Thoughts for Homelessness Week

Fr Chris offers this reflection for Homelessness week (18-25 February)

During this last week I was struck by the story of a woman who is now homeless on the streets of Manchester – some may have glimpsed the story on television.

homelessThe woman – without being sensational – spoke about finding some cardboard boxes outside a supermarket which she could take apart and use to put on the pavement.  She did so to prevent her freezing to the pavement in zero temperatures.

I find that frightening.  The idea of not having a safe home, a bed within that home and heating to sustain me is a terrifying idea. Imagine being so cold that you might freeze to the bed!

There are many stories about people being homeless – and I fear many myths which surround them.

homeless-quote-uThere are approximately 4000 rough sleepers in any one night on the streets of Britain.  That does not count the “hidden” homeless – those sleeping on a friend’s floor, or those in derelict buildings, those in temporary accommodation which they must leave the next day etc

It is all too easy to judge the homeless person – and to believe that it is their own fault, or that they choose to be homeless, or even pretend to be homeless in order to get help.

So how does Scripture tell us to react to the poor and outcast of society?

  • We are to show respect to the poor. (James 2)
  • We are to respond in love and compassion to everyone in need. (Luke 10)
  • We are to offer help, especially to believers. (Galatians 6:10)
  • We are to offer hospitality, clothing, shelter and food. (Matthew 25:31-46)
  • We are to offer fellowship and peace. (Romans 12)
  • Most of all, according to Scripture, we are to love. (I Cor 13)

This doesn’t always mean giving money or food, although we shouldn’t be closed to that.   But it does always mean being patient, being kind, not putting ourselves over the other person, but bearing other’s burdens and enduring with them.

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To Gesima, or not to Gesima?

Septuagesima, Sexagesima, Quinquagesima … the names fascinated me as a boy.

gesimasundaysThere they were in the Book of Common Prayer, the names of the Sundays before Lent. The priest at my boyhood church called them the ‘Gesima Sundays.’ For these curious sounding Sundays the colours in church had changed from green to violet. Hymns using Alleluia were avoided. Things were getting more serious. We felt we were in a new devotional period, a gradual season of transition, a season of getting ready. The names, dating from the 5th century, referred to days before Easter – Quinquagesima, for example, from the Latin for fifty – the Sunday fifty days before Easter. The names, the colour change, told us Lent was on its way.

Fashions change and many churches, following a desire to simplify and avoid arcane terminology, have stopped using these exotic sounding names. Now we are more likely to find the more prosaic ‘3rd Sunday before Lent’ or ‘6th Sunday of Ordinary time’ and the colour green remains right up to Ash Wednesday, the first day of Lent.

septuagesim-iiiFrom one perspective this curious, and now seldom observed, season of strangely named Sundays isn’t needed. After all Lent is described as the season of preparation for Easter. Do we need a season to prepare for preparing? 

I think perhaps we do. If we are to observe a holy and good Lent, and celebrate the fifty days of Easter then it will help to make plans and prepare carefully. Plans about what to do, or not to do in Lent, need thought, consideration and care. We can prepare by looking at our lives, perhaps making a confession. On an everyday level we can mark on our calendars or in our diaries what times of prayer and quiet we will be keeping. Our preparations can include about what we will read, what we will do differently, which charity we will choose to support and which church activities we will go to.

I hope we can recover the days before Lent begins as a time to slow down a little, and prepare carefully on the steps we will take to grow in, and celebrate, our faith during Lent and Eastertide.

Fr Ian

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Don’t complain!

rabia-basri

An ancient illustration of Rabia Basri grinding corn

I learnt recently that Rabia Basri, the female Sufi saint of the eighth century, warned us not to complain.

This advice spoke to my heart, but I had to think carefully about it. Did she want to stop us challenging injustice and disrespect? No. Judging by other sayings she did not mean ‘Don’t protest’, nor even ‘Don’t write letter of complaint’. So, what was she telling me?

I realise that, as I get older, I feel a strong temptation to be a ‘grumpy old man.’ I recognize an increasing tendency to be judgmental about people and their actions, especially politicians. I can respond badly to frustration and sometimes give way to fears – or even despair, perhaps with the news from Syria. I like to make comparisons with a past which (it is easy to imagine) was better than today. But I remember T S Eliot wrote: ‘Do not let me hear of the wisdom of old men, but rather of their folly…’

Those habits of mind stand in the way of spiritual growth, which is a lifelong task. What is the way to avoid them? Another Eastern teacher, Patanjali said: ‘When a negative thought arises, replace it with a positive one.’ Rabia Basri pointed to the duty to be thankful; the good in my life so greatly outweighs the bad. Instead of being judgmental, Thich Nhat Hanh teaches us to root out the violence in our thinking and learn to react sympathetically and mindfully. The noisy drunken football supporters on the train last Saturday may have been enjoying their one bright spot in an unfulfilling week. The official who said ‘No’ to me was perhaps constrained by health and safety requirements, or by shrinking budgets, or by the fear of setting a precedent, and so found my request difficult for her to grant. Should I blame her, even though I have almost forgotten the nurse who made no fuss when I was very late for an appointment and made her job harder?

The Buddhists tell us to practice compassion. The means we should stop playing ‘blame games’. Even when contemplating something as terrible as the conflict in Syria, if I cannot see any action I can take, I can still feel pity for everyone involved as I hold them in the Light, from the leaders who have lost control of the situation to those who are powerless even to protect their lives.

The challenge, however, is not about far-off problems but my own everyday behavior. When I took an Advanced Driving Assessment recently, the examiner advised me: ‘Always drive in a way which reduces the amount of aggression other people might feel’. I think Rabia would have agreed.

(Reproduced from ‘The Friend’ the weekly magazine of the Society of Friends with their kind permission and that of the author, John Lampen)

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Caedmon’s Song

Cover of a children's book telling the story of Caedmon

Cover of a children’s book telling the story of Caedmon

A quiet man who loved tending his cows at Whitby in North Yorkshire, Caedmon couldn’t recite poetry because he thought he had no stories to tell. Then after one especially upsetting public event, Caedmon stormed home, fell asleep in the barn, and everything changed for him. A man appeared in a dream saying ‘Sing about the creation of all things’ and Caedmon immediately sang verses in praise of God the Creator that had never been heard before.

Caedmon (living about the year 680) was an insignificant voice, a cowsherd. Now he is known as the first named poet in the English literary tradition, and an encourager to people who hate speaking in public.

Jesus Christ, God’s word, speaks from the margins of society. Caedmon (feast day February 11th) is a great exemplar of this great tradition.  The Venerable Bede’s ‘Ecclesiastical History’ is full of the names of the elite of the time, and yet, thankfully, in book 4 he finds space to tell of someone who did not walk the corridors of power – Caedmon.

The song of Caedmon

caedmon-1

Caedmon’s song  could be easily remembered. It was a powerful aid to speaking and preaching. It also transcended classes within the society of his day. He adapted the ancient themes and formulas for his new way of telling the Christian faith.

So often the church has been enriched and challenged by a voice from the margins, the unexpected poet, singer or prophet. Thank God for them. Not least today, the people of God need poetic voices like those of Caedmon.

Surely Caedmon is a worthy candidate for inclusion in the official list of  saints and holy ones commemorated by the Church of England. (See here)
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Josephine Bakhita

bakhita-icon-s-u

The icon of St Josephine Bakhita at St Chrysostoms Church

A nine year old girl in a happy family, was kidnapped and sold into slavery.

Over a period of fourteen years she was bought and sold five times.  She suffered beatings and horrific indignity, so traumatic was the experience that she forgot her own name – she lost any sense of identity. In her own words:

One day I unwittingly made a mistake that incensed the master’s son. He became furious, snatched me violently from my hiding place, and began to strike me ferociously with the lash and his feet. Finally he left me half dead, completely unconscious. Some slaves carried me away and lay me on a straw mat, where I remained for over a month. A woman skilled in this cruel art [tattooing of slaves] came to the general’s house…our mistress stood behind us, whip in hand. The woman had a dish of white flour, a dish of salt and a razor. When she had made her patterns; the woman took the razor and made incisions along the lines. Salt was poured into each of the wounds. My face was spared, but six patterns were designed on my breasts, and 60 more on my belly and arms. I thought I would die, especially when salt was poured in the wounds…it was by a miracle of God I didn’t die. He had destined me for better things.

Eventually the family holding her came to Italy, she was freed from slavery and was inspired to become a nun in northern Italy. Josephine Bakhita, as she became known, was to spend the rest of her life as a nun, renowned for her gentleness, smile and holiness.

During her last days, spent in a wheelchair, she relived the painful time of her slavery in her sickness, and more than once begged: ‘Please, loosen the chains… they are heavy’. Surrounded by the sisters, she died on 8 February 1947 (now the feast day of St Josephine Bakhita).

Today people are trafficked into prostitution, pornography, agricultural and building labour, manufacturing, domestic servitude, forced begging, benefit fraud and petty criminality, and organ removal. Trafficking happens in all parts of the world, both across international borders and within countries.

Each year about 2,000 men, women and children are rescued from trafficking in the UK, but this is just the tip of the iceberg. There are thought to be 10,000 – 13,000 victims of modern slavery in the UK.

Josephine Bakhita’s life is a sign of hope and light amidst the horror and darkness of human trafficking. An icon of her in St Chrysostom’s Church is a focus of prayer for the trafficked.

Loving God, Who gathers the outcast, Heals the broken hearted and binds up their wounds; Bring liberty and freedom to all whose lives are entangled in slavery and trafficking in our world today. Lift up the down trodden and tread wickedness into the dust: We make our prayer through Christ our Lord, Who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit in perfect freedom, One God, now and forever. Amen.

saint-josephine-bakhita-u

 

St Josephine Bakhita,

pray for us.

 

 

 

Perhaps, especially given the enormous extent of slavery in today’s world,  we could hope for Josephine Bakhita’s inclusion in a future edition of ‘Exciting Holiness’ – saints and holy ones commemorated by the Church of England. (See here)

 

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Matushka Olga of Alaska

olga-photo-1Matushka Olga Michael was born on February 3rd 1916 in  Kwethluk, Alaska, on the Kuskokwin River. She married the village postmaster and manager of the general store. The marriage was ‘arranged’ and at first was very difficult. Gradually her husband became more kind and more influenced by her faith. He later became the local Orthodox priest. Of the 13 children to which Olga gave birth, only 8 survived. She was to have over twenty grandchildren.

Olga’s was a poor family and she showed great compassion in this poor and remote community. As a child Olga had known trauma and sexual abuse and as the village midwife she alone, outside the victim’s family, noticed signs of domestic and sexual abuse and cared for the victims and helped the women address it.

Kwethluk, Olga's remote home in Alaska

Kwethluk, Olga’s remote home in Alaska

Olga’s Orthodox faith inspired her life. Someone who knew her wrote: She didn’t talk a lot. She just would go ahead and do what was needed… in order to help anyone with just about anything… She used to make traditional fur boots and parkas as donations to… other communities… which were trying to raise money. It was said that she was a living icon of healing care for those on the margins.

For Olga and members of her community faith was rooted in the created world. Unusual signs of changes in temperature, or unexpected weather patters surrounded Olga’s funeral.  An Orthodox priest from Alska comments “the cosmos still cooperates and participates in the worship the Real People offer to God.”

olga-icon-uA moving vision of Olga is described years after Olga’s death by a woman who had suffered severe sexual abuse in childhood. While in prayer the woman had a dream of Olga leading her through a forest to a clearing with a barabara (a traditional communal dwelling of Olga’s people). Inside, St. Olga assisted her through a process of healing and gave her some fragrant tea to drink. Afterwards, they went outside and looking up at the northern lights, St. Olga said, “the moving curtain of light was to be for us a promise that God can create great beauty from complete desolation and nothingness.”

Be inspired by women like Olga, who have courageously faced abuse and poverty and helped others. May they have a significant part in the Calendars of the saints of the Church.  

Perhaps we could hope for Olga’s inclusion in a future edition of ‘Exciting Holiness’ – saints and holy ones commemorated by the Church of England. (See here)
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Why light a candle?

“Look at how a single candle can defy the darkness” wrote Anne Frank.

candles-1-uContinuing our series on why we do what we do at St Chrysostom’s Fr Ian considers lighting candles. We do that a lot at St C’s!

Candles are wonderful and fascinating. Children, and older people, all over the world love them. We like to stand by candles, pause and look. They play a significant part in many world religions. Shabbat candles usher in the Jewish sabbath. Candles are are significant feature of Hinduism, above all at the great feast of Diwali. In many Buddhist temples candles burn. Recently I lit candles with many Muslims at the local Pakistani Consulate as a sign of prayer and remembrance following a tragedy.

We light candles as a sign of hope. We light them as a sign of prayer, often ‘for’ someone. Sometimes we light candles because we feel the need to do something at a time of difficulty or darkness. Often people light candles as a sign of remembrance, perhaps for a loved one who has died. We may light a candle near a saint’s statue showing we share light with saints and holy ones.

candles-2-uThe candle we light brings light to where we are, and to others. For Christians candles are a sign of Christ, the Light of all that is, the Light of the World. When we light the great Easter Candle at the Easter Vigil we each light a candle from that light, allowing the light of the risen Lord to be shared, passed on and spread.

Quite simply lighting a candle is an act of love and hope for ourselves, for others and for the world. A popular saying sums up the imagery and our action of lighting a candle:

It is better to light a candle than curse the darkness.

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