Thursday, 29 September 2016

Harvest 2016

In my mind at least I have been toying with goats! One of the advantages may be shorter grass in my meadow - it used to be a paddock but this year I let it grow to encourage the wild flowers and was rewarded with an abundance of butterflies visiting the buddleia in the garden - but back to the goats there would be milk, cheese and wool and eventually some years off maybe a curry. Frances is less certain, or rather she is very certain that she does not wish the company of goats. We have though been richly blessed with the fruits of the earth this year. Samphire picked straight from the marshes, blackberries and little plums from the hedgerows, elderflowers for making a sorbet, cobnuts from Kent, rhubarb from the garden, all the herbs that flourish in outdoor pots and best of recent days, figs from a neighbour’s tree enjoyed with Bulgarian cheese.

There is something special about eating from the wild that is exciting- the special treat of something freely given which is available when it is ready, not forced or imported from afra but right there within reach and to hand. These things need to be wild in my case for I am a poor cultivator. I walk my dogs jealously past the allotments admiring the raspberries, marrows and tomatoes knowing that I could never make those work for me.

There has been a resurgence of eating “in season.” My present cookbook of choice is Nigel Slater’s third set of kitchen diaries with his particular recipes for each month of the year and recently I found Tamasin Day Little’s book subtitles “The art of seasonal cooking.”

Abandoning the supermarket mentality of having everything whenever you want it restores our connection with seasonality and the rhythm of life but also sharpens our anticipation. Waiting for blackberries, gooseberries, mushrooms brings with it a mouthwatering expectation. Deuteronomy tells us

     “When you have come into the land that the Lord your God is giving you ……you shall take some of the first of all the fruit of the ground  ….. And you shall put it in a basket.”

The basket is to be taken to the priests to be placed on the altar where you are to celebrate with all the bounty that the Lord your God has given you.”

My father would say of his garden at at certain times that “it had gone over” meaning that the roses, the fruit or the flowers were past their best and were looking a little dowdy. There is no question of that with our offerings to God: We are to give the first fruits, those which appear when the all the conditions were perfectly right, when the fig, the apple or the strawberry judges that it is time to put forth. Notice too that our anticipation is then at its peak. We wonder at the things we have been freely given, we pause to give thanks for the abundance and the beauty and bounty that we have been gifted we do not eat the first but give it in thanksgiving to almighty God.

Tamsin's book - the art of seasonal cooking has a better and fuller main title: It is called “Simply the best”  

And that is what we offer, what God gives us and what we give thanks for.


Friday, 16 September 2016

Public Prayer Timothy 2:1-7

Timothy was one of Paul’s closest co-workers and friends; we know this because they sent letters jointly to churches and at the end of his life Paul called Timothy to his side. We are privileged to have this letter where Paul is giving instructions to the young Timothy on how to manage the church at Ephesus. Paul is beginning to realise that he is not going travel there again and he wants to give Timothy all the help he can. Now we all know how difficult it is to pass on advice to young successors [I wonder what David’s notes to Teresa contained?]

So Paul goes for the overarching, the most important thing: “First of all,” before anything else he speaks about prayer. It is clear and obvious that every church is a worshiping fellowship but sometimes the thing that is under our noses is the very    thing we overlook. William Temple a past archbishop of Canterbury said,

“The most effective thing the Church in Christ can do in the world
is to lift up their heart in adoration to God.”

When we think of the times in which he lived, from 1881 to 1944, so through two world wars, when there was so much practical work for all in including the churches to do that he identifies prayer as the most effective activity of the church speaks volumes.

Paul’s words are very strong, “I urge you,” he says “that supplications, prayers, intercessions and thanksgivings be made for everyone,” and here he is speaking about public prayer. These prayers are for others and their purpose is less the benefit to the interior life of the person praying and more the outworking of prayer in the world. Paul says we do this “so we may live a quiet and peaceable life.” Prayer and I mean the interconnected fabric of praying souls, reaches a realm beyond our understanding. I remember as just one example when our archdeacon came home from a long spell in hospital that he spoke movingly about how he had felt spiritually and physically buoyed up by all the prayers that he knew were being said in the churches of the archdeaconry Sunday by Sunday. 

I often think of how supportive it feels to know that the readings at morning and evening worship are shared (via the lectionary) across the world; my friends and yours are hearing and pondering the same lessons and Gospels that we are, they are being inspired, puzzled and praying through the same ideas.

Since William Temple’s time the perceived idea that religion is something one does in private has gained ever stronger footholds with public prayer in schools in council chambers and even as part of a church advertisement in cinemas coming under sustained attack. Modern men and women deem it an affront but Paul did not know our strange world. For him it was natural, a reflex, to pray for all and he specifically mentions kings and people in high positions because by doing that, together, outwardly with integrity it would be acceptable to God and God would work his purposes out.

Also the kings, queens prime ministers, presidents and leaders of the world would hear the prayers of the people. So from the Book of Common Prayer for years said in every church in the land every Sunday:

“We beseech thee to save and defend all (Christian) kings, princes, governors, and especially Elizabeth our queen that under her we may be godly and quietly governed.”

Let us remember Paul’s first words of advice and seek to follow them faithfully committing all we do and everyone in our prayers.          

Saturday, 3 September 2016

Summer holidays are over

I can tell summer is over because I have put my watch back on my wrist.

For twenty blissful days in August my left arm was bare and I only had to know the time for at most four events throughout the whole holiday. Time plays havoc with our peacefulness working its pressure on our minds and bodies bringing unwanted and often unnoticed stress. The background tracking of time in my mind interferes with my search for silence and peacefulness. Sara Maitland in her book “A Book of Silence: a journey in search of the powers and pleasures of silence”1 describes how she goes to many different places to find silence, the loneliness of a Scottish cottage, where she lived as a solitary for a whole year, the peculiar silence of the desert and in the end she discovers that true silence comes finally from within.

The simple absence of noise is not enough.

I do not especially like William Henry Davies poem “Leisure” because the way it scans and rhymes somehow jars with me but its famous line

A poor life this, if full of care
We have no time to stop and stare

does have something to say about the way we miss so much because of the business of our minds. Sitting in a remote corner of Snettisham nature reserve one afternoon with Frances companionably painting alongside, the dogs sleeping under the shade of the bench, still and slow and quiet, I heard the small bird on the ground rustling in the leaves before I saw it, heard the bee exploring the thistle flowers and I soaked up the beauty and peace of that time. I could sit there as long as I wanted, there was no need to go or to move or to be anything other than a man sitting on seat.

W B Yeats puts it differently –

His eyes fixed upon nothing
A hand under his head
Like a long-legged fly upon the stream
His mind moves upon silence.

From “A long legged fly”

These times are very precious and the challenge now is to find ways to recreate them now that we are back to the daily routine.