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.

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

 

River

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

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Presence

DesertHorizon_

 

The heat shimmered and danced on the horizon.

Abraham closed his eyes to its glare, and let the deep silence of the desert enfold him. The soft sand in the shadow of his tent cradled his bones in its warmth, allowing him to sit. Others slumbered in the heat of the day, but despite his years, Abraham resisted the soporific lure. In the stillness he was intently present, the practice of decades.        Waiting, watching.

 

The day was ordinary, like the one before, and the ones before that. Fourteen long years had passed since God had promised to answer the deepest desire of his heart.

A son.

He only wanted a son, flesh of their flesh, bone of their bone, but God had promised him descendants like the panoply of stars above his head, the sand beneath his feet.

 

The years rolled by, and his body and spirit wilted in the waiting.

God said.

Abraham had held the promise in his heart. Turning it over, like a well worn stone.

Three months previously God had spoken again into the depths of his longing.

Underlined the promise with a change of names, of identity. Writing the H of the name of God into his and hers. A laughable promise of sons, of nations, of kings.

The covenant seared into the tenderness of heart and flesh.

 

The silence was fathomless.

 

The faintest breath of wind on his face. An infinitesimal change in the quality of the light. A feather touch of intuition across his skin. Abraham opened his eyes and lifted his gaze. Three silhouettes of strangers splintered the glare. His heart knew, even as his legs pulled him to his feet faster than they had for 30 years. He was running, heart pounding, awe pulsing through his veins.

 

Down. On his face before them. The only possible posture of greeting. Instinctive, and nstant as he stopped before the long reach of their shadow.

He daren’t look up.

Saw only dry and dusty feet. Still walking. Appearing to be going further.

Passing by.

Willing them to stay, heart in his mouth, he gestured to the deep shade of the ancient Terebinth Trees. Green-leaved even in the sapping drought, their deep roots reaching for artesian springs.

The words tumbled out, urgent, pleading.

 

Adoni, If I have found grace in your sight, please stay awhile. Rest yourselves against the tree and I will have water brought to wash your feet. Bread to sustain and refresh you and then I will not detain you further since you have come and honoured me with your Presence.”

 

He looked at his hands, the ground, anywhere but up. The three sets of feet were still. It could only have been moments, but it felt like hours. Hope thrumming in his ears as he waited,  Would God receive his hospitality?

The reply was gentle, grace-filled.

 

“Go and do as you have promised”

 

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Andrei Rublev Trinity /Hospitality of Abraham 

Walking in the dark

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Advent. Time of transition and threshold. Hushed and holy time of waiting. On this Advent cusp last year, Diana a friend and my church warden, slipped peacefully to heaven after a long illness. She and I had walked much of it together, particularly in her last months. I had to preach on Gaudette Sunday after her funeral, on Joy and how we get there having just buried someone  greatly loved. You can read that here.

Last week another parishioner died, but this time very suddenly and with no warning, leaving family and parish reeling with shock.

Today was my last service in the community I have loved and served for three and half years. I preached today, having to hold a community once again in grief.  I titled it

Walking in the dark

 I ought to be used to walking in the dark by now. I do it enough. I regularly tramp the roads, paths & fields around here in the dark. Usually, in the deepest darkness just before dawn, with my dogs for company. Sometimes there is a tiny twinkle of starlight to see by. Every other sense is heightened as you walk by feel, rather than knowing where you are putting your feet.

I ought to be used to walking in the darkness of an unknown future. I have done that rather a lot over the course of my life, in various ways. Stepping out of all that was familiar, not knowing where the way would lead.     There is a word that best describes these times. Liminal space.

Liminial simply means threshold. The doorway between one way of being & another. Imagine yourself in a doorway looking out – the light is behind you –from the room where all is familiar & recognisable, but all you can see ahead is dark & unknown. Sometimes we are aware a threshold is coming, & see it from afar- other times the world turns upside down in a minute, & we find ourselves on a threshold we never ever imagined or wanted.

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Today we are all standing on the threshold of a new year. A new church year – because the church’s calendar is different to the one used by the world. It always begins on Advent Sunday. Rather than parties & fireworks – Advent begins a time of waiting & preparation towards Christmas, on a much quieter, sombre note.

The first Christmas of world war II, King George the VI faced down his own fears of his stammer to give a radio broadcast to nation & commonwealth in the turmoil & disorientation of war. As he looked into the fear-filled uncertainties & darkness of the year about to start,

he quoted a poem by Minnie Louise Haskings

I said to the man who stood at the gate of the year
‘Give me a light that I may tread safely into the unknown.’                                                        And he replied,
‘Go into the darkness and put your hand into the hand of God
That shall be to you better than light and safer than a known way.”

That poem is as relevant to each of us at the start of this new church year, & into 2016 as it unfolds, as it was to those who heard it on their crackly wireless sets in 1939. None of us knows what it may hold, internationally in our war-torn world, nationally or personally. As I will explain more fully at the end of the service, I am leaving here with no fixed future. I don’t know at this point, where God will lead me. No doubt each of us in this building, come to this threshold of a new year with uncertainties of one sort or another.

We heard the choir sing earlier the Psalm set for today, Advent Sunday – Psalm 25. The writer beset by troubles & uncertainties on every side, crying out to God to show him the way through.

“Make me to know your ways, O Lord, teach me your paths… for you are the God of our salvation, for you I have hoped all the day long”

Just before the Gospel, which painted a dramatic picture of a world in fear & turmoil, we sang a hymn echoing the Psalm writer’s thoughts. (Click on the words below to hear it sung by David Archuleta )

Be still my soul; your God will undertake to guide the future as he has the past. Your hope, your confidence, let nothing shake – all now mysterious shall be clear at last. Be still my soul; the tempests still obey his voice who ruled them once on Galilee.

The Advent candle of Hope we lit at the start of this service is a symbol of God’s faithfulness to us. His promise to take our hands, & walk beside us in the dark.

The faithfulness on which the Psalmist knew he could rely.

To you O Lord I lift up my soul; O my God, in you I trust. 

Trusting the trustworthy. Waiting, watching & walking in the dark, knowing that God walks at our side. Hope that shines in our hearts & does not disappoint us.

We prayed together as we lit that first Advent Candle.

God of Hope, you light our path. When we feel drained, defeated, & downtrodden, you tend to our souls. When our bodies & hearts are chilled by personal winters, you warm us by your Spirit’s fire. As we begin this time of Advent waiting, instil in us a hope that carries us through troubled times, as we anticipate the new heaven & new earth that is ever manifesting in our world. It is in the name of the One for whom we wait & in whom we hope that we pray.

As we stand at the Advent Door, what keeps you from hoping?                 What things are you carrying that weigh you down & slow your steps?     We may not see Him in the darkness, but God stands in our deepest shadows hands outstretched, to lead us forward. To carry all that wearies us. He waits patiently for us to reach out & put our hand in His.

The apostle Paul wrote a lot of letters to a lot of churches. People he had loved, cherished & walked along side. This letter to the Thessalonians is believed to be the first one that he wrote.

AD51 – within 20 years of Jesus death & resurrection, to a very early church.

Another word that is often used to describe Advent is LONGING.          Longing as we wait in the darkness for the coming of the Light. Paul writes with a bursting heart – to this small struggling congregation he loves so dearly. He is longing to see them again. He is longing for them to sink their roots deeply into God’s Love & to grow tall & strong – flourishing & sharing that love with each other & the world around them.

Let me read it to you again in a slightly different version.

1 Thessalonians 3: 9-13 (NLV)

How can we thank God enough for you and for the joy and delight you have given us in our praying for you? 10 For night and day we pray on and on for you, asking God to let us see you again, & for Him to fill up any little cracks there may yet be in your faith.

 11 May God our Father and our Lord Jesus bring us to you very soon. 12 And may the Lord make your love for one another and for all people grow and overflow, just as our love for you overflows. 13 May he, as a result, make your hearts strong, blameless, and holy as you stand before God our Father when our Lord Jesus comes again with all his holy people. Amen.

This Advent Sunday, at the threshold of a new year, the threshold of a new journey stretching out ahead of us- I could not ask for a more appropriate Epistle. ( I didn’t choose it – it is simply the one set in the lectionary for today) I could not ask for a more appropriate prayer of thanks & blessing – written by a heart brimful of love & longing. It echoes the feelings in my own heart as I stand here looking out at you all. How I thank God for each of you! How you will continue to be in my prayers as my journey peels off from yours. It has been a privilege to serve & travel with you for these three & half years. Paul’s prayer & longing for the Thessalonians is mine for each of you.

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As we step out into the darkness & go our separate ways – I don’t know where those paths will lead. But I do know this. That the hand that holds mine, is one that I can trust. I also know that His hand holds each of yours & that nail pierced feet walk at our side.

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Deep Roots

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Deep Roots ..

A couple of months ago, we had an excellent Diocesan conference, with deeply challenging Key Note speeches. They have each continued to speak to me, but one in particular, God has drawn me back and back to.
Oak trees flourishing in Winter given by  The Rt Revd Robert Atwell, Bishop of Exeter, who spent many years as a monk.

Psalm 92 

12 The righteous flourish like the palm tree,
and grow like a cedar in Lebanon.
13 They are planted in the house of the Lord;
they flourish in the courts of our God.
14 In old age they still produce fruit;
they are always green and full of sap,
15 showing that the Lord is upright;
he is my rock, and there is no unrighteousness in him.

“How do we stay evergreen?

How do we remain open to new ideas
how do we remain fruitful and full of sap?
How do we retain our confidence and not locked into a survival mode?
What are our ‘Roots of Joy?’ ”

These were some of the questions he put to us all.

The week following the conference, I found this at a craft fair in York, carved in oak. It seemed to sum up the whole talk in a visual image.

deep Roots

Deep roots. The height and health of the branches are directly related to the depth and strength of the roots.

Sinking our roots deep into Joy. Deep into God, and reaching up and out to the world.
Next to come my way by ‘Godincidence’ was this beautiful piece of artwork  called  Mother Root by fellow priest, artist and author & blogger Jan Richardson. ( Click on the picture to go to her website and purchase it for yourself/see her other work.)

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I found much richness in its imagery.

Flourishing in sunshine and shadow, light and dark.

Centred, abiding in the Vine/tree ..                      and much much more.
This weekend I spent a couple of days on retreat at  Launde Abbey a centuries old place of prayer set in a hidden bowl of a valley. A beautiful spot, it has so many memories attached. I have been coming here since the early ’80’s when it was a freezing, un-refurbished, draughty ancient dwelling  serving up  huge quantities of hearty food to all conference guests/those on retreat, three times a day. It has now been completely refurbished, and is more akin to a high quality hotel.   A place of pause, of reflection, of prayer.

Here, I spent my pre-ordination retreats, Deacon and Priest. Very significant moments.
I came this weekend listening for a still small voice amidst the cacophony of competing noise/calls on and in my life. Walking is the best way I find to do this. I pulled on my welllies and  I spent most of both days outside in the brisk winter wind, tramping the muddy paths and fields. My first walk took me up to the brim of the ‘bowl’ to a large oak tree that had caught my attention. I stood with my feet between its roots, my back against its firm trunk.

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The words that came instantly were

in the middle of something Big

Rooted, grounded, God covering my back, and my shadow lost in His.

I didn’t see it at the time, but a couple of people pointed out that it looked like a path-

stretching out into the distance..

Paths were a natural theme of my retreat as I contemplate and pray about where God would lead me next…

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Wherever He takes me me, whatever this year holds , I am no clearer.
No signs in the sky. (Does He ever do that?)

Trees and paths aplenty. Reminders that God has my back, and that I need to sink my roots ever deeper into His Joy.

Bishop Robert  speaking of the indispensable nature of prayer to growth in all dimensions..personal and church quoted RS Thomas poem, called The Prayer.

[Reading 1: ‘The Prayer’ written by R S Thomas. Available in the book, The Collected Poems ’45 – 90. Published by J.M. Dent]

The Prayer
He kneeled down

dismissing his orisons

as inappropriate; one by one

they came to his lips and were swallowed

but without bile.

He fell back

on an old prayer: Teach me to know

what to pray for. He

listened; after the weather of

his asking, no still, small

voice, only the parade

of ghosts, casualties

of his past intercessions. He

Held out his hands, cupped

as though to receive blood, leaking

from life’s side. They

remained dry, as his mouth

did. But the prayer formed:

Deliver me from the long drought

of the mind. Let leaves

from the deciduous Cross

fall on us, washing

us clean, turning our autumn

to gold by the affluence of their fountain.

Turning to gold.. becoming all flame. . ‘you can if you will, become all flame’

+Robert reminded us that true prayer can at times, be like a fire out of control. The experience can be profoundly disturbing.

He told the story of Abba Lot ..

The following is taken from http://www.ancientfaith.com/podcasts/holyfathers/if_you_would_you_could_become_all_flame

The subject of this particular saying is a certain Abba Lot, another great Father of the Desert, about whom a number of sayings are also collected—but here we see Abba Lot approaching Abba Joseph from saying number seven:
Abba Lot went to see Abba Joseph and said to him, “Abba, as far as I can I say my Little Office. I fast a little. I pray. I meditate. I live in peace and as far as I can. I purify my thoughts. What else am I to do?”
Now I must interrupt the reading here to make a little note. The saying makes no indication that Abba Lot is incorrect, nor that he is despondent or in error. He, presumably, truly does pray. He truly does fast. He truly does meditate and keep the Office he has been given. He is not presented as someone who is whinging or whining, but someone who is accurately and honestly giving an account of the spiritual life as he is keeping it. The difficulty, the problem is not in what he says, but in his belief that this is the extent of such a life.
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“What else,” Abba Lot says, “can I do?”

Then the old man stood up, stretched his hands towards heaven and his fingers became like ten lamps of fire, and he said to him, “If you will, you can become all flame.”

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The ultimate response to Abba Lot’s query is not to suggest other ways in which the spiritual life can be lived, other practices, other means. It is not, in fact, to say anything at all.
But it is for the elder monastic to stand in the presence of the younger, to reach his hands towards Heaven and to be visibly transfigured by the light of God. The life in Christ is a life permeated by the power and energy of the Holy Spirit. Our freedom enables this life, and without our freedom—the freedom to follow Christ, rather than our own will, rather than our own sin—without this freedom, the life struggles and falters from its beginning. ”

+Robert closed with some very wise advice from another Desert Father, St Antony the Great.

Speaking of the secret to the spiritual life contained in a nugget. “I fall down, and I get up

“I fall down and I get up.”  .. there is much to make us fall, push us over, or knock the wind out of us, but we get up, (and keep getting up) and travel on with God, wherever He leads.

Sunday’s retreat was led on the theme of Psalm 23 – perfectly illustrated by the pastoral setting of Launde Abbey. The Lord is my Shepherd. He will lead me down all the twists and turns, joys and challenges of this year and all the rest.

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