Have a joyful Lent – think outside the box!

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Each year you give us this joyful season  – says one of the prayers at Mass in Lent. Really, joyful?

Well, for many people Lent  seems to be about giving up chocolate, gin or bacon sandwiches. Many Christians try a little more than that and make an effort to give up eating so much meat. This can all seem rather heavy going, inward looking and just a little in danger of suggesting that God is a bit of a grumpy old soul, or at least of making Lent a sombre and rather depressing season.

Let’s think again. Let it be a joyful season. After all Lent is about getting ready for Easter – preparing for the great feast. That needs focus, and it means getting priorities right. That may mean ‘giving up’ some things that distract us, or get in the way, but it also means looking forward joyfully to what is to come.

So as Lent approaches, and begins, a priority is to do a little looking at our lives – a little spring cleaning.

Our Church has helpful times of  worship, meeting and prayer to help us in Lent. Think about which you will take part in.

We can do this by examining our lives – examining our consciences and seeing if we need to alter our priorities and turn in a new direction. This website has some simple, direct questions which are useful to think over as lent begins. In the days of Lent (and beyond) it’s good at the end of the day to review the day, and to pray. The Examen, a simple prayer exercise can be helpful. (Click here for an audio introduction to the Examen).

And then why not think ‘outside the box’ and make up your own ideas for Lent, and write them down.

Make-Lent-AwesomeSome suggestions (drawn from this website). During Lent: Only buy things you really need, collect 40 things in the 40 days which you no longer need and give them to a charity shop, every day say three nice things to a partner, friend, child or coworker, no eating between meals, be positive – don’t gossip. (The website gives more great suggestions).

Try it – have a joyful – an awesome Lent!

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Burying the Alleluias

Burying the Alleluias

What is this suspicious group of people doing outside church. They were seen there after Vespers this Sunday?

Well, let’s step back a few centuries. From the earliest days of Christianity the early Church took the Hebrew word Alleluia into her worship. It continues to be used by Christians around the world today as a word of praise and joy. The Hebrew word means “Praise the Lord!”

Alleluia is found in the liturgy of the Church and also in hymns and songs throughout the church.

There are solemn times in worship, and Lent is one of them. To help us enter and mark this solemn time of Lent the Western Church began the custom of discontinuing the use of Alleluia – this ancient exclamation of joy. Many Christians have found keeping Lent as a time of restraint is helpful.

In medieval times  customs grew of ‘saying farewell’ to the Alleluias. Often extra Alleluias were sung or added to worship just before they would be discontinued – until they would break out joyfully again at Easter. Sometimes special ‘farewell’ hymns were sung. Perhaps the best known is Alleluia, dulce carmen from the tenth century and known in the English translation of the Church of England priest, John Mason Neale – Alleluia, Song of gladnessThe hymn reminds us:

Alleluia cannot always
Be our song while here below;
Alleluia, our transgressions
Make us for a while forego;
For the solemn time is coming
When our tears for sin must flow.

Several hands helped prepare the Alleluia Scroll

Well, we didn’t sing that particular hymn on the Sunday before Lent at St Chrysostom’s. However, we did sing out our Alleluias before Lent. Mass  ended with lots of Alleluias – we sang Isaac Watts short hymn From all that dwell below the skies with all its Alleluias.

Vespers ended with Alleluias being sung out. We took our prepared scroll of Alleluias and moved outside church and braved the dark and snowy weather to bury our Alleluias in ground next to church. There they will stay until at the Easter Vigil they are presented to the priest who will invite us to take up our Alleluias again as the season of joy and celebration, Eastertide, begins.

Therefore in our hymns we pray Thee,
Grant us, blessed Trinity,
At the last to keep Thine Easter
With Thy faithful saints on high;
There to Thee for ever singing
Alleluia joyfully.

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Inspiring Books: Two women priests choose….

Our Inspiring Books initiative is putting put us back in touch with some people who were on placement with us while training at Westcott House in Cambridge. Two women priests working in London give us two quite different and inspiring choices:

Jennie Hogan was on placement at St C’s well over ten years ago. Jennie is now Chaplain and Faith Advisor at Goodenough College, in London. Jennie writes:

I have decided to suggest  Anthony De Mello’s book, Sadhana – A way to God. First published in 1978 it is still in print!  It is a book of prayer exercises which uses both eastern prayer practices and the instruction of Saint Ignatius who was the founder of the Roman Catholic Jesuit Order of monks and nuns.

Sadhana is a slim book with simple prayer instructions and suggestions on prayer, the first being learning to be still by focusing on the breath. The exercises also include imagining meeting Jesus. Other suggestions invite us to use our imagination a little more when we pray.

I came across this book well over ten years ago by chance. I go on annual retreats where I spend a week in silence and (attempt!) prayerful contemplation. I always take this book with me. I used to be snobbish about books like this, presuming that it would be ‘touchy-feely’. Instead, I find that there both  a seriousness and a gentleness in the tone of the instructions for each exercise. It is for beginners and those who have spent years praying.

Anthony De Mello was a Roman Catholic priest and a monk from India. This book was very popular when it was published but caused some shockwaves because it uses Buddhist prayer techniques. Now it is viewed as something of a classic.

As a University Chaplain I often meet students who are keen to learn how to be still how to stop the inner chatter, and how to let their hearts be touched by holiness. I lend this book out regularly. It is the kind of book to dip into, perhaps to have on a desk or bedside table. I hope that, if you do choose to read it will breathe) new life into your prayer. Don’t be put off by the bland front cover!

Mae Christie was on placement here more recently than Jennie. She has recently been appointed Parish Priest of All Saints, Tooting.

Mae’s choice is The End we start from by Megan Hunter. In its review the Guardian wrote: The End We Start From is an effective, unusual and ambitious debut, which keeps the reader pinned to the page. The Independent reviewer wrote: the beating heart of this tender and tremendous story is without doubt Hunter’s portrait of early motherhood, an all-encompassing world of its own.

Mae comments:

The book I’d like to recommend is The End We Start From by Megan Hunter. It is written by a friend of mine from Cambridge and is a beautiful exploration of themes of motherhood, survival and the nature of love. It’s set in the UK following an apocalyptic flood, focussed around  a mother and her new born child. Really beautiful and quite a short read.

Thank you to Jennie and Mae for their contributions, and we wish them well in their respective ministries.

This post is the third in our series in which different people share their Inspiring Books, for the first, the choices of two University Librarians, click here. and for the second, the choice of two students, click here.

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Light from an Anglo Saxon Candlemas

Candlemass 2 u

Candlemas: Villagers (and dogs) on their way to Church, bearing candles, about 1550

On February 2nd (or a Sunday close to it) we celebrate Candlemas, The Feast of the Presentation of Our Lord in the Temple. This is one of the most ancient of Christian festivals, and a description exists of the feast in the fourth century. A special feature of Candlemas is the blessing and carrying of lit candles, celebrating Christ, ‘a light to enlighten all peoples.’

In this passage the tenth century Anglo Saxon abbot Ælfric of Eynsham describes the day:

AelfricBe it known to everyone that it is appointed in the ecclesiastical observances, that we on this day bear lights to church, and let them there be blessed: and that we should go afterwards with the light among God’s houses, and sing … Though some cannot sing, they can, nevertheless, bear the light in their hands; for on this day was Christ, the true light, borne to the temple, who redeemed us from darkness and bringeth us to the Eternal Light.

Lighting candles as a sign of prayer or hope is at the heart of several festivals of world faith – Diwali, Chanukah, Candlemas.

Ælfric reminds us there is even more to celebrate. In his day people took light, their own light, to church to be blessed by God who is light, and then the people were to take their light out ‘among God’s houses’ singing (if they can!) and sharing the light with others.

Encouraged by the example of Mary and Joseph taking their child to the temple, and by Ælfric’s words, may we come with our ‘light’ to be blessed by Christ, the true light, and go out taking joy and light for our world.

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Inspiring Books: Two female students choose …

For this post in our Inspiring Books series two female students who come to St Chrysostom’s tell us about a book which has inspired them.  

Thank you to Hannah and Sarah for their contributions to the series.

Hannah is an undergraduate studying Theology at Manchester University.

Hannah writes “My book recommendation is Simply Jesus by Tom Wright. This book tells the reader about Jesus’ message and who he was. It inspired me as it uses the core values/ message of Jesus’ to place in our modern context and how to become more ‘Christ Like’.”

Tom Wright was Bishop of Durham (2003-2010) becoming a research professor at St Andrews University. He has written extensively on the New Testament. Many of his book are written for a general audience, and are aimed at presenting the New Testament in a straightforward and accessible way.

Some of those we have asked for this series have found it difficult to choose one book, and we know our choices may vary depending on when we are asked.

Sarah, a post graduate music student at Manchester University has chosen two books.

Sarah writes: “The book I want to suggest is Persuasion by Jane Austen. It’s one of my absolutely favourite books and its taught me that its never too late to make things right, forgive others, or forgive yourself.

Another one that is perhaps a bit more intense but has also inspired me is Childhood’s End by Arthur C Clarke. Reading it as a teenager inspired me not to make rash first impressions based on appearance or other people’s opinions.”

This post is the second in our series in which different people share their Inspiring Books, for the first, the choices of two University Librarians, click here.

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Architecture and my faith

“God is in the details” is a mantra that was popularized by the German-born American architect, Mies van der Rohe, a pioneer of the Modernist Movement. As I worked my way through my architectural training, I certainly identified with the catchphrase. It’s been over a decade now, but I can still remember the comments by one the jurors of my final dissertation: “Your hardworking credentials are unquestionable; but your work lacks details.” This taught me a lesson in life: hard work and creating beautiful images are no substitutes for paying attention to the little things that matter.

 The deeper I grow in my faith, the more I discover God in ordinary things I often take for granted. Following Jesus involves more than putting on my Sunday best and attending church religiously. Becoming a member of the property committee, or an active participant in church activities, does not build a strong foundation for my faith. Giving everything I have to the church is not the budget for building a strong relationship with God. Having a rigid prayer life does not make me merciful. Speaking about peace and dreaming about a world without conflict do not make me a son of God. Inspirational sermons and beautiful speeches do not provide me with the eye to see God.

 When I strip away the aesthetics of beautiful sermons and active participation in church, I see the core of my relationship with God. Perhaps what reinforces my relationship with God is my ability to pay closer attention to my neighbours’ needs, read in between the lines, to see what support I can offer them or how best to share their loads. Perhaps I’m a peacemaker when I’m able to turn the other cheek and exercise restraint in conflicts. Perhaps, I draw closer to God whenever my negative attitudes shrink and my positive attributes become dominant. Jesus said, ‘…whatever you did for one of the least of these… you did for me.’ Perhaps he also meant to say, ‘you discover me when you pay attention to these details of ordinary life.’


 Selorm Klu, originally from Ghana, attended St Chrysostom’s several years ago, and as well as being an architect is also now a Methodist local preacher in Salford.

This is the sixth in our series of how our studies influence our faith. Previous posts have looked at Metallurgy and my faithMathematics and my faithEntomology and my faith,  Family History and my faith, and Physical Chemistry and my Faith.

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Inspiring Books: University Librarians choose …

For this post in our Inspiring Books series two librarians, Nick and Claire, working in Manchester University tell us about a book which has inspired them.  

Thank you to Nick and Claire for their contributions to the series.

Nick, a valued helper at our monthly Open Table service chose Aldo Schiavone’s Pontius Pilate: Deciphering a Memory. Schiavone is an Italian historian of the Roman world. Here he presents a fascinating biography of Pontius Pilate. Nick writes:

This book fascinated me. It is a searching account of the conversation which is claimed to have taken place between Pontius Pilot and Jesus Christ. We see clearly ourselves the far reaching impact the New Testament’s account of this dialogue has had in terms of its impact on the shaping of our own beliefs and creeds and for this reason I found this book very inspiring. It also asks a number of important and astute questions, particularly about the origins of the Christian faith.

Claire  chose as her inspiring book, Waterbugs and Butterflies by Doris Stickney. Claire writes,

Many years ago I was a children’s librarian in a children’s hospital and this pocket book really did live in my pocket during my time there . I encountered many children or siblings of children who were terminally ill. Sometimes they wanted to know what would happen next [after they had died], which will never be an easy question to answer. Waterbugs and Dragonflies is primarily written for children and gently explains the natural transition from waterbug to dragonfly. The simplicity of life evolving from one stage to another is beautifully conveyed and resonates with children and adults alike; those with faith and those with none. The book was beautifully illustrated and fitted snuggly fitted in children’s hands. I have many poignant memories of this little pocket book bringing comfort, hope and peace to many children, adults and myself. I still read it, 20 years on.

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