Recommended book - Phoebe by Paula Gooder

If you wish to switch some of your time from television or Facebook, you might try reading the story Phoebe by Paula Gooder. Phoebe is based on the New Testament woman of the same name, mentioned by Paul in his letter to the Romans.


Romans 16:1-2
 
I commend to you our sister Phoebe, a deacon of the church at Cenchreae, so that you may welcome her in the Lord as is fitting for the saints, and help her in whatever she may require from you, for she has been a benefactor of many and of myself as well.




The book is a relaxing and easy read, mixing fiction with Gooder's  New Testament knowledge and learning. The story involves many interesting characters, some of whom are based on people mentioned by Paul in his letters.  

Cenchreae, where Phoebe lived and now known as
Kechries, was a small port close to the inland city of Corinth in Greece and served Corinthian trade coming from the East. As a deacon, Phoebe would have had organisational duties for her congregation and,
in also calling Phoebe a 'benefactor', Paul shows how highly she was regarded. In New Testament times most people who were classed as benefactors were male, offering support and financial help, so for Phoebe to be assigned these titles suggests she was a woman of substance. It appears also, from Paul's commendation, that he entrusted here as the carrier of his letter to the Romans.

At the end of Phoebe Gooder spends a considerable amount of (useful) time explaining, in layman's language, current knowledge about the world in which Paul and Phoebe lived. 

This would make an excellent Christmas or birthday gift for a church-goer or, of course, you could always treat yourself.

Benedict of Nursia (480 – 543 or 547 AD) founded twelve monasteries and penned what is now known as  'The Rule of St Benedict'. Benedict wrote this as a way of life for the twelve communities he founded and  is predicated on the principles of balance and moderation in all things. He appears to have been a gentle and kind abbot and his rule rapidly became a basis for the majority of religious communities in Western Christendom and, in particular, all Benedictine communities.

Below is a prayer that St Benedict wrote. May we make this our prayer today.


A Prayer of St. Benedict

O gracious and Holy Father,
give us wisdom to perceive you,
intellect to understand you,
diligence to seek you,
patience to wait for you,
eyes to behold you,
a heart to meditate upon you,
and a life to proclaim you;
through the power of the Spirit
of Jesus Christ our Lord.




Image from Wikipedia

With the world-wide controversy about gay marriage and whether gay people can legitimately be ordained, it is good to hear some steady voices through the discussion. The following quote from an article by Rev Dr. Brian Peterson, Professor of New Testament, Lutheran Theological Southern Seminary displays one of those steadying points of view.


We need to avoid, as much as possible, confusing the authority of the Bible with the authority of poor translations, incorrect assumptions, partial knowledge, or contested interpretations... I do not believe that doing so constitutes the abandoning of the Bible’s authority. Honesty and the commandment not to bear false witness against others requires that we not confuse our disagreements about the meaning of these texts with faithlessness, heresy, or the denial of Scripture’s authority.


It is easy for us the forget the gulf of time that separates us today from the ancient Hebrew of the Old Testament and the Greek of the New Testament. Not only does language change in syntax and grammar, but the actual meaning of words may change over periods of time - the word 'gay' being an example of this. So our translations are our best shot at getting to grips with language that is now superceded. Our cultural bias and our inevitable lack of understanding of life in a previous age also impact on our interpretation of our scriptures.

So in all our discussions, let us try to remember these things and work to speak and think with grace and consideration and work to avoid the slide into arrogance that can so easily happen.

Dealing with Death


Do not go gentle
Dylan Thomas

Do not go gentle into that good night,
Old age should burn and rave at close of day;
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.

Though wise men at their end know dark is right,
Because there words had forked no lightning they
Do not go gentle into that good night.

Good men, the last wave by, crying how bright
Their frail deeds might have danced in a green bay,
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.

Wild men who caught and sang the sun in flight,
And learn, too late, they grieved it on its way,
Do not go gentle into that good night.

Grave men, near death, who see with blinding sight
Blind eyes could blaze like meteors and be gay,
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.

And you, my father, there on the sad height,
Curse, bless, me now with your fierce tears, I pray.
Do not go gentle into that good night.
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.

I do like Dylan Thomas's honesty.

My mother was not one to rage - just stoically and determinedly stick with it till the end. And for that I admire her. To her last moments, she had a smile (albeit weak) for the carers who attended her and she wrinkled her nose affectionately at us, her relatives, even though she was unable to speak.

The determined attempts to keep alive someone who is  imminently near to the end of their time on this earth does puzzle me. Well, not perhaps for those with little or no belief - for them Dylan Thomas's words may well be a balm. But for those who profess a Christian faith and a belief that there is something more wonderful after this earthly life, it does puzzle me. What are we so scared of? What am I so scared of? And does that fear say something about my faith - or lack of it?

These are all quite unnerving questions for a person of faith. And I have to go back to those words of Paul to quieten the stormy waves in my head.

Verses from Romans Chapter 8


Who will separate us from the love of Christ? Will hardship, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword? No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us.
For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor rulers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.

 
So, I take time to pause, to be silent, to allow these words to swirl around my whole being. And, as I do, a sense of peace - almost serenity - seeps in slowly.

And that is, I guess, is faith.

Stations of the Cross - Malcolm Guite

I was given a lovely book as a Christmas present last year. It is called Sounding the Seasons by Malcolm Guite. Malcolm writes very moving poetry and his words always touch me deeply. He has written a set of sonnets on the Stations of the Cross and, with his permission, I am posting the first of these sonnets here. A link to the full set is at the bottom of the post.




1. Jesus is condemned to death

The very air that Pilate breathes, the voice
With which he speaks in judgement, all his powers
Of perception and discrimination, choice,
Decision, all his years, his days and hours,
His consciousness of self, his every sense,
Are given by this prisoner, freely given.
The man who stands there making no defence,
Is God. His hands are tied, His heart is open.
And he bears Pilate’s heart in his and feels
That crushing weight of wasted life. He lifts
It up in silent love. He lifts and heals.
He gives himself again with all his gifts
Into our hands. As Pilate turns away
A door swings open. This is judgment day.

The complete set of sonnets for all fourteen stations of the cross can be found here:
The Stations of the Cross by Malcolm Guite

A prayer of Thomas Cranmer


Lord God,
you have taught us
that anything we do without love is worth nothing,
for whoever lives without love
is counted dead before you;
send your Holy Spirit,
and pour into our hearts
that most excellent gift of love,
the true bond of peace and of all virtues;

grant this for the sake of your Son Jesus Christ
who is alive with with you and the Holy Spirit,
one God now and for ever.
Amen.

From the New Zealand Prayer Book


This collect was written by Thomas Cranmer and is based on that beautiful Biblical passage on love - 1 Corinthians 13. Cranmer was Archbishop of Canterbury during the reign of Henry VIII and was finally executed during the reign of Henry's daughter Mary.

During his time as Archbishop of Canterbury he compiled the first two editions of The Book of Common Prayer and he led the newly established Church of England through liturgical changes and laid down the doctrinal basis of that church.

Unlike her father, Mary I was a Roman Catholic and, after a lengthy imprisonment, Cranmer was finally executed as a heretic. As the flames grew around him, his final words were, "Lord Jesus, receive my spirit... I see the heavens open and Jesus standing at the right hand of God."

The 'O Antiphons' (an antiphon is a spoken response in a church service) have been used in liturgical Christian traditions since as far back as the sixth century. They are spoken before reading the Magnificat at Evening Prayer during the last seven days of Advent.

My thanks to Malcolm Guite for these poetic reflections. Here is the last one of the seven - for 23rd December: O Emmanuel – O Emmanuel (God with us)


O Emmanuel
O Emmanuel, Rex et legifer noster,
exspectatio Gentium, et Salvator earum:
veni ad salvandum nos, Domine, Deus noster.



O Emmanuel, our king and our lawgiver,
the hope of the nations and their Saviour:
Come and save us, O Lord our God.

O come, O come, and be our God-with-us
O long-sought With-ness for a world without,
O secret seed, O hidden spring of light.
Come to us Wisdom, come unspoken Name,
Come Root, and Key, and King, and holy Flame.
O quickened little wick so tightly curled,
Be folded with us into time and place,
Unfold for us the mystery of grace
And make a womb of all this wounded world.
O heart of heaven beating in the earth,
O tiny hope within our hopelessness
Come to be born, to bear us to our birth,
To touch a dying world with new-made hands
And make these rags of time our swaddling bands.