22nd February 2021 – Revd Paul Bettison
Well, Perseverance has paid off! The spacecraft has completed its 470-million-kilometre journey and its ‘Rover’ will, for the next two years, drill into the rocks of the crater Jezero, looking for evidence of past life. Maybe there will emerge an answer to the question posed by David Bowie’s ‘girl with mousy brown hair, lost in a sunken dream’; “Is there life on Mars?”.
Watching the landing on Television, we were very nearly rendered speechless. Within minutes, real time, we saw on the screen, a photograph of the surface of Mars, taken by a remote camera aboard the six-wheeled vehicle. The sight and concept was awesome.
Earlier in the day, I had opened the ‘Penistone and District Wildlife Group’ Facebook pages. There were, on one page, close-up photographs of a starling and song thrush. The colours and shapes of their feathers were spectacular. On the next page was the image of the head of a dragonfly. I cannot find the words to describe its beauty. All the images were truly awesome.
Reflecting on both experiences of being ‘awestruck’, words of Albert Einstein came to mind;
‘Whoever is devoid of the capacity to wonder, whoever remains unmoved, whoever cannot contemplate or know the deep shudder of the soul in enchantment, might just as well be dead for they have already closed their eyes upon life.”
So, let us keep our eyes open upon life, – a life bursting with wonder – ready for our souls to experience that ‘shudder of enchantment’.
Our Reflection by Andrew Pratt:
In the beginning God played with the planets,
set them a-spinning in time and in space,
stars in the night sky, while sun lit the daytime,
blue was the globe that was formed for our race.
God saw the seas and the fish that swam in them,
formed the dry land where the trees soon would grow,
animals now could inhabit the countries
warmed by the oceans or covered in snow.
After the animals, people were coming,
made in God’s likeness to live on the earth;
big the blue planet God gave them to live on
sharing its riches, its wonder and worth.
24th February 2021 – Dr Alison Caswell
I’d be surprised if there’s anyone who genuinely prefers Zoom to meeting in person. Indeed, one of the things I think we’ve all learned through the lockdowns is how important physical contact is for our health and wellbeing. Hopefully, it won’t be very long before we can meet up again, but should we then ditch Zoom altogether? One important thing about our Zoom Meetings is that they dramatically reduce our carbon footprint because we don’t have to heat and light a building, and we don’t have to drive our cars to get there. So in this time when the world is also facing a Climate Emergency, should we be considering whether some of the things we do should stay online for the sake of the world which God gave us to look after?
26th February 2021 – Rev Paul Bettison
‘A delicate white ceramic cup is filled almost to the brim with water. A pink rose rests on the rim of the plate that the cup rests on and is delicately reflected in it’. Nicolas Holtam reflects on Zurbaran’s still life painting and I hope that, in your mind, you can summon up the picture. Still Life art is back in vogue. Still Life images posted by artist Miriam Dema on Instagram are seen by almost six million users. Images of food and flowers attract millions of ‘views’. Who would have thought that pictures of apples and grapes, bread and fish would generate such interest?
Miriam Dima writes “What I like the most about still life paintings is that they are a reflection of a specific moment – and that they give value to everyday things that would otherwise be lost in oblivion”
Maybe the experience of confinement during the pandemic has prompted us to reflect on the everyday things around us. Things that we have come to take for granted. Perhaps the inability to make realistic plans for the future has caused us to live more in the here and now. In short, I believe that there has been a resurgence in the noticing of, and interest in, the simple things in life.
The story told in the Book of Exodus comes to mind. You remember it; Moses, in a moment in time, takes notice of the bush and in so doing senses that it burns with the presence of God. “The place where you are standing is Holy Ground”. God’s presence makes common things Holy – but we only see when we stop and look!
Now, in this moment,
let us see your beauty, Lord,
as we have seen before;
and by your beauty move us,
to love you and adore.
Benjamin Waugh (adapted)
1st March 2021 – Dr Alison Caswell
After dinner, I indulge in a mug of ground coffee and mint chocolate. When we went into lockdown, I needed an online supply of chocolate which I found at Traidcraft. However, about 4 weeks ago it went out of stock. I did have a box of chocolate mints that I’d been given. However, when they were running out and my favourite brand was still out of stock, I wondered if the Lord was telling me to give up chocolate for Lent. If He was, I didn’t listen, because I went and ordered an alternative from Traidcraft. My box of mints ran out on Shrove Tuesday, and the Traidcraft order arrived on Ash Wednesday. So should I have placed that order, or have I done a good thing in continuing to support those who rely on us to pay a fair price for the things they produce? I’ll leave you to decide.
3rd March 2021 – Revd Paul Bettison
The experience of the Covid year may, as we travel through this season of Lent, ring some bells. One of the themes running through the period is that of ‘wilderness’. During Lent, the Christian Church recalls the wilderness experience of Jesus. Look at a dictionary definition and you will find references to a wilderness being ‘an uninhabited, and inhospitable place’. Echoes of how we have, at times, found ‘lock-down’ perhaps? Reading the Gospel story of how Jesus found himself isolated in the wilderness, we are left in no doubt that, for him, it was a challenging time. I can hear some folk protesting “But our wilderness experience is nothing compared with that of Jesus”. Maybe so. Yet for many, the past year has been, as it were uninhabited by friends, family, and colleagues. Not being able to share meals, hugs, and handshakes has felt inhospitable. The impact of isolation in its many forms should not be underestimated.
So, is there anything from our wilderness experience that we can bring with us as we journey through Lent?
A couple of things come to mind;
First, in Mark’s Gospel the account of the wilderness experience of Jesus is confined to just two verses. Little detail here, and yet we read ‘and the angels – God’s messengers’ – waited upon him’. Have we found the same? As lyrics in Jeremy Camp’s song ‘Wilderness’ go, If You’re God in the good, in the promised land
You’ll be God in the wilderness.
Second, during his time in the wilderness, Jesus identified what was to be the focus of his ministry. Leaving the ‘uninhabited and inhospitable place’, Jesus announced the coming of the Kingdom of God and began to share the gospel of Good News. Few people would challenge the view that when we leave the constraints of the lock-down and life takes on a ‘new normal’, things can never be the same again. Has our ‘wilderness experience’ given us insights into how, as we travel into a new normal, we might seek to be disciples of Jesus?
Our Prayer is based on a reflection by Firell Parker:
As we travel through Lent we find ourselves wondering…
what happens next?
Will everything go back to normal?
And what does that even mean?
What is normal?
Has being confined for so long made us realise
that, for many people, ‘normal’ was not really that good after all?
Perhaps – just perhaps – this is an opportunity to take stock, take notice
and make the changes that are needed
for body, for mind and for life.
5th March 2021 – Revd Paul Bettison
I think that I must have nodded off! One minute I could smell Christmas cake, and now it’s pancakes. Well, that’s not strictly true, but Lent does seem to have crept up on me. I write this on the eve of Shrove Tuesday, the day on which, gastronomically speaking, folk would indulge in a final binge before the forty days of fasting. It was almost a year ago that, as we entered Lent, we also entered the first period of ‘Lock-down’. And what a year it has been. So how, this year, will you use this season of Lent? I sense that there is, these days, little appetite (sorry for the pun) for fasting. Yet for some, the discipline is important. As well as being a time of fasting, Lent offers an opportunity for reflection. And I guess that, after the experience of the past year we have much to reflect upon. We have all known losses. We have all seen examples of loving kindness. Now is a time to reflect upon our relationships with the world, with each other, and with God.
So, Lent is a time for reflection. Anything else?
Whilst I have not, during the past year, become a devotee of Joe Wicks – other fitness trainers are available – I have taken a daily permitted stroll. Along with many folks I have, during the pandemic, discovered the importance of exercise, both physical and mental. But what of Spiritual exercise? According to the Concise Oxford Dictionary of the Christian Church, Lent is ‘a time of devoting more time than usual to religious exercises.’ If folk look to Joe Wicks for guidance as to how to engage in physical workouts, where can we look for help with our religious exercises?
We could make a start by using the material offered by The Methodist Church under the title ‘A Methodist Way of Life’. A summary of the ‘Way’, not only for Methodists, but all Christians, would go something like this:
“As far as I am able, with God’s help I will journey with God –
As I pray, read the bible, and share in worship
As I show loving kindness to others, and learn about what it means to be a Christian
As I seek to contribute to a fairer world and care for the environment
As I try to talk with others about why my faith is important to me
I’m sure that we will discover these to be helpful ‘Religious exercises’ for Lent and beyond.
So, this Lent, let us keep fit, and keep reflecting.
As I travel through this season of Lent,
Help me to see that I journey with you as my companion.
Support and guide me as I reflect on my experience of the past year and enable me to recognise your presence in its joys and in its sorrows.
Help me as I try to grow in my faith and explore ways of embracing the way of life shown to the world in and through Jesus