Jonathan's Jottings

Thoughts from Emmanuel's Minister, Revd. Jonathan Froggatt.

John Betjeman and Faith

One of my favourite poets is John Betjeman. He has that precious gift, given to all poets, of being able to capture a scene in just a few words. Here are the first three verses of his poem, Cornish Cliffs.

Those moments, tasted once and never done,
Of long surf breaking in the mid-day sun.
A far-off blow hole booming like a gun.

The seagulls plane and circle out of sight
Below this thirsty, thrift encrusted height,
The veined sea-campion buds burst into white

And gorse turns tawny orange, seen beside
Pale drifts of primroses cascading wide
To where the slate falls sheer into the tide.

      Betjeman knew and loved the countryside and especially parish churches. He campaigned tirelessly for their preservation and was part of the team that prevented the demolition of Holy Trinity, Sloane Street in London in the 1970’s. This love of churches was rooted in a fascination with architecture but also in his Christian faith. In his poem Felixstowe or The Last Her Order, he tells of an Anglican nun looking back over her life. She walks through the gardens of the Spa Pavilion bound for the “red brick twilight of St Johns.” The last verse goes like this:

 “Thou knowest my down sitting and mine uprising”
Here where the white light burns with steady glow
Safe from the vain world’s silly sympathising,
Safe with the Love that I was born to know,
Safe from the surging of the lonely sea
My heart finds rest, my heart finds rest in Thee.

     Betjeman’s own faith is contained in the affirmation in the last line. However, he is honest enough to express his times of doubt. One of his poems is called Before the Anaesthetic or A Real Fright. In this poem he is eloquent in turning his fears into words and feelings we can all understand as he is wheeled into the operating theatre.

      Humour is never far from Betjeman’s writing. He knows enough about Christians to know that sometimes our prayers can be self-centred. In Westminster Abbey tells of a wealthy lady praying in the Abbey.

Although dear Lord I am a sinner,
I have done no major crime;
Now I’ll come to Evening Service
Whensoever I have the time.
So, Lord, reserve for me a crown,
And do not let my shares go down.

         I love Betjeman’s poems in all their richness and variety. I love his beautiful descriptions of nature and his insight into human nature. If you have a spare moment, I would recommend his poems to you, they will make you smile and make you think. 

God bless you all,

Jonathan   

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Looking behind the image

      What does a face tell us about a person?  During the last couple of weeks, I have been researching online the portraits painted by Dame Laura Knight. During her lifetime (1877-1970) she was one of the most popular and successful painters in Britain. Her achievements were recognised in 1929 when she was created a Dame and in 1936 when she became the first woman to be elected to the Royal Academy of Arts since its foundation in 1768.

      As I looked at her paintings, I reflected on how each of the portraits expressed a vivid sense of the personality of the sitter. Kathleen Manners, 9th Duchess of Rutland was painted by Laura Knight in 1934. The portrait captures her fragile beauty but also a sadness in her eyes. The role of the wife of a Duke was not an easy one and the painter seems to have a deep understanding of her sitter’s life. This was no doubt helped by the five weeks she spent at Haddon Hall, the family seat in Derbyshire, working on the portrait.

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Love in Action

                   Over the years of my ministry I must have conducted well over forty weddings. I always enjoy meeting the couple, talking with them and planning their marriage service. For each of them their wedding is a special day that has been looked forward to for months or even years. However, when the big day is over and the guests have dispersed, they go back to making their relationship work. This means putting love into action. This is exactly what Paul is describing in his letter to Corinth when he talks about love being patient, kind, protecting, trusting and hopeful. This is not an airy-fairy sentimental love; it is a love that is worked out in daily thoughtfulness, care and kindness. This links in with Jesus’s story of the Good Samaritan. The Priest and the Levite looked at the injured man by the Jericho road and might even had some love and care for him. But it was the Samaritan who turned love into action.

                   That practical caring love has been a hallmark of Christians over the centuries. I have seen it vividly during this time of self- isolation when many friends and neighbours have been willing show love in many caring and thoughtful ways.

                   Overarching all our thoughts about love is the example of our Lord, Jesus Christ. He came to earth to reveal God’s love and his whole life and sacrificial death was an expression of love. We reflect on his words, “Love one another, as I have loved you.”

                   We give thanks to God for his gift of love to us and the joy we know through sharing that gift with others. We also rejoice in the work of the Holy Spirit in our lives and the fruits of that work which so enrich our lives and the community of which we are a part.

 

Rev Jonathan Froggatt

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Quiet Time

I was talking to a friend recently about the books we had been reading over the last few months. My friend, who has a deep interest in Methodist history, had been reading Roy Hattersley’s biography of John Wesley. I have immense respect for Mr Wesley and revere him for his vital role in the founding of the Methodist church. However, my friend confirmed my suspicions that John was the patron saint of workaholics. He woke to pray at 5.00 am and never seemed to slow down and take things easy. I suppose the reality is that if he hadn’t had such an amazing work rate, Methodism would have remained an obscure sect; active around Bristol, the wilder parts of Cornwall and nowhere else. Of course, it was his burning Christian conviction that drove him out on his horse, preaching and teaching across the country. However, having said all this, I still feel like saying to him and others who follow in his footsteps, slow down a bit.

One of my favourite poems is The Bright Field by RS Thomas. He wrote in his poem about missing the opportunity to stop and relish the beauty of the sun breaking through and illuminating a field.

           Life is not hurrying on to a receding future,
           nor hankering after an imagined past. It is the turning
           aside like Moses to the miracle of the lit bush. . .

I believe that God calls us all to have that ability to stop and be quiet for a while; to really enjoy a painting, a flower or a sunset. Maybe those quiet spaces will be one of the times that God can speak to us.

This Lent and Easter time I pray that you will all have time to be still and reflect on the wonder of God’s amazing grace revealed for us all in Jesus Christ.

God bless you all

Jonathan      

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