A Preface of Thanksgiving

O Lord our God, we render thee thanksgiving,

For all thy beauty and for all thou art,

In joy and duty, we rejoice before thee,

As to thy love we raise our thankful heart.

O Lord our God, the source of all our being,

O life, and love, and majesty untold.

O thou who art, beyond a creature’s knowing,

Our love and thanks within thy heart enfold.

 

O loving God, from whom we turned in passion,

To passing things which cannot satisfy,

And on ourselves have wrought the dreadful sentence,

To suffer pointlessly and then to die.

O Lord who came, who laidst aside thy glory,

And as a slave thy throne and right didst leave,

Divinest Word, whose voice was formless crying,

For pity all our faltering thanks receive.

 

O human God, who taught and loved and pitied,

Who gavest us e’en thy body and thy life.

O Godhead that a human death hast suffered,

Rejected, cursed, and wounded in the strife.

Thy accurséd death has wrought for us salvation,

O life that killing we could not destroy;

Incarnate God enthroned above the heavens,

May our delight in thy love be thy joy.

 

O living God, who poureth out the Spirit,

That hearts yet fallen may with thee abide,

That we may rise and be like thee for ever,

And thou with us as bridegroom is with bride.

O Holy Lord, O Holy, Holy, Holy,

Who hast made us to sing the Archangels’ song,

Our utter adoration bring we to thee,

Whose gift it is that we to thee belong.

 

Cherry Foster

 

Ascension_from_Vasilyevskiy_chin_(15th_c_,_GTG) Alex Bakharev no copyright
Ascension_from_Vasilyevskiy chin. Andrej Rublëv. Photo source Wikimedia Commons

Posting the Octopus

Today, I am very thankful that I am not an octopus.

800px-Octopus_vulgaris_2_-_Aquarium_Finisterrae Drow Male Wikamedia commons Copyright to attribution
Common Octopus; photo credit: Drow Male.  Source: Wikimedia Commons. 

I have been matching up the shoulder seams of a dress, and working on some fiddly sleeve gussets.

DSCN0561.JPG
A sleeve gusset, sewn to one side and awaiting being pinned onto the other

When I finished the first side, I thought “oh no, not another one”…

If I was an octopus, I would have had to sew eight.

I am very glad I only have bilateral symmetry.

 

Cherry Foster

Six things parish priests can do to encourage religious vocations

Lead us, Lord, lead us in Thy righteousness, make Thy way plain before our face.

Vocations to the religious life (as to the priesthood, marriage, or anything else) are a gift to the whole church, and therefore are the concern of the whole church, particularly – as in the Anglican Church at present – when the religious life is in a conservation dependent state…

I’d like to offer the following practical suggestions as to what might be done to further support religious discerners by parish clergy, and to assist those who have this vocation to bring it to fruition (a).

Naturally, I have a particular perspective – that of an Anglican traditionalist young woman with a contemplative religious vocation – and I’d be delighted by any additions/further thoughts about what might help from people with other perspectives.

Nun_on_a_motor-bike_2_-_by_Francis_Hannaway copyright to attribution
Theresiennes Sister. Source: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Nun_on_a_motor-bike_2_-_by_Francis_Hannaway.jpg

Pray for vocations to the religious life, and pray that the Church may have wisdom in responding to them. The work is God’s.

Aim to offer real encouragement and support to lay people in living an authentic Christian life. Learning about the faith, support and encouragement in making Christian counter-cultural lifestyle choices (such as simplicity and chastity), having opportunities to grow in depth of prayer and real commitment, having opportunities to serve the Church not contingent on having the right friends, all help. It is the depth of Christian formation that we acquire in our initial stage as lay people that will or will not carry us through the spiritual and practical turmoil of discernment to wherever God really wants us. In practice, people often seem so keen on being sensitive to those not yet ready for deeper commitment, that they talk in a way that implies that those who do want a real, challenging commitment to the Faith are non-existent or crazy!

Remember the value of silence. The silence and stillness and focus in worship in which God can be heard and responded to is particularly important for discerners to the religious life, indeed, for anyone of a contemplative disposition, and it is very hard to find in the modern world, even in Church. Looking for creative solutions to real pastoral needs (e.g. the importance of welcoming young children) instead of sacrificing silence and focus in worship is likely to make an immense difference to those whose spiritual development is in the direction of the religious life. Pastoral sympathy is also significant: avoid saying things to those who need silence and focus during worship that you wouldn’t say the equivalent of to those who have difficulty being quiet (b).

Mention the role of and need for the religious life in a sermon occasionally. It’s also worth being a bit cautious about saying things which, unqualified, would suggest that nothing is of value except a purely active apostolate.  I fear we have as a church (not just the clergy) got rather good at sending the message to everyone that we only want some other group of people!

Be conscious that religious life is a very different charism from the priesthood. I sympathise with the difficult position that the clergy are in, in having to try to guide and support those on a very different path – and to have to try to judge the authenticity of spiritual things they have no experience of. But it is important that the religious life shouldn’t be reduced to those things it has in common with the priestly charism. We – and other non-ordained people – bring different gifts and have a different experience. It helps if priests are open-minded about accepting the aspects of religious discerners’ relationship to God and response to worship that aren’t part of their experience – if they aim to discern authenticity against the standard of the whole faith tradition, not against the standard of the specific priestly charism (c).

Treat discerners, including contemplative discerners, as part of parish life until/unless a way opens up for them into something different. People (laity as well as priests) have a bit of a tendency to (unconsciously) assume that because a parish isn’t a suitable place for contemplatives, they should go somewhere else, therefore, a parish need make no effort to include them. This results in their needs being considered irrelevant when decisions are being made: as they should be somewhere else, it is their problem if they are finding it difficult, not ours. However, inclusion in the compromises, and the belonging that goes with that, is likely to make a lot of difference to capacity to persist. “This will help/hinder discerners to the religious life” can be taken into account when deciding whether to do or not do things in the same way as “this will help/hinder the MU/the schoolchildren/the food bank”. I have the impression it is often not realised that there may be no-where else to go – or not yet – and that it is necessary on both sides to try to make the best of an often difficult practical situation (d).

 

 

 

 

(a) The clergy do unbelievably well given their current difficulties, and I would like to particularly thank all who have helped me.

(b) For an example of what I mean by equivalents: to snap “it’s really important to welcome children” at a contemplative discerner who makes a comment about struggling with background noise is the equivalent of snapping “it is really important to have silence” at the mother of a toddler who makes a comment about the difficulties of keeping them quiet. Whatever is intended, and irrespective of the truth of the statement, what’s likely to be heard is: “we don’t want people like you”.

(c) The most significant example that I’m aware of, both in my own experience and in reading and listening to other people, is an immense difference in the way contemplative religious tend to engage with the Eucharist from that which usually belongs to the charism of the (parish) clergy. For instance, I greatly value receiving in both kinds, and tend to be very distressed by having to do otherwise. The clergy tend to respond that it can’t matter because Communion is valid in one kind. But this is missing the point. In as far as I can express it, I value and treasure the gift he gave us of the Precious Blood, and it matters to me to honour that gift and the love behind it by receiving it as well. Most of what we do in Church is devotionally important rather than necessary for validity. I have no desire to interfere with those who don’t experience Communion this way, for whatever different good purpose of God, but I feel that it is a matter of concern that value for His gifts and the desire to receive them fully and completely should be regarded as a negative thing, and not as part of a charism that is a gift to the Church. My experience on this point is not the result of a theological error, but of a different type of devotional engagement.  The fact this tends not to be on the map as a possibility seems to cause a lot of unnecessary tensions in a lot of different aspects of parish life.

(d) As an Anglo-Catholic traditionalist young woman, I am a solitary because all three of our communities turned me down on the basis of community demographics, and neither of the Bishops I have worked with was able to find any formal adjunct relationship for me. The number of discerners who end up in this particular plight may vary with denomination, age, sex, and theological affiliations. However, it does seem to me that in general, monasteries like people to take time over entering, while priests in the rest of the church assume that discerners to the religious life will be out from under their feet very quickly, and therefore that it is an issue which is not really their business. This is liable to create a gap of several years in which discerners don’t belong anywhere in the church, which it is an incredible struggle to get through.

 

N.B. I would like to note a confusion of language in this post between “religious discerners” and “contemplatives” and similar designations. This largely results from an awareness that I do not know how much of what I am saying is shared by those discerning active religious vocations or with those of a contemplative disposition who don’t have a vocation to the contemplative religious life. I’ve done my best – please enlighten me if I have got it wrong!

 

Cherry Foster

Nine-hundred and ninety-nine wasted flamingos

A tribute to Father Geoffrey Miller

James' flamingo, Valdiney Pimenta, source wikipedia copyright link to attribution
James’ flamingo, Valdiney Pimenta. Source:https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Flamingos_Laguna_Colorada.jpg

Once upon a time, I am told, in a rather macabre reversal of the parable of the Lost Sheep, hunters would go out to Africa, shoot 1000 flamingos, and have only the best one stuffed, resulting in 999 flamingos that had been slaughtered and wasted.

How very unlike what I knew of Fr. Geoffrey. I heard him say once that he insisted on celebrating Mass on his own for the Holy Souls. Mass must be offered for them, they must be remembered and prayed for, even if no one else came to the service.

This is not to speak on one side or the other regarding whether or not a priest should say Mass alone: I have the impression that is a complex issue. Nor do I personally assent to a fully Roman understanding of Purgatory. But that motivation I find immensely touching. The few dead on the list for any particular day mattered to him that much. It mattered to pray to God for them, in an incredible conveying of family spirit, between God and his people and his Church. There was a deep sense of gentleness and loving-kindness and faith about him, along with a wonderful sense of humour. He was a priest to whom “Father” could be said with true naturalness.

He didn’t waste flamingos.

May he rest in peace and rise in glory, through Jesus Christ our Lord.

 

Cherry Foster

Fear the Smear

When I was sixteen, I received letters from my medical practice desiring that I should come for tests for Chlamydia.  They wouldn’t leave me alone on the subject when I came in for visits on other matters, either, though to do the doctors justice, I think they did put a stop to that after I protested.

It is true that I haven’t kept those letters, but as I remember it, nowhere did they acknowledge that it is actually possible not to have sex, and that if you do not have sex, the risk of sexually transmitted diseases is usually negligible, and certainly not worth either the unpleasantness of the medical tests or the use of NHS resources.

I requested an opt out several times, which was mostly ignored. Whether it was accepted in the end, or whether I simply “timed-out” on the screening programme, I have never been quite sure.

But my relief was short lived, because shortly afterwards I started receiving demands that I should come for smear testing for cervical cancer. There was no opt out with the form; on requesting an opt out, the surgery demanded that I sign papers saying I understand the risk.

Perfectly. There is none. I have never been sexually active.

In this case I think the relevance of that was just about acknowledged somewhere on the letter, but not sufficiently to alter the actual attitude encountered in a significant way.  The letter that came back from the opt-out request didn’t say, for example, “are you in one of these low risk categories?”. It assumed you must be high risk and must have this risk shoved blatantly in your face before you persisted in your ill-chosen course of declining screening!

I appreciate that the people pushing these screening programmes mean well. But it seems to me that there is a failure to consider the wider picture regarding the attitudes and norms they are actually promoting.

The medical system in the UK doesn’t regard telling people to eat fruit and vegetables as judgemental. They don’t assume that they should encourage people to go on smoking while putting lots of testing and early intervention programmes in place for the likely health risks. But instead of suggesting that people shouldn’t have promiscuous sex for the sake of their health*, they put resources into trying to support people in doing so – and talk as if saying “no” responsibly was not possible.

Could there be anything more disempowering and dehumanising to women (or to men) than treating sex as if it was something that just happened to you? Something over which you have no control or power of decision? Something you don’t have to take responsibility for the consequences of? Something you can’t say “no” to?

Yet how can we continuously talk about sexually transmitted diseases without acknowledging the possibility of sexual abstinence as the best way of not catching them, without sending exactly those messages?

I want to encourage other people for whom these tests for sexually transmitted diseases are not relevant to stand up against the “wrong to refuse” attitude, and to say “no” with confidence. In refusing these tests, we are rejecting a set of values which, however unconsciously advocated, is extremely sinister.

 

 

 

*It is true that I have a traditional Christian view of sexual ethics that goes beyond the single dimension of the risks to physical health, but what I’m interested in here is the inconsistency of the response of our medical system regarding the health risks of different types of physically unwise conduct. The English education system as it was when I came through it was doing exactly the same thing – sending the message that anyone who abstains from promiscuous sex is so peculiar it need not be acknowledged as a possibility – but that was more than 15 years ago and I don’t know how things have changed.

Edit (14/5/19) I should add, I think, a clarification: I don’t object to screening programmes for (primarily) sexually transmitted diseases being made available, at least not for the reasons stated here (probably not at all, but medical prevention issues are complex, and I reserve judgement in as far as I haven’t been into other issues).  What I am suggesting is wrong are various attitudes surrounding these tests and the way they are promoted.  (I hope they don’t refuse to check smokers for smoking related cancers: I see that as the closest equivalent).

I would also add that I think the whole question of how much pressure the medical profession can put on people to have or not have any sort of treatment/tests without compromising the principles of consent should probably be discussed more.