Walking alongside each other

I was comparing some of the hymn books used in our churches and I started to notice a pattern. The later books no longer had as many of the hymns that contain war, battle, fight or armour imagery. So no “When a knight won his spurs” or “Mine Eyes Have Seen the Glory” and you should see what liberties have been taken changing “Onward Christian soldiers” into “Onward Christian pilgrims”.

Well that all started me thinking about the wars in various parts of the world: Ukraine, Yemen, Sudan, Myanmar, Syria and Afghanistan, to name but a few.

When he was Archbishop of Canterbury, Rowan Williams said that the whole weight human failure couldn’t extinguish the creative love of God. In an Easter sermon he said that conflict and failure are part of the human condition, but that Jesus’ death and Resurrection turns that on its head: 

We share one human story in which we are all caught up in one sad tangle of selfishness and fear and so on. But God has entered that human story; he has lived a life of divine and unconditional life in a human life of flesh and blood.”

Rowan Williams

The lesson to be learnt from pain and conflict is that when people walk alongside each other and learn to really listen to other people’s stories and what drives them:

to learn an openness to discovering things about themselves they didn’t know, seeing themselves through the eyes of someone else. What they see may be fair or unfair, but it’s a reality that has been driving someone’s reactions and decisions. It may well be based on misconceptions, on prejudice on ignorance of the situation that someone, or perhaps a whole community is facing. We all need to listen better to each other’s stories, however painful or humiliating that experience may be”

Rowan Williams

The Resurrection doesn’t take away the reality of threat or risk or suffering; it’s just there and that’s one of the hardest things to accept. How can you or I feel ‘happy’ in a world so full of atrocity, aggression and injustice? How can you or I know ‘joy’ when we’re aware of our own failings, our own shabbiness, our own depression, in short the whole mess that our lives can sometimes seem to be?

There are no easy answers to these questions, but in reflecting on war and conflict I quickly came to the realisation that the conflict in places like Ukraine aren’t something entirely detached from what you and I do and feel in our own lives. It’s not just about a few places where bad people do terrible things to other (good) people.

I suspect that few of us aren’t involved, to some extent, in conflict in our homes and families, our work places, our neighbourhoods and communities and dare I say it, our churches. Yes churches are very good at conflict and schism.

So perhaps this Easter season as we pray for the people of Ukraine and other war-torn places, we might also do well to reflect on where we’re complicit in conflict in our lives and the lives of those around us. We might all be the better for it and our world can’t help but be a better place as a result.

Blessings
James

Ride on Ride on

Over the past couple of weeks, I have had occasion to travel down to Inverness a number of times and it brought a smile to my face when I saw that the donkeys at the Donkey Sanctuary were out in the fields enjoying the warmer weather. Seeing donkeys always makes me think of the significant roles that these beautiful animals play in various stories in the bible. There’s the donkey that carried the heavily pregnant Mary all the way to Bethlehem for example. But did you know about the donkey who spoke? Balaam’s ass. You can read all about her in Numbers 22 – 24. She saw exactly what was going on – more than her boss did, in fact, and eventually spoke to draw his attention to the presence of an angel. 

Another donkey, one which we hear about as we step into Holy Week carried Jesus publicly into Jerusalem. It is well known that nearly all donkeys bear the mark of a cross on their backs and like them we carry the mark of the cross too, given to us at our baptism. Donkeys teach us a lot about discipleship. They remind us that we always carry Jesus invisibly, like Mary’s donkey, wherever we go. Every day Christ is carried into our world by us. As St Theresa said,

Christ has no body now on earth but ours, no hands but ours, no feet but ours. Ours are the feet on which he is to go about doing good, ours the eyes through which he is to look with compassion on the world, ours the hands with which he is to bless us now’.

St Theresa

So, on the days when we feel we’re carrying the world on our shoulders, we need to remember that we are also bearing Christ to meet the world’s pain and give people life.

There are times when, like Balaam’s ass, we shall see things that others can’t or won’t see. Then we have to do something about it. Balaam’s ass tried first of all to draw the boss’ attention to the demands of God, the angel standing in the way, and she got pretty rough treatment for her trouble. But then God gave her words to say, and Balaam began to take God seriously.

Being a Christian, being outspoken for God, isn’t always going to be easy or pleasant. Balaam was trying to maintain his reputation and wasn’t keen on anything standing in his way. We shall find ourselves challenging important people and vested interests – that can be very hard, like crucifixion.

The Palm Sunday donkey reminds us that when we go with Christ, there are no promises about easy rides. We know, however, that at the end of the suffering, after the death, there was resurrection. We know that Christ has promised to keep us company, but as we carry him with us in the world, he won’t avoid confrontation, or allow us to. ‘In the world’, he said, ‘you will have tribulation’. We know that, from personal experience, and from sharing in the pain of the world as people starve, exploit and kill each other. We shall have to hang on with some of the donkey’s stubbornness to the belief that Christ really has overcome the evil in the world, and that we shall share that victory.

Ride on, ride on in majesty!

Blessings
Simon

We pray that they beat their swords into ploughshares

The threat and the reality of exile resurface time and again in the Hebrew Bible. Historically, Israel and Judah experienced a number of major exiles.  The northern kingdom of Israel was overrun by the Assyrians around 720 BCE. These exiled people were deported and scattered within the Assyrian Empire, although we know little of their fate. In 597 BCE, the elite of the southern kingdom of Judah, including the prophet Ezekiel and those who had been in power, were exiled by the Babylonians as they asserted power over their weaker neighbour.

Jerusalem, the capital of the Kingdom of Judah, was besieged in 589 BCE by the Babylonian king, Nebuchadnezzar II. The city fell after an eighteen-month siege and Nebuchadnezzar pillaged and destroyed the city and burned the First Temple. After the fall of Jerusalem, the Judeans were exiled to Babylon. The fallen kingdom was then annexed as a Babylonian province.  Some Judeans fled to Egypt, although some also managed to remain behind in Judah their homeland.

Clearly, the ‘People of God’ were no strangers to foreign aggression, occupation and exile. Much of the Book of Isaiah, as well as those of other prophets, give us insight into how the people reacted to and subsequently coped with these things.

The most important lesson that people coming into ministry have to learn (often the hard way) is that they often can’t do anything about the pain, the grief and the sorrow of those committed to their charge. It’s a hard lesson. When people are suffering, you want nothing more than to take their pain away and not being able to do so makes you feel useless, inadequate and impotent. It takes time to learn that what you need to do is to walk alongside them, give them the time and space to talk, as they work through what’s happening to them and adjust to their changed circumstances. 

Prayer, lament and more prayer are the tools that the people of Judah and Israel used as they adjusted to their new situation. These are the tools that the clergy and others in ministry use as they walk alongside others and offer a listening ear.

It’s for this reason that the last two Lent Study Groups (2020 and 2021) have focussed on Prayer and Lament respectively. These are the tools that we all need as we struggle to make sense of what is happening in Ukraine, when we feel powerless and impotent in the face of the Russian invasion and other situations. 

For those who weren’t able to take part in these groups, and those who did, but would like a refresher, the resources are all still available on our web site (https://episcopaldornochtain.org/study-group-resources/). If you’re unable to access them from there, or would like help, please get in touch with a member of the clergy. Meantime, if we can all take time to pray for the Ukrainian people both at home and abroad, it might “by the power of the one at work within us, accomplish abundantly far more than all we can ask or imagine.” (Eph 3:20).

ALMIGHTY God, from whom all thoughts of truth and peace proceed: Save and deliver us, we humbly beseech thee, from the hands of our enemies; abate their pride, assuage their malice, and confound their devices; that we, being armed with thy defence, may be preserved evermore from all perils, kindle, we pray thee, in the hearts of all people the true love of peace, and guide with thy pure and peaceable wisdom those who take counsel for the nations of the earth; that in tranquillity thy kingdom may go forward till the earth be filled with the knowledge of thy love; through the merits of thy only Son, Jesus Christ our Lord.  Amen.

Blessings
James

We saw a star in the East and came to worship him.

The Week of Prayer for Christian Unity has just ended with a flourish, as a large group of Christians worshipped together on Zoom, in a service inspired by the Feast of the Epiphany and prepared by the Churches of the Middle East. For me, there is an interesting symbolism in this celebration of unity being centred on the Magi from the East, in that some strangers from afar who weren’t connected with the Jewish Tradition undertook long journeys to honour an extraordinary happening, God had become incarnate as a tiny baby. This was God being revealed to the wider gentile world – to all.

In thinking about unity, we shouldn’t however confuse unity with uniformity. Uniformity is all thinking the same and agreeing with each other. Unity is accepting and respecting difference in the pursuit of shared values and goals. In many areas, there’s a tendency for church congregations to be rather homogenous, though certainly in the Episcopal Church in the Highlands because there’s less scope for choosing a church to suit your preferences. Whilst homogeneity isn’t all bad, there are dangers in it: that we come to see what we like, what we choose and the way that we do things as ‘normal’, universally applicable and unchangeable for all time – ‘the proper way of doing things’. Sadly that results in folk becoming defensive and upset by anything or anybody that rocks the boat, challenges the ‘proper way’ or pushes us out of our comfort zone.

Our celebration on Tuesday evening brought together many people of different traditions and practices, to honour an extraordinary happening – the coming of God into our world as one of us – and what that has meant for people all over the world in the 2000 years since. It was a service that brought some of the riches of the Coptic Church, the Eastern Orthodox Church, the French Ecumenical Taizé community and invited us to celebrate using elements that were unfamiliar to most of those present – but you know what, we all enjoyed the experience.

We met as people from across the Churches and Denominations in Sutherland and Easter Ross and one or two from further afield. We met as Christians united in a common faith. We met as part of

a great multitude that no one could count, from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages, standing before the throne and before the Lamb”.

Revelation 7:9

We met “united in the same mind and the same purpose” (1 Corinthians 1:10).

We met because before Jesus died, he prayed to his Father:

I ask not only on behalf of these, but also on behalf of those who will believe in me through their word, that they may all be one. As you, Father, are in me and I am in you, may they also be in us, so that the world may believe that you have sent me. The glory that you have given me I have given them, so that they may be one, as we are one, I in them and you in me, that they may become completely one, so that the world may know that you have sent me and have loved them even as you have loved me.”

John 17:20-23

The Week of Prayer for Christian Unity may have ended on Tuesday, but we need to continue in our effort to work more closely together.  In every encounter that I have with Christians in another fellowship, denomination or congregation, I realise what riches each have to share with their fellow travellers in Christ. Now where did I put the link to that 2 hour and 47 minute video of a Greek Orthodox celebration of the Epiphany?

Blessings
James

Made for Goodness

The 14th Dalai Lama with Desmond Tutu in 2004 – photo by Carey Linde

The start of a New Year and whilst that’s often a time for celebration, there’s also a tinge of sadness as we say goodbye to 2021, with all its highs and lows and all the things that have happened in each of our lives, in the lives of those around us and in the life of our Church and our nation.

Today in St. George’s Cathedral in Cape Town, the funeral is being held of Archbishop Desmond Mpilo Tutu, who died last Sunday. For those gathered and for all the people of South Africa, there’ll be sadness at the death of the man who for many years was a very passionate and effective leader in the peaceful struggle to end apartheid, but there’ll also be a joyful celebration of his life and what he did for his nation, his family and for the Anglican Church.

Desmond Tutu will always be remembered as the clergyman who won the Nobel Peace Prize, who helped bring down apartheid and who served as a beacon of light in a divided nation, when everything seemed rather bleak. Yet for some reason he always seemed to be joyful and his cackling laugh was infectious. He was also an insightful observer of the human condition and almost always started his sermons with an amusing story, of which he seemed to have an endless supply.

When speaking to audiences around the world, the man who they called ‘Tata’ (father) who led the Truth and Reconciliation Commission and spoke out against corruption in the post-apartheid government just as he had against the apartheid one, was frequently asked the same questions:

Why are you so joyful?” “How do you keep your faith in people when you see so much injustice, oppression and cruelty?” “What makes you so certain that the world is going to get better?”.

In the preface of his book “Made for Goodness”, he asks:

What these questioners want to know is, What do I see that they’re missing? How do I see the world and my role in it? How do I see God? What is the faith that drives me? What are the spiritual practices that uphold me?  What do I see in the heart of humanity and the sweep of history that confirms my conviction that goodness will triumph?

“Made for Goodness” Desmond and Mpho Tutu

Questions that might be useful for each one of us to reflect on as we start 2022. Desmond Tutu’s answer is to be found in the stories of the goodness of ordinary people that he and his daughter Mpho have encountered in their lives and ministries and which they share in the book.

In the last couple of years, most of us have faced dark days as the Covid pandemic has waxed and waned repeatedly. But what’s really struck me is the stories of the goodness of ordinary people that I’ve heard from friends, neighbours, relatives and in the news. People who’ve given their time as volunteers in food banks and vaccination centres; people who’ve made sure that their elderly or vulnerable neighbours are kept supplied with the essentials that they need; all those doctors, nurses, pharmacists, workers in care homes and those visiting people at home, who’ve gone much further than just an extra mile and also those who’ve given generously whenever there was need.

Along the way new friendships have been formed, for example between people who’ve lived near each other for years but never really done more than say good morning. Yes there’ve been acts of selfishness and some people who’ve sought to exploit others, but to derive our view of the human condition from these would be to miss what Desmond Tutu calls the inherent goodness of people. He writes:

As we allow ourselves to accept God’s acceptance, we begin to accept our own goodness and beauty as God does.  With each glimpse of our own beauty, we can begin to see the goodness and beauty in others

“Made for Goodness” Desmond and Mpho Tutu

A happy New Year and may you face 2022 with acceptance, joy and laughter and perhaps see more of the inherent goodness in everyone, as both Jesus who called His Father Abba and Archbishop Tutu who South Africans often called ‘Tata’ did.

Blessings
James

Those who have gone before

Hallowe’en marks the start of the Season of Remembrance. The word Hallowe’en is a contraction of ‘the eve of all Hallows’, and All Hallows is the Feast of All Saints, or All Saints Day’. This year we are celebrating All Saints Sunday on Hallowe’en, a day when we think particularly of those who even in this life, kindled a light for us in ours. Although it might be more accurate to say that what they actually did was to reflect for us, the light of Christ. 

All Saints Day (November 1st) is followed on November 2nd by All Souls Day, the day that we remember all the ‘souls’ of those that we have known and loved who have gone before us into the light of Heaven. Our celebration of All Saints and All Souls’ stems from a belief that there is a powerful spiritual bond between those in heaven (the ‘Church triumphant’), and the living (the ‘Church militant’).

In Arthur C Clarke’s classic book, “2001: A Space Odyssey” he makes the assertion: “Behind every man now alive stand 30 ghosts, for that is the ratio by which the dead outnumber the living.” Currently there are about 7.7 billion people alive and it is estimated that there have been 117 billion people born since 190,000 BCE, so we are among 7% of the people that have ever lived 14 ghosts each. However Arthur C Clarke was making his statement in 1968 when there were about 3.5 billion people living on earth so that would be one living person for each 29.

It’s therefore right and fitting that we should have a season of the year for remembrance when we recognise the connection between the living and the dead. I always feel that this is a time when perhaps the veil between time and eternity is thinner and get a sense of the greater and wider communion of saints to which we belong and who I feel a connection with every time I come into a church building.

Of course we also remember, on the Sunday closest to 11th November, those who have lost their lives in wars and conflicts around the world. In gatherings at war memorials and in church services we unite across faiths, cultures and backgrounds to remember their service and sacrifice.

It seems appropriate that the Church celebrates these things as the days shorten at the turning of the year . This is of course also the time when the pre-Christian Celtic religions were accustomed to think of and make offerings for the dead.

As Christians, we recognise that the greatest and only offering, to redeem both the living and the dead, has been made by Jesus Christ our Lord and Saviour.

Blessings
James

Wrath of God

For we know the one who said, ‘Vengeance is mine, I will repay.’ And again, ‘The Lord will judge his people.’ It is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God.

Hebrews 10:30-31

The concept of ‘the wrath of God’, is one which we find many times especially in the Old Testament, but also as the quote above suggests, in the New Testament. My reflections on matters relating to climate change and climate injustice during the Season of Creation have led me to think that we need to revisit the concept and reframe it for the 21st century and the ‘scientific’ age.

The the whole of creation works according to what we sometimes refer to as the Laws of Nature and the Laws of Physics, etc. These are how things are and how the world works and we cannot change them. We can of course work within them to achieve particular goals. The trouble is that if we change something, then because these laws continue to operate, something else unexpected might change as a result.

There is a complex interconnectedness between things, which we cannot hope to fully understand, even if we build very sophisticated computer models of what is going on and continue to increase our knowledge across a wide range of disciplines. For example, over the years, the computer models used for weather forecasting have grown ever larger and more complex,as computing power has grown. However the accuracy of the predictions still often isn’t particularly good.

You may recall King Canute (or Cnut), who was king of Denmark, Norway and England in the 10th and 11th centuries. The well known story of King Canute trying to hold back the tide to show how powerful he was is an apocryphal anecdote, recorded in the 12th century by Henry of Huntingdon. In the story, Canute actually demonstrates to his courtiers that he has no control over the incoming tide, he actually explains that secular power is vain compared to the supreme power of God.

The episode is frequently alluded to in contexts where the futility of trying to “hold back the tide” of an inexorable event is pointed out, but often misrepresents Canute as believing he has supernatural powers, when Huntingdon’s story in fact indicates the opposite, illustrating the piety and humility of King Canute.

There is no doubt that humanity has invented and discovered many things and that we all benefit for a myriad of scientific and technological advances, however, we have to recognise that what we actually know is a mere fraction of the way that creation is and we all need to have Canute’s humility in all that we do to avoid being caught out by unexpected consequences.

If we act as though we are masters of the universe then we should not be surprised if the laws of physics or nature produce those unexpected consequences. We might see this as unfortunate or being unlucky and that we just need to be a bit cleverer to fix it.

Alternatively in humility, we could accept that because we fail to fully understand what we are doing, then when we are caught out by physics and nature ‘reacting’ and ‘re-balancing’ things, this might reasonably be described as the wrath of God.

We are not God, we cannot control everything and we are not masters of everything around us – that role belongs to the creator of the universe who set the laws of physics and nature in motion and gave us the wonderful world that we live in and which in some form we will hand on to our children and grandchildren.

Blessings
James

Bread for Lammas

Greetings to you dear sisters and brothers in Christ. The month of August is upon us and in some quarters the very first day of this month is celebrated as Lammas Day (or Loaf Mass Day) – when a loaf baked with flour from newly harvested corn is brought into church and blessed. To be honest this tradition is not so commonplace as it used to be in the past. Lammas Day was one of the oldest points of contact between the agricultural world and the Church and the introduction of the Harvest Festival in the Victorian era has kind of replaced many of such agricultural celebrations.

A couple of weeks ago we were on holiday visiting old friends and neighbours in Yorkshire. One of the people we met up with was Anita (Our next door neighbour). Now Anita is a world class specialist in Food Education and has been instrumental in a number of national food education initiatives. One of her greatest challenges though was to teach me to make bread. Those of you who have any idea of my skills in the kitchen will realise just what a challenge this was! Anita persevered and I have to say I did find the hands on process of bread making very satisfying.

One of the fascinating things about it is the yeast: that unprepossessing lump of putty-like substance, or even more unlikely looking granules of dried yeast. Give yeast warmth and sugar and liquid, and miraculously it grows before your very eyes. And then it makes the dough rise and double its size. It seems irrepressible. Knock the dough down and leave it to its own devices, and it will double its size again. 

In the Middle Ages, one of the names for yeast was ‘goddisgoode’ – written as one word as though it were God’s email address. No one understood its chemistry and it was seen as gift from God. A pure gift. God is Good – that’s what lies at the heart of bread.

Jesus said that he is the Bread of Life, embodied for us now in the Eucharist. He offers himself as a gift that is fundamental to meeting our inner needs as bread is to meeting our physical needs. Through feeding on him, God gives us himself, and that is what we need.

When Jesus gave himself as bread, he said it was for the life of the world. At Lammastide let’s remember that when we come to the altar we share God’s life so that we can be the truth that God is good. Our task is to share the news of God’s goodness and invite others to share the Bread of Life too!

Blessings
Fr Simon

Climate and Justice

The climate crisis, which has been creeping up on us for years, is a reflection and also a cause, of deep injustice in our world. This crisis arises from the abuse of God’s creation, and our broken relationship with our neighbours worldwide and especially the poor and those in less developed parts of the world who are already suffering most from its consequences. 

Climate change and other forms of environmental degradation are caused by over-consumption, primarily in the developed world, and so any solution has to be underpinned by reduced consumption. Consumption is something for which we are all responsible. Everything we buy has a carbon footprint, everything we use has a carbon footprint and everything we consume has a carbon footprint. The earth doesn’t belong to any of us, each of us lives on it for a while and during that time, we’ve a duty to be good stewards of what we inherited.

Since the root of the problem is that the population of the developed world vastly over-consume the resources of the world, that means us. The only real solution is a reduction in consumption for each of us individually and for us collectively. How we do that depends very much on our individual circumstances and it’s for that reason that prayer and reflection must lie at the heart of our approach.

This problem isn’t simply about Carbon Budgets or Environmental Degradation, this problem is about Justice. Those most affected by these matters are the poor, the disadvantaged, those who live in the Third World and less developed nations. We should therefore refer to this matter as Climate Justice, which helps us to think of it not only in scientific/technological terms. We need to reflect on how our decisions affect others in our society and our brothers and sisters around the world and also how they will affect our children and grandchildren.

During the UN General Assembly’s High-level Meeting on the Protection of the Global Climate for Present and Future Generations back in March 2019, Mary Robinson, the former President of Ireland spoke about Climate Justice.

Climate justice insists on a shift from a discourse on greenhouse gases and melting ice caps into a civil rights movement with the people and communities most vulnerable to climate impacts at its heart,” … “Now, thanks to the recent marches, strikes and protests by hundreds of thousands of schoolchildren, we have begun to understand the intergenerational injustice of climate change,”

Mary Robinson 2019

The Young Christian Climate Network are staging a relay from the G7 meeting in St Ives to Glasgow to coincide with the start of COP26 at the end of October, when heads of state, climate experts and negotiators meet to discuss action to address the climate emergency. It’s clear that this group of young Christians care deeply about Climate Justice and the care of creation and they want to see systematic change on a global and a local scale. After all it’s the world that they and our children and grandchildren will have to live in for rather longer than most of us. The least we can do is to pray for them on their pilgrimage – may God bless them.

Blessings
James

Grasping and Comprehending

The Passion, Resurrection, Ascension, Pentecost – we’ve travelled a long way in our journey with Christ since Palm Sunday on 28th March. Back then we were in lockdown, now the restrictions are easing and joy of joys, we were able to have our first wedding in church last week after a gap of nearly two years.

In many ways, living under restrictions is ‘easy’ You have a long list of things that you can’t do and also a list of things you must do and, as we’ve all done over the last 15 months, you learn to live your life doing what you must and trying not to do what’s not permitted. So at one level, it’s ‘easy’ but at a deeper level it’s very hard indeed. Not being able to see loved ones, not being able to do things that have been part of our lives for years and apparently small, but very significant things like being able to sit where you want in church or shake someone’s hand when you meet them.

Under the Old Covenant of Moses, the people of Israel lived under ‘The Law’. So in Exodus, we have 10 Commandments but there are 613 statements and principles of law, ethics, and spiritual practice (or Mitzvot) contained in the Torah (mostly Deuteronomy, Numbers and Leviticus) (248 of these are positive – things that one should do – and 365 negative – things that one shouldn’t do).

The purpose of these ‘rules’ is however to try to help people to find God through encounters with the holy. In a sense the summary of the Law, that we use at some times of year in our liturgy, is a pointer to the underlying principles, which is why Jesus came not to abolish the rules rather it refocus people on those principles.

Our Lord Jesus Christ said:

The first commandment is this:
“Hear, O Israel, the Lord our God is the only Lord.
You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart,
with all your soul,with all your mind and with all your strength.”

The second is this:

“Love your neighbour as yourself.”

There is no other commandment greater than these.

SEC 1982 Liturgy

Living by rules, as opposed to something closer to the essence of things, has a tendency to separate the observer of rule from the real purpose of the rule, which in itself althoughrecognisable, is much more difficult to define. The practices that Jesus was reacting against, were a set of rules which, although they may have at some time had a role in helping people to approach the holy, had long since become somewhat divorced from that purpose and an end in themselves.

As Covid restrictions are relaxed, we’ll have to make more decisions for ourselves as to what to do and what not to do, without as rigid a framework as we’ve had. That means that we’ll have to understand the purpose or ‘spirit’ of the rules we’ve been used to and the likely effect of deviating from them. To use religious language, we’ll have to ‘discern’ what we should do in order to continue to keep ourselves and others safe, rather than be told what to do. There’ll still be rules, just fewer of them and we’ll have to continue to live our lives within them. However, just because a politician says that you’re allowed to hug other people, that doesn’t mean that you must or even that most of the time you should. The careful and judicious use of new and very welcome freedoms is what discernment is about.

Perhaps the simplest definition discernment is that it’s nothing more than the ability to decide between truth and error, right and wrong. Discernment is the quality of being able to grasp and comprehend what is obscure, it’s the ability to judge people and situations well. In the religious context however it’s no more or less than knowing or attempting to know the mind of God.

Under the New Covenant of Jesus, it’s not the rules that are important, it’s this seeking to know the mind of God. Religious practice isn’t in itself a route to the holy, but may help to get us to a place where an encounter with the holy may happen. Not the only route and absolutely no guarantees. We use practices that have traditionally been helpful, rather than trying to conjure up encounters with the holy all on our own.

Our joint task in ministry is to walk with others as they try to encounter something that neither they or we can ever fully understand – the Mystery of God, that unseen and unknowable force at the very centre of our being. That’s always going to be a pretty tricky task, just as is trying to protect ourselves and those that we care for, from an unseen and ultimately unknowable danger!

Blessings
James