Thursday, 4 June 2020

Every person should be able to hear God's Word in his or her heart language.


While I was re-reading and contemplating the Rev. John’s sermon which looked at the Pentecost story this Sunday; first from John 20: 19-23 and then from Acts 2: 1-21, I began to consider the wonderful possibilities and the difficulties that could be overcome in the world today if we could indeed all communicate with and understand everyone no matter what language was being spoken.  I love what the Rev. John called, “The stunningly powerful imagery of a raging wind and flames of fire written by St. Paul in Acts”. I continued to read the sermon which you can read in full on the Marsden Road Church website.  The Rev. John wrote; “Filled with the Spirit of God, the disciples can now speak, preach, teach, and communicate in such a way that they are understood by all sorts of different people in many different languages. The power of God to recreate the human community in the fellowship of the Holy Spirit breaks through the human boundaries of language and culture.”



Marsden Road Uniting Church "dressed" for Pentecost Sunday
At this point there was a “ping” on my computer to tell me I had a new email.  

I checked my email and discovered a message from a friend of more than 50 years who lives and works in Cappadocia, Turkey to raise awareness of the ‘Love of God and the joy of knowing Jesus’ in one of the places mentioned in the passage in Acts 2: 1-21.  How timely her message was!  Our friend had mentioned in her email last month, that what she called “The Jesus film”, was allowed to be shown on some Turkish secular TV channels for the first time at Easter.  Today she told us that the film was viewed by around eight million people!  Just consider for a moment that 99% of the population of Turkey are non – Christian!

In her email, our friend included a report made on April 21, 2020 from the “Christian Newswire”.

"Amid strict coronavirus lockdowns, millions of people across the Middle East and North Africa clamouring for a spiritual and practical lifeline are finding help right in their own homes through "living television."   In the region where Christianity began but is now a minority faith, Christian satellite television broadcaster SAT-7 (www.sat7usa.org ) has seen viewer numbers surge and social media interest skyrocket since the COVID-19 stay-at-home orders.

"There's an explosion of spiritual hunger across the Middle East and North Africa right now as people stuck at home seek real hope and real answers," said Dr. Rex Rogers, president of SAT-7 USA.   SAT-7 continues to broadcast shows 24/7 that present Christians as 'living epistles' who speak to people where they are in life.  "Millions of people in countries like Iran, Iraq and Turkey are clamouring to see and hear in their own language what it's like to be a follower of Jesus in a time of crisis," Rogers said.

In coronavirus hotspot Turkey, where 99 percent of the population is non-Christian, more viewers have contacted the SAT-7 T√úRK channel daily in the past few weeks than any day in the previous five years since broadcasts began.

"Coronavirus has locked people inside their homes, but it's opening hearts to God," said Rogers. "Lockdown and social isolation do not stop our unique satellite and online Christian programs from reaching millions of adults and children where they live."

Before I finished reading our friend’s email I looked at the website for SAT-7 Christian TV and there was a statement on the HOME page that spells out their goals:

MAKING THE GOSPEL AVAILABLE TO EVERYONE IN THE MIDDLE EAST AND NORTH AFRICA

Every person should be able to hear God's Word in his or her heart language. SAT-7 Christian TV supports a growing Church in the Middle East and North Africa, confident in Christian faith and witness, serving the community and contributing to the good of society and culture.

Our friend’s email continued; “I loved our online Turkish fellowship time on Pentecost Sunday (on Zoom) and allowed my imagination to carry me away a little the day after Pentecost, when suddenly, there was a sound from heaven like the roaring of a mighty wind-storm, and it filled the house where we were sitting.  Well! OK it was a day later but it was so stirring and such a privilege and joy to be part of praying for the work of the Holy Spirit here in this land, here in Cappadocia (see Acts 2:9...there were people from Cappadocia there that day!!) ...such longing, such zeal, a fire in our bellies.  We've just been at home in our "upper rooms" with more time to pray.  Now, Lord, what will you do next?”

I’m so glad that our friend’s email arrived at just the right moment so I could share it with you all.

I would also like to share an experience that touched me many years ago on a train in Italy and on the Greek Island of Corfu.  Not all travel experiences are entirely enjoyable at the time of the experience and it is often lack of communication that creates and exacerbates problems.  Almost 40 years ago my husband and I purchased a train ticket from an agent in London for a reserved seat on a specific train, to travel from Rome to Brindisi.  The day before we left Rome we went to the train station and checked the booking and presented our ticket for confirmation.  We were assured everything was in order.

Our tickets were inspected a number of times on the long journey across Italy from Rome to the coast and down to the heel of “the boot”.  It was not however, until about the third pair of inspectors arrived that our tickets created any undue interest and we first heard the words “supplemento rapido”; although after a bit of arm waving and pointing we were left alone and the guards moved on muttering in Italian.

The mood changed at the next stop when a new set of inspectors boarded the train. “Supplemento rapido!  Supplemento rapido!”  shouted the first inspector.  “I don’t understand – do you speak English?” we asked.

“Supplemento rapido!  Supplemento rapido!” shouted the second inspector even louder as he waved his arms furiously to make us understand and held out a hand for some money.  The inspectors continued to shout at us in Italian that we didn’t understand, except for those now familiar words, “Supplemento rapido” repeated at ever increasing intervals and ever increasing volume.  We assumed they wanted extra money because this train was a fast train.  “Does anyone on this train speak English?” my husband asked hopefully and in desperation.  One of the inspectors went off to try and find a translator.  He returned with a Chinese gentleman in tow.

“Speak English, speak English” the inspector told us pointing to his would-be translator, and the hapless Chinese Italian tried unsuccessfully to translate and communicate with us.  Somehow with all the shouting, and with Chinese Italian being translated into Chinese English and then back to Chinese Italian it appeared that we were arguing about a sum of 23,400 lire (₤10) which was about half the amount we had paid for our two tickets.

The inspectors kept shouting louder and louder and waved their arms at ever increasing intervals to make us understand why we were expected to pay more money.  Soon a new word had entered the conversation – the inspectors were now shouting “Polizzi, Polizzi” as they continued to wave their arms about.

“Tell them to call the Polizzi !” my husband finally told the Chinese Italian.  He felt reasonably sure that the police would neither be called or be interested in such a trivial matter.  He was also absolutely convinced the inspectors intended to pocket the money and keep it for themselves if we paid. 

The train continued to speed towards Bari, the next big town along the Italian coast; and as we pulled into the train station we saw no less than three police cars parked in a row along the station platform with eight gun carrying Polizzi coming towards the train to arrest us and drag us off to an Italian prison.

Bari Centrale Railway Station photo by Chris0693 - Own work Wikimedia Commons Licence 

“I think now is a good time to pay the Supplemento Rapido” we decided.  “O.K. I’ll pay the money, but I want a receipt”, he told the Chinese Italian as the Polizzi marched down the train corridor to arrest us.

“I don’t believe I owe any money, but I’ll pay it if I get a receipt,” my husband told the police officers.  Once the money was paid, with a receipt duly issued, the Polizzi left the train and it started on the last uneventful leg of the journey to Brindisi.

As we enjoyed the tranquillity and the backward charm of the little Island of Corfu the next day we came upon a little old Greek woman wearing the typical black clothing of old Greek women all over the world as she sold dolls to tourists.  She spoke no English and we spoke no Greek, yet quietly and easily we had a ‘conversation’.

“Your Bambino?” she smiled as she handed me the traditional Greek doll I had selected.

“Yes” I answered as I paid her the money.  “She is nine years old”; I told the little old lady as I held up nine fingers; and she smiled again and made a sign like an embrace to show she understood how much I loved my “bambino”, and we parted in peace and with understanding.

I realised that in just two days we had enjoyed a lesson in international relations the world leaders could learn from; we had seen two ways of dealing with the difficulties of communication caused by a language barrier - the easy and effective way of the gentle smile and the soft voice, and the ineffectual way of bullying and shouting and shutting out understanding with noise and aggression.   

Thursday, 28 May 2020

A Most Important Obscure Day


Physical Absence, Spiritual Presence – Acts 1:1-11.    First I must say that I am not a scientist, so I really liked the Rev. John’s introduction to the topic of Ascension Day.  While writing for Margaret on her blog, I am always aware that she is a scientist and does look at the world in a scientific way and she is also a keen student of theology and a Lay Preacher; while I am not at all qualified in either subject.  So when I reflect on religious topics I am generally happy to pass over the really “hard bits” and take joy in the way I observe the Love of God in and through others and feel the hand of God all around me.

This week the Rev. John began his Sermon: “Today is one of those relatively obscure Christian holidays of which many are unaware: Ascension Sunday. This is the day in the church calendar when we celebrate the ascension of Jesus Christ into heaven. In all honesty, the ascension is a rather difficult idea for the modern mind to handle. It’s the story of how Jesus went to the Mount of Olives after his resurrection from the dead. There, according to the book of Acts, Jesus literally flew off into heaven. “He was lifted up, and a cloud took him out of their sight.”

Of course my practical side realizes that this is a hard scenario to accept and I was delighted with the Rev. John’s suggestion; “When contemporary people think of the ascension, it is a little hard to imagine the Lord Jesus Christ flying off like a one-person space shuttle into the skies.”  I observed there were a few laughs at this idea that came from the people watching the service with us on their computers; however, for me it did serve to scream out the basic difficulties of always trying to relate the old bible writings (even with a modern translation) to the world of today.

Ascension of Christ - Saint Joseph Catholic Church, Somerset, Ohio
Author Nheyob - Creative Commons Attribution - Share Alike 4.0 International License
At that point my mind immediately turned to the many ethereal images of the Ascension of Jesus that I have, as a ‘romantic’ and an artist, greatly admired in stained glass and paint - and I must confess the images never conjured up doubt or controversy for me. Neither have I actually struggled with the scientific definition of the cosmos which now generally seems to refer to; “The idea of order which is always present in the words universe or world”, although by definition - “In biblical thought, of course, this order is the result of God's activity”.

Rev. John then mentioned “scientific reservations” and the continuing spiritual importance of the Ascension in our modern world.  On Ascension Sunday, we are called to reassess our devotion to the church as the physical body of Christ still among us. The risen Lord is not here; he has ascended. The body of Christ is very much here, and the way we treat the church is the way we treat the risen Lord.  Ascension Sunday reminds us that we are each, individually, a part of Christ’s body. To honour the church as we honour Christ is also to remember that in a powerful way, we are each a part of this body of Christ.”

People of the Marsden Road Church congregation went away for “church camps” during the 1970s and 1980’s, which was a time when there were many families like ours with children over a variety of ages and this was a wonderful time for everyone from the oldest to the youngest.  We all looked at ways to include everyone in the fun and the religious instruction and often as an adult I loved the times when a “light bulb” seemed to turn on during successful groups and services in which everyone shared at the camps.  Oh!  And how we loved the singing at those weekend camps!

Memories of a Marsden Road Church Camp in the 1970s 

Whenever I hear mention of the importance of each one of us in our role as part of the body of Christ and what each of us can achieve as part of ‘the Church’ if we all work together, I remember how at one camp, all the younger children were called to the front and were each asked to try to pick up and carry a tall strong young man from the ‘stage’ where he was lying on the floor.  Each of the children tried very hard and of course could not even move him on their own, but when they were told to all work together and share the weight by standing all around Craig, there was great excitement and surprise at their success in carrying him away.  I seem to remember there was also a mention of the way tiny ants can all gather around and together lift a large piece of food to take home to their nest to share.  Such a simple idea, but very effective and I suspect all the kids may, like me, still remember the message they were given that day. This message as the Rev. John said on Sunday morning was to; “Remind us that without our individual faithfulness to our role in the church, the body of Christ is weakened and disabled.” 

The Rev. John’s sermon today concluded “This is a critical day in our personal and collective self-understanding. It is significant that the risen Lord ascended into heaven. His ascension invites us to relate to the church as we would to Christ. It reminds each of us of the critical nature of our role in the body of Christ. It calls us to take up Jesus’ work on earth. This is a most important obscure day.”

When I reflect on many religious concepts I wonder if it is perhaps easier for those of us with less scientific or theological knowledge to accept our feelings and instincts with less self-questioning.  Having said that- It may seem surprising, to learn that I have in the past thought and written some heavy questioning thoughts about the Genesis story of Creation in the Bible, the Big Bang Theory and the Theory of Evolution, some of which I will share with you.

"In the beginning of creation when God made heaven and the earth, the earth was without form and void, with darkness over the face of the abyss, and a mighty wind that swept over the surface of the waters." These words are the very beginning of the Bible.  Chapter 1 of the book of Genesis gives this version and goes on to describe events to the end of the sixth day finishing; “So it was; and God saw all that he had made, and it was very good.”

So how did the world really begin?  The foremost scientific theory about the origin of the universe is The Big Bang Theory.  I was surprised and interested to learn that this widely accepted theory that the universe was created sometime between 10 billion and 20 billion years ago from a cosmic explosion that hurled matter in all directions was first proposed in 1927 by Georges Lemaitre who was a Belgian priest.  I typed “big bang theory” into Google, and after browsing items 1 - 10 of about 1,250,000 results to try and understand how a priest of all people, put forward an evolutionary idea seemingly so in conflict with the Biblical creation story in Genesis, I only became more fascinated.  However, I did learn that Lemaitre was one of many scientists including Edwin Hubble who were also working on variations of this theory at that time.

Can we believe that the Big Bang was God’s first miracle?  I can, but then I am not a scientist.

Before the Big Bang Theory there had been Charles Darwin’s Theory of Evolution, explained in 1859 in his work “On the Origin of Species”.  I found there are about 225,000 results for “Darwin's theory of evolution” on Google, but to summarise his theory:-

1. Variation: There is variation in every population.
2. Competition: Organisms compete for limited resources.
3. Offspring: Organisms produce more offspring than can survive.
4. Genetics: Organisms pass genetic traits on to their offspring.
5. Natural Selection: Those organisms with the most beneficial traits are more likely to survive and reproduce.

If taken literally these ideas probably created religious and moral dilemmas for people when they were first published nearly 150 years ago.  However, today with greatly increased knowledge and ability to act upon that knowledge, some of the possibilities of interfering with the natural order of things are so horrific, I am almost too scared to put them into print! 

Yet I am asking such questions to promote serious thinking about the behaviour of all humans and their often misplaced feelings of entitlement.

1. To say there is Variation in every population is an irrefutable statement. No problems there!

2. Competition is a part of life; but then, does greed creep in here – and does this give some humans ‘permission’ to take more than their share – is it OK to let millions starve to death because the world can’t support an ever increasing population?  Is war then a legitimate way of competing for limited resources?

3. We can accept the fact that turtles and other animals need to produce more offspring to ensure the survival of the species, and we understand that other animals need to kill for food.  However, we can’t accept the death of human babies in the same way; it would seem to be against all we, as civilised humans believe.

4. and 5. are very much related.  Should we be trying so hard to save the lives of humans with genetic diseases that are weakening the human species?  Is keeping them alive and encouraging them to reproduce wrong?  Is natural selection in fact God’s plan to protect us from our own weakness?  Should we encourage the survival of babies so immature that the only reasons for their survival in such a damaged state are the needs of their parents?  Can we be accused of playing God – and is Darwin’s Theory perhaps an expression of part of God’s plan?

Now for another big question.  What is the difference between Scientists, Evolutionists and those who believe the Genesis story?  It is said that, typically, scientists observe evidentiary data and then formulate their conclusions, and evolutionists have formulated their conclusion and then look for the missing data.   It is my personal understanding that believers in the Bible story can accept what they can’t prove or see, and have a sense of wonder that can acknowledge miracles and above all they have faith in God.

I have faith.  I am happy to gaze into the heavens at night with millions of stars smudged across the sky - and feel a thrill I cannot describe; I don’t need to know if there was a Big Bang – I simply feel the truth of Psalm 19; “The heavens tell out the glory of God, the vault of heaven reveals his handiwork.  One day speaks to another, night with night shares its knowledge; and this without speech or language or sound of any voice.”



Thursday, 21 May 2020

"The Tapestry of Life"


It could be considered to be “by chance” that the church service last week (10th May) inspired me to centre my reflections upon the expressive impact of hymns as an integral part of our Worship.  However, having followed those thoughts I was stumped when considering a response to the Rev. John’s online service this week in which his thoughtful sermon turned our minds to poetry in the Bible reading from Acts 17; 22-31.  We know that many of the hymns we love were written as poems before being put to music and becoming hymns, so here I am sitting at my computer, wondering where will my mind go from here?

Just one interesting thought to share here is the comparative ease for most people to learn and remember the words of a song or a hymn, paralleled with the difficulty for many in retaining in their brain the words of a poem ready for instant recall.  When I was young I was extremely lucky to be able to easily learn and recite the poems that I loved - yet often by the time I had listened to my brother repeating the poems he had to learn for homework, I would despair about his lack of progress.  

The difference here was that my brother did not feel the poetry like I did and his heart did not motivate the poetry “centre” of his mind to remember and love the words of the poem.  So for him, learning poetry by rote, with no effort to demonstrate or teach the relevance of the imagery of poetry was like saying dismissively to him that he should ‘Find a bridge and get over it!’  However, my brother John could discover what made anything work and he enjoyed working in the mechanical and engineering fields his whole life.  His memory for details about the cars and trains he kept working perfectly and the achievements and statistics of his competitive bicycle racing was excellent.  I soon learned that my brother, like many others, had no wish or need to be able to recite the endless verses of “The Highwayman” or “The Rhyme of the Ancient Mariner”.

I have looked for ways to express why some of us turn to poetry when we need to express deep or important thoughts and feelings.  I certainly do not consider myself as a poet, yet sometimes I feel compelled to disregard my lack of understanding of the rules and approved techniques for writing genuine poems, to present my special thoughts or feelings to a friend or someone who needs encouragement or consolation in this very personal way.  

In trying to answer this question of why poetry touches my heart, I discovered there are many very satisfying definitions of what poetry is; however, I find that I can’t go past the definition given by William Wordsworth who wrote; "Poetry is the spontaneous overflow of powerful feelings: it takes its origin from emotion recollected in tranquillity".  Just think daffodils here!

Thirty years ago a talented friend wanted to share her love of stitching Tapestries with people who had not had the opportunity to learn this craft, so she wrote and published a small book called “Tapestry made Easy”, which was richly illustrated with photos of beautiful finished and framed Tapestries that had been worked by herself, her mother, her father and even her husband.  Her family had a small supper party to “launch” the book and several families from Marsden Road Church and other special friends attended the celebration. 


I had been seeing and admiring these beautifully executed tapestry works hanging in our friend’s home for many years; so I was inspired to write a poem to celebrate her achievement in writing the book.  Although I am sure the poem that I wrote breaks many “rules”, the imagery of one’s life as a finished tapestry pleased me and was appreciated by my friend.  Her father who was a perfect gentleman asked me if I would agree to the poem being printed in his church’s magazine and of course I agreed.  It was later printed in a copy of the “Marsden Missive”, so my apologies if you have already seen the poem.  This has become the inspiration for my personal “Tapestry Tales”, a collection of stories and anecdotes of my life and my family, which have been written over a period of 20 years. 

Tapestries worked by Glenys Gillard
Photos by Dayen Grujovic


The Tapestry of Life

Life is a tapestry worked over the years;
It’s a blending of threads stitched with laughter and tears.

By our Lord the pattern was printed and trammed -
Much richer and fuller than man could have planned.

The technique and tension are for us to decide
and the standard of work is our personal pride.

While enjoying support from our family and friends -
On our stitching and texture the canvas depends.

The rows that we work with painstaking care
may be less than perfect - we see here and there.

With a little more Faith, more Hope and more Love,
while asking for help from our dear Lord above

We’ll be shown the best way to choose the right threads;
Sometimes with our hearts; and at times with our heads.

We’ll learn new techniques to embellish our work;
and we’ll stitch through the rows where anxieties lurk,

If we create a true Masterpiece - a real work of art
It will prove that we’ve lived - of this life been a part.

When our tapestry is finished and we reach the hour of death,
We will meet the Master Planner as we draw our last short breath,

Then for uneven or imperfect work, we surely won’t be blamed,
As in the memory of our loved ones - our tapestry is framed.



This Sunday morning (17th May) the Rev. John made reference to the way “St. Paul gives us a good example of the productive process of building bridges because Christians are all, or should all be, disciples.”  He reminded us that, “Bearing witness and spreading the Word is the business of every Christian and finding bridges between the teaching of scripture and the outside culture is necessary to aid that process.”  So, perhaps as expressed in the Rev John’s words “In an age in which the Bible is under fire, poetry might serve as a good place to build a helpful bridge from the Bible to the surrounding culture of today.”

Wednesday, 13 May 2020

"How Great Thou Art"


When I sat down at my computer to reflect on the Rev. John’s Sunday online church service I clicked on a Youtube link for the first hymn “Tell out my Soul” which was written by Rev. Timothy Dudley-Smith who has been writing hymn texts for more than 50 years, and still writes 6 or 8 new hymns each year. He has written over 430 published hymns and this is one of his hymns of adoration which always stirs me.  As I listened, my mind immediately turned to the expressive impact of hymns as part of Worship that has always been for me important as a source of prayer, deep thought, comfort, assurance and delight. 
  
Church was always an important part of my family life and upbringing as the daughter of an Anglican minister and his wife.  My parents met as children at Sunday school and church and my father’s “call” to the ministry came during the singing of the wonderful hymn; “When I survey the Wondrous Cross” when a visiting evangelical minister made a call for people to come forward and give their life to God.  So consequently, for me there was no amazing moment that I can recall when God became the cornerstone of my life – and this has sometimes been a cause of reflection about religion as sometimes an “accident of birth” versus religion as a matter of choice. 

I have often found the stories of some of the writers of our amazing and inspirational hymns to be some of the best life lessons when looking for the “meaning of life.”

My father’s ministry was diverse and his “parishioners” during my childhood and youth were struggling farming families during his time as a Bush Church Aid Chaplain when I was born in Victoria - and then as an army and navy chaplain until I was an adult.   Although this meant that the people attending his service were sometimes reluctant and less than receptive worshippers; my father and other chaplains saw their wartime and service life as being “Full of opportunities for a Chaplain”.




In December 1943 my father joined with a fellow chaplain with whom he had shared his ordination service 10 years earlier and in his letter home he wrote; “Tonight Bill and I combined in taking a service with an Infantry Battalion in an open clearing in the jungle (New Guinea).  The troops were drawn up on two sides and the officers on the third side with the chaplains on the fourth side of the square. The service concluded just as dusk was falling, with the singing of “Abide with Me”.  This time 10 years ago we were in a retreat together in preparation for our ordination.  It is a far cry from then to the jungle and from those days of peace to these days of war.  You never know what lies ahead and we did not dream in our wildest moments that we would even be chaplains in the army on active service in times of war and that 10 years hence we would be combining for a service in the heart of the jungle and with men who have been in action on the front line.”

The piano in our home was not played often, but my father would sometimes sit down for a while on Sunday evenings and play “by ear” from his small repertoire of hymns.  Even today I can never hear “The day though gavest Lord is ended” or “Abide with me” without returning in my heart to those far off days and feeling myself standing by my father and looking over his shoulder as we sang those hymns together. “Abide with me” is for me a hymn of hope and supplication, while “The day though gavest Lord is ended”, is more about hope, thankfulness and benediction.

If you have time on your hands for reflection you may spend many happy hours wandering through the pages of the website https://hymnary.org/ where you can learn all about the hymns and their writers and the important place they play in our Worship and become part of our life and our understanding of God’s love and our opportunities to share that love.. 

My favourite hymn of all is, “How Great Thou Art” and one memorable day in Norway I turned to my husband and began to softly sing the words of this wonderful inspiring hymn and said; “Surely those words were written by someone who had stood on a mountain peak in Norway!”  Perhaps I was close to the truth; because Carl Gustav Boberg (16 August 1859 – 7 January 1940) was a Swedish poet, best known for writing the Swedish language poem of "O Store Gud" (O great God) from which the English language hymn "How Great Thou Art" is derived.  The hymn of adoration we sing today was translated from the Swedish poem in 1949 by Stuart K. Hine who was born in 1899 in Great Britain. He and his wife were missionaries in the Western Ukraine of Russia, where they evangelized as Christian workers and singers.  In 1931, Stuart and his wife returned to Britain and conducted gospel campaigns throughout Great Britain.

“O Lord my God! When I in awesome wonder
Consider all the works Thy hands have made,
……………
When I look down from lofty mountain grandeur,
And hear the brook and feel the gentle breeze:
Then sings my soul, my Saviour God to Thee,
How great Thou art, how great Thou art!”

That memorable day in 1982 we had travelled by tour bus through wild and spectacular countryside on a road that constantly turned back on itself in a series of sharp hair-pin bends; a journey not for the faint-hearted.   In the region known as Jotunheimen, or “Home of the Giants” we made our way to the top of Mount Dalsnibba where we were met by a fierce, cold inhospitable wind and a view to take our breath away.  We felt like we were in heaven with the world at our feet.

Then we moved on in the bus to the next vantage point and from there we could look across at Mount Dalsnibba and down into the little town of Geiranger nestling near its beautiful Fjord.  We were standing in the clouds and for a few magical moments we had a clear view of the fjord below with two luxurious ships at anchor.  Suddenly a white blanket of cloud made it all disappear like the theatrical magic of Brigadoon vanishing in the mists of time.



When we reached our hotel in Geiranger we set off for a walk in drizzly rain following a very steep road to a beautiful little church perched precariously on a ledge overlooking the fjord.  Through the little churchyard we went, and out the gate, before clamouring down the slopes and tracks to the path that followed the edge of the fjord.   It was no longer raining and we walked for at least an hour enjoying the grandeur of the snow-capped mountains with countless waterfalls rushing down to the fjord that had been formed during the ice-age when the valleys were scraped out by the ice and the sea came in.  The waterfalls thundered and foamed over rocks and bushes until they tumbled into the fjord that was so deep and so still they were stopped in their tracks and created hardly a ripple.

Following along the path we experienced a peace and beauty impossible to describe in words; it was felt as much as it was seen; then suddenly the silence was shattered by the siren of one of the ships as it slipped out of the fjord towards the open sea.  Soon it was joined by the other ship that almost mysteriously vanished as we walked around a bend on our way back to the hotel.

We lingered again in the churchyard of the little church that clung to the steep slope and I thought I could find no more beautiful place to be for all eternity.  There were small flowers growing wild among the grass between the gravestones and God’s hand was everywhere.

After dinner we settled down in front of our window at 10.30pm to watch the coming of twilight.  The reflections of the quickly moving clouds changed constantly in the deep still water of the fjord, and last year’s snow glistened on the mountain peaks.  Soon little farm houses and small villages turned on their lights in expectation of a darkness that never really came. 

Across the fjord it looked like a twinkling star was moving back and forth across the mountain between the trees as a lone car climbed the steep road with its dozens of sharp hair-pin bends.  The sky changed ever so slowly from a soft blue to a deeper velvety shade and our eyelids became heavy so we left our twilight scene and went to sleep thinking of both the magnitude and perfect detail of God’s Creation.

Thursday, 7 May 2020

The Church is not a Building - You are the Church!


I have been a bit disorganised in my thinking this week and perhaps there was a little bit of creative avoidance as I pondered the theme of the online service last Sunday.  
Experience the Living Christ – Acts 2.42-47
The Rev John said; “Give thanks for your church and your place in it. There is no better place to find what you are looking for, which is the touch of the “Master’s” hand in your life. I know because I have experienced it. Thanks be to God for church!” … Ultimately the Christian faith is about living in relationship and community.  The Easter legacy is the church of Jesus Christ”.
Instead of my heart hearing the strong messages about “The Good Shepherd” that should have brought quiet assurance, I have been grappling for several days with the whole idea of “the church”.
Yet here we all are not able to go to “the building” or even meet with “the community of faith” and every day seems the same – a bit like that old movie “Ground Hog Day”!   It’s enough to stop anyone in their tracks.  With the endless talk of being “locked down”, has been a feeling of loss about many aspects of our old lives - yet being locked out of our churches has been something quite foreign to us in our country where religious freedom is embraced.
As the cloud lifted in my mind I began to remember a familiar statement that I really like; “The church is not a building – You are the Church”.   At Marsden Road Church we have used that phrase often in our invitations and letterbox drop material. 
These words in the Rev John’s Reflection can turn on a light for us all during these dark days. “Come in, all who are tired and thirsty. The Good Shepherd leads us to grassy meadows and restful waters. Come in, all who are anxious and afraid. The Good Shepherd protects us and leads us through dark valleys. Come in, all who are empty and exhausted. The Good Shepherd fills our lives with goodness and faithful love. Come in, to be refreshed, to rest, and to receive. The Good Shepherd has brought us here.”
Whoever would have imagined that almost everything we know would change so much almost overnight and we would be required by law to draw back even from those we love and deny them a hug or even a handshake.  Of course it was important and just plain necessary, yet I found it worrying to stand back and make no contact with the people in the church as we “passed the Peace” that final Sunday in March when we were able to go to “the church”. 
I know a young woman who lives alone who rang her sister and asked if she could drop by and hug her family’s dog.  It has been reported that all the animals at the animal shelters have been “snapped up” by people seeking company.  I just pray that these pets will all be loved and cared for when the world changes again and their humans are no longer in need of their love and warmth.
In this current climate of sickness and death for many thousands of people around the world there are huge health and financial worries; people are being almost “held in custody” at home or in an hotel room or a nursing home or cruise ship and it can be difficult for us to find our community, peace, joy or hope.   Jobs lost, shops closed, operations cancelled, doctors unable to let patients into their surgery.  At our doctor’s surgery, the doors were locked and we were “told” via gestures to go walk down the driveway and wait.  To our surprise the nurse emerged and there on the driveway we were quickly given our annual flu vaccination and the nurse immediately disappeared inside. 
Life is confusing - even the politicians are agreeing with “those on the other side” some of the time! 
It seems the world has almost stopped and there is no other news than the corona virus – we see pictures of places like the Spanish Steps in Rome without a single person in sight!  London is deserted along with every other tourist hot spot in the world.  It is hard for our minds to process these sights and accept the awful news that each morning 700 or 800 or more people have died from COVID-19 in some countries in the world, in the short time since we went to sleep last night.
However, that sense of community that is the church still shines through and we can see and feel that “The Christian faith is about relationship, it is about love and compassion. In the midst of the comings and goings of our lives, the risen Christ appears, community happens, and the church takes shape.”
It has been on my daily walk every afternoon that I have found “the church” as I have encountered much greater numbers of people who want to interact in some small way.  Families are out in huge numbers every day; walking, riding bikes and scooters, walking dogs, laughing, waving to strangers, and enjoying their restricted lives within the new limitations and ever changing rules.
Now I have found many new acquaintances and we look out for each other and say “Hello, how are you today?”  The Dalmar Heritage Drive is such a wonderful place to walk with the huge 92 year old trees lining the driveway like sentinels as they provide dappled shade and a safe place for children to ride and play.  About 18 years ago I interviewed a lovely lady who was taken to live at Dalmar Childrens’ Home in July 1928 and she told me that when she and her mother arrived, Hazelwood’s Nursery people and some of the Dalmar boys were planting those “tiny trees” along the Driveway. 
The Dalmar Heritage Drive runs into a circular area in front of the original Dalmar Childrens' Home





It is a joy to "walk in the country" each day in 2020 and remember the children who found a good Christian Home there at Dalmar and were made welcome at the Marsden Road Church and Sunday School
In recent weeks, children have been drawing and writing in chalk on the Dalmar drive and in a little lane nearby and one day as I walked I saw a lovely new hopscotch game had been added to the Easter Bunnies, Easter Eggs, Mermaid and writing of encouraging “wise sayings” on the drive and pathways.  Of course I felt I just had to hop along as well as I could and the kids all smiled at the old lady trying her best to jump.  I said “Oh dear! I can’t jump properly any more I am too old” and one dear little boy of around 7 or 8 very sincerely said; “I am really sorry that you cannot jump anymore.”
Yesterday I discovered new messages in the lane after the rain had washed away the originals; perhaps my favourite was; “No matter what people tell you words and ideas can change the world.”
I just love it as the kids sail past on their bikes and wave and smile.  I have a chance meeting almost every day with an elderly Indian lady who wears beautiful bright flowing saris and talks on her phone as she walks; but she always pauses in her conversation to say hullo as she nods her head and smiles. 
People who walk dogs are often ready for a chat about their dog for a moment or two and I sometimes wonder if all the dogs are wondering why they are suddenly being expected to go for a long walk every day.  There is one lady whose dog is usually stopped and refusing to move as I pass and his owner is trying to coax him to move again.  We always laugh as she tells me how many times he has refused to move that day!
Grimes Lane that runs between Alan Walker Village & Rayward Lodge



One day as I walked along Grimes Lane, a walkway which runs between the Alan Walker Village and the Raywood Lodge Nursing Home, I saw a heart-breaking sight as I paused to say a little prayer for the people locked inside and restricted in their visits and I noticed an elderly man standing on the highest piece of grass he could find and straining to look through the window as he spoke on this mobile phone.  Inside there was a lady (almost certainly his wife) talking on a telephone and waving to him.  If a large family of Kookaburras in the magnificent tall gum trees on the other side of the lane had not chosen that very moment to join in laughter with other groups in trees in the surrounding areas, I may well have cried.  Instead I hoped that the laughter of the birds had brought comfort to them as it had to me.  I stopped and looked up and looked around and was amazed by the perfection of the blue sky and the height and the groupings of the trees - and then I moved on.
I feel that I have been “going to church” on my walk every day and as the Rev John has said; “So just pause and reflect for a moment. Easter has come. The tomb has been emptied. The Lord has appeared to his disciples, and the announcement has gone forth: “He is alive!” Jesus is alive! Where do we find him for ourselves?”  Yes, perhaps sometimes it is harder to find Jesus than usual, but if we listen and encourage each other things will improve in time. As the lovely children wrote on the footpath;”It is the little things that matter” and “No rain no flowers” and “You are so lucky to be YOU”.