September arrived and what would it be – “It’s one of the dark days before Christmas” or “Season of mists and mellow fruitfulness”? Day in day out the boss, when he arrived at the office, would greet us with one or the other. It all depended on the weather, and sometimes his mood.
‘Season of mists and mellow fruitfulness’. John Keats waxes lyrical in his poem ‘To Autumn’. He pays homage to what is my favourite season of the year.
I know that many folk find Autumn somewhat depressing. “But it reminds us that winter is just around the corner”. So it does. Keats asks, ‘Where are the songs of Spring?’ It’s natural to see Spring as being full of promise, new life, and the herald of the warmth of summer.
Yet Autumn has her own song. She sings of maturity, fruitfulness and the promise of restoration. When nature sleeps, it is productive sleep. Think of the Easter hymn, ‘Now the green blade rises’. We sing, ‘Wheat that in the dark earth many days has lain”.
So, as the leaves turn golden, the mists fall, and the days shorten, maybe you would like to join with Keats, and welcome this season of ‘mists and fruitfulness’ and anticipate a time of rest and renewal.
it’s been a strange year.
There has been much to cope with,
and yet much to rejoice in too.
We’ve faced the challenges of the pandemic,
and seen countless acts of loving kindness.
And now, this season of mists and
mellow fruitfulness has arrived.
Help us to use it wisely and reflect upon
our experience of a spring and summer
that has been like no other.
We pray that during this Autumn
we may feel both the warmth of the maturing sun
and the warmth of your love.
16th September – Revd Paul Bettison
I’ve been blackberrying and have the scars to prove it. Why do the biggest and juiciest berries either nestle in a bed of nettles or surround themselves with the sharpest of thorns? I picked them for jam-making. But, I hasten to add, it will not be me who makes it. Although I live in the hope that a jar may come my way. When grappling with the briars, ‘No pain, no gain’ came to mind.
Life experience reinforces the saying. Many of our responses to the pandemic are painful. Self-isolation, mask-wearing, and restraint from physical contact are examples of things that we do in order to protect others, ourselves, and the Health and Social Care Services. Following the guidance is for many, painful. But the hope is that these sacrifices will bring about something positive. ‘No pain, no gain’.
The Gospel writers, when sharing the teaching and example of Jesus, make it clear that if we are to follow him, we should not expect an easy ride. There will be both gain, and pain. Yet, ‘Gospel’ means ‘Good News’ and, using the last words of John Wesley, our President and Vice-President remind us ; ‘God is with us’.
Father, hear the prayer I offer:
Not for ease that prayer shall be,
But for strength that I may ever
Live my life courageously.
Not forever in green pastures
Do I ask my way to be;
But the steep and rugged pathway
May I tread rejoicingly.
Not forever by still waters
Would I idly rest and stay;
But would smite the living fountains
From the rocks along my way.
Be my strength in hours of weakness,
In my wanderings be my guide;
Through endeavour, failure, danger,
Father, be thou at my side.
Singing the Faith 518 (adapted)
18th September – Sue Ellis
It’s that time of year when our children, grandchildren and young people are contemplating new beginnings in radically altered education settings. Usually it’s the time of some nerves and much anticipation, which will be greatly increased no doubt this year. As a school governor I know the extent of planning that has gone into continuing a positive education experience whilst seeking to keep everyone safe.
In emergency planning terms when something significant happens (major incident etc.) there are three R s – Response, Recovery, Reconstruction. I think there should be a fourth R which is about Resilience. I mean resilience which can be formal and informal, organisational and personal.
So on looking forward to new beginnings we can reflect on how we personally have survived and recently learned things about ourselves whether it be through loss, separation, home schooling, shielding, improved IT skills, or volunteering?. And recognising that we have both resilience and faith means that we will continue to come through – it won’t be the same as we had expected, but the journey goes on.
So a couple of quotations:
Take the first step in faith. You don’t have to see the whole staircase, just take the first step.” – Martin Luther King Jr.
‘I alone know the plans I have for you, plans to bring you prosperity and not disaster, plans to bring about the future you hope for’ Jeremiah 29 11
Help us and those re-entering education to walk forward from this day,
Let us all be resilient in our fresh start,
Facing challenge and hoping for a new dawn,
Trusting in your care.
21st September – Sue Ellis
We had a recent experience on our Greek holiday of being invited to a local family’s home/outside terrace to share the ‘Name day party’ of their daughter Maria, even though we had only met the mother casually the day before. For us the event and family felt very open and welcoming / natural rather than awkward.
It was explained to us that this Greek hospitality (Filoxenia) was a particular part of their history and the word means ‘guest friendship’, related to the Greek god Zeus in his role of protector of travellers .Those who showed hospitality were given positions of great power and influence in the cities of ancient Greece.
It has reminded me how as a child growing up in Edinburgh, being the capital city of Scotland, it attracted many visitors and that my parents similarly offered local hospitality to people from many different countries. Some of these contacts were related to my fathers’ work and others were to do with the Church of Scotland house for International Christian visitors, which was in the vicinity. It meant that my experience as a child was to meet all sorts of people -from America, Australia, Norway and what was then called Ceylon, now Sri Lanka. The latter relationship developed into an enduring friendship of over 20 years. I can remember well the vibrant colours of Mrs Manatunga’s saris, the strange smell when she hugged me and their delight in experiencing Scottish family life.
This has made me think about how much the Bible covers the expectation of hospitality The Apostle Paul says that we should ‘Contribute to the needs of the saints and seek to show hospitality’ (Rom 12:13) and I love the piece which says we should ‘not neglect to show hospitality to strangers, for thereby some have entertained angels unawares’ (Hebrews 13:2).
We just don’t seem to offer a welcome in our homes as much these days? We prefer to agree to meet at a café or a pub, and of course in current times we are restricted anyway? So after Covid restrictions and lockdowns, can we act differently and perhaps welcome ‘some angels’ without knowing it?
You ask us to be welcoming in our homes and in our hearts,
Open our minds to see and respond to the need of others,
Help us to find the warmth and experience that we get in return.
23rd September – Revd Paul Bettison
I guess that we’re all familiar with the phrase ‘The survival of the fittest’. Charles Darwin is credited with coming up with it in the fifth edition of his work ‘On the Origin of Species’. And how might fitness be measured? American Physiologist W B Cannon would probably have said “By the ability to be efficient in combat or run fast”. He coined the well know saying ‘Fight or Flight’ to describe natural responses when faced with danger, or threat.
To stay and fight, or to run away – are those the only two responses open to us?
Former Bishop, Gene Robinson, in his book ‘In the Eye of the Storm’ suggest a third option. That option is to make ourselves vulnerable. I detect that there is, in society, a tendency to see vulnerability as a sign of weakness. When vulnerable, we find ourselves exposed to hurt or harm, be that physical or emotional. It seems to be counter intuitive. Yet if we believe ourselves to be made in the image of God then, strange as it may seem, vulnerability will come naturally. Gene Robinson asks, ‘Could it be that the capacity to be vulnerable is a large part of the image of God in which we’re created?’ For vulnerability is at the very heart of God.
If we believe that God granted us free-will – believe that God risked being rejected by his creation(s) – then what is more vulnerable than that? God creates, God loves, and God waits for a response. The reality of the vulnerable heart of God is, for me, powerfully expressed by the title of W H Vanstone’s book; ‘Love’s Endeavour. Love’s Expense’.
At the very end of his book, appears his ‘Hymn to the Creator’, and I offer it as our reflection for today.
Morning glory, starlit sky,
soaring music, scholar’s truth,
flight of swallows, autumn leaves,
memory’s treasure, grace of youth:
Open are the gifts of God,
gifts of love to mind and sense;
hidden is love’s agony,
love’s endeavour, love’s expense.
Love that gives, gives ever more,
gives with zeal, with eager hands,
spares not, keeps not, all outpours,
ventures all its all expends.
Drained is love in making full,
bound in setting others free,
poor in making many rich,
weak in giving power to be.
Therefore he who shows us God
helpless hangs upon the tree;
and the nails and crown of thorns
tell of what God’s love must be.
Here is God: no monarch he,
throned in easy state to reign;
here is God, whose arms of love
aching, spent, the world sustain.
25th September – Revd Paul Bettison
Do you know what it is to be ‘all steamed up’? I do. What do we mean by the phrase? Those of us who wear spectacles will know what I’m talking about, for we find that when we don a face mask a dense fog descends on the world. When our glasses are all steamed up, we can see virtually nothing at all.
In another sense, it describes a state of heightened emotion. For example, that of excitement or anger. When we get ‘all steamed up’ it is difficult to see, or think of, anything other than that which angers or excites us.
This ‘Thought for the Day’ invites you to think about some of the frustrations and dangers that arise when you get all steamed up. Those times when we are unable to see clearly. Maybe when we’re all steamed up, our view of God becomes clouded too.
Now read and reflect upon the story told in St Mark’s Gospel of the man cured, by Jesus, of his blindness. And note – restoration of his sight came gradually! You’ll find the story in Mark Chapter 8, starting at verse 22.