Living Lent

I apologise first of all for the silence from me for the last few days. After a flurry of ‘mini-blogs’ from Rome I then came back to a diary that was full to the brim of meetings and one thing after another, including a lovely family wedding in which I was very much involved. Everything was wonderful – well, in degree – but it all rather swamped my life. But, hey, that’s how it goes. The future doesn’t look any easier as far as the diary is concerned but I will just have to buckle down and get on with it. After all, I said ‘yes’ to most things that fill the diary – so I have no one to blame but myself.

I was meeting with my work consultatnt the other day. He told me about the ‘divine no’. It was in response to part of a conversation that was about all of this time mangement, diary management business. I’m writing this on Ash Wednesday and so this is a good day for confession. So I confess to you that I am appaling at managing my own diary (fortunately I have a PA to help me). My instinct is always to say ‘yes’ to every invitation and in the end, of course, it is unsustainable. So I need to listen to this advice, that there is such a thing as the ‘divine no’.

I suppose I have always been taken with what St Paul says in his Second Letter to the Corinthians

For the Son of God, Jesus Christ, whom we proclaimed among you, Silvanus and Timothy and I, was not ‘Yes and No’; but in him it is always ‘Yes.’ (2 Corinthians 1.19)

So where does this concept of the ‘divine no’ come from? I only have initial thoughts but the first is that, believe it or not, I am not God and so my answer cannot always be ‘yes’. And in my finite being as opposed to God’s infinite, there must be no because there is always an ultimate no in me for I will have an end. I don’t know if that is a good answer yet, but it is a beginning.

Some weeks ago I was letting you know some news about friends in Zimbabwe. Since then the Bishop of Southwark, Bishop Christopher Chessun, has been out in Zimbabwe and visited the group of artists whose work we sell in the Cathedral Shop. Amongst them he met Peter, the father of baby Peter who so quickly and tragically died.

It was a wonderful visit of encouragment for our friends and subsequently I have recieved a message to pass on to you:

Baby Peter with his family

Baby Peter with his family

‘Thank you for asking the whole world to pray for me and my family through Southwark and friends and to send the important bishop to pray for me and help wipe my tears.. I will give you hundred thanks for that. To bury Peter was not difficult bcz of all the prayers and love.’

Our contact with the artists comments:

‘The photo was taken using a old camera I sent over as a gift which Peter literally received a few hours before the baby died so at least he will have a lovely, if poignant record, of happier times. It shows baby Peter sitting with siblings and Peter senior. Priscilla, Peter’s wife is still in hospital quite ill with breathing difficulties and Peter struggles to visit each day to pay the bus fare to bring her food.’

So thank you for your prayers. Financial help has been given to the family but they are one amongst so many. Keep praying for them. I will, God willing, be going to Zimbabwe in May and then I will bring back first hand news.

So we begin Lent and an amazing programme of Living God events has been launched in the Cathedral. You can find a PDF of the programme on the Cathedral website. It culminates in being taken ‘Deeper into Love’ in Holy Week. The four retreat strands for that week will be amazing. Some you need to sign up for and so it has to be on a ‘first come first served’ basis. Make sure you don’t miss out.

As in previous years, dramatic art installations are a feature of Lent 2014. The installations began on Monday morning. The artist and writer, Edmund de Waal has created an intriguing journey in the Retrochoir called ‘Another Day 2014’. There are a series of vitrines with opaque glass in which are pots created by Edmund throughout the beautiful space of the Retrochoir. It is mysterious, gentle and moving.

With Edmund de Waal during the installation of 'Another Day 2014'

With Edmund de Waal during the installation of ‘Another Day 2014’

Art like this needs your own interpretaion, your own experience and, I suspect, at different times in the day and with varied light, this will feel very different. I am reluctant to impose my own interpretation on something so gentle, but in order to help people use this in prayer I needed to. This is the prayer I have offered as an initial way into this work

Journey me through this day, Lord,
my mysterious but known companion,
who I see but dimly,
yet know so well.
Journey me through the known and unknown
and bring me to the clear vision
of your presence.

In the High Altar sanctuary there is something quite different. In the last two years we have hosted ‘Die Harder’ and ‘Christ Rests’, two very different but figurative interpretations of the death of Jesus. Angela Wright, this year’s artist, has done something much more abstract. ‘Forty Days’ takes us straight into Lent. The hymn says

Forty days and forty nights,
Thou wast fasting in the wild.
Forty days and forty nights,
Tempted and yet undefiled.

'Forty Day's' at the High Altar

‘Forty Day’s’ at the High Altar

Angela has used 152 kilos of wool from 40 countries, from 100 sheep, measuring 250 miles in length, to create a hanging that cascades from the top of the great screen and pools on the floor. It is in its natural colour, ‘undefiled’ – pure wool.

Again, you may ask ‘what does it mean?’ and again we have to bring ourself to the work and look at it and understand it for ourselves. That is the joy of art like this. I have though prepared this prayer which might be a way in for those who would like a prayer to offer as they look.

As swaddling round a baby,
as a robe woven in one piece,
as wool shorn from a lamb,
as a shroud around a body wrapped,
as the veil before the Temple torn,
so, Lord, in these forty days
pour your Spirit upon us,
enfold us, enshroud us
and pool around our feet
with your living presence.

One of the implications of this particular piece is that Doorkins, the famous Cathedral cat, has had to go on a Lenten retreat to a lovely cattery in Blackheath. Cats and wool are not a happy combination. And it will be good for Doorkins to be pampered for these few weeks. It has enabled us to have a full check up at the vets and so we have discovered that Doorkins is a little girl, that she is a pedigree Abyssinian and that she is in very good health. So we look forward to welcoming her back home when the temptation of 250 miles of wool has been removed!

The pooling wool

The pooling wool

The invitation to you is to join us for Lent for whatever you can manage. Easter looks very different when you have travelled through Lent and Holy Week with Christ and his church. We will be accompanied in the first weeks of that journey with the great Lent Collect

Almighty and everlasting God,
you hate nothing that you have made
and forgive the sins of all those who are penitent:
create and make in us new and contrite hearts
that we, worthily lamenting our sins
and acknowledging our wretchedness,
may receive from you, the God of all mercy,
perfect remission and forgiveness;
through Jesus Christ your Son our Lord,
who is alive and reigns with you,
in the unity of the Holy Spirit,
one God, now and for ever.

We look forward to travelling with you.

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