Tuesday, 30 December 2008

What day is it, again?

The people you meet. The three individuals who came to the morning Mass (it is still a nice surprise to see who finds their way to the daily Octave Mass - today, two older ladies: Stella who is, I am discovering, a regular weekday worshipper, and Peggy, a lady I met for the first time a couple of days ago and who remembers worshiping in the old St Francis Church and whose statue and altar have, in addition to her, found their way into St Saviour's. And then there is Sue, whose face is a familiar one from attending the regular diocesan youth events with her husband and High School son). After Mass I spend some time sorting a few things out in church and I meet a collection of people wandering up the Church path. One of them recognises me - she works at St Teilo's School. The rest are her visitors looking for names on the war memorial outside. They find the name they are looking for, and I hear the clicking of the camera as I leave them to their business of remembering. An elderly lady in the queue behind me at the Co-op Store asks what day it is. I pause awhile not being able to recall the actual day of the week. We are, for a little while, united in our confusion. I have no excuse. Age is on her side.

Later that afternoon, a phonecall. I have forgotten a funeral visit, and I rush out of the house, grabbing my coat and scarf and remembering the old lady in the Co-op store. What day is it, again? I rush across to Grangetown to meet someone whose elderly mother has died and whose funeral is next week at St Saviour's Church, and, for the duration of my rather brisk walk, I wish I had never abandoned my car several years ago! The son and his wife accept my apologies graciously. His mother had been born and brought up in Splott and had, in fact, been baptised at St Francis' Church. We talk awhile. Memories. Sadness. Some laughter. Leaving the couple behind I walk back across the bridge on the Taff Embankment. A lady in a red car beckons to me. She is a worshipper from St Dyfrig and Samson's Church and kindly stopped to give me a lift over the bridge and back to the house. She is on her way to her son's house in Splott to walk his dog, and she takes a slight detour to deliver me safely home.

When I get in I check my diary to make sure I haven't missed any other appointments or that there aren't any looming over me and which I need to pay attention to. But the rest of the day is free, it seems. I double check to make sure I have the correct day. What day is it again? Ah yes, Tuesday. The 30th. In my mind, the lady in the Co-op smiles at me. There is a twinkle in her eye. Age is on her side. I wonder what she remembers and what she forgets and if we have more in common than just forgetting what day of the week it is. And I wonder too if, one day, I will stand in the middle of a shop asking the person in front of me what day it is and if I will remember forgetting a funeral visit.

Monday, 15 December 2008

Home is where...

Back to blogging, I think! It's merely an excuse to do something constructive after sitting at the computer for over an hour trying to find some work to stimulate me, and discovering that I'm not really in the mood! I spent a a few hours the other day filing and refiling and so, apart from a miscellaneous pile of junk that seems to cling to my filing tray from one re-sorting to the next (and which should really be thrown out)there is nothing that I want to do. There are plenty of things that I could do but nothing that I want to do, which means that anything I choose to do will take twice as much time and twice as much effort. I am a great advocate for putting off until tomorrow anything that can wait! And so that is what I shall do!

On Wednesday I will be licensed as priest in charge of Roath St Saviour's. My ministry will change somewhat, I am certain - but that is a good thing, and I am looking forward to it. One can soon find themselves meandering through ministry and, whilst that is a good image (reminiscent of the Israelites wandering or meandering through the desert!), it cannot go on for ever! Having said that, God speaks in his own time and in his own way - even through our meandering lives and thoughts. In fact, I am reminded now that the footnote to this blog page involves something about 'meandering thoughts and roving reflections.' Journeys don't always appear to have any direction. In fact, there is nothing better than just wandering around sometimes, going for a walk nowhere, enjoying the scenery, or allowing your mind to wander! There doesn't always have to be direction to a journey. In fact, even when we do have some direction to our journeying, and we reach our destination, we always end up back home!

So, wherever God is leading my meandering life and meandering thoughts and meandering miniscule ministry, I hope I will end up back home! And you know what they say about where home is!

Friday, 19 September 2008

The Colour of Words

Earlier this year, during my Sabbatical, and between much coffee supped in Cardiff Bay, I penned a few things including several thousand words worth of short stories. They weren't particularly good but they did allow me to spill random words and images onto paper (well, onto the screen of my laptop, actually). Not knowing what to do with the stories I have finally succumbed to giving them a home on the internet. There are so many inane, banal and random words on here already I thought a few more wouldn't really make much difference!

The words probably won't mean much to many, if any, but they are there all the same. I think, in some way, they allowed me to spill some form of spirituality out (or, rather, to express one). I'm not certain what they mean or what they say or how they express anything that seems to lie inside my unconscious, semi-conscious, sub-conscious, small-brained mind but there they are. The stories seemed to take on a life of themselves and so whilst taking responsibility for everything contained within them, I also absolve myself of anything and everything they continue to say. They are their own beings with their own life and their own dimension and when I re-read them I really don't know where they came from.

If you read them please be kind to them. They are quite vulnerable beings really! They came to life between coffee cups ("I have measured out my life in coffee spoons"), written in the early morning or late at night, and so they emerged, thin eyed and blinking in the half light, not sure who they were or why there were there in the first place.

Let us go then, you and I,
When the evening is spread out against the sky
Like a patient etherised upon a table;
Let us go through certain half deserted streets,
The muttering retreats
Of restless nights in one-night cheap hotels
And sawdust restaurants with oyster shells:
Streets that follow like a tedious argument
Of insidious intent
To lead you to an overwhelming question...
Oh do not ask 'What is is it?'
Let us go and make a visit.

T.S. Eliot, The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock

The Colour of Words

Saturday, 3 May 2008

Computers and Cleaning

I am beginning to make the most of the Listen Again feature on most radio web sites but in particular Radio Four. In fact, I have managed to turn a friend onto Radio Four. Those who are unfamilar with it may make rather strange assumptions about what kind of radio station it is: but it's rather like a slice of life: comedy, debate, news, politics, drama, magazine programmes...oh yes and the shipping forecast (which often lulls me into sleep at night!) Yesterday I listened to two different programmes: one featuring the author Jonathan Coe and the other an interview with Will Self. The subject of using a computer in writing emerged. Coe said that it contributed to the creative process and made writing richer. Self decided that it it didn't do anything for the process and he has reverted to the traditional typewriter which means, he says, he has to do all his thinking and much of his writing before he actually writes.

I can see the sense in both those comments. The time of reflection and creativity happens away from the desk when there is space and time for the mind to wander. But often, there is something amazing when you sit down to write and things emerge that you had no idea were there in the first place. I'm sure it's the same for the many clergy (and others) who will are preparing to preach tomorrow. Some will think it through first. Others will sit at a blank screen and just see what happens! As for me, well I have no idea how this blog entry will end. I was just stimulated by this thought of two succesful and rather different authors valuing the different processes of writing: the computer is both in and out.

Perhaps I should have thought about what I was going to write before I decided to take a break from my cleaning, and pretending that writing a blog is more important than sweeping and mopping my hallway and hoovering the stairs. But I've never been one for housework. It's nice when it's completed, but the process of getting there is one that rather bores and tires me. Next week, the house will be back to the same state as it was two hours ago! Since I'm sat at my computer maybe I should have a little look to see if there is anything else I can listen to again. Or perhaps, the best thing to do would be to Listen Again and carry on with the sweeping at the same time. Or maybe, just maybe, this time away from the cleaning is giving me time to decide on how to creatively tackle the lounge. I think I like that idea the best!

Friday, 25 April 2008


Tomorrow I will have been back in work for a week. In fact, on the Friday I had gone to Belmont Abbey for our annual Youth Department retreat. It's only an overnight stay and it's not really a rigorous retreat: it's a healthy combination of reflection and recreation. It was good to start back with that. It put me back in touch with the people with whom I work and was a reminder that I now really had to get back to work.

It hasn't been that easy, mind! Monday morning was spent replying to e mails that had built up over three months, and sorting through paperwork, and by the early afternooon I was, well, bored! So, there was only one thing for it: stop working! I decided I needed to ease myself gently into my duties! No point in overdoing it. But I know that by the end of Sunday, and our first 'e' event since I have come back to work, I will know that my sabbatical is well and truly over.

However, having said that, I think that the experience of my Sabbatical Leave will give me more of a healthy balance in the future. I have decided that many of the things I did and achieved on my sabbatical I will continue to do in some small way. I will read more, write more and make more time to go to the theatre and do other things that I really enjoy. I have recently revisited Ted Hughes' Birthday Letters and was struck by the last lines of the first poem, Fulbright Scholars: 'It was the first peach I had ever tasted/I could hardly believe how delicious/At twenty-five I was dumbfounded afresh/By my ignorance of the simplest things.' Just like my short time at Belmont Abbey, there needs to be a healthy balance of reflection and recreation, work and play, intensity and relaxation, sacrifice and serendipity...and the odd peach!

Monday, 14 April 2008

Sacred Siesta

There is, for me at least, an empty space in the middle of the day - the mid afternoon time, I mean - between, I would say, 2.30 and the early evening. Yes, it's a rather vacant time for me - not my best time of day! If I have been able to get up (fairly) early and do what I can up to post lunch, I am left with not knowing what to do or not having the impetus or enthusiasm to do the things I want or should. And so I find myself longing for the middle of the evening - usually about 8pm - when there seems to be a reason and permission to do certain things. It may be that the end of the day is ticking closer and so it gives that added impetus to get on with things and get things done. Alternatively, it also gives you permission to do nothing: the day's work is done and it's time to relax in a slumber in front of the TV and wait for the time when tiredness makes you unable to do anything!

Yes, it's the middle of the afternoon that's a useless time for me. Of course, it's rather different when you're in work or in a routine but when there is no routine or work forced upon you, or you are able to work to your own rhythm, things are made more difficult by the afternoon slumber. So, I propose a major change to the way we live! It will mean a number of things, I think, including a change in the weather which I think will be the most difficult thing to achieve! You see, the Mediterranean countries have got it right. At the hottest part of the day things begin to close down and slow down, and people take to their siesta time. Of course, each country that takes a siesta has its own specific practice or tradition but the idea is much the same. In parts of Argentina, for instance, it occurs between 1 and 4 pm and the time is held as 'sacred' - nobody wants to be disturbed!

I'm glad I found that word 'sacred' attached to my plans! My mind turns back to the words of the Psalmist: 'He gives to his beloved sleep!' (Psalm 127). In fact, I've just done a quick cross reference on biblical texts on sleeping and it rather supports my cosmic plan. Of course, sleep doesn't have to be about laziness. I wouldn't want to step on St Benedict's toes for whom laziness is 'the enemy of the soul' and who had a healthy and helpful work ethic. I've got some back up plans as well. If the weather doesn't change I may have to move to Spain or Italy in order to justify my Siesta! of course, I'm not averse to that option - it would be rather nice! But, since neither the weather nor the climate will change today, nor will I be magically transported to Rome (not today, anyway!) I think I may just switch off my mobile phone and go to bed.

Saturday, 12 April 2008


The only plan I had today was to be sat down at 6.20 pm to watch Doctor Who! I never succeeded. But it was good to see Equus again! A few blogs ago I said I would love to see the play again. Indeed, next day I bought a copy of the play in Waterstones and read it through a few times and wallowed over some of the scenes and lines. But this afternoon, whilst talking to a friend about the play we decided on impulse to go to the theatre tonight. When I phoned the New Theatre this afternoon I didn't actually check to see if Equus was still running - I was working from memory (not always reliable!) We could have turned up to find we had bought tickets for Ballamory!

Ballamory wasn't there (maybe next time, heh?) and so it was another round of Equus! We were actually seated in the same row as I was sat on Thursday, two seats across. The rest of the row to our left was empty except for one person who turned out to be Keith Allen (actor, writer, comedian,director, etc etc and father of Alfie Allen who played Alan Strang in Equus). I didn't talk to him but one of my friends (always star struck and ever ready!) 'accosted' him outside the toilets and introduced himself. He tries to do the same when we see Russell T Davies sat down the bay having a coffee - I've always managed to restrain him! (My friend - not Russell T Davies!) Unfortunately, I was upstairs in the bar at the time and so he was left to his own devices!

Meanwhile, Keith Allen's son, no doubt, was busy preparing backstage for the second act - or recovering from the profoundly moving, and energetic ending to the first - maybe both - performed with amazing sensitivity and raw emotion, beautifully acted, delivered and directed. My friend's work done at introducing himself to celebrities during the interval it was time for the Second Act. I'm so glad it wasn't Ballamory!

Friday, 11 April 2008

I'm So Privileged!

I've often wondered who my Assembly member is! Sounds staggering, doesn't it, that I haven't got a clue! Well that didn't last long - I've just done a little search! And I discover it is a fellow native of the Rhondda, Lorraine Barret who, by some coincidence, has been quite vocal on the Archbishop of Wales' recent comments on the Welsh Assembly. Maybe it's not so bad that I didn't have a clue who she was. After all, being a Christian, I should keep my political opinions to myself (that's not my opinion by the way but my Assembly Member's!)

Lorraine Barret - yes, that's right, my Assembly Member (well done, you're keeping up!) said this. "The archbishop can have his own views but I don't think he should use his position to try to influence society on a religious basis. I don't think religion should have any privilege in our civil society,." Now I must admit to getting a little hot under the collar at comments like that. Why? Well, not because I necessarily agree with the Archbishop. neither is it because I'm some kind of religious extremist but simply because it's not a privileged position that I want as a Christian and a priest, above and beyond the rights of everyone else. I simply want an equal voice without anyone putting me down or taking away my privilege as a citizen in Welsh (and, yes, British) society. And by that I mean the privilege of freedom of speech, the freedom of viewing the world from my perspective (or, hopefully, from God's perpective - if that's possible - we try!) and being able to say, with conviction, that I believe something is right or wrong because of the particular belief I have in God.

You see, I find this whole argument tiresome. Yesterday I stumbled across the recent attempt of Chris Bryant (Labour MP for the Rhondda) to bring political pressure on the Church England to ordain women as bishops. Now, taking away the internal 'politics' of that issue within the Church, I find the whole thing quite flabbergasting. Politicians (or at least some of them - hiya, Lorraine!) say that religion and politics don't mix and shouldn't be mixed and, if you don't mind, if you are religious and you have something to say about society (or about politics or politicians or life or anything else for that matter!) then please take off your religious shoes at the front door if you don't mind, (I've just hoovered!) But they seem to have a lot to say about us! Now then, now that I have taken a new political step up - I'm looking forward to the next Assembly elections. I wonder who I shall vote for? Someone who says I should keep quiet or someone who offers me liberty and freedom and a voice to express what I believe? I've got a few years to think on that one! What a privileged position I'm in!


Thursday, 10 April 2008

Being Disturbed

I love the theatre and I don't know why I don't go more often (money, maybe!) And it's just like me that when I do get around to going I go twice in as many days. Mind you, the visits couldn't have been more different. Last night I went to see French and Saunders at the Millennium Centre and this afternoon I saw Equus at the New Theatre starring Simon Callow and Alfie Allen. I thoroughly enjoyed both experiences but obviously for quite different reasons!

The ending of French and Saunders was, as you would expect, wonderfully absurd and hilarious with two of their most well known characters taking to the stage for the last time. Before the final punchline Jennifer Saunders had to hide her own laughter: she and they and we knew what was coming next. Things can be funny the second and third and tenth time around. Well, that's good comedy for you! Meanwhile, I would love to see Equus again, and although it has some funny moments the play is far from funny. It's the story of a disturbed 17 year old boy who blinds six horses for no apparent reason, and a psychiatrist who is charged with getting to the bottom of his behaviour. There was so much dialogue (and monologue) and it was packed, of course, with psychological insight, religious imagery, comments on society and what it means to be human, and all the time dealing with a rather disturbing subject with power, sensitivity and understanding. It was an exhausting journey and one that I can thoroughly recommend. At the end of the play it is the Psychiatrist who leaves us with his own baggage and issues: a strange reversal of fortunes.

When theatre leaves you with the wow factor, when it plays with your emotions, when you are on the edge of your seat or you can forget about the people around you and that person in the third row who coughs through the performance then it has done its job. Whilst I was entertained today there was also something else going on. Drama can deal with issues and open up conversation that debate and tired statements often fail to do. Often there is a truth that cannot be easily grasped but is all too well received. You may not know how or what or why but it meets us at a level that is often somewhere hidden away. I could, I suppose, write a summary of Equus and go into more detail with the issues and imagery and detailed dialogue, talk about the great performances (and they were great) but there is something more. Of course, I went to the theatre to be entertained, and entertained I was. But I was also disturbed. Don't get me wrong - we often use that word 'disturbed' to mean something quite negative (a disturbed individual, disturbed sleep, disturbed from work, Do Not Disturb!). But being disturbed can also be a good thing. When we are disturbed we are lifted from where we are or turned around to see the world in another way and pushed or prodded to look at things differently. Equus in that way disturbed me. How wonderful!

Tuesday, 8 April 2008

Of the Moment!

I am coming to the end of my Sabbatical leave. Three months off from my duties as Youth Chaplain are, in many ways, beginning to look like they never happened! There was, in the beginning, both the daunting and pleasant prospect of having three free months to do what I had planned to do. They have passed quickly. I have not, by any means, achieved everything I wanted but then there will always be loose ends and I guess I will never be satisfied!

The idea was that, for three months, I would just write. I had a few ideas up my sleeve and a few things that I had started in my spare time that I wanted to complete and I'm almost there...but not quite. I could do with another three months! It's difficult to know when things are complete. Or perhaps I mean perfect. If that is the case then I will never reach my goal! So, it's not perfection I'm after - just satisfaction! I think things will only be complete after I have become bored by them and had some reason for letting them go and not attending to detail. I'm not entirely certain what I have to show at the end of this three months. I think I will only discover that when I can look back on it. The gift of retrospect is something that we have to wait for. Looking back is good. Meanwhile I am caught up with moving from one piece of work to the next, chasing perfection and never getting there, trying to make the most of less than two weeks left, as though the others never happened!

Meanwhile, I'm beginning to prepare myself for my return to work and looking at ways in which the return can be a new beginning. In truth, I have not really given an awful lot of thought to the next stage of things: that would have defeated the whole motive behind taking a Sabbatical in the first place. I have kept as strictly as possible to the reason I requested the leave. In fact, in the first few weeks there was a rather interesting and tempting job prospect that raised its head and, after a week of serious consideration, I dropped the idea because I didn't want it to distract from the sabbatical! There have been moments when I think that perhaps I was wrong not to have chased that opportunity but in other moments I think I was most definitely right. But who knows! After all, it's retrospect that allows you to see things a bit more clearly and by then it is too late! But that's how we make decisions - in the moment, trying to discover what the future may hold, weighing up possibilities and trying to see things clearly - before they've even happened! It's important to remember that God is 'of the moment' and 'in the moment'. I think it was Karl Rahner (although I may very well be wrong!)who spoke of the Sacrament of the Present Moment but whoever first came up with that phrase has presented a little gem. We worry so much about the past, we often fear or anticipate the future but it's where we are now and what God is giving now and how he is revealing himself now that is often overlooked and undervalued. So, as I chase from one piece of work to the other, as I try to look back at what I may have achieved or not achieved, as I anticipate the future and think about how I can move on I think I shall just continue to enjoy the moment! Now that's satisfaction!

Thursday, 3 April 2008

The Bishop and the Bill

Of course, it was always going to be the case. Someone would be disappointed. Yet, there is little elation on either side of the issue, if the truth be told. The vote taken by the Governing Body of the Church in Wales as to whether or not women should be ordained as bishops is one that has many claims attached to it. It's a matter of justice and equality, a matter of mission, a matter of tradition, a matter of unity, a matter of being the church in the modern world, a matter of conscience, a matter of fact. So, where are we now? The so called 'traditionalists' are waiting for its return; those in favour of the motion are waiting for its return. Of course, it was always going to be the case.

Read the newspaper reports, glance through the various blog entries and email comments on countless web sites, read the editorial in the Welsh newspapers (sorry, the South Wales Echo!), listen to the Bench of Bishops, even, and people will suddenly say that having women in the episcopate is no different from a woman being a bank manager or a headteacher or a Member of Parliament or even the prime minister. It's all about equality! Of course, it was always going to be the case. Someone would be disappointed. But the disappointment (or one of them, at least, and in my mind, at least) lies in viewing the episcopacy as a human institution that happens, by some great coincidence or happy accident, to accomplish something within the church. Yet the episcopacy is far more than that. In fact, it's not that at all! Which is why it was sad that the Archbishop, in presenting the bill, did not really talk about the theology of the episcopate at all. So, let's leave the bishop and the bill at the podium for a moment and sneak into the streets and ask the people what they think. 'Do you think women should be bishops?' a woman in the street is asked by a TV news reporter. 'Well, yes, you can have women doctors and prime ministers and bank managers and headteachers? So why can't a woman be a bishop.' Ahh, but what is a bishop? That would have been the interesting question to have asked. Because there is something more, here. And we are missing the point. But of course it was always going to be the case.

So what is the case? What's the point of the episcopacy? What on earth (not to mention heaven) is a bishop? What has a bishop got to do with Jesus? What has it got to do with being an apostle? (And what is an apostle anyway - ask the woman in the street!) What has it got to do with mission and what has it got to do with the end of time? What has it got to do with male and female? What has it got to do with being human? What has it got to do with the designs that God has for the church and the world, for you and me? What has it got to do with being the Church? What has it got to do with transcendent truths that are hard to see in the street? What has it got to do with grace and failure, what has it got to do with anything we know and everything we would like to know? What has it got to do with the way that God shares his love with us? What has it got to do? What has it got that other means of 'leadership' haven't got? Alas, in a society that says it seeks (its own versions of) justice and equality you don't hear those questions asked on the street or in the pub or by TV reporters or even by many bishops and debators at the Governing Body. But of course that was always going to be the case.