January 2, 2015 admin

Seeking together

May 2015 be a good year for everyone. During the course of the coming months may we find worthwhile ways of working together for understanding, justice, sustainability and peace.
All our family loves the New Forest. Less than a hundred miles from London, it feels like a different world. Here, cars must wait for ponies, however slowly they decide to amble across the road. Cows, take precedence too. The dog can run for miles amongst the oaks and beeches of this, the most southerly of Britain’s ancient forests. The deer emerge from the woods to graze near verges at dawn and dusk, pigs feast on pannage in the autumn and the time measured by the turn of the seasons is more significant that the ticking of clocks. 
The holiday cottage we rented this year proved not simply to be near, but right next to, the church. I couldn’t help noticing the poster outside with the vicar’s name and her phone number. Recalling a wonderful conversation with a Yorkshire minister whom we had likewise cold-called on a vacation visit to his parish many years ago, I rang and invited the reverend to candle-lighting for the last night of Chanukkah. I don’t imagine that was the sort of call frequently received at the vicarage. But she was unfazed; she’d be delighted, she said, but had a sermon to write and wasn’t sure she’d be free in time. At least I could reassure her that I understood the problem.
Just as we were thinking she wouldn’t make it, my mobile rang: she’d be over in twenty minutes, with her husband, daughter, two grandchildren and a foster baby; they would all like to share the experience with us. Our family literally jumped into action: ‘We need a Chanukkiah; you have to buy chocolate coins; it’ll be so embarrassing if we don’t have anything’. A beautiful piece of rough forest wood was selected and the candles stuck in place. The shops were already shut, so sadly there were no coins. But potatoes and onions were peeled and grated, latkes speedily fried, chocolate and drinks placed on the table, so that by the time the party arrived a true Jewish scene awaited them. We placed the Chanukkiah on the centre of the table. There was surely no relevance to putting it in the window overlooking the public domain, as Jewish law requires, since the only passers-by were New Forest ponies and deer, to whom there is, to my knowledge, no specific duty to proclaim the miracle of Chanukkah. On the contrary, it’s creatures like these who remind me of the wonders of God’s works.  
We had a lovely hour of interfaith companionship around the lights, with engaging conversation about what it meant to be a minister in our faiths and parishes. Here was a lady who clearly understood her life as God’s work, caring for people in this beautiful corner of Britain.    
Of course, the next night we went to Midnight Mass. Among the hymns, familiar from school, and the rituals of the mass which are strange and puzzling to me, was a prayer specially written for the service: Just as Jesus was born in a stable, teach us to be mindful of those who, due to war and persecution, have no proper home, or who are outcast and lonely this Christmas. Just as Jesus was born poor, help us to be mindful of those who’ve lost their jobs, who’re on income support, who struggle to manage.
While I listened to these frank and straightforward words, in the imagery of a faith not my own, another prayer formulated itself in my mind: As we share this world full of life and beauty, teach us, God, not to see only the differences, disagreements and wounds of history which lie between us, but to look deeper, to our common aspirations to seek and cherish the sacred. Give us understanding and respect for one another, so that together we can find the strength do what is just and good and kind.
It was stirring to walk the short distance home through the dark woods, the stars the only illumination.

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