Whilst I was an Assistant Curate in the Cathedral the Dean and the Vicar both used “The Parson’s Pocketbook” for all their scheduling.  I too have done away with my electronic calendar on my smartphone and have opted for The Parson’s Pocketbook mostly because of the name.  However, the dates and commemorations are always interesting especially how they sometimes align with special Holy Day’s.  The Pocketbook is no exception to these, at times, strange quirks of celebration dates.  Today lists Corpus Christi: Day of Thanksgiving for the Institution of the Holy Communion along with John Calvin 1564, and Augustine of Canterbury, 605 – oh, and there is also Philip Neri 1595 listed as well.

In Germany it is a holiday (as well as holy day) and there are things that happen in towns and cities that are predominately Roman Catholic.  At the moment I am waiting to see if a procession will wind its way past with a large monstrance at the head of the group.  It does strike me as odd that given all the different people, saints, martyrs and other special dates, that our calendars are not chock-a-block full with people, celebrations and holiday’s.

In the past I had travelled to Geneva and had visited the parish church where Jean Calvin preached from, and is buried in, and I thought it strange that this reformer of the church was now, in his tomb, being viewed by some tourists like a holy shrine.  It is interesting, and perhaps important that a Church of England calendar holds the length and breadth of Christian celebration and puts a slew of people and commemorations together today.


There are many times when I am deeply impressed with people, places or things.  Yet, I usually keep them to myself with a quiet smirk of delight on my face.  I read recently that the ability to lead a grateful life is a good life.  This morning I look out the window and their is more blue sky then grey cloud and I thought I should share some of the gratitude.

In the church I am grateful for the people who look after others by spending time with them, calling them, and meeting them in their circumstances in a non-judgemental way.  I am grateful for the hospitality to others, the devotion to prayer, the affirmative and constructive feedback that I hear people offering.

In the world I am grateful for the car garage that changed the winter tires off the car, but also noticed something else wrong with the car and the mechanic just fixed it with no cost.  I am thankful for the intelligent debate that I listen to on the radio in German and English, and for the patience of those around me as I ask for help for a better understanding of some of the words.

In my family I am grateful for the prodding of children who want to play despite my compulsion to work.  For early mornings with a tea or coffee in hand, and the quiet nearness of my wife.

Thessalonians 5.18 – give thanks in all circumstances; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.



As the weather warms up it occurs to me that I see more advertisements for retreats and retreat-like activities.  The spa area heats up along with their marketing themes where customers can choose any number of health and relaxation techniques, from mud baths, to sitting in a Medieval mine breathing in the unpolluted and pollen free air, that may or may not have a good dose of Radon with it.

The current issue of the Church Times has a focus on retreat as a practice that has spurred me on to write this short reflection.  Truth be told, I am a poor “retreatant” because, although I realize the importance of retreats and at times lead retreats, I rarely seem to make retreats possible for myself.  Retreats were once a mandatory practice for clergy, and I have managed to spend time with some very good retreat leaders.  Some bishops maintain that clergy, in deed all people, benefit from a yearly retreat.  I found that where difficulties arose in this practice is that one might go off somewhere to have a nice relaxing retreat only to leave a spouse and children behind feeling more frazzled than before.  Retreats were nice, but the benefits were quickly undone.

Today I spent two hours sitting on a bench next to a small river.  The experience was emotional and spiritual, but was it a retreat? My own thought is that it was more a game of waiting as I am so tightly controlled by time and the feeling that I should really be doing something productive.  Sitting by the river did not feel productive.  When I give more though and reflection to this short interlude in my day I realize the trap that I, and others, have fallen into.  Namely, that we must somehow produce something in order to have any worth.  That I gain my being by Works rather than Grace.  Sounds familiar.

As I sat and watched a terrific amount of water flow past, I also noticed things that I would not have otherwise if I had not simply sat and done nothing.  The birds sing and fly high up in the tree tops. An industrious ant persisted in climbing up my arm despite repeated removal.  The bench felt incredibly uncomfortable like it was designed to ensure that nobody would loiter more than a few minutes.  Animals started to creep out of their hiding places once I became part of the scenery.

One of my favourite books is “The Wind in the Willows” and for good reason I was reminded of it today as the low tree branches dangled in the rushing water.  In this book, some of the characters embody, for me, my own behaviours around retreat.  At times I am like Rat who likes to lay back in his boat and let the river take him where it wills.  Yet in the next moment I can be like Toad, filled with distraction because of a “put-putting” of an electric bicycle that motors past me.  So to, can I feel like Badger when one group of walkers has past me for the third time – that I am not really contributing to something, or some purpose.  I have not clocked a new time around the course, nor have I improved my Nordic Walking posture.  Eventually, as these different moods and characters go on, I am left feeling a bit like Mole.  Like I have just emerged from the deep dark ground to be surprised with the light, the sounds, the actions, the feelings, the newness. The wonder of it all.

Retreats are good for the soul, even the smaller ones when one can afford the time of an hour or two watching the river flow past.

Bare more than one’s soul

I’ve debated whether or not to post this blog update under ‘Freiburg Sights’ and figured that since the University Hospital is the one, if not, the biggest, employer in the city that I should include it.  I just wasn’t planning on a view from the inside. ukl-logo

After visiting my doctor last week and getting an injection to protect me from some of the nasty illnesses that are transmitted by the plentiful Ticks in the area I went to bed very tired and feeling unwell.  I woke up strapped to specially designed wheel-chair that can take you down stairs. Needless to say that I was not aware of my condition and I am thankful for a caring wife and a visiting friend who helped in the situation.

Visiting the Emergency ward of the hospital was fast and efficient as I was already wired for heart, pulse, blood pressure and had a somewhat painful IV tube sticking out of the back of one hand. Amazing stuff happens when you’re unconscious!  I was to see that head doctor of the Emergency ward in the morning to decide what route my treatment would take and to discover what-on-earth-happened.

After some discussion against my desire to get back to work the doctor strongly suggested I stay in hospital for a few days to do some tests. I was suppose to lead the church Weekend Away in France as well as be the person on site with the firefighting training certificate and I felt like I was going to severely disappoint a lot of people, especially those who had made some many of the plans to make the weekend event happen.  In short, I felt like I was letting everyone down.  I would soon realize that it would be an exhausting few days undergoing tests for my heart and my brain.

In the late morning I was transferred to another part of the hospital, the Neurology Department, which has its own modern building.  Short distance transfers in the hospital meant travelling by taxi much to my surprise.  I was probably not the only one surprised, as the first taxi drive came to pick me up and took a long look up and down at his next customer.   I was wearing an ill-fitting hospital gown which, yes of course, has not been tied up at the back, and had a large spray of my blood over the front of it (from a tube of the IV being disconnected).  Fortunately the kind nurse gave me a huge blanket/towel in which to wrap myself.  It was with this attire that I jumped into the immaculately clean and shining black Mercedes taxi to be transfer to my new room.  I had three trips the first morning via taxi with my fashionable outfit and it is perhaps more than Freiburg wanted to see of me.

My single room was a bright room with an amazing view over part of Freiburg and off in the distance were mountains situated in France where I knew a lot of the congregation would be staying, and I prayed they would have a fruitful time together.  My experience of hospitals in Canada have usually been long waits in Emergency followed by a brief encounter with a doctor – then sent off home again to make arrangements with my own doctor to follow-up with a variety of tests if required.  My first trial of the German medical system was far different in that I was required to stay a few days while tests, and more tests…and even more tests where performed until I was finally discharged.  The food was fantastic, the staff were friendly, the nurses were caring, efficient, kind; the doctors spoke English clearly; the fellow patients were friendly and at times chatty while we ate meals together.  Not that I wanted to be the secret shopper, but the experience, from a personal medical view was Sehr Gut.

What was also very special for me was the knowledge that folks from the church were praying my family and I. Several people came for short visits and the phone calls from my wardens, Archdeacon and fellow colleagues were important to me. I was left alone to recuperate and mend whatever needed mending and even now I still get letters in the post from friends from Canada who have learned of my brief adventures.  I am grateful for those that rallied to pull off the Weekend Away and make it successful and for the continued help while I recover from some strange storm where terms of “epileptic episode” are batted about, and I have learned how to explain symptoms in German, as well as, make a very series looking doctor grimace after my MRI scan of my head:

     the doctor reported “that the test came up negative”,

and I replied that “on the positive side we can confirm that I have a brain.”