Christmas is on its way, and in preparation we have a variety of services on offer. The Christmas Service Guide will be published on our website in the first week of Advent. Also in the leadup, our weekly blogs will be focussing on particular services to provide insight into what to expect. This week, our organist John Argyle writes on the ‘Reflections’ service (2 December at 6pm).
The Reflections services we have had in the past few years have been a time when we gather together in thought, word and mind to dwell on Advent and the birth of Christ. I like to think the service is an oasis in the midst of the desert of loud sound, conversations, music and commercialism of the shopping centres, although in many ways it also speaks to us of LOVE as intimated by Stewart in his recent sermon. Reflections is a moment of inner thought. A time before the event. A time of quiet contemplation.
Contemplation is from the Latin contemplatio and its root is templo a piece of consecrated ground. To Plotinus (a follower of Plato), the highest form of contemplation was to experience a vision of God. According to one of his students, he experienced this vision of God on four separate and distinct occasions.
Contemplation brings to mind a rather more humorous situation which arose when I was once conducting Staines Operatic Society, a town near to London and situated on the River Thames. Staines Operatic Society was one of those societies which one reads about in books and magazines, and which one experiences as many things which can go wrong as is possible in a given short period of time.
We had a new Director. She was young, very inexperienced, and very keen to try out the latest techniques of preparation for the actors before the show. At the end of the dress rehearsal (the night before opening night) she asked everybody, including myself, to lie down on the floor of the stage for serious contemplation of our part in the opera the next night. The opera was by Edward German and called ‘Merry England’, all about the times of Elizabeth I. One of the players who was taking a minor part of Sir Francis Bacon suddenly had an epileptic fit and was incapacitated. We all worried, not only for the actor, but also as to who would be able to take his part on the opening night. We asked Tom, an old lock keeper who lived nearby, if he would take the part of Bacon. He protested mildly saying he had never had a speaking part before but would take a script and study the part in readiness for the next day. I was puzzled because he had only two words to say: ‘My Lord’. But I was sure he would cope well enough. In the script it was set out as: Bacon: My Lord.
Tom’s big moment on the first night came. On he walked and promptly, right on cue, said, ‘Bacon my Lord?’ – it was obviously not appropriate for the play and the scene.
This story teaches us that, although it is good for each of us to contemplate, we should contemplate in the right way. In our service of Reflections, we use readings, prayers, works of art and the singing of carols to guide our reflection, all directing our thoughts towards Advent and the birth of Christ. The readings will be unusual readings, hopefully those you have not been acquainted with before. The prayers will be interspersed with silences in which one can meditate and use one’s mind towards thoughts of the coming season. The carols will be well known, and I hope well-liked.
Reflections will start at 6.00 pm, Sunday 2nd December in the church. It will last less than one hour.
For unto us a Child is born, unto us a Son is given; and the government will be upon his shoulder. And his name will be called wonderful, counsellor, mighty God, everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. (Isaiah 9:6)