Expensive Presence

It was my granddaughter’s second birthday on Tuesday. And my other granddaughter’s second birthday on Monday. Two years ago my daughter and my daughter-in-law both gave birth to two wonderful little girls, just a day apart.

Zoe & tractor.DVDjpgAs you can imagine, there were lots of celebrations. Zoe, in Perth, had one big party on Sunday. Counting the grown-ups, there were about 70 guests. There was a pony for pony rides, and there were tractors. Zoe loves tractors. There was a tractor DVD, the birthday cake was shaped as a tractor, and Zoe got tractors for presents.

Aurora is having a week-long series of small family parties. I haven’t calculated the total number of guests who will celebrate her second voyage around the sun, but it will also come to quite a crowd. Aurora has a cake at each party, and lots of presents.

Presents: they’re an issue, I think, for our affluent society. Grown-ups like to take care that the presents Aurora sparklesthey buy are appropriate for the child, and the thought that goes into gift-giving expresses love. We grandparents sometimes buy expensive presents because we know that quality items will last longer and be safer for our grandchildren. The internet, with e-Bay and specialist toy-shops, opens the choice of presents wider and wider. There’s a real sense in which we can’t avoid buying presents. On the surface not to buy good presents would appear to be denying our grandchildren.

But the end result of two birthdays for our granddaughters is more presents than they can appreciate; a sense that they deserve a never-ending cornucopia of material goods, and a profound connection between material goods and family love.

It disturbs me.

We can’t fix the problem simply by stop buying presents. Unless we are superb at crafts, even making all our presents will not counter the messages of an affluent society.

We need to talk about it. We need to raise the issue with our friends, and speak prophetically where we can. We can set out to change the way our culture thinks about gifts.

And we need to flood the children in our lives with presence, countering the culture of expensive gift-giving with the valuing of time and attention lavished on the children we love.

[Published on the Starts at Sixty website]

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The Child You Were – and the Child You Still Are

Eleanor Lewin, parishioner of St Mary’s and Diocesan President of MU introduced Jesus the Child We Worship to the parishioners of St Mary’s Busselton on Sunday October 19.

She encouraged her fellow-parishioners to use the book during Advent, describing it as a ‘beautiful book’ that will take us into the mind of children to help us walk through darkness to light.

Here are some extracts from Eleanor’s remarks:

Have your Bible alongside you and read the passages before reading the meditation.

Gateway to St Marys_smlEach day through the meditations you will find a paragraph entitled ‘Let us Play’. Stop at each ‘Let us Play’, read carefully what is suggested and if you wish carry out the suggested activity – you will be surprised at how often you find yourself taking part in the ‘play’ or you may simply sit quietly and reflect on what you have just read – the choice is yours.

Throughout these meditations and as we continue to read the passages of scripture Ted constantly takes us into the life of a child and children enlightening us to their thoughts and reasons for their actions – so simply explained and in so many examples so very enlightening – this is all part of our Advent Journey.

Ted encourages us to ‘think as a child’ – for us as parents and now as grandparents this is a challenge – but the walk of life often through darkness into light is a daily challenge, however, we are also to remember we are God’s children, God’s heirs, and there is nothing that can separate us from God’s love.

As we progress on our journey of meditations we are reminded from our reading from Isaiah that ‘the people who walked in darkness have seen a great light; those who lived in a land of deep darkness – on them light has shined and we read of the prophecy: For a child has been born to us, A son has been given to us, He shoulders responsibility and is called……Prince of Peace, He will rule on David’s throne and over David’s kingdom.

Ted reminds us so much is invested in a child, and with great confidence. All children are a promise of the future, but this child in particular is a focus for all God’s goodness and love.

As we continue our journey Ted pays humble homage to Archbishop Desmond Tutu referring to his human warmth and strength and as someone who had gained ‘a beautiful maturity in Christ’.   When I read this I found it to be awesome only to be more impressed as I continued to read. Ted went on to say there are also children who put their own desires to one side, and who, for the sake of Christ, pour out their lives in generous service of others. Because they are little people, these saints are easily overlooked, but once recognised, like Archbishop Tutu, these children are inspiring.

Returning to the ‘Let us Play’ Ted suggests playing on YouTube songs from our youth, I would recommend you do this, I played Elvis singing ‘Blue Suede Shoes’ which was released in 1956 the same year George Beverly Shea launched ‘How Great Thou Art’ which he sang before Billy Graham’s Crusades for more than 60 years. And yes, my feet were dancing to ‘Blue Suede Shoes’ and yes, I sang my favourite hymn ‘How Great Thou Art’.   I never got to see Elvis perform live, but I did hear George Beverly Shea sing at the Billy Graham Crusade at the Claremont Showgrounds in 1959.

There are many ‘Let us Play’ suggestions throughout the meditations, as you progress with your readings you will find yourself wondering what the ‘exercise today will be’….could this be the excited anticipation of the child within? We will be listening to Mozart and Bach on YouTube, wrestling with play dough, going to the local park with a child, writing a short poem or simply recording our daily thoughts in a notebook.

As we now approach the final days before Christmas Ted reminds us we recognise again the Christ-child as we remember his birth, the bright gift of God’s love. We are reminded God spectacularly shows his love for us by sending his Son who was born a childthe Christ-child we have been seeking.

A couple of weeks ago on a very wet cold Sunday afternoon I was home alone and so watched an old favourite movie ‘The Inn of the Sixth Happiness’. Gladys Aylward the English parlour maid saved and paid her own way to China to become a missionary to children. When she eventually set off to the outpost where she was to assist an elderly English missionary lady. How did she get there? On a donkey.

man on donkeyOf course it was a donkey, much safer and sure-footed than a horse. Imagine if she had found herself trying to get on a horse; she had enough trouble getting on the donkey.   Remember it was a donkey that Joseph led the heavily pregnant Mary on into Bethlehem; once again imagine how difficult it would have been on a horse.   And when Jesus rode into Jerusalem, he was on a donkey. Another aspect to consider is that sitting on a donkey the person is literally at the same height as those walking alongside and so making eye contact and greeting people would have been very important.   When you go to fair grounds, it is not horses that children pay to have rides on but ….donkeys. Have you been to Clovelly in Devon?   The only way you can get from the top of the steep hill to the village below is to walk or have the sure-footed donkeys assist you.

In all of these instances the donkey was carrying very precious cargo: a missionary going to teach children, Mary about to give birth to the greatest child of all, Jesus riding into Jerusalem, children having rides, food and goods for children in Clovelly. As you explore Ted’s meditations on Wednesday 17 December you will come to the passage about donkeys … what will you think of here? …perhaps you might draw a donkey with a child sitting on it.

The Christ-child grew up and loved us, and gave himself for us as a fragrant offering to God, a new kind of sacrifice He invites us to imitate him – we may do this by our kindness to one another, by our tender-heartedness, but our willingness to forgive.

In this Advent time, a circle is complete.   The beloved Child has offered his life as a sacrifice, a fragrant aroma, for us.   We are beloved children too, as we imitate his self-giving.

***

There are 2 very powerful ‘Let us Play’ examples I would like you to all take part in now:

  1. Hold your left hand palm upward in front of you and lay your right hand, also palm upward, across your left hand in a cross, as you might do to receive the bread of communion. Watch your hands as you gradually make a cradle. Remember the times the bread has been placed in those hands, and be silent as you remember the wonderful ways God works through you and your hands.
  1. Bring your hands together with palms facing and wrap the fingers and thumb of each hand around the other. Remember the ways you have been embraced by your mother, or whoever cared for you as a baby. Hold onto that love. If you don’t remember being loved and held, hold that sadness in your two hands and remember God’s embrace of you and hold your hands together for some moments in a comfortable tightness.

Ted’s closing words in this beautiful book are:

Franciscans keep together humility and joy, poverty and celebration. This impossible juxtaposition of grit and glory is Christmas!

I hope in reading this book of meditations you will re-discover the ‘child you were’ and indeed perhaps the ‘child you still are’.

Triad banner St Francis Ted

Photo: Sally Buckley

Healing Childhood Wounds and Finding the Christ-Child

Archbp launchesLaunch of Jesus the Child We Worship

by The Most Reverend Roger Herft AM, Archbishop of Perth

at the St John of God Retreat Centre, Safety Bay

Saturday 11 October 2014

It is a particular honour to be invited to launch this Advent meditation, Jesus the Child We Worship, complied prayerfully, experientially and with scholarly devotion by The Reverend Ted Witham.

It is indeed providential that on the day we launch this Advent series the Nobel Peace Prize has been awarded to two individuals who have made the life of children their life’s work.

Malala Yousafzai, the young girl who while travelling to school in a bus in rural Pakistan defying a Taliban order was shot in the head. Close to death she survived. Her courageous young life is devoted to the education of children, particularly girls.

Kailash Satyarthi, the peaceful protester in India, has stood out against the exploitation of children in slave labour, child prostitution, child marriage and the sexual, economic and social violence against children.

A Muslim and a Hindu, Pakistani and Indian, worlds apart even though they are neighbours. United – brought together in the quest for peace, for the wellbeing of children around the world. It is not surprising that Ted has a section on the courage of Malala.

Ted Witham’s meditations recognise what Rowan Williams observes: “The cry to God as father in the New Testament is not a calm acknowledgement of a universal truth about God’s abstract ‘fatherhood’; it is the child’s cry out of a nightmare”.

Ted invites us through the readings in Advent to discover the wounded child in each of us. The wounds, the hurt, the losses, the grief that if unresolved cause us as adolescents and adults to wound others.

Ted invites us to enter into the wounded lives of children in our world through the Scriptures.

Advent is usually associated with the four last things – heaven, hell, death and the Last Judgement. The truth of our mortality.

Ted reminds us that the Season of Advent, the beginning of the church’s year, is the God who comes from the future reshaping our past, renewing our present. Focus on ‘natality’ – new beginnings.

This birthing is described by Meister Eckhart: “In this birth we will discover all blessing, but neglect this birth and you neglect all blessing. Tend only to this birth in you and you will find, all goodness, consolation, all delight, all being and all truth.”

The glory of the Child of Bethlehem is the power of wonder, of imagination, of repentance.

Ted calls us to become like children, to enter into the excitement of drawing, of crayons and clay, of playfulness and pantomime, of dressing up and dressing down – the deductive and the inductive form of learning.

Some years ago at the midnight service at St George’s Cathedral as the procession approached the Buy this bookSanctuary – incense billowing, Holy water ready to be sprinkled, the words for the blessing of the crib printed to be pronounced – it was discovered that the vergers had forgotten to put the crib into place. The place set aside under the altar was empty. One deacon whispered “Bless it Archbishop, no-one will notice that the baby is missing.” “Yes,” whispered the other, “it does not matter if the child is missing.”

One thing is sure, Ted Witham’s Advent meditations remind us that we miss the child to our peril. Come let us take the journey to worship Jesus the child.

Photos: Courtesy The Rev’d Sally Buckley tssf

Be Born in Us, We Pray

Archbishop Roger Herft launches "Jesus the Child We Worship".

Archbishop Roger Herft AM launched Jesus the Child We Worship at an informal function during the Franciscan Convocation at the St John of God Retreat Centre in Shoalwater on October 11.

In introducing Jesus the Child We Worship to a small crowd of Third Order members and other friends, Archbishop Roger was generous in his description of the meditations. He said that rather than focus on the theme of mortality, the meditations use the four last things (heaven, hell, death and judgement) to focus on new life; on the ways in which God’s life comes from the future to be born in us in the present. The Archbishop described this emphasis as natality.

Earlier in Convocation, Tertiaries had floated the possibility of staging a nativity crèche with a live baby, and clergy present traded many anecdotes about nativity scenes with missing babies, or such tiny dolls for babies that they were invisible. Using the readings in Jesus the Child We Worship will help readers find the Christ-Child! Kath David Ken_sml

By the end of the launch, all copies of the meditations that had been brought to the day had been sold — but more are available here.

A Little Gem

Cover ebookJesus the Child We Worship

Review by The Rev’d Chris Albany

in The Anglican Messenger, October 2014

This book is a little gem that while designed for individual devotions could easily be adapted by those with children as the basis for family Advent devotions. In these meditations Ted Witham tssf creatively links the daily lectionary readings with ordinary events of daily life and also some of the major issues that confront us in the 21st Century world.

We benefit from Ted’s Biblical scholarship as he provides historical and cultural insights into the daily readings and helps us make connections with our own experience. The linking of the readings with the nitty gritty of our lives is incarnational theology at its best. Just as significant, perhaps even more so, is the way that Ted encourages us to use a variety of media: music, art, clay, writing, play, to get in touch with our inner child with all of our senses.  “With all of me,” as Anna of Mister God, This is Anna would say. Ted speaks not only yo our own inner child but also to the inner Christ-child, the Christ within.

Through the daily invitation in response to the meditations, “Let us play”, the author invites us to allow this unique Child to lead us out of ourselves into a larger reality. The wisdom and creativity of this little book reflect the author’s ministerial experience in Christian Education, nurture and formation over many years.

Jesus the Child we Worship will help those who use it to arrive at Christmas ready to celebrate with faith and hope and love enhanced. I commend it warmly.

Available through St John’s Books, Fremantle and from the author.

Chris Albany, Parish Priest.  

Momentum for parenting

A young girl sailed past me on her bike. This morning was a beautiful morning to be out on the beach-side path, and she was obviously enjoying the sunshine. Her dad followed behind on foot doing his running routine. A hill slowed the girl’s bike down and the girl started to turn to reduce the angle of climb. Her dad caught up with her just at the moment her handle bars started to wobble. Dad continued to run, but gently put his hand on her back transferring just enough momentum to the girl and bike to re-start her climb.

 

There, I thought, is a good dad. That’s what parenting can be like. Just a gentle encouragement at the critical moment. That girl will grow up remembering that loving pressure on the small of her back, and it will give her strength whenever life begins to be difficult.

 

 

Learning to ride