A meditation on the Visitation of The Blessed Virgin Mary to her cousin, Elizabeth. Mother of John the Baptist, with special reflection on the ‘Magnificat’.(Luke 1: 39-56) This meditation was part of last year’s offering for Advent & Christmas by our friend, Joyce Smith.
We were both blooming in the joy of our pregnancies. I was carrying the forerunner, and Mary carried the Anointed One.
We had so much to share, we were both so excited, and yet fearful at the same time.
Yet, in all the ups and downs Mary couldn’t keep from singing.
She sang of the greatness of the Lord; that he had chosen her to bear his Son, who would change the world; FOREVER.
This would be no empty political promise, of levelling up and giving out meagre benefits.
Mary’s Son, God’s Son, really would reach out to everyone; seeking justice and fairness for all.
He would give priority to the poorest and weakest; standing on the edge with the powerless and disenfranchised.
Mary, my cousin, sang her song, which will stand for all generations.
Who will sing it now? Who will listen? Who will act?
“A people who dance before their God are generally freer and less repressed than a people who cannot.“
Harvey Cox : The feast of fools
Playful foxes in Latton Vicarage Garden. They are just starting to emerge from their dens. Personal sadness and some despair for the world, whilst devastating is never the final word. That belongs to God. In God’s heart there is always room for festivity. The foxes are embracing life on a path of discovery where everything is new and joyful.
We are a bit longer in the tooth and are more anxious and fearful. That can take the edge of the dance of life. Let the foxes remind us that when we have no control, we have God. How important it is that as a famous saying puts it, “Let Go, and Let God”. I used to think that was just a bit twee but now I understand it.. Come what may, there is always joy to be found. God holds everything in love and even in profoundly difficult places – Ukraine, Russia, Afghanistan etc – God will bring us through it.
Harvey Cox, quoted above, said something profoundly important: “God laughs, it seems, because God knows how it all turns out in the end.” Perhaps that’s another way of expressing what Mother Julian of Norwich said : All shall be well,all shall be well and all manner of things shall be well.
All photos by The Revd Lynn Hurry. Series 2 : Foxes of Latton 22
Readers of this blog will be familiar with the photographs and tweets from my friend Joyce Smith and the thoughts they inspired.
I am saddened to hear, today, of Joyce’s sudden death yesterday. It is a deep shock. Joyce and I have been friends for 20 years and worked together in ministry for a lot of that time.
As well as a personal friend she was someone who held a lot of people in love and prayer and gave support to so many. People mattered to her and her heart was open for those who needed a friend. She touched people who others might have missed. This was especially true in the places where she ministered as a priest in the Church of England. There will be a lot of grieving hearts in Ninefields, Waltham Abbey and the Diocese of Chelmsford.
For me she was an icon of what Christian vocation is about. God was at the centre of her life and she reflected God’s love to others; she was selfless in her Christian service; she represented the Gospel and she did her utmost to lead people ‘safely to heaven’. There was nothing about her that was self-serving but there was a great deal about sacrifice. Sometimes she felt the need to guide people with a certain toughness and forthright speech but kindness and gentleness were always flowing underneath.
She encouraged so many of us. For me, she was a true friend.
Her love of creation was evident in the photos she took of birds and nature and the short reflections she chose. During the first lock-down she posted extracts from the Psalms with thoughtful photos. Afterwards she began her ‘photo-tweets’ which became regular items on this blog. Many of us enjoyed these. Her love of puffins became so obvious and she would often go to Northumbria and other places where puffins would greet her. We benefited from this.
Some also benefited from her booklets of reflections for the Advent & Christmas Season and for Lent & Easter. This Holy Week, she wrote a story based on the donkey of Palm Sunday which she dedicated to the children of Ninefields School, who all received a copy. I was hoping for more to come! She had such a beautiful way of expressing the sometimes inexpressible.
Earlier this afternoon, my friend Lynn Hurry (who befriends the fox cubs, and takes the photos many of us enjoy!) wrote to me:
“Dear Joyce, Such a lovely soul. She noticed and rejoiced and glowed at so much beauty in this life… and boy will she be shocked and amazed at all she will see in heaven … she will be dying to share it all with Geoffrey for his blogs!”
The photo of the Puffin was taken a few weeks ago, but for some reason I held back from posting it. Its feet are firmly on rock but its face is turned in contemplation of something beyond and in the distance. The quotation is from the poet, Rumi, love of whose poems Joyce and I shared. Reading it I know now why I held the photo back. Joyce lived a life that was balanced between earth and heaven and saw both as a reflection of God. Now she has let go of one to fully embrace the other.
Last weekend, I met up with some friends at an art exhibition near Oxford. It was an interesting gathering. Though we were all connected by friendship, for some it was a meeting after a number of years of absence (in one case it was a physical meeting after almost 30 years). Three were meeting for the first time but they had become connected by the friendship each had with others in the group. It was a joyous occasion as each met around the common factor of amazing art.
On the way home I thought how lovely it had all been and how real relationships both withstand absences and are also quickly renewed. It is through relationships that we grow in love, understanding, a feeling of our worth, and joy. Friendship is one of the most important relationships which we share with so many but the deep friendships are often with only a few. What might the qualities of such friendships be.
I love what Kahil Gibran, in his book of meditations, The Prophet, says of this.
And a youth said, Speak to us of Friendship. And he answered, saying: Your friend is your needs answered. He is your field which you sow with love and reap with thanksgiving. And he is your board and your fireside. For you come to him with your hunger, and you seek him for peace.
When your friend speaks his mind you fear not the “nay” in your own mind, nor do you withhold the “ay.” And when he is silent your heart ceases not to listen to his heart; For without words, in friendship, all thoughts, all desires, all expectations are born and shared, with joy that is unacclaimed. When you part from your friend, you grieve not; For that which you love most in him may be clearer in his absence, as the mountain to the climber is clearer from the plain. And let there be no purpose in friendship save the deepening of the spirit. For love that seeks aught but the disclosure of its own mystery us not love but a net cast forth: and only the unprofitable is caught.
And let your best be for your friend. If he must know the ebb of your tide, let him know its flood also. For what is your friend that you should seek him with hours to kill? Seek him always with hours to live. For it is his to fill your need but not your emptiness. And in the sweetness of friendship let there be laughter, and sharing of pleasures. For in the dew of little things the heart finds its morning and is refreshed.
From The Prophet (Knopf, 1923). This poem is in the public domain
(for ‘he’ substitute ‘she’ as appropriate. He wrote this is a different age!)
There are different kinds of friendship. One I have really valued is known as Soul Friendship and it is about talking to another about God and about our personal relationship with God. Soul-friends share a deep intimacy and love for each other’s wisdom and, of course, their relationship is totally God-centred.
Whilst using a soul-friend is a way of helping a person to find peace within themselves, peace and harmony with others and with creation, this is not its main aim – essentially it was about seeking a deeper relationship with God. As St Teresa of Avila once said: Prayer is nothing else than being on terms of friendship with God. A Soul Friend is therefore one who can walk with us as we seek to grow that prayerful friendship.
Jesus called us his friends and he, through the Holy Spirit is our true and closest Soul Friend. (see John 15: 12-17) Our friendship with God defines all our other friendships and one who understood this more than most is St Aelred of Rievaulx, who wrote about Spiritual Friendship. Drawing on the work of Cicero and shot through with his faith and friendship with God, we can learn much about what it means when Jesus calls us His friends.
Almighty God, who endowed Aelred the abbot with the gift of Christian friendship and the wisdom to lead others in the way of holiness: grant to your people that same spirit of mutual affection, so that, in loving one another, we may know the love of Christ and rejoice in the eternal possession of your supreme goodness; through Jesus Christ your Son our Lord, who is alive and reigns with you, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever.