Lincoln Advent: 24 December

Advent Prayers, 24 December
The Mothers’ Union

O Virgo

O Virgin of virgins, how shall this be?
You will conceive in your womb and bear a Son.
Your eyes will see the King in his beauty,
for that which you behold is a divine mystery.

Traditionally, there are only seven “O” Antiphons: when listed and read backwards (of course) they form a Latin Acrostic, promising the coming of Christ:

Emmanuel — God with us
Rex — King of the Nations
Oriens — Dayspring, our Morning Star

Clavis — Key
Radix — Root
Adonai — Lord
Sapientia — Wisdom

ERO CRAS: Tomorrow I come.

So it is for most of the world, and again in our liturgies today. But the English Tradition – the old Sarum Rite – gave us one more glorious prayer:

O Virgin of virgins, how shall this be?
You will conceive in your womb and bear a Son.
Your eyes will see the King in his beauty,
for that which you behold is a divine mystery.

All through Advent, we have been searching for the beauty of God – the wonder Mary bears in her womb.

Our longing for beauty changes us – it brings us close to the mystery of God.

When we can see God’s beauty in the people we meet, we help them to know their own worth. When we can see God’s beauty in our own hopes and dreams, we are given courage to act. When we see God’s beauty in the world all around – it stirs us to love and to care.

There are many beautiful things happening in this diocese – in the projects we have prayed for, in the places we left unsung, in the lives of those who give themselves to Christ, and share in the wonder of God.

Mary changes the Acrostic: Vero Cras — Truly, I Come.

Truly our God will be with us.
Truly, Christ will come.

Today, we pray for the Mothers’ Union: for their work in the Diocese of Lincoln and around the world.

Eternal God, as Mary waited for the birth of your Son,
so we wait for his coming in Glory.
Bring us, with her, to see our great Salvation,
in Jesus Christ our Lord.

(Common Worship Collect, adapted)

the original post is here.

Lincoln Advent: 12 December

Advent Prayer, 12 December
Evergreen Care Trust

Lord Jesus, you are the one who is to come,
the one whom we await with longing hearts.
(Common Worship, Evening Prayer in Advent)

Every December, when I was growing up, there would come a moment when my father called, and opened the seldom-used door to the attic. We’d climb the dusty stairs, step over the big black heating pipes, and duck under the eaves to find the Christmas ornaments. Every step of this journey was precious. But what I really wanted was to be back downstairs, sitting on the floor beneath the tree, unwrapping ornament after ornament till I found The One.

The ornaments were old and fragile: glass balls with spun silver, soft feathered birds, foil baubles. The one that I wanted was different, though. It was the last ornament from my Grandmother’s childhood: a large twisting tear-drop painted pink and gold. I was never sure that she liked it as much as I did. Perhaps the memories it stirred were complex. But for me, it was the object of desire, a thing of great beauty: the moment when Christmas became real and hope stretched in all directions.

There is something deeply satisfying in preparing the house for Christmas — and something very sad when the thought of doing so becomes too much, too hard, or simply unrealistic amid the challenges of life. We never stop needing beauty and wonder. Our longing for it is like – is part of – our desire for God, and the scale of it is infinite. Most of the time, we dare not name this – dare not admit what we long for. And then, we climb into the attic, take down the Christmas ornaments, and find a way to express something that has no words, no limit, but is the very stuff of God.

Today we pray for Evergreen Care Trust. Evergreen helps older and more vulnerable members of the community by providing meals, companionship, advocacy and support. We pray for the work of Evergreen, and for all who enter the homes of the elderly and the vulnerable to help bring order and beauty and love when the normal tasks of life become difficult.

the original post is here.

Lincoln Advent: 11 December

Advent Prayers, 11 December
Community Chaplaincy, Spalding

A voice cries out in the wilderness:
‘Make straight the way of the Lord.’
(John 1.23)

Advent begins with the baptist: John, crying out in the wilderness, “Make straight the way of the Lord.” John is not the most appealing of our biblical characters. He invades our candle-lit sanctuaries and tree-filled homes smelling of camels and crunched-locusts, calling us to repent.

In fact, a lot of ugliness hides behind these Advent stories. We may tell of a world redeemed as we prepare for Christ to come – but these stories are told into the depths of human suffering. We tell them to remind ourselves that one day, one day, God will wipe away every tear. But for now, suffering is still the seedbed for hidden glory.

So, what are we doing with all this tinsel everywhere? Is it right – when so much is wrong in the world – to spend a month wrapping gifts and decorating trees and filling the streets with starry-light?

Behind every Christmas tree, every wrapped gift, every display of lights (yes, even that one: flashing into your bedroom from across the street) – behind every one of our attempts to enchant our world for Christmas, there is a deep and honest longing for beauty.

Beauty is not often addressed as a theological value. We prize compassion and kindness, generosity and forgiveness. Beauty seems too dressy: not for the likes of us. But there is an old old tradition in the church that speaks of the Beauty of God. God’s very essence is beautiful – beauty, truth and goodness go hand in hand. We respond to that beauty in adoration – and in trying to create something of beauty in return.

Alejandro Garcia-Rivira writes: “Human life has a worth and dignity which only Beauty can reveal through the beautiful.” (A. Garcia-Rivira, The Community of the Beautiful, p. 11) We trim our trees and fill our sanctuary with candles to point to this beauty and to claim it as our own. We decorate Christmas cakes and carefully rehearse carols to join in the work of creation. If Beauty is of God’s very nature, then we affirm God’s presence each time we see the beauty in a gnarled hand delicately tying a ribbon, or the flashing eyes of a child let loose with glitter-glue.

Today we pray for Community Chaplaincy in the parish of St John the Baptist. John the Baptist’s beauty was hidden behind odd clothes and strange behaviour. It lies hidden still in the call to repent. Let us pray that through these chaplaincies, the beauty of each person will be revealed.

the original post is here.


what sort of world?

Those of you who know me best will have been aware of the irony behind my foray into street photography:  I hate having my photograph taken.  I can be immensely private.  Unless I am preaching, teaching or otherwise engaged in a public role, I hate being watched and quite often long for an invisibility cloak.  All of which is to say:  I have no desire to invade other people’s privacy or make them feel uncomfortable.

But still, I think this business of street photography is important.

I value a world in which photography can help us to see.  Good photo-journalism has changed and deepened our understanding of the world, and good street photography — whether for art or for journalism — can express the reality of a moment more clearly than any number of words.

I don’t pretend that that is what I am doing when I take photographs.  I haven’t the skill.  But I do think that by looking more carefully, we learn to see.  As I sought photographs, I was much more engaged with the people around me.  I noticed more.  I laughed more.  I liked the people around me more, and was better aware of our shared humanity.

That happens when I look at photographs too.  If you think of famous street photographs, they are usually striking not only for their composition and light, but for the truths they express of the human condition.  Sometimes those truths are painful, but I’ll say again what I said in the last post:  our dignity is not reduced by the presence of vulnerability or pain.

I got into an interesting conversation with someone about the ethics of the photograph taken of Phan Ti Kim Phuc, the little girl who was fleeing naked from a napalm attack in Vietnam.  One possibility is that the photograph exploits her: a private terror is exposed in a most inhumane way.  Another possibility is that it gives her back her strength:  in a war in which her life was deemed unimportant, we see her and our hearts cry out to share her pain.  I lean toward the latter view. I don’t think the photograph degrades her.  I think it reveals that she is human, and that is a noble and a beautiful thing.