Prayer During the Day for Mothering Sunday 14th March

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Mothering Sunday

Mothering Sunday is likely to be difficult for many this year. This is the second year we are in lockdown and just popping round to mum’s house with a bunch of flowers is completely out of reach for those who don’t live close to their mothers. It is always a complicated festival as adverts for cards and flowers and gifts are hard on those who wanted children but didn’t have them or those who have difficult relationships with their mothers.  In 2021 there will be many households where mum died of Covid and there is no one to send flowers and a card to. It will be a first for many and there will be grief.

For others the celebration of Mother Church is equally difficult. We know that the church struggles with issues around sexuality but in 2021 it has been made clear that it also struggles with racism. Along with the stance that some churches take on women’s ministry, we have a church that does not welcome everyone, however much we want to believe it does.

That is uncomfortable but we cannot heal what we cannot name.

As a mother I can stay with all honesty that motherhood is not easy. For all those mothers who have homeschooled this past year I salute you. A tough gig got so much harder. Mothering is not all hearts and flowers however nice it is to get chocolates, flowers, a card and maybe a nice bottle of rose for Mothering Sunday (I can hope they are reading this!)

This week in our gospel we see one of the most harrowing images of the cost of motherhood. Mary the mother of Jesus is at the foot of the cross. The Mary that we saw on our Christmas cards as a young woman with her new baby is alone but for three friends. She watches her son dying. The son she gave birth to, nurtured as a toddler, raised as a child and was angry with as an adult is dying slowly. What can she do? She can’t make this better. All she can do is be there. That takes courage.

We live in a world that is full of words yet sometimes the most powerful thing we can do is be present, wordless. To witness.

As Christians we may be moved to pray yet the words won’t come. If the pain is too great, then words fall silent. Perhaps all we can do is hold our hands in a gesture of prayer, or just want to pray and hope that is enough.

As Jesus is dying he sees his mother and his compassion overcomes his pain and he names her new son his friend the beloved disciple. If we believe that Jesus is both fully human and fully God, we see in this act God’s loving kindness and justice and mercy in the words of Jesus. That is what our God is like. God sees us. God is with us even in times where words cannot do justice to the pain that is felt.

We face the reality of what happens next over Easter. The pain of Good Friday and Holy Saturday. Frightened women at the tomb on Easter morning and the joy at the resurrection.

Our God is a God of surprises and Easter Sunday is coming but until then we are seen and we are loved.

Gospel Reading John 19.25b-27
Standing near the cross of Jesus were his mother, and his mother’s sister, Mary the wife of Clopas, and Mary Magdalene.  When Jesus saw his mother and the disciple whom he loved standing beside her, he said to his mother, ‘Woman, here is your son.’ Then he said to the disciple, ‘Here is your mother.’ And from that hour the disciple took her into his own home.

Changing a habit by Revd Karen

According to the experts it takes 21 days to change a habit. It sounds really simple but if you have ever tried to create a new habit or break an old one it really is difficult.

In our reading from Romans today St Paul asks the question ‘How can we who died to sin still live in it?’ and one answer might be that it is hard to break a habit. Perhaps you are thinking that sin is for the serious stuff and it is but if we change the word sin for habit we might see more of what we need to change and why it is so hard.

Some habits are simple and small. I have been trying really hard to remember to put the house keys in the new key pot by the front door when I come in the house rather than spending ages trying to find which jacket pocket they are in. It is very simple. Come in and put them away. But it isn’t. I think it is safe to say that changing this habit is work in progress….

Losing my keys when I need to get out is an easy bad habit to spot and we can laugh about it but when we try and see our deep seated habits which have become our worldview they are really elusive. We find ourselves saying ‘but that is the way I’ve been brought up or that is the way I do things, everyone does it.’  Yet what if the way we do things hurts other people? What if the way we do things exposes an underlying racism, sexism or inequality? Now we are in sin territory.

If it is hard to learn to how to tidy up house keys it is going to be really hard to change society. If we get that far at least we are being realistic about what we are about as we try and live more Christ like lives; as we aim to become more like Jesus. St Paul’s argument in Romans about how we change as Christians is that the change starts at our baptism. Good intentions are in there. Maybe to update the image it is a bit those intentions are a bit like programming the sat nav and what we need is a voice that tells us when we have gone off course from ‘love your neighbour as yourself’ and we can start to do something about it however hard that will be.

If it takes 21 days to change a habit at least we know habits can be changed. The first step is to recognise there is a habit that needs to change. The outrage over the death of George Floyd may have made those of us who are white realise that we have not seen or named the racism in this country. The pause travel may have made us think about climate change and how we might need to change the way we live. Noticing our habits and sins is a good first step. Now we need to address them.

Getting out into the world again by Revd Karen

In today’s gospel reading (Matthew 8-35 -10 8-23) Jesus sends his disciples out into the world. It is a scary place where Jesus’ message that the kingdom of heaven has come near will be opposed. This reading occurs in our calendar at a time in the UK there is a significant easing of the lockdown restrictions with shops allowed to open and churches preparing to open their doors to private prayer from Monday. There is a lot of fear as we move from ‘stay indoors; save lives’ to ‘stay alert.’

As I’ve reflected on this long and uncomfortable reading it has struck me that this reading reminds us that the Christian life is not easy. Jesus message of what the kingdom of heaven looks like in the command to love your neighbour as yourself is a hard one. It is easier to criticize, hate or just ignore those who don’t look like us, or were raised in the same culture, or speak another language. We have seen a lot of that in the news and on social media this week. Loving ourselves and loving our neighbour is hard.

Loving ourselves sounds easy but who are we really? It is a hard journey to  find out who we really are and not who we pretend to be. That journey can be painful as we unearth those parts of ourselves we would much rather hide.

To love our neighbour we have to also have to spend time with that person and listen to their lives and their worries. Not our worries but theirs. This means coming out of a place where we are comfortable and moving into a place of vulnerability and uncertainty that is never easy.

In Jesus’ pep talk to his disciples he is really clear that sometimes the world outside our safe places is hard ‘see I am sending you out into the midst of wolves.’ There is a realism here. Jesus’ message of love and care will be opposed. But there is wisdom ‘be wise as serpents and innocent as doves.’ So educate yourself, be strategic, engage your brain but be kind and look for the best in people.

So how do those of us who are not shielding get back into the world outside our front doors? It isn’t going to be easy but we can make a difference if we keep Jesus at the centre.

The reading is here: http://bible.oremus.org/?ql=86340552

Dancing the Trinity by Revd Karen

Every year there are preachers out there who discover that circle dance is one of the metaphors for the Trinity. It makes a change from steam/water/ice or the Shamrock but most of the people who bring circle dance into their sermons have no idea what they are talking about. It isn’t that their theology is dodgy but they won’t have danced. I know this as I’m a circle dance teacher and sometime choreographer and I know how few people have actually experienced this form of dance.

Trinity Sunday is a challenge as we struggle to make sense of something about the divine nature of God as three persons – father, son and holy spirit. Not separate individuals and not three aspects of the same person.

The circle with its sense of never ending, the movement of the dance and the way that different people in the dance contribute to the whole is a tiny insight into the Trinity. Yet anyone who has danced this form of dance which comes  from the community dances of Europe will know that circle dance is a better metaphor for that central tenant of Christianity which is ‘love your neighbour as you love yourself.’ In a week where there have been protests around the world at the treatment of humanity with darker skin than those in the ruling elite these words of Jesus need to be heard clearer than ever.

When you dance this form of dance you hold someone’s hand. You have to listen to the music and the rhythm and try to remember the steps. You also have to listen to your neighbour and adapt your dancing to them. If you neighbour is taller than you both of you will have to find a step length that works for both of you. If your neighbour has a stiff shoulder you can’t be as exuberant in your arm gestures. In the dance there are individuals but they can only dance together if they are aware of the other and make adjustments.

Who is our neighbour? If we are white what can we learn from those people of colour who are our neighbours? How and what do we need to change so that we can answer the question posed by the prophet Micah And what does the Lord require of you? To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God.

So if you haven’t seen what it looks like this is circle dance danced by ordinary people getting some of the steps wrong but working together to create something beautiful. It’s a pilgrim’s dance.

May we dance for justice, may we listen to our neighbours and may we discover the divine in what we do with others.

Thin Spaces: Sacred Spaces by Revd Karen

This week the world wide church celebrated Ascension Day when Jesus left his earthly ministry and started working from home! Although it is a time of celebration I’ve been stuck with a real sadness this year as, at St Mark’s we should be joining with other churches in the area to sing and worship together, and of course we can’t do that this year. My plan is to watch the service at St Martin in the Fields in that spirit of visiting other churches but it isn’t the same however wonderful their services are.

In this season between Ascension and Pentecost when we are made very aware that Jesus is not just a good man who told us to be nice to people but God I’ve been wondering about how we encounter the divine today.

For me that encounter can happen in thin places and sacred spaces. My favourite thin place is by the sea where the waves roll onto the beach and the seagulls call overhead – there the barrier between the everyday world and the divine feels more porous and prayer is deeper and more immediate. I can’t visit that place at the moment and that is a loss. I can pray in the supermarket and I do, but it is different.

I wonder where thin places are for you? Perhaps in nature, in Bushy Park, in a forest or up a mountain? Maybe it is about watching clouds or smelling the grass or the sounds of the rain. Or being with people – at a big gathering for music or worship. It will be different for everyone but those thin spaces are out there.

Sacred spaces can be thin spaces too. I’m a huge fan of cathedrals which are sacred spaces. They were designed to be sacred but they can be thin as well. There is a big baptismal pool at Salisbury Cathedral that I love to visit and see the reflections of the building in the water. There is a statue in the crypt at Winchester Cathedral that has a quality of stillness that I can spend hours with.

Perhaps being apart from our sacred and thin spaces is why staying at home can feel hard right now.

St Marks is a sacred place. It feels prayerful. It isn’t just the simple architecture although I’m sure it helps, but the place has been prayed in for 80 years and somehow it has seeped into the walls. There is a quality to the silence there which I noticed the first time I walked in.

There are plans to open up the churches when the government allow but for now perhaps it is enough to mourn the loss of our thin and sacred spaces and to wonder if there might be a way to find them closer to home. By spending time being and not doing in the garden. By stopping in our walks in the park and remembering that God is with us. If you are not used to praying in this way take a moment as you set out on your walk to imagine yourself in the presence of a God who loves you more than you can know. Perhaps imagine Jesus walking with you or the Holy Spirit as a flame or breathe of wind accompanying you on your walk. Keep focused on the everyday and notice how beautiful the trees and birds and flowers are. If you feel able have a conversation with the one who is walking with you. At the end of the walk thank them for their company!

At a time when we can’t travel to sacred and thin spaces we can find them closer to home.

 

 

 

 

Troubling Times by Revd Karen

We are living in troubling times.

A BBC report last week said that more people have died in London from Corona Virus than during the Blitz. The economy appears to be tanking and levels of anxiety are rising over the lifting of the lock down however much we want to get out and hug our friends and family.

Jesus says in the portion of scripture that is set out for this Sunday (John 14 1-14) says ‘Do not let your hearts be troubled’ and later in this same passage ‘I am the way, and the truth, and the life.’ This is saying that has brought huge comfort to Christians over the ages yet we are in a new times and I wonder how we interpret ‘do not let your hearts be troubled’ in the time of Corona?

One way of looking at the anxiety might be to look at what is mourned. What is troubling the heart? My sense is that a lot of the grief in lock down is the loss of the familiar. We no longer have the patterns and routines of our lives and although we can get used to the new, we still miss the old. The temptation when lock down is finally lifted will be to rush back to the old normal whether it was good for us (and the planet) or not.

What we might be missing is the chance to stay in the uncertainty and vulnerability of our different world. It is not an easy place to be. It takes courage to sit with that which is unfamiliar and challenges a need for order and certainty. It requires a mind-set that says ‘maybe’ or ‘what if’ or ‘I wonder? That takes time to cultivate and practice to stay there.

Perhaps those of us who were certain in the old normal can learn from those who live with uncertainty and vulnerability in their everyday lives. These might be those at the margins of our society without the well paid jobs and pensions, without security and without health? These are the people Jesus hung out with after all.

At a time when there is more space because the old life is on hold might this be when we might have the courage to stop, to say ‘don’t let our hearts be troubled’ and what might we be called to do and be in the new normal.

So in the spirit of vulnerability there are no answers here just a sense that now, when there is more space because the old life is on hold, we might have the courage to stop, to listen to Jesus saying ‘don’t let our hearts be troubled,’ remember that he is the way and to ask what might we be called to do and be in the new normal.