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Harvest festival – a meditation on the turning year.

Truly, truly, I say to you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains alone; but if it dies, it bears much fruit. John 12:24

“If we have been united with him in his death, we will certainly also be united with him in his resurrection. Romans 6:5

The death he died he died to sin, once for all, but the life he lives he lives to God. So you also must consider yourselves dead to sin and alive to God in Christ Jesus.” Romans 6:10-11

Introduction

This presentation has been designed to fit with a traditional Anglican Harvest Festival service. The talk, slides and reflection together last approximately 15 minutes, and can take the place of the sermon and the intercessions. This works particularly well if the Creed follows the presentation, preceded by a short silence.

The use of a wheat ear offers a sensory aid to the meditation, bringing to life the reality behind the food we eat, while making the meaning of the readings more accessible. If wheat ears are not available then images could be used instead.

The images in the slideshow are comprised of photos taken throughout the year around the church of St. Nicholas, Otham, which is set in a rural part of Kent. The slides are designed to relax the viewer as they follow the changing seasons in an agricultural setting. The congregation of St. Nicholas, Otham would easily recognise the areas and items shown in the presentation, effectively supporting the connections between the natural world, everyday life, memories, and the message conveyed in the readings and meditation. The use of local photos enhances the sense of place for the congregation. If you decide to use this meditation in your church, you may like to copy my idea and take photos in your own area over the year, this will create a visual presentation unique to your church and area. I have personally found that the act of photographing creation in this way can be a form of worship in itself.

The Talk

Introducing the wheat ear.

As you came in this morning you will have been given a wheat ear along with your Harvest Service Book. I hope you’ve all got one.

Your wheat ear was picked from the fields opposite the church.

For centuries grain has been grown around here, and the harvest celebrated with a wheat sheaf taking up central position in front of the alter.

Celebrating the harvest, and thanking God for a fresh supply of food is an ancient tradition, and an important part of this tradition is the celebration of the grain harvest. Getting the grain in when the weather was fine was crucial before the introduction of modern harvesting and grain drying methods, as the harvest could so easily be damaged by poor weather. The grain harvest came to represent a deep concern for gathering in enough food to eat over the cold winter months. The thankfulness expressed in hymns and prayers was deep and heartfelt.

Harvesting, from a French 15th cent. manuscript., Keble College, Oxford (ID 1623).

Of course in many parts of the world there is still serious concern for the harvest. Often it is grain of some sort that forms the staple diet, the successful harvest of which represents the difference between life or starvation.

From ‘The Golf Book’ Book of Hours. 1520-30. The British Library.

So the wheat ears we have here connect us with both others in different parts of the world and with our local history. Of course they also connect us with our present day, because wheat in this country is still a staple food eaten by most of us every day in bread, cakes, biscuits, pasta, pies, and many other items.

Our wheat ears also links us with Jesus. It would have been a different variety to the one you have in front of you, but Jesus walked in the fields and ate grain in its raw state, he used grain in his parables, and as we have heard today he uses the grain as an analogy for his own death and resurrection – the grain must fall to the ground and die in order to fulfil its purpose.

So here we have our wheat ear with 50 or 60 grains tightly and beautifully packed on a single stalk, and it is incredible to think that these have grown from just one grain that had been sown and covered by soil in the autumn, and since then has been watered by the rain and warmed by the sun through the seasons to germinate and multiply in this way.

And of course this is the process that is happening throughout the natural world, in a multitude of different ways, providing us and other creatures with food.

From ‘Harvest Field By The Coast’ by George H Reeves (1881-1911)

In the old days we would have been much closer in our awareness of this process, but in recent times, mostly due to mechanisation, we have become less and less conscious of the cycles and seasons of the agricultural year, during which our food is grown.

We are fortunate to be living in this area, on the very edge of such beautiful countryside, and we can feel thankful to God for having access to this natural environment.

God has created so much beauty in the changing seasons which are free for us to enjoy. I’ve been taking photos throughout the year, so now we’re going to watch a slide show showing the scenes from around this area following in the cycle of the year. As we watch the slides, the idea is to simply relax and focus on the natural beauty around us, the wonder of change, new life and the turning year.

(The slide show will be enhanced by some gentle music of your choice)

The Meditation

I’d like you to focus again on your wheat ears, and perhaps pick them up and look at them. And think about the reading today – the grain of wheat must fall into the ground and die if it is to rise to new life. In this Jesus is talking about himself, but he also calls us to deny ourselves, to take up our cross and follow him. St. Paul tells us that we must become dead to sin or self if we are to become alive in Christ. Christ is asking us to give ourselves to God so that we may become fully alive as we trust God with all that we have.

We have many attachments which get in the way of our relationship with God and with each other, and we need to let go of these things. Good things need to be handed over to God as well as bad, because even good things can cause a problem when they’re wrongly used.

Giving ourselves to God is a process that takes time, it won’t happen all at once – we won’t let go in an instant, but gradually we hand areas of our lives over to God so that he can really lead us and make use of who we are.

So looking at the wheat ear, try to visualise it as a symbol of yourself and all that you are. See if you can visualise each grain of wheat signifying an attachment of some sort – of feelings and opinions, of skills and attributes and most importantly of possessions – things that you own.

Look at each grain as symbolising things you value. Things you can hand over to God. What can you hand over to God from your life? What needs to fall to the ground and die, what might you need to let go of for your life to grow and flourish, for you to be freer and to love, and to love more?

Jesus has promised us that what we give to God with a generous and pure heart, and what we give up for his sake, we shall receive back many times over.

So let us thank God for this promise.

The Lord of creation is Lord of everything, not just creation. We know that when we hand ourselves over to God and trust his care for us, we can be certain of receiving new life and all that we need, more certain of this than our certainty that night will follow day, that day will follow night, and that the seasons will flow into each other.

Amen.

Mindful Eating (in harmony with the eucharist)

The Last Supper by Leonardo de Vinci, 1495 – 1498.

CONSCIENCE, CONSCIOUSNESS AND DISCERNMENT.

A shared, mindful, slow food experience that focusses on the joy of eating together as a fellowship family. Inspired by the Christian Eucharist, this meal can be adapted to work for those of other religions or none.

(Alter prayers and meditations to suit the beliefs of the invited guests as necessary).

This project is based around what the author describes as –

The Five Flavours of Food

From: The Peasant Wedding Feast, by Pieter Bruegel the Elder, 1567 – 1568

We all know the five flavours of salt, sweet, sour, bitter and aromatic. We enjoy these as our tongue responds the the chemical compounds in our food. But have you noticed how much better food can taste when eaten in good company, or when it is thoughtfully made by someone who loves us?

‘Man shall not live by bread alone’

Our bodies crave goodness. We need to fill ourselves with good nutrition, balanced for the wellbeing of our human structure.

‘I am fearfully and wonderfully made’

The earth craves goodness too; others need to survive and thrive for the wellbeing of the whole world. Nature is complex and diverse, producing a rich variety of food for both humans and non-human creatures alike. The Bible is full of verses that praise God for his goodness in Creation, and for the provision of food.

All things depend on you to give them food when they need it. You give to them and they eat; you provide food and they are satisfied.’

This food meditation encourages an awareness of a deeper form of tasting, one that tastes the joy of sharing, respecting and truly appreciating what we are eating when we sit down to a meal.

‘Taste and see that the Lord is good’

From: The Peasant Wedding Feast, by Pieter Bruegel the Elder, 1567 – 1568

What are the ‘five flavours’ ?

These are the ‘flavours’ that the author has identified.

  1. The material taste of the food – generally recognised as salt, sweet, sour, bitter and aromatic.

2. The people you eat with – those that sit around the table with you. Good company enhances a meal.

‘The Potato Eaters’ Vincent Van Gogh, 1885

3. The nutritional quality of the food – thoughtful eating involves an awareness of nutrition; nutrition being the key reason for eating in the first place. A good nutritious meal can make us feel better physically and mentally, both while we eat and directly after a meal.

4. The person who cooks for us – the care and energy with which a person prepares our food may be tangible to those who are perceptive enough to notice it. The simplest of food lovingly prepared, can taste delicious, especially by those able to receive it in the spirit with which it is offered.

5. The ethical quality of the food – perhaps the most important element. The journey our food has made before arriving on our table. What has it cost the Earth, other beings (plants and animals) and people, for us to eat? All food involves some sacrifice; the plant or animal gives up its life, people give their time. Do we feel comfortable with the process that has enabled food to be on our table? Has our eating enhanced other’s welfare? Answers to these questions revolve around questions of fair trade, transportation, organic farming, land use and deforestation.

Christianity has a strong culture of hospitality and table fellowship. The following ‘recipe’ has been designed to create a simple eating together experience that will encourage those who take part to enjoy the five flavours mentioned above. When we are supported to eat with love and gratitude, we eat in a way that harmonises with the Eucharist. Eating links us with the whole of creation because all living beings eat, and are eventually eaten! We cannot help but partake of this wonderful circle of life. It is how we take part that makes the difference. This practice can help individuals to think about their personal relationship with food and the way their food choices impact on others and the wider environment.

Designing the Meal

As this meditation focusses on more than just the food itself, the ‘recipe’ has been kept very simple. Keeping the food simple means that one can focus on each ingredient so as to really appreciate what it has to offer. Simplicity also means that those who are not confident at cooking can easily take part in the preparation without feeling overwhelmed.

The ingredients have been deliberately chosen for their general availability, economy, fair trade, organic potential, and nutritional value.

The Menu

The meal consists of freshly squeezed orange juice, coleslaw made from carrots, cabbage, onion, celery and apples, along with freshly baked bread and butter (local farm produced if possible), or a vegan alternative.

To mix with the coleslaw, mayonnaise made with free range eggs has been chosen. For vegans or those with allergies, alter the ingredients as necessary.

Choose the place

Place matters. Choose a place where people feel comfortable physically and emotionally.

Holding the meal in church will help to strengthen the link between the actions of the Eucharist and the meaning of eating mindfully. If this doesn’t work for people then any setting with a table big enough for all to sit around and prepare the food together can be just as good.

Gather the people

Invite the guests – a group of between three and seven will work well, allowing for everyone to have an equal share in the food preparation process.

Tools and Ingredients

Fresh oranges for juicing along with manual orange squeezers.

Choose fair-trade and organic if possible. These may be available from local whole food stores or online from companies such as Crowdfarming.com

Five fresh ingredients – cabbage, carrot, onion, celery and apple. Make other similar choices to suit tastes and in the case of allergies.

A jar of mayonnaise or sour cream for mixing.

Tools needed for the coleslaw are knives, graters, chopping boards, wooden spoon and a nice big bowl to place the coleslaw in . Plates and knives and forks for individual eating.

Flour for the bread, preferably from an identified source.

Yeast, water and a little sugar.

A bread maker if possible, so the bread can be made while the other preparations occur.

Alternatively the bread can be made ahead of time and be cooking in the oven while the meal is prepared. Either way you will need to have the bread preparing before the guests arrive . If you are using a bread maker set it up and get the process going about an hour before people are set to arrive. This will mean that the bread will be baking while the other ingredients for the meal are being prepared. The meditation for the bread is described below.

Setting the scene

The invitation

We are inviting people to come together for a ‘slow food’ event. The experience is to be thoughtful, appreciative and participatory. In many ways the situation is mundane, there is no competition or particular ‘show’ to be made. It is in the guests playing their part that the meal is made special. There is nothing sophisticated about the food; the value comes from the love shared between those taking part.

While the atmosphere may be focussed and prayerful, it may also be joyous and playful. Those attending can expect to experience a sense of warmth, sharing and creativity. Space for personal reflection will allow for individual learning, which may range from discovering a new recipe, through understanding more about food sources, to recognising something new about one’s individual relationship with food.

Above all a personal sense of taste on multiple levels is what is to be emphasised.

Start With The Orange Juice

Having invited people to sit down around the table, place a bowl of oranges in the centre – enough for at least one per person present.

Draw people’s attention to the oranges and ask people contemplate the fruit.

Suggest that they really look at the rich orange colour, the dimpled skin, the imperfect round shapes. Do the sensory elements of the oranges affect feelings?

Do oranges hold any memories or trigger any thoughts – Christmas, Summer, holidays or a big round sun? Allow people to share thoughts if they’d like to.

Francesco Ancona & Marcello Eberle of Agrinova, an
organic cooperative in Sicily. Courtesy of The Organic Delivery Company.

Talk about the origins of the oranges. Where were they grown? If possible show an image of an orange grove. If you can, show a map of where the oranges come from. If you have bought the oranges from a cooperative group like www.crowdfarming.com, or a local organic veg box supplier such as www.organicdeliverycompany.co.uk , then it should be possible to know and show the details of the grower and location of the farm.

Checking oranges at Casa Carlos, Spain.
Image courtesy of crowdfarming.com

Having got to know where the oranges come from, we can move on to the quality and character of an orange.

An orange contains 65 – 90 milligrams of vitamin C – enough for the daily requirements of the average human. Vitamin C is essential for the growth and repair of all body tissues, the immune system, healing of wounds and maintenance of cartilage, bones and teeth.

Invite participants to spend a few moments contemplating the vitamin C held within the orange and how their body depends on what the orange has to offer. Spend a moment considering the wonder of the body’s capacity to absorb and make use of vitamin C, feeling grateful for its presence here in this orange.

Touch and Smell.

Invite guests to feel the weight of the orange in their hand. Then encourage them to run their fingers over the orange so as to feel its dimpled skin, rubbing the orange a little, perhaps cutting in slightly with a finger nail. After this they might hold the orange up towards your nose and take in the aroma.

Having got the feel of our orange its now time to cut into it.

Using boards and knives each participant now cuts their orange in half.

Reflect on the pattern revealed by the cut orange segments, the juice held in the segments, the thin outer rind, and the bitter tasting pith at the centre.

Using the juicer, feel the sensations of the fruit crushed. Watch the juice pour down into the container.

Wait until everyone has squeezed their juice, and anticipate the delicious flavour held within each glass.

Say a short grace –

Thank you Lord for the juice of this orange, full of goodness for our bodies. Thank you for the people who grew these oranges; the work, the knowledge and the care given to the trees through the seasons.

Thank you for the soil that transforms life and death into new life, bringing renewal and strength in an endless cycle. For the creatures that play their part in the cycle of growth, worms, grubs and insects; all living their life in a way that gives life to others.

We drink to the earth, to each other’s health and to each other’s enjoyment of life, and to God – the giver of good things.

Amen

Introducing The Ingredients

Coleslaw (or cabbage salad) is of Dutch origin, having made its way into English cooking around the mid 18th Century. Its essential ingredients are cabbage and a vinaigrette sauce. These days all kinds of raw vegetables are included in recipes for coleslaw, which is normally mixed together with mayonnaise or sour cream.

Bring out the ingredients for the coleslaw, along with boards, knives, graters and mixing bowl with spoon.

Starting With The Cabbage

Place the cabbage on the board and discuss where the cabbage came from. If the cabbage came from a supermarket, the country of origin should be shown on the wrapper, alternatively if the cabbage has been purchased at a local farm shop or market then it may be possible to find out more details on where the cabbage was grown.

Harvesting cabbage,  from the Tacuinum Sanitatis, 15th Century.

Cabbage is known to be very healthy, containing multiple vitamins, being a good source of Vitamin C and K.

Cabbage is included in the 15th Century health manual Tacuinum Sanitatis, as a plant many benefits. More recently cabbage has been found to decrease the risk of many human cancers.

All varieties of the cabbage family are derived from wild cabbage, which tends to be found on southern coastal areas. Research suggests that cultivation of the cabbage started around 10,000 year ago.

Are there any particular thoughts or feelings around the vegetable cabbage that the guests would like to share?

Having Talked About Cabbage Move On To The Carrots

Introduce the carrots.

Organic carrots are widely available and not normally expensive, so hopefully it will be possible to find some for the meal, or even better some locally or home grown from the garden.

Carrots are famously a good source of vitamin A, which is helpful for eyesight, and although eating them won’t actually enable you to see in the dark, it can protect against night blindness. Most likely first cultivated in Persia, modern day carrots are derived from the common hedgerow plant, wild carrot.

Invite people to share their thoughts and feelings about carrots.

Now Move On To The Celery

Organic celery is also available in supermarkets.

Wild celery is a marshland plant that has been cultivated since antiquity for its medicinal qualities, which are purported to be useful against colds, flu, and various types of arthritis.

It was not until the 16th Century that celery began to be cultivated in Europe.

Celery is also very nutritious and contains very few calories compared to other vegetables.

Invite guests to share their thoughts or reflections around celery.

The Apples

Using apples in coleslaw offers a sweet, juicy crunch to the mixture.

As with all the other ingredients, try to use apples that are local and organic if possible, and check the variety.

Apples originated in the Middle East about 4,000 years ago, and were brought to Britain by the Romans. Wild apples, or Crab apples are probably a descendant of the apples brought over to Britain at this time.

Apples are considered very healthy to eat, being particularly high in antioxidants as well as other nutrients. Many of the nutrients are concentrated in the skin, so it is beneficial to leave the skin on, which also offers a nice green or rosy colour mixed in with the other ingredients when making coleslaw.

Invite guests to share any thoughts or reflections about apples.

The Onion

Wood cut from Hortus Sanitatis
(1536)

One onion will be enough for the mix, a very small one if there are only 3/4 people taking part.

Although no original wild onions still exist, they have a long history of use. Traces of onion have been found at Bronze Age settlements in China. It is believed that the Ancient Egyptians revered the onion for its spherical shape and concentric rings. Evidence of onion traces were found in the eye sockets of Ramesses IV.

Onions are mentioned in the Medieval Encyclopaedia Hortus Sanitatis (The Garden of Health), which lists various species’ medicinal uses and modes of preparation. Today they are considered to be beneficial to health as they are low in calories, and are a good source of vitamin C, B6, iron, folate and potassium.

Onions are known to make people’s eyes water when we are preparing them, which is caused by the reaction between two chemicals released when the onion is cut. These two chemicals create a gas which causes the irritation we’ve all experienced. Its the one time that we might cry without any emotional reason!

The Bread

Bread has been the traditional staple diet for generations, the variety of styles reflecting the diversity of cultures around the world. Bread links us with our ancestors, with cultures around the globe, with ancient history, with the circle of life, and with biblical times. Jesus not only ate bread but also presents himself in terms of bread. Bread represents the food we all need to live.

Introducing The Grain

Bread can be made from a variety of grain, however usually it is made from wheat, so if all the guests are happy with this, that is likely to be the best option.

Try to find a flour from an identifiable source.

If you can. find some heads of wheat (or alternative grain if that is your choice) to introduce the bread; then these will also act as an excellent symbol of the whole circle of life – birth, death and rebirth in the abundance of Creation.

Depending on your locality, you may be able to find a local mill that still grinds flour, if you can it will help to deepen the link with the history of place and the agricultural cycle.

The wind or water powered mechanism means minimum carbon footprint ( although some historic mills actually run on electricity for health and safety reasons). Windmills like the Union Mill in Cranbrook, which is run by volunteer enthusiasts, tend to form a community hub giving both a symbolic and an actual expression of community identity.

There are working historical mills all over Britain, check this link to find the nearest one http://brockwell-bake.org.uk/map.php

Of interest to those living in the Capital, and perhaps the most surprising for its existence, Brixton Mill is the only surviving windmill in the London area; a relic of its former rural landscape. Brixton Mill produces stoneground, wholemeal organic flour from locally grown wheat. Suppliers can be found at their website https://www.brixtonwindmill.org.

For many who run traditional mills, an ethical philosophy is central to their business plan, one example is Shipton Mill, in Yorkshire which has a page dedicated to its production ethos at https://www.shipton-mill.com/the-mill/about-shipton-mill/our-philosophy.

If finding a local mill isn’t viable, then you might like to look for flour that is produced to an ethical standard.

Marriage’s is a company that values its historical roots and buys local grain from organic producers https://flour.co.uk/what-we-stand-for.

Dove’s Farm https://www.dovesfarm.co.uk/about offers organic and heritage grain.

Duchy of Cornwall flour is traceable and organic, with profits supporting the charitable work of the Prince’s Trust. https://www.britishcornershop.co.uk/waitrose-duchy-organic-strong-wholemeal-flour.

Use a recipe you know already, or try one out before hand. You will also need yeast, water and a little sugar and salt.

Method

Have the bread set up and being made in the bread maker, or proving ready for the oven, before the guests arrive.

Tell the guests about the origins of the flour and the way it has been ground.

Show the wheat ears, the bag of flour and any images that you have of the growing area and/or mill, and invite the guests to reflect on the growing process, the significance of harvest, historical connectivity and cultural diversity, and food supply.

Encourage the guests to share thoughts and memories attached to bread and grain.

Preparation Time

Bring all the ingredients and tools to the table, and invite guests to choose an ingredient to start preparing.

Method

The Cabbage

The guest who has chosen the cabbage places it on a board. All the guests now have an opportunity to contemplate the cabbage again.

Talk about the way the cabbage is made up of layers of leaves that have grown over time, hidden from human sight. It is only when the cabbage is cut into that we can see the inner leaves allowing the pattern of their growth to be revealed.

Take a moment to consider how the knife will enter the cabbage, slicing through the crisp leaves across the layers.

As the cabbage is cut through, the other guests watch and take time to look at the shapes that are revealed by the cutting.

The Carrots

The guest who has chosen the carrots places one of them on a board along with the grater. Invite the guests to contemplate how this carrot has grown, hidden in the ground. Its shape and colour was unseen in the soil until it was pulled up by the grower. Consider how the orange colour has been created from the dark brown soil it grew in – spend a moment with the wonder of this.

The guests watch as the first carrot is grated, and a fresh carroty smell emerges.

The Celery

The guest who has chosen the celery lays one of the sticks on a board. The guests now have an opportunity to contemplate the design of the celery; its hollow stem on the inside and ridges on the outer side.

One guest now cuts through the celery and continues to make thin slices up the stem.

The Apples

One guest now takes an apple and places it on the board.

Spend a moment considering the process that has made this apple available to us. The apple has grown on a tree. The tree will have been planted, pruned and tended during the year. Initially leaves will have sprouted and grown, as the weather warmed up in the Spring, then in late April the flower buds will have emerged, and opened into pink and white blossom. Essentially bees will have done their pollination work, so that germination could take place and fruit develop. The apple has taken around four months to mature, outside in the fresh air and the sunshine, until a person has picked it from the tree and it has become available to us as it is now. We are looking at the results of all this activity. Take a moment to appreciate the energy that has gone into the production of this apple.

The apple is cut in half.

The division reveals the asymmetric shape of the apple, the central enclosure in which the pips have been formed, and the pips themselves.

Look at the fresh juicy flesh of the apple, designed to be eaten and enjoyed by us and other creatures, but essentially designed for the production of the seed, which represents the potential for new life.

The Onion

The brave person who has agreed to chop the onion must be prepared for their eyes to water! Of course the onion may affect everyone in the proximity depending on its strength. If it is too much then it may be best for the onion to be prepared outside where a breeze might clear the onion smell away before it hits the eyes.

First allow the guests to appreciate the golden colours and sheen as the onion is pealed. Its interesting to note the layers of skin protecting the onion bulb.

A slice is then cut. Inside are the concentric rings that have grown over time as the onion sat with its roots in the ground and its body largely exposed to the sun.

By now everyone will have their nostrils filled with the odour of onion – the onion has made its presence felt!

Invite guests to share thoughts and feelings about onions.

Continue With The Preparations

The guests now continue to prepare the various ingredients, perhaps swapping tasks as they chat and reflect on the sensory elements of the food.

Once the ingredients are all chopped, grated and sliced they can be put together into the bowl. Add the mayonnaise, soured cream or vegan alternative, and give it a good stir.

The Bread Will Be Ready Soon

By now there should be a delicious smell of baking bread melding with all the other flavours on the table.

Once cooking is complete, and the machine has cooled down, take the bread out to finish cooling before being ready to cut.

Clear the table of preparation items and wash up if you have a sink handy.

Lay the table with cutlery, plates, napkins, glasses and a jug of water, and place the bowl of coleslaw, the bread, ready with the knife, and butter on the table.

The meal is now ready.

With the guests seated say grace.

Heavenly Father,

Thank you for this food. We praise you for all that you give, for the way our food is produced, growing from seed in the ground, watered by the rain, fed by the light of the sun and nutrients in the soil, with leaves that take in carbon dioxide and breath out oxygen during the sunlight hours.

Your world is complex, beautiful and delicious to take part in. Teach us to take part with the respect and delight that will enable our life to bring life to others. Help us to remember that we are all part of the a great circle of life, growing from seed and egg, developing in the darkness, emerging into the light of the world, dependant on care givers, needing love and protection, transforming food into energy, maturing from our embodied existence, a mixture of spirit, intellect and bodily activity.

We move like all beings towards a return to spirit, make our lives worthwhile in as we contemplate the meaning of your Creation, as we trust in Christ’s transforming power for the ultimate renewal of all things.

Amen.

As the guests eat, encourage natural and relaxed conversation with moments of quietness, conscious of the ‘five flavours’ in their food.

The material flavour of the food, the subtle flavours of good company, loving service, care and appreciation of the wider world, along with absorption of good quality nutrition into the body, should all emerge and meld together to create a delicious harmony.

The meal has ended. Go in Peace.

connecting with the landscape

A meditation on the geology, flora and fauna of a local landscape.

This meditation was originally written as part of an outdoor communion service held on Otham Green on 21st June. The prayers relate to the specific landscape of the area, which nestles on the edge of the North Downs near Maidstone. Researching a little about the local landscape helped me appreciate the timescale in which our environment has developed. Using the creation story of Genesis, it was possible to follow the evolution of the natural environment, linking Biblical understanding with our experienced reality. My thoughts are that prayers for the Earth work well when outside in the elements, giving an opportunity for participants to sense their place as part of the environment offering an opportunity for grounded wonder.

The natural elements, flora and fauna, described in this meditation could be replaced by those of the natural environment any area.

(After the second hymn)

John 1 v 1-3

‘In the beginning was the Word and the Word was God and the Word was God. He was with God in the beginning. Through him all things came into being, not one thing came into being except through him.

Let us spend a moment considering the natural world around us, dwelling in the knowledge that all that we can see, smell and hear is originally created through the Living Word our Lord Jesus Christ.

Genesis 1 v 1-10

‘In the beginning God created the heaven and the earth. Now the earth was a formless void, there was darkness over the deep, with a divine wind sweeping over the waters.

God said, ‘Let there be light’, and there was light. God saw that the light was good, and God divided it from the darkness. God called the light day and the darkness he called ‘night’. Evening came and morning came: the first day.

God said, ‘Let there be a vault through the middle of the waters to divide the waters in two’. And it was so….. God called the vault ‘heaven’. Evening came and morning came: the second day.

God said, ‘Let the waters under heaven come together into a single mass, and let dry land appear. And so, it was. God called the dry land ‘earth’ and the mass of waters ‘seas’, and God saw that it was good.’

We are standing on a bed of Ragstone, formed by sand and clay, left by the tidal currents which flowed in this area around 100 million years ago. Fossils are common within the rock, including ammonites, brachiopods, sea urchins and even the occasional dinosaur!

Following this the sea level rose so that this whole area was covered in sea leaving a thick layer of planktonic algae, minerals and shell debris, creating a 100-foot layer of chalk. This has been eroded over tome leaving us with the landscape that we view today.

Let us spend a moment considering the time it has taken for our landscape to be formed, and God’s creative control over all things.

Genesis 1 v 11-13

‘God said, ‘let the earth produce vegetation seed bearing plants, and fruit trees on earth, bearing fruit with their seed inside, each corresponding to its own species’. And it was so………. Evening came and morning came: the third day.

In the hedgerows and woods around us we find hazel, sloe, hawthorn, sweet chestnut, oak, hornbeam, brambles and wild roses. In the Spring we see primroses, wood anemones, and blue bells. In the summer: bugle, red campion and yellow archangel, all producing food for either people of wild life.

Let us spend consider how soil, climate and God’s hand have worked to produce the wide range of vegetation we can see here today.

Genesis 1 v 14-19 

God said ,‘Let there be lights in the vault of heaven to divide the day from the night, and let them indicate festivals, days and years. Let them be lights in the vault of heaven to shine on earth’. And so it was. God made the two great lights, the greater light to govern the day, and the smaller light to govern the night and stars…….God saw that it was good. Evening came and morning came: the third day.

The Church celebrates festivals throughout the year, many of these coincide with the agricultural year and ancient festivals marking the times and seasons. Today we stand at the point where the length of the night is shortest. For the next 6 months the days will gradually be getting shorter. This pattern generated by our relationship with the sun creates the seasons and affects the whole of the natural order.

Let us reflect on the beauty of our changing seasons and on this moment in time at the point of mid-summer.

Genesis 1v20-25

‘God said, ‘Let the waters be alive with a swarm of living creatures, and let birds wing their way above the earth across the vault of heaven’. And so it was……God saw that it was good. God blessed them saying, ‘Be fruitful, multiply, and fill the waters of the seas; and let birds multiply on land’. Evening came and morning came: the fifth day.

God said, ‘Let the earth produce every kind of living creature in its own species: cattle, creeping things, and wild animals of all kinds’. And it was so. God made wild animals in their species, and cattle in theirs, and every creature that crawls along the earth. God saw that it was good.

There is a wonderful variety of wildlife here in this area.

Woodpecker, jay, crow, robin, thrush, blackbird and blue-tit, and lark over the fields are only a few of the birds whose songs and sounds we can appreciate.

Foxes, badgers, stoats, weasels, hares, and field mice, may well be within a stones throw of where we are, come night time.

Sheep, cattle, horses graze in the fields along with ducks, hens and turkeys.

Toads, frogs, fish and a huge array of water born creatures play their part in the eco-system.

Let us consider for a moment the amazing interconnectedness of all creatures.

Genesis 1v26-31

‘God said, ‘Let us make man in our own image, in the likeness of ourselves, and let them be masters of the fish of the sea, the birds of heaven, the cattle, all the wild animals and all the creatures that creep along the ground.

God created man in his own image, in the image of himself he created him, male and female he created them.

We draw to mind the farmers in this area who work the land and produce food, wool and other products for the population. We pray that their work may be appreciated and that they are supported to grow food with good and careful husbandry that supports wildlife and the ecosystem so that all may benefit.

We think of the all the people who have made their living from the land in the past and helped to shape the landscape we see today. Respecting those that have gone before us, the communities that have left us the heritage that we view today, we pray for wisdom to carry on caring for, and protecting our countryside environment for future generations.

Lord in your mercy

Hear our prayer (people’s response)

We thank God for our communities of (Otham, Downswood and Langley), and ask for His blessing on all who live in this area.

Lord in your mercy

Hear our prayer (people’s response)

We prayer for wisdom for those on our Parish and County Councils and all the decisions they make affecting this area.

Lord in your mercy

Hear our prayer (People’s response)

We pray for all those in parliament, and particularly for those whose decisions effect directly on our natural environment. Lord help us to treasure and respect all the species of the earth which you have created, and wisely support those who make judgment with integrity.

Merciful Father accept these prayers for the sake of your son, our Lord Jesus Christ. (All together)

Amen

The Lord’s prayer

A meditation on the Lord’s Prayer designed for outdoor worship.

This meditation was originally produced for Walk Church, an initiative of Rev’d Alex Bienfait, Rector of Biddenden and Smarden, Kent. Walk Church is an experimental congregation that celebrates God in the outdoors. http://scbcofe.org/walk-church-what-is-it/

Pre-reflection – to support mindful connection with the place.

The purpose of the pre-reflection is to help participants connect with where they are and initiate thoughts that will resonate with the main meditation. Key images are those of transformation, the reality of the unseen and inter-connection/interdependence above and below. We will have stopped in a suitable area along the walk.

______________

Become aware of your feet and the way your feet are placed on the ground.

Beneath is the soil, moist from recent rain and heated by the Summer sun.

We are surrounded by green leaves. Leaves filled with chlorophyll; that incredible element that transforms sunlight into food for plants while at the same time producing oxygen. The food for plants and oxygen – the basis of all life.

Imagine the roots beneath your feet of the trees and plants that surround us; the unseen, yet essential life support for all the plants we can see as they rise above the ground.

This greenness is visible to us because of the sunlight filtering through the clouds. We do not see the light, but we see by the light.

We can take our mind upwards beyond the clouds to where the sun shines whatever the weather. And then beyond and upwards through the earth’s atmosphere and up into outer space.

Space – that enormous expansive mass that science is now discovering through the use of spacecraft cameras. The human mind cannot encompass the huge size nor the light years that it takes for images to reach us from such distance. We are faced with concepts without boundaries and time scales that reach backwards and forwards into eternity.

Last week we remembered 50 years since men landed on the moon – a tremendous act. This is when we first saw that image of the Earth sent back to us from the moon – blue and green, floating like a jewel in the blackness.

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Beyond words – God’s precious creation, our home.

And here we are, at home, with our feet on the Planet, our feet on this tiny part of the Earth, playing our part in this incredible network of life.

Meditation on The Lord’s Prayer

‘Our Father who art in Heaven’

Heaven – I’m going to invite you to consider your own personal concept of Heaven.

What and where is Heaven for you? What images and concepts come forward in your mind when you hear the word ‘Heaven’?

Ancient peoples have long thought of Heaven as being above the sky.

Jesus ascended into Heaven, moving upwards into space.

In classical art Heaven is represented by the colour blue.

But then Jesus speaks of Heaven’s seed being within our hearts.

Perhaps Heaven can be anywhere that God is? And God is everywhere. So perhaps there is a possibility of Heaven being right here and now in this present moment.

‘Hallowed be thy name’

Let us consider how it feels for a moment when someone calls our name.

When someone who loves us calls our name.

How do we respond? How do our hearts respond?

Do we feel a sense of warmth, recognition, communication, communion?

How might God feel when we call his name?

When we make a call on his heart, when we open our hearts to him – Surely we create a space for great and holy communion… and possibilities…..

Thy Kingdom Come’

And what is our part when we call for God’s Kingdom to come?

Jesus has brought us back through God’s name to the place of Heaven – God’s Kingdom. And then forward to a place of hope in the future.

When and where is God’s Kingdom going to come?

Do we need to wait? Or do we need to act?

Does God’s Kingdom exist out there, somewhere in the Universe?

Or is it growing from in here within our hearts?

Or both?

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‘Thy will be done’

God’s will? How do we know what that is?

From the teaching of the Bible. Through the words of wise men and women down the ages? Through our own consciences and inner sense of right and wrong?

There are a number of ways to discern God’s will. But what we do know is that God’s will needs to be done.

We must act. It is more than thinking and desiring; the will of God needs to be present in what we do.

‘On Earth as it is in Heaven’

On Earth. Our feet are on the Earth. We are earth. We are made of carbon like every other thing on the Planet.

Just for a moment please draw your attention to your feet once again. Think about how your feet are placed, and adjust them so that you are equally balanced on both feet. Think about yourself as strong and rooted to the Earth.

This is your life on Earth – your moment on the Planet.

And above us the sky and beyond the stars, the Universe, Heaven.

Above and beyond us, out of reach, yet intensely available – the vision of God, a Kingdom of love.

So, let us see if we can draw this thought down into our hearts, to the place where the presence of Christ’s love resonates; that great love that has broken the bonds of death – our bridge between Earth and Heaven.

And as that link strongly warms and inspires us, may Jesus’ power come to fruition as Heaven works its way to our world.

‘Give us this day our daily bread’

Our bread, our food, our needs.

What have we eaten today?

Did we feel grateful to God for his gifts, or did we eat without thought?

Did we consider where our food came from? The cost to our Planet, the wellbeing of other creatures and other people?

Our desires and needs are strong, we take up space, we take up energy, we need help to regulate our habits and get it right.

This may be a moment when you recognise a need to make changes. We are free to confess to God our mistakes and ask for help to do things in a better way….

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‘Forgive us our trespasses’

Trespasses – the inevitability of life.

The inevitability of failure.

The inevitability of weakness.

The inevitability of our need for Christ’s forgiveness.

But here we are forgiven!

Here we are loved. Here we are in a constant stream of potential change in the river of the love of God.

The love that makes all things new, and lifts us, and transforms us into living children of God.

And here we can truly know ourselves.

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‘And lead us not into temptation’

We pray that God will protect us from making poor choices, and keep us on paths that will ultimately lead to the building of God’s Kingdom, both in our hearts and in the world.

‘But deliver us from Evil’

Delivered from the powers of evil, through Christ’s most precious blood, we can stand tall and confident as we face the world.

Trusting and praising God we now say all together –

For thine is the Kingdom the power and the glory for ever and ever.

Amen.

Consider the wild flowers.

Luke 12: 22 – 27.

A talk and reflection for the May Day weekend using the flowers of the hawthorn tree.

This talk and reflection is inspired by Christ’s use of nature to describe the ways of God. The seasonal moment of the May Day festival, which occurs as part of the community’s social life, couples with the understanding of our responsibility to God for the way we look after and appreciate the Creation of which we are a part.

Talk

In Luke chapter 12 Jesus asks us to look at the wild flowers of the field and learn something of the nature of God.

This isn’t the only time that we hear Jesus using nature as a way to describe the spiritual life.

  • In John we have Jesus describing himself as the vine with ourselves as the branches.
  • And then in John again, Jesus refers to himself as the seed that must die in order to produce the fruit of new life for all.
  • To describe how some will respond to his words while others won’t, Jesus uses the parable of the sower.
  • When talking about the end times, Jesus uses the image of the way we notice new leaves coming on the trees and know that summer is on its way, as a way of telling us to look out for signs of his coming Kingdom.
  • In the Old Testament we have this very strong statement from Job as he answers the jibes of his critical friends –

‘Even birds and animals have much they could teach you; ask the creatures of the Earth and sea for their wisdom. All of them know that the Lord’s hand made them. It is God who directs the lives of his creatures; everyone’s life is in his power. ‘ Job 12 v 7-10

All these verses suggest that Nature can speak to us of God, but clearly there is an expectation that we will have the necessary knowledge of the natural world around us in order to understand the message.

I believe that when Jesus tells us to consider the lilies (or more accurately wild flowers) we are expected to take note and appreciate what we can learn from God’s world about his ways of working.

  • ( As part of the May Day service each member of the congregation will have a sprig of may blossom (hawthorn). This service could be adapted for use at a different time of the year in which case alternative seasonal flowers could be used.)

May blossom – so abundant and beautiful right now around the May Day weekend.

You can’t help noticing it as it fills the hedges along the lanes, with its mass of wonderful creamy white flowers, coming hot on the heals of the previous white blooms that have filled the hedges in April – that of the blackthorn, later to develop into sloes, famous for their part in the creation of a certain alcoholic beverage 🙂

These blossoms en masse are so striking that I have heard it commented that it looks like the hedgerows are having a wedding!

It’s not surprising that in ancient times the may blossom was seen as a symbolic representation of abundance and fertility, and was almost certainly used as part of rituals that were thought to help the crops grow.

But what benefit has the hawthorn to us now? And indeed if Jesus were to ask us today to consider the may blossom, what would it be helpful to know?

Well, first of all its been growing in Britain for a very long time and is therefore fully integrated into the ecology of the area. It is a small shrubby tree which is highly adaptable and can grow on most soils, and hence is found right across the British Isles.

As an idigenous tree it offers many benefits to other species, and plays an important part in diversity; notably it supports over 300 different types of insect, including a wide variety of moth, the larva of which can be found feeding on the leaves. The flowers which are food to dormice, most obviously provide nectar for pollinating insects, including of course bees, for which they must provide a fantastic feast. Come Autumn the flowers are going to turn into fruit, which are highly nutritious and provide an excellent food source for birds. Thrushes in particular enjoy the hawthorn berries.

The tree itself, especially when kept low as a bush or hedge makes an excellent nesting sight; the hawthorn having thorns, which are there to protect the plant, also help to protect nests, as tangled thorny branches are difficult to penetrate by cats or larger predatory birds.

From the human perspective the hawthorn has been useful when planted as a protective barrier and to keep livestock in the fields. The berries being highly nutritious could also provide sustenance during the Winter months – some here may have memories of making hawthorn jelly. Interestingly, if you asked a medical herbalist about the quality of hawthorn from a health point of view, they would tell you that it can be helpful for heart conditions, and that used correctly it will strengthen heart function.

How useful is this humble tree! And a great example of the way nature is designed, with plants and animals working together, interdependant with one another. The wonder of it must surely lead us to praise God.

So having considered the natural function of the may blossom, how might this plant be found to express something of the ways of God?

Well, first of all I would suggest abundance. God hasn’t just produced one or two flowers. No. Across the hedges we have millions, perhaps billions of flowers. Surely this speaks of a great generosity – a joy in expression of life. And it is right when we see all this splendour to respond with joy in our hearts.

Secondly we are looking at diversity. 300 insects on one tree – just one tree. Why would you have so many different types? What are they all doing? I’m sure that David Attenborough would be able to tell us what role they all have and what place they have in the ecosystem. But clearly this must tell us that God likes variety. He has created difference. As humans, difference and diversity can sometimes be awkward for us. We tend to prefer people who are like ourselves. Differences can be challenging, but God has created us each with our differences, and we need to honour and respect that in ourselves and in others, so that we might all find our place in God’s Kingdom.

Thirdly we are not only diverse, but we are interdependant. The birds eating the berries will pass the seeds around. Insects feeding on nectar will inadvertently pollinate the flowers.

Things work together and cooperate by design. And of course this is the same for us as human beings – we too are designed to cooperate together.

Lastly – if we are to believe the practice of the medical herbalist then we have here the image of a plant that can work with our hearts. Most of us will prefer to consult a practitioner at the local surgery or hospital if we think we may have a heart condition. However perhaps there is something in this element of God’s creation that can speak into our hearts and open us further to his ways……..

Meditation.

So we come back to consider our wild flower of the field; our may blossom.

Shall we take a moment to study our flowers? Looking carefully, you’ll be able to see that each flower has 5 petals. The centre of the flower has a slightly green tinge – this is the stigma – the female part of the flower. Dotted around this we have some pinky coloured dots – these are the stamen which hold the pollen, and they are the male part of the flower.

Some flowers are open, and some still in tight bud. Once the flower is open the bee is able to access the nectar, which the flower has produced in order to attract the bee. While the bee is doing this, it will inadvertently catch pollen on its body, spreading it about so that some pollen will find itself on the stigma where it will travel down to the centre of the flower and fertilisation will occur.

After this fruit will start to develop.

If we cast our minds outside now, we will be able to visualise those bees buzzing in the hedges, taking advantage of warm daylight hours, as they engage in the same process that has been happening for millenia. Working to God’s design – enabling species to continue in this great cycle of life.

Over the past few days you may or may not have noticed bees at work around the blossoms, but we can be sure that God has! For just as he knows when a tiny sparrow falls to the ground, so he notices, and knows about everything in his world. And he delights in what he has created.

How do we respond to God’s creation? Do we too delight in this simple flower. And as we wonder at what God has made, how might God speak to us?

Maybe there is something about these tiny flowers, some open, some still in tight bud, that can lead us to consider ourselves, and our own hearts before God.

As these flowers have opened in response to the sunlight, our own hearts can open to the light of God’s warmth. We are in need of God’s love, and to receive we need to be open to him.

As we open we become available to the working of the Spirit.

There is always healing in the ways of the Holy Spirit.

Healing, hope wisdom and love. The Holy Spirit brings about new learning, new connections, change and transformation.

And then we will notice the fruit.

The fruits of the Spirit are –

Love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control.

These are the fruits of the love of God as he works within us.

God’s love flows and from him we can draw support for growth, for generous actions, and expressions of love, even in those places of darkness, the places hidden from ourselves and others. God’s love flows to the places within us and within the world, most in need of healing.

We trust God. We trust in God above all and beyond all things. The psalmist tells us that there is nowhere that God’s awareness and love cannot reach. He knows us and loves us full well. He even saw us when we were being formed in our mother’s womb. Even before anyone knew of our existance God knew and loved us. We have been loved from the beginning.

As the bee goes from flower to flower seeking nectar it accidentally transports the pollen from stamen to stigma.

But of course there is no accident! All is part of God’s purposeful design.

We know that we are all a part of God’s plan of life.

So with our hearts open to God, trusting in his plans for us and for the whole of human kind, let us pray that we may be confident of our place and purpose both in this world and in the Kingdom to come, as we live out our lives to his praise and glory.

Amen.

Candlemas – a talk and reflection.

Candlemas – using candles to find our light.

For use in a service of Christian worship around 2nd February.

Talk

So here we are at the beginning of February, often considered a time of year when people are feeling that the cold winter days are going on a bit, Christmas seems a distant memory, and there’s not too much to look forward to other than the probability of more snow, rain and chilly winds. The people of times gone past certainly would have felt this time of year very keenly as the food stocks began to diminish, and going out to look for firewood could mean a long trudge through whatever the weather offered. The hope of warmer, brighter days would have been strongly in their mind as perhaps they are for us?

Well there’s one positive thing that you may well have noticed around this time – and that is that the days are getting noticeably a little bit longer. It was in fact still light at 5pm yesterday evening – a whole hours difference to 6 weeks ago, when the shortest day gave us only less than 8 hours daylight.

The ancient peoples would certainly have noticed this, and in pre-Christian times they would have undergone certain rituals to encourage the sun to increase in power and bring back the sunlight that they craved. These rituals would almost certainly have included the lighting fires and tapers of light.

Whilst of course with the advent of science we know that all life depends to some extent on sunlight, we also know that we do not need to light fires in order for Spring and Summer to come round again. But more than this, as Christians also we recognise that we depend on a far a greater light – that of the Light of Christ.

Given the way that the seasons affect us, it is perhaps not too surprising that the church chose this time to bless the candles that were to be used throughout the year. The blessing of candles at Candlemas dates back to the 11th Century, and to a time when candles and oil lamps were the only source of light available during the dark hours. From the start Christians used candles for the practical purpose of providing light in places like the Catacombs, where they met in secret to pray and celebrate the Eucharist. Soon candles came to represent the Light of Christ, and were used at baptism and confirmation to symbolize the Christian turning from the darkness of sin to the redeeming Light of Jesus.

So here we are surrounded by all these beautiful candles, with our Easter Candle here in the centre. This candle was originally lit for the first time at the Easter service of first light and its purpose is to represent the Light of Christ. It has been lit for every baptism that has happened in this church during the year. After the hymn I’m going to lead a short meditation during which I will invite you to come forward and light your candle from the Easter candle as a way of demonstrating that we are all lit from the one true source – our Lord Jesus.

All life seeks light in order to grow, and depends on the sun for food and warmth. Simeon and Anna sort the greater and uncreated Light of God and recognised Jesus as that very Light. Just as they did, we seek the Light of Christ for our soul’s well being, and while we appreciate all the good things God gives us, including the hope of warmer days & sunshine, we celebrate this opportunity to offer our lives to Him the one true redeemer of all things.

Meditation

We’re now going to think about lighting our Candlemas candles. Please could you take hold of your candle.

So as we think about Jesus the Light of the world, recognised by Anna and Simeon, and recognised by ourselves here today, we reflect on all that he gives us, especially his Light.

God is present everywhere. ‘If I go up to the highest Heavens you are there, if I go down to the depths of the Earth you are there.’ We are never out of God’s reach, and that is always a comfort. In the same way we can recognise Jesus’ presence in all that we meet. Christ the living Word, through whom all things were made, loves all people and indeed all Creation. As with Anna and Simeon it is our response that will make all the difference – as the Holy Spirit enables us to recognise Jesus, and ignites that fire within us, so that we can blaze with his Love.

Jesus calls us to shine as a lights in the world. It is of course his Light that he calls to shine in us, not the impressiveness of our own deeds. Sometimes keeping that light burning can be hard; there is plenty to dowse the flame in a world that does not recognise or welcome his Light. And so we need to come back to Jesus regularly in order to reacquaint ourselves with the warmth of his love; just as a flame needs oxygen so that it can burn brightly, we need to take moments to nourish our relationship with him.

So, as we prepare to come forward to light our candles from this beautiful Easter candle, let’s for a moment focus on this one flame. It is of course just a candle flame, but for us at this time, this candle represents Christ’s living flame. Christ’s flame that burns continually and burns for all. Christ is Light for all, and is Light for us each individually. At the end of the day it is our response to Jesus’ Light that will make the difference. In the lighting of our candles we acknowledge where our true Light comes from, and we open ourselves up still further to his healing Light for ourselves and for the whole world.

Let is spend a moment of quiet and the stillness, as we focus on the Easter candle, drawing our minds to Christ the Light of the world, the Light our souls yearn for.

And when you are ready, please come forward and light your candle, and then return to your seat.

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Now we all have our candles burning, representing Christ’s Light as he burns within you. A Light to dispel darkness and fear, to enlighten your mind, to brighten dull days and show a clear path before you.

Christ’s Light is given freely, yet so precious. Let us consider the wonder of the way that this Light shines within us now. We are indeed blessed by this Light, and we in return are encouraged to bless.

We are united in our lights, all our lights are burning from a light symbolizing the one true Light of Christ. In this light we are one with each other and one with Christ. Together we burn brightly to the glory of God.

Around the edges of our church, on the window sills and on the chancel screen we have another hundred candles burning. I’d like to invite you to think of these candles as representing those that are no longer with us, but whose lights none the less burn brightly in Heaven. You may like to think of those who have worshipped here with us and no doubt held their candle, as we do, for services of Advent, Easter or Candlemas. Faithful souls who are now with the Lord. We are surrounded by a host of faithful witnesses, we are part of an unseen and far greater Communion of Heaven.

Let us all as one shine as a light in the world to the glory of God our Saviour.

Amen.

In a moment we will all blow our candles out. But before we do I’d like us to say a short prayer to help us take the flame home with us in our imaginations, so that we can remember that we always have Christ’s Light with us as we go about our lives.

Let us pray.

Heavenly Father, thank you for giving us the Light of your Son, our Lord Jesus Christ. We praise you for this Light. As we look at our candles, we ask that we should remember this moment. Help us to think about the way that your Light, just as this candle burns, burns within us. Help us to act in ways that protects, nourishes and cherishes your light within us, so that we may always remain conscious of our connection with you.

Amen

Please raise your candle. Christ’s light remains with us as we blow out out candles [blow]

A Celebration of All Souls Day with Nuts and Seeds.

A talk and reflective meditation using natural materials to help people connect with nature, with their own reality and the message of the day.

May blossom 4

All Soul’s Day comes at the end of Harvest.

By the beginning of November the trees, whose colours will be turning to gold and yellow, have mostly dropped their seeds, and creatures such as squirrels and mice will have taken the opportunity to fill their stores in anticipation of the long winter months. Humans too will have brought in their harvest; grain will have been dried and stored in barns, apples and pears will have been placed in suitable cool, dark spaces, the glut of garden veg will be over, surplus will be in the freezer, jam will have been made.

Those living the countryside will notice a certain musty smell in the air; it is the smell of decay, the smell of damp leaves and rotting fruit – things are returning to the Earth.

Not surprisingly earlier cultures chose this time of year to remember their dead. As things die back and the year approaches it’s close, we may easily be reminded of life’s transience, and feel the loss of loved ones. Pre Christian religion called this festival Samhain, the Church christened the date and called it All Saints/Souls Day. It has become traditional the hold a service of remembrance.

I wanted to create a service that would capture the sense of our connection with the earth’s cycles so as to harmonise with some of the original meaning of the festival while staying  true the Christian promise of renewal and rebirth in the Spirit. In using the nuts, seeds and delicately decayed poplar leaves I hoped to bring together a sense of the natural reality of change and decay while staying true to the hope of new birth in Christ which is always available whatever the season. Autumn leaf


Introducing the subject – my talk in church as I gave it last year.

Well, here we are at the beginning of November and I think we can finally say by the drop in temperature, that winter has arrived. We can still enjoy the colours of Autumn as the leaves fall from the trees, along with a host of seeds and nuts which we find ourselves trampling under foot.

As you sat down in your pew today I hope that you found a collection of seeds and nuts. I’ve gathered these over the past couple of weeks, they all common to this area. Would anyone like to tell me what they are? 🙂

Conker/horse chestnut
Walnut
Kent cob
Sweet chestnut
Poppy seed head
Acorn
Sycamore
Field maple

So we can identify our seeds. Which of these seeds to you think are edible, and which might be poisonous?

Well they are all edible by something, mostly squirrels and mice. But interestingly they are all, apart of the sycamore, edible to humans, though whether they would taste nice is another question 🙂

In fact some have more uses than just eating! If we take our humble conker for instance – I was amazed to find that not only can conkers keep spiders out of houses and moths away from our clothes, you can also use them to make soap!

But of course the main reason for the tree generating all these seeds is to make sure that there are more trees in the future. Apparently a single oak tree will produce at least 70,000 acorns per year. It’s clearly part God’s design that trees and plants should reproduce themselves abundantly!

Creation expresses itself in abundance and diversity, and is full of surprises. All the seeds that we all looking at today are really quite different in appearance, and because we have seen them before we recognise them and know the tree or plant they came from. But just suppose we had never come across these seeds before, suppose we had somehow just arrived from outer space and had no knowledge of how such things worked, and then someone told us that this dried up dead looking little round thing could in fact potentially sprout and eventually become a massive tree and live for over a 300 hundred years!
From observation there is nothing about a conker that indicates that there is any life in it at all, let alone that it might grow into into something 40 metres in height.

We don’t need faith to believe this because we know this is the case through science and observation. We don’t need faith for things that happen in our material world and that we have seen happen over and over again.

But there are some things that we definitely do need faith for.

We do need faith to believe in God, we do need faith to believe in the power of Christ’s redeeming love. We need faith when we pray for things to happen, believing that God will answer. And we need faith to believe that one day the Kingdom of God will come.

In our reading today Jesus uses the mustard seed to teach us about the Kingdom of Heaven, and the enormous potential for life that we can enjoy with him.
The mustard seed is only about 10mm in size, yet can grow to 10ft tall.

Nature gives us many clues as to how God works.
Let us look at our conkers again.
A bit dried up and shrivelled – yet within that brown skin lies the potential for new life and huge growth – unbelievable potential!

God looks at us as we look at the conker.
God knows the true potential that lies within us.
When God looks at us he sees well below the surface, and into our inner being.

All of us are unique and deeply loved by God.
When we can respond with faith, and open ourselves to God’s loving care, we are more than likely to find a spark of new life igniting within us, as we flourish into the people God has created us to be.

So when we are out and about this Autumn, and we see seeds and nuts on the trees and on the ground, let us praise God for the wonders of his creation, as well as the potential we all have when we are ignited by his love.


The reflective meditation – the potential for new life in a seed and our own potential for new life in Christ.

Intro. 

Please draw you attention to the delicate
skeleton leaf that you were given when
you came into church today.

I’m sure you will appreciate the amazing
lace like pattern that is revealed in this semi decayed leaf. What was once a green and flourishing part of the tree’s system of transforming light into a food source, has now broken down, revealing the network of veins whose job is was to nourish and strengthen to the whole leaf.

Meditation

So if I can invite you to pick up your leaf and feel how light and fragile it is. Notice how tiny and complex the pattern of the veins are. If you had looked at this leaf when it was in its prime and growing on the tree you may have noticed the basic structure of the stem and main vein running up the centre of the leaf. But we would never have been able to see all the tiny capillaries that we can see now.
We wouldn’t have been able to see them – but God would! Because of course God can see all things from both inside and out.
Jesus tells us that not one sparrow drops to the ground but that God knows about it. Perhaps we can extend this to not one leaf drops on the ground but God is aware. We believe in a deeply loving all knowing Father who is aware of everything that lies within his creation on Earth and beyond, in ways we can never fathom, but can only trust. Trust in God’s love is really all that we are asked to do, and having trusted to respond with love.

So let us spend a moment as we reflect on this leaf in its beauty and fragility, considering God’s power to create and love all things.
God loves the world, and most especially he loves us – his children – each one of us is loved deeply by God.
Each of us is loved in a way that we cannot hope to be loved by any other.
God’s love reaches down into the very depths of us seeing past what other’s may see on the surface, seeing past what we may project of ourselves, seeing past the labels and expectations that society has placed on us, seeing beyond our fears, our failures and our pressures, right into what is there in our deepest selves – into that unique, and sometimes fragile person so much in need of love.

God sees with eyes that love. God sees the beauty of what he has created. God never stops loving despite our sometimes wayward ways. In compassion God offers us his loving forgiveness and hope for better things.

In the quietness of our hearts let us ask for God’s help to respond with thanksgiving to his unfathomable love.
(space)………..

As we consider this tiny part of God’s creation , we praise God for the wonder of creativity,
the wonder of his all pervasive love,
the wonder of his capacity to sustain all things, to forgive, renew and empower us to respond with love to him, our Father, and to each other in faith.

Thanks be to God.

Amen.

 

Valentine’s Day Swans

2 feb

Last year I took a photo of this beautiful pair of swans on the lake in the park at the back of my home, where they lived and produced young each year.

This is a sad picture, because unfortunately people visiting the park had been feeding these swans (and the other water birds) with large amounts of bread. Too much bread isn’t good for anyone! …and definitely isn’t good for swans. Rather tragically there is now only one swan on the lake. The other swan died, apparently of botulism, due to the volumes of bread thrown into the lake – not all of which was eaten, but instead rotted in the water.

It brought me up short when I heard this had happened, as it seemed that kindness on this instance really had killed.

Keeping love alive isn’t always easy. We can easily get carried away with indulgent thoughts and actions. We need to think as well as feel, and when we make a mistake (which is inevitable) we need to learn quickly and change for the future.

Love is expressed in many forms – through family, friendships, colleagues, comrades, lovers, and of course the Divine source of love itself (however we perceive that).

I believe love is the purpose of life….and the lesson.  Love is costly and sometimes painful, but we cannot truly life without it.

I don’t know if the remaining swan can find another mate – I hope so…..

 

St Bridget, Bride and Candle Blessings

The Goddess Bride and St Bridget are closely linked in Irish belief and mythology. Both are very beautiful beings.
Bride is the Goddess of healing, poetry and blacksmiths. She symbolises the elements of Fire, the Sun and the Hearth. She is seen as bringing fertility to the land and its people and is closely connected to midwives and new-born babies. The pre-Christian festival of Bride is celebrated as the Eve of St Bride on 31st January and Imbolc on 1st February. This is a time of expectation, when evenings are ever so slightly longer and the hope of spring becomes a reality. Lighting a fire and candles is a lovely way to mark this turning point day.

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Bride – Green Maiden. Symbol of youthful feminine energy and fertility of Spring Time.

The 1st of February is St Bridget’s Day. St Bridget of Kildare is as well-loved in Ireland and was a contemporary of Saint Patrick. Having consecrated her life to God at the age of 15, she went on to became the Abbess of the Kildare where she presided over both male and female communities. Bridget was a strong and capable woman who made her monasteries great places of learning; with an art school devoted to making highly decorated copies of scripture and other holy writings. As a highly generous and practical lady, she is said to have performed a miracle by turning a tub of bath water into a tub of excellent beer so that a group of lepers could ease their thirst! St. Brigid saw that the needs of the body and the needs of the spirit intertwined and understood that all things rightly used could be a means of bringing glory to God. Like so many of the great saints, she was as earthy and real as the soil she walked on.
Bridget died shortly after her 70th birthday in 525, she is the Patron Saint of poets, dairymaids, blacksmiths, healers, cattle, fugitives, Irish nuns, midwives, new-born babies and brewers.

Image result for free images for st bridget and bride    Image result for free images for st bridget and bride   Image result for free images for st bridget and bride February 1 is the feast day of Saint Brigid of Kildare.   Saint Brigid is a patron of Ireland, along with Saint Patrick and Saint Columba.Hymn to Saint BrigidWhen faith’s light of freedom to Ireland first came,You, Lord, raised up Brigid to make known your name.Her proud chieftain father’s wild rage she defied,And followed your way, with the gospel for guide.In silence of fields, while she tended her fold,You spoke to her heart words more precious than gold.White figure of peace, through our country she went,In your loving service her whole life was spent.With keen fiery arrow she set hearts aflame;To live ‘neath her rule many monks and nuns came.The poor and the hungry were fed from her store,For open to all were her heart, hand and door.For Brigid we praise you, our Father and God,We praise Christ your Son in whose footsteps she trod,We praise your kind Spirit who guided her ways,We praise you, blest Trinity, all of our days.Saint Brigid of Kildare, pray for us.
The poem below has been attributed to St Bridget.

I’d like to give a lake of beer to God.
I’d love the heavenly
Host to be tippling there
For all eternity.

I’d love the men of Heaven to live with me,
To dance and sing.
If they wanted, I’d put at their disposal
Vats of suffering.

White cups of love I’d give them
With a heart and a half;
Sweet pitchers of mercy I’d offer
To every man.

I’d make Heaven a cheerful spot
Because the happy heart is true.
I’d make the men contented for their own sake.
I’d like Jesus to love me too.

I’d like the people of heaven to gather
From all the parishes around.
I’d give a special welcome to the women,
The three Mary’s of great renown.

I’d sit with the men, the women and God
There by the lake of beer.
We’d be drinking good health forever
And every drop would be a prayer.
St Bridget the Midwife

There is a beautiful story within the mythology of St Bridget which tells of her being carried by angels to the place of the birth of Jesus and being allowed to act as midwife for Mary. This vision/experience/myth is depicted in this wonderful painting by John Duncan.

Within the concept of eternity we can travel forwards and backwards in time.

Candlemas

The Christian tradition of Candlemas follows through on the 2nd February. This is the churches festival of light when church candles are blessed in the church ready for the coming year.

This day is also closely associated with ceremony known as the ‘Churching of Women’ during which a blessing is given to mothers after recovery from childbirth, and  includes giving thanks for the woman surviving the birth (even if the child is still born or died during the birth).

The usual reading for the festival of Candlemas is Luke 2:22-40 ‘The purification of the Virgin’, where Jesus is taken to the Temple to give thanks for his birth as the first born son, and for the ritual purification of Mary. The Churching of Women ceremony has developed from this Jewish rite, although this ceremony is essentially a celebration and blessing not a  purification ritual.

1 presentation at temple Jan 2016_edited-3

This image is from my calendar ‘Lord of the Seasons’ – Simeon takes Jesus in his arms and blesses God.

I love the way the old Celtic earth based festivals blend and melt into the Christian. I believe that the meaning comes to life and goes that much deeper when we respect the connection of Old and New.

Happy St Bridget’s Day!