A Letter from Paul

Dear Friends,

Hello again! It's been a while!

At the time of my last letter (March), I was about to embark upon a three month sabbatical and was looking forward to all that that would mean and bring. As many are already aware, a month of that time was to be spent in the United States - first, returning to House For All Sinners and Saints in Denver, Colorado for the end of Lent and for Holy Week and Easter, then visiting St Gregory of Nyssa Episcopal Church in San Francisco for the first time before finally spending a few days with a friend in New York City ahead of our flight home.

Some photographs have already been shared in church and some will undoubtedly appear in this newsletter in the coming months, as the rest of the Timmis family share some of their memories of this special time with you.

Inevitably, my reflections upon our experiences within these very different church communities will also emerge at different times, in different ways. In this letter, I merely want to share one thing that came back to me repeatedly during my sabbatical - an acute awareness that time is passing.

After the first couple of days of not working - when I felt all at sea and, in a way, bereft - I soon settled into a more relaxed way of being. We had the big US adventure to make final preparations for and all was exciting. There was so much to look forward to - four weeks, packed full of once-in-a-lifetime experiences. As well as the church-based focus, there would be a night in a log cabin in the Rocky Mountains, a return to Dinosaur Ridge, a thirty three hour train journey that would take us from Denver, through the Rockies, across the Utah and Nevada deserts and into California. We would see the Pacific Ocean for the first time, cross the Golden Gate Bridge, visit Alcatraz, go whale-watching, drive up Highway One and ride on San Francisco's famous cable cars. And all that before returning to the Big Apple, which we had found so breathtaking last time. As we boarded the plane, it felt like time stretched out endlessly before us.

As one by one these experiences were ticked off, however, I became aware that time was accelerating away from us. Although in some ways it felt like some of the things we had done had taken place a long time ago, in others time had passed in the blink of an eye. Before we knew it, we were on the plane home.

Just a couple of days before that flight, I got lucky. Having tried desperately but unsuccessfully to obtain tickets from the UK, I walked into the Walter Kerr Theatre box office and unbelievably managed to buy a returned ticket for Springsteen On Broadway - Bruce Springsteen's one- man show that has been completely sold out for months. I didn't really have the money for it - by that point the budget was blown - but I had longed to see it and I have an amazingly supportive and understanding family.

I mention this because, as Bruce told something of his story in word and song that night, standing playing his guitar or sitting at a grand piano, I was moved on more than one occasion to weep. As he talked about his late father (who struggled with mental illness and with whom he shared a very difficult relationship), his mother (the rock of the family but now 92 and seven years in to a journey with Alzheimer's Disease), friends that died in Vietnam, band members who have died in recent years and the current state of his nation, tears flowed down my cheeks. Bruce's own understanding about this life - that "all of this is finite" - had touched something within me.

Whenever I go on holiday, the first couple of days always seem to last for ever. Once the half-way point of the holiday is reached, however, I know that the remaining days are going to fly by. I can try to convince myself that "We've still got as much time left as we've had so far" - and that's often true - but time does seem to go by much quicker from then on. The sabbatical was a bit like that. Our return from America marked the half-way point and, sure enough, the next six weeks sped by. But the more I thought about it - and the more things I read (most notably Bernard MacLaverty's novel Midwinter Break) or watched (Brendan Gleeson's remarkable performance in Calvary springs to mind as does Field of Dreams, an old favourite that I returned to) - the more I came to see the passing of time on a holiday or a sabbatical as being human life in microcosm.

Worry not, I am not experiencing a midlife crisis but I am now, incredibly, in my fiftieth year. I am more than aware that for some it might not sound it but that feels significant to me. Using the analogy of holiday time, I am conscious that the half-way point was probably passed some time ago and that the days ahead, in some way, now become even more precious.

So a number of things.

One - thank you for the sabbatical. It was a very special time and one that, as a family, has given us memories that we'll always cherish.

Two - enjoy the summer. It'll be over before we know it!

Three - let's talk about ageing more. The more conversations we share, the more we will be able to help one another to make sense of this God-given journey that we're all on.

Four - some questions. Does living with an awareness that this life is finite lead us to change anything about who we are, what we think or believe and/or what we do with our time? If not, should it?

As Springsteen on Broadway draws to a close each night, Bruce talks about a time a couple of years ago when he drove back one quiet and warm November evening to the neighbourhood where he had spent the first years of life, wanting to see his favourite childhood tree once more. Unknowingly to him, it had been cut down since his last visit. Feeling a deep sense of loss, and with the streets deserted, he stood for a while reflecting on his life and on all those no longer here but who live with him still. In the shadow of the steeple of St Rose of Lima Roman Catholic Church, he found that words that, as a child he had "chanted thousands of times...bored...mumbling as an endless drone", came back to him, but how, on this night - "once again surrounded by God" - they "flowed differently":

"Our Father, who art in heaven,
hallowed be thy name
thy kingdom come, thy will be done,
on earth as it is in heaven.
Give us this day...
...just give us this day
and forgive us
forgive us our trespasses
as we forgive those who trespass against us.
Lead us not into temptation
but deliver us from evil,
all of us,
forever and ever. Amen.

Amen, indeed.

With every blessing