Sunday, 31st May, 2020
This Sunday’s musical offering, suitable for today’s feast of Pentecost:
Saturday, 30th May, 2020
As the Westbourne branch of my bank is closed for the duration I had to go the town centre branch yesterday. That was easy enough and there was no queue at the bank. As it was a sunny afternoon I thought I would walk back along the beach. But when I got to the pier I quickly changed my mind. The crowds were of biblical proportions and the promenade was like Oxford Street on the first day of the sales. There was scant, if any regard for group sizes or social distancing and, frankly, it looked too risky, so I walked back a different route. If this ‘relaxed’ approach is replicated across the country we could well be in for a harder time ahead. The exceptional weather we have been enjoying is perhaps leading to a cheerful, if not reckless optimism. I have never gone much of a bundle on a certain lady from north of the border but there is a mastery of detail, a clarity and an authoritative firmness on display at the moment that could be useful elsewhere. Tomorrow, Pentecost Sunday gives us the opportunity to move our focus on to something altogether more dynamic and hopeful (in the properly Christian sense of that word).
Friday, 29th May, 2020
Today’s gospel passage is the poignant exchange between Jesus and Peter in the closing stages of St John’s gospel. This passage, which is read at the installation of a new Pope, sees Jesus ask Peter three times if he loves him. Read in English there is a poignancy here, especially in St Peter’s being somewhat hurt when the question is put the third time. However, read in the original Greek there is much more to this passage. The English language has a rich vocabulary and a great deal of flexibility and nuance. However, we only have the one word for ‘love’. Greek, by contrast, has four different words two of which are used in this passage. So Jesus is not actually asking exactly the same question three times. The two words are ‘agape’, which means a love that is prepared for self-sacrifice, and ‘phileo’ which roughly means ‘like very much’. There is a big difference. The exchange goes something like this:
Jesus: ‘Do you agape me?
Peter replies: ‘Yes, I phileo you.’
Jesus the second time: ‘Do you agape me?
Peter replies again: ‘Yes, I phileo you.’
Jesus uses a different word in the third question: ‘Do you phileo me?
Peter replies: ‘Yes, I phileo you.’
St Peter might not have grasped the significance at the time but he certainly did later on.
Thursday, 28th May, 2020
Our church in Westbourne, as you know, is blessed with some very fine stained glass windows, though sadly you can’t see them at the moment. Most of the bigger ones have some Jesuit connection, reflecting our parish’s history. But there is a smaller one above the entrance to the little side chapel and this one celebrates some of our English martyrs, such as John Fisher and Thomas More. Tucked in the little group of saints is a depiction of Blessed Margaret Pole. Quite why she should be favoured in our particular church I’m not sure but she is certainly worthy of our respect, especially on this her feast day.
More about her can be found on this week’s diocesan enews
Wednesday, 27th May, 2020
Today is the Feast of St Augustine of Canterbury, an important saint in the history of Christianity in this country. As is well known he was sent by Pope Gregory the Great to evangelise England which had lost its previous Christian practice with the departure of the Romans. Augustine was not a natural evangeliser; he was in fact a monk who lived in a monastery in Rome, St Gregory’s own monastery, then called St Andrew’s monastery, now called St Gregory’s monastery. In the monastery church there is a very fine stone chair, reputed to be the one St Gregory sat in when he told St Augustine to go to England: a legend, no doubt, but a fine chair nonetheless. When I was in Rome many years ago the church was open and I took a moment to sit in the chair myself – not sure you could do that now. In any event, it gave me a very tenuous connection with St Augustine and St Gregory.
Tuesday, 26th May, 2020
The readings for weekday mass have, since Easter, been taken from the Acts of the Apostles, tracing the vibrant history of the church in its very earliest days. Generally, the readings have been consecutive but occasionally a passage gets missed out. One such is a very vivid account of an occasion when St Paul was in Troas. There was a gathering that had met ‘to break bread’ and this provided an occasion for St Paul to preach, and preach and preach. He went on preaching into the middle of the night. A young man, called Eutychus couldn’t keep his eyes open and he fell asleep. As he was sitting in the window sill he more than fell asleep; he fell out of the window and down three storeys. Fortunately for the young man and for St Paul he survived. A salutary lesson for all preachers: keep it short!
Monday, 25th May, 2020
Another glorious day – enjoy. If only the politicians and media could be persuaded to have a quiet and reflective day. Whatever one’s view of Mr Cummings (his dress sense has always irritated me) the in-your-face media frenzy outside his home with reporters and photographers exercising absolutely zero social distancing is to be deplored. After three months it seems politicians of all stripes and journalists (or is that emotionalists?) are getting a bit frazzled. They need to get a grip.
Sunday, 24th May, 2020
After yesterday’s electrical conundrum an engineer’s van did appear. I managed to speak with the engineer who said a house further down the road was without electricity. He made worrying noises about having to turn off the electricity for the whole road but fortunately that didn’t come to pass and there was no further disruption. However, I still woke up in the middle of the night.
Today’s communion antiphon is part of Jesus’ farewell prayer that his believers may become one as he is one with the Father. I set these words many years ago:
Saturday, 23rd May, 2020
Waking up in the middle of the night I could hear a beeping noise which took a little while to track down. It was the phone handset which said it wasn’t connected. Further investigation showed that all appliances were off, although the lights were still working. Going in to the garage I could see that the main protecting fuse in the fuse box had gone down. Switching it up brought everything back on again. I presume it was a power cut or power surge of some kind. Maybe the very heavy wind in the night caused an outage. A ringing burglar alarm at one of the shops on Seamoor Road suggests this did not just affect me. The Church seems to have been unaffected. If I hadn’t woken up as I did I wouldn’t have found out until much later. To be without electricity would be a great inconvenience especially at this time. Just shows how dependent we are.
Friday 22nd May, 2020
Last night I caught the tail end of a programme about the Queen. It made the point that part of her success has been her visibility – she has always been seen at major events, be they international, national or local. One occasion when I saw the Queen was when the police held the traffic up at a roundabout in Swindon to allow her limousine to pass by. She had been on a visit to the town and was presumably heading back to Windsor. She is now, of course, in isolation at Windsor and, as the programme pointed out, with all engagements cancelled, she may not be seen in public quite possibly for a very long time. The programme wondered what effect this lack of visibility might have. Immediately after the Resurrection, the disciples were without the Jesus who had been so visibly a part of their lives and they were bereft and fearful, until they encountered the risen Lord. Again after the Ascension they might have felt similarly bereft but, as yesterday’s gospel reminded us, Jesus said ‘And know that I am with you always; yes, to the end of time.’
Thursday, 21st May, 2020
Today is the Feast of the Ascension. A sermon for today can be found here.
Wednesday, 20th May, 2020
I am light sensitive and at this time of the year, even with heavy curtains, the early morning light can get through and wake me at 5.00 a.m. or even earlier. If it is not the light then it might be seagulls or other big birds that scramble about on the roof. Psalm 101 has mention of a bird on a roof, a lonely bird. This psalm is a prayer in distress:
O Lord, listen to my prayer and let my cry for help reach you. Do not hide your face from me in the day of my distress…… I have become like a pelican in the wilderness, like an owl in desolate places. I lie awake and I moan like some lonely bird on a roof.
Many people across the world are suffering considerable distress and anxiety at this time and those of us who are not in distress can pray this psalm for them.
(It is Psalm 101 in the Catholic numbering, Psalm 102 in the Anglican numbering).
Tuesday, 19th May, 2020
Traffic levels seem to be almost back to normal. Yesterday, there was even a long stationary queue the length of Seamoor Road, something not seen for two months. So with some trepidation I went to big Tescos but at 4.00 p.m. the car park was pretty empty, there was no queue so I could go straight in and there were very few people inside. Understanding crowd / herd behaviour is obviously a complicated science which doesn’t make the planning for easing the lockdown easy. In the gospels we see how crowds are very fickle, they come and go. The crowds flocked for the feeding of the five thousand but only a little way away the people of Capernaum spurned Jesus. The crowds eagerly welcomed him into Jerusalem yet only few days later another crowd were demanding his death. Nature programmes show how vast herds of buffalo migrate together and how flocks of birds manage to fly in perfect formation twisting and turning in a flash. It would be interesting to see an in depth exploration of human herd behaviour. I don’t think we are quite so coordinated.
Monday 18th May, 2020
Have you noticed how weather forecasters seem to like a bit of dramatic exaggeration? “Temperatures today may reach a high of 25 or 26 or even 27.” Why don’t they just say ‘temperatures may reach 27’? I suppose that would be a bit dull. They are not alone of course. The author of Psalm 62 says, ‘For God has said only one thing: only two do I know’. Jesus himself, in the parable of the sower, said that the seed that fell into rich soil produced crop and yielded thirty, sixty, even a hundredfold.
Sunday, 17th May, 2020
It is becoming something of a Sunday routine, but here is another beautiful piece of music relevant to today’s gospel passage. If Ye love me is by Thomas Tallis. Tallis (1505 – 1585) was not only a fine composer but an astute business man for, together with his friend and fellow composer William Byrd, he obtained from Queen Elizabeth the monopoly on publishing contrapuntal music (the type of music he wrote) which did him very well. Both he and Byrd kept out of religious controversies, writing for whatever was required at the time, but both are thought to have remained Catholics, albeit discreetly.
Saturday, 16th May, 2020
A headline in the Echo suggests that cycling on the promenade may be banned. I’m sure many cyclists would be a bit put out but something does need to be done. Yesterday, I walked from Alum Chine to the pier and back and it was a bit of an obstacle course with groups of cyclists and others at great speed. You can see a bike coming towards you but you can’t see or hear them coming up behind. And the two metre distancing is not being kept either and, of course, at speed the distance needs to be much greater as airborne droplets would carry a greater distance. Some cyclists are wearing helmets but none of the pedestrians who could be knocked over are wearing any. One doesn’t want to be a kill joy but it is important to make sure that someone’s joy doesn’t become a killer.
Friday, 15th May, 2020
Ibuprofen is a very effective anti-inflammatory drug. Another such drug is diclofenac. Both are beneficial discoveries and, used well, have relieved many uncomfortable conditions. But one person’s good medicine can be another’s poison. Penicillin also has many benefits but not for everyone – for example, I am allergic to penicillin. Unintended consequences, even from good intentions, are often negative. Some of you may have heard the radio feature which made a link between diclofenac, cows and vultures in India which highlights this unintended consequences conundrum. Apparently sacred cows in India are being given diclofenac by well-intentioned people concerned for the suffering of aged animals. So far so good, but when the cows die the corpses are attractive to vultures. The diclofenac, now present in the cows’ bodies then passes to the vultures. But diclofenac is fatal to vultures and they are now in danger of extinction in that part of the world. Let’s hope and pray that any unintended consequences arising out of the present situation are beneficial ones.
Thursday, 14th May, 2020
The Government has changed the slogan from ‘Stay at home’ to ‘Stay Alert’. There has been much criticism about this change and many have asked what ‘stay alert’ actually means. It means to be vigilant and this idea of vigilance and alertness is to be found in an important passage from the First Letter of St Peter (1 Peter 5:9), a passage which found its way into the nightly Office of Compline. The complete passage seems rather relevant:
Be calm but vigilant, because your enemy the devil is prowling round like a roaring lion, looking for someone to eat. Stand up to him, strong in faith and in the knowledge that your brothers all over the world are suffering the same thing.
Wednesday, 13th May, 2020
A more sombre note today – a word or two about death. A journalist was writing about the deaths in America and, he noted that at the age of thirty three he had never seen a dead body. I am sure he is not alone. I was twelve when I saw my grandfather laid out in his coffin and, of course, in my profession I have seen many dead bodies. When the virus started taking its toll in Italy and Spain there were frequent pictures of coffins, make-shift mortuaries and mass funerals. The tragic death toll in our country is now higher than it has been in Italy or Spain yet there have been no such pictures here. – why? The deaths – each one a matter of considerable sadness to the bereaved families – are nationally presented as statistics. But 30,000 deaths mean a lot of coffins, a lot of funerals but somehow in our culture the reality of death is somewhat sanitised and unseen and in that sense not wholesomely experienced. One must not be morbid or ghoulish but it is not really psychologically, emotionally or spiritually healthy to shy away from the stark reality. Perhaps it is, in some sense, easier for those of faith, especially faith in the power of the resurrection, which we celebrate at this time. But then the media is pretty uncomprehending and formulaic when it comes to matters of faith.
Tuesday, 12th May, 2020
There are signs that one or two shops are making some preparations for the possibility on opening up in some limited fashion. But shopping is clearly going to be a different experience. It already is different in supermarkets with queues and social distancing and that feeling that you are expected to know exactly what you want and an embarrassment if you have forgotten something and you try to retrace your steps to another aisle. Even if I have a list I like to browse a bit, even in supermarkets, but browsing may not be possible for some time to come. I certainly miss browsing in charity shops of which there are nine in Westbourne. You never know what you might come across. Some time ago I found an interesting brass dish which has an inscription in a language I didn’t recognise but it looked nice and so I bought it for a couple of quid. I cleaned it up and then put the inscription – Oba bi oluwa kosi – onto the computer. Apparently, it a West African language and it means, There is no king but God.
Monday, 11th May, 2020
‘Walking with Elephants’ – an unsentimental programme on Channel 4 last night about a trek following elephants on their migration. The programme started at a town called Kisane in Botswana, then followed the path of the Chobe river. Three years ago I was privileged to be exactly there and I saw a lot more elephants than they did in the early part of the programme. I was on a trip with the girl’s school visiting and helping in an orphanage at Livingstone, Zambia but we took a weekend off, crossed into Botswana at Kisane and then went on to a safari in Chobe national park where we saw and heard lots of wildlife. We saw lots of elephants and in the morning their footprints were to be seen on the ground round the campsite where we had been sleeping. The guide assured us that we were safe as elephants don’t like the smell of humans. But as the programme showed elephants can kill humans if they feel under threat. As my brother used to live in Africa I have been fortunate to have been on a few safaris and have always found something elemental if not spiritual about them. ‘Safaris’ have now to be on a more local and smaller scale but nonetheless interesting. A few weeks ago I drilled some holes in a piece of wood and put it up in the garden near some lavender. I am pleased to say most of the holes have now been plugged by some bumble bees or other solitary bees. There is wildlife to be seen here and that includes the occasional fox that can be seen in the street at night and the squirrels that use the back fence as a highway.
Sunday, 10th May, 2020
In today’s newsletter I highlight a passage from today’s second reading where St Peter talks about being a chosen race, a royal priesthood etc. This reminded me of a wonderful piece of music which I used to do when I was choirmaster at Downside. The composer John Ireland selected various passages from scripture bringing them together to make both a spiritual and musical statement. The passage from St Peter comes at about 3:18 in this recording:
Saturday, 9th May, 2020
Yesterday I phoned by nonagenarian aunt (my late uncle’s widow) not only to hear how she is but to ask her what she remembered about VE Day in 1945. She told me that she had gone to Trafalgar Square to celebrate and then she went on to tell me about her experiences of the war, how her home in London had been bombed twice (completely destroyed the second time) and how, having said she was sixteen (in reality only thirteen!), had volunteered for the ARP and had done watching duty. The television programmes last night and the Queen’s second thoughtful address were reminders of the corporate effort that was not only needed but successfully delivered to see the country through the War to final victory. Hopefully such a common purpose will help in the present struggle though, sadly, I saw several clear breaches of the rules yesterday.
Friday. 8th May, 2020
VE Day, a day when the nation will pause to remember the moment the Second World War ended in Europe exactly seventy five years ago – an event long before many of us were born but of continuing significance. A battle was won after many hardships and sacrifices and although there had been victory hardships continued for some time. There have been many comparisons with the War and our present circumstance. Sadly, it is possible we are still in late 1939 and a long way from May 1945. The War was won, not only because of many acts of individual sacrifice and courage but because nations came together to fight for freedom. It has been surprising that there has been no apparent international coming together at the present time – a notable silence from the United Nations. But we are all striving towards a common victory despite our differences. We are, of course, liturgically in Eastertide, still celebrating a different victory – Christ’s victory over sin and death. In today’s gospel (which is also the gospel for this coming Sunday), Jesus says there are many rooms in his father’s house and that he is the Way, the truth and the life.
Thursday, 7th May, 2020
There was a report in yesterday’s paper that, sadly, a man had died in Wales after being attacked by a water buffalo. The report then went on, ‘The water buffalo has been euthanised, police said.’ Why could they not say, ‘the water buffalo was killed’? Does the word ‘euthanise’ make us feel sorry for the water buffalo, or is it used because we might be sensitive. Often, language can be used inappropriately out of some sort of misplaced political correctness. Wrong language, however, can also reveal something useful to know. There are lot of scamming emails around at the moment. One recently tried to tell me that my television licence was out of date (which it isn’t) but it said, ‘for your protection we suspend your account’. This was clearly written by someone abroad who thinks they know English. No native speaker would say that. They would say, ‘we have suspended’ or ‘we are suspending’, not ‘we suspend’. A little difference, but it gives them away. In today’s gospel, Jesus says not once, but twice, ‘I tell you solemnly’, so clearly something important, nothing misleading or over-sensitive here: ‘I tell you most solemnly no servant is greater than his master’ and ‘whoever welcomes the one I send welcomes me, and whoever welcomes me welcomes the one who sent me.’
Wednesday, 6th May, 2020
Nothing much from me today but, following on from what I wrote yesterday, the Archbishops of England and Wales have published a statement which is worth reading. It is available on the Diocesan enews but the lilnk is here:
Tuesday, 5th May, 2020
A whiff of normality? Probably not quite, but there has been the distinct odour of fish and chips in the air in Seamoor Road. Our local chippy, Chez Fred, has started up again offering home delivered fish and chips booked online. This is a long way from the long queues that were a regular feature. Sometimes it takes a long time to get back to normality or to familiarise yourself with a new situation. In the gospel Jesus healed a blind man but the man couldn’t see everything at once; he thought people were trees. It took him some time to adjust to the new reality. There will, of course, be no immediate return to how things were for any of us and the tentative steps we may have to take are not yet clear. That goes for the church as for anything else. We are still the church in prayer and in spirit, together, if alone. How we may practically come together again physically is yet to be seen. Hopefully the smell of fish and chips is not just a reminder of former times but an indication of future possibility.
Monday, 4th May, 2020
A puddle on the kitchen floor – a bit of a disaster. No, not a dog – I don’t have one, but a sign that the dishwasher has sprung a possible terminal leak of some kind. Nothing much can be done about that for the time being so it’s back to the rubber gloves and the discipline of washing up after every meal – not letting it stack up. Although not everyone would agree, washing up, and that other domestic chore, ironing, can both be therapeutic activities. As ‘lock down’ involves a welcome ‘slow down’ I’m sure many are discovering other things to savour with more grace and gratitude. As neither activity requires much thought the mind can take a break from more fretful thinking. Listening to the birds and appreciating the wonders of God’s creation are also positives at this time. Dusting and hoovering haven’t quite made it into the same category yet, however.
Sunday, 3rd May, 2020
With extra time on our hands I am sure many of us have been sorting out this and that, getting round to jobs we have never really found time for. I have set myself to putting all the music I have written over the years into some sense of order, making a catalogue of sorts. In the process I came across a setting I made of Psalm 23 that I wrote almost twenty years ago. Psalm 23 is, of course, The Lord is my shepherd and is the Responsorial Psalm for today – Good Shepherd Sunday.
Saturday, 2nd May, 2020
My dissatisfaction with the Today programme continues. I generally listen to the 8.00 a.m. bulletin and may go on listening if they have something worthwhile but the fatuous questioning sees me more and more turning to Radio 3. Yesterday, there was an amazing piece of music. Someone had made an orchestral arrangement of a medley of the theme tunes of TV sports programmes (Match of the Day, Wimbledon, Question of Sport, Ski Sunday, Formula 1 etc.) To make such an arrangement, simply to write out all the notes, so to speak, is in itself was a considerable achievement. What was more amazing was that this was the played by the BBC Philharmonic Orchestra – not sitting altogether – but each player recording their part separately in isolation in their back bedroom or kitchen and a sound engineer mixing it all together. Inevitably the sound quality was not up to the same level of a state-of-the-art recording studio but the ensemble playing (the togetherness, if you like) was more than impressive. It was a good piece to hear as, even briefly, you had a sense of Wimbledon, which sadly, we won’t be seeing this year. That musicians, in isolation, can produce a corporate enterprise of such high quality is most encouraging. Remember that however isolated we may be at this time our prayer is never in isolation: praying alone we also pray together.
Friday, 1st May, 2020
Today is May Day. Given that May is generally a month of blossom, lengthening evenings and optimism I found myself wondering why ‘Mayday’ is a distress signal. The ever-useful Google provided the answer, which was news to me. Apparently, it is from the French ‘m’aider’ meaning to help and, by the way, it was an Englishman who thought it up. The First of May was always big in communism and amongst Trades Unions but lest communism appropriated human labour for its own ideological purposes the church, as recently as 1955, introduced today’s feast of St Joseph the Worker, perhaps to remind us that work has a spiritual dimension. Many people are, of course, not working at the moment and it’s quite likely that, across the world many will lose their jobs or find it very difficult to find work as we emerge from or, more likely, continue to cope with, the Coronavirus. All the more reason perhaps to look to St Joseph and that other great patron of the month of May, Our Lady.