S T   C U T H B E R T ’ S  H O U S E Hermitage of the Diocese of Nottingham               

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November 2012

Dear One, dear All,                  

After last year’s upheaval (remember the Chasm?), I am relieved to say that 2012  has been a year of quiet consolidation.  Not quite watching the paint dry, but the next best thing: watching the broccoli grow.  My annual vegetable harvest had become so productive that I needed either a massive freezer upgrade, or another dozen hungrier hens.  The solution: perennial vegetables.  With curious names such as Crosnes, Babbingtons Leeks, Chinese Onion Tree, and Ninestar Broccoli (aha!) these magic veggies, once planted & thriving, should just do their own thing year after year without much interference from me.  In the ages to come in the fullness of time, on a mild-mannered spring-swept morning I will be able to emerge from winter hibernation into a sort of bucolic miasma, basket over my arm, to snip away at the fruits of my non-labour for my (and my hens) culinary delight.  Less work, less waste, that is the theory.  I will keep you posted.

In the meantime I have had the opportunity for a bit of reading.  In particular, three significant books to share with you.

The first on my list, sent to me as a gift at the beginning of the year, is “Silence and Honey Cakes” by Dr Rowan Williams.  This is a remarkable little book exploring the desert spirituality of the hermits of the fourth and fifth centuries.  It is rarely intelligent on the subject, and eminently human, engaging and readable.  My first, disbelievingly engrossed, reading (there have been several since) resulted in one of those, “Oh, I get it now” sort of moments.  After 11 years in a hermitage reputedly inspired by and founded upon the sayings of these desert dwellers, my assessment must surely be worthy of some credit?  Anybody who can explain me to myself has to be worth reading!

The next book is harder work.  You will need a chair and a table, a dictionary and a pencil.  And you will have to trust me that it is worth the effort.  Prof. Elizabeth Stuart is Vice Chancellor of Winchester University, and a Bishop of the Liberal Catholic Church in England (I know!).  Her book, “Gay and Lesbian Theologies: Repetition and Critical difference” (I know, I know!) is an academic exploration of the history of the theologies emanating from the Gay and Lesbian communities from around the 1970s to the present day.  It is a challenging, thought-provoking book on many counts: observing the evolution of an “infant” theology through its process of maturation from protest, to defence, to dispensability; reflecting on how an emerging theology can profoundly influence and be influenced by shifting contemporary mores; recognising that the processes of both “parody”, and “repetition with critical difference” (? … you will just have to read the book) can lead to healthy and energetic growth in both understanding and perspective.  Of particular interest to me, as a solicitous member of a church torn by the tension between “loyalty to tradition” and “contemporary relevance”,  is the presentation in microcosm of a creative dynamic by which to admit a new and refreshed vision, without disowning an old one.  Now then, how to persuade the R.C. bishops to read it?

Finally, and returning to the Easy-Readers, I have to offer you a book recommended to me by the good nuns of Cross Bush, Arundel in West Sussex.  My Aunt is a Poor Clare nun, and as she slows down a little and cautiously enters her period of retirement (she is 80 this year!) it is my joy and privilege to be able to spend a little more time with her and the whole community.  “Jesus: an historical approximation” by Jose Antonio Pagola, was the refectory book last time I visited.  This fascinating and revitalising narrative sieves out the historical Jesus from the overlays of the early Christian Church.  The pared-back man who is revealed comes across as being more personable, more original, more rooted in his own time, than my own overfamiliarity with the weighted language of the Gospels has habitually permitted; a man with an acute ingenuity of language and metaphor, and an uncompromising desire to share his own experience of God’s compassionate love which cannot fail to thrill.  This claims NOT to be a theological book, but as it draws together the work of the best and most reputable of biblical scholars to explore the words, the actions, the radical tenderness of the man Jesus, it cannot help but offer a glimpse into his vision, his spirituality, his relationship with the One he called “Father”.  I recommend it to anyone longing for a new perspective, a refreshed way forward.

In other news … this year’s Christmas designs are now available on my website.  Against the odds, I have managed yet again to maintain prices for most of my Christmas cards  -  including a new design based on “Caliban’s Dream” - the inspiring anthem composed for the torch lighting ceremony at this summer’s Olympic games. AND I have pushed the boat out & included some weightier cards featuring timeless evocative words from ancient sermons of the Church Fathers.  These are a little dearer, but with the price of a stamp soaring to epic proportions this year, I figured you might like something a bit more substantial to fill the envelope … & what lovely envelopes they are too!  You can view them all here:

 www.stcuthbertshouse.co.uk/gallery/christmas .

It only leaves me then, as I watch the sproutlings of eternal onions and perpetual spinach emerge  from their toe-holes in the dark ground to the aeons of their light-life, to wish you all the best for the closing of the year.  As my old friend Prof Terry McLaughlin used to say whenever his health was queried, “Eschatologically speaking, all is remarkably well!”

I hope it is so for you too; I hope it is so for you now.

Prayers and blessings


Rachel HDN