Letting go

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
When you pray lay aside thoughts
that peck at the body and dive after souls
fears that give birth to needs
concerns that lay ambush to the future
mistakes that make poison of the past
 
 
When you pray lay aside thoughts
Of where you are and what you are doing
of your struggle to walk the Chosen Path
even your hopes to leave behind
a few final steps in the sand
 
 
Then pull from under you
what little ground you stand on
and fall
like a feather
into the hand of God
Rest there 
so lightly 
so very very lightly
that when you think about it
you will feel no longer where you end
and God begins.
 
 
 Centering Prayer Magazine from Snowmass Benedictine Monastery
 

Stepping Stones

I was given this beautiful picture today, by a friend of mine. He is a fellow ordinand, and it is the picture on his Ember Card (cards sent out by people about to be ordained, asking for prayer for themselves, their families, their new parishes and  incumbent)

It struck a deep chord with me, and I have sat with it for some time, letting it speak to me. It is highly symbolic of just where I am, at the moment. I can see the other side of the river from here.  The far bank is suddenly, very close. There are still some ‘stepping stones’ to get there, of course.. and some of them have the potential of being quite wobbly. Like saying goodbyes to those I have lived with, learned alongside, laughed and cried with, in all the twists and turns of this crazy journey towards ordination.  I expect there maybe more wobbly ones too, and perhaps ones that catch me by surprise.

It has been a strange week in the Lectionary calendar. Several people have remarked to me how we have heard the same passage 4 or 5 times over the last few days. Very significant words too.

“You did not choose me, I have chosen you. And I appointed you to go and bear fruit, fruit that will last.” John 15:16 

They are especially significant, as we see them in chapel, two or three three times a day. Inscribed on the College icon, on the back wall of the chapel, the message of those words becomes almost a subliminal reminder, etching themselves in a deep place within. Since the icon was commissioned by the Common Room and written by Marianna Fortounatto in 1981, it will have been imprinted on many hearts through the years, in the ‘generations’ of students since then.

Rowan Williams, in his book, “The Dwelling of Light: Praying with Icons of Christ” (Canterbury Press, 2003) bases his chapter on the Pantocrator on the Westcott icon, writing, “the icon of the Pantocrator in the chapel of Westcott House, Cambridge, was and is for me and many others a profoundly significant image.” Of its meaning he writes,

“The point is simple: face to face with Jesus, there and only there, do we find who we are. We have been created to mirror his life, the eternal life of the one turned always toward the overflowing love of the Father; but our human existence constantly turns away. When we look at Jesus, we see in some measure what he sees, and are drawn to where his eyes lead us… we look at him looking at us, and try to understand that as he looks at us he looks at the Father. In other words, when he looks at us, he sees the love that is his own source and life, despite all we have done to obscure it in ourselves. When we look at him looking at us, we see both what we were made to be, bearers of the divine image and likeness, and what we have made of ourselves.”

If I hear the same passage four or five times in almost as many days, it feels like God is underlining something in red.. “This crazy journey was my idea.. and it is me who is sending you out from this place to go and bear fruit that will last” , perhaps?

Just as well He is going with us too.. ( I seem to remember Moses saying something similar.. ” If your Presence does not go with us, do not send us up from here” Exodus 33:15 NIV) Amen, Moses.

This is my ember card. The images I have used are taken from my stoles.

I will, God willing, be ordained as a deacon on the morning of July 1st 2012 . As I mentioned in my last post, all prayer much appreciated for those steps across the river. There is another whole journey, of course, that begins on the far bank.


Rounding the last bend

Image

Or going round the bend?… It is all in the perspective.
This blog has been uncharacteristically quiet for some time, as I have been wrestling with words in the more formal ways of essays and dissertations. It may go very quiet again as I start my last term at theological college. The next few weeks are going to be breathless, to say the least. Essay and dissertation deadlines to meet. A house move with all its attendant tasks of clearing, sorting and organising. The house clearance of a parent. The emotional journeys that go along with both of those. An ordination to prepare for, logistically and spiritually. A whole new way of being/ living with a strange new wardrobe to boot. Enormous adjustments on every front.

Living in a community of other ordinands, half of whom are going through similar processes and pressures, this collision of demands feels almost normal. Those who went before us, followed similar paths, and those coming up behind, will find they hardly turn around and it will be upon them, too.  I did say ‘almost’, however. Like the child in the crowd of the story of the emperor’s new clothes, I feel I have to point out the obvious – that this is very far from ‘normal’. Crazy would be another way of putting it. It happens the way it does for a whole raft of historical reasons, and my plaintive cry that this is an extraordinary ask, isn’t likely to change anything.

When my husband qualified as a doctor, his first year of ‘house jobs’ involved working 120 hour weeks, with sleep happening in interrupted episodes. Not great for doctors, their wives or their patients!  Senior medics took the view that they had done it, and therefore the next generation must follow suit. What didn’t kill you, made you stronger. It was not entirely without merit. Young doctors learned fast, by encountering most emergencies, sometimes all in the same night. They had continuity with their patients, (seeing more of them, than anyone else) and were able to observe the patterns that were developing. They had masses of hands on, decision making experience none of which is wasted, even if  some of those decisions were made bleary eyed, at three o’clock in the morning. That has all changed now, and many would argue that the pendulum has swung way too far in the opposite direction, with the loss of all of the above, but that is another story.

Life as a deacon/priest won’t be easy. There will be plenty of tough stuff ahead. As much as I am looking forward to what I anticipate being a very fulfilling and rewarding next chapter, I am realistic about its challenges. So perhaps the last hurdles/fences being some of the highest is appropriate after all, as all part of the preparation and formation process. Perhaps. In the meantime I am hugely grateful for the prayers of friends and family as the next few months unfold. “More things are wrought by prayer than this world dreams of” comes from the poem Morte D’Arthur, by Alfred Lord Tennyson,  and is worth quoting in its fuller context:

Pray for my soul.  More things are wrought by prayer
Than this world dreams of.  Wherefore, let thy voice
Rise like a fountain for me night and day.  
For what are people better than sheep or goats
That nourish a blind life within the brain,
If, knowing God, they lift not hands of prayer
Both for themselves and those who call them friends?
For so the whole round earth is every way
Bound by gold chains about the feet of God.

Prayer is a precious gift we can give another. I have been on both the giving and receiving ends of prayer, all of my life, and hold it in very high regard. I don’t pretend to understand the way God uses it, but that He does, I have no doubt. So if you pray, then hold me, and those training with me, in your hands and hearts, as I do you, and thank you.

My Utmost for His Highest Oswald Chambers

English: Oswald Chambers (1874-1917)

Image via Wikipedia



 
Updated Edition in modern English 

Sometimes the best gift a friend can give you, is the gift of another friend. To introduce you to someone who blesses and enriches their life, in the hope that you too will be blessed in the knowing.  


Nell was a lady who had lived long, lost much and loved still. A woman of prayer, she shone with the radiance of having spent  much of her life in God’s Presence.  Over 25 years ago now, she introduced me to one of her most precious travelling companions. Oswald Chambers. It was a life changing meeting, and he has journeyed with me since, through thick and thin.

My Utmost for His Highest should come with a spiritual health warning. “This may seriously affect your spiritual life.”

It is not for the faint hearted. A series of devotional reflections on a verse for each day, drawn from his teachings to his students when he was principal of The Bible Training College in London, he packs a punch. Like a search light on the soul, he misses nothing, observing “the thoughts and intentions of the heart” allowing no self-delusion. He was a man sold out on God, abandoned to Him utterly, and his passion is seriously infectious.

He died in 1917 at the age of 36, while he was chaplain to the Commonwealth troops in Egypt during World War I . He died from complications following appendicitis. He had refused to take up a bed needed by wounded soldiers, and lost his life to a clot in his lungs following his eventual operation.  One very brief life, but offered entirely to God, he is truly a grain of wheat falling to the ground and producing a hundredfold.

Instead of being gone and forgotten, more people know his name and writings today than ever did in his life time.  This book and those others bear his name have been translated into scores of languages, and are read daily by millions around the world. The Book Depository describes this book as “The most popular devotional book ever published”.

If I may quote from a biography of him, by David McCasland called Abandoned to God, he asks, “Why the continued interests in the words of a man who was born before automobiles, telephones and electric lights? Why do his statements sound as if they were written right after he read today’s newspaper? The answer lies in the message and the man. The two are inseparable.” 
 
Oswald Chambers: Abandoned to God 
David McCasland

After meeting Oswald for the first time, one serious young man said, “I was shocked at his undue levity. He was the most irreverent Reverend I had ever met!”

A British soldier in Egypt described Chambers as, “ the personification of the Sherlock Holmes of fiction- tall, erect, virile, with a clean cut face, framing a pair of piercing bright eyes….a detective of the soul”

“A detective of the soul’ could not be a more apt description of Oswald, and of this book. It was published by his wife Biddy, after his death, taken from her verbatim notes on his teaching.  I have read and reread him over the years, using the book as a daily spiritual check up. He points me to the God he loved and trusted. He allows me no self pity in suffering, no self satisfaction in times of success. He pushes me onwards when I am flagging and encourages me always to give my utmost for God’s highest , as he endeavoured to do. 


As I have explored the rocky and dangerous territory of a vocation to ordination, he has been at my side, like a personal trainer, urging me on to more of God.
 
One of the CDs inspired by “My Utmost”

I have pressed this book into the hands of many friends over the years. Whether they too, have been enriched and blessed as I have been, by this man after God’s heart, I will never know.  What I do know, is that whatever steep climb or twisty valley you may be travelling, you couldn’t take a more worthy companion. 
I was asked to write this in response to the question “What  one Christian book has influenced you more than any other.. ( apart from the Bible) ”  Would love to hear what books you would name in this category.
 
This post originally appeared on Anita Mathais Blog Dreaming Beneath the Spires  where you can find other book reviews, by her guest bloggers answering this question.

I will restore to you the years the locusts have eaten (Joel 2:25): A Guest Post by Penelope Swithinbank

I can remember how it felt – that walking across the Square, arms stretched long with shopping bags.
I can remember how it felt  – that looking at our church, heart stretched hard and cold with unbelief.
I can remember: before coming to that church the years of losing everything – the business I had started, homes and cars and income, all lost; the worldly stuff I had held so dearly, gone.  Taken by God, vindictively it seemed.But then came this church.  Its large draughty  Victorian Rectory. My life turned upside down and not in the way I wanted. For I had enjoyed my status: 20th century vicar’s wives did not usually head up their own nationwide company. Gone. All gone.
I was tired, so tired of it all.
* * *
But then I remember: that clergy wives’ conference, days after crossing the Square. The reluctant going, the fear of being thought an abject failure, the hesitancy in case someone uncovered my unbelief. A speaker – who was she? And what did she have to say? Lost in time. But then, oh then, another speaker, who spoke creatively, humourously, and who then asked us to stand so the Lord could minister to us.
STAND? My hesitation – what was this about? My desire to melt away and not be part of this. And then finding myself standing, pulled by the Unseen Presence. His Light, flooding the room. His Warmth enveloping me in ways I could not comprehend. His Voice, unheard, speaking into my poor stretched heart: I am here, I am true, I am your strength.  I AM.
Their prayers for me, surrounding me. My tears falling.  Shaking with the overwhelming sense of His being with me. One stood back, pondered, allowed Him to speak through her voice.
“I wonder,” she said, “if this verse might be for you? Somewhere in the Old Testament I think. Words from the Lord.  I will restore to you the years the locusts have eaten.”
They prayed some more. He took those words deep into that cold stretched heart. He promised restoration, things that would replace what was lost, devoured and devastated. A swarm of things new and above what was lost.
So I clung to that verse over the years that were to come. Years with ups and downs, but years of fruitful ministry just as He had promised. A book was published, an international speaking gift confirmed, a ministry ordained. The years lost through unbelief were more than made up for. Always I remembered that verse. He had restored the years the locusts had eaten – and more.
* * *
And then.
Seventeen months ago, my mother died. Swept away. One moment she was there, a feisty ninety-year-young who cared ceaselessly for others, drove old ladies to church, talked non-stop on the phone to her friends and family whenever she could.  Prayed for us all, every day.
And the next she was gone, swept away under the wheels of an out-of-control car.
And I stood there, frozen, helpless. Stunned from having been hit by the same car just a few moments before. Deafened by the shouts and screams and sirens. Deafened by the silent scream inside. And my tears turned to ice and my scream frozen deep within.
She was gone.
I stood at her feet and I tried to pray for her, aloud.  Tried to thank God for all she was and had been to me and others; tried to ask Him to take her to Himself; committed her to the One who loved her the best. And the paramedic had tears in her eyes.  “I’ve never heard anyone pray out loud before,” she said.  “Would you like her teeth? And her watch?”
I took the watch and turned to thank the paramedics and the police and the passersby.  People were so kind; so very kind.
But I was frozen.
For seventeen month now, I have been frozen. Unable to work or to play, to read or to write. Lost, barren, devoured by locusts.
But now. A slow greening of tiny shoots again.
A decision to be grateful in the brokenness.*
A monthly Happiness Project.+
And confirmation from He whom my soul loves, that what has yet again been devoured by locusts will be restored to me.
The verse remembered.
That decision to have a monthly project – for March, to write again.
He promised.  And there was the verse, my verse: on Anita’s tweet. Her invitation on February 29 to write a guest blog.  And on March 1st an offer of a freelance writing project – very small but it’s writing and it’s paid! Unsought, it brought with it His Voice of Promise: I will restore to you the years the locusts have eaten.
Confirmation that my ministry years are not over, as I had feared.
He who has promised is faithful and He will do it. Again and again, whenever it is needed:
“I will restore to you the years the locusts have eaten.” Joel 2:25
*  One Thousand Gifts. Ann Voskamp. Zondervan ( Editor’s note: This book is wonderful, and well worth a look at – link through title)
+ A Happiness Project. Gretchen Rubin. Harper
*******
Penelope Swithinbank
The Revd Penelope Swithinbank is a widely recognized international conference speaker, both for Alpha and for retreats and pilgrimages.   Author of “Women By Design,” she has been involved in ministry for over 30 years, as pastor’s wife, volunteer, and now as a member of the ordained Anglican clergy.  As a young mother she started her own business, “Bumpsadaisy” which she developed into a successful national franchise across the UK, hiring out designer maternity wear.  Later, whilst working virtually full time as a volunteer in the church, she ran a flourishing Bed & Breakfast business to help pay the bills! She has three children and six grandchildren.Penelope  and her husband lived in the USA for six years.  Whilst there, Penelope was firstly Director of C2 Ministries (Community & Connections) at The Falls Church in northern Virginia, and then Interim Rector of The Church of Our Saviour, Johns Island in South Carolina. Now based in London, she runs “Ministries by Design” and leads Retreats and Pilgrimages regularly, and is an Ignatian Spiritual Director, and mentor to younger women clergy.Penelope has a Master of Theology from St Andrews University Scotland, and degrees in both Education and Pastoral Theology from Cambridge University, England. Find full details on the website or follow her on twitter:www.ministriesbydesign.org
@minstriesbydsgnDreaming beneath the Spires
This is a reblog of a guest post on http://dreamingbeneaththespires.blogspot.com/  an excellent blog worth following on twitter or elsewhere. @AnitaMathias1 is a wonderful collector of resources and links as well as being another writer worth reading.

Ten Ideas for Lent

Ten Ideas for Lent. ( from Stephen Cherry’s Blog)

Ten Ideas for Lent

These ideas all all based on my book Barefoot Disciple: Walking the Way of Passionate Humility The Archbishop of Canterbury’s Lent Book 2011

The original plan was to include these ideas in the book but in the end we decided not to. Just as well, probably. Now you can get them without troubling to read it.

Have a great Lent! And if you do nothing else, try number 6.

1. Take Off Your Shoes

We have all walked barefoot and felt the earth beneath our feet. And we all played barefoot when we were children. But have you everprayed barefoot? Do it once and you won’t forget it. It will touch your imagination. Try it out of doors. As you feel the world through the soles of your feet, you will begin to realise the spiritual relevance of the material world. As a barefoot disciple living in a northern country you will, most of the time, be well shod. But if spiritually your feet are bare, you will tread carefully and walk differently. You and your prayer will be earthed, real, humble.

2. Admit a Recent Mistake

Just one will do. Notice when you have made a mistake and own up to it quickly, simply and honestly. And then let it go. Do not seek forgiveness unless the mistake has really hurt someone. If you say ‘sorry’ as a habit, stop it now. You are devaluing the currency. The idea is to acknowledge that you are a mistake-maker for much of the time. This is an exercise in realism and true modesty. Once you have mastered it, you will no longer try to cover up the mistakes you make in daily living. Rather you will find them to be opportunities to learn humility. After a while you might even develop the confidence to begin to address the mistakes for which you really do need to ask forgiveness.

3. Pocket an Insult

The phrase is Ghandi’s. He is a barefoot walker who can speak to us from another faith. It means: ‘do not take an insult personally’, ‘do not take it to heart’, ‘do not react’. But, equally, it does not mean ‘ignore it and it will go away’. Rather, if you are on the receiving end of an insult, it is rarely going to be helpful to react. Instead, pop it into your pocket and, after a while, take it out to see whether it is worth responding to carefully and humbly. Such humility can be determined and powerful, but it is never hot-headed or full of smouldering resentment.

4. Behave as a Child

Jesus says that children are at home in the kingdom of God. And so he wants adults to be childlike. What could be more fun than that! This is your the invitation to let the child within out to play. The child in you is naïve, impulsive, direct, simple, trusting, vulnerable, unsophisticated and unpretentious. Jesus tells us that this is a really most important part of who we are. If the inner child does not thrive then nor do we. Let your inner child out to play. It knows how to live.

5. Step across a Boundary

Visit somewhere that feels a bit scary, uncomfortable or even provocative to you. For many Christian people, a visit to the place of worship of people of another faith is uncomfortable and disorienting enough to wake them up to the fascination, depth and quality of their own faith. So visit a Mosque, Synagogue, Hindu Temple or Sikh Gurdwara. Risk putting yourself in a situation where you know that you will not fully understand what is going on and feel like an outsider. Pay attention to your feelings and let your bewilderment and confusion enhance your learning, your wonder and your enjoyment of the experience. Afterwards try to describe your experiences in a notebook or perhaps to a friend who agrees to step out of his or her comfort zone too.

6. Give up Grumbling

Do you remember Terry Waite’s vow when taken into captivity: ‘no self-pity’? It is a good one but it is far more difficult than we realise. So take the trouble to tune in to the grumbling that you hear around you (and which sometimes comes from your own mouth). It will be difficult to give up grumbling for good, so start by giving it up for Lent. After you have done without it you will wonder why you ever bothered with it. And if you can’t give it up, try to transform it into protest, penitence or petition. You will soon find you have a new passion for both justice and prayer.

7. Practise Hospitality

Take the trouble to notice the people you don’t usually notice. Offer a greeting when others are locked in silence. Learn how to wave in an affirming, positive way. Learn how to smile across a room or make eye-contact across a meeting to support someone who is struggling. You can’t be friends with everyone, but by being friendly you can touch, and perhaps change, many people’s lives and even have an impact on the whole social environment of a neighbourhood. Don’t think that you need to turn your home into a refuge for ex-prisoners in order to exercise true hospitality. Simply take one small but deliberate step in the direction of being more hospitable.

8. Do Something for Someone Else

Do something simple, modest but practical for someone else. It might involve giving someone an unexpected gift or offering to help lift something. Such gratuitous and caring action can touch the heart and imagination and have untold positive repercussions. But don’t be excessive. Don’t take over. Don’t create dependency. Lend a hand but try not to ‘make a suggestion’. It is modest, humble, practical generosity that is called for. Not grand projects or patronising performances.

9. Be Proud of Yourself

Surprised by this suggestion? While bad pride is to be avoided there is such an experience as good pride. It is a very down to earth feeling and we have it when we allow ourselves to look at work well done with kind and straightforward eyes. It is childlike to have good pride, because there is nothing arrogant or conceited in it. Good pride accepts praise gratefully but humbly and allows you to recognise that your efforts are worthwhile and achievements valid. Good pride is not pushy and might be expressed modestly: ‘hmmm, not bad’. It is a good feeling and not only consistent with healthy humility – but a sign of it. Meanwhile try to shake off all forms of bad pride: arrogance, conceitedness and chauvinism. But also try to do away with false modesty. No more ‘little me’, thank you.

10. Encourage Others

Encouraging others is the opposite of criticising them. Whereas criticism comes from meanness of spirit encouragement comes from generosity of spirit. As such it reflects something of God’s love. Also, whereas criticism often comes from envy, encouragement comes from a desire to see others thrive and flourish. Criticism can come from a spirit of competition or fear, whereas to encourage people involves noticing what they are contributing. Tell people you havenoticed the difference that their effort has made or let them see that you acknowledge their difficulty or suffering. We are often a bit stingy with our encouragement, for fear of causing others to swell in pride. The truth is that when encouragement is sincere and appropriately expressed, it nurtures genuine humility. Allow people the joy of feeling truly humbled and really encouraged by what you say.

( Editor’s note – I can thoroughly recommend both this blog and the book Barefoot Disciple The Way of Passionate Humility. Links to both in blue above) 

Treading into the unknown


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.”

These opening lines of a poem by Minnie Louise Haskings, were used in King George VI’s Christmas Radio broadcast at the start of World War II, in 1939 . He used them to speak to a nation and Commonwealth that was facing very uncertain times, in the upheaval of war. His life has been immortalised this year in the very moving film  ‘The King’s Speech’, showing how he faced down his own inner demons and difficulties.

We are again in uncertain times, but the message of this poem seems relevant to me for any year. None of us know what it may contain, nationally, internationally or personally.    I am looking ahead into a year of big changes. A house move, ordination and a new job to adjust to. Somewhere before all that lot, there is a degree to finish.  Fortunately I am one of those oddities who enjoys change and challenge, and am looking forwards to these new directions, but even so, the scale and pace of all this change feels quite daunting at times. What has been on the horizon for a long time, is almost here.

I know that I am not up to what God is asking of me, and never have been, but fortunately He knows that too. I am in good company. Almost everyone God asked to do something for Him in the Bible felt the same way. Moses certainly did.  On one occasion he said to God,  ” You have been telling me  “Lead these people” but you have not let me know whom you will send with me”  and God replies:

“My Presence will go with you, and I will give you rest”   Exodus 33:14 

That is all I ask, and all I need as I set out on this newest adventure with God. I don’t know what else the year may contain, or what may be demanded of me, but I do know that He has promised to be with me every step of it. My prayer like Moses, is for a continual awareness of His Presence, and to be able to rest in His enabling.                       My prayer for me, and my prayer for you.

Looking up

I lift up my eyes to the mountains—
where does my help come from?
My help comes from the LORD,
the Maker of heaven and earth.

Soaring mountains. They draw out the superlatives in us. Majestic. Awe- inspiring. Scary, even. Living among them briefly, last week, did me the power of good. What is it about such stunning beauty that lifts the heart and refreshes the spirit? For me, it is because they shout the glory of the God who made them. They feed my soul. I don’t want to conquer them or climb them. Soaring around their heights would be more my style. I watched hang-gliders do just that, and looked on in wistful wonder. But I was also happy just to sit and feast my eyes on the ever changing lights and shadows and colours. It is a view I would never tire of.

Looking up is always good.  It changes my perspective. Reminds me how little I am, and how big God is.

David ( who wrote alot of the Psalms) and I are old mates. We go way back. A shepherd boy poet/musician who poured out his heart and soul to the God he knew and loved. I could wax lyrical about many of the Psalms he wrote, but I’ll restrain myself to one . Psalm 61. (It is also about mountains.) It burned itself into my consciousness in my early teens.

Hear my cry, O God;

Listen to my prayer.

From the ends of the earth I call to you , when my heart is faint.

Lead me to the rock that is higher than I.

Lead me to the rock that is higher than I. “I” …such a little word. But it can tower over us,  It can block our view of others, and of God and it can certainly dominate our inner landscape.  Whether we view ourselves positively or negatively, self absorption is a habit that is ridiculously hard to shake off.  Young children go through a wonderful stage of unselfconsciousness. They just are. Like flowers or stars or mountains.   Then they start comparing themselves to others ( or are compared) .. and the trouble starts. Before they know it, puberty has hit and self consciousness goes through the roof.

The big ‘Who am I? ‘  questions really  start.. something I think we go on answering for the rest of our lives.  I had a strong sense of self from a very early age. I was one very stroppy toddler I am told ! ( individuating is the child development term… “I can decide things for myself and know where I begin, and others end” or “I can flex my will” )  I didn’t need to be a rebellious teen, I had done it all at 3!  My early teens, however coincided  with me being introduced to the Holy Spirit for the first time. ( God the Father and Son, I had been familiar with since birth). This encounter was in once sense, very ordinary and un-dramatic, and simultaneously, totally life changing. Perhaps I will make that encounter the subject of a blog post one day. The purpose of describing it here, is more about one of the effects.

It made me review myself with fresh eyes. I recognised the strength of my will, and personality, and wanted to reign myself in.  I was too big for me to handle, if that makes sense. Lead me to the rock that is higher than I . I needed to look up. I needed to know that my life rested in bigger, wiser hands than mine. Someone who knew me better than I would ever know myself. Someone who had loved me from my earliest beginnings, and had called me by name.

External pressures can be overwhelming at times, but internal pressures can be even more so. The deep, half hidden pressures we put on ourselves, to perform, to be perfect, to live up to whatever we think or have been made to believe we should be/do… these are just some of them. These are the real stressors, in my experience. They can be what takes the load to breaking point. “From the ends of the earth I call to you when my heart is overwhelmed. Lead me to the rock that is higher than I.

I long to dwell in your tent forever, to take refuge in the shelter of your wings.” Sometimes we need to take refuge from the world, but more often I think, we need to take refuge from ourselves. Our wills, our self consciousness, our inner drivers and pressures. I know I do.        I need to look up . I need to get myself in perspective, and lose myself in the vastness of God.

I lift up my eyes to the mountains—
where does my help come from?
My help comes from the LORD,
the Maker of heaven and earth. ( Psalm 121)

 

Paul Baloche has interpreted Psalm 61 in a song. From a CD called Compassion Art.

Set fire to the rain

Someone at the weekend, recommended that I needed a ‘hard hat’ as I started this new venture in ministry .. good advice, although I prefer to think of it as ducking behind God when the flack starts flying.  Yesterday was a tough one. Nothing earth shattering, – just bone- weary tiredness from too many long days in a row, distorting my perspectives. Having my knuckles rapped by someone I respect, for in effect, colouring outside the lines  ( a particular failing of mine, I admit)  The pressures of an essay due, and no time to write it in, at least not to the standard my ‘recovering perfectionist’ nature  requires. The world can feel very small on days like those, or perhaps it is just me?  My horizons close down and I can only see my feet, or the step or two immediately ahead.

The season of Lent starts tomorrow – six weeks running up to Easter.  A sermon I heard this morning, by our Principal got me thinking. He was talking about how people traditionally give something up for Lent- meat, alcohol or even turnips – which one enterprising parishioner of his,  chose to miss out on for 40 days. Can’t say I’d miss turnips, myself  (and I am not sure he would either).  He also spoke of the more recent development of taking up something – a new discipline of prayer, charitable giving etc.  His point was that perhaps neither of those is most suitable, and suggested a powerful alternative.

Handing over.

Handing over to God those parts of ourselves that we haven’t thus far surrendered. Relationships, hopes, ambitions or whatever we keep discreetly out of the way of God’s searchlight.  It brought to mind a life verse that became very meaningful for me about 5/6 years ago and ever since. It comes from Psalm 5.

” Every morning I lay out the pieces of my life on your altar, and wait for the fire to descend.”   The Message.

Pieces, because that is all I ever have. I never know whether the fire will fall and burn to ashes the precious things I lay there, or whether they will be set alight in a purification process for His glory. I can only offer, trust and wait.

Sometimes however, the pieces are doused in cold water. Perhaps by the world and circumstances, or perhaps by me. Like the altar laid by Elijah on the top of Mount Carmel in a ‘whose God is real’ contest, my offerings are on occasions, damp and soggy. Not very ignitable, to say the least.  But Elijah knew a secret he wasn’t letting on to the prophets of Baal.

His God could set fire to the rain.

Three times he had huge jars of water poured over that altar until it was sodden right through.  “Then the fire of the Lord fell and burned up the sacrifice, the wood, the stones and the soil, and also licked up the water in the trench” 1 Kings 18:38

His God could set fire to the rain.

So as I approach this season of Lent, I will be asking Him what He wants me to lay on the altar, things I may have been holding back. And it doesn’t matter if they come a bit sodden with cold water, because my God can set fire to the rain, and I will be asking Him to do just that.

Bringing out the God colours

“Here’s another way to put it: You’re here to be light, bringing out the God-colours in the world. God is not a secret to be kept. We’re going public with this, as public as a city on a hill. If I make you light-bearers, you don’t think I’m going to hide you under a bucket, do you? I’m putting you on a light stand. Now that I’ve put you there on a hilltop, on a light stand—shine! Keep open house; be generous with your lives. By opening up to others, you’ll prompt people to open up with God, this generous Father in heaven.”  Matthew 5  14-16  The Message

I had to preach on these verses this week to a jury of my peers. A very lovely jury, I have to say, but none the less nerve racking! Scary stuff! I won’t give you what I gave them, but these were the words that grabbed me.  Bringing out the God colours in the world .

That is what God calls me to do. Allow  His sunshine to  flood my being, and try not to get in the way of letting it flow out of me too. Sunshine that lights up the grey and lifeless places, and the dark and lonely places.  In me and in the world around me. In those He brings me alongside, and mingles my life with.   Bringing out the God colours

Be a foil to reflect the Light,  and bring others out in their best colours – the colours that God the Master Artist  painted them in with Love.  I dabble in water colour and scribble in pastels ( when I get time that is) and playing with light and shade and tone is a real joy.

The God I know and love also likes to play. Loves to create- and recreate. Oft times when you are painting, something goes wrong.  It doesn’t turn out the way you planned.  A great artist   (of which I am not!)  can take the mistakes and work them into the picture – an integral part of the whole.  He doesn’t lose patience and get frustrated. He adds more light and sometimes more contrast, and brings up the colours and forms in a whole new perspective.

I am not a Master Artist, but I can be a paintbrush in His hands. I have no radiance in me that is self generated, but I can borrow His sparkle to light up other’s lives.

I don’t know about you, but I like that idea.