Sunday, October 20, 2019

Eye Cloud

Forest Church is known for taking place in all weathers, the topic of clouds was picked deliberately for our October meeting, hoping the sky would contain at least some nebulous interest. That morning though the constant grey drizzle, interspersed with heavier downpours, was not looking as though it was going to give us much variety in cloud cover. Miraculously by mid-afternoon the weather cleared, the sun even made an appearance, and we were treated to a huge variety of cloud shapes and patterns for our gathering.

Clouds are mentioned lots of times throughout the Bible, referring sometimes just to the part they play in the weather (Luke 12:54, Ecclesiastes 11:4), sometimes to the presence of God (Exodus 13:21-22, Numbers 16:42) and sometimes figuratively when speaking about multitudes of people, like the passage at the start of Hebrews 12:
                    "Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses..."

In Job 36, Elihu speaks to Job about God's greatness, verses 22 - 33 and Job 37:14-16 say this:

"Pay attention to this, Job. Stop and consider the wonderful miracles of God!
Do you know how God controls the storm and causes the lightning to flash from his clouds?
Do you understand how he moves the clouds with wonderful perfection and skill?
When you are sweltering in your clothes and the south wind dies down and everything is still, he makes the skies reflect the heat like a bronze mirror. Can you do that?"

So clouds in the Bible are both figurative and real, they are symbols of the presence of God and they are super interesting! Did you know that an average sized cumulus cloud (1 cubic km in size) weighs as much as 80 elephants? For more on clouds, the Cloudspotter's Guide by Gavin Prettor-Pinney is a really interesting read.

In the great medieval work "The Cloud of Unknowing" the image of a cloud represents the intellectual darkness between us and God, who is 'other', yet who through love and prayer can become known. Here is how it starts:

"When I first begin to reach out to you, my God,
   all that I find is a darkness,
   a sort of cloud of unknowing;
I cannot tell what it is,
except I experience in my will
a simple reaching out to you, Lord God.
This darkness is always between me and my God,
   no matter what I do,
and it prevents me from seeing you clearly
by the light of understanding in my reason,
and from experiencing you
in sweetness of love in my affection.
So help me to rest in this darkness
   as long as I can,
always crying out after you, whom I love.
For if I am to experience you
or to see you at all,
in so far as this is possible here,
it must always be in this cloud
and in this darkness.

Back in pre-renaissance times, art depicting God's presence in a cloud would only show an eye or a hand stretching out of a cloud, however with the renewed interest in Greek culture during the renaissance the old images of Zeus and the rest of the gods sitting on clouds passing judgement and the occasional lightning bolt were popularised again. Still today many of us visualise God as a petulant, entitled, fallible deity choosing to distance himself from the sinful human race. To worship this god would be to worship Zeus, not the God of the Bible.

We spent time with charcoal and paper sketching what we saw in the sky and pondering the words from the Cloud of Unknowing. Some of us just played in the sunshine!

In the sky we could see cumulus, stratus and cirrus clouds, we were happy that the nimbostratus (carrying rain) stayed away for long enough for us to draw and share our thoughts at the end of our gathering.

Incidentally there was an incredible sunset that evening, as Psalm 19 says, "the heavens declare the glory of God; the skies proclaim the work of his hands".

Monday, September 9, 2019

Forage Porridge

On 8th September 2019, we gathered at Ashlett Creek to mark the turning of the season by gathering berries together and turning them into Forage Porridge, in gratitude for the gifts the summer had brought us.

Picking Blackberries by Lynn Ungar

What will you give for a taste
of summer's last sweetness?
This jewelled crown of thorns
rings every path and highway;

No use pretending you
have not heard sweet temptation
chatter through the vines -
taste, eat

Put your hands in the thorns
and come out dripping juice,
king's purple spread from
hand to tongue.

Reach gently,
or you will find your thumb
full of thorns, and your pail
filled with unbearable tartness.

Reach gently, but reach.
The sweetest berries hide
toward the inside, hidden
beneath leaves barbed like critics.

Balance, if you must, precariously,
held by will and longing from
the net of thorns. If you want
the ripest fruit, relinquish safety.

Guard yourself only with these words:
Peril, abundance
whispered like a prayer
through purple lips.

After we had gathered our berries, and made our porridge, we reflected on this being our communion -
in gratitude for the gifts of summer, we share this simple meal together, and are nourished in both body and soul. Together we honour the gifts of the earth for our physical nourishment, and the gifts of each other to nourish our souls. The sacred art of feasting invites us to savour God with all of our senses. We often hear the injunction to look and listen for God, but in a meal we get to taste smell and touch the sacred as well. 

We finished with an embodied ritual for honouring the changing of the seasons, based on Christine Valters Paintner's idea in 'Water, wind, earth and fire - the Christian practice of praying with the elements" -

Begin by facing east, the place of the rising sun, of morning, of new beginnings, and the season of springtime

Turn towards the south, the place of the midday sun, the warmth and fullness of the day, and the season of summer

Turn towards the west, the place of the setting sun, of endings and transitions, and of the season of autumn

Turn towards the north, the place of the midnight moon, a time for reflection and turning inward and the season of winter

Reach your arms heavenward and honour the angels saints and ancestors, those who have travelled the path before us. Ask their blessing on the time ahead

Hold your arms out to your sides and honour the community across this earth of which you are a part. Remember your family and friends, pray for global issues and concerns, feel your connection to the whole of creation

Place your hands over your heart and get in touch with the still centre within you. Ask for a blessing on your own dreams, longings and desires. Open yourself to the discovery of how the Spirit is moving in your life this day.

Monday, July 22, 2019

Summer Social - Saturday August 3rd

Please come and join us for our summer social at Bolderwood on Saturday August 3rd from 12pm for a shared picnic. We would love to see you, especially if you've not made it to a Forest Church meeting yet but have been hoping to get along! There will be time to chat as well as some outdoor activities.

Wednesday, July 17, 2019

Divine Nature Eucharist

Once a year we gather under some trees and share in the Eucharist, the thanksgiving, of what Christ has done on the cross to reconcile all things back to the Great Creator.

This year we met in the glorious sun shining upon us in the shade of a circle of Oak trees with a Holly tree in the centre.

Using words from the Celtic Prayer book vol. 3 ' Healing the Land - natural seasons, sacraments, and special services', a liturgy book from The Community of Aidan & Hilda,  and liturgy from 'A Celtic Liturgy' by Pat Robson, as well as some original NFFC words, we spent time becoming consciously aware of the Divine presence within us, and surrounding us, and within the natural world which also surrounded us. We spent time in quiet personal contemplation alone in creation, and then came back to share both the Divine peace with one another, and also the Divine sacraments of the Eucharist. After we had shared the bread and wine with each other, we deliberately offered the remaining bread and wine to the earth, and scattered them on the ground around us. 

Following this we walked slowly back to the car park to share in refreshments together. 

This gathering each year is always a special time, and one which folk feel a deep Divine presence in. 

This is one of the few sessions which we repeat annually, so please do watch out for it again next year!

Tuesday, June 18, 2019

Our next gathering 
July 14th

As part of the nature based Eucharist we will be having at NFFC this coming Sunday we will be singing the following song which goes to the Skye boat song tune.
To save paper I am sending it out electronically. Please bring a device with you so you have the words.

Gather around, the table is spread, welcome the food and rest.
Wide is our circle, Christ is the head, he is the honoured guest.
Learn of his love, grow in his grace, pray for the peace be gives.
Here at this meal, here in this place, know that his Spirit lives.
Once he was known in the breaking of bread, shared with a chosen few.
Multitudes gathered and by him were fed, so he will fed us too.

Sunday, June 9, 2019

Love, Life and Litter

Lepe Country Park

This event was inspired by Extinction Rebellion, the members of which organisation
have been risking everything to draw our attention to the climate emergency we
are facing. They are using non violent means with high impact. I had been challenged
once again to consider the impact my sense of entitlement has on my environment.

It is worth noting that in this particular place, there is the litter of individuals, and
also the litter of government decisions, namely war. In the last week this place has
seen events marking the 75th anniversary of the D Day landings, of which this was
one of the launch points. You can see the remnants of concrete bases, and piers.
75 years later, the litter of war is not so easily erased and put in a bag. However,
over time, the land has been reclaimed for conservation and enjoyment.
Love has taken the place of fear and death.

Today, we took part in a litter pick with a difference.

As we found litter, we were invited to say a prayer for the person who ate, drank
or used the item - not standing in judgement, but sending them love. We asked
for forgiveness for the ways we all have used and abused the gift of creation.
And reflected on our own responsibility for change. We were invited to ask God
how we might take action in line with Jesus’ own non violent methods of getting
his message across. How might we challenge our own assumptions about what
we are entitled to do, eat, and connect with our environment?

When we regrouped, we shared our reflections on the process. A number of us
had experienced conflicted feelings about others - those who have consciously left
behind items that could be harmful to others, as well as the environment. It was a
challenge to send love and prayers for those people. We wondered what it would
take to be non violent in our thoughts as well as our actions.

If you have been challenged about taking further action after today - how about
getting involved with Tearfund's Rubbish Campaign? Or perhaps eat one less meat
based meal a week? Drive one less journey a week? Write to your MP?
Join Extinction Rebellion? Become a Friend of Lepe and litter pick here regularly?

We finished with the following prayers -

An Uncomfortable Blessing

May the Spirit bless you with discomfort at easy answers, half truths and superficial
relationships so that you will live deep in your heart.

May the Spirit bless you with anger at injustice and oppression, the exploitation of
people and earth so that you will work for justice, equity and peace.

May the Spirit bless you with tears
to shed for those who suffer so that you will reach out your hand to comfort them.

May the Spirit bless you with foolishness to think that you can make a difference
in the world so that you will do the things which others say cannot be done.4

Mark Wilcox. Copyright © 2004 (St Aidan Press, Holy Island).

Loving Father, help us to change.
To change ourselves and to change our world.
To know the need for it.
To deal with the pain of it.
To feel the joy of it
To undertake the journey without understanding the destination.5

Michael Leunig

Sunday, May 19, 2019

God is in the (mathematical) detail

We met for our May gathering at Andrew's Mare, a beautiful spot just near Minstead.

Our theme was the awe-inspiring beauty and intricate patterns to be found in even the tiniest parts of creation - like a bracken frond uncurling to reveal all the smaller leaves within it. On the day, though, the mathematical patterns were what we talked about, this being one way in which God's fingerprints are revealed.

We started off passing round a basket of pine cones and permanent markers. The challenge was to observe and draw in the spiral patterns we could find in the patterns of the scales. We mostly counted 8 or 13 spirals, but the number 21 was also found.

Looking at these numbers some people recognised them as belonging to the Fibonacci sequence, which starts 1, 1, 2, 3, 5, 8, 13, 21... Each number in the sequence is generated by adding the two previous numbers in the sequence together. These special numbers pop up in the natural world everywhere, in petals, leaves, branches and pine cones! These numbers also draw a very nice spiral as you can see from one of the photos. The result of dividing adjacent Fibonacci numbers converges on an irrational number called the Golden Ratio that begins 1.61803398875 and this number is deliberately used in art, architecture and design as the proportions are very pleasing.

We discussed how beautiful these patterns (of form and number) are, and how for some of us finding out about these patterns turns our hearts towards worship of our Creator God. Romans 1:20 says "God’s eternal power and character cannot be seen. But from the beginning of creation, God has shown what these are like by all he has made."

It seemed to strike a chord with quite a few people, that “Mathematics is the language in which God has written the universe”, to quote Galileo Galilei, the Italian astronomer and physicist. We then spent time either looking for patterns in the leaves, bracken and flowers to be found or studying the tadpoles which were teeming in the nearby "mare" (pond). The weather was glorious so we were in no hurry to return back to the car park for refreshments!

Wednesday, May 1, 2019

The Bigger Picture

For the April gathering we looked at the concept of 'the bigger picture', or a higher perspective, in the context of our lives and the Greater Divine Plan.

We each took two pieces of the New Forest Forest Church jigsaw (see pictures) and equated one piece to the moment in which we find ourselves in life at this moment. With the things which are in the forefront of our minds, the joys or sorrows which flood our being at this present moment in our life journey. The second piece of jigsaw which we each held in our hands we equated to how we, as individuals, fit into the greater whole of any body we belong to, whether that be family, friends, church, nation, or simply humanity. We contemplated how each piece is different, yet all fit together to be one whole picture.

Then we spent time wandering a part of the New Forest where we could see vast scenes of hills and heath, and a great big sky. We looked at a small section of the natural world as we past it, and then looked at it in its larger setting.

So often we can get caught up in the single moment that we find ourselves in at this present moment in our lives, and forget that there is a bigger picture. That this moment is just one moment in all our moments which make up our life.

We can also very easily forget that we are not alone, but part of a collective, that we have an innate sense of belonging because we are designed, like a single piece of jigsaw, to be part of something bigger together with others.

In the midst of the Babylonian exile God spoke to the Israelites through the prophet Jeremiah saying "I know the plans I have for you, plans to give you a hope and a future" (29v11), reminding them that God has the bigger picture in his sight.

Friday, March 15, 2019

Events and Rhythms, marks in the landscape

We gathered around the Rufus Stone, just off the A31 near Minstead. The first things to say is that its not a stone. It begin as a tree , then a stone was placed, defaced and replaced by a solid triangle of green early Victorian metal in 1841 . The monument records the death of William II , 'William Rufus', by an arrow in a hunting accident. One Walter Tyrrell, pub nearby sporting his name shot the arrow at a stag, but instead hit a tree and it apparently 'glanced off the tree' and hit William and killed him outright. There are other views on this, carried no doubt, by a historical biography ( Barlow, F (2000) that describes William as:
'A rumbustious , devil-may-car soldier, without natural dignity or social graces, with no cultivated tastes and little show of conventional religious piety or morality - indeed, according to his critics ,addicted to every kind of vice.'

William Tyrell  fled to France . Discuss.

But equally Barlow records that William was known for 'his chivalrous virtues and achievements ... maintaining god order and  satisfactory justice in England and restored good peace to Normandy.'

So who knows ? What we do know is that he was killed by an arrow and a monument of some sort has been maintained ever since on this spot - tree, stone or iron work. 

What we discovered also was that the monument not only remembered the famous and the noted, but also those 'just passing' : 'one Purkis', who had a cart.

My name is Purkis
And I was just passing

I remember this place before the Forest
The hamlets and families that lived here
We come back now to harvest the fruit from the forest
Nuts, mushrooms, firewood,
A bit of poaching.
Although this is getting more difficult
With it becoming such a place for the Royal Hunt.

This one day , a hot one , in late summer
A right rumpus -  horses and men and shouting
Rushing around -voices raised – some even laughing
And a dead man lying with an arrow in him, next to the oak.

Didn’t look good. I tried to rumble past, but you can’t hide an old  cart
Pulled by an old horse.

‘Hey – you man, come here..’
‘What’s your name?’
‘You saw nothing , right?’
‘Right’ I said
Registering that this was the right answer
‘Good man Purkis’
You won’t mind a trip to Winchester will you ?
I looked at the men stood around – all gentlemen of
Fine standing, powerful men , their horses
Liveried with fine tack
And their dogs sharp and fierce.
I was not I a position to refuse.

I looked at the dead man; equally fine
I caught a glimpse of a red beard.
They hauled him onto my cart and within a few paces we had
Formed a solemn procession
Me and my nag at its centre
Taking the dead King to Winchester.

My name is Purkis
And I was just passing.

Purkis may have been 'just passing' - like the rush of the A31 that we could hear, we are caught up in this rush. Stepping out of it , even for an hour to stand in the company of ancient history and slow growing trees is a challenge to us and reminds us , as RS Thomas puts it:

'Life is not hurrying on to a receding future,
not hankering after an imagined past'

Events mark changes in our lives - no doubt Purkis had a few stories to tell after his part in the events, and of course it was a big change for William Rufus . Events mark changes in our lives, but the rhythms of or lives are where we mostly live.

Marking the events is what we understand - we know our monuments in the UK - Spinaker Tower, Nelson's Column, The Angel of the North, countless spires and towers, statues and edifices - we remembered the long held tradition from way back : 

'Then Samuel took a stone and set it up between Mizpah and Shen. He named it Ebeneezer, saying, 'Thus far the Lord has helped us'
1 Samuel 7.v12
 But conversely Jesus , responding to the disciples enthusiasm about the Temple in Jerusalem says:
'Do you see all these things?' Truly I tell you , not one stone here will be left on another.' Matthew 24.v 2
Not a big vote for the practice of monument-making. As in many areas of our lives there is compromise. We recognised, in the presence of the Rufus Stone that making marks on the landscape is part of us and we do it in many ways to remind us that we exist and that things happen. 

Living by events risks a diary led existence of consuming time and experiences , our rhythms are deeper . As Alistair reminded us at the last Forest Church - we are tidal, we are rhythmic, so how can we allow those rhythms to be at least noticed and 'lived in' ?
As a group we spent time having a wander in  and out of the surrounding woods and glades holding this tension of 'event and rhythm' , mindful of our need to make a mark , mindful of our part of that in which we wandered.

Gathering back we heard of the reflections of people - of the branch found that illustrated the dead hard heart wood and the thin layer of cambian where the living happened in the wood; of the glade surrounded by holly that suggested growth will continue , whatever our pressing decisions and concerns, and of one good lady Winifred who lived a long and faithful life around whom others could find stability.

Sunday, February 10, 2019

Ashlett Creek session - hidden influences

We were delighted to be joined by our friends from Balham - Des, Sue and their lovely congregation as well as some newcomers from Southampton and Salisbury area - so, alongside the normal regulars, we were a big group. 
This helped. It was cold and windy on the quay so we huddled like penguins while people pulled elements from the tidal story out of a pot and then told the story in 13 short instalments. Here they are. They're based on Southampton Water, where we were standing.

1) At low tide the sea in Southampton Water covers 27 million square metres. 
2) The average tide raises water level by 4 metres.
3) The tide comes in twice a day. flooding an extra 10 million square metres of estuary.
4) At high tide the sea in Southampton Water covers 37 million square metres. It has increased the volume of the estuary by 126 million cubic metres.
5) A cubic metre of water weighs a ton. Southampton Water increases and decreases weight by 126 million tons a day. Twice a day.
6) The main influence on the tide is the Moon - 240,000 miles away.
7) The Sun has a smaller influence (about 44% of the Moon’s tidal pull on the ocean).
8) The sun is 93 million miles away.
9) The coastal landscape round Britain changes dramatically on a daily basis due to influences that lie between 240,000 and 93 million miles away.
10) The pull of these invisible influences affects more than the sea. They also affect the land.
11) Within 2 hours of the Moon being overhead (or under our feet on the other side of the world) the land will have risen around 40 cm. Every hill, valley, forest, city, pylon, tower block, sewage pipe rises and falls every day as we spin beneath the moon. 
12) We are walking on waves. Sensitive instruments called seismometers measure them. Many volcanic eruptions and earthquakes are triggered by the earth-tide coming in.  
13) American poet Walt Whitman, visiting American Civil War hospitals in 19th century, felt that the seriously wounded in them, became calmer, “and died ‘easier’”, in harmony with the tides.

We were standing on the Quay at 16:20. Second high tide was due at 16:28, after which 126 M tonnes of water would slip silently away due to the hidden influences of bodies vast distances away and often invisible (cloudy days/nights).

Then we considered three scriptures that hinted at the invisible influences in our spiritual lives:

“Where can I go from your Spirit? Where can I flee from your presence? If I go up to the heavens, you are there. If I make my bed in the depths, you are there. If I rise on the wings of the dawn, if I settle on the far side of the sea, even there your hand will guide me, your right hand will hold me fast. If I say, ‘Surely the darkness will hide me and the light become night around me,’ even the darkness will not be dark to you; the night will shine like the day, for darkness is as light to you.” Psalm 139: 7-12

10 Finally, be strong in the Lord and in his mighty power. 11Put on the full armour of God, so that you can take your stand against the devil’s schemes. 12For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms.  Ephesians 6.

The angel of the Lord encamps all around those who fear Him, and delivers them. Psalm 34.7

We then had about 20 mins to wander, to watch the tide tip from flood to ebb and to simple watch and listen. It was too cold to share when we gathered together again so we reassembed at Fairwinds for food and drink and a chance for people to share their thoughts and reflections. As usual, it was a privilege to hear people share. I won't attempt to summarise their reflections - they could do it better in the comments below if they read this but thankyou to all who came. Looking forward to seeing people in March one at the Rufus Stone near Stoney Cross in the New Forest where Mike and Julie will be leading.