Saturday, 30 July 2011

Prayer and silence (2)

“Let thy soul walk soft within thee,
as a saint in heaven unshod.
For to be alone in silence
is to be alone with God”

I ended my blog entry yesterday with these words:

“If we listened (to God) how might we hear, and what would we hear?”

1.    HOW?

I offer a few suggestions.

(a)   Some of the mystics and saints (of many religions) have heard a clear and audible voice. They believed it to be the voice of God. I do not discount the possibility of such a voice, but I must also be reminded that some megalomaniacs, or tragically mentally ill folks (and I do not place them in the same “box”) have claimed to have heard God’s voice.  

Should we hear such a voice, it will only be congruent with the will of God if it is congruent with the witness of scripture. Only those “voices” which instruct us to “do justice, love mercy, and walk humbly with God” (Micah 6:8) may be trusted.

(b)   After long silences in the presence of God, we may well hear God’s voice in our intuition. Godly intuition will always lead us into the service of others. It will always lead us to “love our neighbour as ourselves”.

(c)   God will oft times speak to us in the questions and words of trusted and prayerful friends.  When our best friends offer gracious counsel (especially if that counsel “goes against the grain”) we shall be wise to listen.  We must be humble and ask:  “is God speaking to me through their questions and counsel?”

(d)   God will speak to us through the witness and words of Holy Scripture, and through the wisdom of righteous people from all places and in all times.

2.    WHAT?

What will God say?  Here are some suggestions:

(a)   I am not the magician in the sky.  I am not a celestial Santa. I cannot make everything come out right.  That would be too easy for you!

(b)   You will indeed experience suffering, death and tragedy.  No one is exempt. That was the “lot” of Jesus, and that will be your lot.  It’s the way I’ve made things --  so that love may triumph over power.

(c)   “I will never leave you”. God’s promise is that s/he will always be faithful, and always be trustworthy.

(d)   “Do not be afraid”.  Words to that effect are the most oft repeated in the Jewish/Christian Scriptures.

(e)   “Come out of self will and isolation into sharing and community. It is with and through others that you will be sustained, strengthened and led to wholeness.”

There is no magic in prayer.  There is no divine panacea for all our ills. 

There is simply the fact that when we are in love with God and in love with God’s creation, we will be upheld and strengthened by what Christians call grace, especially when matters do not “come out right”. God “stands by us”.


By imperfect analogy, that’s also true in our human relationships.  A friend/partner/spouse/parent that “made everything come out right” would lead us to a place of dreadful dependency, and would cede far too much power to that person.

But we can grow, mature and develop character, and skills for living when that friend/partner/spouse/parent does no more or no less than to “stand by us”.

Friday, 29 July 2011

Prayer and silence

“Let thy soul walk soft within thee,
as a saint in heaven unshod.
For to be alone in silence
is to be alone with God"

At some other time I told the Rector of a parish that I would not be attending a pot-luck supper because I didn't want a “certain person" to sit near to me.  I offered “no names, and no pack drills".

That Rector immediately offered a name.  He was “spot on".

It's not that I dislike the person.  But she has an annoying habit of breaking in to others' conversations without invitation;  and of trying to dominate the conversation with her “wisdom".

I can sometimes “put up with her" (for indeed I am sometimes like her!), but on that particular day I was bereft of patience and did not want her insistent company.

Maybe God is like that with our prayers.  Maybe God sometimes wants us to shut up; not to interrupt, and not to dominate the conversation.

Do you think that God would sometimes like to get a word in edgewise?  Do you suppose that God would sometimes wish that we would simply listen?

Tomorrow  “If we listened how might we hear, and what would we hear?"

Thursday, 28 July 2011

War is hell

No President, Senator, Representative, Prime Minister or Member of Parliament should vote for or authorize any military action or war unless:

he or she has served in combat, or has a son or daughter who is serving in combat.

That's what I think.

Please do a You Tube search for "The Fureys" rendition of "The Green Fields of France", and you'll understand.

(Maybe this link will work  -  - if you cut and paste it into your browser )

Wednesday, 27 July 2011

And I say to myself "What a wonderful world:

1.    I had a long and good “Skype” conversation with my good pal Joe S.  He got me up to speed with news of his partner Marliese, their very young son Raphael, and of his career. It was all good.

2.    Nancy called to tell me of the death of her good mother Diane S.  I have known Diane since about 1992, and was able to be present to her husband Don S. in his illness and death when they owned a restaurant in Chatham, N.Y. and Don was a patient at the (Pittsfield, MA) Berkshire Medical Centre.

In due course Diane S. moved down to Englewood, FL (some 30 miles from my home).  I’ve been able to visit with her in recent years – and our visits made it clear that we were very fond of each other.  I last saw her on 2th July 2011 and was able to pray with her in anticipation of her death.  I will be honoured to preside at her memorial service on Sunday 31st July 2011.

3.    My visit to Resurrection House (a day shelter for homeless people here in Sarasota) was as wonderful as ever.  I was able to pray with three people whose life prospects are dim, but whose hopes are undiminished in the face of dreadful adversity.

4.    My very good pal Ben and I had lunch with the equally wonderful Ron and Charlotte T.  It was a feast, with an amazingly good salad, topped with grilled tuna.  I am so grateful for the friendship of Ben, and of Ron and Charlotte.

5.    I had a lovely and funny e-mail from my niece Laura in England. I had mailed her a silly little gift.  She caught the humour of my gift, and expressed her giggly gratitude, even as she teased me by suggesting that I had “pinched” the gift from Ben’s home. (In fact he had given it to me to mail to Laura).

6.    My favourite clerk/assistant in a local store is young man named Sebastian.  He seemed to be below par this morning.    I asked about his apparent sadness.  He told me that his best friend had been murdered.  I wanted to hug him, but it’s just not done to hug shop clerks/assistants.  So I will pray for him.

7.    Such is life. Here are two pics via my friend Muriel.  She and I ask:-“Would you rather have a child or a dog!”


Tuesday, 26 July 2011


I decided this morning to “do the right thing”: -  that is to see a Physician with regard to my hearing loss.

My Primary Care Physician is Dr. Kristen Paulus.  She is “the tops”.  But she is always so busy.

So I took myself to Sarasota Memorial Hospital’s “Urgent Care” facility on nearby University Boulevard.

I had suspected that my hearing loss was due to a build up of ear wax. My suspicions proved to be accurate.

The Physician at this urgent care clinic examined my ears.  Then a good L.P.N. (Licensed Practical Nurse) went to work.  She rinsed both ear canals with a mixture of warm water and hydrogen peroxide.

I was in and out of the clinic in the space of 50 minutes.  I entered worrying about my hearing loss.  I left much relieved, and able to hear better than at any time during the past two months.

My guess is that this ear wax problem had been building up over a matter of weeks, if not months.  My hearing had been diminished “little by little”, so much so that I’d hardly noticed the diminishment until about 12 days ago.

Now I can even hear the ticking of my clocks and my watch. And I can hear my dog’s pants as we walk out in these very hot days.

“Phew” -  I can hear again.

“Wow” – the Urgent Care Clinic staff were so efficient.

“Oh no” – I will get some bills in a month or two!

Monday, 25 July 2011

Cabbage is good!

Cabbage is good!  I braised some cabbage tonight for my dinner.  Here is the recipe.


4 tablespoons butter
1 large onion, thinly sliced
1 large “Granny Smith” apple, peeled, cored and diced
Half a head of cabbage, chopped coarsely
Quarter teaspoon of freshly ground black pepper
Three tablespoons of cider vinegar ( I used red wine vinegar)
One quarter cup apricot preserves


1.    Sautee onions and apple in butter for about 8 minutes.
2.    Add cabbage, pepper, vinegar and apricot preserves -  blend well.
3.    Simmer in a covered pan over low heat for about 90 minutes

How I cooked this tonight.

(Having sautéed the onion and apple in a skillet, I transferred them to a slow cooker, and then added the cabbage, pepper, red wine vinegar and apricot preserves.  I also added some thinly sliced boneless pork chops.  Then I allowed the whole mess to simmer away for about an hour and three quarters).

‘Twas delicious!  And there are more than enough leftovers for tomorrow.

Sunday, 24 July 2011

For Priests, Pastors, Preachers and Church people. A Sermon. Second entry for 24th July 2011

Sermon for 24th July 2011.  The Revd. J. Michael Povey, at St. Boniface Church, Siesta Key FL.
Romans 8:31-39

Music in Church is not an optional adornment, like the frosting on a cake. It is essential to who we are. The ministers of music have a vocation which is as important as that of the priests and pastors. Music introduces us to the beauty of God.  The words challenge and inform our faith.

When I was a young boy I would weep every time I heard that bit of music known as “The Arrival of the Queen of Sheba”, from Handel’s oratorio “Solomon”.  I did not know then why I wept.  As I look back I think that I was been touched by a beauty which I did not understand, but which I recognised.

As I grew up, I fell in love with hymns.  This was sometimes because of the beautiful tunes, but often because of the texts.  The words of the hymns stretched my mind and my spiritual imagination.  

So I ask our organist:  “my brother Seth, please play us a hymn tune”.  (Seth Wertz, organist plays “Sine Nomine”).

Question to congregation.  “What words came to your mind when you heard that tune?”

Of course you knew it well.  It’s the tune we use for the hymn “For All the Saints”.

Question to congregation.  “Who will tell us the composer of that tune?”
(Ralph Vaughan Williams)

Question to congregation.  “Another question –what is the name of the tune?”

It’s “Sine Nomine”.  That’s odd indeed for “Sine Nomine” means “without name”!  It’s by Ralph Vaughan Williams. He (although he was an agnostic) was the musical editor for the 1906 edition of “The English Hymnal”

For various complicated copyright reasons that tune could not be printed in any other hymn book in England, so those of us who were members of churches which other hymnals, for example “Hymns Ancient and Modern” had to sing “For All the Saints” to another tune.   Here it is Seth, please play us a few lines of that tune – 

doubtless you also recognised that - it is called “Engleburg”. 

Once the copyright issues expired “Sine Nomine” became the tune of preference for “For All the Saints”.  Most of us could not imagine singing those strong words to any other tune.

But “Engleberg” also has its strengths, and you just cannot keep a good tune down.  In fact it is the tune chosen for three hymns in our own Hymnal.  (296,420,477.) 

Hymn 420 which we sang earlier is tailor made for “Engleburg”.  “When in our music God is glorified” is a text by an English Methodist Minister, the Revd. Fred Pratt Green.  He was born in 1903 and he died in 2000.  Fred Pratt Green had never particularly cared for hymns.  But he was a published poet, and so was asked to write some new hymns for the use of English Methodists.  He began this hymn writing at the aged of 67, and in due course wrote more than 300 hymns!  Five of his hymns, plus two of his translations found their way into our 1982 Hymnal.  

Dr. Michael Hawn is the professor of sacred music at Perkins School of Theology, SMU.  He writes of “When in our music God is glorified: -
“However, Pratt Green uses music not just as a metaphor that points us to another idea, but explores music-making as a phenomenon ............ in its own right. The second stanza concludes with the marvellous thought that “making music . . . move[s] us to a more profound Alleluia!”  

In this way, Pratt Green seems to agree with Martin Luther who said, “Next to the Word of God, the noble art of music is the greatest treasure in the world.” Luther and Pratt Green seem to ascribe a quasi-sacramental quality to music—music as a means of revelation and grace”.

That sacramental aspect of music resonates with my early experience of tears when I heard the Handel piece.  The music which I did not understand moved me to a wonder and beauty which I could feel.

Another of Fred Pratt Green’s hymns is # 348 in our hymnal: “Lord we have come at your own invitation”. (It’s a pity that this hymn is listed under Hymns for Confirmation, for it would make a fine opening hymn any Sunday). 

It’s a hymn about what might happen to us when we come to the Lord’s Table and share in Communion.  It’s one of those hymns which challenge and inform our faith. It ends with these words:

So, in the world where each duty assigned us gives us the chance to create or destroy,

Help us to make those decisions that bind us, Lord, to yourself, in obedience and joy.

There’s a challenge for you.  Sharing in Communion teaches us that the Christian life is indeed a matter of obedience to the Lord Jesus Christ.  That obedience might well lead us to suffer for the sake of Christ.  It will call us away from innocuous, harmless and comfortable Christianity.    It will cause us to challenge all those political and economic systems which oppress the poor -  at home and abroad.

Another word for obedience in the Christian life is “discipleship”.  The disciple is one who follows the Lord Jesus, wherever it may lead.  One such disciple was a German Pastor called Dietrich Bonhoeffer.  He was born to a fairly prosperous middle class family in 1906.

He showed early brilliance as a scholar and theologian, earning a doctorate at aged 21.  Bonhoeffer questioned the culturally comfortable Christianity of the protestant church in Germany.  He knew that it was not enough to be a fan of Jesus. He knew that following Jesus was the crux -  the crux indeed -  for discipleship is the way of the cross.

Bonhoeffer was insistent in his critique of a Christianity which had adapted itself all too easily to the Nazi regime.  He rejected the form of Christianity which had in many places welcomed the Nazis.  He spoke up for Jews and against their persecution.  He became an enemy of the State. He was imprisoned in 1943.

Whilst in prison, Dietrich Bonhoeffer wrote a poem which begins with the words “Von guten Mächten treu und still umgeben”.  It’s a poem of deep faith and trust in God in the midst of unbelievable evil.

Our friend Fred Pratt Green took Bonheoffer’s poem and moulded into a hymn (“By gracious pow’rs” - Hymnal 695) which we shall sing in a moment.  The tune is pleasantly sing-able. 

But it is a very tough text.  For it takes me out of the comfort zone of casual Christianity - a zone which I enjoy all too easily – into the realm of costly discipleship which I all too easily reject.    (Do note that in when in stanza three the hymn refers to the cup of suffering given by God, it is not speaking of human suffering caused by hunger, famine, disease or illness.  It’s about the suffering Jesus promised to those who would be disciples -  “you will” he said “drink of the cup which I will drink”.)

As we sing this hymn (* text below), hard as it is, we shall be aware that it was written in a Nazi prison by the very great Dietrich Bonhoeffer,  who drank deeply from cup of suffering simply and solely because he was a disciple.

His discipleship took him to a place which most of us would reject.  He became convinced that the death of H-tler was imperative.  He became involved in the Abwehr plot against H-tler’s life.  Following two years of imprisonment he was executed on April 9th 1945. 

His captors stripped him naked, and hanged him with a wire.  He is reputed to have said “This is the end, for me the beginning of life”.

Bonhoeffer's poem as versified by Fred Pratt Green.  1982 Episcopal Hymnal # 695

By gracious pow'rs so wonderfully sheltered
And confidently waiting come what may,
We know that God is with us night and morning
And never fails to greet us each new day.

Yet is this heart by its old foe tormented,
Still evil days bring burdens hard to bear;
O give our frightened souls the sure salvation
For which, O Lord, you taught us to prepare.
And when this cup you give is filled to brimming
With bitter suffering, hard to understand,
We take it thankfully and without trembling
Out of so good, and so beloved a hand.
Yet when again, in this same world you give us
The joy we had, the brightness of your sun,
We shall remember all the days we lived through
And our whole life shall then be yours alone.

Good thing? Bad thing? (First entry for 24th July 2011)

The Secret of Happiness  -   an old legend.
Once upon a time, an old farmer lived in a valley with his son, a handsome and dutiful youth. They lived a peaceful life despite a lack of material possessions. They were very happy. So much so, that neighbours began to get envious and wanted to understand the secret of their happiness.

One day, the old man used all his savings to buy a young and beautiful stallion. The day after he bought it, the horse jumped the fence and escaped into the hills. The neighbours came to express their concern, "Oh, that's too bad. How are you going to work the fields now?"
The farmer replied, "Good thing? Bad thing? Who knows?"

In a few days, his stallion came back from the hills and brought eight fine mares with him. The neighbours again gathered around, "Oh, how lucky! Now you can do much more work than ever before!" they said.
The farmer replied, "Good thing? Bad thing? Who knows?"

The next day, the farmer's son fell off one of the new horses and broke his leg. "Such misfortune," said the neighbours. The leg healed crookedly and left the son with a permanent limp and endless pain. The neighbours were concerned again, "Now that he is incapacitated, he can't 
help you around, that's too bad."
The farmer replied, "Good thing? Bad thing? Who knows?"

Soon, the news came that war has broken out, and all the young men were required to join the army. The villagers were sad because they knew that many of the young men will not come back. The farmer's son could not be drafted because of his broken leg. His neighbours were envious: "How lucky! You get to keep your only son!"
The farmer replied, "Good thing? Bad thing? Who knows?"
And the narrative goes on...