Posts Tagged ‘RS Thomas’

Advent Article

Saturday, November 26th, 2016

The season of Advent is upon us. It’s the time when we expectantly look forward to Jesus coming, both historically in our Christmas celebration and in the future as the culmination of our lives. Advent brings with it uncertainty, how are we called to live our lives in response to the ever present and future coming of Jesus. It’s the challenge and comfort of God involved in the mess and beauty, joy and pain of human life. The uncertainty of the season seems to mirror our contemporary uncertainty as we contemplate the out workings of Brexit, the nature of a Trump presidency or the outcome of various European elections. How does our national and international situation reflect the Kingdom for which Jesus prayed?

 

We often associate candles or chocolate countdown calendars with Advent but a modern Advent image might be the painting by Banksy of a beggar saying, “Keep your coins, I want your change”. Advent should be a time when we are lured, like a moth to a flame, to different ways of seeing things, of doing things and of being. In his poem Kneeling, the priest/poet RS Thomas guides us to the need to take time out as, “The meaning is in the waiting” but this waiting is meant to drive us forward to a different psychological and spiritual place.

 

The emphasis on waiting and changing comes from the Christian understanding that God is love. Any loving relationship is built upon time together and willingness to change, not to grow apart, but to be drawn ever closer in a dialogue of thought and embrace of the lover. Loving relationships are expectant of the rich potential of exploring together, are unfulfilled as there always remains the possibility to go deeper, and are a work in progress as our experiences, both together and apart, add new dimensions to our relationship. All of this is true of our relationship with God, the source of love, as we acknowledge the imperfections of the present in the light of the source of all that is good and true. The philosopher John Caputo says the Advent of the God of love, “traumatises our narcissism”.

 

Narcissism is ever present in our consumer and advertising driven culture. Society proclaims that it’s essential to consider ourselves worthy of all the latest gadgets and trendy clothes. In contrast, Advent is about eternal values and experiences. Traditional themes for the Sundays of Advent include death, judgement, heaven and hell. Probably not much of a draw in the Christmas shopping but key to reflect upon if we hope to model and live eternal values. We also see communal and country narcissism in the desire to put various countries above others, and damn the consequences. The Kingdom for which Jesus prayed had eternal values to be applied universally. In this Kingdom, walls are to be replaced with bridges and fear is to be replaced by love; our neighbour is understood universally and God’s image is found in those not in our own image.

 

With love and prayers,           Paul

Hampshire Chronicle Post on my Wedding Anniversary

Monday, August 3rd, 2015

In The Marriage the priest poet RS Thomas describes, with a devastating beauty, the pathos of a 50 year marriage: love’s moment/in a world/in servitude to time. This column is submitted on my 25th wedding anniversary and it’s hard to believe our own servitude to time: where did those years go?

The early church writer, Tertullian, describes marriage as the “seminary of the human race”, so equating the married life to a college where priests are trained. It’s a wonderful image suggesting that a life lived with a partner is a life that gives space, generosity and encouragement to reflect upon the purpose of life and our relationship with God.

That is not to suggest that those who are married are always closer to God. Often it seems that the opposite would be true, the demanding immediacy of family life seems to squeeze out the eternal. Those who are single may more easily find time to pray or don’t have to squeeze in both rugby and church on a Sunday morning. The dedication of many single parents often seems closer to the God, who is love, than their married counterparts.

However, it is the married life which has deeply shaped my understanding of God, my life as a priest and my relationship with my children. I have been blest and continue to be blest by the close relationship and friendship that now goes back more than 25 years.

There is a contemporary debate within the church over the nature of marriage: does it have to be the union of a woman and a man or is the gender unimportant? Our traditional Book of Common Prayer says of marriage that, “First, It was ordained for the procreation of children”. However, in our contemporary service marriage is first described as the place where we “grow together in love and trust” and even places the birth of children in optional brackets. The drifting emphasis away from procreation and modern society’s affirming of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) recognition and rights, means that gender takes a secondary role in civil marriage and is being debated in church marriage. Personally, I support equal marriage and would want to enable more to experience the blessings of a married life, regardless of gender. Our traditional marriage service says we can be “like brute beasts that have no understanding”, let’s open the civilising effect of marriage to more people.

There is a cost to loving and so often that cost is grief. All marriages will one day end, either by separation or death, and we must never forget those who mourn the loss of their partner. RS Thomas’ poem concludes: And she/who in life/had done everything/with a bird’s grace,/opened her bill now/for the shedding/of one sigh no/heavier than a feather. It’s a shattering description of a deathbed scene and recalls the support and care we need to offer those who are grieving.