This is in the order for morning prayer:-
ALMIGHTY and most merciful Father; We have erred, and strayed from thy ways like lost sheep. We have followed too much the devices and desires of our own hearts. We have offended against thy holy laws. We have left undone those things which we ought to have done; And we have done those things which we ought not to have done; And there is no health in us. But thou, O Lord, have mercy upon us, miserable offenders. Spare thou those, O God, who confess their faults. Restore thou those who are penitent; According to thy promises declared unto mankind In Christ Jesus our Lord. And grant, O most merciful Father, for his sake; That we may hereafter live a godly, righteous, and sober life, To the glory of thy holy Name. Amen.
On one level, it’s archaic language looks like it is wallowing in it. In the past I would have found it so, but I don’t now. It reminds me:-
(1) I am not the master of my own destiny, but I am dependent. I think that this is the beginning of strength, not weakness.
(2) Whilst I may well be made in the image of God, I fuck up,frequently. I need help.
(3) This prayer, said each day, makes me humble; not aggressive, holier than thou or bumptious.
And, for this archaic language and this reminder, I am grateful.
‘Dissemble’ is a lovely word. I discovered it in the ‘Book of Common Prayer’ (BCP).
The order for Morning Prayer is big on confession. There is a lovely sentence that talks about sin/wrongdoing/bad acts and goes ‘that we should not dissemble nor cloke them before the face of Almighty God our Heavenly Father’. I love the poetry of that 17th century sentence.
It struck me that I ‘dissemble’, but then a lot of people do. I have been around people at the Cornshed (local rock festival) for 2 nights as ‘official chaplain’. As always, a few people use me as a confessional: they want to say something to someone, and emboldened by being in the ‘2-4 pint window’ (enough beer to give courage to speak, but not too much to stop speaking) they talk to me.
Most of them (us) dissemble: ‘I did this, but x did that’ or ‘I did this, but I had good reason’. What I love about this archaic 17th century language is that it is honest: at best, my motives were mixed….and I am only telling you my good side’.
Thing is, after hearing this from others, I don’t think ‘But I’m better than you’, rather ‘I am just as conflicted…and I need to admit it’.
I am a dissembler…and not proud of it…
“Thou hast made us for thyself, and our heart is restless until it finds its rest in thee.” -Augustine (354-430),
That’s all I want to say really….I used to think that quote meant that you would have no questions, only answers. I now know that not to be the case………but I still think the sense of the quote is so true…
l thought I was staying in the Methodist system. If I had been, we would be moving next summer (in the middle of eldest son’s GCSEs…yes it was hostile to family life...). I was already working out how I could ‘do’ the Cornshed festival (local music festival held over 2 nights just down the road from me) when we moved. Maybe I would have camped. All I know is that I would ‘have’ to do the Cornshed for as long as it existed.
This year, I haven’t been around in the week, apart from once; mostly to do with a new job and using a lot of leave. Next year I will take some time off and help to set up: I love the sense of temporary community that it engenders, the meeting of old and new friends and making connections.
I did debate this year over whether I should be the ‘official chaplain’ (although I am also MC on one stage tonight) as I am no longer a minister in the village- although (thank the Lord) we still live here. That debate lasted a second or two. Even in the middle of an impossible schedule domestically, it is something I want to love/love doing: I realise just how much of the job I currently do has been dependent on the experiences I have had at the Cornshed-there is not a lot of difference between the average mental health ward and people at the Cornshed who are between pint 2 and pint 4….
Besides: music, people, community, food, networking, God and beer: what’s not to like?
I am off to the ‘Cornshed’ tonight where I am ‘official chaplain’; as I have been for the last 8 years. I cannot tell you how much I enjoy being a part of this event.
I don’t particularly like this song, although I can see its use as an arena song. I think I have been put off it as one year it seemed to be de rigeur for every Cornshed band to cover it. That year I stayed in the acoustic tent and listened to the lead singer of The Stranglers (yes, really) do a solo set.
Tonight it will be different…I am hoping for a 100% free ‘I predict a riot’ night.
It really is.
I am just here to make sure it happens, pastorally care for you and deliver something that is good and sensitive.
It is not ‘my’ funeral.
I say this, as some ministers seem to project that it is ‘theirs’- I will allow x, y. I won’t allow z. This is my church, my rules. No you can’t do that etc.
When most people say that they ‘don’t want much religion’, they mostly seem to mean religion like in the last paragraph- ‘I hardly ever come near church or faith, but I feel there is something there: however I don’t like a minister who tries to lord it over me and impose rules- I am grieving’.
As for ‘proclaiming the gospel’- in situations like this I think you do it best by caring, being full of integrity and showing people that they-and the person who they have lost are the centre. Yes you use the words and where appropriate talk of Christian Hope, but you do it best when you do it (old word) ‘winsomely’, not hiding behind your office and saying ‘No’.
So if you like grandchildren doing cartwheels, a friend to play instruments or people playing powerpoints, I won’t stop you. Sometimes; despite how many funerals I have done, I will struggle to maintain my composure as I step aside and watch you grieve/celebrate in your own way.
It’s your funeral.
(Just don’t play ‘My Way’....)
Sometimes (often?) as a minister, your faith fails. The worst of us pretend it never does: the pulpit is not a place for questions or doubts….unless they have been ‘resolved’ and you have been ‘delivered’. The best of us try to give light to failings and questions.
When that was the case with me, I used to gain immense strength from watching those who were old and declining hanging on and showing faith.
I did the funeral of one such man this week. I heard the stories of how he was at his height, his family and his relationships. The stories were good and wholesome. What I remember most, however, was the image of him slowly, and as it transpired, painfully making his way up to communion. He always managed it with a beatific smile and quiet dignity.
That memory always strengthens me when I feel I am struggling, beset with a 1001 existential questions: here was one who suffered yet carried on with what he had, putting one foot after another, quietly seeking Grace.
And sometimes that is enough…
At one place where I work, I arrive, spread out my work on a table and buy coffee. I am learning to pray as well.
Fuels the need to
When the point is
My heart rate
I recently borrowed a ‘Book of Common Prayer’ for someone that I work with: it was something from their tradition that might spark memories/help them feel ‘connected’.
It is not my tradition: in the past I might have been put off by the language: largely unchanged since 1662.
I began to read it and use it: reckoned I should at least be aware of it for when I next see that person- at least so it doesn’t look like it is something that I am not familiar with. At first I though it might be a laborious exercise; stumbling through ‘thee’s and ‘thou’s for the sake of connection with someone.
Almost immediately, however, I ‘got it’ and I was bowled over by the language, the tradition and the intensity of it. I have started to use it regularly.
If you had told me that a few weeks ago, I would not have believed you. Yet, this is the fantastic thing I find with what I do: live in someone’s shoes for a while, try to understand them as an equal and you often end up amazed and suprised…
Yes we need leaders, but…
Not those who talk loudly of ‘I’ and ‘these people need to do x’
Not those who satisfy our subconscious learning for a parent whilst we become children.
Not those who encourage a dependency or who say/think ‘These people won’t manage without me’…
A story from Anthony De Mello:-
As the master grew old and infirm, the disciples begged him not to die. Said the master, “If I did not go, how would you ever see?”
“What is it we fail to see when you are with us?” they asked. But the master would not say. When the moment of his death was near, they said, “What is it we will see when you are gone?”
With a twinkle in his eye, the master said, “All I did was sit on the riverbank handing out river water. After I’m gone, I trust you will notice the river.”