Sunday, 15 November 2009

Mark 13:32: No one knows about that day or hour, not even the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father.



Mark’s Gospel is the shortest of the Gospels; the oldest and, in many ways, the most down to earth. It doesn’t seem to have the agenda that the Jewish Matthew puts on his or the Gentile Luke on his. It’s an easy Gospel to read – the memories of Peter; a straightforward man. So this End of Days chapter is not really about THE END but it is a bit of a wake up call.

Our relationship with Jesus, my relationship with Jesus, is very often guided by the idea of his humanity. That he lives a normal life; that I can imagine the type of person he is; that I can empathise with what he is trying to do – as a man. I often pray to him as a brother - as he tells us to, and feel comfortable with the idea – although, obviously the most ideal of brothers.

And that can be a problem – that we forget that Jesus always carries within him that otherness that is God; that is as much him as his humanity. the Incarnation isn’t a body going spare with God in it – he is God made Man. And so his Mission isn’t just three years of walking and talking; it isn’t just the healing and feeding; it isn’t ‘just’ the trial and the crucifixion. He is already looking ahead; to the ‘what happens next’ – for each and every one of us.

And that is it; Jesus is, was, will be the Word. Whatever led to his presence on earth, the Word was, is always here. He has his place in the Trinity, pointing always to the Father, encouraging trust in the Holy Spirit.

His living ministry plants seeds, makes wine and bakes bread; feeds the hearts of those who want to follow him to the Kingdom; to the Father. And that Kingdom needs to grow, knowing that the world is against it; needs to grow strong, knowing that the world is devious and will try to overcome it. That is our task and it is not easy; we are warned not to be fooled because this is simply another time of growing and the Son of Man will return to see what we have harvested.

The Gospel suggests that this coming is imminent to the lives of the disciples yet we think we have spent two thousand years waiting – and what Season is just around the corner? The Son of Man returns – he returns every year, every month, every day. We don’t have a date in our diary, something to look forward to – the coming is always imminent - the time is now - and we should be doing our best not to be caught sleeping.


wordinthehand09

Sunday, 8 November 2009

Mark 12:44 - ‘from the little she had has put in everything she possessed’

Reflection

It’s funny how some things that the Lord tells us seems to mean more to him than others. Surely, more important to where the Gospel writers are coming from; everything the Lord says must be important you would think? Yet even Jesus seems to have his favourite subjects.

Jesus is watching a woman in the Temple; one of the little ones; the poor ones; the ‘don’t really matter’ ones and perhaps, as he is watching her, he is reminded of his own mother. Perhaps he is reminded of the scrimping and saving that she had to do before and after Joseph’s death. After all; there was no likelihood that they were a well-off family. Joseph was no more than an odd-job man and their place in the community is suggested by the comments of those who hear Jesus preach – ‘this is only the carpenter’s son’, ‘only Mary’s son’ – with the veiled addition of ‘who does he think he is?’

Yet it seems that Jesus is certainly brought up to be a good Jew; to know about the traditions of his faith; to know them but not to understand them and not always to accept them.

At the beginning of this, Jesus says ‘I tell you most solemnly…’ I love that phrase. It’s a ‘look at me when I’m talking to you. I’m not ‘one of the lads’ now’ phrase.

Because, to the ‘lads’ it will have been a little thing; a non-event. Widows give pennies every day, rich men give more – that’s the way the world is. We see success and generosity in £ signs rather than percentages. We find it hard to appreciate that 100% of very little is still 100%.

But if we give all we have – no matter what – what more is there? And whilst the world may hardly notice, God thanks us.
it’s a compelling thought that, rather than sitting enthroned in splendour at the front of the church being feted by the church-ians, God actually spends His time at the back, in the shadows, watching as all the little goodness’s, sacrifices and graces are carried out by the unassuming, unknown, undervalued Christians in the community; who are giving all they have.


Contemplation

All I have

This, I think, is where it gets difficult. Many of us are committed to our faith, we do go to church; we do give to charity; we do try to help others. How hard it is, then, to think that we may still not be doing enough.

But surely there are limits on what we can give and still live with all the family and personal needs that we have.

Is there a point to making ourselves poor?
Is the main thing that we give what we can?
Is it that we resolve each time to give more?
Is it that we give knowing that it is not enough and still give?
Is that we do not call attention to ourselves when we give?
Is it that God will take what we have – when we’ve got it?
Is it that God will not ask for more than we can give?
Does it matter where our giving comes from; love or guilt?
How do you decide which is the most worthy cause?
What if the cause turns out not to be genuine?

I don’t have answers to any of these questions –

but they are certainly worth thinking about this week.
You may have some of your own.

And if you get an answer – let me know!

wordinthehand09

Wednesday, 4 November 2009

Drawn from Psalm 89



I was one voice, Lord
Singing your faithfulness and your compassion
A song that repeated my own heart
‘I will love you always’.


The heavens caught the air
Stars bursting with melody across the skies
The metre marking light speed
In praise of Love eternal.

As above, so below
The rhythm of Earth’s lifeblood throbbed.
The cadence of the tides
Love’s own heartbeat.

The compass of the Universe turned
Drawing harmony and counterpoint together
Creation wove the score in rainbow shades
A celestial symphony.

Magnificent, but too much
I am just one voice in this song of the spheres
And all so far above me
I have lost my place.

Only a sigh, Lord
But a remembering of where we first met
In the pause between breaths
In the rest of a heartbeat.

That is where you are, Lord
The music refined by the mystery of your Presence
Your song to me in the spaces between
‘Always, I will love you’.
wordinthehand09

Drawn from Psalm 46


I rest in the Sanctuary of the Lord

Knowing that God alone is my refuge.


I am deafened by the worlds demands

Overwhelmed by its rages and torments


The seas swell and the mountains quake

The uproar of mans greed echoes through the night


Angry voices call out for revenge

Broken hearts for rescue.


But not here


Here is a Holy Place


This, my refuge

Deep as a mountain pool

Hopeful as the dawn sun

The home of the Most High


Heart’s ease is here

Soul’s friend is here

Spirit’s food is here


My Lord and my God


The Lord speaks and the world melts away


Be still and know that I am God

Be still and know

Be still


wordinthehand09

1 John 3:3 - We shall be like him because we shall see him as he really is.

Reflection

If we ever worry about how well we are, or are not, doing at being a good Christian; at being Christ-like; we should not be too hard on ourselves.

Think about the disciples that lived and were taught by Jesus, all those years ago. They had the benefit of weeks, months and years in his company; of understanding the importance of sheep and fish and vineyards; of seeing the mannerisms and nuances that accompanied the parables and the teachings. They had the benefit of ‘being there’.

And yet, still they got it wrong; regularly and outstandingly. They saw what Jesus did and still did not always see that they were meant to be like him. Maybe they saw his behaviour as eccentricity to attract the masses or to ridicule the Temple.

They were right and (at a push) left hand men; there must have been some authority in their closeness to the Lord; something that marked them out as ‘better’.

Surely they were not meant to be poor, persecuted or meek; surely they were not to be servants and less than servants; surely they were not meant to give up their lives in order to live the life of the Kingdom?

Why do we think Heaven is ‘up’? Why does Jesus ascend? Why the mountains? Does God have to use these metaphors and imagery because that’s how we think; we have to see that rising up out of this place to that place; and that place being better?

We will be like Christ when we can see him as he really is; really is.

He is a servant – how do we accept the role?
He is an obedient son – What sort of children are we?
He turns away from the world’s temptation – do we?
He loves unconditionally –Hmmmm?

Our ambition to be Christ-like is in itself a paradox – involving a lot of letting go and letting God work in us. Becoming less so that we may become more.


Contemplation

I have a problem with some images of Jesus; particularly the gentle, meek and mild image. I don’t really know where that idea of Jesus can help me in my life. I do like the Temple-crashing Jesus and the other times that he stands up to those who refuse to listen.

This probably says a lot more about me than about Jesus.

Because Jesus did teach gentle, meek (still not convinced about mild) but that these attributes could be, should be, strengths.

That authority was not about having the power to makes changes but having the desire to makes changes and to make them for the good of others.

Perhaps this week pray about one of the times that Jesus did make himself a servant; the washing of the feet, cooking the meal for the apostles and see it as the gift it was.
Then perhaps look at some of the times in your life where you have had to, where you still do, take this role, maybe against your will or at least without good grace. Then make a conscious effort to see the hand of Jesus holding yours, making what seems menial, holy – becoming a little more Christ-like.

Mark 10:50 - ‘Courage,’ they said ‘get up; he is calling you.’

Reflection

Many of us feel that this life is a journey and that the time that we spend here, whether good or bad, are footsteps that lead us towards the Kingdom and towards God.

Some of us are fortunate enough to be sure that we are always on the right path; that we are doing our best and that Jesus is with us already as we travel. Our prayers are full of hope and thanks for his company.

On the other hand, some of us are less confident about the pathways; less sure that the turns we take are still heading the right way; less optimistic of Jesus’ presence and are struck by the feeling we are struggling to do it on our own.

For those of us who feel blinded by our own doubts and fears –prayers have a different meaning. When we pray it is a calling out to the dark; asking for God’s hand, God’s eye, God’s voice. ‘Let me know you are there!’ But not really expecting an answer.

And then, suddenly, the dark replies; but it is not dark, it is light; blinding light full of Grace. After all your calling – he is calling you. So what do you do?

Does the knowledge of your doubts, the reminding of your weakness leave you hiding behind disbelief, rooted to the status quo? Or do you leap to answer, full of courage that, at last your prayers have been answered. Ready to find your feet walking solidly in his footsteps; seeing the route marked clearly and your place in the world shining.

When God calls, when Jesus calls, we always have the choice – to hear yet to ignore – or to have the courage to stand and be heard, to ask for what we really want, to be healed, to find love.


Contemplation

Those who have eyes

For many people the idea of not being able to see is a terrible one. We cannot imagine not being a part of the visual world and all that entails. But sometimes in faith we become blind. Locked behind rites and traditions that create a place where enlightenment is not for you. God’s presence being a gift for saints and prophets, while we follow the rules and stay within the lines.

Jesus is not good at lines, he tends to cross them regularly and with challenge. But then he waits to see what reception he will get. He makes the invitation – he doesn’t force himself on us – what happens next is always our decision.

In prayer imagine yourself cocooned in darkness, gathered in to yourself, with just a tiny beacon deep within calling out to God. The mediation from last week – maranatha – calls out to the Lord.

Then, believe that he has heard, and that he is there within arms reach, asking what you want.

What do you want?

Paul’s letter to the Hebrews 4:16 - ‘Let us be confident’

Reflection

Recently, we have been talking about becoming less – less of who and what we want to be; less of what the world expects; less involved in ambition or climbing social ladders. As we give away more and more; how should becoming less and less make us feel?

As we give up more, we become poorer, and what does that mean?

What it should mean, and certainly why anyone would want to do it, is that we become happier and more centred in who we are. Once we have turned the idea of less being a negative we can start to appreciate what it is we are doing.

We all know that there are ways where ‘less’ turns what seems a negative into a positive; we can lose weight; we can become less stressed; we can de-clutter our houses and our lives. Once we start discarding what we don’t really want we can start to focus on what we do really need. Like martial arts practitioners, climbers or even fishermen we can pay attention to what is important, to what the goal is. I wonder if that is why Jesus started with the fishermen, seeing that ability in their eyes.

Becoming less also means that we become compact; we can join up our thoughts and our actions without having to work through the lists of ‘what ifs’ and ‘if only’s. We develop an instinct for what is right. We may still be veiled from God but there is a lot less veils to worry about.

And we become better at hearing God speak in our lives; seeing God’s hand in what happens in the day; understanding why what happens, happens. Not all the time, for who can know God that well, but more than we did.
And when we are able to reach that quiet God space within us, knowing that God is there; not as an angry judge, or a vindictive puppeteer but as a parent and comforter, then we can approach that place with confidence and eagerness. The simplicity of being less – the simplicity taught by Paul, by Francis and Chiara and many other saints – is a simplicity that says ‘I know you are there’.


Contemplation
Maranatha

The Maranatha method of contemplative prayer is the confident call to a God who wants to be with us.

To pray in this way you need a comfortable and quiet place where you can have silence for at least twenty minutes; you should be sitting in a relaxed but upright position – imagine the housemaids or the bridegrooms friends waiting for the Lord’s return. This is an expectant mediation. You might light a candle or close your eyes.

Once you are comfortable and relaxed in the body, taking a few deep breaths and moving any immediate thoughts away. This is time to begin the mantra – Maranatha. Try to say it and repeat it as part of your breathing, as quickly or as slowly as is natural for you.

The phrase itself is Aramaic and mean two things depending on how you say it,
Ma -ra – na-tha – means ‘come Lord’
Mar-an – a-tha - means ‘Lord, you are here’

But don’t worry about trying to say it in a particular way. You should aim to do this for about twenty minutes; you can build up from five or ten if you wish. As you pray you may feel yourself distracted by thoughts or noises, take a second to admit to yourself that you have been distracted but it is gone now; and continue. You may find that the word goes into silence and this is absolutely fine for however long you can manage it.
After twenty minutes, say thank you for whatever has come to you (and that could be nothing but the rest from the day) maybe listen to some reflective music and take some deep breaths and stretches, before continuing with the day.

Mark 9:38 - ‘because he was not one of us we tried to stop him.’

Reflection
One of us

I was told on good authority this week that there are now over 60,000 ‘Christian’ denominations in the world all claiming to know the Truth.
Only a few years ago it was 30.000; what is happening to the Truth?
It seems that, like beauty, Truth is in the eye of the beholder and if you don’t agree, then you are not one of the chosen; not one of us. People are being exiled or founding new churches on the strength of a translation, an idea, a tradition, a taste in music or prayer. As had been mentioned recently we are in danger of becoming church-ians.

How dreadful; how human.

Jesus warned us that our faith would mean that we would be criticised and persecuted; that our faith would set brother against brother but did he mean within the faith itself? Surely not? What happened to the communities of the early church who lived wonderfully together?

When did being a Christian mean judging other Christians?

It seems since forever; as the disciples did it; Paul’s communities did it. It seems that, except in fleeting moments of Divine Grace, that is how humanity operates. ‘Give us rules, Lord so that we may judge others by them.’

And didn’t God try that one for thousands of years before Christ. The Ten Commandments that turned into 600-odd precepts of ‘what if’s’ and ‘how about’s’. Wasn’t that why God became incarnate –to show ‘flesh and blood’ how ‘flesh and blood’ should behave.

Jesus gives us examples - be as children.
Love one another as I love you – without judgement, prejudice or barrier.
Be open to the Spirit who guides you through me to the Father.
Don’t let the world get in the way.

Jesus himself says ‘anyone who is not against us is for us’ – another simple phrase that we can choose to put limitations on by deciding who is ‘us’.

To belong to Christ we should try to love others as ourselves.
And when it comes to others; let Jesus decide who belongs to him.


Contemplation
What if God was one of us?

This week I was in (separate) conversations with a Methodist and a recently converted Catholic. It seemed ironic that I actually had more in common with my Methodist friend as in both conversations we were talking about division within Christianity.

Each of the conversations ended in very similar statements; with the Methodist I agreed with her saying ‘in the end it’s not about you, it’s about you in Christ.’ whilst the other conversation ended ‘it’s not about you, it’s about you in the Church.’ And I couldn’t agree, because as joined to Christ as we may be through the Church, there will always be personalities, opinions and teachings that divide people – that’s human nature. That’s really what keeps us apart from where Jesus wants us to be.

Mark 9:35 - If anyone wants to be first, he must be the very last, and the servant of all.

Reflection
Turning the World upside down

When you look at the world that we live in and then read or hear about the world God wants us to live in; It’s really no wonder that God had to send his Son to us to teach us God’s way.

There is really no time in our lives that we are taught that it is ok to be last, some of us have problems with being second! In our lives we are meant to progress and even that doesn’t mean climbing over others on the way to the top – it certainly means making sure that your own needs and desires are considered as important as everyone else’s. And isn’t that right? Isn’t that what equality is all about? And didn’t God make us all equal? So, if we are all equal, how can it be right that we be last?

Amazing how good we get at arguing our case.

Jesus came into the world in the most un-godly way – born of a woman of no account, in the worst of conditions and most unremarkable of places. The world would almost accept it if this pathetic start then soared into astonishing and overpowering God-ness but it never did. Jesus kept more than his feet on the ground; he spent plenty of time on his knees and in polite society’s version of a pig sty; with the unclean and the ordinary; caring and loving and healing; and telling them how blessed, how good they were, rather than how good he was.

You see bits of God-ness like this in many of the caring professions; nurses, teachers – and we all know people, friends and family, who improve lives and attitudes not through pride in who they are but by letting others know that they are important; that they have talent; that they matter. Hopefully we have all been inspired at some time by someone like this, by actions that put others first. Hopefully we have gone on to treat others the same - even something as simple as when people ‘remember’ their manners – letting someone go first through a door or letting them have the last biscuit.

‘Before you’ is a simple phrase, But it is a phrase that turns the world upside down. If I want you to be happier, more content, more fulfilled than I am; and then if you wish the same for me and we all wish it for each other; then the world will blossom in a race to be last.


Contemplation
Before you

Even in our faith journey we have ambition, it is the way the world makes us. We know we have to try to be more. Our saints tell us this over and over again – Teresa, Chiara, Francis, Julian – all tell us we have to be more…

We have to be more …less

We have to see that God regards service to others as above everything else except service to Him (which is a Catch 22 position anyway as in doing one you are drawn to do the other)

Particularly to do this in love rather than obligation; to be more accepting of others, to put their needs first, to do this willingly and without expectation of reward – gives us our reward. A sense of peace and completion that makes our lives naturally, spiritually better.

Is it easy? No, far easier to talk the talk than to walk the walk – if I could choose who to be nice to… who to put first….but that’s not the challenge.
And perhaps that is where we need ambition – in rising to the challenge of what God asks of us; to follow the example of the God who, according to the world, never amounted to anything.

Mark 8:35 - ‘Anyone who wants to save his life will lose it, but anyone who loses his life for my sake will save it.’

Reflection
Who said it would be easy?

I have said it before – I am a plain man. I know what I know - fish, tides, sail. The calling I could not deny. There is something to him that reminds of the stories told by the seafarers – of sirens who sing across the oceans. When he speaks there is nothing to do but listen; when he looks at you – you never want him to look away. There is some truth of that in why I am here, I admit it, yet I am a plain man.

And sometimes that is how he seems – a plain man - he asks a plain question – and the answer is clear – love, kindness, compassion, forgiveness. But the answer is not what you have been living; as though he has called some truth out of you that did not fit the world. The answer complicates your simple life by showing that it is wrong; a simple truth that reveals a life of lies.

When he asked ‘who do you say I am?’ why didn’t I just go with the others? I wanted to; I wanted him just to be a man; to be my friend and companion; to be my teacher.

But no, something opened my eyes and my heart and then it opened my mouth so that I barely knew what I had said. Then, when he spoke I realised what I had committed him to; what I had committed us all to. What would you have done but try to take it back?

I wanted my simple life with the Lord. I wanted him in my simple life, and isn’t that enough? But no, the simple life for me would mean not seeing what needed to be done; who needed to be helped; would mean a life that suited my needs and not others; that kept me safe.
What was ahead was not safe but it was where he was going – and to be with him meant saying goodbye after goodbye to before.

That life has to go. When the eyes, the heart and the mouth are opened it calls you to let go; to surrender to the truth. Once you have seen it, anything else is denial, once you believe it - it is all that you want.



Contemplation
What life?

The basics of Christianity seem very basic – Love God and your neighbour as yourself. So simple that we almost feel that they are not really Commands, they are too nice, too plain.
When actually they are too hard. To follow Jesus means to give up the worldly way of living. To turn away from a life that is ‘all about me’. To give it up and live a life that is all about him.
As the bracelet says – ‘What would Jesus do?’ – and do it.

We are not going to be able to do that by ourselves – for a start to know what Jesus would do we have to know Jesus; to not just believe but to follow; and to follow as closely as the first disciples.
And be prepared - just as Peter did – to get it right and to get it wrong.

Peter was not Satan, but the thought that went through Peter’s head was not God’s. And that’s the hard part. When our minds and hearts speak to us how do we tell where it is coming from?

This is called discernment and is part of contemplation. To imagine a scenario that is causing us trouble; maybe to find and read a piece of scripture that goes with what we are looking for.
To deliberately make the time and the space and ask specifically for God to speak. And then listen.

Mark 7:37 -‘he makes the deaf hear and the dumb speak’

Reflection
Can you hear me?

What I like most about the healing miracles is that the Lord almost always makes contact with the sufferer; he touches them with his hands; he makes mud out of dirt and spit, or just spit. It is as though the creator in him just has to make a few minor adjustments that quality control didn’t catch when they were first made.

Of course, that’s not true – God sees all of us as perfect and our imperfections are usually judgements that we make on ourselves and on others. But if that is the case then why heal them – why should the Lord enter into the same judgement space as us? We end up looking at the argument around suffering – if God can stop it (so easily) then why doesn’t he? But maybe the miracles aren’t meant to deal with the physical bodily healing – impressive to the onlookers but easily dismissed or explained away now. Maybe they are there to give us another message

It may well be that the blind and the dumb man were actually no ‘better’ once they were healed. Certainly the healing would mean that they had been made whole and could become a part of the community and Temple life. But what if they didn’t; what if they didn’t want to; what if no-one listened; what if they were still not accepted and ended up outcast anyway or they just didn’t like what the world looked or sounded like once they were healed?

We are all deaf, dumb and blind in our own ways. We even use this ‘disability’ to make our lives easier! Sometimes it is the judgement call –
a filter on what we consider important or mattering to us; sometimes it is just ignorance – we don’t know or don’t care to know; sometimes it is simply fear – to stand up and be counted, to be accused of being a trouble-maker. This can happen in life, this can happen in faith.

It is a strong prayer – to ask for insight; to ask for eloquence; to ask for understanding as faith should. It is a prayer for healing over our weaknesses and fears. But once the Word gets in; written on or spoken to our hearts, demanding to be released from our hearts, once the healing takes place then it is up to us.
To let the scales drop from the window of our hearts and to live God’s bright life; full of song; full of colours; full of faith and understanding.


Contemplation

‘A-ha’

What a word –‘ A-ha’ – symbolic of that moment when; out of the blue; after all the work and trial and effort has gone into understanding and not understanding and not understanding and not understanding – suddenly – you get it.

And realistically it is like being deaf, dumb and blind because up until then it was all just so much stuff – whatever it was – and then – and who know what it takes – a different angle, a new experience, a five minute break – something will bring that clarity to your mind.

In contemplation, you can try any of the above to open your heart a little more. If you normally pray in one way – try another; if you use music, use silence; if you read, then write; or simply give the whole thing into God’s hands and sit quietly while he makes the adjustments and shows you a different angle.


How lovely to end a meditation with that deep meaningful breath that says ‘A-ha’.

Saturday, 5 September 2009

As white as...

Opening Prayer

Here I am Lord,
Listening
Speak to me
within my heart and soul.
I am listening.



James 1:22

‘keep oneself unstained by the world’

Reflection
‘Dirty Old Town?’

It is easy to see all that is wrong with the world. You have only to turn on the television to see terrifying pictures of what is going on all around us. And even the so-called entertainment often seems cruel and demeaning. The radio, the internet, the newspapers have the same focus – we question the decency and behaviour of others. We ask ourselves ‘what is the world coming to?’

Just reading that paragraph makes me feel old. I remember being young enough to be able to laugh off such comments, to wonder why anyone would spend their time worrying about things that did not concern them and that they could do nothing about. Because my life was fine, the lives of those around me were fine. My world was very small.

If you had said to me then ‘keep yourself unstained by the world’, I would have said ‘I do. I don’t get involved in anything illegal, I take care of myself, I love my family, I am doing my best in my work. I don’t think God would have many complaints about me.’ Little knowing that the stains were creeping in. What was my world coming to?

Because the world was starting to affect me; to direct how I thought, how I behaved. Making me believe that I was important; that my happiness, success, prosperity was a priority. I’m a cradle Catholic; I have been to church; I have listened to the Gospel; I have been confirmed as a follower of Jesus Christ; I proudly wore a cross and chain but I was not clothed in Christ. My clothes were reflections of what and who I wanted the world to see.

And I can use the excuse that at least I am not as bad as…; not as greedy as…; not as selfish as… but that is just an excuse. Because that means that I am not as good as I should be; not as sharing as I should be; not as compassionate as I should be.

The world accepts that some people suffer and some don’t; the world accepts that there are things you can’t change so don’t bother; the world accepts that some are better than others because that’s how it is; these are the stains we can carry on our hearts.

Jesus loves each person uniquely – or, as I said once, uni-equally. How do you think he managed to end up with such a variety of apostles? His Kingdom is built on service and humility. That’s what I should have been taught as a Christian and that’s how I should live. Knowing that somewhere under the stains of worldly stuff there should be the white garment of baptism – the sign that we have been reborn – the sign that we are not of this world.


Contemplation

‘Whiter than white?’

Let’s be honest, it’s not going to happen. We will never be the perfect Christian. Which is just as well, because the minute we start thinking ourselves perfect – we can be sure we are not.

But we should be aware of what is happening to us; what our influences are; where we get our role models, our attitudes, our judgement of others.

Then we have to measure them against what our faith asks of us. And pray for the guidance and support to makes changes where change is needed.

This won’t be just once in our lives but over and over again. Which is good, because that makes prayer useful; makes it real; makes it do what it is supposed to do - transform us and bring us closer to God.

Closing Prayer
May the blessing of the Sacred Three
The Father who gave us the Word
The Son who is the Word
The Spirit who opens the Word within us
Be with us today and evermore.Amen


wordinthehand2009

It's not what you say...

Opening Prayer

Here I am Lord,
Listening
Speak to me
within my heart and soul.
I am listening.

St Paul to the Ephesians 5:21


‘give way to one another in obedience to Christ’

Reflection
‘Who do you belong to?’

When the feminist movement got off the ground in the 20th century; one of their first actions was to remove the vow to ‘obey’ from the marriage vows. St Paul was derided as sexist and as someone who hated women; no-one would read him. Yet Paul’s writings refer over and over again to his admiration and reliance on women in their nurturing of the early church. But Paul is infamous for his ability to produce ‘soundbites’ - nuggets of a phrase that stick in the mind and can be used like virtual weapons in a discussion.

Please don’t read Paul in ‘soundbites’; his letters answer important questions that we don’t even know; yet hold enough in them to talk to us now.

But never mind obeying our husbands; as a society we don’t much like obeying anyone; unless we can see the sense in it. The zigzags on the road outside school are for other people; as are the double yellow parking lines and disability spaces. The need to pick up litter; recycle; behave in public; hold doors for others are all good ideas that we can choose to follow – but if we don’t want to….Because we have free will and this is a free society. ‘Free’ suggests that this attitude comes without cost but it doesn’t. The cost of this type of freedom – the freedom to do what we will – is high. Because what happens when you clash with another’s freedom? Does this attitude to life suggest a person who will compromise; who will see the common good; who is living a life based on the Christian message?

Jesus was no angel… He did not and would not obey laws that were wrong. He would not accept instruction from people that were wrong and, in fact, he told us not to accept anyone on this earth as teacher or rabbi. That we belong to God and should be obedient only to him.

So now where does that leave Paul and the rewriting of the marriage vows? How are we ever supposed to get things right; specially when Paul’s letter takes the union of two human beings and then compares it to the union of Christ and the Church?

Paul probably thought he was making it easy but Paul’s Christ was only about one thing – Love. For obey – read Love; for submit – read Love; for regard- read Love. The love of a Christ who loved the unwanted and unclean; the love of a Christ who persevered with his childlike disciples; who washed their feet and sacrificed his life for them. And then continues to love and serve them even after the resurrection; cajoling; teaching; feeding – a never-ending torrent of love, which we may not deserve and we may not always appreciate but that is always there.


To see Christ in others and to be Christ to them means obeying the only Commandment Jesus ever gave us – ‘Love’.

Contemplation
‘Listen’

Actually that’s what ‘obedience’ means; the ability to listen; pay attention – nothing about blindly doing as you are told; or refusing your own ideas or opinions.

But mostly what worries us about Paul’s letter is no more than ego; no more than false pride; that we can be instructed to do what someone else wants us to do, and remember that this was regarded as a lifelong commitment.

If we regard ourselves as Christians then we are making a lifelong commitment too. A commitment to Christ who doesn’t have ego; who doesn’t show pride; who regards himself as no more than his Father’s son and his Father the centre of his life. Knowing that God is present in each one of us – he loves us ‘that much’ too.

If you have spent time in contemplation developing this personal and loving relationship with Christ then you know how this feels. We are not meant to be alone with this feeling – like Grace it grows when it is shared.
To share with our immediate partner, our loved one seems obvious but often isn’t, especially if they are not church-goers or consider themselves spiritual.

But spirituality is a lot like mirror writing – you see and what you see reflects back on you; with two mirrors it becomes infinite. So it is not about preaching to the other person but about being and seeing Christ in you and in them. The committed couple are part of the foundations of Christian life; of a healthy society. And when the mirrors reflect again….

Closing Prayer

May the blessing of the Sacred Three
The Father who gave us the Word
The Son who is the Word
The Spirit who opens the Word within us
Be with us today and evermore.
Amen


wordinthehand2009

A Woman's Faith

Opening Prayer
Here I am Lord,
Listening
Speak to me
within my heart and soul.
I am listening.


Luke 1:45

Blessed woman, who believed what God said,
believed every word would come true!

Reflection
‘Who do you trust?’

You would imagine that for God to decide to come to us as a human being, He must have had something in mind; must have had a Grand Plan. Yet, when you consider the circumstances of Jesus’ arrival; surely, even now, we must wonder why God decided to do it this way.

Why such a people? How long had Israel belonged to God yet look how low they had come – had He not been paying attention?
Why such a place? The Galilee was a place you ‘overlooked’ if you had any sense. Perhaps He hadn’t been paying attention.
Why such a person? To have had less rank in the community would have been difficult, although Mary managed that by her ‘questionable’ condition. You’d imagine He didn’t want the attention.

Even though the writings are there, the archaeologists; the cultural historians, the social scientists all tell us how poor, how unremarkable, how ‘bottom of the barrel’ the life of Jesus was – at the time of the life of Jesus; something in us cannot believe.
We prefer the Victorian hymns, the artist’s impression of a peaceful, contented family surrounded by the comforts of home to the reality of a couple and their child living as refugees in a foreign land; as a widow and child on the outskirts of the community.
We prefer the gliding image of Jesus and his disciples cheerily walking the highways and by-ways of a garden Palestine rather than the rag-tag vagabonds relying on charity and often hiding from the local Temple or Roman officials that they had managed to upset.

We prefer the image of a Mary blissfully accepting her motherhood and then the miracle of it preserving her in child-like beauty all her life and into her death. But
I wonder if that sort of Mary would have been able to deal with the world that she brought that life into. Because there was something about this Grand Plan that meant that no-one in the world would ever be able to say to God ‘You don’t understand’.

In his humanity, God became poorer, more despised, more alone, more rejected that anyone had ever been.


‘The Son of Man has no place to call home’ and probably neither did his mother. Mary’s eternal beauty came from a faith, a trust in a God that did not promise to change her life, did not promise her gold or wealth; did not promise to take her ‘away from all this’ in fact did not promise her anything except a son whose Kingdom would never end. And the miracle isn’t that she believed it at the conception but that she continued to believe it all of her life.

Contemplation
‘Beauty is in the eye of the beholder’

I was telling you about my nan last week – due to being an older mother I never knew my nan as anything but old – nearly sixty when I was born – but she was always beautiful right until she died at eighty-nine. Beautiful blue eyes and pure white blond wavy hair and a heart that still worried about the old people and young children, that remember birthdays and anniversaries, that wondered if I was warm enough and insisted that I had an apple to take home after every visit.

That is beauty, not the hanging onto to girlish, childhood fantasies and images; not wanting to always be young again; but to be full of life and love and experience rather than criticism, envy and regret.

Getting older does not automatically mean getting wiser – that is up to you.

We are born with the promise that God has made us – that we are precious in His sight, that we are Her works of art, that we are worth more than a million sparrows. It is called upon us to have the faith to believe it and to live it.

To follow Mary’s example and believe it even when it doesn’t seem possible, when it seems like a dream and even when life seems like a nightmare.

You get no proof with faith


Closing Prayer
May the blessing of the Sacred Three
The Father who gave us the Word
The Son who is the Word
The Spirit who opens the Word within us
Be with us today and evermore.Amen


wordinthehand2009

Tuesday, 11 August 2009

Feast Day of St Chiara of Assisi


"Totally love Him, Who gave Himself totally for your love."


Assisi

Undeniably, one of the most beautiful places on earth. Medieval buildings of pink granite, turned golden in the sun. Hot red geraniums, bold against the dark blue of a Northern Italian sky: the scent of olive groves, rosemary and lavender, and good coffee. Magical, an inspired setting for the romance of ‘Romeo and Juliet’.



And if you had only a passing awareness of Saints Francis and Chiara you would well imagine a romantic union between them; two young noble people in love.



And they were; but not with each other; or rather, yes, with each other, but with the vision of Christ that they saw in each other’s eyes. A love for a Christ who is both Romeo and Juliet. Whose love is so all-consuming that he would sacrifice his life rather than live without us. A love for a Christ whose love is undeniable and eternal. Chiara and Francis, lovesick in their desire to live in the shadow of that love.



St Chiara died 800 hundred years ago, holding the document that confirmed the vow of poverty for her order and thanking God for letting her be a human being - Her sisters continue in her footsteps...



In medieval times the entrance to the House of the Poor Ladies was guarded by the most formidable of the Sisters and could only be reached by a ladder. Imagine having to make such an effort, to actually need, actually want to climb a ladder to reach a place of such poverty and sacrifice.

Not the sort of ladder we would usually be interested in.

Because in these times we know about ladders; the ladders of success, of promotion, of fortune. The rungs that mean the move from second-hand car to shiny 4x4; from two-up two-down to two bathrooms and a second home; from punch card to platinum card; from GCSE to PhD. We need to know that we are on our way up; vertically challenged is not good enough; we want our heads in the clouds.

And it isn’t just how we measure ourselves, we survey everyone else on our horizon – are they higher or lower than us? Envy or ridicule makes us dizzy as we not only strive to raise our own position but to keep tabs on those around us. Top or bottom, way up or way down, high or low – this is what matters. Our place in society; our place in the grand scheme of things; our point of balance flimsy and tottering; always on the brink.


If this is important, if this is what matters, then how could we measure our Christ, our Lord who started at the bottom, climbed a couple of rungs then fell off into the ditch where he died? If we are ladder people then we have to consider what that says about Christ – what that says about us – and why we still don’t get it.


And why it is so important to hear the words of those saints who have gone before us. Sometimes to move forward, first we have to go back to our roots.


wordinthehand2009

To be fed by Angels

Opening Prayer

Here I am Lord,
Listening
Speak to me
within my heart and soul.
I am listening.


Kings 19:4


‘I have had enough’

Reflection
Enough

This is one of those two-tone phrases that you can read so much into. You imagine that to have enough is to be satisfied – to be without need – a good thing; but not always.

When I was a child - ‘I have had enough’ told me and my brothers that we had overstepped the mark. It is the phrase my nan and my mum would shout out as the final straw descended. As children we knew it was time to grow up a bit, and to try to make ourselves as invisible as possible! It was a phrase that could make my nan actually physically, truly, disappear.

My nan, had the minuted routine of the woman of the fifties – Monday – Washing; tidying; shops – Tuesday- ironing; beds and upstairs carpets. Everything done by hand and on foot and woe betide anything or anyone that got in her way – until ‘I have had enough’.

Then carpet slippers changed for court shoes, the wraparound apron came off, the headscarf and coat went on, the handbag was draped over one arm and she was off. And no-one said a thing, no-one mentioned it, we were in disgrace. We just tried to get through the rest of the day without her matriarchal presence until we woke in the morning to hear her bustling around cooking breakfast and carpet sweeping as though nothing had ever happened. Whoever she went to visit certainly made her feel better.

I was about ten before I even dared to bring it up. As reply, my granddad sent me to fetch her; she was in church. How had I never guessed? Our church was at the end of the street and as much as part of my home life as visiting my aunty opposite or the ‘other nan’ across the road. It was open all the time, as churches used to be. My nan was sitting by Our Lady’s chapel – two women having a chat about their families. I went and sat beside her and made myself just half visible in case I wasn’t welcome.

And in that way that women had, and probably Elijah would agree with, she said without looking at me but loudly enough for me to hear,

‘Life is hard – sometimes all you can do is get on with it and do your best and hope that that’s enough. But sometimes ‘enough’ is too much. So you bring it here and your give it to God and let God swap it for some peace and quiet. You can always trust God to know what to do with it.’
Then she did look at me and said ‘ And then you carry on.’


Contemplation
‘Along the way’

Whether good times or bad – there is always a point when you say ‘enough’ and you stop. Because you think the day can’t get any better or worse. You can’t be any more or less. It has a finality to it – enough; stop.

But very rarely can it be the end of anything – if you are full – you will be hungry again; if you are tired- you need to recuperate; if you are down-hearted - you need to find inspiration.

‘Enough’ could be taken as a marker to take the journey into the labyrinth. Remember our meditation journey during Lent and even into Pentecost where we found that winding path that took us away; took us within to God’s space within us.

It was lovely when churches where open all the time – to have Godspace inside and out. But God is with us always and if it is just a quiet part of the house it is enough to deal with the ‘enough’.

It is the optimistic soul who can see the good in everything – especially when you are in the everything and it isn’t good.

But if the outside world is causing you to say ‘ enough’, perhaps you can take the opportunity for this retreat within yourself – to go to the Lord when you don’t know what else to do or where else to go, then you will find that place to be fed by angels, to empty your troubles and to be filled with the grace that you need so that you can carry on.



Closing Prayer

May the blessing of the Sacred Three
The Father who gave us the Word
The Son who is the Word
The Spirit who opens the Word within us
Be with us today and evermore.
Amen


wordinthehand2009

Thursday, 6 August 2009

Go with what you know?

Opening Prayer

Here I am Lord,
Listening
Speak to me
within my heart and soul.
I am listening.



Ephesians 4:20


‘Your mind must be renewed by a spiritual revolution’


Reflection


Ambition is a wonderful thing they say. To be more than you are – to have a vision of something more – and to want to achieve that vision.


We are encouraged to be this way.

In worldly ambition we are meant to be on an uphill journey; and to be confident of success we follow the mountaineers rule of safety – maintaining the ‘three points of contact’.

So, when climbing the ‘ladder of success’ we keep one foot on the lower rung; our experience; the job we’ve already got; the places we already know; everything that we are happy and secure about.

Then we reach out, knowing the we have the support network in place; both hands holding on to friends; co-workers and supporters; knowing they will be there for us in our climb.

Only then do we reach the other foot towards the next rung; confident that it will be there; in expectation that having done everything right we will be moving on up. It’s a brave soul who would do it any other way.

Yet in faith we are meant to be brave souls – having come to some point in our lives when we realise that the world isn’t always right; the rules don’t always help and security is not always for the best – we need to consider another route.

Jesus was never good at keeping rules, considering the safe thing to do or climbing ladders; in fact he never even got on the first rung. His success meant surrender and descent; A revolutionary path that meant there is more to life than this, even if this is all I have ever known, because now I have faith.

To have the faith and trust to jump off a ladder into a swirling mist trusting that God will catch you. How hard is that? Not a thing I manage to do very often.


Yet Jesus did it for us and God caught him.

Contemplation
‘Gonna be a revolution’

It is always strange to me – which is why I mention it so often – that the Christian faith has such a comfortable feel to it.

We can be moved by the efforts of the early church to live within the Jewish and other cultures and how they need the encouragement of Paul’s letters to keep them true to the faith.

But we need Paul’s letters too. We can easily be misled by the world around us into accepting a way of life that leads nowhere. Spending money on the ‘next best thing’. Living out hours of imaginary lives on the TV. Setting our sights on a life that collects ‘stuff’ when we don’t need ‘stuff’.

The achieving and collecting that marks us out in the world is not what will help us in the Kingdom. It is how Jesus teaches us to be that we need to listen to. Like the Beatitudes which make a desire out of being poor and meek, we need to see the world as revolutionaries.

Think about what there is in your life that marks you as a Christian – are these the things that ‘society’ seems to value?

Do you ever question them or feel you have to defend them?

How do you feel about the idea of preparing for a life beyond this one?


Closing Prayer
May the blessing of the Sacred Three
The Father who gave us the Word
The Son who is the Word
The Spirit who opens the Word within us
Be with us today and evermore.
Amen


wordinthehand2009

Let them eat cake

Opening Prayer

Here I am Lord,
Listening
Speak to me
within my heart and soul.
I am listening.



John 6:12


‘Pick up the pieces left over, so that nothing gets wasted’.

Reflection
‘Pick up the pieces’

It was a foolish thing to do; to walk knowingly into the hills without food or water. We should have all known better.

Yet listening to the Rabbi we became entranced - by his vision; by his words; by his promises. This kingdom of his was where we wanted to be; It was a vision that we did not want to walk away from; knowing the life that waited for us back in the cities and towns. Knowing that there - there would be no honour in being meek, sad or downtrodden. We may have trusted him but we had lived in a different world.

So we followed; like some great flock of sheep pushing to stay in sight of their shepherd. And like sheep sitting in the meadow grass of the early spring and suddenly realising that our spirits were full but our bellies were empty. Then wondering if this had all been a trick; a real enchantment; for what were we to do now? Children crying out and if anyone had food they were too scared to take from their robes under the hungry eyes of their neighbours.

Until the miracle, and that is what it was – there was no sudden sharing from the crowd; a caravan didn’t suddenly appear; the offering of food by the young boy was all the Rabbi needed and I watched as his friends carried basket after basket of food to everyone on that hill. There seemed to be no end to it yet it was all I do not to push forward to make sure I had my share.

As I ate I thought about how easily my life is tossed by circumstance. I am poor; I have nothing; I beg; I blame; I hear the Word spoken to me; suddenly I believe - but a simple ache in the stomach turns me again to worldly wants; to greed; to resentment. I turn to wondering why I am here; what really can these words do for me? I am nothing, I have nothing to give. These Words are maybe meant for another better, holier, more powerful person – I am not even worth the crumbs that lie scattered on the floor.


Then I see him again walking with his friends, bending down here and there, a basket under his arm. And I hear him say ‘ pick up all that is left over’ – then he bends and looks into my eyes as he adds ‘ nothing gets wasted’,

Contemplation
Crumbs

We are very fond of extravagance. It is lovely to have too much; to not to have to worry if there is enough. At best it is a sign of welcome and hospitality – a party buffet where everyone is catered for and the dishes just keep on coming.

Some may think that it is good to have a spiritual life that is like that too.
If we have been in that place where we were hungry for God’s presence and then, we find ourselves invited to the feast.

Where every Mass and service fills us with God’s light, where we can spend time on retreat and come back replenished with the Spirit; where we read and study and feel that every day we are growing closer to being the person God wishes us to be – that we are growing closer to God.

We can be so full of God then that the little moments stop becoming important. We have cake so we don’t need bread.

But this is not true, one day the time will come; and no-one can say why, if, when – but God’s presence becomes absence. And party people feel abandoned; deprived – the thrill has gone – it is all over. They sink into despair or try to find another party.

But the housekeepers; the ones who remembered the ‘before the invitation’ will have a store; a jar of ‘crumbs’ to turn to, to see them over the lean times, in faith that these times won’t last.

Think about times when a moment of grace has passed you by because it was only a small thing (a smile, a word, a gesture saying that ‘God is present’) and gather it up. Do not let these moments go to waste. Find a place in your heart and mind and keep them safe.

Closing Prayer

May the blessing of the Sacred Three
The Father who gave us the Word
The Son who is the Word
The Spirit who opens the Word within us
Be with us today and evermore.Amen

Challenge

Opening Prayer

Here I am Lord,
Listening
Speak to me
within my heart and soul.I am listening.


St Paul to the Ephesians 2: 14

‘he is our peace, who made both one’

Reflection

It has become clearer that, the simpler the words, the more challenging the message. Paul, the champion of the gentiles, is telling his people that they are no longer left out – they probably didn’t even know they were left out - living as they had been, obliviously outside the Judaic bubble of promise.

But when the invitation comes they grasp it with both hands and hang on for dear life despite the protests of their ‘older brother’, who consider themselves ‘there first!’


But in time, for many, two became one, as Paul loves to put it, in Christ. There is no difference – all of us can, if we wish, live happily in the knowledge that Christ’s peace is our promise too.

But Paul’s writings aren’t just Paul’s words –like the rest of the New Testament, God has had a guiding hand. That’s why these words are still so relevant today. Because Christ’s peace didn’t come along just once, or for just a few; Christ’s peace is eternally creative in the world and still making both one, except now, all too often, we are the older brother.

And this is where simple becomes difficult. That sense of judgement that we all have - of who deserves, who doesn’t; who is better, who is not?

I may believe that I have peace through Christ;
I may believe that I have peace with others who believe what I believe;
I may believe that I have peace with people that I love.
Do I believe I have peace with people who don’t believe?
Do I believe I have peace with those that I do not love?
I have to say not easily – in my heart I judge where that peace should be.

But Christ didn’t die for the either/or of my opinion but the both/and of his. When Christ died he took in all in – he died for Peter and for Pilate; he died for the lepers and the Pharisees; he died for the Romans and the Jews. He died for those who threw stones and for those who wept.

Both became one – the worthy and the unworthy, the believer and the doubter, the sinner and the sinless.
The both that became one – the human and the divine – brings all humanity to the Divine peace.



Contemplation
Judgement Day

A scary thought – to be judged.

And I don’t know if it is better to be judged by those who we consider against us or our peers. Either way there is always that worry that we will not measure up to their standards. And that worry comes from knowing that often they do not measure up to ours.

Jesus does not condemn people – even when he criticises them and warns them that there would be some not making it into heaven – he doesn’t name names. As far as he is concerned forgiveness, healing, repentance was always there. Particularly for those who feel that it isn’t.

It is those who feel worthy and justified that he has the warnings for. After all, next to Jesus who is worthy? Can you be proportionately worthy?
Ten, fifteen, thirty percent better than someone else – how do you judge?
Really you can’t – you have to accept that perhaps that person on the bus, in the shop queue, on the end of the phone, lying in the street has just as much chance of getting into heaven as you do.

Because that’s how God wants it.
And the biggest sin – in fact it might be all sin is – is to think you know better than God.

So maybe try thinking about how you look at people, maybe just one person and instead of the difference and the division and the judgement calls, try to find what it is that makes you the same, ask God to open your heart and your eyes to the grace that makes you one; that can bring you both to the peace of Christ.


Closing Prayer
May the blessing of the Sacred Three
The Father who gave us the Word
The Son who is the Word
The Spirit who opens the Word within us
Be with us today and evermore.
Amen


wordinthehand2009

Sunday, 12 July 2009

Be - attitude

The Beatitudes
Gospel of Matthew

And seeing the multitudes, He went up on a mountain, and when He was seated His disciples came to Him. Then He taught them, saying:
Blessed are the poor in spirit, For theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
Blessed are those who mourn, For they shall be comforted.
Blessed are the meek, For they shall inherit the earth.
Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, For they shall be filled.
Blessed are the merciful, For they shall obtain mercy.
Blessed are the pure in heart, For they shall see God.
Blessed are the peacemakers, For they shall be called sons of God.
Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, For theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
Blessed are you when they revile and persecute you, and say all kinds of evil against you falsely for My sake. Rejoice and be exceedingly glad, for great is your reward in heaven, for so they persecuted the prophets who were before you.



The Beatitudes are one of the most well known of Jesus’ teachings. They are prayerful and poetic. But in many ways they are like reading a poem written in another language – they sound lovely – but they don’t make sense.

We can see the importance of being peacemakers, merciful and pure in heart – even though we may struggle to do it –but how do we choose to live a life where we delight, and that’s what Blessed means, in being poor, meek, or persecuted?


And that is what Jesus is asking us to do – not just to accept it – not to ‘offer it up’ –
not to try to move beyond it - but to live it and, more importantly, find joy in it.
We are so settled in our Christianity these days, we have our buildings and our ceremonies - we are part of the establishment.


In a recent census, people declared that they were Christian simply because they lived in Britain. Christian values have become embedded; indeed have guided the development of our civilised society and it’s rules. We are part of the system.

We are not meant to be.

Jesus is not a particularly good Jew; he doesn’t follow the 100’s of precepts; he doesn’t go to Temple; he doesn’t observe the Sabbath; he questions authority; he doesn’t accept the system, he doesn’t know his place –


today we would probably think he wasn’t a particularly good Christian – because we make exactly the same judgements as they did. We would be just as horrified at the people that he hangs around with – maybe alright to ‘work’ with them in ministry – but to be their friend; to love them?

The people who were drawn to Jesus had come from the outskirts of society, the unclean and the outcast. This was a new world for them; a world of healing, reconciliation and acceptance that didn’t judge them and didn’t ask for anything in return. They were experiencing this new world which Jesus describes as the Kingdom of God. A Kingdom that doesn’t follow the world’s rules; because the world’s rules are about protecting the status quo. Jesus teaches a Kingdom that was to be spread throughout the world and these outcasts were the ones to do it.

But how? Their new world was created by Jesus; as in today’s Gospel they were probably content to rely on Jesus and each other. They could circle the wagons and be safe in community. As we so often do.

After all, what could they do? They had no ‘special powers’ where was their responsibility to make a difference; where would they begin? As we so often think.

Jesus wants them to be like him.
As the Father sent me, so I am sending you – pass it on.
As the Father loves me, so I love you – pass it on.
As the Father finds joy in me, so I find joy in you – pass it on.
Don’t expect the Law to help you, it will only drag you back.
Take what you know and turn it on it’s head.
Like new wines in new skins – new ideals for a new vision.
Because the Kingdom isn’t in another place – it’s in another frame of mind, another attitude, another change of heart that sees beauty – everywhere.

But you can’t change people – you can only change yourself; and so, the Beatitudes –a new way of seeing that nurtures that change, towards embracing a life that is lived, in joy, for others.

Jesus begins very much at the beginning, we immediately rail at the idea that we may be poor in spirit – we church-goers, we pray-ers – and there’s the first barrier – our seeming control over God, keeping him in his place, in church, answering prayers. Poverty of spirit says that we have to have humility. Our spirit should not strong – it is God in us that has strength. We have to know and accept that we are nothing without Him. Like Step One of any of the Twelve Step recovery programmes - we can only begin by letting go of what has gone before and giving our lives over to be guided by God’s love.


By meekly committing ourselves passionately, compassionately to God’s plan for the world, without the desire to possess or exploit the earth or the people in it, we begin to act as shepherds, as brothers and sisters with Christ in his mission.

To mourn for ourselves is natural. Yet to be able to feel sorrow and empathy for the sadness, injustice, and deprivation of others will bring about the desire for a better world. To mourn the very existence of sin in the world gives us the courage to reject the idea of the status quo – that there is nothing we can do.

In rejecting the status quo, we are encouraged to take the next step – to seek out what is just.
To become aware of the needs of the world and to have the impetus to ‘do something about it’. We can change the world, every day; we take our faith and act on it through who we are and what we do; no matter how big, no matter how seemingly insignificant. We may never know what a difference we have made.

The desire for revenge and retribution is understandable; yet we are reminded in the story of the Woman caught in adultery; ‘who is without sin?


The ability to forgive; even when we may feel it is not deserved, reminds us to follow Jesus’ example. He never sat in judgement – forgiveness and healing was often not even asked for – thanks was not expected - he simply saw what was needed and did it. By forgiving others, more than almost anything else, we know them as our neighbour.

As we forgive, we become open-hearted to the needs of others. When we are able to act directly from the desire to do good, without having a ulterior motive or an agenda of our own, it is God’s love present in the world. We see God in our own actions.


We all wish for peace, to live a peaceful life. The difference comes when it is not a self-centred personal wish for ourselves and our family but when we are filled with the desire to seek reconciliation for and between others.
How can we rest when others suffer?

In living out the teaching of the Beatitudes we will constantly challenge the preconceptions of a world that values ambition, individuality and personal gain. It will not be an easy life to live – what of value is ever easy?


We can expect to have our belief and our way of life mocked and rejected by many. The final Beatitude moves us back to the beginning where our spiritual integrity is tied to our ‘worldly’ weakness and poverty. When we try to defend ourselves we put up the barriers again - so back to Step One where only God is in charge.

The teaching of Jesus is radical; challenging, a sending;

Go and proclaim
Go and show
Go and tell

Go and do
Go and live for each other.

wordinthehand2009

Travelling Light

Opening Prayer

Here I am Lord,
Listening
Speak to me
within my heart and soul.
I am listening.




Mark 6:8


‘take nothing for the journey’

Reflection
On the road again

Christianity is made up of journeys. There is very little opportunity to ever sit still (which is why we need some meditation and reflection time now and again). If we are not journeying in our hearts and minds, then it is a physical , practical journey that calls us to go out and make a difference.

Jesus has been preparing the apostles hearts and minds, he has been showing them the other Way, the alternative to the life they understand. And they have been living it, gathered from the outskirts, seeing others welcomed from even further away; outcasts and foreigners. Jesus’ Way is open house – all are welcome.

But Jesus has the restrictions of his humanity to deal with – he cannot be everywhere. So he sends the apostles and does spend time preparing them. But how is this preparing them?

Palestine is not a safe place to live. The land itself can be unforgiving; it is an occupied country; there is division between the people themselves – even being from the next village can make you a stranger. To be prepared means travelling in groups, finding animals and guides; sending word ahead; having provisions and alternatives; having a map.

Jesus says:
No, go as you are. Travelling in groups will make you seem a threat, will give you security. Having provisions means you will not ask for help; so how can people offer theirs? Being self-sufficient how will you understand the needs of others; appreciate the hospitality of strangers. Knowing where you are, where you are going, means that you will not notice the lesser path, the person in need, and the place you should be. Having these things will make others resent you and may make you judge them.

In taking nothing, you will take everything I and my Father have given you. In taking nothing you will know that all you need is me. In taking nothing all you can give is me. Your journey, your mission, is to take me, my Father and the Spirit out into the world. Take nothing else.


Contemplation
The road awaits

I do wonder about the modern day view of Christianity. We are very much a ‘part of society’. So much so that there are people who consider them Christians, just because they live in Britain.

The rules we are meant to live by in the secular world are very like the rules we are meant to live by in faith. They are not perfect, even when we manage to keep them, but they are different to the rules that used to exist. There is a sense of democracy, of human rights, of a need for social responsibility that calls out even now in a culture that seems self-centred and capitalistic. Those voices still appear, challenging the status quo, wanting a world that is better.

These voices, our voices, cannot come from a sense of comfort and satisfaction. The have to come from the awareness that we are all worthy of being all we can be. And not only that we are all responsible to helping each other to achieve the best we can be.

This is Jesus’ voice speaking to us, challenging us not to settle for anything less; not to wrap ourselves in security; not to be complacent because we are alright – in our family – in our parish – in our community.

Take time to find a quietness and a place to listen. Where does Jesus want you? Who does he want you to reach? What does he want you to say? And, at the same time, give him your doubts, your uncertainties, your lack of confidence. Let Jesus prepare you as he prepared the apostles.

For when he sends you out with nothing – it is because that is all you need.


Closing Prayer

May the blessing of the Sacred Three
The Father who gave us the Word
The Son who is the Word
The Spirit who opens the Word within us
Be with us today and evermore.
Amen


wordinthehand 2009

Sunday, 5 July 2009

Thinking Skills

Opening Prayer

Here I am Lord,
Listening
Speak to me
within my heart and soul.I am listening.


Isaiah 55:55

‘I don’t think the way you think’


Reflection
How do I think?

I think if I was God then I know what I would do – and it wouldn’t be what God does.

I would be like one of those beauty pageant queens who wishes for world peace, an end to starvation and suffering, a reversal in global warming.

I think I would make it so that everyone would love each other, greed would vanish, there would be no illness, sadness or suffering. Even natural disasters would not happen – the earth would be quiet and content.

I think that I would make sure that there was real justice – that only bad things happened to bad people. And if I am being really magnanimous – that there would be no bad people. Everyone would have enough, everyone would have what they needed.

At first it sounds idyllic, but on second thoughts where does this thinking take us as people? This may be a vision of the ideal – but is it your ideal? Perhaps, you think a different way?

On second thoughts it seems like one of those science fiction stories, the Stepford Wives, the Matrix, where the need to challenge, to survive, to find our potential is no longer needed or wanted.

We may all love each other in this perfect world– but where would be the love borne of adversity, the love of a parent for a disabled child; the love of a husband for his infirm wife; the love of a stranger for a starving child?

Where would be the strength and determination to make a ‘better world’; where would be the curiosity and creativity borne out of the desire to do more and be more. Where would be the wonder of creation in a quiet sea or still blue sky. Where would be the diversity borne of necessity?

My answers to the great questions are so naïve that they are simply childlike.


Perhaps it is no coincidence that the communities who so often live in love and harmony find their homes amongst the most challenging of the earth’s landscapes. Our minds, hearts and souls cannot be still until they are still in God.


Because this is not Heaven, this is the world that we chose to live in, and to live in it to the best of our ability is all we can do – and leave the thinking to God.

Contemplation
Out-thinking God?

Admit it – that it’s a thing you do, we all do.
Why does God do, allow, not stop this or that?

‘ If I was God ……’

But it is not even that we don’t see the big picture – we don’t really see the picture at all. At best we see the bit around us and that’s from our point of view. like those ground squirrels who pop their heads up out of their own burrow imagining that the whole world is like the view before them. Trying to step outside that box is so hard. Putting on other people’s shoes and walking in them, harder.

Empathy – probably one of the hardest emotions to have – especially in today’s world.

And even then –

We don’t, won’t, can’t know the extent of all the what’s and why’s no matter how good we think we are at multi-tasking.

That’s why God is God.

People who don’t believe often use the’ well, if He exists then why doesn’t he…?’ Just like Thomas in the Gospel this week.


Sometimes the picture is just too big, the answer too beyond us and maybe God knows that all He can do is say

‘I don’t think like you think..’


Closing Prayer

May the blessing of the Sacred Three
The Father who gave us the Word
The Son who is the Word
The Spirit who opens the Word within us
Be with us today and evermore.Amen


wordinthehand2009

Monday, 29 June 2009

Feast of Peter and Paul

Depending on where you are in the world you will have celebrated this feastday yesterday or today - so whichever - happy feast day.

Peter and Paul - the brains and the brawn of the church, and they would probably say that themselves. Two people who were so very sure of themselves and who they were until Jesus came along, threw one out of his boat and another into a ditch. Only then did they find out who they really were. They may have been as opposite in culture, status and religious attitude as it was possible to be; as dogmatic within their own beliefs as many are even today but once Christ caught their eye, they came together in love. Not that they ever personally got on; chalk and cheese, as I say. But both in love with the same person; our Saviour, our Lord.

It is astonishing how God works with people. Peter and Paul are just two examples of turning your life around but the Gospels are full of people who do it; and no two are the same. Every person, made by God - therefore unique. And the gift that is the Holy Spirit; that is God's Grace does not move in and create clones. We do not become a master race through our faith. We become what God imagines for us; and we all do it in our individual ways; a challenge across the campfire or a smack on the head when we least expect it.

You may or may not know that, scientifically, elementally, coal and diamonds are the same - made from carbon. As unlikely a pairing as you might imagine yet both known for their light - a light that shines in different ways.

Both have to be sought. They hide in the ground, part of the great creation and need to be mined for; men living and dying underground to bring treasure to the surface. For they both are precious; coal for its heat and energy giving light, diamond for it's unmatched brilliance. The light is not immediately apparent or easy to get to. The diamond needs to studied, mathematically evaluated to find the exact cut and facets; the coal is sorted, crushed and burnt; all to release their light.

That light is within each of us; as it was within Peter and Paul. They may be giants of the church - go to St Peters in Rome and see them standing 40 or 50 feet tall - but they started off just like us; with all the faults and failings that humanity has to offer and then they were sorted and tempered to find their light. They were never perfect - which gives us all hope. In fact it was their failings that saved them - which gives us more hope and it was eventually through Jesus that they found their hilltop, their lampstand and their light.

wordinthehand2009

Pay the piper

Opening Prayer

Here I am Lord,
Listening
Speak to me
within my heart and soul.
I am listening.

Matthew 22:21


‘give Caesar what is his, and give God what is his’

Reflection

How much do you give to God?

I only ask because I know that all of us have a busy life, a really busy life.

My life is so full of priorities that when I am advised to list them from 1 to 10 they are all a one, I don’t even have time to think about the 2’s, 3’s and 4’s. Can’t imagine what a 10 would be – washing my hair?

And then what am I supposed to do? Except dash from one to the other and spend the last minutes before sleep trying to plan a tomorrow that will get it all done. Trying to keep everyone happy. Trying to live in this world. Trying to give Ceasar what is his.

And where is God?

Sitting at home like a maiden aunt who is always forgotten in the Christmas visits, looking at photos of us and reading old letters. Of course we make time to visit on Sundays and maybe when He can do us a fovour but otherwise….And we tell ourselves that that’s ok really because God doesn’t really need us to give Him anything. He’s got everything He needs.

Except He hasn’t. He longs for those visits, letters phone calls. He longs for us to give Him what is really his – which is us. He’s just too polite to say, to ask, to intrude.

So what do we do while we are giving to Caesar? Well, how about getting a fold up chair and taking God with us. To work, to the shops, to the demands of our everyday life. Letting God sit with us, read the map in the car, hold the screwdriver, sing to the baby, not answer the phone, lie down on the pillow next to us, include Him in the minutiae of our lives. Give God all of the day, give Him all that we are; all that we do.

Then we can have no guilt about what we are giving Caesar because we will be giving it through God and to God.

After all, in the end- it all, we all, belong to God.


Contemplation
Spending Time

So often we get into a habit of having God time and world time. We think having that hour on a Sunday is a good idea – we set it aside – so we won’t forget. We give God one hour in the 168 He gives us and we think that that’s fine.

Because it is better than nothing.

Of course it is better than nothing – but we have to say it isn’t enough. What sort of job would it be if we worked just one hour, what sort of mother, father, friend, partner – if we decided the cost of that relationship was an hour a week?

God is not hard to get hold of; we just have to remember to bring Him along. Even if He has to sit in the background or in the car in between other things.

Our lives demand a lot from us; paying Caesar is a full time job!
God does not demand because He has us anyway and maybe the simple realisation of that should mean that we are able to fold into him now and again. To treat him like the friend who ‘really doesn’t mind’.

Caesar judges what we give him; there is a worldly value; but God doesn’t – give Him everything – it’s all good.



Closing Prayer
May the blessing of the Sacred Three
The Father who gave us the Word
The Son who is the Word
The Spirit who opens the Word within us
Be with us today and evermore.

Amen

Stand up



Opening Prayer

Here I am Lord,
Listening
Speak to me
within my heart and soul.
I am listening.



Acts 2:14


‘Then Peter stood up’


Reflection
The crowd thought we had been drinking - it was an easy mistake to make- in fact it wouldn’t have been totally out of the question.

It was festival after all. We had been cooped up in hiding for so long
a drink would have been welcome; and we did have a reputation
for drinking and enjoying ourselves even when the Lord was with us. And Peter was always in the thick of that.

And that’s it really – that’s what gives it away – Peter was thick. Not stupid, just one of those practical men who talks with his hands – wants to do stuff not talk about it - puts his foot in it when he does. Fishermen don’t do too much talking, don’t go to Temple, don’t know scripture - don’t like crowds or people much.

And Peter was still like that, never liked the Lord being surrounded by the crowds, couldn’t cope with miracles and had barely forgiven himself for what had happened at the trial. He knew he was supposed to be the leader now – ok – as long as it’s the practical stuff. But he couldn’t do the ‘inspiring’ bit – couldn’t imagine how. Maybe he though Andrew would be the spokesman, or James or John? All better at it than he was.

But when the Spirit came down on all of us we knew that we were transformed; that the breath in us was like fire freeing our hearts.
And we all spoke; but the voice that came from us was not ours but the Lord’s. Everything he had told us before and after the Resurrection, even the things we had forgotten; now made sense, had a rhythm -had a need to be told.

And we did speak, without fear, to everyone – the feeling was fantastic.

And I knew when Peter stood up, that that was it. No fear, no trembling voice; full of authority; the voice of a witness. This was for real; the next part of the journey started here. It was up to us to make the difference - we all had to stand up.




ContemplationNow what?

I lit the Paschal candle today in church, and discovered I was not supposed to. The Feasts are over, Really?

Pentecost can seem like the end of the road, the Great Adventure has come to its climax – Lent, Easter and the Resurrection journey has brought us to the Holy Spirit and back into Ordinary Time.

What a strange phrase really. If we have followed the Great Adventure, then this is not ordinary but Extraordinary Time –
now that the Holy Spirit has breathed into us, now that we travel in the shadow of Her wings - this time, surely, is all about the journey to the Kingdom.

This is when we should know that we are community; that we should all be standing up to be witnesses; that we should be trying to make a difference - and if we think we can’t be like that, we should know we can because we are not on our own.

Today is Trinity Sunday – the Gospels have brought together all the aspects of God - Father, Son and Holy Spirit to be with us.
To invite us to be with, through and in Him.

To be so full of God that we need to pass Him on, share Her out, in what we say and, more importantly, in what we do.
So stand up.

Closing Prayer
May the blessing of the Sacred Three
The Father who gave us the Word
The Son who is the Word
The Spirit who opens the Word within us
Be with us today and evermore.Amen