|Pen and Ink Reflections||
When I was young, parts of the country in which I grew up literally blew away. Living in Lincolnshire, one of England’s greatest agricultural counties, I could see this whenever I traveled. For I grew up as a child at the time of the greatest destruction of England’s hedgerows, many of them very ancient. Indeed, hedgerows are, as the Campaign to Protect Rural England has put it, ‘the most widespread semi-natural habitat in England’, and, more poetically, ‘the vital stitching point in the patchwork quilt of the English countryside’.1 They not only provide character, but essential life to all kinds of creatures, and help protect the soil itself without which there can be no sustainable farming yields. As a child however, I would see such features regularly ripped away, and a vast desert of landscape created, with vital topsoil whirling up in dust storms and carried away. Such soil frequently blinded us, reflecting the blinkered industrialised agricultural thinking which had produced it. It was an early lesson to me of how if we mistreat the land out of which we come and are fed, we also destroy ourselves. How then are we to live, without seeking the forgiveness of the land itself, and renewing creation together?...
How do you picture peace? I wonder if your vision is quite the same as that of the prophet Isaiah in the John the Baptist story in our Gospel reading today? Isaiah says this: “Every valley shall be filled, and every mountain and hill shall be made low, and the crooked shall be made straight, and the rough ways made smooth;6and all flesh shall see the salvation of God.” Well, that definitely doesn’t work for me if it were taken at all literally. For I was born in the North Pennine hill country of England, which owes so much of its life, history, wildness and picturesque beauty to the variety of its landscape, its hills and valleys. I certainly know that the folk of the Durham Dales would do all they possibly could to avoid every valley being filled, every hill being made low, and the winding paths and rough ways being made smooth. I suspect too that few people in Toowoomba would take kindly to such an environmental transformation of our own Range, valleys, hills and landscape. No. On this second Sunday in Advent, as we centre on the theme of peace, we need to look deeper if we are to find fuller meaning in today’s Gospel reading. Perhaps we are helped by re-casting Isaiah’s words a little. To that end, I offer some words of the great El Salvadorean archbishop and martyr Oscar Romero: words which I believe catch up the spirit of the Advent prophets, that “Peace is not the product of terror or fear. Peace is not the silence of cemeteries. Peace is not the silent result of violent repression. Peace is the generous, tranquil contribution of all to the good of all. Peace is dynamism. Peace is generosity. It is right and it is duty.” Let me return to that, and to John the Baptist in our Gospel, again, in a moment…
Jon Inkpin for River Sunday, 28 September 2014
What is the name of your river? This is among the first questions Maori in Aotearoa New Zealand will ask anyone they meet. For mihi – greeting and introduction – is very important in Maori culture and establishing relationship requires that people know where each otber comes from and what has shaped them. So what is the name of your river? Maybe, like me, several rivers have shaped you. However most, if not all of us, I suspect, have been shaped by one or more particular river. For, even in our modern world, rivers are fundamental to human existence and community...
by Penny Jones, 25 May 2014, Ven Bede Day
I am in my father, and you in me, and I in you
In the north-east of England, along the banks of the mighty river Tyne, as it winds its way out to sea, stand the remains of one of the greatest seats of human learning in the seventh and eighth centuries. For a long time the site was neglected, lying amidst the debris of the industrial age. However today the great monastery of Jarrow is once more brought to life, with the creation of Bede’s World - a kind of historical theme park, where young and old can experience a day in the life of a monk, exploring the preparation of parchment, the writing with quill pens, the harvesting of herbs, from the monastery gardens, the care of animals and the rhythm of prayer in the old church of St. Paul’s.
Why am I telling you this? Because today the church celebrates Venerable Bede’s day. Bede is a minor saint, and very few places will pay much attention. However I always remember Ven Bede’s day, not just because it falls the day after my birthday and is therefore easy for me to remember, but because the first church of which Jonathan was vicar bore a dual dedication to St. James and St. Bede. In that humble little church, in the inner city parish of Gateshead, I first presided at the eucharist twenty years ago this coming week. Just to say that brings tears to my eyes. Moreover I was for a time privileged to be canon of Durham cathedral, where the bones of Bede rest in the great Galilee chapel. Hence I have a particular affection for the Venerable Bede.
So who was he?..