Call me by my name

Henry Scott Holland made this well known appeal in his poem ‘Death is nothing at all,’ “Call me by my old familiar name. Speak to me in the easy way which you always used. Put no difference into your tone. Wear no forced air of solemnity or sorrow.”

It is a poem which riles some and soothes others. Scott Holland personalises death through the inveterate way in which we use names. It is difficult to navigate through the day without using names (I wouldn’t commend this behaviour). Name calling, in its proper use, is a dignified form of communication. We feel good when somebody uses our name for the first time, it signals a new stage of relationship. We are identified, known, revealed for that most precious title – our name.

Names are also significant because they have meaning. Many of us been attributed with names which are part of our family heritage. They are a way of remembering important and loved people. Our names can reflect culture and creed. There were a huge influx of Kylie’s in schools as the Minogue celebrity grew in the 1990’s. There have also been a throngs of apostles and evangelists used by the righteous for their sons and daughters across the centuries.

So, names in life and death have meaning, bring purpose and identity. God calls us by name also. From the calling of the boy Samuel to become king, to the in utero calling of Jeremiah and John, God calls his people to life and action. During his short life, Jesus was called many different names including the Christ, Lord, Master, Rabbi, King, Son of God/Man/David… Jesus knew the power of name-calling so much so that he re-named Simon to Peter. This new name represented extra responsibility but it was also an acclamation of Peter’s strengths. Jesus appointed Peter (Cephas in Greek, meaning rock) as the leader of the apostles, the one who would be strong enough spiritually, physically and emotionally, to support the followers of the Way as it grew into what we now call the Church.

If we have been wronged or hurt by another, we often prefer not to use their name. We might even defer to a different, more retaliatory, form of name-calling.

Names are important to God, they are the means by which God communicates to us – silently, persistently in every given moment. Unlike God, we can choose whether we call someone by name or not. If I am honest, I notice myself doing this to those I love and (much easier) to those I find difficult to love). Jacinda Ardern, the New Zealand Prime Minister responded to the atrocity in ChristChurch last week by refusing to name the gunman responsible. Her speech was passionate, authoritative and sensitive. She said, “he will, when I speak, be nameless… I implore you: speak the names of those who were lost, rather than the name of the man who took them.”

I couldn’t agree more! Yet, God in his unlimited love, cannot be silent; he is not nameless before God. Is this what unconditional love means – that God continues to call the name of the man who created such evil and destruction? Perhaps we should dwell on this during Lent. Let me offer you some verses from the prophet Isaiah and his sense of hope and liberation:

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.
For I am the Lord your God,
    the Holy One of Israel, your Saviour.

Learn more about God’s redemptive love this Sunday at St Michael & All Angels, Summertown, 8am, 10am and 6.30pm.

Don’t forget Stations of the Cross each Friday in Lent at 6pm in church.

No matter where you are on the journey of faith, you are always welcome at St Michael & All Angels! See what’s going on by clicking here which will transport you to our website.

The Agricultural Year

I’ve been wondering what it would have been like to live in Summertown 100 years ago or even earlier. When Alderman Twyning purchased the land to build what was to become St Michael’s at the very beginning of the 20th century, the emerging parish was mainly composed of farmland, orchards and dwellings running up and down the Banbury Road. How things have changed!

The area now known as Summertown would have been filled with orchard meadows and farmland.

The agricultural year would have shaped church life and worship. Parishioners would have been all too aware of the vagaries of weather, of pestilence and disease. They would pray for God’s blessing at seedtime and harvest. So, there developed a seasonal honouring of the beauty and fragility of God’s nature.

The Church would witness the agricultural year in prayer and devotion: In chronological order, Plough Sunday came first. It was observed on the First Sunday of Epiphany and refers back to Victorian times, but behind it there is a much older observance. In medieval times some ploughs were kept in the parish church for care and safety!

Next came rogationtide, from the Latin, rogare meaning to ask, taking place on the weekdays before Ascention Day. It is the seasonal observance asking God for a new springtime. Processions started to be organised around the parish. The poet George Herbert interpreted the procession as a means of asking for God’s blessing on the land, of preserving boundaries, of encouraging fellowship between neighbours with the reconciling of differences, and of charitable giving to the poor. This developed into the tradition of ‘beating the bounds.’ 

Next in our order, we have Lammastide, from the Anglo Saxon meaning Loaf Mass! Held on 1st August as a thanksgiving for the first-fruits of the wheat harvest. Traditionally, a newly baked loaf from the wheat harvest was presented before God within the mass of that day. And finally, we have Harvest Thanksgiving which is the most modern addition to the church calendar. By the late 19thcentury, the first Sunday in October became the chosen date for a Christian response to the largely secular ‘harvest home’ celebration. 

Purple crocuses are a special feature in our garden this year, witnessing to those in Africa still suffering from Malaria.

On Sunday at 6.30pm, at a special service of Choral Evensong, we will be celebrating the agricultural year God’s beauty in nature. We are inviting everybody in the parish and beyond to come.

Learn more about God’s care for creation this Sunday at St Michael & All Angels, Summertown, 8am, 10am and 6.30pm.

No matter where you are on the journey of faith, you are always welcome at St Michael & All Angels! See what’s going on by clicking here which will transport you to our website.

Ambivalence and diversity

The voice of January. I am heavy with the winter’s care, furnished only with resolution and need. I wake in darkness and cover the land with cold, dank days. I am a month of anxious twilight hours. Where, I wonder, is my gift? Have I buried it deep in the poor earth? I can’t see it in the skeleton trees. I must not succumb to risk a Spring surprise. I must keep to my word. I am January: slow, unrelenting, the very beginning.

Where are your gifts, January?

The voice of Epiphany. I am the season of wonder. My days are of travel and hope-filled discovery. I am the gift-giver. I am the spark in the crisp, atmospheric light, kindling the Easter flame. Within me are moments of miracle, fragments of mystery, dancing in time. I am the unknown becoming known. I am Epiphany: invisible builder of impending joy.

Difference in human form finding love

Two voices. Two extremes observing the same time and season but with different senses and perspectives. Both are real but the voices are discordant. It is difficult to see how they are one.

At a time when we experience discordant voices, when we experience perspective from divergent places, we need to take time to listen and hear more clearly. Our faith, our politics, our ethics – they are all enmeshed in the prism of ambivalence and diversity. Sometimes it is easy to take polar views. It is easier to be against than with. Sometimes I need to break out of the comfortable position that I have made for myself.

Living with ambivalence and diversity is like living Epiphany in January! It is difficult to find the gift but it is there. At this time in the life of our nation, we are observers seeking generosity, transformation and healing. This is not confined to the Brexit politics of Westminster but speaks on a more profound human level. How can we live and love in ambivalence and diversity as created beings? We have work to do to discover these rich gifts of God.

Learn more about God’s care for all people this Sunday at St Michael & All Angels, Summertown, 8am and 10am.

No matter where you are on the journey of faith, you are always welcome at St Michael & All Angels! See what’s going on by clicking here which will transport you to our website.

A note from Gavin:  Dear friends, I originally created this blogsite in order to share some observations about the liturgical seasons, hence the name, ‘A Blog for all Seasons.’ However, I made a change of approach and began to write these blogs as a way of commenting weekly on a topic or event. I am now reverting to my original intention, writing less regularly but, I hope, with some relevance about the Christian seasons through which we travel year by year.

Chocolatiers needed

My impression of the apprentices on the hit BBC reality show does not seem to change. No matter what cohort, what year, they represent they continue to be thoroughly incompetent, selfish, mis-informed individuals who lack the emotional skills to relate and work as a team.

The latest task was for the apprentices to create a chocolate brand which included cooking up a recipe, packaging and presenting the finished product to well-known retailers. There were too many disasters along the way to describe in detail. The programme was, for me, an Advent farce which partially inspired this blog! The process of making chocolates was lavishly laid on for the candidates to create a selection of delicious, tempting treats for Christmas. 

In Advent, the tribes of Christians across the world, seek out something unusual, something special which makes sense of life. God has lavishly laid on for us a wonderful experience that we might play and create.  If Advent was a box of chocolates it would be a rich assortment of colours, tastes and textures. I love the season of Advent and yet there is something in the waiting which is difficult. I wonder if it is just too chewy with its apocalyptic language and forebodings? I wonder also, if at times it is a little sickly sweet being overtaken by the commercial worldview, glamourising God’s humble (even scandalous) action of joining our human chaos.

Advent is a season which is packed with contradictory imagery – light and dark, deserts and streams, hope and heartache, action and contemplation. Perhaps we should simply allow our faith-driven, mystical Advent to wash over the world’s incompetence, selfishness and pride. In Advent, the church locally and universally works as a team, gathering up the mistakes of the world – the Brexits, the carbon emissions, the food poverty, the shootings, the crass political tweets… Advent is the season to let God be God, the God that dares to believe in the world and its people despite our inability even to make chocolate look and taste heavenly. We are all apprentices, serving one Lord!

Sunday, 16thDecember  

6.30pm Candlelit Service of Lessons and Carols

Learn more about God’s care for all people this Sunday at St Michael & All Angels, Summertown, 8am and 10am.

No matter where you are on the journey of faith, you are always welcome at St Michael & All Angels! See what’s going on by clicking here which will transport you to our website.