Tuesday, 13 January 2015

Too late for Rembrandt

Yesterday I went down to London to catch Rembrandt the late works at The National Gallery before it closes in one week's time. Alas when I got there I was told that there were no more tickets for the day. Having got there I decided to take a look at a picture I had seen before.

This painting by Pieter Bruegel the Elder has long been a favourite. Although the Christ figure has a rather unattractive adult look,  the picture is so suggestive. The idea of wealthy powerful men kneeling before this child who himself was born to be King is a powerful one. Although the picture is called the Adoration of the Kings, it's recognised that Scripture calls them magi or 'wise men' from the east, nonetheless, kings bowing before the king (although apparently a helpless babe) is appropriate. However,

The Adoration of the Kings by Pieter Bruegel the Elder
'The particular gift that the Christ child is being offered emphasises his humanity; it is a vessel of golden-red grains of myrrh, which alludes to his future death and burial. The child recoils from the gift, a gesture which the artist may have intended to foreshadow Christ's moment of anguish  before he passion when  he pleaded in the Garden of Gethsemane that his father should 'take away this cup' (Mark 14.36)...the soldiers pre-figure those who tormented and nailed him to the cross; at least two of the pikes are cross-shaped...It becomes clear, then that Christ is being shown not as a Godly infant, but as a vulnerable human being who experiences as much anxiety, fear and pain as the rest of humanity. This representation of the Saviour encourages the viewer to mediate on the humility of the incarnation.' Taken from The image of Christ

Westminster Abbey yesterday
After the National gallery on a wet blowy January evening I went along to Westminster Abbey for the 5 o'clock evensong. It was a very formal affair which was a strange mix of beautiful music and ceremony. Nonetheless what struck me was the anthem taken from Psalm 71 by William Byrd, Reges Tharsis. Sung in Latin the translation is,


The kings of Tharsis and the isle offer their gifts,the kings of Arabia and Sheba bring gifts (to the Lord God.) And all the kings of the earth worship him, all peoples bow before him. (Glory be to the Father and to the Son and to the Holy Ghost.)


Reflecting upon this Christ, now no longer a helpless babe,  to whom one day every knee shall bow, including all the kings of the earth, made me think again both upon the immensity of the incarnation, and the joy and great hope that one day 'everything sad will come untrue', when our true King will be seen and known for who he is. No wonder Handel got carried away with his fabulous piece from The Messiah, ...'and he shall reign for ever and ever, King of Kings and Lord of Lords’. Just now we must wait for that day, with the mixture of joy and sorrow that comes to us all. And yet with  expectation in our hearts that one day, one day…everything will be fixed, all wrongs will be righted, and death will be no more.

Thursday, 8 January 2015

'You saved my life'

As usual yesterday I pluck the newspaper from the letter box as I go downstairs in the darkness of a new day. The gripes about the NHS and especially GPs are featured yet again, but something else happens that day that is unusual. Two patents thank me for 'saving the lives' of their loved ones. Now I thought GPs deal with sore throats all day, and anyway you have to wait a week for an appointment even if you're dying? Save lives? Woa!

"You saved my granddaughter's life" was almost blurted out by an elderly lady during her consultation,  and after I had admitted that I wasn't sure what the best option was for her persistent symptoms. She had suddenly recalled the events of December 2013 when her 12 year old granddaughter had nearly died of septicaemia. And hence, she said she trusted my opinion and accepted my uncertainty. What a great advantage it is to have a 'history' with patients and for them to be comfortable with the limits of our knowledge.

And yet this aspect of practice is lost when working as a locum or with the current trent of doctors moving from surgery to surgery, rather than staying for a long time in one. Such a way of working just doesn't offer the kind of relationship that's needed and makes the practice of medicine all the more difficult. Of course where patients move away from family connections, this also works against the traditional family doctor advantage of continuity. Interestingly I had never realised the family  connection between the poorly 12 year old (whom I had sent in with septicaemia) and the patient in front of me.

And then just a few patients later, a mum bringing her 15 year old with unexplained symptoms, recalled that 13 years ago I had 'saved the life' of her other daughter when she was a mere two weeks old. I had apparently recognised the severity of her illness and admitted her with pneumonia and septicaemia from which she had made a full recovery. I was beginning to wonder if word had got round that I was retiring soon. All this praise, and on the same day!

It's ironic that two patients should thank me for what was essentially recognising just how ill their loved ones were.  For currently all the pressure  on GPs is not to admit patients, to keep them at home at all costs, and practice admission avoidance. And yet what a vital role we play in recognising the truly sick. Indeed a large part of the experience gained in GP is related to that very thing, 'Is this patient seriously ill or not?'

Sadly the myth persists that GPs basically deal with lots of trivial, minor illness, which any number of other health care workers could undertake, when the reality is far more subtle and complex.

I can't deny that it was humbling and good to hear my patient's appreciation. It's not something that one hears often, and it went someway to offset the media barrage of the day. Still there's always tomorrow's paper to keep in my place.

Monday, 5 January 2015

A tale of two books

Over the holiday period I read two books. I'm struck by the extraordinary contrast between them

One was called Gospel: Recovering the power that made Christianity Revolutionary, by J D Greear. This is a very helpful summary of what lies behind a Christian's motivation. He begins..
'I'm a professional Christian. But for many years I found Christianity to be wearisome. That's a confession you wont often hear from a pastor. But it was true of me.'
He goes on to explain that whilst he understood in theory that being a Christian was accepting God's grace of forgiveness through the merits of Christ, that's not how it felt day by day. Indeed he found his motivation for living as a Christian was more often based upon his performance and perceived spirituality, rather than reflecting upon and resting upon the perfect life and sacrifice of Christ. In short helpful chapters he focuses upon the gospel, and the implications of the gospel, as he circles round and round the vastness and sheer practicality of the gospel. As Tim Keller notes in the forward,
'It's one thing to understand the gospel but another to experience it in such a way that it fundamentally changes us and becomes the source of our identity and security. It is one thing to grasp the essence of the gospel, but quite another to think out the implications for all of life.'

Greear defines the gospel thus,
'The Gospel is the announcement that God has reconciled us to himself by sending his Son to die as a substitute for our sins, and all who repent and believe have eternal life in Him. I want you to see that the gospel is not just the means by which you get into heaven, but as the driving force behind every single moment of your life. I want to help in some small way your eyes to be opened to the beauty and greatness of God',

Greear structures his book around what he calls a gospel prayer, which can usefully be said and mused upon daily. In speaking to God,.
'In Christ there is nothing I can do that you will you love me more, and nothing I have done that makes you love me less.....Your presence and approval are all I need for everlasting joy......As you have been to me so I will be to others....As I pray, I'll measure your compassion by the cross, and your power by the resurrection.

A really helpful prayer to chew over and a great book to have read at the start of the new year.

In complete contrast I also read The Mermaids Singing by Val Mcdermid. In the Spring Biddy and I are taking a short course on Female crime writers, and this is one of the set books. I generally enjoy the genre, particularly enjoying Mankell's Wallender series and Peter James 'Dead' series. However I do tend to steer clear of the especially violent, graphic and 'nasty', enjoying the police procedural detection aspect, whilst also the suspense thriller aspect. The Mermaids singing tested me!

There is certainly nastiness in abundance and a fair amount of sexually graphic language. At times I wondered just how valuable it was to be reading and indeed even 'enjoying' the read. It's certainly gripping and I finished it in no time. Now I've had a chance to reflect upon the read I've wondered just how Christian believers cope who are exposed to the sheer evil that sometimes shows itself above our respectable exterior. In other words, how to forensic pathologists and psychiatrists, and murder squad detectives-who are Christian believers-reconcile their work with the encouragement to 'thinking upon lovely things' that the apostle Paul encourages? I'd love to ask them, for surely we want Christ to be honoured and 'present' in as many walks of life a spossible.

At any rate the book certainly lifts the lid on a degree of evil which many in our society would suspect is only present but not acted upon except in a tiny minority. The sexism, interpersonal conflict, petty jealousies, quickness to judge others, frustrations and more of 'normal' life are woven throughout the book and remind us all of our need saving from ourselves, even if the need appears less dramatic than that of the 'evil' character at the center of the book.

Thursday, 1 January 2015

One more thing..

Oh and I forgot, my favourite worship song of 2014. Praise my soul, Graham Kendrick version. This has long been a favourite hymn and this version is lovely.

Just a few good things of 2014 (mostly books).

Lots to be thankful for.

Some great Christian books....

Prayer by Tim Keller. I've read numerous books on prayer over the years, this is just superb. Accessible and profound all at same time.

Enjoy your prayer life by Mike Reeves A very close second to Keller. Short, punchy and doable. A bargain at £1.18 for the Kindle version.

The Book of Common Prayer-a biography by Alan Jacobs. Not having been schooled in the Church of England I grow to love this book more each year. Its prayers take me out of myself. Its history is fascinating.

Some other books...

To Fight Alongside Friends:The First World War Diaries of Charlie May. I'm fascinated by all things Great war and this diary is as poignant and understated as any previously read and all the more sad because it ends with the first day of the Somme, as May joins the other nearly 20,000 British deaths on that fateful day.

Great Britain's Great War by Jeremey Paxman. Really good read on some of the social impact of the Great war.

Jude the Obscure by Thomas Hardy. There's a good reason why Hardy and other Victorians are still so popular. A rambling but involving story of poverty, hopes fulfilled and thwarted, and so much more.

Some (but not much) great TV....Homeland my pick of the year.

Best film? Frozen...ok 2013 but I only got to see it three days ago. 'Do you want to build a snowman'?

Best wedding? Our darling daughter Sarah with her lovely sister Hannah as maid of honour. Every dad's proudest day. It was beautiful. Oh, and husband Owen played his part! And the current wife looked amazing.

And so much more to give thanks to God for.

And now for 2015....

'I wish above all things that thou mayest prosper and be in health, even as thy soul prospereth'
3 John 2 KJV




Don't lose the shock!

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