Bright field of dreams

I was introduced to The Bright Field by a friend, Robin, whilst we were on a course a few years back.

The Bright field

The Bright Field [Buttermere, Cumbria ©AlastairCutting]

Curiously, it is Hillsborough that has brought the poem very much back to mind. Let’s have a reminder of the poem first, and there is an audio/file of RS Thomas reading it himself linked below:

I have seen the sun break through
to illuminate a small field
for a while, and gone my way
and forgotten it. But that was the pearl
of great price, the one field that had
treasure in it. I realize now
that I must give all that I have
to possess it. Life is not hurrying

on to a receding future, nor hankering after
an imagined past. It is the turning
aside like Moses to the miracle
of the lit bush, to a brightness
that seemed as transitory as your youth
once, but is the eternity that awaits you.

The Bright Field
by R. S. Thomas (1913-2000)

Audio file via PoeticTouch.

 

But why Hillsborough bring this poem to mind?

I’ve blogged before that I was a local curate at the time, and involved in some of the immediate aftermath. One of my strong memories, as I walked back down ‘the tunnel’ a couple of times afterwards, was the contrast of the bright green playing field in the sun seen from the shadows of the tunnel.

Tunnel 1989

Tunnel 2016

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The field is so inviting. You can see it. You can almost touch it. There’s ramp, a slope down to it. It’s just … there.

There is an American sports movie called the Field of Dreams, encapsulating the draw – particularly but not exclusively  – for some men to sports, to team games, and to the playing field, or pitch, or ground.

Hymns don’t often make good theology – though they may be better at theology than movies are. But even here we may get glimpsesof heaven, as Ray Kinsella found in the film.

John Kinsella: Is this heaven?
Ray Kinsella: It’s Iowa.
John Kinsella: Iowa? I could have sworn this was heaven.
      [starts to walk away]
Ray Kinsella: Is there a heaven?
John Kinsella: Oh yeah. It’s the place where dreams come true.
      [Ray looks around, seeing his wife playing with their daughter on the porch]
Ray Kinsella: Maybe this is heaven.
            The Field of Dreams – 1989 Phil Alden Robinson Universal/TriStar

Jesus likens the Kingdom of Heaven to treasure in a field, and to a pearl of unfathomable value, of great price; in Matt 13:44-46. Both are images that R.S.Thomas specifically references in the poem. Not a great surprise, perhaps, for the Welsh priest/poet that he was.

That field. Seen it. Forgotten it. But now having seen it again, illuminated, incandescent, Thomas goes on: I realise now that I must give all that I have to possess it.

These sports grounds, these football fields are often a focus for hurrying on to a receding future, [or] hankering after an imagined past. Many memories of matches remembered; of dreams and hopes for the future. The rise and fall of emotion; the tears wept, the joy unconfined. They hold a sense of the numinous about them – the singing, swaying, the shared liturgy and language – even prayers (!) – they are almost religious in their fervour. No wonder some talk of sport as their faith, of the great venues as their cathedrals, temples. Bill Shankly, powerfully linked to Liverpool, is famously quoted as saying “Some people believe football is a matter of life and death, I am very disappointed with that attitude. I can assure you it is much, much more important than that”.

I was recently reading back some of the witness stories of a number of Hillsborough survivors, and the camaraderie, the shared experience was a powerful memory; some saying the ‘we all came last year and we wanted to all come back again this year’ before the full portent of this particular pilgrimage unfurled before them.

Even after the catastrophe, faith remains a part of the story. I recalled in the previous blog post how 4 fans came in to our local church on the Sunday morning, just hours later. To another one of those ‘thin places‘ where heaven comes closer to touching earth. To come to seek, to pray, to place a loved one lost in to the hands of God. Nearly every anniversary since the first, there has been significant input of hymns & prayers, along with speeches & memories, at each of the ceremonies.

In the poem, Thomas looks: to the miracle … to a brightness that seemed as transitory as your youth once, but is the eternity that awaits you.

Looking back to the 15 April 1989, though much remains sharp in the mind of each of those most closely affected by Hillsborough, inevitable some of the memories become a little faded, a bit more transitory each year; the images of the ever-youthful 96 remain unchanged, even as ‘those who are left grow old‘. Perhaps that is why there is still such a strong sense of hope around Hillsborough – a very Liverpool – characteristic, the city with two cathedrals linked by a street called Hope.

For RS Thomas, the brightness that has shone on this field leads at last to the eternity that awaits you. May it lead to eternity for you too.

 

The BBC has a Profile of each of the Hillsborough 96, and the Liverpool Echo has created an image grid that links to each of the 96 too.

 

 

 

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Holy Isle

A few years ago, with members of two local parishes, I joined a pilgrimage to Holy Island, Lindisfarne. It is a significant place of pilgrimage still, as it has been for nearly a millennium and a half, when St Aidan came from that other famous holy island Iona, to found the new monastery in AD634.

Click to download the 17Mb pdf photobook

Holy Island Pilgrimage 2008 – click to download the book

A chance to re-visit recently reminded me of my previous experience, and I looked out some old photos, and a book of the journey, which some may be interested in glancing at.

St Aidan and St Cuthbert have been important characters on my northern horizon, particularly since my ordaining bishop David Lunn was a great fan of ‘our long established British christian saints, here spreading the gospel long before Augustine or any of those other johnny-come-lately Romans’.

The Celtic Cristian saints used to speak of ‘thin places’ where heaven comes very close to touching earth.

Lindisfarne, Holy Island, is one of those.

A glimpse of a castle

A glimpse of a castle – 2014

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The Annunciation

It’s 275 days to Christmas – or thanks to Irenaus who’s quick ‘nine months counting back from Christmas’ calculation called the 25 March The Feast of the Annunciation.

Annunciation by ZVestovanie

Annunciation by ZVestovanie

The fact that it regularly chimes with Passiontide does not go unnoticed, creating interesting theological resonances at this time of year. However, it does mean that at times, clashing with Holy Week, the feast gets ‘bounced’, as it has this year, on to the 8 April. It does not stop me at least remembering the feast today, especially as –

I was inducted as vicar to my first incumbency on the Feast of The Annunciation, and it remains a profoundly formational season for me. The great call delivered by Gabriel to Mary, and her response of Lord, I am your servant – let it be to me according to your will seems entirely appropriate for anyone launching in to a new ministry, which I was 17 year ago today – and again, as I will be starting another new ministry shortly after the ‘transferred date’ for the Annunciation this year too.

In Holy Week, many clergy re-affirm their call to ministry at the Chrism Service, and to have I am your servant – let it be to me according to your will in the forefront of our minds can’t but help sustain ministry, whether ordained or not.

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Join us at the Cathedral

Please come and join us at Southwark Cathedral on 14 April 2013.

Southwark Invitation

Southwark Invitation

Alastair’s installation, along with Archdeacon colleagues Jane Steen and Chris Skilton, takes place at 3pm. The original announcement was made back in December at Henfield, and at Southwark and Chichester.

Friends who wish to come, please do! It would help to have a rough idea on numbers, by emailing or texting/ringing 07736 676106 that you’d like to come.

Those who would like to robe, choir dress with black shoes please.

We would love to see you!

Alastair, Kay, Hannah & Laura

(We are probably moving at the end of May, to Sydenham/Forest Hill. Address on the linked pdf – please update address books! Personal email addresses and mobile numbers as they were.)

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On the Lord’s Prayer

Lord's Prayer

Prayers inspired by the Lord’s Prayer

I recently had to collect some prayers based around the Lord’s Prayer; some I sourced elsewhere, some I wrote myself. They are gathered together under the stanzas of the Prayer.

Our Father, who art in heaven

A Prayer to God our Father
Lord God, Jesus taught us to call you Father. Help us to grow in our understanding of you, that we may better each day learn to trust you, and to love you.

Remind us of the thrill a toddler feels when being swept up securely in a father’s arms; help us share in the glee of a child playing pranks with a parent.

As we feel the lifting angst of the teenager taking insoluble homework problems to a parent who can unlock answers; and the adrenaline rush of the learner driver discovering new skills with dad, so may we feel our relationship with you broadening, enriching and deepening.

Father God, may your love for us be reflected back in our love for you. Amen.

A Father’s Prayer
Lord, I need your special care. Like your earthly father, Joseph, I want to do God’s will, even if I may not always understand. Make me gentle and self less in the care of my family and children; help me guide them in the toils and troubles, the happiness and wonders of this life.

Like my father in heaven, Continue reading ‘On the Lord’s Prayer’

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Spirit of Christmas – past?

Lectionary and church diary purists hate it: that ‘Christmas nowadays appears to start in about October, and be over by Christmas Eve’, or certainly by Boxing Day. That’s not Christmas – clergy are heard muttering – that’s Advent… However, maintaining the cry that ‘the Christmas season starts on Christmas Day and carries on until the feast of Epiphany’ is about as useful as King Canute commanding the halt of the incoming tide; despite the popularity of the carol ‘The 12 Days of Christmas’.

However, one multinational still upholds tradition – the Apple iTunes Appstore!

iTunes 12 Dyas of Christmas App

iTunes 12 Dyas of Christmas App

The App Store provides a 12 free gifts over the traditional Christmas period, with a variety of music, videos and apps for iPhones, iPads and Mac computers. The variety is deliberately diverse – meaning that some items you might find excruciating – but you will probably find several you like. If you have appropriate Apple devices, try out the 12 days app. You probably wont find ‘5 Gold Rings’ – but you might have some fun, sing along with the carol, and celebrate the Christmas Season in it’s traditional position. And keep some grumpy liturgists happy.

12 Days App

12 Days App

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Is this ChristChurch’s Christopher Wren moment?

I’ve been visiting Christchurch for over 20 years, and love it’s iconic cathedral which dominates the horizon is such a prominent feature of the Cathedral Square. Or was. Until the first earthquake, a magnitude 7.1, on 4 September 2010; which caused enough superficial damage for the cathedral to close for three weeks; and then the supposedly smaller but much more devastating 6.3 one on 22 February 2011 which toppled the spire, and the 6.4 one on 13 June 2011, that took out the main Rose Window on the west wall, and made most of the rest of the building so unsafe.

Christchurch Cathedral - Before & After

Christchurch Cathedral - Before & After

This was not the first major earthquake damage the cathedral had suffered – quakes in 1881, 1888, 1901, and  1922 all resulted in damage – the spire falling twice. When I visited the area this week, there were only about 6 tall buildings left in the CBD, all unsafe, one due to come down this week. The shocks still continue. There was another one this week measuring a mere 5.2, but enough to get the whole restricted area completely evacuated again.

Part of the reason for our visit to the area was to see a number of friends, and be with them, and to see and feel at least a little of what they were going through. We met our former neighbours, with their 9-year-old who for 6 months only felt safe enough to sleep if he was under a table;  Continue reading ‘Is this ChristChurch’s Christopher Wren moment?’

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Chocolate Nativity

Last year, David Keen circulated a version of the Chocolate Nativity to folks looking for an idea for an all-age  Christmas.

Who's the real Hero of the Nativity story?

As my local shops had a few different chocolates to the ones in the story I received, I adapted it a little.

If it’s any use to anyone, please do borrow it. You may need to adapt it to local varieties of chocolate!

Chocolate Nativity script

Chocolate Nativity script

:: UPDATE ::
Ooops.
It transpires that I may have done an Emo Philips, as it may be that Stewart Henderson & J.John published a version of this a few years ago:

SweetChristmas

Stewart Henderson & J.John's Sweet Christmas

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Twitter Mission

Twitter. Facebook. Passing ‘Web 2.0’ fad, or useful tool? (expanded from an article written for Together magazine)

Twitter is a ‘micro-blogging’ platform: like texts from your computer, or your mobile phone; they can’t be more than 140 characters long; & can have hyper links to web pages on the internet. Twitter posts can be linked to update Facebook or LinkedIn status, & have geographical position data attached with the likes of Foursquare or BrightKite.

So, it can be a bit of fun, yes. But can it be useful? Or are these Social Media just a waste of time, and a distraction from our Christian call, and God’s mission?

Firstly, Let’s not forget the influence of Facebook, with more adherents than the population of some continents. If you’re on it, you’ll know; and if you aren’t, most of your friends and family certainly are. As are many of the people in, and what is more important here, on the fringes of our churches. These sorts of social media, that are all about making relationships – however tenuous. Relationships are what churches should be about too.

Secondly, these media are very immediate. Twitter is often how news now spreads most rapidly – as we say with Continue reading ‘Twitter Mission’

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Pale-ist

This post isn’t really about hair colour, but one of the things children with red hair have to get used to, is being called ‘ginger’. (Usually ‘Oi, Ginger’ – I should know…)

Red-headed kids

Some with natural ‘auburn’, ‘titian‘ or even ‘strawberry-blonde’ hair have had such abuse that some have called it the last remaining personal attribute to be regularly abused without it being considered discrimination.

However, there is another personal attribute that is regularly and publicly discriminated against in a rather surprising, universal way. It is: being pale coloured, pale skinned; and on the dance-floor.

You may have expected that it is the quality of the dancing that is being judged in the various national dance competitions that are all the rage since ‘Strictly‘ hit our t.v. screens. But no, even the contestants skin-colour is judged.

'Tanned' dance competitor, with fans

And sometimes, skin colour is judged to be lacking. Contestants who have not fake-tanned to some particular colour or shade may sometimes not proceed to further rounds.

I really do find it astonishing that this should be the case. It is like a reverse discrimination. Continue reading ‘Pale-ist’

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