PRESENTS AND PRESENCE

‘You say you’re wholly holy? Your argument is holey.’ ‘They’re there with their family.’ ‘Four came to the fore for being exceptionally brilliant at homophones.’

My granddaughter once asked me if I could help her with homophones. I confessed that I didn’t know what a homophone was. My ‘progressive’ grammar school hadn’t taught grammar, preferring to give its pupils free rein to develop their own creative writing skills without getting bogged down with the tedium of grammar.

But back to the present. We can do nothing about the past and it’s a waste of energy worrying about the future. The present is happening now. So if you’re still present with me, may I present, in your presence, a present for you. This is the season of Advent when we look forward to the coming of Jesus into the world – past and future. He came as a baby from the realms of glory. He will come again – from the realms of glory. But how does his presence impact you in the present? God’s present – his gift, for our present time – our now – is the everlasting, beyond-human-time-spans, Jesus, who we’re told is the same ‘yesterday, today and forever.’

“Listen!” St Paul wrote, “This is the hour to receive God’s favour; today is the day to be saved!” Jesus, the one who saves, is God’s present to the world.

Feeling fraught? Fragile? Frenzied? Be still. Just be. Be present in the presence of God and receive his present.

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PRESS THE SHUTTER

About sixty years ago, I started taking photographs. The film canister came in a bright yellow box. I’d take out the roll of film, place it in the camera, wind on till the sprockets engaged, and shut the camera back. I was then ready to take pictures. Once the film was exposed, it had to be rewound, removed from the camera and sent off for processing. The colour prints would arrive a week or two later.

Patience and care were required. Now, on my digital single lens reflex camera, or on my Smartphone, I can press the shutter umpteen times, upload a picture and, if I choose to, display it for all the world to see. We’ve become used to an instant world where waiting is irksome.

It’s Advent and we wait – for the King of kings to make his appearance. Many centuries ago prophets anticipated the Saviour’s arrival: as a baby. It happened, but only after a long wait. The early Christians, after Jesus’ resurrection and ascension, anticipated his second coming. They expected it to happen imminently. It didn’t. And we still wait for his second coming. Do we wait patiently? St Peter suggested we should: “The Lord is not slow to do what he has promised… Instead, he is patient with you, because he does not want anyone to be destroyed, but wants all to turn away from their sins. But the day of the Lord will come.”

Be prepared! Not with a camera to record the occasion, nor with a selfie stick and a shrieking demand for Jesus to pose with you for your Smartphone, but with a mind, heart and soul that is ready to meet him.

 

MOOD MUSIC

Walton’s ‘Orb and Sceptre’ Coronation march never fails to move me. It did so again this morning when it was played at the end of the church service I attended. Such stirring, but somehow poignant, pieces of British music never fail to impress – and may provoke tears of joy, sorrow, grief or gladness.

What about film music? The strings of an unseen orchestra, with an emphasis on the violins, enhance tender love scenes, bringing a lump to the throat or a sigh of delight to the listener/viewer. Conversely, in the case of the shower scene in ‘Psycho,’ the screaming violins add to the tension and terror.

If you were around in the second half of the last century, you may remember ‘Happiness is a cigar called Hamlet.’ The (then allowed) popular TV advert used the calming and persuasive sound of Bach’s Air on a G String to tempt you.

Many parents could testify to the patient endurance required as they listened to the first tentative notes of their child trying to master a musical instrument. Screeches from strings, blasts from brass, din from drums, plonks from piano… but years later, when the Bach double violin concerto, or a Rachmaninov piano concerto, or a Mozart flute concerto, are played by your offspring, your heart sings its glad accompaniment, as you witness their joy at music-making.

This morning’s performance of Walton was sublime; a fitting end to the worship of Christ the King and a foretaste of the music of heaven, plus an opportunity to thank God for endowing human beings with the mark of his creativity.

 

HIDDEN HAZARDS

“You can’t see the kerb over there!” The man, standing at the bus stop with me, pointed across the street. I glanced over the road. Sure enough the kerb was completely hidden by layers of autumn’s fallen leaves. “Dangerous, that is,” he continued. “Could break your ankle.”

Whatever the season, there are hidden hazards. Life is a risk. My dad, recently departed for a hazard-free life in heaven, used to tell a story against himself of how, on one occasion when lecturing to an august gathering of scientists, he fell up the platform, scattering papers all over the place, as he headed for the podium. On another speaking engagement, he visited the toilet, only to find that his radio mic was still turned on… On woodland walks, he’d warn about tree roots. “Mind the trip wires!” he’d say with a smile.

We can go through life with infinite caution, but there’s no guarantee that hidden hazards – physical or metaphorical – won’t appear and topple us from time to time. Nobody is exempt from sad or bad things happening to them. How do we deal with such happenings? We may cry, or laugh, or say a rude word, or simply put irritating or calamitous happenings down to life experiences: the good, the bad and the ugly that make up the rich mixture of life on earth.

The man at the bus stop negotiated the step onto the bus OK and I trust that he hasn’t succumbed since to the hazard of hidden kerbs. But I hope, too, that while acknowledging the “pesky leaves,” he can also rejoice at the beauty of this colourful season.

 

LOVE WHILE LIFE SHALL LAST

My grandfather, having signed up with the Army in August 1914, was invalided out from France just two months later. Back in England he went to serve and teach at the Military College of Science where he was based until 1935. He later served with the Territorial Army, rose to the rank of Colonel and was awarded the Territorial Decoration and OBE.

If my grandfather hadn’t been injured in Ypres, he might have become one of the many soldiers whose memory is symbolised in red poppies and white stones. And I might not have existed.

The tragic consequences of conflict, disease, accident or disaster, impact us as we face the often unexpected and sobering reality of human mortality.¬†All of us face the personal loss of loved ones and, at some point, our own demise. Today you and I are alive! Let’s be thankful for the gift of each new day of life and opportunity and pledge to:

“Leave no tender word unsaid; love while life shall last. The mill will never turn with the water that has passed. And the proverb haunts my mind, like a spell that’s cast: the mill will never turn with the water that has passed. Power, intellect, and strength, may not, cannot last; the mill will never turn with the water that has passed. Take this lesson to your heart; take, oh hold it fast! The mill will never turn with the water that has passed.”

 

THE POINT OF ARDNAMURCHAN

Travelling around Great Britain under a duvet is a daily delight. As someone who habitually wakes around 5 am, listening to the Shipping Forecast at 5.20 is a perfect start to the day. I picture the map with its angular Sea Areas marked out: Forties, Dogger, German Bight… and the numbered Coastal Weather Stations: Sandettie Light Vessel Automatic, Valentia, Malin Head… before the bit that is necessary to keep alert for: the forecast for Inshore Waters. If I miss Selsey Bill to Lyme Regis, I don’t know whether I’ll need an umbrella or a sun hat.

There’s a romanticism in the names alone, including the wonderfully named Ardnamurchan Point on the west coast of Scotland. Its name (whose spelling I had to look up) derives from Scottish Gaelic and the Point itself is almost as far west as you can get on the British mainland. It wasn’t until on holiday in Oban, when visiting nearby Salen, that I realised where I’d heard the name before: ah, yes, the Shipping Forecast!

Modern technology, one might think, would have rendered the broadcast Shipping Forecast redundant, but no; mariners still, apparently, check their instruments against the broadcast details. As a landlubber, I simply enjoy the imaginative travelling in a clockwise direction around Britain, the sound of the words spoken and places visited, and the assurance that someone out there is keeping a watchful eye on the awesome weather systems that swirl around the beautifully crafted blue orb that we call planet earth.

 

 

MOUNTAIN MARATHON

If I had to run a marathon, I’d choose The Snowdonia Marathon. This year’s race happened yesterday and is unlike any city marathon. The scenery is spectacular, the terrain formidable, and the long and steep ups and downs a test of character, strength and endurance. The route encircles Wales’ highest mountain and, unlike most city marathons, involves a total climb of 838 metres (2749 feet) over its 26.2 miles.

This particular marathon mirrors life’s marathon. We start with enthusiasm, puff our way up challenging roads, stop to admire views from high spots in our lives, then plunge deep down into valleys of despair, illness or grief. Some parts of life’s marathon are more steady, neither nasty nor notable. Then comes another uphill part, and so on.

John Bunyan, in The Pilgrim’s Progress, describes the ups and downs that Pilgrim faces on his way “From This world to That which is to come.” Readers discover “his setting out, his dangerous journey, and safe arrival at the Desired Country.”

Whether or not we’re marathon runners in London or Snowdonia or any other marathon place, we’re all participants in the marathon of life. How do we face it? How do we prepare? How are we sustained? How are we at perseverance? The characters in Pilgrim’s Progress are ordinary people striving to hold onto their beliefs in an often hostile and uncomprehending world. The book’s message is as relevant now as it was when published in 1678. For the Christian of any era, words from Hebrews are a spur: “Let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith.”