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Thought for the Week – 19th May 2024

Hanging onto Hope

Last Sunday brought mixed emotions for me. The morning service I led was poorly attended; whilst  there were reasons for this, it always feels discouraging when this happens. This was all the more so as I had a strong feeling that the evening service I was going to do the same day would also be low on numbers; some regulars were away and I was going to be in competition with other events. As it so happened,  I was wrong; I did get a good turnout for the evening service, but the events made me reflect on my emotions.

It is often said that football managers get too much credit when things go well and too much blame when they go badly. There is a message here about keeping our reactions in proportion, not letting single events, good or bad, weigh too heavily upon us. But beyond this, I think there is a need to ground ourselves in something; to find the will to continue to choose what is good, what is moral, what is right, even when it appears it will make no difference. For myself, as a person of faith, this comes from my belief in God. It is not a naive optimism that everything happens for the best, but it is that the God who is love will have the final word.

Rev David Poyner

Thought for the Week – 12th May 2024

Looking to the Skies

Last week I wrote this column on holiday in Scotland, on the Isle of Tiree in the Hebrides. The topic of that reflection was inspired by a visit to a Celtic monastery, clinging to a headland and facing out to the sea. But that same day, before visiting the headland, we had spotted some birds, soaring high in the sky above us. The bird-spotter in our party confirmed that they were a pair of sea eagles; through a pair of field glasses even I could see their white tails. Later in the walk we saw two more pairs. Whilst we had one eye to the ground that day, we also kept raising our eyes heavenwards, to the sky.

The God of the Bible, Yahweh, is always seen as a sky god, no doubt reflecting the early religious experience of the Hebrew people. Three thousand years of religious reflection has of course resulted in a more mature picture, not least because the so-called “sky-God” came to earth to live, die and rise again in the human that was Jesus. But still the old picture stays with us; this week we have celebrated the ascension of Jesus, when in particular the author of Acts picks up the traditional picture as he describes Jesus lifting up into the sky. Those who share my liberal theology sometimes smirk at this picture, but on this I think they miss the point. There is something magical and inspirational about gazing to the sky, the home of such magnificent creatures at the sea eagle. When showing off in front of other vicars, I might spout forth of how God is beyond Being. But the truth is, that if I want a picture that inspires me, it is that of the Lord of earth and sky, whose power and mystery I glimpsed in the eagles. Lift up your eyes.

Rev David Poyner

Thought for the Week – 5th May 2024

Notes from Tiree

I am on holiday on Tiree, the most westerly of the Inner Hebrides in Scotland. It is the windiest place in Britain, the first land encountered by Atlantic gales. Today I walked to the remains of a monastery, well over 1000 years old. It is perched beneath cliffs facing the sea, a collection of stone huts housing a community of perhaps 10. Even in the sunshine today it was wild, it would have been a very hard place to live in 1000. What drew monks to this place of isolation? Perhaps as they gazed out on the Atlantic , I wonder if they saw the wide ocean and the sweeping horizon as a worthy altar to offer their praises to the Lord of sea and sky?

Rev David Poyner

Thought for the Week – 28th April 2024

Craftmanship

As I said morning prayer today, I was pleased to find that one of the Bible passages re-acquainted me with two of my favourite characters from the Old Testament; Bezalel and Oholiab. I first came across these around 15 years ago, in the farewell sermon of a previous vicar of Highley, Clive Williams. They were not great prophets, priests or lawgivers; they were not fearsome warriors or might smiters. They were craftsmen; Bezalel was a wood and metal worker, Oholiab was a weaver and embroiderer. In the story in the book of Exodus, they were chosen to work on the tabernacle; the tent in which the people of Israel believed that God would dwell in when they themselves were nomads, wandering in the wilderness of Sinai. As many will know, my father was an accomplished wood worker and I read this passage at his funeral. I have inherited from him his enthusiasm for wood working, his workshop and tools, but sadly not his skill. No matter, the fact that I need to use screws and glue to hold things where he could rely simply on joints simply increases my admiration of real craft workers. There is something uplifting about admiring finely crafted work; indeed there is something uplifting simply about trying yourself, as my colleague Angie Foster (soon to be a Rev) will testify. I would suggest that these activities can be spiritually uplifting, as we appreciate skill and beauty and perhaps get a glimpse of the source of all beauty.

Rev David Poyner

Thought for the Week – 21st April 2024

Taylor Swift

It seems that the world is agog at the release of Taylor Swift’s new album; the Sun newspaper devoted it’s entire front page to the subject and it occupied the slot of Radio 4 immediately after “Thought for the Day”. I admit that until I heard the latter, I had no idea who Taylor Swift was, and after hearing a few bars from one of her songs, I equally had no idea what it was about. To be fair, Taylor Swift will never had heard of me and would probably find my sermons incomprehensible…

Whilst Taylor’s songs may not be entirely to my taste, she is popular because her music deals with serious emotions; it is called “The Tortured Poet’s Department” and much of it focusses on her feelings about past relationships. Critics have said that she is popular because her songs allow so many of her followers to better work through their own emotions. This goes to the heart of what good music can achieve; it moves and addresses its listeners in ways that plain words cannot. In this respect, her music has a spiritual side. The link between Gregorian plainsong from monasteries and the records of best selling artists like Taylor is closer than many people might imagine.

Rev David Poyner

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