Sunday, April 7, 2013

Le Christ est ressuscite! Il est vraiment ressuscite! Alleluia!

I can hardly believe that we are already in April. When I last blogged we had been here little over a year and now we are into the bed and breakfast season! Lent went by at lightning speed, notably the installation of the new window was achieved in the salon, although we need to finish things off with that: we celebrated 30 years of marriage on 26th March and welcomed our first guests on 20th March!
Our first guests enjoyed lovely weather for their stay and continued to explore the area on what was their third visit to us! They especially enjoyed the musical offerings of the Taize community a they are both committed Christians and skilled musicians too. They left on the morning of 25th and after a day spent cleaning and laundering bedding and towels we had promised ourselves a day off and a day out to enjoy our 30th wedding anniversary. There were several discussions about where we should go and eventually we took a lovely drive across to the high Beaujolais hills to a restaurant we have been to previously from which on a clear day you can see Mount Blanc! This was not a clear day! However the food was fab!
My starter - a tarte paysanne with mushroom sauce


Main course:

Charollais Steak cooked a la point - medium rare, with a spinach and pepper sauce!

Joe's veal kidneys in a red wine sauce!

Yes Desserts followed!


But of course this was just a little treat for ourselves and we wanted to share our thankfulness and our joy with others too! We were able to celebrate again after Easter with good friends who came to stay- one of whom was at our wedding!
We have tried to get into Taize as much as possible during Lent. This was important to us as Christians as it is part of our preparation for celebrating Easter and it is made all the richer by careful and thoughtful preparation for it. Part of mine was taking an afternoon a week to be still and to read a book on the passion narratives in the four gospels. We were struck again, just as I used to be in our old parish, by the omission of the Gloria normally sung in the Eucharist - to me it was a self denial - not being able to sing and hear the familiar words of praise and glory to God. Again, on Easter Day it was very special!
Also during Lent was the election of the new Pope Francis and the enthronement of the new Archbishop of Canterbury, Justin Welby. The prior of Taize, brother Alois attended both and commented about them in his talk on Easter Eve.

Many of us felt the beauty of... communion tangibly through the gift we received of the new pope, Pope Francis. I was able to greet him briefly in Rome. Through his simplicity the joy of the Gospel shines out, hope is arising in the hearts of many.
And at the same time we thank Benedict XVI for his humility. Through it he opened a way forward. At our European meeting in Rome at the end of December we had a common prayer with him on St. Peter’s Square. It was unforgettable. A few days later he spoke publicly about it, saying that it was “a moment of grace where we experienced the beauty of being one in Christ.”

And we continue our pilgrimage of trust in communion with the various Churches. Last week I was in England for the enthronement of the new Archbishop of Canterbury. The hymns sung with fervor still echo in my heart.

Let us all be brought forward by the joy of Easter: all of us, those who have a strong faith in God as well as those whose faith is very weak, those who have no faults to reproach themselves for as well as those who are burdened by the weight of a serious error. To all of us Christ says today: “I am risen, I am close to you, I invite you to my joy.”

On Maundy Thursday we went to Taize for the evening prayer and experienced the foot-washing as we have never done before. 40 of the brothers went to various points around the church with a jug of water each and a sponge. Aided by some of the young people, they moved from person to person  - and there were over 5000 that evening, offering to wash their feet. Shoes and socks were quickly removed and the brothers humbly moved from person to person. Hundreds of pairs of feet were gently bathed.Those who had clearly not experienced this before were very moved by it.
On our return from Taize that evening we welcomed our Belgian guests come to share in the Easter weekend with us. It was a joy to see them again on their second visit to us and we sat down to a late supper of home-made  cream of celeriac soup and quiche and caught up on families' news before a very late night!
Good Friday was marked with quiet and solemnity as we remembered with sadness the death of Jesus on the cross, the pain and the suffering endured and his willingness to suffer for us. In the evening the Taize cross was carried around the church amongst even greater numbers of young people arriving for the festival from far and wide, including Sweden and Finland this year. But our sadness was tempered by the prayer around the cross when we are reminded as we are every Friday, that Jesus died to open a new way to God and that the cross becomes a way of life as we bring our burdens and those of others to the cross in the prayer.
On Easter Eve we had as on the other evenings, to be in Taize early to find somewhere to sit. By this time there were 7000 sharing in the celebration. We had had a lovely but busy day! Out of the blue we had received a text message from friends who live in Brussels - we had not seen them for several years and during the gap they had had two more children to add to the two that they already had! They were coming to Taize for just 24 hours en route to Spain and were anxious to see us and for us to meet the rest of the family! After consulting with our Belgian guests, we invited them to join us for the Saturday evening meal which we took at 5:45 sow e could get up to Taize in time! We were 11 around the table and it was such a joy to catch up and to share food together. I think that this is one of the highlights of our ministry here - a ministry that was confirmed to us just in the last week when we went to a Bible introduction led by brother John and he talked about Abraham and Sarah and the 3 men who came on an unexpected visit and who were showed hospitality. Our friends who were staying with us, after the talk, came to us and said, "that was meant for you, we believe the Lord has called you to offer such hospitality to those whom he sends to you!" I had to agree as the very same thought had crossed my mind too as I heard the talk!
Anyway, Easter Eve was especially special as Brother Mikhail from the Basque country was being welcomed into the community of Taize as a permanent brother. (The brothers begin community life when they are given the prayer robe, and then they live with the other brothers as they test this vocation more fully. At a time decided by the community, a brother goes on to make his life vows and receives the ring of the community which he wears on his left hand as a sign of commitment.
This is what Brother Alois the prior said about it:
' ...tonight a brother made his life-commitment in our community. We are happy that his parents and his extended family from the Basque Country are here. And in heaven, his grandmother who died last year and was over 90 years old is surely joining us.
The presence of all of you who witnessed his commitment tonight is a joy and an encouragement for us who want to follow Christ by a life in community."
Such a commitment is not heroic. Rather it involves knowing and accepting our frailties and our weaknesses, entrusting them to Christ. It is true that this is a narrow and demanding road; we go forward on it to the extent that we rely not on our own strength but on God’s presence. What this brother asked for tonight is “the mercy of God and the community of his brothers.” '

At so to Easter Day! We had eaten breakfast and had left the house by 8:30 in order to get a seat in church for the Easter Eucharist. Everyone entering the church was given a small candle and we made our way in realising that actually we could have got there even earlier as there was not much space left even then - and we had over an hour before the service began. The Easter fire was lit in the brazier and from it the enormous Pascal candle was lit. Then it was carried down the church, stopping 3 times whilst the words "Le Christ est ressuscite, il est vraiment ressuscite!"(Christ is risen, He is truly risen!) were sung out with great joy! As the candle was carried by two of the young brothers of the community, so Brother Alois the prior lit the candles of the young people sitting either side of the aisle. Some of the young children helped too as we sang the praises of the resurrected Christ - all 7000+ of us!
The Eucharist always challenges me and inspires me and strengthens me but especially on Easter Sunday it is a whole rebirth! It was wonderful!
At the end of the service the bells of Taize rang and rang and the brothers took it in turns to say "Christ is risen" in 28 languages, and the response, "He is truly risen" echoed across the church from each nation! It took a long time and English was the last!!!
What a joy!
We came home and cooked roast duck to share with our Belgian friends! We had already had Easter eggs on the table at breakfast and had greeted each other with The Lord is risen - he is risen indeed! It was then that the Belgians told us this story: The Belgian children are told that the bells that ring out from St Peter's Rome actually leave the city on Maundy Thursday (they do not ring from then until Easter Day), they grow wings and fly over Europe full of Easter eggs which they tip over Belgium so that the children can find them in their gardens on Easter morning. No child may go out to look for the bells and amazingly every year the bells are back in Rome to ring out on Easter Day!
I hope this long blog gives you a taste of Easter here!
Alleluia! Christ is risen! He is risen indeed! Alleluia!


Tuesday, February 26, 2013

A year on...Lent begins and Spring is around the corner

Oh dear, what a long title! I suppose it is because we have had some notable dates over the last couple of weeks and I have put them all together for this blog!
It was on the 8th February 2012 that we left Wordsley and set out to move to France. We stayed overnight in London then crossed to France on 9th February arriving to frozen pipes and low low temperatures in Saone et Loire! It seems that the last 12 months have flown by at terrific speed but when I read back on the blog we have certainly packed in a lot!
We came to this first annivesary of moving here with great thankfulness and joy- we have faced many new challenges and our faith, our friends and family and our determination has brought us through!
So now we are beginning to find things coming around again.
On Wednesday two weeks ago, we went up to Taize for the evening prayer and impostion of Ashes. It was as always a special prayer, and even though Lent is beginning still there is that sense of joy that we are looking forward to Easter and rejoicing in the Resurrection.
We were thinking too of our fellow Christians in the Roman Catholic tradition as they received the suprising news of the Pope's resignation and the uncertainty of who will become their new leader and what shape the chruch might take in the coming years... Only at the beginning of the year were the Taize brothers in Rome for the European meeting and 45,000 young people were with them in St Peter's Square when the Pope shared in the evening prayer. There is a lot about this on Taize's web site (
So we have begun Lent, given thanks for our arrival here a year ago and on Friday last week we welcomed our first guests of the season. We have decided to open in February as there are half term vacations for British, French and Dutch and often people pass through Burgundy en route to a ski-ing vacation in the Alps.
The birds in our garden are greedily comsuming the fat balls we are hanging out for them, and we are enjoying their cheery chattering and the hope of Spring not far away.
Sometimes there are queues for the food and the more greedy chase off the more timid!
I've watched the daffodils I planted in the Autumn edging through the ground in the garden and also in my 2 large plant pots and that has been wonderful, but recently we saw a real sign that the warmer weather will soon be here.
We took a drive out to the north of us and slightly west discovering a village called Messeugne which is not far from St Gengoux le National and Cormatin. This was where we found the blossom coming into bloom - how wonderful on a cold wintry day to find this sign of Spring!
Tne village is on the river Grosne - in fact it's where the Guye and the Grosne meet. At the moment the river is in flood.
Near the river is a camp-site with it's own footbridge crossing the bridge.
We had a stroll through part of the village and enjoyed the fresh air although I have to be honest and tell you I was absolutley frozen when we got back to the car! It was a prelude of more cold weather - and more snow. More birdfeed has gone up and been eagerly and greedily devoured by tits, robin and sparrows!
Even the moon rising the other evening seems to be a sign of more cold weather!

Saturday, January 19, 2013

A prayer for unity...

We realised that we have not been here at this time of the year before when we received an email from one of the religious sisters based in Taize this week inviting us to participate in the pray for unity held last night in Taize. We began at 6pm with a meeting led by brother Franck who is originally Dutch but has worked out in Bangladesh for the last 30 years with 5 other Taize brothers.The work began in 1974 in Chittagong, then in Dacca and since 1987 they have been in Mymensingh.
Right from the start they have placed much emphasis on the young; setting up small schools for the poor – at the moment there are seven of these; finding ways to support students in their studies; organising meetings for prayer and reflection, regularly in different parts of the country; one of the brothers has been teaching in the major seminary in Dhaka for nearly thirty years.
An important preoccupation that has emerged through the years is with people who are disabled, through the “Community Centre for the Handicapped” and through the pilgrimages for the disabled and for persons with differing mental capacities, which the brothers organise in different parts of the country.
The brothers work not only with Bengalis but also with people from the various tribes, especially in the villages; they try to promote understanding between Christians of different denominations, with people of different faiths.
When they first arrived they were asked by the local Muslims and Hindus"What are you going to do here?" They responded with a question "What would you like us to do?" And so began the ministry to handicapped young people - those that no-one else wanted to help - brought to the brothers off the side of the road.
We saw a wonderful film to illustrate what brother Franck had been telling us about. 160 million people live in Bangladesh. The majority of people are Muslims followed by Hindus and then Christians from various denominations Catholics through to Pentecostals.
Some Muslims and Hindus come to the prayers which like in Taize, are three times a day. There is a small church where the brothers live - it was a disused Anglican church before.

Those for whom the brothers care have various skills and we saw a wonderful young man who paints with his feet and mouth after an accident in his village when he touched a live electric cable with his hands and lost them and his arms. His skill was amazing. Some make beautiful cards, first laying pieces of straw down and flattening them completely. Then motives are cut out from the flattened straw and they are mounted on to cards. The paintings too are made into cards as well as remaining as paintings. Others make candles and we bought a couple so we can continue to remember the work of these people who often in the world's eyes have nothing to offer.
At the beginning and end we sang Taize songs in Bengali! We were also taught to greet one another in Bengali. Apparently it is easy to know which denominations Christians come from by the greeting they offer when they meet you. The protestants say "Emmanuel", and Catholics "Pronam Jesu".
We sang the following chants - who can work out which 2 they are?

Djetai onurag o Bhalohassa
djetai onurag, Ishoro Shetai


Jiso Christo moder ontorer alo
Moner ondokarke khotto bolte dio na.
Jiso Christo moder ontorer alo
tomar pre amai grohon korte dao.

Following the meeting we went into church with the bells ringing out over the snow-clad valley and along with the Roman Catholic bishop from the diocese, Bishop Benoit, some nuns from St Desert, a Serbian Orthodox priest from Chalon, and a protestant pastor from the area as well as other local Christian leaders, we prayed for the unity of Christ's church together. It was moving as on Friday evening the prayer is diferent because the cross of Taize is laid on the floor of the church and there is a moment when everyone turns towards the cross and bows, kneels and prays. And what a wonderful moment when everyone came together to do this. All praying that the people of God may be one and asking his forgiveness when we fail in our search for inity with our brothers and sisters.

After the prayer we were invited to share a drink and refreshment with some of the brothers and the local Christians visiting for the prayer.
It was a very special meeting and we felt so priveleged to be part of it.

Friday, January 11, 2013

Christmastide continues...

A Happy New Year to all my readers! It is a little late coming as I have been fighting a nasty cold which has hung around all week and reduced me to huddling in front of our wood burner wrapped in a blanket that my friend Pam P made for me before we left England. I have been soooooo grateful for it as I found however many layers or however roaring the fire, I still felt cold.
Our New Year began in St Gengoux de Scisse with our Dutch friend and his sister and family. We stayed over and drank champagne at midnight! It was an interesting start to 2013 because we saw the Dutch fireworks on TV at midnight - not the familiar Big Ben!
During Advent we had watched the evolution of the creche (crib) in Taize. Apart from this one and our dear friends' crib outside their home in Varanges, there is no indication that it is the celebration of the birth of Jesus... This has shocked me, since France is perceived as being a Roman Catholic country, but in truth since the separation of church and state there is little evidence of knowledge of the festivals although bizarrely there is a national holiday for Easter Monday, Ascension Day, Pentecost, Assumption, and All Saints Day as well as Christmas of course.
However, I just wanted to show you the full creche built in Taize as although in the church's calendar Christmastide continues until the feast of Candlemass on 2nd February, I don't expect that the creche will still be there then!

It is very large as you can see, and tons of builders' sand had been put there to form the base for the tableau.
From the left came the shepherds with their sheep.
You might notice that the shepherd at the back is sporting jeans and they are pulled down revealing his Calvin Klein underwear!
I should explain that the inspiration for the creche has come from the visit that some of the brothers and volunteers made in November to Kigali Rwanda. The volunteers returned and using African figures and African costumes as well as African huts, they put the creche together! Apparently many young men wear their jeans like those in the west hence the dress of the shepherd!

Mary and Joseph are in the stable with Jesus who has been put in a kind of basket with straw. The star shines above, wired in by the local electrician for the occasion.
I was particularly intrigued by the the angels - all dressed in African costume and each one holding a little item placed there by the volunteer who made it - a little token of something they treasured - in one case a camomile tea bag! I suppose the link must be that the angels delivered good news, so what is good news for you - and clearly the tea bag was good news!!!
Finally the kings arrive - they came from the East and set out a few weeks back for the long journey, looking splendid in their colourful costumes!
Certainly a unique creche, and one that in our first Christmas season living here, we will remember for a long time! It reflects too the amazing mix of people who come to Taize, truly drawn from the four corners of the earth!

Friday, December 14, 2012

Christmas gallops towards us...

I suppose I had always known it, but this year I am even more aware - that Advent is generally spent rushing about buying presents, writing cards and generally getting more or less stressed by the pressures of advertising and the need to "get it all done."
Why am I more aware? This year I am deliberately taking Advent at a more leisurely and measured pace. Like the little donkey who is led up the main street in Taize each Sunday morning to spend the day grazing and being fed and stroked I am not rushing.
My dear dear friend Jan has been an advocate of lists for all the time I have known her - she is incredibly organised and I always admired that in her and that her organisation included a well ordered household with her chalkboard always used as a shopping list or urgent reminder... The busier we are it seems the more organised we have to be; but now we are no longer in that sense busy. Life in France is definitely in a slower gear -about second I think, so there is ample time to consider what needs to be done, what gifts to buy and for whom, whether to send cards (we've decided against it this year), a newsletter - yes to that as we can really keep in touch that way - especially as we can direct people to this blog if they are interested in learning more - its up to them if they wish to read it!
I've had a bit of time to be more creative this year and I have made most of the gifts we will give. It's meant that I have put time into the creation of them and to me that is really important.
The Christmas tree and the outside lights went up at the beginning of Advent - simply because we felt it was part of the preparation of Advent - the greetings and the lights reminding our neighbours and friends that we are taking the season seriously.
We have even put up the Advent calendar and each day we are adding a figure to the nativity scene.

I can remember years when we didn't get around to doing this at all and when Hannah and I went out to buy a tree in the semi-darkness in the last few days before Christmas!
I hope that our celebration of Christmas will be the better for our slower pace and hopefully more thoughtful approach.
However, we are spending Christmas in England and I have already braved a big shop on line for groceries - so so strange when we are used to popping into Cluny a couple of times a week to buy fresh meat. fish and vegetables. We don't often eat from the freezer - saving that in case we are ill or snowed in!
Talking of snow, we had a bit of that last week - enough to make a bit anxious!

But it was also quite beautiful and atmospheric. I'm hoping there will be more that we can enjoy and photograph when we get back for the feast of St Sylvestre - which is New Year to you and me!
As for food, I had an interesting conversation with our delightful neighbour Martine who told me a little about the festive Christmas meal. Often it is eaten on Christmas Eve and rarely is turkey - more often goose and/or roast beef. Stuffing is unheard of in France! What are they missing I thought! Chestnuts figure in the meal, and no Christmas pudding  - its buche de Noel - Christmas log - but not like we know it - they are so elaborately decorated and the centre is a mousse of raspberry, chocolate or strawberries - they looked sumptious in the chocolatier's window - and I'm sorry that I didn't have the camera with me!
We may not have had much snow but we have had a lot of rain recently and the valley below us, with the Grosne river winding through has been in flood. I did have the camera with me for that!
We are off to a concert tomorrow given by the local choir and we are looking forward to hearing carols - French ones - and do you know we haven't heard or sung one English carol - YET! -
Now that's what I call Advent!!!

Saturday, December 1, 2012

starting our Advent journey.....

I can hardly believe that already we are on the eve of Advent. Where have the last few weeks gone? We were planning lots of activity in garden and house, but we have not completed them all! I've taken up knitting more earnestly, completing today a little jacket for an old friend's grand-daughter due in February and I have almost finished a blanket to put on the cot upstairs for any babies who come to stay. And today we have welcomed back our lovely Swiss friends, here to finish the work in their garden before returning to Switzerland for the winter. It's great to see them!
With the temperatures dropping and today a crisp white frost we know that we are entering winter in Burgundy. /
This week we attended a rendezvous with others of the Communaute de communes de clunisois to discuss the planned charging a "taxe de sejour" from next year - effectively a small charge per night for any guests who stay with us. The cost goes towards the maintenance and development of the communities of the area.
I've been aware of the supermarkets stocking special offer wines and chocolates (so many boxes to choose from!), foie gras, and other thoroughly French delicacies consumed at Christmas and New Year, and then special festal meals with different courses to order depending on your budget. I've looked at Christmas cards too, but actually there are none here that have any religious content at all - robins, snow and village scenes all appear though!
But tonight we made an effort to leave our roaring fire and drive up to Taize to begin the journey towards Advent.
As we approached the church it became clear that Advent is well observed and very public.
Right across the rear of the church is an enormous tableau. There is a floor of sand and backdrop of scenes of hillsides and skies. Then on the right - as you can see above, the figures of Mary on the donkey led by Joseph are setting out Lit by subdued light and candles it made an awesome sight in the cold night air.
The prayer this evening was clearly an Advent theme, with the icon of the Annunciation at the front with a candle in front of it lit at the beginning of the prayer and from which our own little candles were lit. We sang - Let all who are thirsty come, let all who wish receive the water of life, come Lord Jesus come. Then we sang in  French an Advent hymn - words below in translation:
Give Lord your justice in true measure to our true Prince of Peace,
May he give righteous sentence ever, and e'er defend the poor.
The humblest members of your people shall find in him their friend
He'll give deliverance to the needy and crush their oppressor.
Long may He reign in every nation and over every sea!
May his great name endure for ever, our only Prince of Peace.
His blessing be for generations on every age and land,
As he creates a new-born people, open to all humankind.
After the 10 minutes silence we followed the brothers outside to stand with them in front of the tableau singing again as we began to contemplate that long long journey that Mary and Joseph made to Bethlehem, with Jesus carried in Mary's womb. Somehow I knew as we stood there in the darkness, old and young singing Laudate omnes gentes, that in spite of the world around us, we would journey in  heart and mind towards that stable too, and worship afresh at his birth. I invite you my readers to keep a good Advent!

Friday, November 23, 2012

oh the joy.....

A little while ago I wrote a blog about my search for a Bramley apple tree. There are not many things I miss having lived here since February but one of the most surprising was the Bramley apple. It is so easy to take for granted being able to pop into the supermarket and buy some apple to bake or make apple pie. Anyway, I was all set to try and propagate one with help from my British friends until I had a wonderful message from my lovely school friends in Jersey with whom I had met at the beginning of November. The message told me that together they had organised for 2 Bramley apple trees to be delivered here to me in France so that I could plant and enjoy them in years to come.

On Wednesday morning about 8am the phone rang and a delivery company said would we be in after lunch time as they had a package for us. What excitement! Just after midday the van arrived and a box was left. Joe unpacked them but not unwrapped the roots because it was too late in the day to begin the planting process because the root balls needed to be soaked in a bucket of water for at least 2 hours.
The next morning Joe put the roots straight into a bucket of water as per the instructions included.
During the afternoon we clambered up the wobbly steps to the top of the garden to begin the planting process. Joe had been into Cluny and purchased 2 long stakes as the trees have to be supported as they begin to transform into fruiting mode.

After the stakes had been hammered into the ground Joe began the digging of the two holes - I did help but I was behind the camera most of the time!!

Soon the root balls were in place and tied into the stakes then the soil was replaced and added to by a bit of garden compost and bark.
Protected from rabbits and deer we are hopeful that we shall eventually have some wonderful Bramley apples with which to make chutney, puree, apple sauce, bake apples and Joe's all time favourite apple pie!
In all my excitement, I decided to find out more about the Bramley apple.
Bramley's  Seedling apples are so well known that I was surprised to discover that they have only been around since 1809 when a pip was planted in a garden in Nottinghamshire. It was a girl called Mary Anne Brailsford who planted the pip and later on the house with its garden containing the apple tree was sold to a Matthew Bramley who allowed cuttings to be taken from it. The original tree still exists and the BBC have made a video of it - you can see it here - video made by the BBC 

It is so exciting to know that every Bramley apple tree traces its origin back to that one tree.

The new variety was quickly recognised as an outstanding cooking apple and by the end of the Victorian era it was widely planted in England and Northern Ireland, becoming synonymous with English apple cookery. However for the next century it remained little-known outside the UK, since European and North American growers had long preferred dual-purpose apples which could be both eaten fresh and cooked. Latterly with a resurgence in interest in apple cookery it has become well-known amongst North American apple enthusiasts and, 200 years after its birth, this remarkable "cooker" is increasingly recognised as one of the world's great apples varieties.
However it is not well known in South Burgundy but I'm hoping that this will change!!!
Thank you Anne, Caroline and Lesley for my unique 60th birthday gift!
And to add to the special occasion the sunset over the hills opposite the garden was exquisite.