right thing to do is the choice that suits us best.

Maybe it's the time of year - the time of the Crone - and I have my grandmother head on.  Surely human beings are not meant to treat themselves as  techno' hardware; always looking for an upgrade? Surely human beings are not meant to live with a binary code of me first? We are wondrously made from the moment of our conception and our individual names are there, tattooed onto the Father's palm.  So, for us to reject our own gifts and talents; our own sense of right and wrong; our own sense of connection to a God who is eternal,  so as to rely on what the market provides; to stand in lines of desire  for the next big thing and be consumed by media driven need, makes no sense to me.

Dionne Warwick - now I am showing my age - sang the lyrics -

'I was born to love you,
 and I will never be free,
you will always be a part of me'

That's our relationship with God -to love, to know we are loved and so to love others. Jesus gives us the two Great Commandments and tells us - that's basically it. And how complicated we have made it.

These two experiences have resulted in this mnemonic;- 

V - alue - who you are; who other people are; where you are; what you are. There is no way of knowing what difference an act or word or thought may make to you or to another. The virtue of Wisdom urges us to see the good  and to reflect on where God's hand is in every situation. As Jesus says; we hold the pearl of great price - treasure it.

I - ntention - Something the Olympics seemed to shout out to me was the benefit of having a dream - from the theatrical fantasy of Danny Boyle to the volunteers sewing on buttons and moving hurdles; the greater vision made the most mundane act important. So in life - every random act of kindness is a step towards the Kingdom; every word of encouragement; every hand up.  As Gandhi says - be the change you want to see in the world. The virtue of Courage helps us to take the risk; carrying the cross because we want to.

R - elationship - Faith is the spiritual virtue that helps us build relationships with other human beings especially people we don't know; the gift of hospitality. I know I have trouble loving people the way Jesus asks me to; I need Jesus to hold my hand. The depth of my relationship with Jesus deepens other relationships; even fleeting relationships. A smile at the sign of peace; taking the time to ask how someone is and listening to the answer; praying with those in need; celebrating with those in joy. When Jesus calls us friends he also means - of each other.

T- rust - The virtue of Hope goes very well with Trust. God is God... but..... and it is always the 'but's' that get me. Trusting God to love me; to hear me; to guide me; to be there when I'm at my worse; to be there for those that I am called to love - and no 'but's'.

U- nity - The great prayer of Jesus that we all will be one will be answered, not by God but by us. We share in the desire of a just and merciful God; It is for us perform the great works that will outdo even what Jesus achieved -  working against judgement, exclusion, fear and discrimination until there is unity. The vision of the Trinity, to me, isn't only one of completeness but one of invitation - there is always room for one more. There will always be room for one more.

E - nJoy - Temperance sounds the least likely pathway to joy. But joy is the delight in a righteous life; in the awareness of God in that life.  The quick fix of fulfilled desires that are self rather than God centred may bring happiness but not the deeper, spiritual contentment of joy. Spend your life well.

And all in Jesus' name 

wordinthehand2012



Sunday, 23 September 2012

Children of God

 Sunday GospelMark 9:30-37 


After leaving the mountain Jesus and his disciples made their way through Galilee; and he did not want anyone to know, because he was instructing his disciples; he was telling them, ‘The Son of Man will be delivered into the hands of men; they will put him to death; and three days after he has been put to death he will rise again.’ But they did not understand what he said and were afraid to ask him.
  They came to Capernaum, and when he was in the house he asked them, ‘What were you arguing about on the road?’ They said nothing because they had been arguing which of them was the greatest. So he sat down, called the Twelve to him and said, ‘If anyone wants to be first, he must make himself last of all and servant of all.’ He then took a little child, set him in front of them, put his arms round him, and said to them, ‘Anyone who welcomes one of these little children in my name, welcomes me; and anyone who welcomes me welcomes not me but the one who sent me.’

The mountain is the mountain where the Transfiguration took place. Only a short time ago Jesus was in the company of the fathers,  blessed by his Divine Father and filled with the light of heaven. Surely the disciples had been suitably awe-struck by Peter, James and John's account as they walked the road. Now as the mountain fades into a distant purple haze, a different type of confusion has come over them.. How could this divine Son be talking about failure and death? Why are they heading towards the place where it will happen? What is he expecting them to do about it?

How do they deal with difficult questions that they don't want answers to? They simply don't ask them. Too afraid to hear an unwelcome truth, they distract themselves entirely with this talk of victory and status.

When we see God threatening to move us out of our comfort zone we may hang back from allowing him into our lives. We may sit in the 'back seats' of our faith life without engaging with what we are called to do.

Even as disciples we have our limits - this far and no further - and then look to reward ourselves for living within those limits.  We imagine ourselves as adults - surely we already have authority and status? We readily argue rights and wrongs amongst ourselves without even involving God. We fail to give God the opportunity to be the God we need rather than the one we want.

The 'manly' thing to do perhaps would be to challenge them face to face; to shout them down; to demand an answer, an apology even. Jesus is cannier than this; he calls them to remember who he is. He is the 'great one' - the rabbi - and in the rabbinic tradition - the teacher sits whllst his followers stand to hear the words spoken in authority. The men stand in their position of humility - reminded of the servants that he calls them to be. Jesus then draws an image of the Kingdom to him; this little child - powerless and without authority yet with all the love that the Father can bestow on them.

 It is the powerless and the fragile that make up the Kingdom and whatever authority we believe we have, it is given to us to welcome such as these into our lives. To serve them as we serve God; with all our heart and all our soul and all our mind.  

And, also, to ask Jesus to guide us to the child that dwells in our own hearts.

In Jesus' name

wordinthehand2012



Sunday, 16 September 2012

Friends in need

GospelMark 8:27-35


Jesus and his disciples left for the villages round Caesarea Philippi. On the way he put this question to his disciples, ‘Who do people say I am?’ And they told him. ‘John the Baptist,’ they said ‘others Elijah; others again, one of the prophets.’ ‘But you,’ he asked ‘who do you say I am?’ Peter spoke up and said to him, ‘You are the Christ.’ And he gave them strict orders not to tell anyone about him.
  And he began to teach them that the Son of Man was destined to suffer grievously, to be rejected by the elders and the chief priests and the scribes, and to be put to death, and after three days to rise again; and he said all this quite openly. Then, taking him aside, Peter started to remonstrate with him. But, turning and seeing his disciples, he rebuked Peter and said to him, ‘Get behind me, Satan! Because the way you think is not God’s way but man’s.’

  He called the people and his disciples to him and said, ‘If anyone wants to be a follower of mine, let him renounce himself and take up his cross and follow me. For anyone who wants to save his life will lose it; but anyone who loses his life for my sake, and for the sake of the gospel, will save it.’




I never used to have much time for Peter; I often wondered what Jesus sees in him. His actions seem clumsy; he has no sense of occasion and he is forever putting his foot in it. 

And yet this is the person the church is built upon.

I wrote a poem a while ago where Mary Magdalen asks Peter why 'his' church is the way it is. The link to the post I used it in is here

Who knew that he would write back? Not in poetry - but in feelings and emotions that I would have never considered in the lumbering image that I had of him. Peter loves Jesus - a brother and a friend -  in a way that he has never imagined loving anyone and it has changed him.

 Peter has a family; yet it seems that there are times when he will leave their welfare to the rest of his crew. For Jesus.

Peter has status; boat owner, business man, elder. Yet, he becomes a follower; he takes the lower place. For Jesus.

Peter's nature is the sea yet he is led into the desert; over and over again. And he goes. For Jesus.

When he looks at Jesus, Peter doesn't see prophets, seers or legends; he doesn't see covenants or oracles; he doesn't see promises or threats. 

 Peter sees Jesus. 

So when he is asked the question, the only answer he has is the truth; Jesus is....Jesus. And in that 'eye of love' he sees Jesus as clearly as Jesus sees him. Sees Jesus as clearly as the Father sees him; and the only word he has for that is - the Christ - the Anointed One. Chosen by God; chosen by Peter. 

That's the gift. That's Peter's gift to us. That is discipleship; that is faith. That, as ordinary and unworthy as he is; as imperfect and as fallible as he is; he loves and is loved by Jesus; by the Father; by the Spirit. And for a breath in time he sees it; he knows it.

But then; having named Jesus; he believes that he has some ownership over him. He seeks to limit and control him. He believes that he knows best what God should do; how the story should go.                                    

After all, if you have everything, can you welcome nothing? If you are happy can you welcome despair? If you feel secure can you welcome fear?

Peter is not Satan. The fear of loss is so very human. And surely Jesus feels it; the conversation with Peter may have shared those same feelings of what this will mean; may have talked through the needs and sacrifices. Jesus may well have warned Peter that the time was coming when Peter would have to be his 'rock'. 

And then, they turn round and there are the rest of the disciples listening in; reading the bodytalk; looking anxious. And the friendship is tested. How can Jesus keep his composure; how can he move his people if they are rooted in fear?

The greatest test of friendship perhaps, to allow yourself to be 'put in your place'; to be made an example of. A rebuttal so strong that the disciples will listen to the reality of what this acceptance will mean to them. So that Jesus can open eyes as Peter's have been opened. So that Jesus can teach God's way to his followers; the way of service and sacrifice; the way beyond our control; the way of the Cross.

wordinthehand2012

Sunday, 9 September 2012

The other side

GospelMark 7:31-37 


Returning from the district of Tyre, Jesus went by way of Sidon towards the Sea of Galilee, right through the Decapolis region. And they brought him a deaf man who had an impediment in his speech; and they asked him to lay his hand on him. He took him aside in private, away from the crowd, put his fingers into the man’s ears and touched his tongue with spittle. Then looking up to heaven he sighed; and he said to him, ‘Ephphatha’, that is, ‘Be opened.’ And his ears were opened, and the ligament of his tongue was loosened and he spoke clearly. And Jesus ordered them to tell no one about it, but the more he insisted, the more widely they published it. Their admiration was unbounded. ‘He has done all things well,’ they said ‘he makes the deaf hear and the dumb speak.’


Sometimes you literally need to know where you are with the Gospel. 

The names and places all sound both mysterious and familiar - names we have lived with for most of our lives. And with the contempt that familiarity can nurture we believe that because we have the names we know who we are talking about; we know who Jesus' allies are.

We certainly have the sense that the Pharisees are no friends of Jesus. They are witnesses to miracles and privy to the words of prophecy and scripture yet Jesus remains a figure for doubt and suspicion. No matter how much good he does there is always a 'but'.

The Decapolis region is the other side of the Galilee; the other side of the Jordan; the other side from Jerusalem. It is the side of the Gentiles; Romans and Greeks.  The word that Jesus uses to release the man from his captivity is given in the Greek transliteration of the original Aramaic, perhaps to show us what culture this man belonged to. There is no 'but' in their exclamations of praise. Jesus brought healing to this man - what else is there to say?

The verses that we have missed from last week including the Syro-phoenician woman who asked for healing only to be told that Jesus' mission was not for the 'dogs'. Her answer and her faith must have made a big impression on Jesus.

Jesus would know that these people know nothing about the prophecies of his mission; they have not lived in hope of his coming; they have not prayed in the temple for God to answer their prayers. 

They have not been involved in the centuries old conversation with the Lord; they have not heard or read the psalms and scriptures, The promise that was made to Abraham was not made to them. They have been kept 'without the walls'; in the dark.

They are 'deaf and dumb'.

But they can 'see'. They believe their own eyes.

Jesus is forced to appreciate their faith in what they see. 

Jesus answers the curiosity of the first disciples with the invitation to 'come and see'. These people didn't wait for an invitation. 

The groan that accompanies this healing may well have been Jesus' own release from the restrictions of that first vision of what his mission entails. The recognition that not only does God choose us but that we have the freedom to choose God.

As Isaiah's tongue is blessed with the fire of the Lord so this man is blessed, literally, with the living water of Jesus. He is opened to the fullness of the experience of God. He is a symbol of all those who already 'see' the Father's hand in the world and come to learn of God's love through that 'seeing'.

He is healed; how can he not now be 'sent'? 

How well Jesus does everything! 

How often have you said that?

wordinthehand2012


 


Sunday, 2 September 2012

Fear is a terrible thing

Sunday GospelMark 7:1-8,14-15,21-23 


The Pharisees and some of the scribes who had come from Jerusalem gathered round Jesus, and they noticed that some of his disciples were eating with unclean hands, that is, without washing them. For the Pharisees, and the Jews in general, follow the tradition of the elders and never eat without washing their arms as far as the elbow; and on returning from the market place they never eat without first sprinkling themselves. There are also many other observances which have been handed down to them concerning the washing of cups and pots and bronze dishes. So these Pharisees and scribes asked him, ‘Why do your disciples not respect the tradition of the elders but eat their food with unclean hands?’ He answered, ‘It was of you hypocrites that Isaiah so rightly prophesied in this passage of scripture:
This people honours me only with lip-service,
while their hearts are far from me.
The worship they offer me is worthless,
the doctrines they teach are only human regulations.
You put aside the commandment of God to cling to human traditions.’ He called the people to him again and said, ‘Listen to me, all of you, and understand. Nothing that goes into a man from outside can make him unclean; it is the things that come out of a man that make him unclean. For it is from within, from men’s hearts, that evil intentions emerge: fornication, theft, murder, adultery, avarice, malice, deceit, indecency, envy, slander, pride, folly. All these evil things come from within and make a man unclean.’

I often use the comment on posts about rules and authority that 'fear is a terrible thing'. And it is and it presents itself in a multitude of ways.  

Fear of being found out; fear of being found wanting; fear of failing; fear that the status quo is no longer right; fear that the better way may be too hard; fear that someone will want what we have; fear that no-one will want what we have; fear that we may be wrong; fear that we will be left behind; fear that someone else will take control of our lives; fear that we will be hurt.

Yet how often we give control of our lives willingly to others? How often we find the best option is to build a set of rules and regulations. 

We use our head to live because it is safer than living in our heart. 



But sometimes, rules are no help at all...


 I was trying to decide whether to share this... and I will... and I will hope that it's for the best. Bear with me.

Recently, I was driving home and decided to measure out the walk I have been taking with the dog - going back to work with the intention of setting myself some rules for healthy living.

The walk includes the perimeter of a nearby cemetery. So, watching the odometer I drove through pouring rain around the outer ring of the newer development of the grounds and, out of the corner of my eye I saw a tall person in what seemed to be a dressing gown standing amongst the gravestones. 

I started to drive home; with an feeling of unease. I have seen people in the cemetery before; heard stories of what can and may go on. But then who was I to judge? 

Maybe it was completely innocent; an evening visit; was it a dressing gown or a trick of the eye; and after all I was on my own; a risky business for a woman to stop anywhere - but in a cemetery; in the dark? The rules of safe living said - go home and if you are still worried phone the police and let them laugh at you.

The unease wouldn't go away. I felt fear - of something that hadn't even happened; and then anxiety - for 'what if?' 

What if God had accompanied me on that vanity driven exercise and found me an opportunity to do good? And a comment from a friend that I carry with me for such occasions - 'but you - you're not scared of anything' maybe I added 'what's the worst that could happen?'

I turned around and after a few circuits found a young woman sitting in the grass, soaking wet, numb with cold, lost -in more ways than one. A phone call revealed that police, ambulance, friends and family were searching for her. 

She sat in the back of the car like a frightened deer whilst we waited; too distressed to speak; whilst I prayed a mumble of thank-yous and blessings that my sense of self-preservation and leapt-to conclusions had not proved too high for God to steer me past. 

The police, when they came, were gentle and polite - and I pray that God is with her in her healing.  

I don't know about all those words that Jesus uses to describe evil - they are a scary compendium of words that basically mean 'self first' and I am as guilty of many of them as anyone. 

'Self first' is a rule of today; a rule that almost sent me home in fear. It's a rule to be broken - in Jesus' name.
wordinthehand2012



Saturday, 1 September 2012

Lindisfarne - the Sixth Day


Patrick - dear saint of our Isle

Then God said, "Let us make man in our image, in our likeness, and let them rule over the fish of the sea and the birds of the air, over the livestock, over all the earth, and over all the creatures that move along the ground."


There's a fair amount of information on St Patrick  this site is fairly open to both legend and fact - such as it is.

Patrick's missionary work was nowhere near Lindisfarne and centuries earlier than the brothers and sisters we celebrate this week.

Which, I suppose, is the point on several levels. 

To be reminded that we are all 'dwarves standing on the shoulders of giants'. That we are all beholden in our belonging and our traditions to those who have gone before. We have all sat at the feet of someone who told us this story that we seek to be a part of. 

Also, that Lindisfarne, and anywhere else that we regard as sacred, may be places for rest and renewal, but our ministry is most often in the place where we live and the people that we meet in our ordinary but 'extraordinary' lives. 

And then, that we should be aware of this world where we live; that the missionaries carried the faith across the country; the holy road led everywhere; reached everyone. And that there are memories are left behind if we only open our eyes.


St Patrick's Well isn't my nearest sacred space but the one I would probably have never visited if I hadn't made the commitment to 'look at the ground beneath my feet'.



Part of the nature reserve - known as the 'Wirral Way' - travels through Bromborough, about five miles from my home.

Bromborough is one of the possible sites of an epic battle in 937, the Battle of Brunanburh, This is the first battle where England came together as one country, to fight the combined forces of the Norsemen and the Scots, and historians consider it the birthplace of England; this area is known as Dibbinsdale being centred around the River Dibbin. It's a mixture of meadow, riverside wetland and retains some of the ancient woodland of the 12th Century forest.


A breath of water and woodland surrounded by busy rush hour traffic; industrial units and a shopping outlet; I have driven past hundreds of times always on my way to 'somewhere else'.
This summer I turned into the sandstone lined lane; came to a halt in the tree encircled car park and took a look at the reserve map with the philosophical comment 'you are here'.

And on one of the many woodland walks there was a label and a small detour over a wooden bridge to a spot marked 'St Patrick's Well'.

St Patrick is reputed to have blessed this well, a scarce source of fresh water at the time, before his mission to Ireland in 432. Tradition or otherwise - this little corner has kept the title ever since.

Water has always been a sacred place in pagan and celtic spirituality. It would make perfect sense as the celts moved from pagan to Christian belief to have their source of water blessed by a man who embodied the strengths of the Druids and the Christian faith. You would wonder why it wasn't more famous; why, indeed, it didn't have it's own pilgrimage trail?

                                                  On seeing the sign I was a little hesitant to go further; what if it was neglected; vandalised; graffittied? What if it was a dreadful disappointment? What if it wasn't even there?

But it was; the walk lead downhill into a sandstone gorge. I found myself following a path below the surface of the modern road - beside the path the runoff from the rain mingled with the cascades of a brook that widened into small river.  An arrowed sign that seemed to lead nowhere and there it was - a small squared-off entrance with markers of ancient masonery held in the grip of the deep roots of a beech tree. The water clear and bright above the debris of nature's leavings - seed pods, twigs, leaves and crab apples.




A certain neglectful elegance; a stillness; a sense of presence that was both spiritual and remarkably mundane.

There was nowhere to sit apart from the floor and the weather wasn't kind - leaning against the rocky outcrop the sound of the traffic above faded into a quiet humm. Any sense of moving on disappeared; stillness descended.

As dogwalkers and bmx bikers passed by there was a sense of timelines crossing; boundaries being pulled down. Sixteen hundred years plus of people coming to the Well; a place of life, of faith, of hope. And here I am today seeking the same refreshment of life.

Even if Patrick hadn't been here although there was a plain-ness and a practicality that would have certainly suited his spirituality - this place, this water was valued; was important; was sacred in a discrete way; sacred enough to remain inviolate. Somewhat returned to Creation; but why not? Why not?

God in the Everyday; the Everywhere - in a walk through woodland; across tidal  sands or sitting in a ancient church. Holy men and women have come before us whether or not we know their names - we are all part of a greater realm - we just have to take the time to step out of the normal way of things now and again.

I count the four hour plus drive to Lindisfarne as well worth it even when it is just for the day; but I can't do it every day.  Perhaps this is a good reminder that before we start out on our pilgrimages of faith we should first know where it is we start from.

As Mary Oliver says:

"Instructions for living a life.

Pay attention.
Be astonished.
Tell about it." 

wordinthehand 2012


The Northumbria Community's Compline for Saturday  here