Friday, April 28, 2023

Surprise repeat


Frequently I receive downloads from the US Preaching magazine.  I confess I don't often read them in detail but yesterday's reported on a poll from the Wall Street Journal which found that 39% of Americans say that religion is very important as compared with 49% in 2019.  This is a marked decline from 62% in 1998. That is a disturbing statistic.

Anyway, the paragraph below had a preacher's illustration entitled: Strength from weakness.  I couldn't believe my eyes. 

I recently came across a story Michael Quicke told in his blog a few years ago: “Last weekend I went to an organ recital in Histon Baptist Church. I have been attending for three years and have never once heard it played. Forlornly shuttered away on one side, it has been replaced by the music groups who accompany our worship services. Apparently, no one in the congregation is proficient enough to play it!

However, last Saturday, Dr. David Rowland, the Director of Music at Christ's College Cambridge and also (most propitiously) the father-in-law of our Youth Minister, gave an organ recital. After opening remarks, he sat at the organ with his page-turner at his side and launched into the famous Bach Toccata and Fugue in D Minor. I could not believe it. This instrument took off with amazing timbre and volume. I have heard this played so often, but here in my own church was a glorious surprise. I was astounded at its quality and said so to my neighbor, who agreed.

After this colossal piece, David explained the concert was in aid of refurbishing the organ.' Isn't it odd to give a recital on an organ that needs refurbishing', he asked. ‘Well, yes, but I have practiced to try and compensate for where pipes no longer work. Some of the pedals are inactive. Some of the keys stick. It requires a heavy touch, and you cannot be sure whether it will run out of air...but we shall see!’ As he continued to play Vivaldi, Franck (and Couperin on the harpsichord) I marveled that he had so compensated for the instrument's faults that the music worked beautifully with barely a hiccup. At the interval, one of the visitors said: ‘A really good musician can really make even a poor instrument to work well.’ Certainly, he did.

And it doesn't take much of a preacher to see a parable here about how in our own weaknesses, God can also work out His glory. We can make far better music for Him than we realize!”

I read it with amazement.  Written a few years ago, the Editor Michael Duduit had found it and even repeated it. What an encouragement to a slowing-down blogger to keep going!

Friday, April 21, 2023

A recital

This week I was pushed to give a recital. No, it's not what you might guess.  I was at hospital for my regular botox injections when my gifted consultant Jane Anderson (who has cared for me since I returned to Cambridge ) introduced a younger doctor sitting next to her.  She explained he was shadowing her and shortly would be operating his own neurological clinic.

She introduced me as one of those who was included in the very first clinical trials in the UK for this botox treatment, and then asked me to share my history. Going back to 1986 when, at first, no one could diagnose my severe disability, I briefly sketched how it was eventually diagnosed as dystonia with no treatment available.  Twisted in body, wracked in pain, after months of failed trials with different drugs, I was examined in the National Neurological Hospital, Queens Square, London as to whether I could be chosen as a test case for botulinum injections.  I realized to this young doctor this was living history. What he has come to accept, and practice, as the main procedure for dystonia was as yet untested. I was a genuine Guinea pig!

It was strange retelling those first steps with this experimental treatment because it not only seemed to be fresh news to this doctor how the botox story began, but it also forced me to reflect the sheer wonder of going through a process that gave me back my public life.  How grateful I am for the successful outcome. I know I have told the story elsewhere. To do it justice needs a large space in the story for prayer, Carol's advocacy and several God-incidences.  But, having this surprise opportunity this week awakened me again to the gratitude I owe to God, Carol, praying friends and the medical profession. I should never take it for granted. 

Monday, April 10, 2023

Hope you had a joyous Easter

As I look back on these last days of worship with glorious sunshine (as compared with a very wet Bank Holiday today) several moments stand out.

On Thursday evening a group organized a communion service with Taize worship. Taize (should have a grave accent!) is a Christian community founded in 1940 by Brother Roger. His vision was to draw together a monastic community with both Catholic and Protestant brothers in ́́Burgundy France. It would become a place of pilgrimage, of encouragement, silence and work. Since, it has drawn young people  in their thousands (actually over 100,000 each year) for prayer, Bible study, sharing and communal work.  Its worship style consists of repeating simple songs, specially written to accompany periods of silent meditation and prayer.  

Our Thursday service was beautifully prepared around a central table on which stood a large loaf, wine in a jug, a chalice, and a bowl of water with a towel.  A series of candles were lit at stages throughout the service and at the end we all lit individual candles, passing on the flame to our neighbour. The order of service contained music, prayers, set in sequence so that the service proceeded without extra words.  Its power lay in the silences and prayers with the music shaping worship by its repetitive biblical words.  We really could meditate. At the end we were instructed to leave the worship space quietly without conversation as we thought ahead to the darkness of Good Friday.

Moving out of the building without the buzz that usually ends worship times took the silence much further. I went straight to the car and it was dark.  The next day, when sharing with others someone said that for them the most striking moment was the tearing of the loaf apart and the pouring of the wine into the chalice.  How in the silence the reality of sharing communion with Jesus came powerfully into experience.

Yes, to find such quiet for contemplation was one of the profound moments this Easter. I hope you benefited from some too. 

Saturday, April 1, 2023

A Holy Week Prayer

 I wrote a prayer for the end of my Toronto piece.  Perhaps it can act as a Holy Week prayer .

Gracious God, whose love for the world sent our Saviour Jesus:

We praise you for the vastness of your love, pivoting on Jesus’ last journey to Jerusalem,

where the horrors of Friday will be overwhelmed by the glory of Sunday, to bring a lost world back to you.

We marvel at his courage and obedience right through to the end for our sakes. 

Gracious Father, Son and Holy Spirit,

We rejoice that with a whole world to love, when anyone humbly cries out, ‘Lord, have mercy’ you hear and call us to yourself.

You still work one to one, giving assurance that however far off we may be, or insignificant in the tide of world affairs we are, you reach out with compassion and healing. 

With wonder and thanks for Bartimaus’ story, we come humbly before you asking that you will have mercy on us today,

In Jesus’ name.      Amen.