Saturday, 16 March 2013

The Vine

Lent lunch last week - I was asked do a short meditation based on the reading John 15: 1-10.

I am going to tell you a story about a community of people, ordinary people who together shared extraordinary experiences. These were people who were from a number of churches, often families; young people, parents, grand parents and from a range of backgrounds.
The common ground here was a love of God and a willingness to reach out.

The community formed around very simplistic values – Availability, Vulnerability and Openness, a wanting to belong. The catalyst was a young boy who had a gift of dance – expressing the message of the Gospel through emotional movement; this inspired his parents and their friends. The Gospel was not only being reviled to those who watched but very much to the community as they experienced the emotion within these stories.

The community grew to around 30 and weekends away on mission became frequent; even to one week missions in London, Ireland and America. These were as I said ordinary people; they had regular jobs, families, homes and responsibilities. Their time together was special, quiet prayer, sharing visions, growing in the trust of God and each other. Learning about each others strengths and weaknesses – commitment to each other – shaping the community.

It would be nice to hear compliments about the dance and ministry; it would be a privilege to be involved in the healing of another. But the point I want to make is not about the remarkable things that happened around this community. It was something very simply said at a day event at a Methodist church hall one Saturday afternoon. “You guys are special; it is the way you are with each other that stands out”

The name of that community was The Vine. The first dance choreographed by the community was I am the Vine you are the branches – a song by John Michael Talbot.

                     In accepting that we are the branches – we are community and part of the vine.

Thursday, 14 March 2013

The Magicians Gift

Every good story begins with once upon a time and our stories are no different. Our stories are fiction but there are many truths for those who listen carefully. I am the signalman, I work here in Saltburn and live only a stones throw away from here. I was born in Middlesbrough and moved here only a few years ago. I have always been a signalman following my father on the railway. I love the railway, the smell of the engine a mixture of oil coal and fire; the sound of the steam and the iron wheels on the tracks, to see such power takes your breath away, you can travel direct to London from here.

It’s a lonely job, sitting in the signal house waiting for the next engine. The bell rings to tell me she is on her way, I pull hard on the levers to set the points, drop the signal and send the return signal bell. Every passing engine has to be logged into my book and I check it is showing all its lights. The signals operated by my levers are in semaphore and tell the drivers when the lines are clear. When all that is done I go back to my chair, waiting for the next signal bell. There is time to think, to read and allow the imagination to wander where it pleases. The signalman’s job is very small but so much depends on it.

We are going on a journey this evening, a walk around my town. I ask that you bring your imagination, for the story I have for you is about ordinary people and extraordinary events; taking in some of the popular landmarks and some of the less known places. I will lead the way and we will stop form time to time to continue the story.
I begin my story here at the railway station because it was here that our main character first arrived late one evening with the wind driving rain in off the sea, a cold November evening 1911. No one was waiting, no one expected him – Matthew was returning home after being away for several years. Matthew Smithson was a magician and illusionist; he entertained lords and ladies on the south coast and astounded his audience with illusions, producing items from seemingly thin air. His slight of hand was quicker than the keenest eye. No one knew Matthew by name or anything about him; his stage name was ‘The Great Illumine’ Matthew had found a way to create light without flicker or flame.

People would claim to know his secrets that it was achieved with many small mirrors and a lamp hidden offstage but the truth was they had no idea at all. It had something to do with the way he held the light that enabled it to be visible.

Matthew was always a quiet boy when growing up here in Saltburn choosing to draw and to write than play in the streets with the other boys; in later years he transformed with brightness when performing his illusions on the stage. The house he had called home was left to him by his mother who had passed away that summer; his father had died when he was just a small boy and he had no other siblings. The neighbours Mr and Mrs Watkins who still had no idea of this late arrival had kept the house in order. Matthew carried but two suitcases, the rest of his belongings were being sent on - this was to be Matthew’s homecoming, leaving behind the glamour and status that followed his aura of mystery.

Matthew pulled up his coat collar and walked quickly toward the house. Over the next few weeks he became re-accustomed to the town and took time to appreciate the belongings of the family home; the only people he spoke to were the Watkins. Warrior terrace was built in 1865 and named after the recently launched HMS Warrior, a totally new design of warship; this new town wanted to be associated with everything new.

Matthew and his mother had moved from Newcastle to Saltburn just as this new town was being born, a new start for them also in this growing town.The house was nothing special but it was in a position to see across to Huntcliff between the streets; this great cliff, standing so tall and defiant against time and tide, providing protection for the town. Often as a young boy, Matthew would walk out to the very top of this great cliff and imagine that he was on top the world, a powerful king who could command the elements it was there that Matthew felt truly himself and that nothing was impossible.

It was on one of these walks; Matthew was in his own world that day, his imagination was running away with him. He was high up and close by the old Roman signalling station that had only recently been discovered. It was as if all the energy in the ground, laid down over thousands of years was coming up through his body. His hands began to shake and a small light glow began to emerge from between his fingers. Matthew was frightened and excited both at the same time, he had always believed that strange things can happen, but this was beyond his imaginings. The shaking stopped and over the space of half an hour, Matthew was able to control the light, turning it on and off at will.

Matthew was only 9 years old when he moved to Saltburn in 1871, Britannia place was a mere four years old and the cliff lift was a wooden tower structure with water counter balance weights. The pier also built by John Anderson stretched far out to sea.

The creativity and newness of this town fascinated Matthew; he was living in an inventive time and he took all things in, picking up the creative drive of the fathers of this town.
Matthew’s gift of light was something he felt he needed to keep hidden, people wouldn’t understand, so this was to be a game of hide and seek.
Matthew would decide on something he wanted to achieve, not knowing if it was even possible; he would keep going until he came up with a solution, then he would build a disguise around, it so creating an illusion.

The gift was safely hidden behind Matthew’s illusions and he went on to create many more through his ingenuity and swiftness of hand. At the age of 23, Matthew left for the big cities and the south coast as “The great Illumine”.

We stand here at the top of Amber Street, looking down Milton Street and again we can see Huntcliff in the distance. A boy from Emerald Street, one of our jewels was up on Huntcliff one evening as the sun was just fading; he was playing hide and seek with an imaginary friend. Behind a bush he suddenly slipped and fell towards the sea below; his fall was broken by a small ledge and he managed to hold his balance.

As the young boys scream went out Matthew was also walking close by; he ran to the edge, lay flat on the grass and peered over. There was no thinking, just instinct as Matthew began to scramble down to the boy.

Soon they were side by side and it was only then that Matthew realised, that there was no way back to the top without help and a rope. Matthew applied the strength of his mind to the problem but there was nothing he could conjure up on his own. He would need to attract attention but to be heard or seen from that distance was very unlikely. Somehow, a signal had to be sent.

It was becoming cold and the young boy was trembling, Matthew reassured him and decided what had to be done. All these years Matthew’s gift of light had been hidden behind his illusions, carefully concealed to entertain and dazzle the audience. Matthew spoke to the boy “do not be afraid lad, hold on to me; I’m going to do something magical”. He held his hands high in the air and light proceeded from between his fingers, brighter than ever before; there was no hiding this light as it shone out far and wide. Matthew began to move his arms in semaphore signal, spelling out SOS ROPE – SOS ROPE, he kept going till he could hardly hold his arms, but the light kept shining brightly.

Just at that moment, shouts came from above and a rope was lowered down. Matthew and the boy were brought safely back to the town and a celebration in the streets, for the signal had been seen by many homes that night.