Thought for the month
In this morning’s Thought for the Day on BBC Radio 4, Bishop Guli Francis-Dehqani ,the Bishop of Loughborough, reminded us of the tradition of using one of the seven “O Antiphons” in each of the final days leading up to Christmas, starting on 17 December. Composed in the sixth or seventh century, these are short lines to be sung before and after the psalms. All begin with “O” and one of the titles of Christ drawn from the Book of Isaiah, and all look forward to the coming of the Messiah.
Today’s is “O Sapientia”, based on Isaiah 11:2–3 and Isaiah 28:29, and can be translated as “O Wisdom, coming forth from the mouth of the Most High, reaching from one end to the other mightily and sweetly ordering all things: come and teach us the way of prudence.”
Bishop Guli suggested that, in a world where arguments abound, there is a maelstrom of opinion, and little consensus: “These words are a reminder for Christians of the hope encapsulated in the coming of Jesus as God’s wisdom into the mess and chaos of the world. They’re also a prayer for wisdom, that we might think and act with insight, compassion and deep understanding.
“It’s difficult to define what precisely wisdom is, but it has to do with experience that’s been reflected on, with the capacity for self-awareness, the ability to see the big picture, to be discerning and perceptive. Wisdom is something we might well want for those in authority, tasked with making rules, passing laws and ordering our society. But perhaps now, more than ever, wisdom is also needed in every other layer of society, including for each of us personally, as we make plans for Christmas, that we might do so with integrity and honesty, navigating our way through the regulations and considering the needs of those around us.”
A lot of thoughtfulness is compressed into a small space in these antiphons. If you would like to follow this up as you prepare for Christmas, listen to Arvo Pärt’s settings on YouTube, or read Malcolm Guite’s interpretations, starting with O Sapientia. You can listen to Bishop Guli via the Thought for the Day programme page.
Today is the 48th anniversary of the day this classic shot was taken, and still only three people, the crew of the Apollo 17 spacecraft that was en route to the Moon, have seen this sight themselves. This is because it’s a classic case of having to be in the right place at the right time under the right conditions, so there’s a narrow window of opportunity and not too many folk who have looked back at the earth from 18,000 miles away!
In Prayer for the Day this morning, Rev Sharon Grenham-Thompson reminded us that this unscheduled photograph “has been described as the perfect picture of our shared home, depicting the Earth’s ‘frailty, vulnerability, and isolation amid the vast expanse of space’”,
She reminds us that “there is no definitive answer as to who actually pressed the shutter. Tragically it was the cause of years of arguments between the crew members – perhaps symbolising our inability as humans simply to share. An inability that could be said to drive most of the difficulties we experience as inhabitants of our beautiful planet to this day.”
And she prayed: “Creator God may be reminded of the fragility and yet impossible beauty of all life; and may we not see our place on this earth as our right, but as our privilege.”
May that be the prayer of all of us.
This Sunday (29 November), as the season of Advent begins, Christians across the country – and further afield – will once more join together in prayer at 7.00pm in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. As with previous weeks during lockdown, 14 Christian churches and organisations across the country, including the Methodist Church, have co-signed the letter calling for prayer.
“We come now to a significant place in the long journey that we have made over these past months and the place we have come to is where the season of Advent begins.
“The season speaks of Hope and, though it begins with a recognition that we still face the darkness, brings with it the promise of light. The first Sunday in Advent will, in years past, have echoed to the singing of ancient and inspiring words:
O come, O come, Immanuel/and ransom captive Israel
that mourns in lonely exile here/until the Son of God appear.
“The words express the longing of the people of God to know the coming of God amongst them. In anticipation of this promise being fulfilled, the people of God sing out:
Rejoice! Rejoice! Immanuel
shall come to you O Israel.
“In our hearts, the promise still resonates and so we await the coming of God. Indeed, we may say that the season of Advent is a season of waiting and anticipation and one that yields the promise of God: ‘From ages past no one has heard, no ear has perceived, no eye has seen any God besides you, who works for those who wait for him.’ (Isaiah 64:4) We wait and we pray.”
You can download the letter and read the prayer at this link.
Today is the anniversary of the death in 1093 of Margaret of Scotland, King Malcolm III’s queen, who was canonised in 1250. Our church is dedicated to St Margaret, and we celebrated our patronal festival yesterday with a pleasingly high turn-out of worshippers but, alas, none of our usual music. We hope for better things by the time we next read Proverbs 31!
Our priest-in-charge, Very Rev Kenny Rathband, spoke of Margaret in his homily: “The saints who have gone before us are not necessarily remembered because they were without fault, or because they had special gifts. They are remembered because they stand as beacons of encouragement, of people who have sought to live a life of faith.
“They stand as lamps on a lampstand, shining for others to follow. They do not make themselves the focus, but rather they shine by reflecting the light of Christ and the service of others.”
You can read the whole homily at this link, and, if you click the image, you’ll link to a wonderful account of Margaret’s life in the Clerk of Oxford’s blog.
During the past week there have been two reminders of harvest – the collect and readings at the St Margaret’s service on 4 October; Eddie’s pastoral letter of 7 October – both tying in nicely with the fact that last week’s Feast of Saint Michael and All Angels on 29 September traditionally marks the end of the harvest, with a chance to make merry before the autumn really sets in.
We haven’t been able to have our traditional Harvest celebration this year, so it was a pleasure to be able to join the on-line congregation for the annual Haddo Harvest Festival service which was part of the Haddo Arts Festival, this year a totally virtual event. In giving thanks for the harvest safely in we were reminded how shortages during lockdown had made us all more acutely aware of, and therefore hopefullymore grateful for, those who provide for our daily needs.
In his homily, Canon Michael Hutson of St Andrew’s, Rothesay, Isle of Bute referred to the beautiful responsorial version of Psalm 79 that had been sung. “We and this world are the Lord’s vineyard; he has given it to us, but it is ravaged and destroyed, and so in the psalm we ask that the Lord will visit us again and restore what was always intended before we messed it up. It’s as if God is reminding us that we are meant to be custodians of the earth, not masters of the creation he handed on to us. But even in this psalm we see that all is not lost, because his help will enable us to share what we have begun to mess up.”
If you want to know the reason for our selection of a bowls of conkers and a sheaf of wheat, you’ll have to listen to the rest of the homily …