Category Archives: Prayer

Prayer Blog – April 2017 (01)

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Watch and Wait

As I sit to write this blog, it is Friday. More specifically it is Good Friday. There are various theories as to why it is called Good but I don’t want to go into that. Rather, I have been thinking of the real significance of this day and, as some of us gathered to remember last night, Jesus agonising in the Garden of Gethsemane just prior to his mockery of a trial and cruel execution on a cross by Roman soldiers. We may indeed wonder what is good about that.

It was Tony Campolo who coined the phrase, ‘it’s Friday but Sunday’s Coming’. I like that for two reasons. Firstly, it points to the hope that the resurrection of Jesus brings to us all. Secondly, it recognises the fact that, ‘it is Friday’.

Today, I have seen well-meaning people post messages on social media wishing their friends a Happy Easter! I don’t mean to sound all bah humbug, like I do at Christmas, but today is not the time. Today is not the day to celebrate. Today is the day to remember well the agonising that Jesus went through over the forsakenness of God.

On this day, we do well to remember how, the night before, his disciples had been unable to keep watch with him for one hour. They kept falling asleep yet he sweated drops of blood. On this day, we do well to remember how most of his followers deserted him. Judas hanged himself. His enemies taunted him and had him flogged. He was despised by his own people and crucified by soldiers of an occupying army. And, if the physical pain and mental anguish of all of that was not enough he cried out in a loud voice, ‘My God, my God, why have you forsaken me? ‘Tell me, what’s to be Happy about that?

The point is; it’s not meant to be happy. It’s meant to mean that whatever we go through, our darkest of days; He is there with us. Perhaps it is just symptomatic of the world that we live in that we want to move quickly and get to the happy bit, to blank out the pain. However, Sunday is coming. We just need to be prepared to watch and to wait with Jesus.

Last night a group of us gathered at DBC and watched a film about the life of Dietrich Bonhoeffer. He was one of the founders of the Confessing Church in Nazi Germany and was brave enough to speak out against that evil system. Less than one month before the end of the war, having spent considerable time in jail, he was executed. In the film his accuser says to him, ‘this is the end’. Bonhoeffer says. ‘no’, and calmly walked up to the gallows.

He knew that Sunday was coming. Yet, for him, and for many others who occupied the prison cells on death sentences, their calendar was stuck in a long run of Thursdays and Fridays. For Bonhoeffer, Sunday would be waking up in the presence of Jesus.

Of course, I don’t want to finish this on a downer. But, for many people life is a constant downer: for the sick, the bereaved, the addicted, the oppressed, the hungry and the homeless. How can we leave them here to face their Friday on their own? Rather, we walk with them in the knowledge that Jesus walks with us. In the knowledge that, yes, Sunday is coming. But let’s keep watch for it and wait for it – see you Sunday!

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A Morning Invocation

God who holds the whole world in your hands,
hear my lamentation as I rise this day.
Hold me when I am weak and lost as you hold the world’s lostness.
Hold me in my anxiety and those who wait with worry pacing the floor.
Hold me when I hear the news I dread and those who stare blankly at the wall.
Hold those who weep and the dry-eyed who are numb.
Hold me when I feel unsafe, and those who fear inside their own home.
Hold me when I try to kill my pain, and those who live to fix theirs each day.
Hold me when I doubt and those who’ve lost their faith in goodness.
Hold those of us marginalised by a centre we never defined.
Hold us when our value is unseen or maligned.
Hold us when our dreams get trampled on or never come true.
Hold all the lonely hearts and hurting souls in this strange cold world I pray.
Hold each and every one of us as we make it through this day.

Night Shielding

Thirsty God,
I came from the womb thirsting
for the succour of a loving one.
Remember me as you thirst for a world more loving.
As I let the darkness of this long lonely night enfold me,
I lay down all the things in my heart that separate me.
Be with those who have felt isolated this day.

Give us good people on our journeys who will take us in, whose shelter connects us to your love this night.

Blessing

The blessing of God on my strife within.
The blessing of God on the conflict without.
The blessing of God on the patterns that chain.
The blessing of God on the chains that bind us all.

And at this days start/end God’s protection for our world.[1]

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 [1] Tess Ward, The Celtic Wheel of the Year: Celtic and Christian Seasonal Prayers (Ropley, Hants: 2007, O Books),88-89

Prayer Blog – March 2017 (01)

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Who is in Control?

Have you ever asked yourself the question: who is in control? In a week where article 50 has been triggered, we may ponder how much power the politicians can exercise of their own will? How much is influenced by the people, who, indirectly control the politicians? Or, what about the world as created order? Are we doomed as a result of our own mismanagement of the planet? Or, will God intervene; perhaps he is already doing so? Not to mention, who is in control of us? If God is, why do we still make mistakes, get sick, do the wrong thing, no matter how hard we try to do the right things? As Paul once said, ‘what a wretched man I am!’, seemingly unable to control his own body.[1] Who then, is in control.

Just last week I phoned a helpline to get some help to fix a problem with my computer. I bought this laptop a few months ago but, for some reason, could not get one of my printers to work from it. I should have done it sooner, as I had paid an extra premium in order to call on the services of an I.T. expert any time I had a problem, because they were true to their word and fixed the problem.

However, it took some time and considerable searching around in files, located deep in the bowels of this machine, before things were put right. I have to say that I found it a little disconcerting to hand over the controls of my computer to a stranger. This person was able to access it and remotely search through things until he found the fault. As I watched, the cursor on the screen moved around at his will and not mine. Here was the place where I stored all of my personal information, banking details, all sorts of data normally only accessed by me and it was in the control of another.

I guess the analogy of a computer for our innermost being is not far wrong. We process masses of information, prioritise our lives and generally organise things to suit ourselves. But, do we really? How much are we controlled by others in e.g. abusive relationships, through the media or other means. We like to think we are in control…but!

Handing over control to another is a bit scary. But handing things over to God, is not the same as being controlled in a way that robots or computers are. He has given us free will but sometimes we make mistakes or bad decisions. However, as Paul explains in Romans 7-8, it is to the Spirit that we can surrender control, become slaves to, and not the law. Therefore, we will make mistakes but can walk with the one who is our constant guide and director. Whom else then, could we possibly surrender control to? He, after all, is the one who is control of all things.

Yet, ‘the creation groans’, ‘as in the pains of childbirth’, as God patiently bears with humanity, gives them space to consider; what a different world we would live in if we surrender complete control to him. One day, I believe, we will see the created order renewed and restored. Meanwhile, we must wait and live in that hope and pray, in the spirit:

…the Spirit helps us in our weakness. We do not know what we ought to pray for, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us with groans that words cannot express. And he who searches our hearts knows the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for the saints in accordance with God’s will[2]

What a comfort then to know that, in surrendering control to him, he, who searches our hearts, knows best.

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A Morning Invocation

Ordinary God bringing Heaven in the detail,

by weather forecast and pip,

by kettle boil,

by sound of washing up,

by pattern seat on bus,

by lingering a moment with colleague,

by reflection of self in charity shop window,

by kind word said at the check-out

by smile at unexpected mail,

by over-cooked ready meal,

by mild amusement in flicker of tv screen,

by pleasing smell of new soap,

your living presence is with us

as we do the little things we do this day.

A Blessing

May the blessing of our day-in-day out God be upon me.

Grant me a little love, a little shelter, a little bread.

Teach me to so honour what you have given,

that I need not hold it,

but give it away trusting that your faithfulness will provide again morning by morning.[3]

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[1] Romans 7:24

[2] Romans 8:26-27

[3] Tess Ward, The Celtic Wheel of the Year: Celtic and Christian Seasonal Prayers (Hants UK: O Books, 2007), 61-62

Prayer Blog – February 2017 (02)

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Footnotes

 

I guess it cannot have escaped your attention that a mistake was made at the Oscars the other night. In case you missed it; Warren Beattie and Faye Dunaway announced La La Land as winner of the best film award when, in fact, it should have been Moonlight. Much embarrassment followed as the cast of La La Land had to cease from celebrating and hand the trophies over to their rightful owners. Personally, I know nothing of either film, so cannot comment on the choice made, but I was left thinking that it must be a mark of the culture that we live in, that we are so infatuated with things celebrity, that this dominated the news for several days. It was a simple mistake. These things happen, so what! Let’s be thankful that no-one got hurt.

 

Apologies if my philosophy sounds insensitive but I think there are more important things to worry about. But mistaken identity, or status, is not a new problem. In Luke 9:46-50 we read of an occasion when the disciples argued over who would be the greatest. Jesus corrected their thinking by telling them that they needed to be like children and said, ‘He who is least among you all – he is the greatest’. (Luke 9:48b)

 

On another occasion, John the Baptist got it right and he was the one to do the correcting. In John 3:22-30 an argument had broken out between John’s disciples because everyone was going to Jesus, on the other side of the Jordan, to be baptised. But John was wise and said that his joy was now complete in the knowledge that; ‘He must become greater; I must become less’. (John 3:30) John was determined that the accolade should go to the right one, i.e. as described in that passage, the Christ and the bridegroom. He was still in a privileged position as the friend who went ahead of and attended the bridegroom.

 

Commenting on this passage, Jeff Astley says:

 

The Baptist is a footnote in the world’s history, but his role in God’s drama is key, although his appearance and words make him few friends among the mighty.[1]

 

When I was studying theology, I had to learn to reference my sources of literature and other materials. (As I still do) This is done inserting a footnote at the bottom of the page and collating all those references into the final Bibliography. One time, a young student was writing an essay and inserting abbreviated comments into the footnote section, as he went along, with the intention of finalisng the details later. On this occasion, he strongly disagreed with the author so inserted an obscenity but forgot to remove it. Therefore, he was summoned to the principal’s office to explain. He was gently reminded of the importance of footnoting and, fortunately, the funny side was seen. We nicknamed him footnote 5, for the rest of the course.

 

How then do we see ourselves in God’s great drama? Merely as footnotes? Or do we see the importance of footnotes in pointing us towards the main point. That is, as John the Baptist reminds us – He, must become greater; I must become less. There should be no mistake about, and there will be no greater accolade than that, in God’s final cast.  

 

A Prayer

 

Holy God,
you know the disorder of our sinful lives:
set straight our crooked hearts,
and bend our wills to love your goodness
and your Glory
in Jesus Christ our Lord.

 

A Song

 

Do Not Strive (Let me do my work among you)[2]

 

Let me do my work among you
Do not strive, do not strive
Let my peace reign within your hearts
Do not strive, do not strive

 

For mine is the power and the glory
For ever and ever the same
Let me do my work among you
Do not strive, do not strive

 

Let me have my way among you
Do not strive, do not strive
Let me show my power among you
Do not strive, do not strive

 

We’ll let you do your work among us
We’ll not strive, we’ll not strive
We’ll let your peace reign within our hearts
We’ll not strive, we’ll not strive

 

For yours is the power and the glory
For ever and ever the same
We’ll let you do your work among us
We’ll not strive, we’ll not strive
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[1] Jeff Astley in, Reflections for Daily Prayer: Advent 2016-2017, (London: Church House Publishing, 2016), 87

 

Prayer Blog – February 2017 (01)

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Murmuration

It’s a strange word, murmuration. Apparently, it can be traced back to the 15th century, when it was used as a noun, but no-one seems to know why it came into being. The word is now used to describe the synchronised movement of a large flock of starlings. It’s truly amazing to watch, such as, the huge displays currently taking place in the Lake District, and shown on the BBC news recently.

But what’s is going on? Well, according to the RSPB’s web-site:

We think that starlings do it for many reasons. Grouping together offers safety in numbers – predators such as peregrine falcons find it hard to target one bird in the middle of a hypnotising flock of thousands. They also gather to keep warm at night and to exchange information, such as good feeding areas. They gather over their roosting site, and perform their wheeling stunts before they roost for the night. It’s completely breathtaking to witness!

I reckon we can learn a lot from the birds. Grouping together for safety and protecting one another sounds like a good plan. Being warm towards one another and helping exchange information, particularly on how we share food. Entertaining, whilst putting on dazzling displays of human kindness sounds much better than the language of exclusion, warmongering and selfishness that can be picked up from the media these days. After all, just like the birds, God made us for societal living and not for an excluded existence.

For sure, there are times to withdraw and retreat into solitude, particularly to find God in the quietness. But God also made us for one another. There are many bible verses to support this but one of my favourites is Romans 12:16:-

Live in harmony with one another. Do not be proud, but be willing to associate with people of low position. Do not be conceited.

The reason I picked this verse is because, although many others could support my belief that God made us for one another; as Christians, we may be tempted to think of that being in the church and nowhere else. God loves His church and is building his church. However, I was struck by a staggering statistic the other day: approximately 95% of the people in the world today do not profess to be Christian. What does that mean for those of us who are?

It certainly can’t mean that God does not care about 95% of the people he created. Therefore, it must mean that we are invited to join him in reaching out to even the people of lowest positions in our society.

Like the starlings, in their murmuration, we can group together with those who need our protection and warmth in such a manner that God, the choreographer, is pleased to watch our displays of human love and compassion, reflecting His love, and drawing men and women, boys and girls, refugees and rejected, into relationship with him. What a joy to witness that!
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A Prayer of St Apollonius (170-245)

O Lord Jesus Christ, give us a measure of your Spirit that we may be enabled to obey your teaching: to pacify anger, to take part in pity, to moderate desire, to increase love, to put away sorrow, to cast away vain glory, not to be vindictive, not to fear death; ever entrusting our spirit to the immortal God who with you and the Holy Spirit lives and reigns world without end.[1]

A Prayer of John Calvin (1509-1564)

Lord, save us from being self-centred in our prayers and teach us to remember to pray for others.  May we be so bound up in love with those for whom we pray, that we may feel their needs as acutely as our own, and interceded for them with sensitivity, with understanding and with imagination.[2]

Amen…
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[1] http://spckpublishing.co.uk/blog/spck-prayer/a-prayer-of-st-apollonius-170-245/

[2]http://spckpublishing.co.uk/blog/spck-prayer/a-prayer-of-john-calvin-1509-1564-2/

Prayer Blog – January 2017 (01)

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I’m Only Human

Today I have been reflecting on these words, ‘I’m Only Human’, mainly because of a song that comes on the radio now and again. I usually have the radio on in the car for background noise and for keeping up with local news, weather, traffic reports etc. So, largely, the music goes unnoticed. However, now and again a song will grab my attention and, as I am sure you have experienced, get into your head. You keep hearing the lyrics, the beat of the music etc., and it won’t go away. That’s how it has been with me for the song by Rag N Bone Man, ‘I’m Only Human’.[1]
human

In this song he repeatedly uses those words. Perhaps the repetition is what makes it stick in your head. Some of the words are quite poignant and powerful:

Some people got the real problems. Some people out of luck. Some people think I can solve them. Lord Heavens above. I’m only human. I make mistakes. I’m only human. That’s all it takes. To put the blame on me. Don’t put the blame on me.

It’s a classic example of finding something of a deep searching for meaning to life and there being a God; more to life than our mere human existence, in our culture, through songs, poetry, film, arts etc. but outside of mainstream Christianity. The proponents of mission dia (Mission of God) would cite this as an example of God at work in the world, outside of the church. So, find out where he is at work and join him there.

Sometimes we think that the world has gone all secular and is no longer looking for God. To be sure, if we accept the lyrics as an excuse i.e. we are not responsible for our actions as we are only human: then we end up with all sorts of problems, even anarchy perhaps. However, being ‘only human’ can also mean that we accept that we are limited in our capacity to change things by ourselves but reliant on help from outside ourselves. After all, to quote Rag N Bone Man again: ‘I’m no prophet or Messiah. Should go looking somewhere higher. I’m only human after all’.

I concur with that but in following my calling, as a minister, I constantly speak to people who are only human and need to be pointed higher, people with brokenness in their lives. We are all broken in one way or another and need to admit to that, honestly, before God. To be human is to be sinful, by default position, therefore we muck up constantly. But God is the God of forgiveness, reconciliation and healing. We find our way to him, and to that, by faith and by his grace.

Upon reflecting on those word, ‘I’m only human’, I have been trying to hold them in the context of a broken world, with broken lives, my own human limitations and at the same time pray that God’s healing would be administered to all humans who need fixing.

Many come to mind: those who are broken spiritually, mentally, and otherwise physically. How do I help them and myself, when I’m only human? The prayer which follows helps me in this respect as it is an honest acknowledgement that I, and we all, need God. I hope you find it helpful also, as a means of accepting and confessing our total dependence on God.

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Thursday – Wholeness: Morning Invocation
(From a Celtic Prayer Book)

Holy Reconciler, marrying our darkness and light, bringing sunlight to the short dark days, come wind or rain, cleanse me with your healing grace as I set this day.

Sprinkle healing on my roots that the wounds of my story may be the source of my wholeness;
sprinkle healing on my head that I might be protected this day from all that would harm; sprinkle healing on my heart that I might see with compassion not judgement;
sprinkle healing on my body that I might have wellbeing in health and in diminishment; sprinkle healing on my path that I might see for the next step and trust that that is enough as I go forth with you this day. [2]
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[1] Full words found at: https://www.musixmatch.com/lyrics/Rag-n-Bone-Man-2/Human

[2] Tess Ward, The Celtic Wheel of the Year: Celtic and Christian Seasonal Prayers (Ropley, Hants, UK: O Books, 2007), p2

 

Yule Blog – December 2016

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The Rhythms of Life

Yesterday morning I started the day, as I sometimes do, with a spinning class at our local leisure centre. For the uninitiated this has nothing to do with sewing. It is a group class, of fellow like-minded masochists, who enjoy being shouted at by a fitness instructor to go faster, harder, higher up the metaphorical hill, on an indoor bike. It’s a strange world but we all get our kicks from something!

The Bah Humbug in me started to rise when, on this occasion, the instructor informed us that the first third of the music tracks would be Pop Christmas tunes. O dear, I thought, not really my taste. But, alas I was converted! I really enjoyed that session because the Christmas tunes seemed to hit the right beat to keep your pedals spinning to. An important part of spinning is keeping the cadence of your pedals in time with the beat, or rhythm, of the music. And, to my surprise, Christmas tunes worked well.

Today, as I look out of the office window, it is hardly getting light and it is wet and dreary. I am very glad of the warmth of the radiator, the light from the ceiling, even the shelter of the roof over my head on this the shortest day of the year; the winter solstice. Much as I enjoy the comforts of modern life, sometimes, I feel, they blur our sense of the real rhythms of life. One day can appear the same as the next as central heating disperses cold air, electric light dissolves darkness and music and electronic noise drowns out silence. We live in a world which has lost its sense of rhythm.

To walk with God is to walk in time with his rhythms. As creator, he has made us to exist on a planet which has seasons. And the wonderful thing about this is that days like today, winter solstice, mark a change. For tomorrow, will be lighter than today, and the next and so on. Ancient people knew this. Apparently, the pagans held a festival of light during the month of December to, a bit like ourselves, help them get through the long winter months. When the Celtic Church Christianised all of that, close to 1500 years ago, apparently Advent became a period of fasting. It sounds as if the church was being Bah Humbug here too. However, I get the idea. Because, Christmas Day became the Feast Day and then the feasting continued into the New Year. As the writer of Ecclesiastes says, …there is a time for everything…

So, how do we keep in time with God’s rhythms of life. Basically we recognise that there is a time for everything. When the time was right, and only he knew when, he sent his Son into this world. We celebrate that at Christmas. We remember his death for our sin, and celebrate his resurrection, at Easter and there is a time for that. But let’s not lose the real reason for this season. The incarnation: he became one of us. There is real darkness in our world but its changing to light. God is the one who has set the seasons and we do well to follow him, daily, step by step, through the changing seasons, from life, to death and resurrection.

I am grateful then to my spinning instructor for helping me to see, this simple lesson; that all things have a time and place. (In hope that, sometimes, she remembers to, slow it down, slow it down) There is a time to step out into the darkn nights and find God there because that is where he is. There is a time to celebrate and rejoice at the rising sun at the turn of a new dawn. There is a time to speed up, go harder and to slow down, to recover. The long dark nights are God’s design as nature’s recovery period. But –Arise, shine; your light has come and the Glory of the Lord is risen. Merry Christmas!

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A Christian Liturgy for Winter Solstice[1]

Together we say:-

You are worthy, our Lord and God, to receive glory and honour and power, for you created all things, and by your will they were created and have their being

This is the God we serve,
A God of love, of healing and power.
All: Alleluia
This is the God we serve,
A God who loves us with a Father’s love.
All: Alleluia
This is the God we serve,
A God who laughs as we laugh,
All: Alleluia
This is the God we serve,
A God who suffers as we suffer.
All: Alleluia
This is the God we serve,
A God who brings light into dark places.
All: Alleluia
This is the God we serve,
A God who brings warmth into hearts that are chilled.
All: Alleluia
This is the God we serve,
A God who sees within us the potential of Spring.
All: Alleluia

‘Where man sees but withered leaves,
God sees sweet flowers growing.’ (Albert Laighton)
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  1. http://www.faithandworship.com/Winter_Solstice_Praying_Celtic_Year.htm#ixzz4TU3yrmQD

Prayer Blog – November 2016 (02)

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Seeing God in the Picture

Last Sunday I gave someone a lift to Culbokie, on the Black Isle, and on the return journey I was suddenly struck by the awesome scene in front of me. As I drove down the hill, I turned a corner and was met by a spectacular vista of snow-capped mountains, reflecting the low sunshine of late afternoon. The natural instinct is to pull over and get a photo of such a scene but the advice of Bryan Draper, the guest speaker at a retreat I attended recently, flashed into my mind: rather than rush to take a picture, and all the fiddling around with camera settings etc., imagine yourself in that scene. God made this beautiful landscape and at this moment of time, as he looks on it, he also sees you as part of the picture. So, that is what I did and found it very humbling to sit in a layby and contemplate our great creator, who made the snow-capped mountains for his Glory and I am a  part of his creation.

Later in the week and another beautiful scene unfolded before me. We were sitting in my daughter’s living room and, through the window, the sky turned the most amazing colours with the setting sun. On this occasion, I grabbed my phone and rushed outside to take a picture. (It accompanies this blog on our website and Facebook pages) I wanted to share that scene and sometimes that can be an appropriate thing to do. After all, I enjoy seeing other people’s pictures of God’s great handiwork.

These two descriptions, of God’s wonderful creation, use words such as awesome, beautiful and we choose many others such as spectacular, majestic, etc., to describe the wonder of creation. However, there is another scene which has dominated my thoughts these past few days. On Wednesday evening I called in to Raigmore Hospital to visit one of our dear friends, from many years at Bite N’ Blether. I was saddened to find him in the Intensive Care Unit, wired up to various life supporting devices, with not long left to live. I was also very moved, and felt privileged to feel a part of, for a few short moments, a good number of his family members, gathered around his bed. Sadly, he died shortly after that but while I was there someone asked me to pray with them so I did. It’s a special privilege to represent God at times like this.

In the first scene, that I described, I am reminded that I am part of God’s bigger picture. He is much bigger than me. In the second scene, I remind myself that there is also a time and place to tell of God’s Glory. In the third scene; I am reminded that God is there, right there around that hospital bed. As he was in the baby in a manger in a humble stable. As he was on a Cross, at Calvary, carrying our grief and our pain. There is a time and place to remind people of that and as we prayed around Barnie’s bed, a gentle reminder, that God is here, was made clear.

However, the important thing is being there. Sometimes ministry is just presence. Sometimes few words are needed. Being there is a gentle reminder that Jesus Christ is here. He sits with you in your grief. He walks with you through your bereavement. He listens to your cries. We can be in the beautiful vistas of life, as part of the big picture. We can also be part of the picture, the scenes of sorrow and grief, wherever there is need in our communities today. Practise then the presence of Christ, wherever you go, as he is with you.
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All Things Bright and Beautiful[1]

  • Refrain: All things bright and beautiful, All creatures great and small, All things wise and wonderful: The Lord God made them all.
  1. Each little flow’r that opens, Each little bird that sings, He made their glowing colors, He made their tiny wings.
  2. The purple-headed mountains, The river running by, The sunset and the morning That brightens up the sky.
  3. The cold wind in the winter, The pleasant summer sun, The ripe fruits in the garden, He made them every one.
  4. The tall trees in the greenwood, The meadows where we play, The rushes by the water, To gather every day.

He gave us eyes to see them, And lips that we might tell How great is God Almighty, Who has made all things well.
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[1] By Cecil F. Alexander