My week in Taizé!

It’s been a long time since I wrote a blog, sorry everyone!  I’ve been doing so many different things it’s been hard to find the right frame of mind for writing.

I’ve just got back from a week at Taizé, which was amazing.  It’s the first time I’ve been to Taizé since 2004, so it was quite a significant experience.  As those of you who know my music will remember, the chants sung at Taizé are my inspiration and my experience of Taizé when I was 17 was the beginning of my path with God.

On the Friday evening the community has a prayer around the cross.  When the evening prayer is finished, the monks place the icon of the cross on the floor and then move aside.  The congregation queues up and then take their place around the cross, putting their forehand or hands on the icon of Jesus crucified.

During the week this was the first time I felt really moved beyond a general happiness to be there and interest in the discussions we were having.  It was the first time I felt a presence of God, and I spent quite a while writing.  I will write up what I wrote on that evening as an introduction to some Taizé-inspired blogs.

The church is filled with the chant ‘Jesus Remember Me’.  5,000 voices calling out to God.  5,000 people whose hearts are crying out to be welcomed into the arms of the Father.  And Jesus hears every single voice and knows every one of their names.  Human and deity are united by a mutual longing for each other.  ‘Man is never more fully man than when he gives himself totally to God; and God is never more fully God than when he gives himself totally to man.’  We try to meet God in a way we can understand – we place ourselves at the foot of his cross, but God’s work is so much more deep.  As we welcome Him one again into our lives he once more opens our hearts to a love that is beyond description, even beyond comprehension. 

All differences forgotten, all divisions ignored, we come to Him each as fragile and broken as each other.  And as a loving mother and father, God welcomes us.  For this short time, all voices are one, calling out to the love and grace of our Lord.  And God comes to us, no matter what we have done and no matter what we’ve thought.  He welcomes us and welcomes us, healing our bruised hearts with his outpouring of divine, never-ending, unconditional love.

God loves us.  God loves us.  God loves us.

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Love, love, love!

Today I went to ‘Love Bath’ – a free festival organised by the churches of Bath for the community.  It was a great chance to get to know people and to meet up with some people who I’d spoken to over the internet (mostly Facebook!).  Hats off to Emma Gypps, everyone at Springboard Bath and the whole organisation team!  I think everyone especially enjoyed the free hot dogs, bottles of water, hot drinks and ice cream!

It was interesting seeing so many Christians together just having fun and enjoying themselves.  I was on bouncy castle duty for the afternoon, which was fun…I definitely got more assertive as time when on!

I just thought the name for the festival – Love Bath – was so great.  Especially when the reading from the Old Testament this morning was altered so that instead of Zion or Jerusalem we had Bath and Aque Sulis!  It was really powerful and got everyone involved.

After the festival today I came home and saw the latest video by Jefferson Bethke, whose video ‘Why I hate religion but love Jesus’ I’ve blogged about before.  I didn’t watch all of it because it didn’t really grab me at the time, but there was a theme that came through for me from both what I saw of the video and also from the festival today.  That theme is, of course, love.

How can we put love into practice?  I was thinking about how much I’d like to move into Bath city and had a look at house prices.  Sob!  But why can’t I be satisfied where I am?  I could give you lots of reasons but really…I have a roof over my head.  What more do I need?  Jesus says we don’t even need two shirts – share what you have with others.  And yet most of the Christians I meet (and I include myself in this) have comfortable lives with plenty of material possessions.  It doesn’t mean they’re all obsessed by their possessions (how could I ever make that judgement?!) but they have them.  I have them.  So how does this sit with the teachings of Jesus?

I’ve heard many people criticise the Vatican for the amount of wealth contained within it and I completely understand where they’re coming from.  But are we any better?  Where do we draw the line between what is needed and what is excessive?  Who gets to make that decision?  If we gave away everything we owned today we wouldn’t be able to function very well in the modern world of Great Britain.  We couldn’t do our jobs properly if we didn’t have technology to communicate or complete work, for example.  So what should we give up?

Perhaps our time, like Street Pastors.  I’m very precious over time as I’m always busy and desperately try to create some downtime to just relax and read a book or watch TV.  Perhaps we should give people the time and support that they need like organisations such as The Samaritans.  I try to make myself available to talk to people about what’s happening in their lives as much as possible and think that this is something I’m not too bad at doing.  Perhaps our money, as we’re encouraged to do by charities.  I try to give away what I can but often worry about money.

If we are trying to show love to others, does it come down to these things – time, support and money?  Is there more to it?  How do we find that balance?  And do we need to make sure that we show love to ourselves, too?

So many questions!  I don’t know the answer but I would love to be better at showing love and living a life of love as we have been asked to do.  Perhaps by opening ourselves up to receive our love we let that love flow through us and by surrendering and opening to the love of God, we become instruments for his love.

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Æthelthryth – what a great name!!

Long time no blog…again!  Sorry for the absence – I’ve been busily marking exam papers for GCSE students around the country and have been focused on that for a few weeks.

So I thought I’d launch back into the blogging with a bit about Æthelthryth.  What a great name!  My internet research has taught me that she was one of the widest and most venerated of the Anglo-Saxon saints, which is very intriguing…this blog is an excellent introduction to the miraculous life that she is reputed to have led and I really recommend you give it a quick read.

I am interested in the role of women in the church and the argument that surrounds them. I know the reasons why for each side – it’s one thing I teach every year! – but always find it interesting.  I suppose it’s one of those things that I’ll never quite understand because I wasn’t brought up going to church…I came to Christianity aged 17, and my relationship with God is based on my experience of God perhaps even more than on learning about the Bible or church traditions.  I know about the contradictions in St. Paul and the way that the church has changed and developed over the last 2,000 which has affected the role of women.

But here is an example of a woman who is still known today, a woman who lived 1300/1400 years ago.  Her story includes other women, and she is remembered alongside kings in several sources.

I wonder what she would have to say about the role of women in the church…

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Why are we afraid of who we are?

I’ve been doing a lesson with some Year 8 student this week which involves thinking about how we appreciate ourselves. Every time they say that sending loving kindness to yourself is vain or selfish.  It’s not a unique response to get to this topic but one that I find very intriguing.

I had a conversation with a student this afternoon about what I believe, and as much as I love talking about myself (!), it was still quite interesting to see how I responded to that. Obviously there are boundaries between teachers and students, and perhaps the juxtaposition between the way I present myself when teaching and the way I present myself during concerts, workshops, interviews etc. makes it an interesting discussion…but for whatever reason, it left me wondering – why are human beings afraid of who we are?  If God loves us enough to suffer torture, ridicule and painful death for us – because he accepts us for who we are – why can’t we do the same?

Perhaps this is a religious practice for us – to begin to appreciate ourselves and other people in the way that God accepts us.  An interesting thought!!

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The crazy life…

Well, this has been one of the craziest weeks of my life!!!  Just to give you an overview before I start:

Sunday – church in the morning, eye test, marking Year 8 books and writing reports (3-9)

Monday – up at 6, got ready for work, drove to work, arrived at 8, students in school until 3.30 then I worked until 6, drove home and had dinner then worked again 8-10.

Tuesday – up at 5.30, work, home at 6, people round for Taizé practice, work 9-10.

Wednesday – up at 6, work, finally finished marking  and reports (hurray!) and preparing cards etc. for my tutor group who left this week then drove to Cheltenham to stay with a friend in preparation for…

Thursday – drove from Cheltenham to Solihull for a standardisation meeting (for GCSE exam marking), then drove to Sherborne to stay at a friend’s (arrived back at 8). Had a lovely curry!

Friday – at school by 7.50, very emotional day with saying goodbye to some really special people and then back home by 5 to collapse!!!!

It doesn’t sound so mad like that but it feels very mad!!

So here’s the perfect example of a time when it’s a good opportunity to practice focusing on God no matter what. I can’t say I’ve done that very well this week.  There are so many ways to focus on God in the midst of work, and I think that the best way that I can do it is by trying to act with love towards people. ” Round we go again to the last blog entry,” I hear you all say!!  Well, yes – I suppose it’s the theme for my life at the moment!!  But the encouraging thing is that it must work at least some of the time, judging by the amount of jewellery I was given by my tutor group today and the cheer that went up when I was given a bottle of wine in their final assembly!!

So although I’m exhausted, emotionally drained, very sad to have said goodbye to so many lovely people and in need of some serious time out -life is still good.  I’ve had the encouragement I needed to keep on going and to know that I’m exactly where God wants me to be, doing what I should be doing.

You can’t ask for much more than that!!!

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Would anyone know if you were a Christian?

Would anyone know if you were a Christian?  This was the topic for today’s sermon in church.  An interesting question!  This was discussed because of the commandment ‘live in the world but not of the world’.

The vicar gave the example of an oyster. When a grain of sand gets into an oyster’s shell it causes an irritation, and the oyster will either make a pearl from the grain of sand or it will die because of it. I’m sure this is well-known.  But it’s an interesting image – put ourselves in the place of the oyster and the world, or the trials we face, or anything you like in the place of the sand.  The question is: will we take the opportunity to create something beautiful with the challenge or will we give up and let a part of us diminish?

This leads onto thinking of the question – would anyone know if you were a Christian?  What identifies us as Christians other than a belief we have and trips to church, be they weekly, monthly or annually?  I consider myself to be a liberal Christian, but I am also a walking paradox – while I am open-minded in my theology I am also traditional and see great beauty in the more orthodox paths.  I’ve been reading a lot about Carmelite spirituality recently and am fighting the urge to go off and join the community!!

So somewhere in the midst of these extremes I have to work out what it is that I believe (a daily struggle sometimes!) and how I want to live my life as a Christian.  Is it about treating others with kindness and making them feel value?  Certainly!  It is about loving God?  Absolutely!  Is it about being open to experience the Gifts of the Spirit?  Of course!  But only the first of these is identifiable the majority of the time, and not always successful in daily life.  So what is it that makes us Christian and what are we called to do?

I don’t know the answer to the question – would anyone know if I was a Christian?  I hope so!  But perhaps a re-evaluation of this identity is something that is needed to keep me (and others) on my toes.  I would like to think that my religious beliefs and the fact that I sing songs to celebrate the Lord are the last indicators of my faith.  I would much rather that goodness and kindness are the key signals to others that I love God.  I doubt that’s the case, but it’s definitely an aspiration to keep hold of!

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Where does the time go?!

I just logged onto WordPress and realised that I haven’t blogged since 29th April!  Shameful!

In my defence, life has been incredibly hectic recently.  I haven’t had a day to just relax and BE since the last post, which has been all a bit tiring!  But on the upside, lots of exciting things are happening – I’ve been asked to go and give a concert in Enfield, Middlesex to commemorate a church’s centenary which is a real honour and things are all sorted for the concert in Bristol on 28th July at the beautiful St. James Priory – Bristol’s oldest building, founded in 1129.  As ever, watch this space – and particularly, check out my Facebook page – https://www.facebook.com/pages/Kathryn-Crosweller/204891109530550

So this evening I was driving home listening to some worship music (not my usual style but we have a worship band in tomorrow lunchtime for Christian Union so I thought I’d get in the mood!), and was happily singing along to ‘How Great is Our God’ by the wonderful Chris Tomlin.  The sun was shining, the road was clear; all was well with the world!  Then I looked up as I drove through a village and saw two birds (possibly crows?!  Not my forte…) sitting in a tree.  I was filled with an overwhelming feeling of the greatness of creation and my own insignificance within it.  It’s not the sort of feeling you can really put into words, and not one I have experienced very often, but it was really special.

The philosophical arguments for the existence of God include arguments about creation proving God’s existence.  I’m not massively convinced by either but I think that this evening, driving through The Deverills in Wiltshire, I understood for the first time something of what Aquinas, Paley and the like were talking about.  Creation is so magnificent that sometimes it’s just right to see God acting through it.

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