12th May 2021 – Rev Paul Bettison
The Real Love Campaign is in full swing. As our District Chair writes, ‘it is to encourage you to find simple ways to be love where you live, work and worship.’
In Gainsborough’s painting ‘Chasing the Butterfly’ we see his two wistful young daughters, whom he called Molly and The Captain, attempting, in vain, to catch a fluttering butterfly.
So what has this got to do with ‘Real Love’? Well, I think that the painting illustrates real parental love, insofar as such love requires that children (of whatever age) be allowed to ‘chase butterflies’. Sister Wendy Beckett suggests that ‘We have to allow those dear to us to chase the butterfly, however convinced that we are that it is uncatchable.’ She goes on, ‘We can never give the butterfly of happiness to another: each must catch it alone’.
In the prophet Hosea’s moving depiction of the parenthood of God, we catch a glimpse of ‘real love’. A love that showed itself in the letting go of the people of Israel, God’s children, as they set off in pursuit of the happiness butterfly; the happiness that they believed was to be found in the worship of other gods.
Our parent God still shows ‘real love’ in allowing us all to chase butterflies and, whether we chase and capture the butterfly or not, God is, like all good parents, there for us, offering a love that never fails.
When Israel was a child, I loved them
and out of Egypt I called my children.
The more they were called,
the more they went away;
they kept sacrificing to the Baals
and burning offerings to idols.
Yet it was I who taught them to walk;
I took them up by their arms,
but they did not know that I healed them.
led them with cords of kindness,
with the bands of love.
But, how can I give you up?
(From Hosea Chapter Eleven)
14th May 2021 – Rev Paul Bettison
“Yesterday, upon the stair,
I met a man who wasn’t there!
So runs the opening of the poem by American educator and poet William Hughes Mearns.
We are approaching the celebration, on the thirteenth of May, of Christ’s Ascension, followed ten days later by the feast of Pentecost when Christians recall how God’s Holy Spirit was given to the disciples. Maybe the poet’s lines reflect the experience of the disciples in those days following the death and resurrection of Jesus. That is, whilst, for most of the time, they could not see him, they were convinced of his presence, not only on the stair but also in the garden, by the lake, in the upper room, and no doubt many other places too.
Whilst the Ascension marks the end of the physical appearances of Jesus – the Son of God – Pentecost celebrates the constant presence, in all places and at all times, of the Spirit of God.
Back to the man on the stair. I hesitated in using the poem as a focus for this ‘Thought’ because, as those of you familiar with the poem will know, the narrator goes on to cry “Oh how I wish he’d go away!” So, maybe ignore that bit!
“Yesterday, upon the stair,
I met a man who wasn’t there!
May it be that yesterday we met, and today and tomorrow we shall meet, the God who is always there for everyone.
you reveal yourself
in many ways
to those who seek your grace.
You reveal yourself
in many ways
to those who hear your voice.
And in those conversations
on faith’s journey
you invite us to follow the Risen Jesus.
We thank you for opening our eyes to you.
John Birch (adapted)
19th May 2021 – Rev Paul Bettison
Whilst one day it feels as though we are in the depths of winter and the next the middle of summer, make no mistake, we are in the season of Spring. Artist David Hockney’s, latest body of work heralds the ‘Arrival of Spring’. When, in a recent interview, he spoke about his experience of painting the 116 pictures, he urged people to ‘look carefully at nature. It is beautiful’. How right he is.
The paintings – actually created on an ipad – were completed around his home in Normandy, in the midst of the pandemic. Yet he offered encouragement to everyone to look carefully at the nature that surrounds us all. He emphasized that we should not take a cursory glance, but consider carefully, pay close attention to what we see. One of the paintings in the collection depicts a blossom tree and looking at the picture led me to take a saunter into our garden. There, a small ornamental cherry tree (at least I think that’s what it is!) is full of pink blossom. Just gazing at one cluster of petals took my breath away.
‘God saw all that he had made and it was very good.’ So it was and so it is, and so, with care, it will be.
Today, wherever you happen to be, whatever you happen to see, ‘look carefully at nature. It is beautiful’; and act carefully too!
Lord, how your wonders are displayed
where’re I turn my eye,
if I survey the ground I tread,
or gaze upon the sky!
24th May 2021 – Rev Paul Bettison
Giving each member of the Womens’ Fellowship Group a blank piece of paper and some coloured crayons, I invited them to draw a picture of Jesus – God incarnate. I gave them five minutes then asked them, if they felt comfortable in so doing, to show their image to their neighbour. The results were, to say the least, ‘interesting’. Most could have been taken as being pictures of yours truly! White, youngish, bearded, and, if I say so myself, rather handsome.
You will be familiar with the story of the schoolteacher who, having instructed the children in her class to draw a picture of their choosing, leant over the shoulder of one child and asked, “Who are you drawing Kate?’ Her reply, “God”. ‘But no one knows what God looks like’ commented the teacher. ‘They will when I’ve finished’ came the swift reply.
Mack, a character in William Paul Young’s best-selling, yet controversial book, ‘The Shack’ encounters Papa (God) in the person of a large, black, African-American woman.
Trevor Dennis, in one of the stories in his book ‘Speaking of God’, tells of a fox, a butterfly, a snake, an eagle, and a slug – yes a slug. Each of them tells their travelling companion, a man, that they have encountered God. Each says that God looked just like them.
So, what, or who, do you think God looks like?
26th May 2021 – Rev Paul Bettison
She or he cut a solitary figure, perched on the telephone wire outside the barn. The arrival of that lone swallow heralded the promise of, I hesitate to say, summer. Along with thousands of others, it will have made the six-week journey from South Africa, covering around 200 miles each day and passing over the Congo rainforest, the Sahara Desert, Morocco, Spain, and Western France. No Covid travel restrictions for them!
Little wonder that our early arrival was taking a well-earned rest – he/she looked jiggered.
I don’t know whether birds are ‘sentient beings’; that is, capable of experiencing feelings. If they are, what must our feathered friend have felt, I wonder, when preparing to embark upon what must have seemed like an impossible journey? And, what about the feelings when the summer home was sighted, and a familiar Airbnb came into view? I would love to know what, or who, was the source of the courage that enabled that tiny swallow to embark upon and complete the perilous journey.
Most of us at some time in life find ourselves faced with what, at the time, may seem like impossible challenges and we ask ourselves “How can I do this?” The Prophet Isaiah offers an answer.
God gives power to the faint,
and strengthens the powerless.
Even youths will faint and be weary,
and the young will fall exhausted;
but those who wait for the Lord shall renew their strength,
they shall mount up with wings like eagles,
they shall run and not be weary,
they shall walk and not faint.
(Isaiah Chapter 40 verses 29-31)
May the God I follow
Be the voice that calls me,
The feet that guide me,
The love that inspires me,
The strength that sustains me,
And the embrace that welcomes me home