About afeatheronthebreathofgod

a child of God, brimful of curiosity, learning to see the world through five year old eyes ... learning to be a feather on His breath I am Assistant to the Rural Dean in a rural Anglican Deanery.

Climbing the rainbow

 

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What a difference a single word can make.

I have sung this well loved hymn all my life.

O Love, that wilt not let me go,
I rest my weary soul in Thee;
I give Thee back the life I owe,
That in Thine ocean depths its flow
May richer, fuller be.

O Light, that followest all my way,
I yield my flickering torch to Thee;
My heart restores its borrowed ray,
That in Thy sunshine’s blaze its day
May brighter, fairer be.

O Joy, that seekest me through pain,
I cannot close my heart to Thee;
I trace the rainbow through the rain,
And feel the promise is not vain
That morn shall tearless be.

O Cross, that liftest up my head,
I dare not ask to fly from Thee;
I lay in dust life’s glory dead,
And from the ground there blossoms red
Life that shall endless be.

Written in 1882 by George Matheson on a day when he was left alone, his family all gone to his sister’s wedding.  A moment of personal anguish. A heart-breaking memory of abandonment that had never healed, broken open afresh.

He was a bright young man and graduated from Glasgow university at age 19, destined to be an accomplished academic. He began theological studies, but his eyesight which had been failing since he was 15, let him down badly and led to errors in his work. His book The Growth of the Spirit of Christianity failed his early promise, and was harshly criticised for inaccuracies.  George was crushed. A friend wrote, ‘When he saw that for the purposes of scholarship his blindness was a fatal hindrance, he withdrew from the field, not with out pangs, but finally.’  Death of a dream, and all his hopes.

At university he had fallen in love, and was engaged to be married. When he revealed his prognosis of blindness to his fiance, her response was immediate and abrupt. She could not see herself going through life as the wife of a blind man. Devastation, and abandonment, by the one he loved and trusted most.

His sister who had helped him with his studies, even learning Greek, Hebrew and Latin to do so,  enabled him to take up life in the ministry. He became the minister of a church in Innellan, Argyllshire and later of a much larger church (with a 2000 strong congregation) in Edinburgh. He became famous for his preaching and writing.

Love was later to call for his sister, who became engaged to be married, leaving George for her own husband and household. He didn’t attend the wedding, feeling abandoned by the one who had stood by him, perhaps? Naturally, memories of earlier heartbreak and loss washed over him.  He wrote in his journal (not disclosing the cause of his distress)..

“My hymn was composed in the manse of Inellan on the evening of June 6, 1882.  I was at that time alone.  It was the day of my sister’s marriage, and the rest of my family were staying overnight in Glasgow.  Something had happened to me which was known only to myself, and which caused me the most severe mental suffering.  The hymn was the fruit of that suffering.  It was the quickest bit of work I ever did in my life.  I had the impression of having it dictated to me by some inward voice than of working it out myself.  I am quite sure that the whole work was completed in five minutes, and equally sure that it never received at my hands any retouching or correction.  I have no natural gift of rhythm.  All the other verses I have written are manufactured articles; this came like a dayspring from on high.  I have never been able to gain once more the same fervor in verse.”

(Albert Pearce, organist wrote the tune associated with the hymn, also in five minutes.. finishing it ‘before the ink had dried’. )

Thus much was known to me. Matheson’s heartbreak poured out in the words of a hymn have spoken to hearts broken and crushed across the world, and generations  in the hundred and thirtyfive years since they were written. Pain and heartbreak know no boundaries, and many tears have fallen to these words.

I woke to the view above the other morning. A double rainbow. The words of Matheson’s hymn came to mind, and I looked up the words to refresh my memory. I stumbled on an insight that blew me away.

“The original 3rd line of the 3rd stanza said “I climb the rainbow through the rain”.


It was a prosy hymnal committee of the Church of Scotland that insisted it be changed to “I trace the rainbow through the rain.” The members of the committee could not imagine anything so fanciful and farcical as climbing a rainbow! …
Finally, Matheson consented to the change with regret, permitting a line he would never have written. How sad!

A close friend of Matheson, J. Morrison of Colinton, Scotland, expressed in an article for “The Scotsman” years later:

When “climb” was altered to “trace”, the figure of a victorious ascent of the spirit toward its divine source (a purely inner experience) was changed to passive contemplation of an external phenomenon mentally envisaged – pious and beautiful in its way, but quite different from what was originally implied.” .

For Matheson, the rainbow was like Jacob’s ladder let down from heaven for the poet’s ascent into the glory of God.

James Black, in a book published 54 years after Matheson’s death, wrote:

It is merely silly to think of Matheson ‘tracing’ that rainbow through the rain; his eyes were shut forever! But in his own fine imagination, he could picture himself stumbling forward blindly till he actually touched the rainbow with his groping fingers! And when he touched it, he could grasp it and climb it.”  

Climbing the Rainbow by Loyd J. Ogilvie ”

That metaphor of stumbling towards the rainbow, grasping it with both hands and actively climbing towards ‘its Divine Source’  is breathtakingly powerful. It transforms the hymn for me. The idea of reaching out to lay hold of God’s promises (the rainbow being the symbol of promise) hands clutching at colours, spilling through fingers is mesmerizing. Reaching out of pain to climb toward God. Laying hold of the Love that no matter what, would never let him go.

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I don’t believe for a minute Matheson was triumphalistic. His words spell out the pain and heartache in bleak reality. Pain and Hope side by side, not one over the other.

He would never see another rainbow, but he would climb one instead.

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You can listen to the hymn here:

Reflections on logging off for Lent

The first week, inevitably was the hardest. I made the decision to ‘log off’ from all social media for the whole of Lent (a period of six weeks leading up to Easter) at relatively short notice. I was curious to see how and if, I would be affected. How addicted I truly was, and particularly the effect of not being able to share the many photographs I take.

I deliberately left the notifications live .. clocking up day by day – social media literally only a click away. Somehow this was to challenge myself more fully. Make the temptation more acute. Twitter and Facebook in particular went into panic mode, bombarding me with emails, telling me that I had X many notifications.. that I hadn’t seen.. that I hadn’t checked in lately, and didn’t I think I should? I was obviously failing in their eyes.

I managed not to log on to any of them for the whole period. I wrestled with myself about Sundays ‘not being part of Lent’ .. traditionally Sundays don’t count as ‘fast days’, being the perpetual reminder of Easter and Resurrection.. The excuse was to clear the backlog of notifications and  not miss any important invitations. People naturally tend to assume you can see what is posted, or events to which they have invited you – and it may appear rude, as if you are ignoring them. However, I saw through my excuses and decided for me, it was best to keep to the ‘digital fast’ for the whole period. Period.

Lent was a particularly busy season this year, with a great deal going on in both my life and my head. Somehow when life is going fast, the temptation is perversely to speed up, rather than slow down.. or perhaps that is just me? By speeding up, I mean reading more, taking in more stimulation via the internet-  newsworthy articles on Twitter, etc. All good stuff, but there is such a thing as too much of a good thing. I guess the underlying increase in pace is the false belief that if only I cross this, this and this off my ‘do list’ I will get to a point where I can allow myself to slow down.. a little. Perhaps.

One of the suggestions from itistimetologoff.com was to remove all ‘screens’ from the bedroom. I had hitherto always charged my phone overnight on my bedside table.. doesn’t everyone?  The benefit given was improved sleep.   Now my phone charges in another room and will do so, here on in. The temptation to reach for it in sleepless moments in the wee small hours is great, and it has been clearly shown by many studies that this definitely doesn’t help.  I can’t say that I suddenly slept deeply and peacefully.. but my head was a whole lot less ‘full’. It was good ‘sleep hygiene’ to coin a popular phrase, and made a lot of sense.  Putting screens away for an hour or two before bedtime is another excellent suggestion, though one I manage better sometimes more than others.

I am a social person. I like to interact and communicate. I like to stay in touch, even if it is only digitally. Social media provides a way of easily doing that, traversing time zones and continents with a click.  I missed the connections. I did feel ‘out of the loop’, as FB and Twitter kept reminding me I was. However after the first week or two, I missed it less. I only checked my phone three or four times a day. It was easier to let go of, than I imagined. I don’t want to do it on a permanent basis, but the exercise of going without for a long period of six weeks was a useful and helpful one. The idea of a 5/2 ‘diet’ of internet interaction appeals, and I may yet experiment with that. (Five days on, two ‘unplugged’. The only reason I haven’t immediately moved to that rhythm is that I am currently engaged in a seven week online course/retreat, and need to engage with that particular online community 6/7.

Photography. I take (and share) a lot of photos. Over the course of the last five years, living in a beautiful rural setting, and moving on an increasingly contemplative path spiritually, has led me to using my camera as kind of photo journaling. I was recently asked to reflect on why I do this. The following (including the photo) was my answer.

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I pause

My camera is my constant companion. Most times it is the one on my phone, for the practicality of living in my pocket. (I have selected the last two of my phones for their camera technology) 

I pause. I pause to stop and see. To notice. I pause to look again, sometimes from another angle. I pause to delight in the play of light and shadow, the sparkle across a river, the unfolding of the dawn. I pause to hold the moment. To share the joy. I pause to create. To share with The Creator, as He paints the day beautiful. I pause to receive. To drink in. To breathe. To dip my toes in joy. 

I found not being able to share my photos one of the hardest things of all. Photography is a communicative art form. Photographs, like paintings are designed to be shared. Sharing the moment, the beauty, the joy of a glance of wonder, increases the joy. They say a joy shared is a joy doubled, and I agree. I used to paint- watercolours, pastels, charcoal – you name it, and I have dabbled and daubed in it. I took classes for many years and loved to learn how to use the various mediums as an outlet for creativity. Time and life has curtailed that opportunity in recent years- study, college and full time work has squeezed out that particular outlet. And so I have painted with my camera. Painted with light and shadow.  I might yet take up my brushes again.. I have an increasing yearning to do so- and doing it is primarily about making room for it. Setting aside time and space deliberately.

This whole exercise has been a good and healthy one. I am glad to have done it, even as I am glad to enjoy social media again. It has given me much food for thought, which I need to keep reflecting upon.

Logging off for Lent

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Yesterday I logged off for Lent. Logged off social media, that is. Not so much a grand gesture, nor a spiritual exercise in denial, more a timely experiment in Digital Detoxing. 

Lent is the 6 week period leading up to Easter and is often associated with ‘giving up’  things.. chocolate, coffee, crisps etc. This is a token nod to the period being an ancient one in the church of prayer, fasting and self examination. Self denial, and resisting temptation being good for the soul. (The 40 days echo Jesus time in the wilderness, facing his own challenges and temptations- see my blog post If , for more on that story.) Not having grown up within a culture that made much of the Lenten period, its austerity and self imposed gloominess seemed at first like over spiritual self-flagellation to me, minus the hair shirts and birch twigs. I have since learned to treasure this season – more as journey than anything else. Often a journey into the wilderness in a spiritual sense. A time apart. A time of intentionality. I still prefer to do something for Lent in the socially active sense, and there are many charity led schemes to help with that. However this year I was challenged by an article that I read in the days leading up to Ash Wednesday about the benefits of Digital Detoxing. The challenge to our 24/7 world where we are ‘on call’ and bombarded with media on a constant basis. Without realising it we are glued to our screens and if not careful, miss out on the real world.

I will hold my hand up and confess to being glued. I read voraciously, am wildly curious about the world, and enjoy the stimulation of being able to find out about anything, instantly. Social media connects me world wide with scattered friends and family and I love keeping up with their news and photos and sharing mine. Twitter keeps me in touch with what is happening in the world, and brings me news from the church, politics, social action etc, etc and often brings a smile or a chuckle. I love being able to enjoy a book, and be able to be directly in touch with the author to share my enjoyment.

I also enjoy the wind in my face and the great outdoors. Having two dogs means I am out in all weathers and the fields, paths and waysides of the beautiful rural setting in which I live provide me with an endless sense of quiet wonder, as the season turn. Having my phone always in my pocket, it is my habit to stop and capture some of the beauty I see in a photograph. I am interested to see how not being able to share that photograph affects my joy in photography.

I hadn’t intended to log off, but I was curious and challenged simultaneously and Lent seemed an excellent time to start. How addicted would I prove to be?  How would it feel to be ‘out of touch’? What effects might this have physically, spiritually and emotionally? I am only 24 hrs in and it is far too soon to tell. The irony of blogging about logging off is not lost on me either, and my blog auto posts to my twitter account. I may blog again post- Easter on how this experiment has gone.. watch this space.. or try it yourself? The website www.itstimetologoff.com suggests a whole raft of ways of approaching it – not least a 5:2 digital diet. (Five days on and weekends or two other days off).

I am enjoying the companionship of two writers in this journey through Lent ’17             One familiar to me, and one brand new.  I can highly recommend both!

The familiar author is Paula Gooder, and the last of her series of books reflecting on key seasons in the Christian year – Let Me Go There  The Spirit of Lent.

 

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The new-to-me author is strangely enough, another Paula. Paula Huston and her delightfully grounded and practical book

Simplifying THE SOUL Lenten Practices to Renew Your Spirit. 

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Each leads you through Lent on a daily basis, giving rich spiritual food for thought and contemplation.

However you choose to journey in Lent this year, if you journey at all – many blessings from a fellow traveller on The Way.

(Clicking on the titles will take you to a site where you can find out more, and see other reviews. Clicking on the author’s names takes you to their websites)

 

It was time

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It was time. It was time to take that little scrap of helpless life and face the press and push of the city. It was time to scrape together enough for a couple of doves for the purification sacrifice. It was time to present the child before God.

The narrow streets to the temple were crowded and noisy. The people pushed and shoved as they passed and she held the child closer. The outer courts of the Temple were if anything, noisier still. Animal bleats. Doves cooing and the shouts of the moneychangers and stallholders added to the cacophony. The smells, animal and human were overpowering.

Moving through the vast court of Gentiles, they pass through the narrow gate and climb the steps to the Gate Beautiful into the court of the Women. She drops the handful of small coins into the trumpet shaped coffers – the price of two turtledoves to be sacrificed for the purification ceremony. Swept along in the tide of worshipers, she climbs the 14 steps to the majestic Nicanor gate and stands at the threshold. This is as far into the Temple as she is permitted. She can see into the court of the priests, and the temple itself, from the gateway. There is a queue and she stands in line, waiting for the officiating priest. Her heart is beating wildly, and she is sure it will wake her still-sleeping child. She holds him a little tighter to stop her arms trembling. It is time. The priest approaches and spatters her and the child with the blood of sacrifice, declaring her to be clean. Even though she is expecting it, the warm sticky blood on her face and neck and across the baby’s face makes her reel in shock. She stumbles backwards even as she is supposed to hand the child over, offering him up God and then paying the ransom price to receive him back. The impatient priest has moved on down the line. Her trembling hands hold out her blood-spattered son, wanting to get this over and get out.

 

It was time. So much time had passed. Day after day he had waited. Year after year, his eager steps into the Temple courts were very much slower now. Hope burned ever bright even as body betrayed him. Looking, always looking. Waiting. Listening for God’s Spirit to point out the One. The One through whom the Light would come. It was Time.

He saw her. A slip of a girl with a pale face streaked with blood. For a moment his heart stood still. The pressing crowds disappeared, and he saw only her and the child held out in her shaking hands. Almost before he knew what was happening, he had gathered the warm bundle gently in his arms and held him to his heart. The baby stirred, opened his eyes, and they beheld one another for a long solemn moment. It was a life-changing look of recognition. It was time. Now.

Simeon was pierced with joy, and the song of praise that poured out of his lips unbidden, he sang to the blood stained child in his arms.

 Lord, NOW lettest thou thy servant depart in peace, according to thy word:   For mine eyes have seen thy salvation, Which thou hast prepared before the face of all people; A light to lighten the Gentiles, and the glory of thy people Israel.

It was time. It was now. He had waited all his life for this moment.

The Light of the world was within the circle of his arms.

He glanced at the parents, who were wide eyed in wonder at his words.

He blessed them both for the task they had been given, for their obedient hearts, for the courage they would need. His words of prophecy and warning laid out the life of the child he held, as a sign. As a sacrificial lamb of God. Handing him back, he whispered gently of the pain she would know. The pain, that went right through her spirit, even as her face was splashed in blood. The pain that made her stumble, and would pierce her soul again.

 

It was time. She who had dwelled a lifetime in the courts of God had become a dwelling place of God. All her prayers, her tears and fasting had pointed to NOW. It was time. Simeon’s song of praise had sung her heart into wild joy. Emmanuel. God with us. At that moment her whole life was gathered up in Presence. The child of Promise was come.

As if drawn by invisible threads of wonder, she drew close to see for herself. To feast her eyes on the tiny child whose eyes fastened on her own. She had lived so long. So many years. So much time had passed. But Time had stopped in its tracks before a helpless babe. Heaven touched earth, and her voice lifted with the unheard song of angels that rang around the unheeding crowded courts. IT WAS TIME. She would tell them. Would carry the Good News to the world. To all who would listen. The Light had come, and lit a beacon in her soul.

 

Leaning into darkness

 

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It is hard to believe that such peaceful place of quiet beauty can swallow a life. A hot July day, the first of the school holidays and youngsters kicking up their heels, their lives and the long lazy days of Summer stretching ahead of them. They could never have foreseen that the day would end in tragedy, with a 15 year old lad losing his life beneath the surface of this river. Today, four years on, I watch from a distance as they gather around his grave, my heart heavy for their grieving.

I can never forget. Days into my curacy, I was pitched headlong into this unfolding drama of loss almost from the first moments. Racing to the scene, talking to traumatised youngsters and worried villagers as we waited the many hours until the emergency services found and recovered his body. From the television interview to the funeral and beyond into the weeks, months and years of heartbreak and adjustment to loss that followed, it was my tender privilege to travel with the family and the community. The sudden tragic death of a teenager inevitably causes profound shock waves not unlike a major earthquake within the microcosms of family, village and school. Life can never be the same. It can only be slowly and painfully rebuilt.

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How I wish this was a rare, exceptional event, as no family should have to face this horror. Alas my heightened sensitivity has zeroed in on news reports over and over each summer of young lives lost by drowning. Innocent fun turning fatal in the blink of an eye. Over sixty children lose their lives in this way each year in the UK, and is the third largest cause of child deaths. In the last few weeks I have heard of at least four, one only yesterday. Five years old.

Sudden death of any cause has the same seismic effects on hearts and lives. Every day it seems we wake up to hear of yet more horrors and violent atrocities with communities and families ripped apart by terrorism and hate crimes. Each candle burning, each flower laid representing a precious individual gone from the lives of those who loved them. Grief that will go on – long long after the news focus has moved on. Worlds turned upside down. It is hard not to be overwhelmed by the darkness.

One of the most famous prophetic descriptions of Jesus comes from Isaiah 53, describing him as ‘A man of sorrows and acquainted with grief‘.  At its simplest, and from personal experience I know this to mean Love that sits with us in the dark. The darkness of grief and the darkness of unknowing. Watching, waiting, keeping vigil. Nail-pierced hands that hold ours. Tears that fall from God’s face.

Three years ago today, on the first anniversary of this young man’s death, I came across a timely prayer poem that spoke deeply to me and I offer it here. It turns out they are the lyrics to a song on an album called Take Heart by Velma Frye, co written with Macrina Wiederkehr.


LEANING INTO DARKNESS (M. Wiederkehr, V. Frye)

Draw me into the depths.
Take me down to the holy darkness to Love’s roots.
I lean into that darkness,
The darkness that surrounds me,
This nurturing room for my restless spirit.

Let me borrow your eyes, Beloved.
Then I shall see in the dark, though for answers I do not look.
It is enough to wait,
To wait in the holy darkness,
This nurturing womb for Love’s yearning.

Listening to the sound of silence,
And leaning into the song of darkness, I wait for You.
Waiting with purpose for who I will become,
Waiting without agenda for things I can not change,
I become one with the One I love,

For I have seen too many stars,
Too many stars to let the darkness overwhelm me.

I keep vigil:
with my heart’s eternal questions, and with my deep longings.
with those places in my being where the light has grown dim.
with those whose hearts are tired, & with those whose hope is lost.
for those who sleep and for those who can not rest.
for those with fearful hearts, and for those whose hearts are angry.
for those whose courage is waning and for those whose strength is growing.
for those who suffer, and for those who keep vigil.

I keep vigil. I keep vigil. I keep vigil. I keep vigil,

For I have seen too many stars,
Too many stars to let the darkness overwhelm me

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I am always so grateful for the gift of words or art that others offer, putting pain, blessing and healing into words or form that speak in a profound way. These gifts are often costly, self-sacrificial baring of souls. Someone who frequently does this for me is fellow priest, author and artist Jan Richardson  who blogs at The Painted Prayerbook. Her latest post, A Blessing when The World is Ending,  from her book Circle of Grace (which I can highly recommend along with her other work) seems to dovetail beautifully with the lyrics above.

Blessing When the World is Ending

Look, the world
is always ending
somewhere.

Somewhere
the sun has come
crashing down.

Somewhere
it has gone
completely dark.

Somewhere
it has ended
with the gun,
the knife,
the fist.

Somewhere
it has ended
with the slammed door,
the shattered hope.

Somewhere
it has ended
with the utter quiet
that follows the news
from the phone,
the television,
the hospital room.

Somewhere
it has ended
with a tenderness
that will break
your heart.

But, listen,
this blessing means
to be anything
but morose.
It has not come
to cause despair.

It is simply here
because there is nothing
a blessing
is better suited for
than an ending,
nothing that cries out more
for a blessing
than when a world
is falling apart.

This blessing
will not fix you,
will not mend you,
will not give you
false comfort;
it will not talk to you
about one door opening
when another one closes.

It will simply
sit itself beside you
among the shards
and gently turn your face
toward the direction
from which the light
will come,
gathering itself
about you
as the world begins
again.

—Jan Richardson
from Circle of Grace © Jan Richardson. janrichardson.com.

I think all I can add to these is a heartfelt AMEN.

Callings

On this third anniversary of my ordination to the priesthood in the Anglican Church, I have been reflecting on the many calls within this rather particular Call. A prayer that was deeply meaningful to me in the earliest days of my discernment, has stayed with me, and been much on my mind of late. Found within the pages of a booklet given to prospective ordinands and written by Roger Spillar, it sketches out this multistranded, many layered call. Naming a few of the strands, Roger’s word pictures  spoke volumes to me then, and continue to do so.

So many facets within one vocation, so many different ways of expressing that call. Thankfully God doesn’t have a box marked ‘priest‘ he expects us all to fit. Fear of this potential box underlay much of my gargantuan struggle with God in the earliest days of my call towards ordination.  The church down the centuries has had many a priest shaped box, sometimes even ordaining people as priests and bishops against their will.. But God I was to discover, wanted me to be me. The me, he had created and shaped.

I could write reams on this, but today I will simply keep to the prayer.


Lord, you call us to be story- tellers

Planting your explosive news into our defended lives;

Locating us in the script of your human history.

 

 


You call us to be trail blazers

Living in your future that we receive only as a gift;

Subverting the fixed, fated world of low horizons.

 

 

 


You call us to be weavers

Tracing, stretching, connecting the knotted threads;

Gathering up unraveling, disconnected lives.

 

 

 


You call us to be fools

For Christ’s sake: bearing life’s absurdities and  incongruities;

Puncturing our seriousness and grandiosity.

 

 

 


You call us to be hosts;

Welcomers of the sacred, intimate, transfiguring;

Lavish celebrants of our communities and homecomings.

 

 

 


You call us to be poets;

Artists and illuminators of inner space


Naming, invoking, heralding your ineffable presence.

 

 

 


You call us to be gardeners;

Sowers, cultivators and nurturers of fragile lives;

Benefactors of your gratuitous harvest.

 

 

 


You call us to be conductors

Celebrating polyphony, coaxing symphony;

Orchestrating the praise of your inhabited creation.

 

 

 


Lord, you lavish gifts on all whom you call

Strengthen and sustain us and all ministers of your church

That in the range and diversity of our vocation

We maybe catalysts of your Kingdom in the world.

Through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.
Amen. Amen.

A Mother’s Heart (sword pierced)

She had trembled when the elderly priest took her new-born son from her arms.

She had trembled at his words. Words of wonder and fear.

Her heart riven from the moment the angel stepped across her threshold, cracked open, wider still.

‘A sword will pierce your heart also’

As this child of Light kindled a flame of life with her body and her soul, the fire burned. Branded forever, with the name of God seared upon her being.

The Word of God stirring within her.

 

Like every mother before and after her, this daughter of Eve carried both the joy and the pain with the gift of new life. Like many young women down the millennia, she had known scandal and stigma, the sneers of assumption and misunderstanding.

The angel had sent her to Elizabeth’s door.

An older woman hollowed out with longing for a child, now full-bellied with spirited energy. The shame of barrenness had drawn lines upon her face that crinkled now with joy as Mary stepped within her arms.

Mary felt the child leap, as heart met heart, and tummies touched in the embrace.

‘Mother of my Lord’

A gasp of recognition.

A new name that rang in her ears and shivered down her skin. She rested her hand on the tiny child within, and reeled afresh at what this could mean.

His birth had been a journey of fear and joy, and stepping out into the unknown.

No familiar faces, comforting surroundings, no mother’s touch of hand to guide her through. Almost a child herself, she’d birthed him on a squalid floor, an outcast from the start. Shepherds had gathered to gawp in wonder at this baby in the straw.

Strangers from the East had come..

What did they know? What gifts were these they had brought?

Gold for a king… for one whose brow

would only know a twist of scorn and hate

whose proclamation writ upon a cross..

And yet they knew that He was more

than just an earthly king, as low they knelt

before the child, in worship and in awe.

Frankincense, the oil of homage, honour

given with Myrrh, the spice of death and grief;

strange gifts , indeed, to give

a tiny child who lay beneath a star.

 

A flight in the dark, refugees of murderous hate, she’d carried him mile upon weary mile towards an alien land. A place of safety she could rock her child to sleep. She would have walked forever to protect the trusting arms about her neck, the small head lying heavy on her shoulder.

He’d grown as children do, and ran from the shelter of her arms, scraping his knees and bruising his heart and hers. She’d lost him in the crowd. Fear clutched and speared as pushing through the throng, she’d searched for that beloved face. His tousled hair. How could she have failed him, let him slip from her sight? Angry with herself, and wound up with worry, she chanced upon him in the temple courts. A slight figure of a boy, surrounded by aged men. Deep in discourse, he’d not even noticed she was gone, seemed puzzled at her distress. The more she knew this child of her heart, the less she understood. The sword pricks drew blood & smarted.

 

He’d left her home, his father’s trade, an itinerant with nowhere to lay his head.

She worried, even as she witnessed the wonders and the growing crowds.

Worried as she heard rumours and tattles of the marketplace and synagogue.                     The whispers that kept her eyes staring at the dark.

She’d joined the press and push of the multitude that swarmed around her son.

Called to him from outside the close-packed dwelling that separated them.                   Called in vain. Deaf to her pleas, he did not come.                                                                                 Sharp sword that sliced through frail flesh.

All her worst nightmares had come to pass. She’d watched them take her boy and scourge the skin that she’d caressed. Nailed the hands she’d held, the feet she’d kissed to rough-hewn wood. Watched his agony, as her own heart bled.

Dared to stay when others fled. Dared to meet his eyes, although it took all the courage in her soul. Helpless before his pain, his dying breaths.

The sword cleaved her motherhood, her very core.

He spoke. Voice a raspy whisper, but no less beloved, no less familiar than his first stumbled syllables as a tiny tot. His eyes that had held her own, flicked to the man at her side. His closest friend, standing with her in the dark.

“Woman, here is your son”

with fierce intensity beamed his meaning to the disciple that he loved.

“Here is your mother’’

Take care of her, take care of her for me.

Her pain was harder than his own to bear, as his for her.

The old priest had spoken true. As broken bread, her heart was held in God’s nailed pierced hands.

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Holy Gifts.

Taken

Chosen

A life lifted from obscurity

Held in hands that hefted galaxies

Hallowed by an ask

To sustain

The Word

 

Blessed

Given grace

To bear the weight of favour

Daughter of Eve,

Giving God a thankful heart

By holding His, within

Her own

 

Broken

Lanced by sword

That pierced Father, Spirit, Son.

Blood of her blood

Poured out for those

That clamoured for

His death.

 

Given

Her whole life

Offered on the altar

Of surrender

A readiness to be God’s Yes

Shared out to hungry hands

To feed a world

With grace