All for love. She traded NPR for BBC Radio 4, JIF Peanut Butter for Nutella Chocolate spread, and the Manhattan skyline for the Warwickshire countryside - one woman's journey finding life and love across the Atlantic...
As part of my vocation discernment process, I have been assigned on a "mini-placement" at lovely parish not far from where we live. The church, St Mary Magdalen's, has an outstanding lady vicar, called Charlotte, who is a real dynamo! She's visionary and very inspiring, yet calm, and down-to-earth. Charlotte offered me the opportunity to give a sermon during this Advent season, and today was my big day.
When she first suggested I preach, I panicked. "What, who me?!" was my internal response. But, it felt cowardly to say "No, thank you." And, an opportunity for growth and exploration to say, "Yes." Planning and prepping the sermon as difficult as I'd imagined it would be.
Unlike my 'day job' teaching/lecturing on Shakespeare, where I have a regular, captive audience at my mercy for well over 3 hours at a stretch, and feel as if I could push the metaphoric "Play button" in the back of my head, and discourse at length on "Auto-pilot", I felt a real constraint in this process. It felt comparatively like so little time, with so much more important information to communicate and express. It also felt more delicate, more precious. A real privilege and honour.
The texts for this Sunday, the 2nd Second Advent, are centred on John the Baptist - not the easiest topic to cover, as far as I'm concerned. But, I gave it a shot. And, the feedback was very positive and supportive. (The congregation had been warned it was my first sermon!) They are a really lovely parish, very warm, friendly and diverse, with a good range of ages and constituencies: young families, singles, kids, older people, etc. And, of course, my "high church, Episcopalian background" set me up with a good foundation for pitch, tone and style. (Thank you, St Luke's!)
Toward the end of the service, we sang "Whom Shall I Send", an old favourite hymn of mine from my Catholic university days. It felt as if Fr Labran was there, wishing me well and saying "Well done."
- - -
for 8 December 2013
in the Wilderness”
“In those days John the
Baptist came into the wilderness of Judea proclaiming, “Repent, for the kingdom
of heaven is near.” For he is the one about whom Isaiah the prophet had spoken:
of one shouting in the wilderness, Prepare the way for the Lord, make his paths
straight.’” (Matt 3: 1-3)
don’t know about you, but I have always found John the Baptist more than a
little intimidating. I recall quite vividly seeing Franco Zeffirelli’s iconic
film Jesus of Nazareth with Robert
Powell as a gently stoical Christ, and which featured Michael York as a heavily
bearded and severely bedraggled wild man, John the Baptist.
at the tender age of 10, I was struck by John’s courage and conviction, his
willingness to sacrifice himself to proclaim the Good News, but I also felt a
deep sense of discomfiture and unease with his missionary zeal, his rather aggressive
methods and tactics. I remember feeling embarrassed and deeply uncomfortable
watching John berating and humiliating Herod and his wife, Herodias, publicly for all
to see and witness. If this was a chief example of Christian evangelism, it was
indeed a tough one to follow.
we can, in equal measures, be both inspired and overwhelmed by the examples of
saints and evangelists, past and present – such as the 20th Century
martyrs who bedeck the Great West Door of Westminster Abbey – whose
extraordinary lives were each characterised by a fearless faith, and the same
courage and conviction.
courage and conviction have their place in the small moments of life as well. We
are not all called to die for our faith, or to eat locust and honey in the
wilderness, but we are called to live with courage and conviction, and to
proclaim the Gospel of Jesus Christ with passion and purpose. How we achieve
this is as unique as we are, in our own individual circumstances and
believe the great Christian thinker and writer, C. S. Lewis, recently honoured
with a plaque in Poet’s Corner in Westminster Abbey, provides us with a very
useful example. In 1941, C. S. Lewis took on a commission from the BBC for Christian
advocacy to present “a positive restatement of Christian doctrine in lay
language” for the average man. Lewis was the perfect man for the job. His
voice, described as “one part Belfast, nine parts Oxford”, was one of
compassionate and sensitive authority. More important than his elocution, was
his sense of himself as a “fallible chap speaking to other fallible souls”.
This came across clearly over the airwaves, offering listeners the requisite
combination for conveying the “awkward seriousness and strangeness of Christian
faith”: Lewis possessed a tangible sense of ordinariness, coupled with the
possibility of transfiguration.
was more than acutely aware of his audience, and the incredible need to “meet
them where they were”, in the wilderness of his time. His wartime audience,
huddled around their wirelesses, amid sirens and rubble, in streets of ruined
houses, hearing the nightly bombers overhead, were seeking a cosmic world view
that not only spoke to their experience, but also enabled them to make sense of
it. His words reached hundreds of thousands, and then millions of listeners,
who soon became readers.
it is, of course, through his writings that most of us – particularly in the
post-war generation – have come to know and love C. S. Lewis. I remember
encountering The Chronicles of Narnia,
and particularly, The Lion, The Witch and
the Wardrobe as a child: roughly around the same period as seeing
Zefirelli’s Jesus of Nazareth. The
incredibly produced animated film brought Lewis’ timeless characters to life. I
remember weeping as I’d never wept before at the demise of Aslan, and the joy
and recognition I felt when he returned from the dead. “It’s Jesus, in
disguise!” I remember declaring quite vividly through a surge of pre-adolescent
beauty of Narnia, and the magic of his portrayal of Aslan, lies within Lewis’ bold
and daring attempt to recreate profoundly and viscerally – on the page or screen, for readers and
viewers of whatever age – what is like to encounter and believe in Jesus
Former Archbishop Rowan Williams put it: Lewis’ gift lies in making fresh that
which is thought to be familiar. Sharing the “Good News”, he says, is not so
much a matter of telling others what they have NEVER heard, as much as it is
persuading them that there are things that they have NOT heard, when they think
they have heard it all.
leads me back to Troublesome John. What can we learn from John the Baptist? What
were the key features of his ministry: Purpose, Preaching, Passion, and
Personal Witness. These are the hallmarks of every evangelist – of whatever
variety or style. John’s essential message in his preaching was: "Repent, for the
kingdom of heaven is at hand!" (Mt 3:2).
tellingly, the word “repent” in Greek translates as: “To change one’s mind.”
That, I think is the central point of evangelism – to offer others a fresh
perspective, a new way of seeing or experiencing the Love of God.
so, what about us – in our modern day wilderness of cynicism, strife,
corruption, commercialisation and overarching secularism? Not many of us would
be drawn to a life wearing clothes made of camel hair, eating locusts and
honey, whilst hurling admonishments from the rooftops – although I do actually
know a few people who might like to have a go! Similarly, we also may not be
gifted with the quiet genius of a C. S. Lewis, to create volumes that inspire
generations, or to produce a prolific flood of Christ-inspired words read by
can we, then, in small but substantial ways advance the Kingdom of God, to prepare
the Way of the Lord, to be ourselves ‘Voices Crying out in the Wilderness’ of
our daily lives?
a small range of possibilities for us to think about during Advent, Christmas
and beyond: -
If you are sending out Christmas cards or issuing a Christmas letter to friends
and family this year, why not select a religious themed card, one with a Bible
verse, or add your own personal favourite Biblical text to your cards and
Invite a non-churchgoing friend to the Carol Service or Midnight Eucharist.
Saying sorry, and really meaning it. Unfortunately, this time of year can place
us all under a considerable amount of stress. And stress can lead to
grumpiness, moodiness, crankiness, and short fuses particularly with those
nearest and dearest to us – spouses, family, friends or coworkers. This season,
in addition to saying “sorry”, let us try making a real effort to change, and put
an end to that kind of behaviour.
Rediscovering Prayer. This Advent, why not commit to developing a more
disciplined prayer life. We cannot overestimate the power of prayer. Praying
for the world, praying for the Church, praying for others and praying with
others. Resolve to pray with your spouse, children, neighbour, or a friend, if
you’ve not done so previously. And, praying for ourselves: that God will give
us the grace and the opportunity in the coming year to be “lights in the
to alter slightly the words of Mother Teresa, who encourages us to commit
“Random acts of kindness”, this Advent we could strive to commit “Random acts
the heart of Christ’s message is the unconditional and redeeming Love of God.
We know from that oft-quote passage in Corinthians
that “Love is patient, kind, &etc.”
How can we put this into practice in our daily lives? This I think is more a
matter of Being than Doing. Taking a grace-full – as in full of grace – approach to our daily activities
As C. S. Lewis once put it: Christianity is
not what you say, it isn’t what you write, and it is not even what you believe.
Christianity is what you do, because of what you believe. Life, for Lewis was
meant to be in itself an act of faith; and prayer, a way of thinking and being.
is meant to be a time of reflection and preparation, what better time then to
pause and prayerfully consider the time that has been and the time that lies
ahead – and ways in which we, too, are, have been and can be witnesses and
heralds for Our Lord, voices, crying out in the wilderness.