A walk of 150 days

The starting point, Church of Notre-Dame du Bout du Pont, Saint Jean Pied de Port

I enjoy going on pilgrimage, and I’ve enjoyed pilgrimages to many places, La Salette, Rocamadour, Ladyewell, Montserrat, and Walsingham, to name a few. I’m starting a very different pilgrimage on March 1st. I hope to walk 480 miles, meet different people, think, pray, be enriched by the pilgrimage and look at my journey in my life. On July 25th, I will arrive at my destination.

In these unusual, constrained, lockdown days this will be a virtual pilgrimage. I will indeed, hopefully, walk 480 miles, on an average of about 3-4 miles each day. However, I will be at home, doing my usual work, and living as usual.

Some days, as circumstances permit, I will walk with another person, many days I will walk alone. I will also take the time to read, to listen to music, to seek peace and all within my daily life. In this way it will be an inner journey as well as on outer one. As with any pilgrimage I will pray, and I feel sure I will be supported by the prayer and care of others.

I know it will need some discipline and imagination. I’m looking forward to doing it.

The route

To help and encourage me I will, virtually, follow the traditional pilgrimage route from Saint Jean Pied de Port, to Santiago de Compostella – the Camino Frances – the northern route. It is, of course, a well trodden pilgrim route. Seeing on a map where I would have reached according to the miles I have walked will be an encouragement to me. It will also good to see short videos of places along the route, and read of the experience of fellow pilgrims. Hopefully I will ‘arrive’ in Santiago de Compostella on it’s great feast day – the feast of St James, July 25th.

A different pilgrimage, in different days. This isn’t a ‘sponsored walk’ but I have been encouraged to set up a donations page, with money given going to support the work we do at St Chrysostom’s for trafficked people. Perhaps, at least, a meal could be organised for July 25th for the trafficked men, in Church! That donations page will be online in a week or two.

On my personal Facebook feed I will keep a note of progress. At certain points I will invite people to join me online for a short period of reflection and prayer. I’m looking forward to reporting back here on the blog from time to time.

Fr Ian

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She is watching me

A lockdown walk took me along Dickenson Road towards Longsight. As I walked I looked up and noticed, in a bedroom window, a statue of Mary. What was striking was that she was not looking into the room, but rather looking outwards, to the passers by.

‘She is watching me!’ I smiled to myself. Then words which open Barbara Pym’s novel An Unsuitable Attachment came to mind:

They are watching me, thought Rupert Stonebird, as he saw the two women walking rather too slowly down the road. But no doubt I am watching them too, he decided.

She is looking at me me. Without doubt I am looking at her. She is watching me. I find that rather comforting, and very different from that old text once framed and hung in bedrooms ‘Thou God seest me…’ I always found that rather threatening!

When I was in my late teens I had an emotionally bumpy time in life. Part of the issue was the loneliness and isolation I felt living away from home for the first time. I was moved by the variety of people who helped me. Some showing the kindness of strangers.

One weekend I went home and when I left my mother gave me a small prayer card showing Mary. I later learned it was a representation of Our Lady of Fatima. It had no particular artistic merit, it was in fact typical of many popular prayer cards of that time. As she gave it to me, my mother said ‘She will look after you, as well.’

The sentiment no doubt arose from my mother’s Roman Catholic upbringing in the 1930s. I don’t dismiss it for that. It brought me comfort, it still brings me comfort. I thought of this small event many years later. At Walsingham, my mother, by then very frail, and I sat quietly in the Holy House looking at the statue of Mary. I glanced at my mother and remembered her words to me as she gave the card of Mary ‘She will look after you…’

In these lockdown days many have felt isolated and alone – not just those who live alone, but others too. It is an emotionally bumpy time. Many have found comfort and kindness in some unusual places, including the kindness of strangers and some have been comforted by the thought that we are being watched over by Mother Mary.

In my imagination I can look now up at that bedroom window and see Mary watching me, … and I pause and for a while look at her. She will look after us.

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Maranatha Prayer Circle

Come Lord Jesus, Maranatha

This may be a familiar phrase to you, or it may be new. It is sung in church as the response in the prayers during Advent. Maranatha is an Aramaic word – a word, then, in the language which Jesus knew. We find it in the Bible in 1 Corinthians 16:22 as St Paul signs off his letter to the early Christians in Corinth calling on the Lord to come. An appropriate name then for our new church prayer group – one word that has so much meaning!

In his foreword to the book of prayers ‘A Heart In Pilgrimage’, Rowan Williams writes:

“our prayer must involve us in an awareness of the entire human race, its needs and hopes and God-given possibilities; it must keep our hearts open to all, involving us in the priestly intercession of Christ;

This is essentially what we hope to achieve in our prayer circle.

Each week, the group will have a simple intention for prayer which will be sent out to members of the circle via a special WhatsApp group, the St C’s Facebook page and via email. It is our hope that members of Maranatha will then keep that intention in their prayers throughout the week. For example, the intention may be for children returning to school or for the victims of human trafficking. Each week the theme is likely to be different.

In addition to the weekly intentions, from time to time there will be special requests for prayers, say if someone known to us is poorly or something happens in the world that calls us to pray. Members will be invited to meet from time to time – either by Zoom, or hopefully, in due course in real space!

Members are encouraged to visit our church shrine of Mary, Mother of Welcome, Mother of Hope. There is a special book of requests for prayer there for members to write in or to read and to pray.

Everyone is welcome to join us, wherever you are – simply send a message via email to office@stchrysostoms.co.uk  or through the church Facebook page and we will include you in the group.

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Sleeplessness in Lockdown

Saint Peter Damian – Monitor of the Popes – TOM PERNA

Many of our church members are experiencing disturbed sleep in these difficult days. Doctors tell us this is not at all unusual in such stressful times.

We are very grateful to Fr Chris who offers these thoughts on sleeplessness, and we invite you to share your experience and thoughts in our Church facebook Group (you don’t need to come to St Chrysostom’s to join the group!)

Fr Chris writes: Sleeplessness was one of the side effects that I experienced when I stopped drinking and this advice from the NHS was advice that I took, and still take these days.  I share the ideas here as I know that many others are experiencing problems in these current days.

Try to relax before going to bed

Have a warm bath, listen to quiet music or do some gentle yoga to relax your mind and body. Your GP or friend may be able to recommend a helpful relaxation CD

Write away your worries

If you tend to lie in bed thinking about everything you have to do tomorrow, set aside time before bedtime to make plans for the next day. The aim is to avoid doing these things when you’re in bed, trying to sleep.

If you cannot sleep, get up

If you cannot sleep, do not lie there worrying about it. Get up and do something you find relaxing until you feel sleepy again, then go back to bed.”

I think that the best advice was the last one above – I once read that we roughly have cycles during the night of about 90 minutes and if the first wave doesn’t connect simply get up, distract and wait for the next wave.

I still use lavender oil (a good quality one in a diffuser) from time to time. I also have access to relaxing sounds of nature – rainfall, surf on a sandy beach etc – which can gently induce sleep and relaxation. Its not an easy thing to endure and my sympathy is with those struggling at the moment.

Thank you to Fr Chris for this helpful and straightforward advice. If you’d like to go deeper this webpage written by a doctor develops the advice further.

The image is of St Peter Damian, who worked very hard, and suffered stress. His sleep was greatly disturbed for a significant length of time and he had to discipline himself to change his life style to recover a more healthy sleep pattern

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The Church of Walmington on Sea: A Quiz

You are invited to try our quiz on the church in Walmington on Sea during the time in which Captain George Mainwaring led the Home Guard in the town. The answers will be posted in the comments in a few days time. Comments or discussion welcome in our Church Facebook Groupwe’ll post clues there too, on request.

To which saint is Walmington on Sea Parish Church dedicated?

What is the name of the Vicar (first and last names)?

The Vicar wears the hood of which degree from which Univeristy?

Before coming to Walmington on Sea the Vicar held at least two none parish appointments – can you name one?

As well as his parish duties the Vicar also edits a national magazine, what is it’s name?

What is the name of the Church Verger, and his wife (first and last names, please)?

At one stage concern is expressed about the Verger’s relationship with a woman not his wife. What is the woman’s name?

Questions are raised about where the Verger counts the Sunday morning collection. Where does he count it?

Captain Mainwaring expressed concern about a potentially seditious sermon the Vicar preached at the time of Dunkirk. What was the subject of the sermon?

What is the weakness of the Vicar to which the Verger draws Captain Mainwaring’s attention?

Numerous gatherings are held in the Church Hall – can you name some?

One of the residents of Walmington on Sea is the daughter of the suffrgan Bishop of Clegthorpe. Can you name her?

This is the first in a short series of light hearted quizzes on the church in different locations which we offer in the current lockdown.

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Looking into China

When I go on a walk in lockdown I am often reminded of the wonderfully varied area in which I live, and in which St Chrysostom’s Church is set. A recent walk took me past the Chinese Consulate in Denison Road. It’s a striking building, well looked after and certainly well protected nowadays with alarm wires around its perimeter and many security cameras.

Its presence gives rise to some light hearted speculation at Church. A churchwarden suggested that if we renamed ‘The Parish Carol Service’ as ‘The People’s Carol Service’ the Consul General may attend. Recently a group of us were wondering whether those inside the perimeter have to obey the English social distancing COVID regulations, or the ones prescribed in the People’s Republic of China. I suspect it’s the latter.

On my walk as I looked through the fence I noticed the flag flying and attractive decorations hanging in the trees. The Chinese New Year was being celebrated. It brought out another facet of life in our areas – so many different cultures are represented in such a small area – only a few hundred yards away we find, for example, the Pakistani Consulate and a bustling Turkish supermarket.

Such variety brings with it insight of others’ cultures and an openness to difference. At the same time looking at the electronic protection around the Chinese Consulate I wondered. This building is the consular representation of a nation accused of many human rights violations.

Until a couple of years ago most days of the week a gentleman protested outside the Consulate about the Chinese treatment of Falun Gong, a religious movement whose origins are in 20th century China. This protester, a follow of the religion, put up placards detailing the abuse and at regular intervals offered prayer in support of his co-religionists who were being persecuted in China.

Human rights abuses by Chinese authorities in Tibet have often been reported. At Church, given some of our worshippers come from Hong Kong we have been very concerned at the threatening attitude of China to freedom in Hong Kong.

Recently, in January 2021, the British Government criticised the Chinese treatment of the indigenous Uighur population. The Uighurs are an ethnic minority group of Muslims living in China’s north-west region of Xinjiang. There are an estimated 11 million Uighurs in that region – almost half of the region’s total population. The United Nations report that there is credible evidence that up to one million Uighurs and other Muslim minorities are being held in “re-education” detention centres in Xinjiang.

Looking through to the Chinese Consulate I appreciate the care and attention the consular staff give to the old Victoria Park house they occupy, the grounds are well kept and the decorations remind us of the joy and festivities of the Chinese New Year. The presence of this small piece of China adds to our community. At the same time as I look I am also reminded that the freedom which I enjoy is not enjoyed by many people, and I have a duty to stand up for the human rights of fellow human beings in China or wherever they are.

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Image result for Gratitude

I hope we all agree that gratitude is good. Psychologists tell us gratitude is good for our minds. In fact research has shown that those who have high levels of gratitude in their lives are less prone to depression and have a greater feeling of well being. More and more we come to realise the connectedness of mind, body and soul. Being grateful people helps us feel better, and be more optimistic and positive in our relationships.

The faiths of the world, and not least Christianity, encourage people to be grateful. The Bible encourages people to be people of gratitude.

The worship of the Church throughout time calls us to ‘lift up our heart’ and give thanks.

“Give thanks in all circumstances; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.” (1 Thessalonians 5.18) Give thanks – be grateful. Show gratitude. There is always, even at the darkest times, something to give thanks for. If we face the light and give thanks shadows fall behind us. If we turn our backs to the light the shadows are in front of us.

I’m sure we’d all love to develop our spirit of gratitude. We can begin to do that now. Here are some simple and straightforward suggestions for you to adapt to your situation.

First of all, take some time, each day if you can, to name some things you are grateful for. To help you at first you may choose to think of three things. It may also help to do this at the same time of the day – when you brush your teeth, or just as you lie down to sleep. In this way gratitude can build up in you and become a part of you.

It’s good to start with three things – and they can be very simple things – my pet, the warmth I have, my partner, my food today… To begin with they may be the same things each day.

Secondly, it will help too to write them down. Not in a hurried way like you may write down things you have to remember, but rather slowly and in a thinking way. One by one, writing them down and at the end saying a simple thank you prayer.

Thirdly, connect with others more in your thanking. Send an e-mail, a card, a text thanking people for things, and if you can mention why it is you are grateful. Tell others of what you are grateful for. Listen to others as they thank you.

Finally – keep at it! Persevere in gratitude. It will be easier some days than others. When you hear those words, at Mass or elsewhere, ‘let us give thanks’ let them remind you to be a person of gratitude.

Fr Ian

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Your Timetable

When guests arrive at our monastery the first thing they are shown is a timetable. This may seem odd. It may remind them of  school, the army, or worse, but in fact it is a key to the monastic life, and any stay within the monastic enclosure will benefit from it.

Timetables bring order to our lives. The monastic timetable tells when the services are, when the meals are and therefore where free time, or time for prayer can be found. Services and meals are of equal importance. Monks and nuns have a long day and work hard but they don’t suffer from stress or burn out. That is because their day is well ordered. They don’t miss meals. Meals are at the same time every day which means they get properly digested. We know when we will be praying so we can be ready for it, and the spaces between meals and prayer can be allocated to work, reading or recreation as it suits us.

The Coronavirus has brought much evil into our lives and all of us have had to change our life styles. Living under lock down, living in close company with others requires structures. An abbot once told me, “Structures do not give life, but they save life.’ Anyone who has lived at close quarters even with beloved children will know the truth of that!

Sensible structures do not limit our freedom but create true freedom. It is because of our monastic structures that we remain healthy, live long and find plenty of time to do what we think God wants us to do.

Some Christians are misled by the modern need to be ‘spontaneous’, to be ‘sincere’ to think that structured prayer and life are false and lack real meaning. This is not true. We can’t always be inventing new prayers, new ways of praying or new insights into the love of God. The old ones are there and they do very well. The Lord’s Prayer is simple, structured and very old, yet it never ceases to yield new meaning. We can’t only pray when we feel like it. We pray because God wants us to pray. God wants to have a chance, lots of chances, to show his love for us. And we want to show God that we love him.

Having set times to pray, to read the Bible, to read a devotional book or even to talk to a friend about Christian life helps us to grow in this Christian life that we so much value. Covid-19 is a hard thing to live with. Some people have compared it to war. It is a battle, physically to stay alive, mentally not to get frustrated or despairing and spiritually not to give up hope.

We need to be tough; we need to grow in self knowledge and in trust of God. We are like soldiers preparing for war, or athletes preparing for a competition. Timetables give God the chance to make us into people who can meet this current crisis and flourish.

We are very grateful to Fr Nicolas Stebbing CR for sharing these wise words. Fr Nicholas is a member of the Community of the Resurrection, Mirfield.

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Burying Alleluia, the song of gladness

We bury the Alleluias before Lent begins at St Chrysostom’s. Many years ago the custom took place a few week’s before Lent began – at the eve of the third Sunday before Lent, Septuagesima Sunday. Today we do this on the Sunday before Lent.

The custom, and long may it continue, marks in a special way the coming season of Lent, the season of restraint. “Alleluia cannot always be our song while here below” says the hymn. We cease singing and saying Alleluia at worship in Lent. To symbolise this restraint, as as a physical reminder that the restraint extends to life in Lent, we bury an Alleluia Scroll, as we prepare for its great re-emergence in the Easter liturgy.

Our custom has been to gather after Vespers outside church and together buried the Alleluia in a simple and shared ceremony. We are in more restrained days this year and so we have had to do things differently – but, customs change and in the change we can find new insight.

As Mass on the Sunday before Lent Alleluias were sung out and as Mass ended the people were dismissed as Fr Ian proclaimed ‘The Mass is ended, go in peace.’ to which he added loudly and clearly ‘Alleluia, Alleluia,’ and all replied ‘Thanks be to God. ALLELUIA ALLELUIA.

Then Fr Admos took our ‘Alleluia’ scroll from the high altar and a small procession formed taking the Alleluia to the Anson Chapel where it was buried. During the procession the ancient hymn for this occasion Alleluia Dulce Carmen was sung in its English words, Alleluia, song of gladness.

Some of our ‘citizens of heaven’ sweetly raise their Alleluias!

In these ‘stay at home’ days we like to involve people at home when we can. Our church members were invited to make their own Alleluias at home and to hide them in their homes until Easter, when they will be brought out and placed in a prominent place.

One church member asked if she could share where she hid hers, as she was afraid she would have forgotten by the time Easter came! Another made a careful note in his diary at Holy Saturday.

In the evening we had a ‘Burying the Alleluias’ gathering on Zoom. Some showed their Alleluias they were about to hide, we shared thoughts on Lent, and we played a game or too – including trying to find where an Alleluia was buried in a special wordsearch!

Now in case anyone is thinking this is all rather modern and unheard of, here are words from  Ælfric a 10th century preacher:

 ‘Alleluia’ is, as we said, a heavenly song; as the Apostle John said, he heard great voices in heaven, like the music of trumpets, and they sang ‘Alleluia’. ‘Gloria in excelsis Deo’ sang the angels, when Christ became incarnate in flesh in this world.

Now we leave the heavenly songs of praise in our season of repentance, and we pray with true humility to the Almighty, that we may see his heavenly Eastertide, after the general resurrection, in which we will sing ‘Alleluia’ to him eternally without ceasing. Amen.’

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Being still in lockdown

The great French philosopher, Blaise Pascal, said: All of humanity’s problems stem from man’s inability to sit quietly in a room alone. The Psalmist said: Be still and know that I am God.

Can we take these truths to ourselves during this time of the Coronavirus isolation? This is very much against the culture of our time. We want to be busy. We must have full diaries. We need to be out and about at night enjoying ourselves. Admittedly we do also spend a lot of time alone, but on our computers, or phones, checking Twitter, Facebook, Whatsapp or watching TV. Is this how we are spending this time of isolation? Can we do better than that and maybe learn from centuries of monastic wisdom where silence, being alone, being still is central to the life? Here are some tips:

Welcome the experience. Don’t fight it. See it as an opportunity and see what you can learn
from it.

Doing nothing is good. Don’t feel guilty. Fields need to lie fallow to recover their fertility. Human beings need recreation, rest, holidays if they are going to perform well at work. So use this time to do nothing: look out of the window and watch the world go by; sit in the garden and look at the flowers and the insects, especially now it’s spring; make a cup of coffee and sit still and enjoy it instead of gulping it in between other things. Take time to enjoy food, a glass of wine, even a gin and tonic!

Some time with emails, Facebook, TV or other kinds of communication is good for keeping
in touch, but don’t spend too much time on it. Ration it. It becomes obsessive and unbalanced. It often fills our minds with trivia, unhelpful gossip or fears.

• Read the Bible, read a devotional book, pray. You probably do this anyway but we all tend to do this in a rush. Now we have the chance to take time, settle down, know that God is God. We have time to listen to God. We have time to let God work quietly in us. We can let God be God.

If you are sharing this time of isolation with others don’t be together all the time. It’s OK to go to your room, to seek solitude. You will then have something to share when you come together and you will avoid occasions of impatience, frustration and sin.

Remember you are part of the Body of Christ. That is not just other Christians around you, praying; it means literally that you are in the mystical body of Christ. Christ is with you all the time. You are not alone. Just as blood circulates in a body keeping the whole body alive, so the Holy Spirit is constantly moving between us keeping us alive in Christ, and alive together.

Remember those like doctors, nurses, food providers who are working terribly hard. Remember those in prison, or illness, forced into isolation. Pray for them out of the frustrations of your isolation and share with them your knowledge that God is here. “Be still and know that I am God.”

We are very grateful to Fr Nicolas Stebbing CR for allowing us to share these wise words. Fr Nicholas is a member of the Community of the Resurrection, Mirfield.

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