Wednesday, 25 March 2009

Everyone's a critic

Opening Prayer

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

Ephesians 2:10‘For we are God’s work of art’


A wonderful phrase and how often do you hear the cynical or self-depreciating reply – Then I must be a Picasso!

Why do we find it so difficult? We are amazed by God’s hand on the rest of creation, the millions of species; the thousands of galaxies; the myriad of wonders that science uncovers every day. We marvel at the idea that of all the snowflakes that have ever fell – ever – no two have been alike. And yet we refuse to acknowledge the wonder in ourselves; the children that God holds in his hand.

Perhaps we have the wrong idea about art. We envisage it as something perfect, ideal, without blemish. Maybe if you are looking at an Ikea print for the living room you could apply those standards but not to Art with a capital A. Art is about communication, realisation, the need to create something outside normal definitions, the challenge to be a unique voice; to see what others do not see; to reach across barriers, borders and even centuries.

Art is about being more that the everyday, mechanical beings we often accept as our role. It certainly doesn’t involve being perfect because how do we get to being something wonderful without the ‘work’; the bit people gloss over – a WORK of Art – not something that has sprung fully formed but something that has been apprenticed; practiced; gone wrong, been redone over and over and still, in the artist’s eye, will still be needing that something else, something more.

An x-ray of any of the paintings of the grand masters, including Leonardo, will show rubbings out, reworking, bits added and taken away; the layers beneath adding life, experience and texture to the finished work of art. Artists working in stone will have had to adapt to faults and fissures in their creations. A logical, scientific critique will reveal faults in everything we find beautiful, inspiring and priceless.

And Picasso? During his early years as an artist his work was so precise to be almost photographic. He learnt every technique, every ‘rule’ of proportion. But his paintings had no heart, no soul, no creativity. That was only the beginning. His work changed until he painted what he saw, what he felt. He joyfully expressed emotion, spirit and movement.

Treasure the unique person that is you, the work of God’s hands and value every reworking, remodelling that has brought you to who you are ‘A Work of Art’ and be glad if you are a Picasso.

Everyone’s a critic

How many times will we hear how important we are to God and still not listen; preferring to imagine that everyone else is better than us and that God barely knows that we exist.

It’s a bit like looking in a mirror – do you see the life behind the eyes, acknowledge the lines of experience, be thankful for the characteristics that mark you as part of a family; or do you see everything that is wrong, out of proportion, covering it up with make-up even planning botox or plastic surgery?

It’s the same image, the difference is all in the attitude. Every single thing that happens in life has God in it – sometimes you just have to look a little harder. The layers that affect our lives bring us times of completeness and times of brokenness, but they all add to the creation of someone who is wonderful - you.

Sometimes you have to use inner grace to see the beauty and the unique qualities that we all have.

The saying goes about some people that God broke the mould after them. Well, God’s an artist – he doesn’t use moulds – we are works of his hands – works of art.

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


Sunday, 22 March 2009

Works of Art

Ephesians 2:4-10
God loved us with so much love that he was generous with his mercy: when we were dead through our sins, he brought us to life with Christ – it is through grace that you have been saved – and raised us up with him and gave us a place with him in heaven, in Christ Jesus.
This was to show for all ages to come, through his goodness towards us in Christ Jesus, how infinitely rich he is in grace. Because it is by grace that you have been saved, through faith; not by anything of your own, but by a gift from God; not by anything that you have done, so that nobody can claim the credit. We are God’s work of art, created in Christ Jesus to live the good life as from the beginning he had meant us to live it.

Today is Mothering Sunday - the time when Christians are meant to take the opportunity to thank the Church for caring for us and for everyone to thank their own mothers for doing the same. And I know that we now are wise enough to include nans, aunties, carers, teachers and even male relatives who try to fulfil the role but I would like to talk about mothers.

And this is going to sound really negative on such a day for celebration, and with a mother who deserves more than I could ever give her, but... what if our mother doesn't care for us?

What about the people sitting in congregations, walking past card shops, sitting through adverts on the TV that proclaim and celebrate the wonder of mothers whilst they wonder ' Why not mine?'

For a million reasons, and I won't go into details - life affects us all personally - mothers aren' t always who they are meant to be - they are not caring, not supportive, not loving. What if they don't protect us, nurture us and what if they don't give us the confidence to become strong independent people ourselves? What then?

Psychologists tell us that our first image of God is drawn by how our parents cared for us; loving parents - loving God, punishing parents - punishing God. Happy children grow up happy; tormented children....

And yet Jesus give us this parent model as his best imagining of the God that sent him - and teaches us to pray 'Our Father'. And in some ways that is an easy way to see God - as a Father, someone in authority, something of a teacher, a disciplinarian, fun but practical.

But God the Mother? Well in the early words of the Old Testament, God is often portrayed as a chicken - a mother hen protecting and caring for her brood. And God does have many maternal qualities, she loves blindly and inexcusably, she lets all your friends in and feeds them, she forgives everything you do if you say you're sorry, she defends you and gives you chance after chance, she waits while you are doing 'other things' with your life and then is there when you need her.

She has dreamed you, and made you and carried you and she looks on you, as Paul says, as a work of art; no matter what anyone says, the mother's eye of God sees only the good and the beautiful in you and she loves you.

And that is why we need a God the Mother,
to be a bigger mother than any human mother,
to be a mother to the mothers,
to be a mother to the women who can't be mothers,
to be a mother to the children who don't have one.
to be a mother to the children don't have the one they deserve;
to be the Mother of us all.


Saturday, 21 March 2009

Getting Personal III

One thing that has changed in hospitals is that they don't wake you up at dawn for whatever reason they used to. You may get woken up at other times but that's on a medicinal 'need to know' basis. Because of his illness crossed with being a teenager, my son sleeps on and on and on. Unfortunately Catholic guilt stops me from lying in the bed next to him, even if I am reading, even if I am tired too.

So when I hear the staff starting their changeover circuit, I get up, fold the bed back into its space and tidy up, as if in readiness for a military inspection; after all this I don't want them to think I am a bad mother.

After saying hello and finding out which nurse is 'ours' for the day (they are all lovely but they have their own ways and we have learnt to adapt ours) I head out into the main hospital and down to the restaurant for breakfast.

It started off feeling somewhat unnerving, knowing that everyone around you is either staff or other parents staying with their children on the wards. You can tell the difference; the staff are normally sitting together, tucking into breakfast, chatting or watching the tv, whilst the parents, all at separate tables, push beans and bacon that they don't really want but do really need around their plates, or stare into space over the rim of a cup of machine-made but not bad coffee. Other parents stand squashed against the window trying to get a signal on their mobile; to make some contact with the outside world.

I think of all the children on our ward in isolation and see their parents here locked in their own isolation. They avoid eye contact at any cost, I know, I tried and gave up. Perhaps their isolation is part of the defence mechanism that is 'parent living with sick child'. To look at someone and see that they are also 'parent living with sick child' is not a consolation here. Because the fact that you are here means that you have failed; you did not do the right thing; you were not the good mother or father. And you need all your energy to redeem yourself, to drag that child back to health through wishes, prayers and promises.

Rubbish? On the outside, of course it is, but here in isolation it is difficult to see with eyes of grace. Would it be better if we did get brought to sit at the same table; to share our stories and our fears; to be a community of prayer and wishes and promises? I believe it would but who would do it? Even the regulars are transitory, and I am too busy staring over my own cup of coffee.

Afterwards I call into the Chapel which serves the various denominations of faith and really serves none because it has made itself so anonymous, but it is quiet and I like to think I carry my God space with me. There are several chaplains, who will come and sit quietly beside you and maybe ask if you are alright. Their dedication and desire to comfort is apparent - it just occured to me to wonder why they aren't sitting in the restaurant.

Wednesday, 18 March 2009

Riches beyond Compare

Opening Prayer

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

Mark 10:17

"What must I do to inherit eternal life?"


There is something satisfying about following the rules. Even when they are hard and difficult to obey it is still a good feeling - knowing where you are and where you should be.

I was a good child – despite the jeers of my friends, I listened to the Law and I tried to obey it. Each rule, each word spoken by the priests gave my life direction and purpose. Whenever a new situation came along there was no problem – I could simply look to the Law and I would know the right way to behave. I could go to bed at night and offer my day to the Lord knowing that I had met all His demands; that I had been a good and faithful servant.

When I came to listen to the prophet it was with confidence, with the knowledge that I was not the same as the rest of the crowd. He seemed to attract those who knew nothing about the rules; who didn’t know about how to behave; who had plenty to learn.

When I asked the question I saw that he was pleased, that this was a chance to teach them a lesson. When I gave the answer I thought I saw admiration, even love in his eyes.

But when he challenged me, invited me to follow his path to eternal life, it was my eyes that fell. The Law told me that my wealth was proof of God’s love for me and here I was being asked to give it away. The Law had told me to take care of my family and I was being asked to leave them behind. The Law of Ages had been my guide for all of my life and I was being called to follow this roadside preacher who had come from nowhere.

And it was too much; too unexpected. There was no answer to give.
What else to do, except to return home with questions, with doubts.

I had looked into his eyes and known that he spoke the truth; but how could I do it?

How can I make that leap of faith that had no need of the Law; that asked only that I follow?

Can I?


Riches beyond compare

It is easy to sympathise with the rich young man. He seems to have done everything right. And still is willing to ask the question – what else must I do?
But was he expecting that answer, or was he expecting to be told that there was ‘no more he could do’ that he had, indeed, earned eternal life in the eyes of the Law. Which I’m sure he had – but as St Paul tells us the Law doesn’t save us. It is our streetmap of faith; it shows the direction we should go and it helps us to get there, but it doesn’t give the details and it doesn’t allow for the detours and distractions that will happen along the way. It won’t tell you what to do in a storm or when you are attacked; when you meet up with others who need your help or when you are completely lost.

Only faith does that. Only faith can give you the instinct to follow your nose towards where God is in your life, towards grace.

But how hard is it to give up the map and follow your instincts?

Another journey to think about for Lent - a journey that will resemble the labyrinthine spiral that leads into the heart of 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


Sunday, 15 March 2009

Getting Personal II

The Children's Hospital is in an old Victorian building, better suited to the old days of large wards with the beds lined up in military fashion down each side and, you can imagine, a matron who didn't stand for any nonsense!

Our ward has been split up into cubicles with three sides and a glass partition onto the corridor. The children here are all chronic cases of one kind or another so need to be in isolation as far as it can be managed.

The cubicles start off bare, then an incubator, cot, bed or theatre stretcher appears with or without a child. Then the child, hopefully with family. Various monitors, pumps and other apparatus are wheeled in - beeps, buzzers, counters and flashing lights illuminating the effect of what the illness is having on the child's health.

Parents hover nervously in the background feeling they are in the way or pose forcefully over their child like a defending archangel defying the doctors not to do their best.

Walking up and down the corridor - you aren't allowed to eat or drink in the rooms if you aren't the patient - it is like an exhibition of macabre medical tableaux. It doesn't seem right or fair for these little ones to be lying still with drains, wires and tubes controlling their lives.

Yet it's not an unhappy place, the staff are endlessly, endlessly cheerful from the cleaners, to the playworker (sorry I still can't find anything for him to do but the hospital teacher is coming in tomorrow - she might have something), to the students, the nurses, the doctors and consultants.

There is never a feeling that you are in the way, that you are asking a stupid question, that you don't matter. For this I am very grateful that we didn't end up in the adult hospital where I couldn't be with him and my son would have had to deal with this on his own. Of course fitting the parent's bed into the melee of our room is just one more challenge for the end of a monotonous yet tiring day but fifteen or not, I couldn't leave him.

Having only just been diagnosed with Crohn's this is still very new to us both, but you can see that some of the families are experts at this sort of thing. They come in with lists of symptoms, prescriptions, their own devices, their own pillows. They move easily into the time warp that is hospital life. There are no clocks because time is meaningless except where it involves a controlled dosage or procedure and that is not ours to decide.

And there is hope here, because not to hope would be a betrayal of the love these parents and carers have for their children. There is little sense of 'suffering' - the only ones that cry really are the little babies and it's harder for their parents when they don't cry.

Suffering is said to be the reaction to a loss of control, something I am identifying with. But these other parents have created their own control through love. They learn to love, to include, to possess these illnesses, conditions and diseases because they are part of their children and they love their children. They see past all the prejudice and assumptions and limitations of whatever 'it' is because what would that achieve? Like a dark shadow, they have seen that it is as much a part of their child as the light in their eyes. The battle is for the child, for the light to be the stronger, to come out on top.

This atmosphere of love, of hope, of stubborn defiance is permeable through the glass borders of our little worlds. I often imagine if we could come together, if we could focus that Will, then there would be miracles - but then there probably are - every day. It isn't a place I would choose to be but it has been a lesson I've been grateful to learn.


Eyes of Fire

3rd Sunday of Lent

John 2:13-24

Just before the Jewish Passover Jesus went up to Jerusalem, and in the Temple he found people selling cattle and sheep and pigeons, and the money changers sitting at their counters there. Making a whip out of some cord, he drove them all out of the Temple, cattle and sheep as well, scattered the money changers’ coins, knocked their tables over and said to the pigeon-sellers, ‘Take all this out of here and stop turning my Father’s house into a market.’ Then his disciples remembered the words of scripture: Zeal for your house will devour me. The Jews intervened and said, ‘What sign can you show us to justify what you have done?’ Jesus answered, ‘Destroy this sanctuary, and in three days I will raise it up.’ The Jews replied, ‘It has taken forty-six years to build this sanctuary: are you going to raise it up in three days?’ But he was speaking of the sanctuary that was his body, and when Jesus rose from the dead, his disciples remembered that he had said this, and they believed the scripture and the words he had said.

For a long time, my image of Jesus was reflected, not in the many artistic masterpieces that have tried to capture him, but in Robert Powell's portrayal of Jesus in the television series Jesus of Nazareth. Actually this image of a tall, white, ethereal gentle man, while owing nothing to the likely physical characteristics of a rural Palestinian, pretty well fits in with most of the visual images that, we in the West, have of Jesus; that he was born meek and mild, and seemed to spend his whole ministry acting like the quiet lamb who is eventually led, willingly, to the slaughter.

Well, thank goodness, that even Robert Powell's Jesus found a voice in the scene that represented this week's Gospel. It is one of the dramatic counterpoints of the series, where Jesus truly loses it with the people who are using the faith of their community and countrymen to make a quick buck. The courtyard, within the Temple grounds, was used not only by the moneychangers who made their profit exchanging Roman coin for Temple money (plus commission) but by venders who had set up stalls for the selling of birds, lambs, goats and calves to be offered in sacrifice. Doubtless there would have been other vendors selling candles, oils, incense; whatever could be sold would have been sold.

God had told his people, how many times, that His Covenant was with them. He'd made the world, he didn't need it offering back to him. He didn't drink blood or ask for sacrifice like the little idols of the other religions. Their relationship with God didn't depend on how many sacrifices they could afford. In fact the only sacrifice God did ask for, their heart and their love, was the one thing missing in the Temple market.

After the time that Jesus had been spending, living with the poor, the criminals and the unwanted and knowing their need to experience God's Love, but being denied by Temple Law, the last thing he would have wanted to see was this further barrier to his Father. If anyone has ever been in a Eastern bazaar, you can imagine the chaos that would have broken out as tables were overturned, people scrabbling to pick up money, livestock screeching and flailing, cages breaking open. It would have seemed as though one of the sand devils from the desert has hit causing pandemonium and in the midst of it Jesus, incandescent with rage.

I love that image, I love that Jesus. Because that is the Jesus that I need in my life - maybe not 'rage' all the time; but passion and power and energy and so alight with the Divine that his heart and his eyes shine out of his body. I need that Jesus to come into my head full of limitations and expectations and throw them all out. I need that Jesus to drag me along the path when I am feeling tired and downhearted. I need that Jesus to challenge me to do more, to be more.

How can he not have been like that? Because only when you have all that power can it mean something when you do submit to being a servant, to making the sacrifice. Jesus has that power and never uses it to his advantage, only ever to point the way to his Father, to wake us up from our complacency and show us the potential of a life filled with a passionate belonging to God as he belongs to God and to us.

When you have that power, which is the strength and grace given through relationship with God you can overturn the world's values and know the truth.


Wednesday, 11 March 2009

You'll never know...

Opening Prayer

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

Matthew 26:74

"I don't know the man!"


I know who I am. Or rather I thought I did. A simple man, even by my own admission: and proud to be. I know what I need to know; the stars, the wind, the sails, the nets. I can smell a storm and be in the tavern before the first drop of rain; I can look at cloud shadows on the waves and find the shoals hidden in deep water. I know the price of fish…

But I don’t know the man.

I’m no Temple man; my brother is the one for that: knows his letters and his Scripture; prays enough for the both of us. Has to… the fish don’t keep the Sabbath; feeding the family is my job, my living. I know what I am good at.

But I don’t know the man.

And I still don’t know what happened, when Andrew brought him to the quay, when he took my hand and called me to him. I’m not one for the road, for the desert. Not one for crowds, for teaching, for preaching, for caring for the sick, for caring for anyone outside my family and my crew. I was so sure I’d be making my way home after a few days, with a tale to tell and a yearning for the open water.

Yet there I was sitting by the dying embers of a brushwood fire, watching his hands and his eyes like a moonstruck girl as he talked about his hopes, his plans and his mission. Listening as he told me that I was part of the plan; that I was a ‘rock’ and not just because I was heavy and slow. Because there would be others who would depend on me as much as I had depended on him. Recalling the times I had blundered through miracles, spoken nonsense, known nothing; thinking he must really not know me at all. And yet, more than anything I wanted to be that person he saw; to fulfil that destiny he foretold; to be all he wanted me to be. And I promised myself that despite all my clumsiness, arrogance and ignorance I would not give up, I would not go back.

I don’t know the man, may never know him; but I love him, I trust him and I will follow him.

You’ll never know

You have to wonder about Jesus’ ability to judge people when you look at Peter, the leader of the Church. Very rarely does he ever get anything right. When he does, he makes a mess of the next thing he does. He is so human he makes your heart ache.

Which is exactly why Jesus chose him.

Hear him saying ‘Look, here is my friend, the man I love and trust; and he’s just the same as you. Not a superman, not a saint, not even a wise man. And be reassured that as much as I love him, I love you - even when you make mistakes, even to the point when you deny me. Because you have heard the call; you are on the journey and I am Home, I am Love, I am the Always.

Take time to spend with the image of Peter, an ordinary man called to follow and then to lead, share his disappointments and his triumphs and see how Peter’s faith can help you on the Lenten journey.

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.


Monday, 9 March 2009

Getting Personal

When I began this blog, it was Lent 2008. With the cycle of the Church I am reminded that although I am on this journey towards… often the path spirals back on itself; allowing me, allowing all of us, to revisit a time, an experience, a preconception or two.

In the introduction to the blog I said that it would be about my faith, that there were parts of my life that I would not share, that I regarded as personal. And yet, as the year has gone on, this has shown itself to be false. If my reflections were only based on scripture study and preaching a ‘do as I say, not as I do’ philosophy then they would be no use to anybody- even me. Perhaps I do not report specific incidents, mention names, place and dates but my faith is my life therefore something of my life is surely in every posting. And that is as it should be; after all I do not leave God in the Tabernacle, at the door of the church, at the door of my home, at the door of my heart. God’s around and about me interfering with everything I do. So maybe this blog is experiencing something of a conversion.

God at the moment is in hospital with me. My fifteen year old son, having never had a day off school or barely a day’s illness in his life, has been diagnosed with Crohn’s disease. A chronic and fairly debilitating illness that affects the digestive system producing symptoms that are pretty distressing to a teenager with a high sense of self-awareness and somewhat obsessive habits about cleanliness (not a normal teenage trait – I know).

We are in a Children’s Hospital, which, in itself is pretty weird; my son is not only fifteen but six foot three inches tall. The rest of the patients on the ward, put together, barely reach either his age or his height. The Playworker, running up and down with teddies, toy trucks and jigsaw puzzles apologises every day - there is nothing on the ward for him to do. But to be honest, he doesn’t have the energy or the will to do anything.

He is at the age where he should be fighting for independence; he needs help having a bath –
staying out late; he can hardly keep his eyes open –
arguing with his mum and dad; he tries to make deals with me not to leave him – at all.

The wonders of modern medicine mean they ‘wonder’ how this is going to develop. Crohn’s affects everyone differently, I have listened to miracle stories and horror stories and decided we will favour a wait and see approach. And pray…

And what will we pray? Should I be asking God ‘Why’?

I don’t know that I can do that. I have spent long enough learning not to believe in a God who enjoys making us suffer; who plays with us like a schoolboy using a magnifying glass on an anthill; who keeps knocking us down until we don’t have the energy to get up again.

My God wouldn’t do that. My God has a Son himself; he knows what it is like to be a parent; to be proud of his achievements; then to watch him suffer. And I do believe that. So I am not asking ‘Why?’ I just glad to have someone with me who understands.


Lenten Promise

St Paul’s Letter to the Corinthians 13: 5-9

Test yourselves to make sure you are solid in the faith. Don’t drift along taking everything for granted. Give yourself regular check-ups. You need firsthand evidence, not mere hearsay that Jesus Christ is in you. Test it out. If you fail the test, do something about it; I hope the test won’t show that we have failed. But if it comes to that we’d rather the test showed our failure than yours. We’re desperate for the truth to win out in you. We couldn’t possibly be otherwise.

We don’t just put up with our limitations; we celebrate them, and then go on to celebrate every strength, every triumph of the truth in you. We pray hard that it will all come together in your lives.

Here St Paul gives us some reasoning behind the idea of the Lenten promise. As Christians, we all know somewhere inside that we are on a journey of faith, that we should be practicing and getting better at. But with all the other demands on our lives, all the other distractions of the day it is difficult, firstly to make sure that we are adding quality to our prayer life, to our sense of community, to our love for our neighbour and secondly to notice that we have, to be aware of our growth, to recognise our movement toward the people we have the potential to be.

So, in modern day language, Lent gives us the opportunity for a little self-assessment and, of course with no-one else to judge us except ourselves there is more than one way to go about it.

You may decide to use a tried and tested formula – something you give up every year -
a promise you make knowing that you can do it; a promise to give up something that is really not that hard to do. That perhaps was quite important once, but not anymore.

Or is it a promise considered and made in sincerity. To use the Lenten journey to learn more about yourself, your resolve, your determination? Is it a genuine commitment to deny yourself something that is a part of your enjoyment of life, which really matters, that you honestly do not want to do without?

Paul’s letter gives the new Christians of Corinth guidance and encouragement in their newly found faith. But even if we consider ourselves life-long Christians, we can’t be complacent in our faith either. We should be challenging ourselves. We should be developing the will to become more than we are, to show Christ within us.

We should be directing our will towards those things that feed our spirit and away from those that do not. And sometimes, like it or not, our will, when it is in balance with God’s will, needs the authority to step in to move us away from what gives us pleasure, comfort and satisfaction. Because, all too easily, whatever gives us pleasure, comfort and satisfaction becomes a distraction, takes us away from our real selves, takes us away from our God selves.

We know what we should and should not do. We know what we said, we know what we promised. So what happens when we falter, when we have that bad day, when we just don’t want to…? Well, we need to know what that feels like too. We need to know the difference. It’s a learning journey and as the saying goes - the person who never made a mistake – never made anything.

After all I didn’t pass my driving test first time.

I didn’t even want to learn to drive; but I had got fed up waiting for buses and for lifts home. I was not a natural – badly co-ordinated, I could never remember my left from my right. The first time I took the test I was not ready. I was a bag of nerves, kangaroo gear changes, reversed around the corner and up onto the kerb. I was surprised I was allowed to drive back to the test centre.

Second time it was text book driving, perfect, the test inspector sitting quite relaxed in the passenger seat until a previously unknown route back to the test centre saw me drive across unmarked give way junction just missing being hit by a car. That time the instructor did drive me back!

Time to give up? Looking at the cost of lessons, listening to the comments about women drivers, my age, my lack of co-ordination and two failed tests.

But I was fed up waiting at bus-stops. Fed up getting wet, being late. I wanted the freedom that being able to drive would give me. I didn’t want to hear the comments.

So…after two months of more lessons and more practice… the third time.

And I thought I was doing ok until the three point turn, turned into a five-point turn – and when I felt the back wheel touch the kerb my heart sank. Not too happy with my performance I was ‘following the road’ as instructed when a little boy on a bike came out of a side road right in front of me. I slammed on the brakes. Everybody was fine but the inspector told me to drive back to the test centre. Still shaking and expecting the worst I drove back to find that I had passed. All that I had had left to do was the emergency stop and undoubtedly I had managed that. And I was told.
‘You didn’t get it all right, but you got it right when it mattered and the rest will come.’

Forty days may seem a long time to learn a lesson. But it’s a lesson for life, for life in the Spirit. It gives us time to make mistakes, to re-evaluate and make changes, to have another go – to know we have to ask for help from others, from God - to get better, to be better and to carry that forward.

Lent is not a circular bus ride – we don’t get off at the same stop we got on at - we shouldn’t to come out of it the same way we went in – it is a time of transformation, of conversion - Jesus did not return to being a carpenter, a workman. Because of his trials, he walked out of the desert with a new vocation, a new mission. If Christ is in us should we not try to do the same?

And, although we like to measure our success, it is not a test; God doesn’t have a clipboard and a tick list. His love for us is never dependent on us winning or losing; in fact God has never favoured the winners – He loves the losers and the try-ers. The journey is the thing; the steps taken towards and with the Lord even if they go off track a little.

Sometimes we won’t be ready and we’ll make a mess of it; sometimes we’ll be too ready, too over-confident and we’ll make a mess of it and sometimes we’ll make a mess of it and it will be the best thing we could have done!

So, as Paul says - celebrate when your promise is going well and even when it’s not – because God loves a Try-er.


Monday, 2 March 2009

Mary's Journey

Opening Prayer

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

Luke 2:34
‘The pain of a sword-thrust through you.’


I know the image you have of me; young and beautiful, the contentment of motherhood showing on my face. My arms held wide in the openhearted gesture of a mother to all those who have been given to me.

In the beginning, only he was given to me; he was the ‘Yes’ of my life, my heart and my soul. The ethereal otherness of him was wrapped in prophecy, his baby eyes were wide with the guileless love that my gaze returned. Our future lives were given into God’s care, to His Will.

At the Temple I wore the simple veil of a proud, young mother, knowing that, despite the gossips, my child had every right to this moment, this presentation into his Father’s hands; confident that he would receive His blessing as I had been blessed. That Love was ours.

Then Simeon’s words; the veil lifted to reveal an unwelcome truth –
A reminder that love is not a thing to be taken lightly; it isn’t always lovely, not always bright, not always easy. Often, love’s task is to support us in dark days, through hard times, through the worst of times without release or explanation. Love does not replace suffering; there are times when love and suffering become part of the same experience - like the thorns on a rose.

It is a truth that the Path of Light can feel like walking on shards of glass: and sometimes we have to decide whether the Light is worth the sacrifice; if the sword thrust means defeat or acceptance.

I was young and beautiful when I began this journey; but it is neither my youth nor my beauty that has sustained me; it is Love, his and mine. Because he was always my child, do not take that away from me. As he grew, so did I; as he lived, so did I, as he suffered so did I.

And though he has become so much more than I could ever be, he still knows me as his mother, knows he can call on me to guide others to him because my ‘Yes’ has survived the sword and my eyes are set on the Path of Light, of Life, of Love. The outstretched arms do not always promise comfort but invitation - will you make the journey?

ContemplationCarrying the sword
The role of Mary in Jesus’ life seemed to be pushed aside when he asked ‘who is my mother?’ and we interpreted this, as we were meant to do, as part of our understanding of ‘who is my neighbour?’

Nevertheless, it is almost beyond belief that, after that statement intended to challenge and cause controversy, that Jesus did not find Mary and spend time with her reassuring her of his love, explaining his mission as he did with the rest of the Apostles.

It may have took Mary time to bring together all of her ponderings to the awareness of what was to come, of where the journey was heading, but she did. For Mary, Lent lasted a lot longer than 40 days; she had given up a normal life as a woman, as a wife, as a mother; she had given up her place in society, her security within the community; she had given up her role as a mother who comforts and protects her child to follow him on a road strewn with shards of glass.

At this time of year the focus is on Jesus, of course it is, but he has gone on ahead and we are all followers on the road. It is good to know that there are friends on the road, those who have walked it before, who are waiting to walk beside us, to show us the way.

In quiet contemplation consider what you are bringing to Jesus this Lent, and share it with his mother asking for her help and guidance to make the journey in faith and love as she did.
Closing PrayerMay 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.