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.

Presence

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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.

life-coach-doorway

 

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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Silent Night

Christmas Truce 1914

Christmas Truce 1914

This Christmas Eve, 2014, sees the hundred year anniversary of that strange and wonderful happening – The Christmas Truce. A spontaneous Truce that broke out all along the Western Front, that first Christmas of the Great War, 1914. In many places the opposing trenches were only yards apart, shouting distance across the no go area known as ‘No Man’s Land’ strewn with unburied bodies, excrement and mud. There is so much about ‘The War to end all wars’ that looking back with the retrospectascope of a hundred years, makes us wonder ‘What were they thinking?’….

Thousands of Christmas trees had been shipped to the German Front line. A fictional account which picks up the facts and emotions portrayed in letters from those present as it unfolded gives a sense of the wonder. Phillip Maddison an English soldier in Henry Williamson’s A Fox Under My Cloak, found Christmas Eve to be literally a silent night.

‘His company, under the cover of moonset was to pick its way across the ‘frost-cobbled’ mud with posts, rolls of wirs, hammers and staples, to edge the line forward a few yards. Under the gleaming stars they walked easily. Although they risked being mowed down by machine-gun fire, Maddison ‘rejoiced that he was not afraid’.

Not a sound came from the Germans. The unbelievable became the ordinary, so that they talked as they worked, without caution, while the night passed as in a dream. The moon moved down to the top of the wood behind them; always it seemed, they had been moving bodilessly with their own shadows. Some time in the night Phillip saw what looked like a light on top of a pole put up in the German lines. It was a strange sort of light. It burned almost white, and was absolutely steady. What sort of lantern was it? He did not think much about it; it was part of the strange unreality of the silence of the night, the silence of the moon in the sky, of the silence of the frost mist…

Suddenly there was a short, quick cheer from the German Lines, Hoch! Hoch! Hoch! and with the others he flinched and crouched, ready to fling himself flat; but no shot came. Voices reached them across the dark void of No Man’s land. Then the Scots saw dim figures silhoutted on the German parapet, and about them more lights. With amazement, Maddison realised that a Christmas tree was being set there… They began to hear from the German parapet a rich baritone voice singing ‘Stille Nacht, Helige Nacht’ . The voice came across the mist and ‘It was all so strange; it was like being in another world, to which he had come through a nightmare…

This book is quoted in another called Silent Night, in which ‘acclaimed historian Stanley Weintraub reveals the truth of this inspiring episode and tell the story of those men whose goodwill, humanity and faith all too briefly prevailed over the madness of the Great War’

I will be using this remarkable episode in history woven in with the Christmas services I am taking this year. There is a very obvious correlation, and many gifted people have produced dramas, liturgies and materials to highlight the link for the Centenary.  I also write a poem most Christmases and have for many years now. The following is the result of some of my journeying with centenary commemorations.

Silent Night

Light in the darkness
It started with one.

A flicker of flame against the black of night
A pin-prick of hope in a canvass of hate and fear.
One became another, a host of mystery
Sprinkle of tiny lights
Ribboned out across the Front.

Light in the darkness
It started with one.

One star. One angelic flame fracturing the night.
herald of Hope to a people dwelling in darkness.
one became another, a host of mystery
Holy couriers ablaze
Phosphorescence of grace

Song in the dark
It started with one

A lone voice lifted into the silence, void of guns
Longing for home, a soldier’s strain of Christ child come down
One became another, a host of mystery
As voice echoed voice across
No man’s land, scarred waste of war

Song in the dark
It started with one

Orison of joy sung out to astonished ears
Singing of Home, an angel’s word of Christ child come down
One became another, a host of mystery
Incarnation of Love
God birthed in dung and trench

Light in the dark
It started with One.

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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.

Cascades of Grace

Panning for gold.. I have done it a few times, usually with children- standing with a sieve/pan usually in cold water, scanning through an awful lot of grit and gravel to see if there is the teeniest glint of gold. Didn’t feel dissimilar to what I have spent the last few weeks doing – trawling through many many books for essay research.  I never did find any of the real stuff- but I have this time around.

I am writing about taking a congregation through the sometimes tricky and painful process of change, and looking at the subject from a whole variety of angles.  Fear not, I will not be foisting my essay on an unsuspecting public – but I thought a few of the nuggets I found along the way were definitely worth sharing.  They were worth finding, regardless if I can use them in the essay or not..

John O’Donohue, late poet/writer/thinker/priest, is writing about the intoxicating combination of hope and insight.      “Some of the most decisive moment in one’s life are when someone shows you a new frontier and helps you across into a world of new possibilities and promise. To be helped towards a new way of seeing is to be given access to a whole new world. At its highest point of intensity and possibility Meister Eckhart refers to this as the Birth of God in the Soul” 

“the Birth of God in the Soul” what a wonderful way of expressing it! Perhaps it particularly appeals to me, as a former midwife. Being a ‘spiritual midwife’ is very much part of what I see priesthood being about. Helping to birth God in the souls of others. It was an awesome privilege to deliver each of the  precious babies I brought into the world. A wonder that I never got blasé about.  My last delivery ever, was undiagnosed twins on a GP unit ( the 2nd one, a breech) but that is another whole story.

Going back to nursing, I took up palliative care nursing- very much a type of ‘midwifery’ at the other end of life. Travelling barefoot with individuals and their families on the Holy ground of the approach to death. Both birth and death involve the whole family, and are perhaps the most dramatic points of change that happen to any of us. Both types of midwifery involve reducing the fear, and the pain and retaining as much dignity as possible. Both involved   (for me anyway) staying with the person in and through the pain, physical or psychological. Accompanying with compassion. ( the Latin root of the word compassion means ‘to suffer together with’  . A costly, but precious privilege.

Travelling with individuals and more particularly with whole groups and congregations through the processes of change has many echoes of both sorts of midwifery.  I loved the way Ann Morrisy in the book Journeying Out  uses the phrase ‘cascades of Grace’  to describe what happens when a congregation starts to look and then move outwards into the community, perhaps for the first time.

Willingness to be alongside those who know deeply about struggle, are without power and aware of the possibility of being overwhelmed is what venturesome love is all about.  Community ministry involves the provision of structures that enable people to express venturesome love..”  

And in so doing, so venturing, start off a cascade of grace benefiting everyone involved.  Morrisy also links this with the miracle of the water in to wine.  Likening the church to the worried wedding hosts whose wine is running out.. what do we do?

What do they do? What do the servants do when they are given a nonsensical command by Jesus in response to the predicament? Go and fill up huge water jars with water ( no mean feat and involving a fair bit of work and effort) and then serve them up as if they were wine.  And behold, their obedience, their willingness to ‘journey out’ of common sense and comfort zones  result in the finest of wines  being available in abundance.  A cascade of grace. God’s extravagance revealed in the first miracle.

Returning to where I started.. crossing frontiers, entering new worlds. A wondrous but often frightening experience. In morning prayer today, the Old Testament passage was from Joshua chapter 1 . Joshua is about to take the people of Israel across the Jordan, into an unknown land. God speaks to him and says:

“I will not fail you or forsake you. ..Be strong and courageous; do not be frightened or dismayed. For the Lord your God is with you wherever you go. “

Only thing that counts.

All in a name


It was dark in the garden. It was dark in her heart. She had known plenty darkness before. The cold, eclipse of rejection. The pitch black of shame. The midnight of self hatred. But none like this. This was worse than all of those combined. Hope had been hammered out of her with the nails that they had roughly banged into his already broken, feet and hands. Even now, she didn’t know how she had stood there, and watched them do that to Him, except that she couldn’t tear herself away. The excruciating anguish of seeing his agony, and being helpless to do anything to help him, had torn her apart. That was Friday. A blur of pain and fire. Saturday she had been mute with grief, unable to think, or take anything else in. This morning she had forced her exhausted body to move. There was one more thing she could do for him.

This time, no one would see her, and criticize. No mocking words or sneers. She would pour her love  out for him for the last time. She would tenderly anoint his beloved, broken body with precious perfumed oils. This time, however, he would not smile at her. His scarred face would be still. His extraordinary eyes would be dull and closed forever.

She didn’t know how she was going to get past the guards, hadn’t a clue how she would move the stone with which they they had sealed his tomb. Nothing would stop her though. If it was the last thing she did, she would say her goodbye, and prepare his body properly for burial. That was the least she could do. What more had she got to lose?

Finding her way to the place she had seen his body hastily dumped, before the onset of the Sabbath, she was stopped in her tracks. They had taken even this last goodbye. Guards gone, the tomb gaping in yawning emptiness. They couldn’t even leave his body to rest in peace. Anger and confusion spurred her feet as she ran back to tell Peter and John of this final desecration. They ran too, looked and left. Unable to deal with themselves, unable to deal with her. She was left, and like at the foot of his cross, she couldn’t tear herself away, even though there was nothing to stay for. Nothing to live for. The tears flowed, as she wept for all that might have been. She had never known love and acceptance as this Man had showed her. Never experienced forgiveness and heartbreaking mercy that lifted her out of the dust, and breathed new life into her beaten down soul. She had watched him do it for so many others too, but now all that was gone.

The tomb was empty. The beloved body stolen, who knows where. She shuddered to think what they might have done with him. As if they hadn’t done enough. She looked again into the hollowed out space in the rock, wondering if she might at least gather his grave clothes. There were two men sitting in there, where his head and feet would have been. She couldn’t take in who they might be or why they were there. They asked her a stupid question.

Why are you crying?

WHAT ELSE DO YOU DO AT A GRAVE?!” she wanted to shout at them- “ isn’t it obvious?!”  “They have taken him away, and I have lost- everything”  She turned away – unable and unwilling to engage. Lost in her loss.

The sun was just rising, lifting over the city and bathing her in light. The light hurt almost more than the darkness. Another day. Another day he would never see. She folded in on herself.

There was a sound close by. A footstep. Suddenly concious of another person , who as she looked up, was standing in the brightness of the dawn. She could only see his outline, framed with light, and blurry with her tears.

Why are you weeping?”  the same question.

Gently and compassionately asked with a voice that sounded as if it cared about the answer.

Who are you looking for?” 

He could only be the gardener, but the question  reached right into her being. Right into the depths of her pain. Somewhere deep inside, in the darkness, there was the faintest glimmer of light.

If you know where he is, if you have moved him- tell me”  she pleaded. There was just a whisper of a chance she would find his body, after all.

He didn’t answer and she still couldn’t see his face, or read his expression. Silence. A pause in which the world turned, and her heart lifted towards hope, against herself.

Mary” 

No one else said it like that. No one else had ever put such unconditional love into the simple saying of her name. That beloved voice called her a second time out of a nightmare     of darkness, bringing her back to life.  It couldn’t possibly be – and yet it was. She had been looking for a corpse, and she had found a living Lord, who knew her, and called her by name.

Rabbouni!”   was all she had breath to say. She fell at his feet. The feet she had anointed with her tears; the feet she had seen hammered to the rough wood of the cross. Reaching out to hold them – she wanted to stay in this moment forever. Be sure it was real. That he was real. That her teetering mind hadn’t tipped finally, over the edge.

Gentle hands lifted her up. His smile was as wide as the sea, and the eyes she thought had closed for ever, twinkled with life and laughter. A name, a smile. A smile that reached out and found all the shattered pieces of her heart, and drew them together again, into a new whole.

Now go– and tell my brothers who you have seen”  he asked of her. Be the one to tell them I am alive. Be the Hope Bearer. Turn their lives upside down, as yours has been.

She didn’t hesitate. Carrying the good news- she ran with joy, in the glory of the rising sun, that was lighting up the world.