Wednesday, 22 April 2015

Joy Mullins

One of my brothers has scanning some photographs as background for my mother's funeral next week and the selection here date from 1955-1960 in Zomba.

The top one is her at the Zomba European Hospital.

The middle two are my parents on the day they met - someone took snaps of each of the Colonial Officers at the Queen's Birthday Parade at the Zomba Gymkhana Club - so, first, there is picture of my father and, second, there is a picture of a colleague of his which happens to have my mother in the background.

The bottom one includes me on the day I was baptised aged nearly one month.

Saturday, 11 April 2015

Tipping the scales

I'm not sure how widespread wall paintings were in fourteenth century churches, but damage (routine, Reformation, Commonwealth) has deprived us of most.  We went to see Lincolnshire's best survivals at Pickworth yesterday.  

The destruction here includes the lowering of the roof line - so we see only the pierced feet of Jesus and the bottom of Mary and John beside him here.  It is the whitewashing over the whole set of pictures which actually saved them; they were rediscovered when a near-by German bomb shook some of the covering plaster down.  Here in the centre graves are being opened and people emerge.

To the right, many are herded away to damnation; top right of the most visible group there is a devil pitchforking another group into the jaws of hell.

To the left, less clearly, Peter ushers the saved to safety.

Meanwhile, the south wall is also particularly rich, including the three skeletons between the two top windows.

And also, almost best of all, including Our Lady tipping in our favour the scales in which Michael is weighing a soul (which is, of course, her job - 'pray for us sinners now and at the hour of our death').

Monday, 6 April 2015


One memory of our Lent Course is the way people homed in on the sense that Jesus had already spotted Nathaniel under a tree, the sense that he already knows us before we begin to notice him.  So Easter morning took me back to John’s sense that it was still dark when the resurrection was found already to have taken place, that he is at work in our darkness and not just when we begin to see the light.  Meanwhile, the photograph of a larch tree in flower was taken in Bradley Woods today.

Thursday, 2 April 2015

Waiting at the foot of the cross

Sorry, we are still dealing with the mother.  Would you like some tea while you wait?  You can sit in our room behind the desk’.  So that is what I do.  I’d feel more use out there with them.  But they are too busy to stop and I’d be under their feet.  Through the open door, the work continues, audible, and partially visible.
In the back room, the names of five mothers are coloured coded on a white board.   The rest of the annotations are written in a further code I cannot break. 

The remaining wall space is papered with notices.  These admonish, encourage and remind.  But, mainly, they plead. 

It appears that both retaining funding and negotiating an audit of good practice depend on the pleading being heeded.  Sometimes the welfare of the mothers provides the rationale.  One merely cites the need to project a professional image.  

Neither ‘Kelly’s leaving do’ nor the ‘tea fund’ appear, to my unpractised eye, to have enough people signed up to make them viable.  

The light is harsh even in here, as are the beeps from calls and machines out there.  Every plug, socket and appliance has a serial number stamped or taped onto it.  The small fridge has its own, and has a bar code as well.  

Jammed in a corner, beneath the kettle and the toaster, is a robust plastic shopping bag with a picture of two large hamsters on the side.  A pair of wellies decorated with roses and a huge handbag spill out into the space next to it. 

A carved wooden sign hangs on a cupboard door: ‘live well, laugh often, love much’.  The message ‘I’ll miss you all’ has been scratched into it. 

There is mild concern out there about ‘twin two’ who is not inclined to feed.   Some paperwork has been displaced, but is quickly found.  The owner of the loudest voice, who disapproves of the mothers smoking, takes three sugars. 

Then the owner of a more confidential apprehensive voice reports a crying baby being told ‘you’ve only been here five minutes, and you’re already doing my head in’.

Finally a slim young midwife comes out of the room opposite.  She is in tears.   Her larger, older, non-smoking, three-sugar-taking colleague envelopes her.  ‘I know, Darl,’ she says, ‘it’s the worst thing about this job’.

It will still be a little while before one of them will say ‘Did you bleep an on-call Chaplain?’ and another will reply ‘Yes, a Vicar came in and he’s in the back room – shall I tell him things are clear now and he can go in?’     

The poor photograph was taken in a novice's cell at San Marco in Florence and is a Fra Angelico painting.

Wednesday, 1 April 2015

Holy Week

Preparing for Good Friday, I've been returning to earlier reflections on the harrowing of hell, this time illustrated in my mind by two frescoes from among many highlights in our trip to Florence at the New Year.  Both clearly relate to the Orthodox icon of the Resurrection - the (about to be) risen Lord stands on the broken down doors of hell.  Both are clearly western art - the (about to be) risen Lord carries the banner which identifies him as such in most mediaeval representations.  Both clearly relate to each other - it is hard to think the first (Andrea Bonaiuto, c 1367, Santa Maria Novella) is not the model for the second albeit a mirror image (Fra Angelico, c 1440, San Marco) with the cave and with muli-coloured devils crushed beneath the door and cowering at the back.

Sunday, 22 March 2015

Eclipse, enunciation and more

The effect of last week's eclipse projected through a pin hole in a bit of card.  The other strange event of the week was the Independent's report from what it called the Church of Enunciation in Nazareth; perhaps the angel realised that his message had to be spoken very carefully and clearly lest Mary or the world misunderstood.

I've mentioned before a firm in the parish which has been operated by six generations of the same family for over two hundred years.  A recent contact seeking family history information from church registers reminded me that something similar is true of farming in Bradley.  Today two of the farm houses there still contain a descendent five generations on from Nathaniel Kirk here. 

And here is part of the Western Comprehensive site now cleared for development.

Tuesday, 17 March 2015

Small shiny things

I’ve been enjoying the recent story of ‘the girl who gets gifts from birds’. 

A clumsy eight year old in Seattle found crows picking up accidently dropped parts of her packed lunch.  She then began deliberately to share it with them.  Before long this had grown into a regular pattern of feeding them at home.  And she then found trinkets being left on the bird table in apparent return.  She has built up a collection of small shiny things from pieces of broken glass (coloured bottles, light bulbs) to discarded objects (buttons, coloured paper clips).

Just the sort of feel good story which looks almost designed for a brief internet flare of interest, which is how it came into our own news media.  But it turns out to be a phenomenon which experts recognise.  The regularity of her feeding pattern appears to have been key.  In other places the ‘gifts’ include dead baby birds.  There appears to be a close parallel in crows’ courting rituals - the building up of bonds, the entreating of favour.

As with many such stories, I feel a bad sermon coming on.  Do we look like this to God?  Do the things which we offer as supremely attractive (in, say, church architecture and music) actually look to God more like the crow’s scarps of shiny things than anything else?  Our history of offering has even included dead birds (such as the two young pigeons offered by Mary and Joseph in the Temple at Luke 2.24).

I am reminded of the Church of England’s problem with what to say or pray at the offertory at Communion.

The Book of Common Prayer gives twenty sentences of scripture, the habitual use of only the first of which (‘Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father in heaven’) looks far too self satisfied in that context.

The Alternative Service Book 1980 tried to avoid any suggestion that we took any credit by selecting instead 1 Chronicles 29.11 (‘Yours, Lord, is the greatness, the power, the glory, the splendour, and the majesty; for everything in heaven and earth is yours - all things come from you and of your own do we give you’) only for it to dawn on us after regular use that the visibility of offertory processions and a text ending ‘we give you’ managed to nurture for many the opposite impression to the one intended.

I remember the discussions as the present Common Worship provision was being developed.  Those responsible would much rather have done away with anything which drew attention to our apparent glorying in the shiny scraps we bring.  ‘The gifts of the people may be gathered and presented... One or more prayers at the preparation may be said’ is all the text grudgingly allows.

Twelve such prayers are tucked away in an appendix.  1 Chronicles 29.11 survives as the first of these – it does indeed try very hard to say that there is no credit for us. 

Number 4 is a version of the offertory prayers from the Roman Missal.  The grudging rubric really means ‘we realise that many of you will use the Roman prayers at this point but we can’t be explicit here because some of the evangelical members of the General Synod would vote against if we were’.  But these are included with the significant change that the bread and wine is said to be ‘set before you’ rather than something ‘we offer’ - a change more often ignored than implemented in my experience.

Number 6 is an ancient prayer (‘As the grain once scattered...’) which only got in because I suggested it should be during the formal revision process ahead of the authorisation of the service – you don’t need to know that but I wanted to tell you anyway.

Numbers 11 and 12 are very rarely used but try to get all this right with the phrases ‘make the frailty of our praise a dwelling place for your glory’ and ‘pour upon... the weakness of our praise the transforming fire of your presence’.  There is no over estimation there of the value of the shiny things which have caught our eye.

The picture comes from the same walk as the pictures on the last two posts.