Monday, 31 January 2011

Tomorrow, today, yesterday ...

In recent weeks and months I have probably been doing too much thinking, reflecting and pondering. One of the reasons perhaps for the hiatus on this blog ... there are also others which must for the moment remain unbloggable.
Tomorrow night I shall once more be at the feminist theology group, Georgette Gribi who is a cheesemaker, mother of four and also has a doctorate in theology, will be leading us in thinking about the person of Ruth: Ruth la Moabite : comment habiter son présent, entre un passé tragique et un avenir incertain ? (Ruth the Moabite: how to live in the present between a tragic past and an uncertain future?) I'm looking forward to it.
This year we've had as our overall theme "Between the past and the future how to live in the present?" I have had to confront various personal demons as we deepened reflection of the theme but, having worked through some (though not all) of that, I've been thinking about what it is that we are at any one point in our lives? Am I the sum of my past - the sum of my achievements and failures; of my work, qualifications and relationships up until now? Am I the sum of my future - the sum of my dreams, my hopes, my unexpressed half-formulated desires, of all that may be and could become? Somehow as I live in the present I live between the accomplishments and failures of the past and the hope and possibilities of becoming of the future.
The only way to live in the present has to be with some kind of humility - yes I did once do that, perhaps I will again but for now I am doing this ... and enjoying life and love and what John O'Donohue would call "the shape of a day". I am currently reading his Divine Beauty on the bus in the mornings. Perhaps the kind of living in the present moment he encourages is exmplified by this ""Let us beging to learn how to bless one another".
Maybe as I stumble between the past and the future, incoherently and unknowingly it will be important for me to realise how much I have been and will be blessed by others - but also how much I am blessed in the present I am so much part of.
Part of living in the present is to accept the vulnerability of the moment that is now, but it is also to give thanks for all that has been. Hence the picture of the Canal du Midi. Just thinking of it reminds me of holiday, repose and gentle days - part of the past and also hope for the future.

An alternative St Valentine's Day - savour dialogue

My friend Evelyne Colongo-Oberson and her husband Christian spend time in their local Roman Catholic parish on mariage preparation. They have three young children and busy professional, personal and social lives but they still take time to talk with couples preparing to take the plunge into wedded bliss.
This year together with "La Maison du Couple" in Lausanne they are taking things a step further and encouraging couples to come to a romantic candelit supper for St Valentine's Day. The supper will encourage savouring dialogue as well as savouring the meal itself. I think it's a great idea.

So maybe for St Valentine's Day you should offer your significant other the joy of a conversation, savour the taste and texture of speaking and listening to one another

Tuesday, 25 January 2011

To tweet for more solidarity

Great news that Bishop Nick Baines, whose blog I much appreciate, is to be one of two bishops "tweeting his blessings" this Lent.
You can follow the Christain Aid Count your Blessings journey on Twitter by going to
I'm hoping to be starting some tweeting for peace myself in coming weeks so this helps to motivate me.
Meanwhile I promise something like normal blogging service may resume soon.

Thursday, 20 January 2011

Moving Christian unity ...

Last night the local churches in Geneva organized the annual Week of Prayer for Christian Unity service. It took place in the chapel of the Ecumenical Centre this year, there were far more people than in the previous few years so we felt it was successful - and for the most part it was. We began with moving words from Father Megally the priest of Geneva's Coptic Orthodox Church, who thanked the local churches for their solidarity and prayers following the recent tragic attack on the Coptic Church in Alexandria.
The focus of the prayers this year is Jerusalem, the churches there prepared the material for the octave of prayer which is marked by Christians throughout the world. We had Middle Eastern as well as French music at last night's service.
The WCC's general secretary picked up on the theme of Jerusalem and of the table in his sermon
"The table is also a place and space that demands that we think about justice and the way food and access to power are shared in the world, especially at a time when speculation with food prices will mean that the poorest will become poorer, and go hungry."
"Perhaps the image of the table can help us with this, it is around the table that not only bread is broken but that the word is shared; the table is a place of fellowship, of joy, a place for learning and forging reconciliation. The table is also a place and space that demands that we think about justice and the way food and access to power are shared in the world, especially at a time when speculation with food prices will mean that the poorest will become poorer, and go hungry. Of course there is still sadly one table where we as Christians do not yet eat together. We live with the painful reality of our own divisions."

So last night, all went well, people were happy, the chapel was full, more than 30 different confessions were represented including several of the migration churches ... and yet as I look back on it I think that somehow we need to become more missional in our approach to Christian unity. I made a joke about how next year in order to change the age profile of those attending we should do a skateboard service for unity. I think of a friend who is a trained youth pastor and who is finding it hard to find a parish to go to as there are so few young people in the church. So I wonder will we dare next year to invite the church youth movements in Geneva to lead the service and do things a bit differently. It is difficult after something has seemingly worked and been a success to think like this. I'm concerned that we think we have found the formula for something that has worked and that we don't see what isn't working as a result.

So I suppose what I am saying is - things went well and that is good and to be celebrated, but a big challenge remains.

The darkness is also holy ...

Do not fear, for I have redeemed you;
I have called you by name, you are mine.
When you pass through the waters, I will be with you;
and through the rivers, they shall not overwhelm you;
when you walk through fire you shall not be burned,
and the flame shall not consume you.
Because you are precious in my sight,
and honoured, and I love you ...

A year ago I was quoting that passage from Isaiah after a mainly sleepless night in the hospital with Dr B. Tonight I came home to a gourmet meal he prepared and we have gently celebrated the fact that one year on he is alive, very well and looking to the future.

Meanwhile at the end of the working day today a good friend visited me on her way home. We talked about spirituality, prayer and wisdom. Sometimes I feel as if my own recent pain has torn not only hope but also wisdom out of my soul, so it was good to have a conversation about the darkness also being holy, about wilderness spirituality.

My friend spoke to me about the book Dear Heart Come Home - midlife spirituality. As we exchanged pain and hope, frustrations at the excesses of patriarchy and much laughter besides I began to piece together some small piece of hope and I switched off my computer and came home. Work will still be there in the morning. As a walked out the strong Geneva icy "bise" nearly took my breath away, a reminder winter is still very much here even if the recent week has seemed almost springlike.

Today truly I have so much to give thanks for. Sometimes gratitude is a hard and stony path of darkness, but it is a holy way and I trust it may at last lead to something that looks like hope.

Tuesday, 18 January 2011

Tea drinking ... and waiting for the right moment

I'm a tea drinker. I do also drink coffee but given the choice I would really rather drink tea - plain, no milk no sugar and preferably not out of a bag.
Because even after Advent and Christmas all times are still waiting times, and because now there is time to drink in rather differently the words from the wonderful anderer Adventskalendar, we are reading the days one more time before putting it away. This evening I have turned it to a page with a photo of a splendidly chaotic Asian tea kitchen and come across this wonderful reflection from the 16th century on the right moments to drink tea, here's my on the hoof translation:

Moments that are just right for drinking tea

When your heart and hands are doing nothing
When you are tired after reading too much poetry
When one's train of thought is disturbed
When listening to songs and melodies
When a song has been sung to its end
When you're home alone on a holiday
When playing Ch'in and looking at paintings
In the middle of the night in deep conversation
Faced with a clear window and a clean desk
When the day is clear and the breeze mild
On a day with gentle rain
In a painted boat near a wooden bridge
When the children are at school
When you've lit incense in a small workroom.
Hsü Ts'eshu

Tea drinking is about taking time out, it's a longer drink that a shot of expresso and more satisfying. My favourite moment for drinking tea is in bed in the morning, listening to the radio - especially if Dr B brings it to me. My second favourite moment is letting the tea go cold, not drinking tea because I have fallen asleep again. Something I can't do unless the tea is actually there to go cold. Some of my favourite cups of tea are the ones I never drink but am nevertheless grateful for.
Meanwhile I realise that I have never known that strange thirst for tea from reading too much poetry, but I do know a thirst from a desire for poetry to be fulfilled - for that I am still waiting. In the meantime perhaps all of us should write a crazy list of moments in life that are just right for taking a bit of time out for a cup of something refreshing.

Monday, 17 January 2011

Totally wacky tulip

My brother bought me tulips, my husband bought me roses, the florist added some mimosa. the end of the dining table is filled with three vases of crazy and fun flowers. These jaggedy edged multi-coloured tulips are my favourite.

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Perfect winter weather

Over the weekend my brother was here, the weather was frosty and perfect, I managed to get some stronger antibiotics for my impressive cough, I slept, we chatted, we had some impressively wonderful food and we managed to get down to the lake and travel on the "mouettes genevoises". Somehow taking the little boats across teh lake always seems like a treat and not just part of a public transport system.

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Sunday, 16 January 2011

The write to be heard!

Yes I do know that I'm not blogging as much as usual apologies, things are busy and a bit complex at the moment and I'm doing alot of non-blog related writing.

Anyway this article by Rowan Williams in the Daily Telegraph has encouraged me to a least drop a line to my blog and get enthused about the right to write! It's all about encouraging young people to write about the big issues of our time and to bring their fresh thinking to those questions:

If you believe that religious faith is one of the things that quite rightly gets people talking, for and against, it is important to help younger people make the connections between the issues of the day and the ideas and ideals associated with faith. They may want to argue furiously against it or they may discover that it has more to say to them than they expected. But it is wonderful when there is an environment in which those connections can be made.

Anyway looking at the titles for the essays sparked my itnerest and made me think that maybe some of us who are no longer under 21 should also apply ourselves these questions and get our grey cells thinking and our pens and key boards to pour out some creative approaches. After all isn't it a biblical call to become like little children?

Here's the list - which title do you want to write about? Maybe I should try one a week to get me back into the discipline of blogging.

Ages 13-15 (800 words maximum)

Must you be religious to be good?

Does God care about global warming?

The Bible says that “the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil”. Can money make you happy?

What are school assemblies for?

God cares for the poor. How can people of faith demonstrate this care?

Ages 16-17 (1,500 words maximum)

How can one person improve the lives of the world’s poorest?

Why have chaplains in prisons?

Should politicians “do God”?

What’s the point of different religions talking to each other?

Ages 18-21(2,500 words maximum)

Is believing more important than belonging?

Does God believe in the existence of society?

What is “good news” for the poor? How can we be part of this?

Is environmentalism a new religion?

Who can enter

The competition is open to all people aged 13-21 on September 1 2010.

You should give the name of your school, college or university on the entry form if you have one, but you do not need to be a student to enter.

How to enter

Download an entry form from and send it with your completed essay to:

Faith in the World Competition, Lambeth Palace, London SE1 7JU.

Monday, 3 January 2011

Bertolt Brecht's answer was "the Bible"

In the Western liturgical calendar the 12 days of Christmas are drawing to a close and my wonderful "Anderer Advent" calendar is also about to end. Today's photo is of a pile of books and the initial quote comes from Bertolt Brecht who apparently when asked which book impressed him most replied "You will laugh: the Bible". Eva Zeller then uses Brecht's words as the begininng for each stanza of a poem celebrating the Bible. (I suspect I must try toget a copy of her Auf dem Wasser gehen - walking on water)

Meanwhile one translation of the book of books is being celebrated in particular in this new year that has just begun. 2011 marks the 400th anniversary of the publication of the King James Bible, a translation which has had enormous and lasting impact on the English language. There are many, many events, programmes and websites dedicated to the anniversary - here you can even vote for your favourite English translation of the Bible. Meanwhile before going to bed tonight I shall listen to the first of three Radio 4 programmes on the anniversary recorded at Hampton Court Palace. More about this as the year progresses.
One of the things I was surprised to discover through involvement in ecumenism is that the language of the King James Bible and of the Book of Common Prayer influenced the English language versions of some of the Russian Orthodox liturgies. Metropolitan Anthony Bloom was apparently very impressed with the KJV and preferred to use that translation - it was the approved Bible translation of the Church of England when Bloom arrived in Britain in the early 1950s.
In international meetings I try to make sure we don't use the KJV for public readings in English - the cadences are difficult enough for a mother tongue English speaker to get their tongue around these days. I enjoy reading aloud from it myself if I've had time to prepare but I am just young enough (and my Church of England friends might add - and enough of a heretic!) for it not to have been the English version of the Bible I grew up with - the first Bible I read was (oh double horror of horrors) a silver jubliee edition of the Good News Bible. Years later I was delighted to be able to meet Annie Valloton who did the illustrations and could hold scores of school age children spell-bound as she drew and told the stories of the Book of Books. The French Bible en Français Courant stands the test of time rather better than the GNB.

So which book most impresses you, and do you, like Brecht, assume that others will laugh if you say the Bible?

Sunday, 2 January 2011

Eschatology - some extracts from John Polkinghorne

On New Year's Day I started reading the chapter in the Polkinghorne Reader on eschatology ... my reading was in part triggered by our post-party new year's day brunch discussion with friends about faith and science.

I don't often quote large chunks of writing like this but reading this moved me - perhaps in part because this extract ends by quoting "Many waters cannot quench love" which was the theme for our marriage.

I like that things make sense for Polkinghorne - I don't entirely agree with him - about the active and powerful God. But reading what he says about the power and steadfastness of God's love made me realise that I feel a long way from such a sense at the moment - caught between desolation and the hope for perhaps unreasonable consolation.
Anyway it has been a joy to feed my mind by reading some of what Polkinghorne writes - now I shall have to read what Sarah Coakley writes about eschatology and see how it compares.

"Hope is the negation both of the Promethean presumption, which supposes that fulfilment is always potentially there, ready for human grasping, and also of despair, which supposes that there will never be fulfilment, but only a succession of broken dreams. Hope is quite distinct also from a utopian myth of progress, which privileges the future over the past, seeing the ills and frustrations of earlier generations as being no more than necessary stepping stones to better things in prospect.
If eschatology is to make sense, all the generations of history must attain their ultimate and individual meaning. Christianity takes the reality of evil seriously, with all the perplexities that entails. It 'refuses the premature consolation that pre-empts grief, the facile optimism which cannot recognize evil for what it is.' As part of its unflinching engagement with history, Christianity will recognize that episodes like the Holocaust deny to it any shallow conception of what hope for the future might mean, as if it could be divorced from acknowledgement of the horror of the past.
Holding in mind such a clear-eyed view of the woes and disappointment of history, one must ask what could then be the ground of a true hope beyond history? There is only one possible source: the eternal faithfulness of the God who is the Creator and Redeemer of history. Here Christianity relies heavily upon its Jewish roots. It is only God who can bring new life and raise the dead, whose Spirit breathes life into dry bones and makes them live (Ezekiel 37.9-10). Hope lies in the divine chesed, God's steadfast love, and not in some Hellenistic belief in an unchanging realm of ideas or an intrinsic immortality of the human soul. Christian trust in divine faithfulness is reinforced by teh knowledge that God is the One who raised Jesus from the dead. Only such a God could be the ground for that hope against hope that transcends the limits of any natural expectation.
This means that a credible eschatology must find its basis in a 'thick' and developed theology. A kind of minimalist account of deity, which sees God as not much more than the Mind behind cosmic order, will not be adequate. Nor will a kind of minimalist Christology, which sees Jesus as no more than an inspired teacher, pointing humanity to new possibilities for self-realisation and with his message living on in the minds of his followers, provide a sufficient insight into the divine purposes for creation beyond its death to be the ground of an everlasting hope. These concepts are too weak to bear so great a weight of expectation. To sustain true hope it must be possible to speak of a God who is powerful and active, not simply holding creation in being but also interacting with its history, the one who 'gives life to the dead and calls into existence the things that do not exist' (Romans 4.17). This same God must be the one whose loving concern for individual creatures is such that the divine power will be brought into play to bring about these creatures' everlasting good. The God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ is just such a God. To be persuasive, eschatological hope requires more than a general intuition that something must survive death. The problems that beset the realistic hope of a post mortem destiny are complex and demanding. They call for a corresponding richness and depth in our understanding of the power and steadfast love of God.
The question of eschatological hope is also the question of the fundamental meaningfulness of human life within creation. Are those moments of our deep experience when we glimpse that reality is trustworthy and that all will be well, intimations of our ultimate destinay or merely fleeting and illusory consolations in a world of actual and absolute transience? Moltmann says, 'Our question about life, consequently, is not whether our existence might possibly be immortal, and if so what part of it; the question is: will love endure, the love out of which we receive ourselves, and which makes us living when we ourselves offer it.' If God is, as Christians believe, the God of love, then love will indeed endure. 'Many waters cannot quench love, neither can floods drown it' (Song of Solomon 8.7) - not even the waters of cosmic chaos nor the tumultuous breakers of human evil."