The cover of this Messenger shows the well-publicised photograph of Judith Collins praying in our Church just before the election. Was it a publicity stunt, or was it part and parcel of who she is? Only Judith really knows the answer to that. I know of her, but I do not know her at all, and I certainly have no comment to make, one way or the other about her sincerity or otherwise; except that, like anyone else who chooses to pray in our Church, her beliefs are to be respected.
My aim is to use her public display as an excuse to start a discussion about prayer in the Messenger, in the hope that others may take it up, and add their thoughts and revelations about prayer in successive issues of the Messenger. By that means, we will all benefit through a mutual sharing of our writing; and a steady stream of articles for inclusion in future Messengers will be assured!
In many ways, prayer sometimes seems to be a hidden world for Christian people. Although we all pray, we don’t talk a lot about prayer, and few of us have the opportunity to pray out loud. Prayer is as old as scripture itself but perhaps, rightly or wrongly, we are a little ashamed, or perhaps just a little uncertain, about the quality and the efficacy of our prayers. Let’s try to do something about that.
Let us start with a simple prayer of intercession; that is, a short prayer, often seeking God’s help on something, usually said silently, and as a last resort. This I suspect is where most people begin to pray.
For example, during my daily rush to take dancing classes in the middle of the city, I found myself praying that I would find a car park somewhere close by the studio. Similarly, “Please God, don’t let the train (or bus) be on time” might be my prayer as I rush for the station or the bus-stop.
This prayer of which I write is sometimes also known as informal prayer, and is described as spontaneous, ad hoc, not premeditated, not connected to anything else, personal; and it is generally a request for God to intervene in the order of things for our benefit. It is the most common form of prayer for me, and I suspect, the most common form of prayer for most people.
Such prayers can be criticised as selfish prayers, in that they are solely about the pray-er and his or her needs.
At the same time, such prayers are also an acknowledgement of our need of God – we have reached the end of our tether – we can’t make things right on our own – God please help me.
And despite its possible flaws, God does answer such prayers; although like all prayers, we have to accept that the answer may be “not yet”, or may come in some form which we do not immediately realise is an answer to our prayers. Rarely if ever is the answer a straight out “No”.
How could we improve our prayers of intercession? Well, one way is to treat this prayer, indeed all prayers, not so much as a demand for immediate gratification, but rather as a letter, or a conversation with our God. In fact, prayer has been described as a conversation with God.
We could start with some sort of recognition of the God with whom we are conversing. The example in scripture, the Lord’s Prayer, begins not with “Gimme today my daily bread (i.e., food)”, but instead acknowledges God as “Our Father”, who lives not in our dimension but “in Heaven”, and then salutes him with “Hallowed be your name”; and then continues “Your kingdom come, your will be done, on earth as it is in Heaven”. Only then is the request for bread made.
Similarly, just as a letter has a conclusion, so should our conversation with God. The Lord’s Prayer has a five-part closure: “For the kingdom is yours, the power is yours, and the glory is yours, now, and forever”.
My point in all of this, is that our prayers may seem a bit ungracious when compared with the example set out in scripture.
Let us continue a little longer with the illustration of prayers as a conversation. In a conversation, we speak; but we also listen. In prayer, we often only speak; so, for many of us, our prayers are not really a conversation, but rather a monologue.
But how does God speak to us in prayer?
Sometimes he speaks through actions. We want something, we pray to God for it, and it happens. To repeat, sometimes it happens quickly; – other times it happens after quite a wait, or the answer comes in a form different to what we imagined.
Yet again, sometimes God may choose to speak to us in prayer, by revelation. A new God-thought may occur to us, or an old thought may occur in a new context. New thoughts come to all of us all the time – I don’t really know how, or why, and I doubt if anyone else does either – they are one of the many mysteries of life. I think a lot, and so I have lots of thoughts. Perhaps people who think less have fewer thoughts – I don’t know, and neither, I suspect, does anyone else. I just know they happen.
Why should our God be precluded from planting God-like thoughts in our minds, in prayer, when other things can do so?
One of my most recent and most satisfying revelations about God is that he does in fact speak to us in prayer – if, when we pray we take the time also to listen – or if you prefer the term, to meditate in silence.
It is difficult to listen for God while we are engaged in the work and the conversations of this world; but it is relatively easy to do so if we turn our short prayer-monologues instead into short prayer-conversations; by listening, not just speaking when we silently pray. A conversation with God is similar to a conversation with anyone else, really – you can’t both speak at once, so make a time for God to speak after you have had your say! If this is a new thought to you – at least try it.
Which suggests at least three things. Firstly, God does answer our prayers, just not always immediately. Secondly, it is not wrong to ask for things we feel we really need; and thirdly, if we do really need them, we will probably get them, eventually – or the problem will be solved in some other way. If God at first appears not to answer our prayer, be patient; he will answer our prayers, in his own time, and when the time is right.
Everything I have written so far about prayer, is summed up in scripture; Matthew 2122 “and all things, whatsoever you ask in prayer, believing, you shall receive.”
Despite all of which, I do try to limit the number of occasions on which I call upon God for such things as to supply a car park or make the train or the bus run late, preferring instead to get myself there on time by better organisation of my time!
Because that is something else about prayer to God, and in fact about God himself – I’m sure he helps those who help themselves. Why bother God with something, when through a little bit of better organisation on my part, I can solve my own problems? Save God for the big stuff!
Prayers of intercession are not the only informal conversations we can have with God; prayers of thanksgiving are equally important (perhaps even more important).
We have much to be thankful to God for, it’s just that, being human beings, we tend to think about what we haven’t got, rather than what we already have.
Which might be a bit surprising, because most of us say the Eucharist once each week for about an hour each Sunday. There are in fact at least three complete Eucharists set out in our prayerbook, respectively called the Thanksgiving of the People of God (starting at page 404), the Thanksgiving for Creation and Redemption (page 456), and Thanksgiving and Praise (page 476). I.e., the most central prayer of our faith, in all three of its forms, is an example of a prayer of thanksgiving.
Maybe we should make a list from these three liturgies and elsewhere, of all of the things we have to be thankful to God for, and include a few of them in our daily prayers – remembering to leave time for God to speak to us should He wish to do so.
So much for informal prayer. A slightly more formal type of prayer occurs at that time of each day which we habitually set aside for prayer.
Perhaps the simplest of these times, involves the saying of grace before each meal.
I suspect as people have become busier, meals are eaten on the run, women cook less often, possibly the quality of family life deteriorates, – so grace is said less often than it was 50 years ago. Which in itself is a pity. A brief prayer, up to three times a day, to thank God for what we are about to share, is a good way of remembering to pray; it gives us an alternative to prayers of intercession, and it takes no real effort to make up or remember the words. It also enables us to thank the person who prepared that meal, as well as God for giving us the means to afford it. But, it does take a general agreement between the people within the family that it is worth doing; which in this day and age I must freely accept is probably harder to achieve.
“Daily devotions” is another opportunity to pray in a slightly formal way. It generally involves bible study as well as prayer, and prayer topics are often suggested to us. They are a way of broadening our reasons for prayer, as we try to move away from prayers always-as-intercession. Like saying grace, daily devotions in the morning, or at night, as part of our daily routine, have also probably declined. Declining Scripture Union and Evangelical Union membership (to mention but two) would seem to suggest this. Of course, one does not need to subscribe to such recognised purveyors of bible reading and prayer devotions, in order to have one’s own daily devotions.
However, there are some disadvantages in not having some sort of guide to follow. For example, somewhere around the age of probably 10 or 11, I decided I was going to read the whole bible, in bed, each night, beginning at the beginning, with the first chapter of Genesis. The need to sleep proved to be a problem; and by the time I got through Leviticus I was struggling; Proverbs and Psalms finished me off.
Later in life I discovered Dr William Barclay and his comprehensive volumes of New Testament Commentary. They don’t make the scriptures any shorter (definitely not!), but a good commentary does make them much more understandable.
Added to which, there are a number of valid points of view from which we can study scripture; my original mistake was not understanding this, and so having finished reading a passage of scripture, it seemed just as bewildering as it was before I read it. In later years, I have adopted the notion of study for a purpose, wherebyone centres one’s study of the bibleon gaining deeper insight into the meaning of scripture (or a passage of scripture). Others might prefer to study devotionally (to improve their prayer life), or are more interested in scripture as a historical record, or because of the literary merit of much of scripture. Some may go as far as combine two of those functions, or to have one as a major and one as a minor purpose; although I doubt whether all aspects of the scriptures can or should be studied with equal intensity.
Daily bible reading and prayers at a convenient time each day, still seems to me to be a good thing to do, and I know that a number of people do follow such a routine, to their advantage. Perhaps as a congregation it is a practice we should start again, or freshly resolve to continue with.
As we progress through our Christian lives, there are a number of prayers that we pick up along the way, which if we commit them to memory can be useful in our private prayers when time is short or the brain is tired. Those of us of more senior years have several versions of Morning Prayer, Evensong and Holy Communion to call upon, as well as the Eucharist. As the last act of committing myself to God’s keeping for the night, I still use from Evening Prayer the third Collect for Aid against all Perils, as my final act before falling asleep; although in my mind I have rewritten it into modern English so that probably no one would recognise it. Those who have had to listen to my Prayers of the People in the Eucharist will no doubt recognise the Prayer of St Chrysostom cropping up fairly regularly, which even when translated into modern English, is still a great prayer, both spiritually and literarily. I think it is good to have well written prayers of quality, to fall back on in times of need.
Which brings us to perhaps the hardest prayers of all to compose; that is, the Prayers of the People in the Eucharist.
We currently have six Liturgists in the parish. They all have a different style of praying, which is good. Over the years, they have tended to move from repeating the prayers given in the liturgy (which is still very acceptable), to interspersing them with their own prayers, or even preparing original prayers of their own. All three of these alternatives are perfectly satisfactory for the liturgy; and the range of prayers being offered gives us variety in our liturgy, and the fact that all are offered with humility and conviction is excellent. The following is offered for no purpose other than to demonstrate what a range of Eucharistic prayers was planned for, by the writers of our prayer book.
As stated previously, leaving aside solely Maori and Pacific Islands versions, there are three Eucharists set out in our prayerbook, respectively called:
- Thanksgiving of the People of God (starting at page 404),
- Thanksgiving for Creation and Redemption (page 456),
- Thanksgiving and Praise (page 476).
Between them they contain 11 examples of Prayers of the People, as follows:
- In the First Eucharist, starting on page 404, the first Prayers of the People is on page 413 and 414. Note however, that instead of using the versicles and responses set down in the prayers, there are alternatives given on pages 411 (thanksgiving) and 412 (intercessions). This means there are a total of three slightly different forms of Prayers of the People, within this one form of praying.
When using an alternative response, it is good idea to practise it once or twice with the congregation before beginning the prayers.
- Still in the First Eucharist, the second form of prayer is on page 416 and 417, and contains two forms of prayer, depending on which of the italicised instructions the liturgist follows. In this form of prayer, periods of meditation are intended be observed (see previous discussion on prayer being a conversation with God).
- In the Second Eucharist, one set of Prayers of the People is contained at pages 462 – 465, but as with the first form of the prayers in the First Eucharist, they can be given in a total of three slightly ways, by choosing alternative responses.
- In the Third Eucharist, its Prayers of the People are on pages 481 – 484. These are the most responsive of all of these prayers, and again they can be offered in three alternative forms.
This makes 11 slightly different forms in which the Prayers of the People may be offered; and that is in addition to abandoning all or some of the set prayers and writing one’s own, or of using a set of prayers of the people in a different Eucharist to the one for which it was originally written.
This has been a long article (it was even longer!); I hope you find something in it reassuring, and maybe something to fuel your own thoughts. Do feel to free to add to our knowledge of prayers and their part in Christianity, by writing down your contribution for inclusion in the next issue of the Messenger, due out at the end of January, – which will come round quicker than you think.
Two truths from the Island of St Kilda
A Book Review by John Goodwin
I’ve just finished reading a novel called The Lost Lights of St Kilda, by Elisabeth Gifford. It’s set on the most remote Scottish island of St Kilda where a tiny, close-knit, God-fearing community lived by farming sheep and hunting birds nesting on the cliffs. These cliffs are treacherously steep and the men would climb down makeshift ropes to grab fulmars, gannets and puffins, the main diet of the islanders. The women would stay home to pluck feathers, cook, spin wool and make bolts of the finest tweed.
Good health and longevity of life on St Kilda are not taken for granted. There is the ever-present threat of famine during winter. When the Atlantic storms prevent supply boats making the journey to their island, the community is often pushed to the brink of starvation. It is not surprising that a strong faith in God is present in the folk, and church attendance on the Sabbath is expected.
In the novel we follow the growing up of young Chrissie who has a very strong mind and a will of her own. When the men go birding down the cliffs, she knows she is expected to stay at home. But when no-one is looking, she goes to the cliffs and scales down a rope. She loses her grip and falls badly, and before search parties look for her, we read this: “The dark was at its blackest; the air quietened, the bird’s home and sleeping, her fear gone, for she could feel something she had not understood before. She was not alone: there was someone or something who would keep her safe, who bided with her, would always be with her….Her eyes closed.”
Chrissie is eventually found and rescued, and she is carried home to her mother. “She looked up at her mother’s wet face. She wanted to tell her that she didn’t need to be afraid. For she knew now, she has felt how He bided close with her comforting her through the dark night. She put her hand into her mother’s rough palm. Chrissie, being small, did not have enough words to comfort her mother, only this hand to tell her that someone loved her closely. For even a small child can know a very great thing.”
I am inspired by these two truths that come from this part of the novel: first, we are not alone and never will be. There is one who bides with us; and second, even a small child can know a very great thing. I want to say a big yes to them both! These are truths we know and have heard before, but it’s good to hear them re-packaged and presented in such a simple and beautiful way.
Sermon for St Luke’s Day, 18 October
Today is St Luke’s Day. Luke was a physician, writer and artist who travelled with Paul. He wrote his Gospel to give an ordered account of the life and work of Jesus; it is very well written, very readable and inspired. But the Gospel is only one half of his written work. The other half is the Book of Acts which records the missionary journeys of Paul and the growth of the early Church.
By the way, there is the traditional symbol of Luke’s Gospel up in the window above the altar – and it’s the ox. It didn’t come about because it was the writer’s choice of favourite animal — but by the church looking back to the Book of Ezekiel where the symbol for God’s presence is this mysterious moving thing with wheels within wheels and comprising four living creatures each with four faces – ox, man, lion and eagle.
The church fathers thought in their wisdom, “let’s make these faces symbols for the Gospels.” The winged man will be the symbol for St Matthew, as that Gospel begins with a list of the generations of people leading up to the birth of Jesus. The lion will be the symbol of Mark, as this is a creature of the desert, and it was in the desert with John the Baptist where the Gospel begins. Also, the lion represents Jesus’ resurrection (because lions were believed to sleep with open eyes, a comparison with Christ in the tomb). They made the symbol for John the eagle because the eagle can see further than any creature – and John’s Gospel take us close to the heart of God. (No one told the designer of our window about the eagle. I don’t want to go into why the symbol of John on the glass up there is a dragon jumping out of a chalice. That’s for another time!)
The ox became the symbol of Luke. Why? Because this Gospel begins and ends in the Temple, the place of sacrifice, and the ox is the noblest animal of sacrifice.
I wanted to find out why the official Gospel reading set for St Luke’s day was the one about the sending out of the 72, and I think this is why:
One chapter before our Gospel story, we have Jesus’ sending out of the 12 Apostles, but Luke wasn’t one of them. He had not met Jesus, and so he is not included among the 12 apostles. But Luke was a missionary, and so it seems right that the Gospel chosen for this day is about the later sending of the 72 into the mission field. Their experience mirrors the work of Luke himself, who set out with Paul on the road to dangerous places with great hope and in the name of Jesus.
72 were chosen – and we are told nothing about them – not their age, gender, race, or even their names. We just know that they were keen. In keeping them completely anonymous, Luke may be inviting us to see ourselves in the mission.
We can certainly get a sense of what mission was like in the early church from this reading. It was undertaken willingly and urgently. The 72 were not to greet anyone on the road – there was no time for small talk. They were to take NOTHING with them – no purse, no bag, or shoes. There was to be nothing to distract them from the mission; and their reliance on God to provide for them was total.
It would be like us having to leave our keys, credit card and the phone at home when we set off on a long journey on foot with no idea where we would stay, or what if anything we might be given to eat. We would feel very vulnerable. And perhaps being vulnerable is part of the deal in the sending out of the 72 – they couldn’t rely on their own resource and strength, but had to rely totally upon God, and the hospitality of strangers.
The 72 didn’t have to argue or say clever things – they just had to announce “peace to this house.” And maybe “peace” is all we need to say to people. But in order to carry this message with conviction they had to be people of God’s peace – people who spent time in the presence of Jesus; and who had a lively hope in them that no worry could extinguish. And so, where they went God’s peace came and settled on others.
Jesus told them to stay in the places where they were welcomed, heal the sick and say, “the kingdom of God is near”.
Saying a lot of words wasn’t what the mission was about. In fact the 72 were given only two things to say — 1. peace; and 2. the kingdom is near – God alone would bring the growth.
The mission would be risky – “I am sending you out as lambs among wolves.” There would be times of rejection; insults, and hardship. But instead of being put off we hear of them returning later with joy, and saying, “Lord, even the demons submit to us in your name.”
Risk, danger, privation and joy in the mission field was very much part of the story of Paul. In his 2nd Letter to Timothy we read that Paul knows the end is coming for his life on earth, and he shows he has been hurt –
“Demas deserted me…Alexander the metalworker did me great harm – so be on guard against him. When I was in court, no-one came to my support;” and yet he can say the Lord stood at my side; and so did Luke.
But what for me stands out best from the reading from Paul today is not his hurts but this wonderful line: “I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith. From now on there is reserved for me the crown of righteousness.”
Christian Mission is still alive and well today, and NZ has a fine history of missionary activity. There are some missionaries who are chosen, trained and sent to stand alongside others as teachers, doctors, drafts-people and to spread the news of the Kingdom. The NZ CMS has people working in the Mission fields in NZ, Spain, the Middle East, Asia, Togo, Papua New Guinea. In the Church Missionary Society newsletter for this month the National Director wrote:
A daily practice I’m cultivating at the moment is when I wake each morning I consciously remember that God is on His throne. In amongst the turbulence of these times, I find I need to remind myself that our Lord has the whole world in his hands…We know that we are held in the hands of the God who created the world and is sovereign over all things. We know that God is conducting God’s mission, and the Spirit of God continues to work transforming the world.
We are all called to the mission of transforming the world. I’m pretty sure that we aren’t called to set out, barefoot and bagless to destinations unknown, but here are just some things that we can do to be part of God’s mission to prepare for the coming of God’s kingdom:
- ask God to deepen our faith, so that we may rely less on ourselves and more on what God is trying to do through us;
- speak a message of peace and hope; and live out the Gospel values that are so different to the values of the world;
- look back on each day and look for where God was present;
- look for the face of God in the people we meet, and treat them with grace;
- become a blessing to the poor in whatever way we can. Luke’s Gospel emphasizes over again God’s bias towards the weak, the outcast, the lonely and the poor;
- invite a friend to worship with us here at St Thomas;
- love others; and have about us a sense of joy that nothing can take away.
May each one of us one day be able to say with Paul “I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith.”
Wishing you every blessing.
Travels through a pew-finder
When Leith and I travelled in pre-COVID days, we visited a number of churches, mosques, madrassa and temples. Often for Leith to worship but mainly because of our fascination with the historic nature and contents of other people’s religious facilities.
I have never forgotten my first visit to Paris’ Notre Dame. This was in 1982, when I was in Paris for a meeting. I was staggered by the icons, windows, chapels and the art work in this building. Still am. In 1982 I was able to climb around the roof of the cathedral and see the gargoyles up close and personal. In later years, we sympathised with the worshippers as they attended their devotions amidst a cacophony of noise from the many tourists. In 2019, it was particularly sad as we saw the Cathedral after the devastating fire. On the other hand, we saw places being renovated, Sienna was one – and we were about to enter a church in Florence, when the then new Pope was announced.
Coming from a young country, we were moved by the ages of some buildings. Canterbury Cathedral was one such. We went to it one day after returning from Spain and Portugal. Its comparative simple internal displays were a pleasure to see after the decorations of the European cathedrals and churches. For me, history surrounds the Cathedral. Other sites I enjoyed in England were Salisbury and Winchester Cathedrals. Sadly, I did not enter the latter as a service was in progress. A church Leith and I enjoy when we have the time in London is St Mary Abbot Kensington; not as old as some but it gives off a presence of being there for ever. Just in from Barbados, we attended a service in the church. We have, of course, entered St Paul’s and Westminster. I remember St Paul’s for the views from the dome and Westminster for the history. 1979, I was in London for meetings with the Treasury en route home from the IMF and the Canadian Ministry of Finance (“The New World”) and was stunned over how old everything seemed in London. St Paul’s crypt had many graves and plaques. I was personally disturbed over commemorations of generals who were responsible for the tragic deaths of so many British soldiers.
Perhaps it was my Methodist, Presbyterian and Baptist childhood but I thought the European cathedrals and churches were garishly over-decorated. Don’t get me wrong – I thought every building was magnificent, and the artefacts and art. But it was in your face. Of course, having read more European history, I now better understand why.
Not all the churches were holding services when we visited. One, in Istanbul was; worshippers competed with tourists. There was such a heavy presence of Filipina maids, we might well have been in Singapore. On the other hand, the Blue Mosque seemed to be given over to tourists. Another service we attended in our visits to Turkey was at Gallipoli, where we attended on and around 25 April in 2005, after our travels in Italy (I had been presenting a paper in Milan). Italy opened up a number of churches to us. The cathedral in Milan has never been forgotten, with its bomb-damaged doors. And the one in Turin, of shroud fame. Venice had its San Marco, but I still recall the artworks in a small church in a side street where we found ourselves lost. It is worth noting that a bus tour alongside the Adriatic took us to the tiny church where, according to legend, John of disciple fame, took Mother Mary after the Crucifixion. We also inspected the Sistine Chapel – where a priest had to frequently call the large crowd to observe silence.
Music was sometimes the reason for our entering churches. Bayeux, for
example. An organist practising drew us. The same happened in Italy, where we were visiting the Italian home of Ferraro Rocher. The sound of an orchestra rehearsing in St Martin in the Fields took us into that church. Another church, a Lutheran one in Frankfurt, thrilled us with a full choir and a full orchestra playing Bach. We sat through it dripping pools of water after being caught in a downpour crossing the river.
The cathedral in Avignon is a place to visit. It was only then, I realised that there was a period when there were two Popes. A stopover in Cordoba demonstrated how far in the West that Muslims had invaded. The cathedral there has a strong Islamic influence, it having been a mosque. The only reason we continued onto Seville was to see the “third biggest cathedral in Europe” and well worth the trip!
Battlefield tours took us to the Cathedral in Amiens. But, in my tour to Passchendaele, cemeteries replaced churches and perhaps impacted on me more. As did the replica of the small POW chapel at Changi prison, in Singapore. Contrary to the spirit of the chapel, I was filled with un-Christian thoughts about the captors.
Much of our travel stemmed from our former involvement in the Asian Development Bank. And latterly, my consulting for the Commonwealth Secretariat and the World Bank. This may explain our eclectic travel destinations. Even among Christian churches, we found variations in service practices. In Accra, for example, our driver took us to the Anglican Church an hour too early. We found the place packed with families in bright and colourful attire, taking turns to recite readings prior to the actual service. Our skin colour fascinated some of the younger children and little fingers sometimes reached out to better explore. There were several wall plaques commemorating dead Englishmen. Although we also went to other parts of Africa, this was our only place we attended services. (Leith has already written about the churches of Lalibela, though we went to see other places of worship in Ethiopia.)
Places close to home were not ignored. In Port Vila, the service was in Pidgin and, as visitors, we had to greet each member of the congregation as they exited the church. To add grist, a young Australian couple tried to talk us into staying extra days so that we could attend their wedding. Apia, more formal in service, was attended by two bishops and an orchestra. And a table-bending after-match!
We were in Honolulu when 9/11 occurred. Caught up in the emotion of the event, we attended two services – one being outdoors in the CBD and another in an Episcopal Church. Both services were packed. A few years later, we were in New York and attended the historic Trinity Church (1697), near Wall Street. Its exterior was used in one of the “National Treasure” movies. A short way up the street, was a church hall, which was also a functioning church. This one stands out in our memories of the heavily scratched pews where fire-fighters rested in the immediate aftermath of the twin towers’ collapse. Further up Broadway, St Patricks was a tourist magnet. But I think we both found the National Church in Washington DC of more interest. It was being restored from earthquake damage when we explored it in 2016. A visit is recommended, should readers visit the US capital. In spite of the size of the US, the only other service we attended was a Roman Catholic Church in North Carolina, notable to the writer only for its packed congregation. Oops, I had forgotten the Roman Catholic Church in the hills between Los Angeles and San Diego where we attended a wedding of the son of Sri Lankan friends. We sorely missed hymns, on that otherwise joyous occasion.
Asia was not devoid of interesting (to us) places of worship. In 1981 I was in a party that was shown through an incomplete mosque in Islamabad, said to be intended as the largest in the world. Over the years, we visited many mosques. Astana, Tashkent, New Delhi among others. We were shown over an Orthodox church in Amati. We also visited Madrassas Muslim schools. Kabul was one place there were no opportunities for visits although the “call to worship” at a nearby mosque ensured we people resident in the World Bank compound were awake early every day. In Azerbaijan we were shown Zoroastrian sites, where flames came out of the ground. In Tashkent we were taken to a Greek Orthodox Church which was fascinating. No pews and worshippers ignored us as they prayed.
Although comparative frequent visitors to Singapore, we were only
occasional attendees at St James Cathedral. However, friends’ weddings took us to other churches. KL was another frequent transit city, though we never actually found a church.
Buddhist facilities were not ignored. In Laos, Leith and our companions rose early to hand out food to parading monks. In Myanmar, we were lost for choices in temples and, in one town, witnessed huge numbers of monks assembling for one of their daily meals. I personally felt this was intrusive but it was a significant tourist site. Another venue was in caves above the Mekong river.
Finally, to close on a Christian note, one of the more remote churches we visited was in Shimla, in the foot hills of the Himalayas. In St George’s, constructed as the summer capital of the British Raj, there was yet another collection of plaques dedicated to deceased Englishmen who had died in various parts of the British Empire.
This merely lists a few of the places visited. It is difficult to convey the emotional impact of our visits. Our visits were much more than just “ticking boxes”.
Bob Writes, following Ruth Sadler’s Funeral
If we talk of death, we must also talk of life, of love; for “Love is as strong as Death” says the Song as Solomon. Jesus himself says “No one has greater love than this, than to lay down one’s life for one’s friends”.
If we view life as a gift, then we can also view death as a gift – “Precious in the sight of the Lord is the death of the Saints” says psalm 11615, because new life can spring forth. There is no need to fear death if we’ve lived a full life.
Near death experiences are well known – in many cases the person appears to be given a choice to go on towards the light – or to turn back, to re-join family and friends in this life. It’s possible I suppose to return to this life, perhaps to make more of our life than we have been doing; to be given a second chance.
I once had an out of body experience, and I was terrified. I knew I had to somehow get back to my body. I realised many years later that I was terrified because I feared dying, and I feared dying because my life was so self-centred.
Yesterday we said farewell to our Ruth. She certainly would have had no fear of dying, she’d lived a fulfilling life, working for the good of others.
You might ask of course about Jesus’ death – was he given a choice? Could he have chosen not to die but to have returned to his friends, his disciples, his apostles? Well, I think we can say definitely that not only did he die (he chose to do that, laying down his life for others) but he also returned to his disciples and friends. “I have seen the Lord!” says Mary Magdalene that first Easter day. Jesus had implicit trust in the Father’s ability to raise him from the dead; he had lived a life totally dedicated to God – there was no need of any choice. Yes, in his humanity he asked the Father to take away the cup He was to undergo; but he also submitted to his Father’s will.
Jesus doesn’t return to us to make more of his life, he returns to us so that we can make more of our lives with the help of the Holy Spirit and the sacraments of our life together.
Father of Mercy, your love embraces everyone, and through the resurrection of your son, you call us into your light. Dispel our darkness, and make us a people with one heart and one voice forever.