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07 January 2009

by Sister Rosemary

Spiritual message

ON 8 DECEMBER, the feast of the Conception of the Blessed Virgin Mary, I, like another diarist, was among the large crowd assembled in Coventry Cathedral for the National Pilgrimage celebrating “Fresh ex­pressions of Church in the Catholic and contemplative tradition” (Diary, 19/26 December).

We listened to inspiring addresses by the Archbishop of Canterbury and Abbot Stuart of Burford, urging us to value and make known the treasures of this tradition. Mystery, awe, stillness, listening, contem­plation, and regular disciplined prayer were all mentioned, as well as sacrament and symbol. We then proceeded to the mass, which was the central act of the day’s worship, presumably intended to help us experience those treasures.

We were assailed by a sustained multimedia extravaganza that set my senses reeling. It was technically brilliant, but I was left wondering whether fresh expressions of worship really need to be so loud, so lurid, and so relentlessly repetitive. Perhaps people to whom this kind of sensory overload is familiar — and presum­ably meaningful — would find it a converting experience, and a way to God.

If so, then someone with the relevant skills and resources should certainly develop this as a means of evangelism and celebration in con­temporary culture. For myself, though, while taking seriously our proper concern for communication, I was drawn to reflect on the words of the late Bishop John V. Taylor: “What makes a prophet is not eloquence but vision; not getting the message across, but getting the message.”

Heaven on earth

I HAVE recently returned from spending a month as chaplain at St Deiniol’s Library, Hawarden. When I first heard about this place, the description “a residential library” sounded to me like a foretaste of heaven. Granted, none of us knows what heaven will be like, but I would not complain if it turned out to be like this.

There was bed and board, a daily eucharist, an enormous and up-to-date theological library, and the com­pany of other people who found delight in these things. We were also a short journey away from the glories of Chester Cathedral and its music. (I should mention the cathedral of Hawarden’s own diocese, St Asaph — well worth a visit, I am sure, but further away, and less easily access­ible.)

While exploring the shelves, one may discover, modestly hidden among the other volumes, a book once owned — and annotated — by W. E. Gladstone, whose collection formed the original library. Else­where in the house can be found numerous images of the great man, and secondary relics, such as his shaving kit, and one of the for­midable axes with which he enjoyed his favourite recreation — felling trees.

The air of a shrine is unmis­takable, though, as far as I know, the Grand Old Man has not made it into the Common Worship calendar of saints. If doing good to poor clerics and scholars counts as saintly virtue, I am sure that users of the library would queue up to add their voices to his cause.

Incorrect labelling

THE Church Times recently carried an account of a survey to find the loneliest places in Britain. The method used by the researchers apparently consisted of discovering the proportion of people in each town who were single or living alone. They seemed to assume that any such person must be lonely.

Really? Have they never met single people who lead varied and inter­esting lives, or any who live alone because they prefer it? But this is only one example of a general ten­dency to belittle single people.

I am indignant when the Govern­ment announces that its measures will provide “help for hard-working families”, as though those living in families were the only people who need to eat. I am even more in­dig­nant when the Church, which ought to know better, spends all its efforts to attract “families” to worship.

Even when an event is organised for “singles”, it seems to be aimed at those who would rather not remain single. Have church authorities never noticed the disproportionate contri­bution made to the life and ministry of many parishes by single people?

Of course, we must be alert to those among us who are genuinely lonely, but let us not offer con­descension to all single people. They do not need it.

Christmas blessings

THE same questions come every year: “Are you going home for Christmas?” “Will you be on holiday over Christmas?”

For the record, the standard answers are: “We are staying at home for Christ­mas — in the convent where we Sisters share our lives together,” and, “It will be business as usual over Christmas — our normal round of worship and prayer, wel­come and hospitality.” (Like another organisation, we never close.)

Some of us take part in the busy pre-Christmas life of a parish church. When that is over, we celeb­rate the great post-Christmas feasts in our own chapel, including the Naming of Jesus, which for us is another feast of title.

Yes, we have festive food, and a somewhat more relaxed timetable, and visits from friends and neigh­bours. And, yes, we do have holidays sometimes — but at times of the year that are less exciting, theo­logically and liturgically. We keep Christmas for all it’s worth.

The Revd Sr Rosemary CHN is a nun at the Convent of the Holy Name in Derby.

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