Thought for the week, 9th April; Cooking beans

A colleague at work this week posted on his Facebook page what I believe is a classic Chinese poem, first published in 430AD and called Quatrain of Seven Steps, apparently because it could be recited whilst walking just seven paces. Wikipedia has the full story. The author imagines beans, being boiled over a fire, calling out to the bean roots, which are being burnt to make the heat. 

Beans are boiled to make broth, Pulses are filtered to extract juice. 

Under the pot the beanstalks burn, In the pot the beans weep. 

“We are born of the self-same root, Why in such a rush to cook me?” 

The poem is said to have been written in response to the threat of civil war and is essentially an appeal for the ruler of the victorious party to be merciful in his treatment to the losers; the poet is reminding him of his common humanity with the vanquished. The confirmation of killings of civilians in Ukraine by Russian forces shows us what happens when individuals forget this and see only enemies, not fellow humans made in the image of God.  

Events and Services for April

6.00pm Sunday 10th April (Palm Sunday); Donkeys

A celebration of the unsung hero of Palm Sunday, the donkey who Jesus rode. We will be helped by Severn Valley Donkey Sanctuary, who will bring some of their residents and talk about their work for donkeys and children.

7.00pm Thursday 14th Maunday Thursday

We follow in the footsteps of the medieval worshippers at Billingsley who marked the events of the Last Supper with a service of Holy Communion, then stripped the church and laid out the Easter Sepulchre ready for Easter Sunday.

8.00am Sunday 17th April; Easter Day

We greet Easter morning with a service of Holy Communion and the unveiling of the Easter Sepulchre.

3pm Saturday 23rd April; Music for St George’s Day

The local “Daddy’s Hat” concerts come to Billingsley Church, with an hour long concert of classical music, with refreshments afterwards. All free; put any contribution in the hat at the end.

7.00pm Thursday 5th May; Billingsley Walk

Meet outside Billinglsey Church for a stroll around the village and back.

April Draw of the 100 Club

The April draw of the 100 Club took place on Friday the 1st of April. The numbers were drawn by Bonnie and Mike in Bynd Lane and they were assisted by Jacob and Tila and their lovely dog, Papy. Number 97 was drawn first winning Paul £52, Rhona (16) and Steve (53) both won £26 each. Congratulations to the lucky winners and thank you for the continued support of the 100 Club members. Numbers are always available for anyone who wishes to join.

In June some funds from the Club will go towards hosting a community tea party in the orchard to celebrate the Queen’s Platinum Jubilee. It is hoped that as many people as possible from the village will come along to the party. More information regarding the event will follow shortly.

Thought for the week, 2nd April; the slap at the Oscars

On Monday this week, I switched on Radio 4 at 7am for the news and found it dominated by the story from the Oscars; actor Will Smith hitting compere Chris Rock after Rock made a joke about Smith’s wife. Now film and TV would not be my specialist subject on Mastermind and whilst even I have heard of Will Smith, I had no idea who Chris Rock was. But the story has continued to roll, even on Radio 4.  

From what I have subsequently discovered, it appears Messrs Smith and Rock have previous form; once friends, they fell out some years ago. As far as I can tell, the general reaction has been to condemn Smith’s violence, whilst perhaps having some sympathy for his anger. There seems some sadness that the ceremony will not be remembered for Smith’s Oscar, but for his temper; perhaps a man trapped by past events. 

My own reflections on this story lead to the story of another slap; that given to the face of Jesus by those who judged him before the court of the High Priest, after his arrest in the Garden of Gethsemane. But Jesus, who famously taught that his disciples should literally turn the other cheek in response to an attack, made no show of anger and raised no voice of protest. He simply absorbed the insults and violence and, from the cross, forgave. Perhaps the parties to the Oscar slap may also learn how forgiveness can free them from the past. 

Thought for the week 26th March; Mothering Sunday

This Sunday (27th) is Mothering Sunday; “Mother’s day” as greeting card makers usually put it. Whatever we call it, it is usually a time when we remember mothers, especially our own. This is good, especially if it is done remembering that the relationship between mother and child may have been difficult for some. But there is another aspect that is often neglected. Before Mothering Sunday ever became a celebration of mothers, it was a time when people remembered the place they came from and in particular the parish church they attended. This was their “mother church”, and, at its best, it was the place where small communities would come together; the people who attended that would be part of the wider, extended family to all the children growing up together. So Mothering Sunday was a recognition that individuals were part of something more than immediate family. Now the parish church has largely lost that role, but there is an important truth that still holds; we are more than individuals; we have connections with each other. As refugees pour out of Ukraine, from Syria and the Middle East, as our food banks creek under the strain and the cost of living rockets, we need to remember we are not just related to our immediate family. 

Thought for the week 19th March; the deeper rhythm

“Spring was moving in the air above and in the earth below and around him, penetrating even his dark and lowly little house with its spirit of divine discontent and longing.” 

Thus Kenneth Grahame, in “The Wind in the Willows”, marks the arrival of another season in the life of Mole. And if it penetrated the subterrain dwelling of Mole, it has also made its way into the equally closed recesses of my inner being; I have commenced operations in the garden. And somewhere in Ukraine, alongside the missiles, flowers will be blooming, birds will be nesting, just as they did two years as Covid first gripped us in this country. We live our lives on a bigger canvas, where nature follows its own rhythms, in spite of our impact on the planet. Kenneth Graham talks of spring having a “divine” spirit, the discontent and longing perhaps reflecting the way we can draw from its example to make a fresh start. Perhaps we also draw strength from its constancy; you do need to believe in the literal truth of the story of Noah’s flood to stand alongside the ancient Hebrews in their awe that seed time and harvest do not fail, that the seasons still follow each other. Many who do not call themselves religious none-the-less find something spiritual in this pattern, that stands above the traumas and happenings of everyday life. 

On Tuesday evening at 6pm a small group of us will meet in Glazeley churchyard to seek meaning in the renewal of spring. I will bless the soil in the churchyard and fields; as a Christian priest I will do this with words that draw on Jesus’s parable of the sower. But all are welcome, to draw sustenance from the miracle of rebirth that happens every year. 

Forest Church; Welcoming Spring

On Tuesday evening, 22nd March at 6pm there will be an open-air event (“Forest Church”) in Glazeley churchyard to mark the coming of spring. There will be readings, time for reflection and music and I will bless the soil in the churchyard and fields. All are welcome, whatever your faith, to join in and draw sustenance from being in nature. The event will last about 30 minutes; you might want to bring a chair or a blanket to sit on. Should the weather be “refreshing” rain, plan B is to retreat into the church and use our imaginations a little more….

Thought for the week 12th March; The refugees

It is impossible to avoid the images of the civilians fleeing from Ukraine; crossing a major river on a plank footway, the wait at stations for trains going east and then the scramble to get on. Then there is the misery of those still in the besieged cities; the cold, the hunger, to say nothing of the danger from bombs and shells. Poland seems in danger of being overwhelmed; the response of our own government does seem to be caught up in red-tape and form filling.

The Bible, and especially the Old Testament, has much to say about exile. At the heart of their faith, the ancient Hebrews had a memory of when they were captives, how God acted to bring them to safety from Egypt. And in historical times, they lived through a period of enslavement, when they were all taken into captivity in Babylon. The pain is recorded, especially in the psalms. And this led to a response; engrained in the Law was an obligation not just to look after the poor, the widow and the orphan, but also the “alien”, because “you were once aliens in the land of Egypt”.

And so we also have an obligation to help the refugees from Ukraine; something I suspect almost everyone agrees with. But inside me, I have an uncomfortable thought. When Russia was bombing Allepo in Syria, did I feel quite the same concern? Does our compassion extend in quite the same way to refugees who are not from Europe? From pride of race and creed, Good Lord deliver us.

Thought for the week 5th March; Ash Wednesday

Overshadowed by events in Ukraine, this week has seen Shrove Tuesday (pancake day) and Ash Wednesday, the events that between them mark the start of Lent. Lent is traditionally kept as a time for prayer and reflection within the church as we move to Easter and, again, there is much to pray and reflect on this year. Ash Wednesday gets its name from the service that takes place on that day, when each member of the congregation is marked in ashes with the sign of the cross on their forehead. For at least for a few hours, they very publicly carry the mark of the cross on their bodies. Ash is a sign of mourning; we pick up images from the Old Testament when we talk about wearing sackcloth and ashes to mark our distress at some event. The ashes themselves are traditionally made by burning the palm crosses left over from Palm Sunday the previous year. Then they were symbols of rejoicing, as believers remembered the triumphal entry of Jesus into Jerusalem at the start of Easter, greeted by palms. Now they are turned into signs of mourning. Perhaps this speaks of the speed at which moods can change and the fickleness of our nature; Jesus welcomed as a king on Sunday, crucified as a criminal on Friday. 

This Lent, we watch helplessly as the towns and villages of Ukraine are turned to ashes by a hostile army; joining those destroyed in recent years in the Middle East. We can do very little to help in that situation but the ashes of Lent stand both as symbols of our shared humanity with those caught up in that conflict and as reminders of our obligations to fight in our own communities and in ourselves against the attitudes that have led to the invasion. “From all evil and mischief, from the crafts and assaults of the Devil… Good Lord, deliver us”. 

The March draw of the 100 Club

The March draw was made today by Carole; many thanks! The first number to be drawn was 100 winning Eveline £52. The second ball was 85, having been drawn second only last month, netting Edward another £26. Number 58 was drawn third winning Ellen £26. Congratulations to our winners and thank you to all the 100 Club members for your continued support.