30th November 2020 – Rev Paul Bettison
Apparently Golden Oldies are seen by Elmbridge Borough Council as being a threat to the prosperity of their town centre. Its members consider that a proposed development comprising flats for the over 65s would ‘..undermine the vitality and viability of the town centre’ and have therefore rejected the application for planning permission. Try telling that to 73-year-old Sir Elton John, resident of the ‘Beverley Hills of Britain’, as Elmbridge is known!
That news set me to wondering about the value that a society affords its more mature members. Projections indicate that, by the year 2050, twenty five percent of UK citizens will be aged 65 and over. Will they be a threat to the vitality and viability of the nation?
Some years ago, I had the privilege of attending, on behalf of MHA, a conference in Adelaide, Australia. It focussed upon the Spirituality of Ageing. To illustrate her point about the value of older people, a speaker shared a poem about Australia’s native tree, the eucalyptus (Gum). During our stay we saw many ancient Gums, and an impressive sight they were too. The poem entitled ‘The Gnarled Old Gum’ is our focus for reflection today. I am thinking of sending a copy to the Clerk to Elmbridge Borough Council.
The Gnarled Old Gum
Ye gnarled old gum
What are you telling me?
With roots so deep within the bed
And termites there to see.
Ye gnarled old gum
So grotesque to behold
With knobs and cracks and hollow parts
Yet what do you enfold?
Ye gnarled old gum
What mystery dwells within you?
Of floods and gales
And early morning dew.
Ye gnarled old gum
Your strength and majesty
Are there to ponder for a while
From every estuary.
Ye gnarled old gum
Oh come be part of me
For God loves old and battle scarred
As well as young and free.
2nd December 2020 – Rev Paul Bettison
Everything comes to those who wait! It’s finally made an appearance – the John Lewis Christmas advertisement. I don’t know about you but I thought that it was well worth waiting for. Cooing pigeons, cute hedgehogs, and cheery children, they all make an appearance. And, of course, there’s a blanket of snow. To cap it all, Celeste’s song, specially written for the advertisement, not only evokes a warm feeling, but also carries a message. Give a little love.
The images and the song both celebrate the kindness seen throughout the nation as we respond to the challenges of the pandemic. The advertisement also offers encouragement to continue supporting each other, particularly the most vulnerable. As the line in the chorus goes; ‘Wouldn’t it be wonderful if everybody gave a little love?’
Oh, I know, there will be those who dismiss it all as being too sentimental and cheesy, but at it’s heart, the advertisement surely bears the authentic message of Christmas. We sing ‘Love came down at Christmas’, and so it did, and so it does, and so it will as God comes to, and in, the lonely, the lost, and the longing. And how will they know? The song answers the question; ‘if everybody gave a little love’
Love came down at Christmas,
Love all lovely, love divine;
love was born at Christmas
star and angels gave the sign.
Worship we the Godhead,
love incarnate, love divine;
worship we our Jesus
what shall be our sacred sign?
Love shall be our token,
love be yours and love be mine;
love to God and neighbour,
love for prayer and gift and sign.
Christina G Rossetti (1830 – 1894)
4th December 2020 – Revd Paul Bettison
The title of the retreat was ‘Art, Faith, and Transformation’. Because of the current restrictions it was held on Zoom. Dr Deborah Lewer, a lecturer in the History of Art at Glasgow University, using images of paintings drawings and photographs, led us through an exploration of her theme and offered quiet times for reflection. The experience was quite something.
One of the images that she introduced us to was that of a self-portrait by the German artist Frank Helmut Auerbach. Created on paper, using charcoal and chalk, it is stunning. Deborah explained how the artist had gone about creating the portrait. As was evident from the picture, there had been many rubbings-out, alterations, and over-drawing. In fact, there had been so many rubbings-out, that the fragile paper had, in several places, torn. Hence the patchwork appearance.
In terms of neatness it was far from perfect. And that was the point. The power of the self-portrait lay in its acknowledgement of the imperfections of the self. The process of creating the picture mirrored the life of the artist. Evidence of mistakes made and corrected.
Reflecting on human experience and behaviour, neurosurgeon Paul Kalanithi wrote ‘We all have a notion of what it means to be good, and we can’t all live up to it all the time’. Maybe he had read about St Peter and other disciples, St Paul, the Prodigal Son, and countless others who got things wrong, yet corrected their errors and carried on.
Acknowledging our mistakes and attempting to put things right will result in a self-portrait revealing humanity and hope. It may also help us to view the portraits of others with understanding and loving kindness. After all, the God in whom we believe is a God of acceptance, forgiveness, and new beginnings.
Now, spend time looking into a mirror. In the self-portrait, who and what do you see?
Paul Bettison 7th Decembe
Well, they’ve arrived. Poinsettias, the harbingers of the Christmas season are on the shelves. Whilst being natives of South America, growing in the wild on
Pacific-facing slopes, they can, with much TLC be persuaded to brighten up our homes over the Christmas period. Apparently, the ‘flowers’ are not really flowers at all, but rather coloured leaves. I understand that some varieties need 12 hours of darkness every day to effect the transformation from green to crimson.
In order to, as it were, shine, there has to be a period of darkness. Is that not often the case? Maybe that resonates with us as we make our way through the darkness of this pandemic. Whilst it is not by any stretch of the imagination by choice that we find ourselves in this place, it is possible that we will emerge from it into the light, transformed, renewed, and re-created. And that’s what resurrection is about.
Our Prayer of hope;
Thank you for hopes of the day that will come,
for all the change that will happen in time;
God, for the future our spirits prepare,
hallow our doubts and redeem us from fear.
9th December 2020 – Revd Paul Bettison
Mention the name of Antonio Stradivari, and violins come to mind. The 18th Century luthier is associated with some of the most wonderful instruments that were ever made. One of them, reputedly virtually un-played since its creation in 1716, is displayed in Oxford’s Ashmolean Museum. Violin dealer and collector Luigi Tarisio was once its proud owner and Christened it ‘Messiah’. Why? Acknowledging that the instrument was something quite special and unique, a colleague said; ‘Really, Mister Tarisio, your violin is like the Messiah of the Jews: one always expects him but he never appears’.
Reading the story, I couldn’t help but think that the quotation may have something to say to us as we move through the season of Advent. I can almost hear you say, as you read this, “But we do expect the Messiah to appear, at Christmas and at ‘the end’ of time”. True, we will, at Christmas, celebrate the coming of the Messiah, a baby in a manger. And maybe we do expect him to re-appear at the end of time – whenever that happens to be. Yet, is the Christ who came in Jesus, expected to appear in this time and every time; in this place and every place – God constantly, appearing in our midst?
‘Really, Mister Tarisio, your violin is like the Messiah of the Jews: one always expects him but he never appears’.
Now, a reflection for us this Advent. Perhaps we need to turn the quotation on its head – ‘We rarely expect him but he always appears’!
made known in Jesus,
and present through your Spirit,
we might look for you
by scanning the horizon,
or watching for a visitor at the door,
or even by waiting for a notification
to pop up on a screen…
we might notice you
already beside us as we
labour over a mountain
of Christmas cards – and re-kindle
friendships and re-affirm our love,
or give generously of
our money and our time
to people in need of both.
As we hear again familiar stories
from far away and long ago,
may our giving and our loving
be refreshed by our knowing once again
that you are here for us,
then and now.
Ian Fosten (adapted)
11th December 2020 – Revd Paul Bettison
“We remember Andrew every day”. That was Brigadier Mike Griffiths speaking on this morning’s edition of the ‘Today Programme’ about his son, a soldier, who, ten years ago died after sustaining injuries whilst serving in Afghanistan. As I write this ‘Thought’, I see that the hands on the clock are approaching 11am. And it is the 11th day of November. Armistice Day. A day for remembering.
‘Remembering’. Look at a dictionary definition of the word and we find meanings such as, ‘thinking of’, ‘recalling’, and ‘recollecting’. Today another meaning comes to mind; re-membering. That is, putting back together the members – the constituent parts – of something. When his family, friends, and comrades
re-member Andrew they are, in a sense, putting back together the parts of his life in order to make it whole again. As they remember the things that he said and the things that he did, they re-member the life of the son they loved and love still. Today there will be much re-membering.
Whenever, we remember people who, in the words of a prayer said at funerals ‘we love but see no longer’, we can find ourselves putting back together lives that have enriched our lives and enrich them still.
As we remember those people,
we thank you for memories.
For the memories of the things
that they said and did;
For the memories of how they made us feel;
For the memories of gatherings, holidays and unrepeatable special times spent together;
for the memories of smells and sounds and meals together that satisfied far more than our appetites;
for the memories of times together that reminded us of what it means to be human;
for the memories of faces and voices
that are records of family and friends
sharing a life journey;
for the memories of somebody
who not only gave us gifts,
but who was truly a gift to us.