Marking Time Amidst the Newness of Daily Life

Added about 7 months ago by Rosalind Brown

GUEST BLOG: With a new liturgical year just around the corner, we’re focusing on some of our liturgical resources as part of our November #ThemeOfTheMonth: New Beginnings. In this week’s blog Rosalind Brown, author of  Prayers for Living: 500 Prayers for Public and Private Worship, ruminates on the many new beginnings, both happy and sad, we experience throughout life and the importance of the church in marking time and providing continuity in the midst of change.Author Picture

Recently, within 24 hours, I heard of a birth and a death, followed a week later by a second death. The birth made me a great aunt for the second time. (Question: why, as a great aunt, am I ‘great’ while my brother, the grandfather, is ‘grand’? What is the difference? But if I were to be a ‘Grand Aunt’ all I would think of is ‘Grande Dame’ which, rightly or wrongly, conjures up images of indomitable matriarchs who I don’t want for role models. So I’ll stick to being great. But I do rather like ‘Greatfather’).

The first death was of a very elderly Christian who was ready to die. The second, of a former Cathedral colleague, Mark McIntosh, who had been paralysed by the cruel Motor Neuron Disease, was a relief from the ravages of his disease but, at peace with God and undeterred by his paralysis, he was dictating a theology book and had made yet another new beginning in his prolific writing career by starting a novel for teenagers. Would that I had such determined and creative courage under any circumstances.

We think of death as an ending, which it is. But it is more than that. Like birth, it is a new beginning both for the person who died, who we believe has made a new beginning in the closer presence of God, and for family and friends who are making a new beginning without their loved one. So as I pray for good new beginnings for my great-niece, her family and for all new babies, particularly those whose parents cannot care for them as they need, also, remembering before God the people I know who died, I pray for people around the world who are having to make the hard new beginning of bereavement, particularly for people with complex memories or traumatic futures.

It’s still near the beginning of the academic year and I’m meeting Freshers, for whom I am College tutor, for coffee in one of my favourite cafes. Beginning at University is a big, sometimes challenging, new beginning but there are always more subtle new beginnings as well so, yesterday, when I met a final year student, we talked about what comes after graduation: what path to tread? what doors to push? what career choices to make? Decisions, decisions… and so much hangs on them. (Pause for thought: I look back on my life in wonder at how it has panned out. What would life be like had I made even one different choice about which new path to take on any of those occasions when a decision was needed? Shades of ‘The road not taken’. Perhaps the only certainty is that I would not be writing this blog.) So, how best to pray for new and returning students with all they face in the coming year?

While I wrote the first paragraph an email arrived from my seminary alumni mailing which began, ‘Are you new to your career or re-entering the workforce…?’ before inviting me to, ‘discover how your spiritual gifts can be applied to the marketplace and how your faith can be the foundation of a more fulfilling work life.’ I want to add, not just a work life that is more fulfilling for me, although that is good and I am grateful that my 44 years of working life were very fulfilling, but what about a work life that is fulfilling for the world, that changes the world for good, even in a small way? Surely our spiritual gifts should be used to that end? And, of course, there are millions of good people who would not speak in terms of ‘spiritual gifts’ but who make a difference for good through their work or volunteering. I think of some of my former work colleagues and suddenly I’m briefly lost in memory lane. So I pray for them and for all people who are working while I pray: those in caring or teaching roles come readily to mind, but also the people out of the public eye who keep our society’s wheels oiled, making significant policy and administrative decisions. So I pray for government advisors and civil servants, people who clean up after us whether in buildings or in the street, people standing at assembly lines doing repetitive but necessary tasks, people working in dangerous or unhealthy environments. I could be here all day. Each one of them once made a new beginning in their work or volunteering and now live the consequences for the good or ill of all of us.

Amidst all this newness of daily life, we are held by the framework of the Church year which begins again soon because Advent Sunday is drawing closer, bringing with it not only the season of Advent but also a new church year. I am reminded of a six year old member of Durham Cathedral Sunday School who said, ‘Jesus must get very bored. He is born and dies every year.’ But the truth is that Jesus is never bored with our observation of the year, and its circular nature means that if we mess up one year – usually in observing Lent well – there is another opportunity next year. The church year is a constant rotation of new beginnings.

I read somewhere that, in Indonesian, the word ‘hope’ means to see through the horizon. That image inspired one of the prayers in Prayers for Living. New beginnings are always coming over the horizon and should bring hope. There’s so much newness to pray about: the gift of lovely new beginnings; the challenge to maintain hope amidst more austere and unwelcome new beginnings; the barely noticed but significant new beginnings, and, more dramatically, the unexpectedness when God gate-crashes like a party-goer into the carefully guarded orderliness of our lives and we hear, with more vivid experience, the familiar words so redolent in Advent, ‘Behold, I make all things new!’

Rosalind Brown was a Residentiary Canon at Durham Cathedral from 2005 to 2018, where she had oversight of the nave, or public, ministry of the cathedral. Prior to that, she chaired the Diocese of Salisbury’s working party on the ministry of deacons, edited the Salisbury report on the Distinctive Diaconate, and is author of several books on ministry and preaching. Her book Prayers for Living is being featured as part of our November #ThemeOfTheMonth: New Beginnings – get your copy here!

Please note: Sacristy Press does not necessarily share or endorse the views of the guest contributors to this blog.

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