News for December - January 2017

Dear Friends,

‘How silently, how silently,
the wondrous gift is given!’
So, God imparts to human hearts
the blessings of his heav’n.’

(O Little Town of Bethlehem)

 

Where has the year gone? I can barely believe that the season of Advent has begun, and Christmas is only a few weeks away. As always, so much to do and so little time to do it!

Now is the time for waiting, watching and preparation.

Our Advent groups started in the last week of November with around 20 of us following Bishop Steven’s course on ‘Exploring The Beatitudes’. In his second year as Bishop, he is inviting churches to set The Beatitudes (Matthew ch.5, vv.1-10) at the heart of our life together in the Diocese – to seek to be a more contemplative, more compassionate and more courageous Church.

Our first session was exploring contemplation. That seemed to me a good way to be starting Advent. Being contemplative is described by Bishop Steven as simply ‘spending time with God’.

Amongst the qualities of a contemplative Church, Bishop Steven suggests:

  • To be deeply rooted in Christ, as a branch in the vine, through prayer and worship, word and sacrament
  • To live healthy rhythms of prayer and rest and work and to be fully human
  • To offer the gift of silence, still places and moments of encounter with the living God
  • To discern God’s call to us as individuals and communities
  • To surrender our doing in order to make space for stillness...

I suspect that Jesus’s birth was unlikely to have been as quiet as ‘O Little Town of Bethlehem’ seems to suggest. Surely there would have been the sound of a baby’s cries, at the very least! Yet, there are no words recorded in the birth narratives in Matthew and Luke’s gospels. Around Jesus’s birth, there seems to be a profound and awe-some silence. After all, how can words begin to express the wonder of the Incarnation – God, in Jesus, coming in human flesh, to dwell amongst us – God with us.

So how can we become a more contemplative church during Advent? I have a suggestion to get us started! Every Sunday there are times for quiet prayer within, before, and after the service – do use them. During the singing before the service, take some time to prepare yourself for worship, to reflect, to pray. There are some prayers and passages of scripture at the beginning of the service books which are there to help you. Before and after communion, use the spaces within the service simply to spend time with God, to listen to what God may be saying to you (you may be surprised!), and to bask in the fire of God’s love.

This Advent, I encourage you to spend time in contemplation – the prayer of silence. Amidst the busyness of your Christmas preparations, find some space just to be – to spend time with God in silence. You may like to join us for the Advent Quiet Morning on 16th December at Burnham Abbey. It could be a much-needed oasis in the busy time ahead. It is a quiet and restful time together, with worship, a wonderful chapel, opportunities for silence, but also time for chat and fellowship too. Come along and find out!

The story is told of the Curé d’Ars, a priest in France, who saw one of his parishioners day after day, sitting in the church, gazing silently at the crucifix.

‘What are you doing?’ he asked eventually. ‘Well’, said the old man, nodding towards the figure of Christ, ‘I look at him, and he looks at me, and we are happy together.’

Wishing you all a blessed Advent, a wonderful and wonder-filled Christmas, and a peaceful New Year.

With love,

Joan