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Vicar's Musings for The Seventh Sunday of Easter

1 June, 2014

When saying Morning Prayer together each morning, Fr Samuel and I (with others who join us from time to time) always pause, prior to our intercessions, to reflect on specific thanksgivings that we may wish to offer from the past twenty-four hours. Often it is not easy to come up with even one example, especially after a difficult day or during trying times. But it is a spiritual discipline, drawn from St Ignatius of Loyola's Spiritual Exercises that strengthens the virtue of gratitude, fostering a deeper awareness of the goodness of God in the midst of the trials and tribulations that life sends our way. St Paul gave similar advice to the fledgling church in Philippi: "beloved, whatever is true, whatever is honourable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is pleasing, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence and if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things" (Phil. 4:8).

Gratitude has recently been the focus of a psychological study, demonstrating a marked lessening of depressive symptoms in those who practice the virtue (Seligman et al. (2005). Positive Psychology Progress: Empirical Validation of Interventions. American Psychologist, 60, pp. 410-421). The virtue of gratitude is a key component of our flourishing as individuals and as a church, but it should not be confused with a Pollyanna-like naïve optimism. Rather, it is what the medieval mystic Julian of Norwich is referring to when she writes famously: "All shall be well, and all shall be well, and all manner of things shall be well." Years earlier she had chosen the extreme discipline of being an anchoress and was walled into a tiny cell, literally dead to the world. Not far from Julian's cell (probably within "smelling distance") was the Bishop of Norwich's Lollard Pit, where so-called heretics were dumped and burnt to death. Julian's life was not one of comfort or naivety, but her writing displays a profound sense of optimism and gratitude, nurtured through her deep prayer-life and her regular encounters with those who came to the cell door for guidance.

In my prayers this morning I have much to give thanks for, but in particular I am grateful for our Ascension Day festivities on Thursday. The choir sang so beautifully Victoria's Missa O quam gloriosum, Rhys touched our souls as he played Lübeck's Praeambulum in F on the organ, Adam was M.C. and led the sanctuary party with such prayerful decorum, others read and helped so gracefully, Fr Richard reminded us from the pulpit of the mission at the heart of Anglo-Catholicism, and then well over half the congregation adjourned to the hall for chicken, wine and TimTams! Visitors and newer members were made to feel welcome by those who have been at St Peter's for years. It was a glorious feast day and my heart still warms as I think of it. Thanks be to God.

The Rev'd Dr Hugh Kempster



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