Logging off for Lent

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

Simplifying THE SOUL Lenten Practices to Renew Your Spirit. 

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

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

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

 

Where to from here? (Home by another way)

The Christmas story can seem, or become a very cozy one. We associate it with children and nativity plays with wonky halos and baby dolls. The Christmas card industry has added to the soft focused glow, a thousand fold.

Then in comes Matthew with a very different, mysterious, disturbing story. Nothing about it is comfortable or cozy , and it leaves a trail of questions in its wake….

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Who were these wise men? Why did they leave their homes to travel so far on so little information? What did they think they would find at the end of their journey? What was it about the young child Jesus that brought them to their knees?

We don’t know a great deal about them, but it seems they weren’t worried by mysteries they didn’t have all the answers to. They were Seekers, following an unusual star, following their dreams and an inner call they probably couldn’t explain.  Whatever else they had , they had a huge capacity for wonder.

Wonder is something every child is born with, and somehow as we grow up and become more worldly wise, we use the gift less and less, leaving it behind like a toy we don’t need anymore in our grown up world. And yet wonder is a profound threshold to experiencing God. It opens our soul to hearing His voice, feeling His touch and sensing his Presence. We suddenly sense we are standing on Holy Ground and can exclaim like Jacob, waking up from his dream of a stairway to heaven. ” Surely God is in this place and I knew it not! ” The ordinary becomes transformed as we see things in a new light.

Wonder

What makes room for wonder in your life?

What dreams have you had in the past that you may now have tidied away to a safe cupboard ?

Have you ever thought you heard God call you to something…but then thought maybe you just made it up ? Or it was just foolishness .. But somehow if you listen very carefully there is  still the faintest of whispers?

Dare you listen again?

The wise men challenge us afresh each year with their simple faith as they set out with a pocketful of dreams, and only the very vaguest idea where they were going.

Where is God calling us to go with Him in this New Year that stretches ahead of us?

What journeys would He have us travel with Him?

Are we willing to leave to leave our familiar, inherited boundaries, to find God in ways and places we did not expect?

The wise men could have stayed star gazers, observing the unusual star and studying its progress from the comfort of their own homes, palaces and borders. It could have been simply an interesting intellectual exercise for them.  That would have been the sensible thing for them to do. But they listened with their hearts and knowledgeable as they were, they didn’t let their heads get in the way. They got involved. Upped sticks and set out eager to see for themselves, fuelled by a desire to worship even though they weren’t sure who they were going to find. They didn’t have God sewn up in a neat and tidy box. Surprise was part of the deal. Their journey had some very unexpected twists, and yet they kept following.

Jesus, when they found him, may not have been the just-born child in the manger- he may have been anything up to two years old ~ but I hardly think a peasant baby or toddler was what they were anticipating , or to whom they  thought they would present their gifts. (They had headed straight to Herod’s palace in Jerusalem, first off, looking for a King.)

Nevertheless their response isn’t cautious or skeptical – it is spontaneous and childlike. They were overjoyed. Crown of the head to the tip of the toes sort of joy. The Greek word is apparently the same as that used for lambs skipping and bounding.

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Awe-filled, they simply fall to their knees, casting dignity and status aside they bow before him and worship. Grown ups don’t do that. Grown ups of riper years certainly don’t do that.  But these were grown ups who had never grown up. Never lost their curiosity or wonder, and willingness to take risks. They knew that growing old was inevitable, but also that growing up was optional.

They offered him the best they had. Costly gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh.

Gold- perhaps signifying his Kingship, Frankincense – the precious & costly oil associated with priesthood and worship. It is the main component of all incense used in churches down the centuries and in the temple mentioned throughout the Bible..        They also offered Myrrh – another costly essential oil, used for healing and for anointing the dead, perhaps pointing towards his death certainly the only time he received his title, King of the Jews was when he was hanging half dead on a cross, wearing his crown of thorns- the only crown this world ever gave him.)

They came to worship– and the literal translation of that word means ‘come forward to kiss. That is what we do when we offer God our worship – in prayer and in the service of our lives – we ‘come forward to kiss’ him.

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We worship God in church of course, but the word is SO much bigger than that. We worship with our lives as we give our whole selves to Him.

Romans 12 v, 1 says this : “So here is what I want you to do, God helping you. Take your everyday, ordinary life- your sleeping, eating, going to work, and walking around life- and place it before God as an offering. Embracing what God does for you is the best thing you can do for him” (Message)

The Magi gave him costly gifts, and God asks us to give him our whole lives as worship to Him- allowing Him into all of it- not just the Sunday part. He asks for the ordinary – in order to turn our water into wine – with his grace and power. He wants to transform us into the new wine of His Kingdom poured out for others, just as he poured out himself for us.

And so we come full circle. The Christmas story isn’t cozy. It isn’t the comfortable, health and safety approved scenes we get on all lot of our cards. No, it is a  tale of mystery and disturbing, unanswered questions. But it  definitely IS a place for children – children of all ages, wide eyed with wonder.

Beckoning God-

Who called the rich to travel towards poverty,

The wise to embrace your foolishness,

The powerful to know their own frailty;

Who gave to strangers a sense of homecoming in an alien land

And to star gazers true light and vision as they bowed to earth-

We lay ourselves open to your signs for us.

Stir up in us a holy wonder. A longing and a listening ear to hear your faintest whisper.

Open our minds to your mysteries and disturb us afresh from our comfortable certainties about ourselves and about you.

Give us the hearts of a child and help us to discover you in places we hadn’t thought of looking before.

Rise within us like a star

And make us restless

Till we journey forth

To seek our rest in you.

The following is an Epiphany Hymn, written by the Revd Canon Sue Wallace, to the tune of I vow to thee my country. 

Epiphany

O Christ, You came from Heaven to Earth,

Infinity made small

Revealing Heaven’s surprising plans,

You show God’s face to all.

We offer You our gold,

(That is we crown You as our king).

The incense of our worship, a fragrant offering.

And with myrrh we’ll touch the wounded ones

With precious healing balm

Be your eyes and ears and healing hands

To comfort those who mourn.

We have looked for love and seen its face,

Within a loveless world,

And to those who hope for happiness

A sign has been revealed

For we saw Your star while searching,

And we found You in our lives

And Your legend took on flesh,

Your reality arrives.

Even now You guide the travellers,

Through dangerous dark lands.

Till the day we reach our Heavenly home

Held safe within Your hands.

Christ You dived into our water

and you made our water pure

And You lived within our tangled lives

and made them so much more

For the hand of God has touched us,

Bringing Christ into this place

And there’s hope for each culture,

Each nation, every race

And the baby grows and shows us

The true face of the Divine

For we simply lived on water

Yet you turned it into wine.

You can listen to her sing it here.

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Journey to joy

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Gaudete Sunday. Avent 3.

How do you get to joy when three days ago you buried a much loved pillar of the church and community, our churchwarden, Diana? How do you do the journey to joy in the tears, the the dark days and the loss?  The following is my sermon from this morning, as I tried to answer..

(The readings from this am were Isaiah 61.1-4,8-end 1 Thessalonians 5.16-24 and Gospel John 1: 6-8, 19-28)

Isaiah 61 (NRSV)

61 The spirit of the Lord God is upon me,
    because the Lord has anointed me;
he has sent me to bring good news to the oppressed,
    to bind up the brokenhearted,
to proclaim liberty to the captives,
    and release to the prisoners;
to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor,
    and the day of vengeance of our God;
    to comfort all who mourn;
to provide for those who mourn in Zion—
    to give them a garland instead of ashes,
the oil of gladness instead of mourning,
    the mantle of praise instead of a faint spirit.
They will be called oaks of righteousness,
    the planting of the Lord, to display his glory.
They shall build up the ancient ruins,
    they shall raise up the former devastations;
they shall repair the ruined cities,
    the devastations of many generations.

For I the Lord love justice,

    I hate robbery and wrongdoing;[b]
I will faithfully give them their recompense,
    and I will make an everlasting covenant with them.
Their descendants shall be known among the nations,
    and their offspring among the peoples;
all who see them shall acknowledge
    that they are a people whom the Lord has blessed.
10 I will greatly rejoice in the Lord,
    my whole being shall exult in my God;
for he has clothed me with the garments of salvation,
    he has covered me with the robe of righteousness,
as a bridegroom decks himself with a garland,
    and as a bride adorns herself with her jewels.
11 For as the earth brings forth its shoots,
    and as a garden causes what is sown in it to spring up,
so the Lord God will cause righteousness and praise
    to spring up before all the nations.

1 Thessalonians 5:16-24New Revised Standard Version (NRSV)

16 Rejoice always, 17 pray without ceasing, 18 give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you. 19 Do not quench the Spirit. 20 Do not despise the words of prophets,[a] 21 but test everything; hold fast to what is good; 22 abstain from every form of evil.

23 May the God of peace himself sanctify you entirely; and may your spirit and soul and body be kept sound[b] and blameless at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ.              24 The one who calls you is faithful, and he will do this.

You shall go out with joy.

We sang that through our tears on Thursday. It was Di’s favourite hymn and she would have loved it that we sung it as she left this place. Paul in writing to his beloved brothers and sisters in Thessalonica is for once in his life very succinct, in the passage we have today. You will be glad to hear that I intend to follow suit..

Paul fires off 8 imperatives in 7 short verses and they could sum up all of his many many words and teaching about the wholeness that is at the heart of our life of faith. Wholeness, because if you over emphasise one aspect without the others you can end up on the floor.

3 legged stool

 I made this stool in a woodwork class, some years back, from scratch. Turning the legs and cutting and shaping the seat. It is just a humble 3 legged stool. Nothing fancy. Nothing complicated. But I had to make sure that all the legs were exactly the same length and that I made 3 of them. A two legged stool is a much use as a chocolate tea pot! Like I said, you can end up on the floor.

God who loves each of us so much, so longs for wholeness in our lives. Longs to touch our spirits, souls and bodies with his Peace, his Spirit and his Joy.

Paul starts with Joy. The three legs of his stool are joy, prayer and thanksgiving.

He tells his friends to start with joy. Joy as the fire in the steam engine of their lives that drives the rest. Using that analogy. Perhaps the water is prayer and the coal needed to keep that fire burning is thanksgiving… I don’t know a lot about steam trains – but I do know that shovelling coal is hard work! It also needs to keep happening or the train will simply grind to a halt.

I have a thing about 3’s this am, and the Trinity are of course the most important. 3 legs of a stool. 3 initials that should be applied to any and every sermon (by the preacher) YBHYES, BUT HOW?

HOW do you rejoice when your heart is broken or heavy? When you are tired and there is simply too much too do, and no time or energy to do it all in? When your faith is wobbly, and you are not sure where you are going anymore?

HOW do you give thanks in all circumstances .. ALL circumstances? What planet are you on, Paul? You can’t mean that, surely.

HOW can you pray without ceasing when you can’t find the words, or they stick in your throat or you want to shout rather than pray?

If I want to stand on this stool, I have to make sure it is set on a firm foundation. Slide your eyes down to the last verse of our passage to the Thessalonians..

The One who calls you is faithful, and he will do this.

THAT is how. We can’t do it by ourselves. We can’t pull ourselves up by our bootlaces and make ourselves joyful, prayerful or thankful. But we have a God of Peace who wants to ground the very depths of our being in his LOVE and Faithfulness. Spirit of the Living God, fall afresh on me.. (we sang this prior to the Gospel reading)Touch me with your holy fire and set me alight , spirit, soul and body. Paul tells us not to quench the Spirit, because he knows that it is ONLY through the Holy Spirit that we can have joy, peace and thankful hearts. The other name for the Holy Spirit is Comforter. Jesus said he would not leave us alone, but would send us a Comforter. The Bayeaux tapestry has a picture of King Harold poking a spear at one of his soldiers – with the heading Harold comforteth his troops” The old English meaning of the word – encompassing comfort, encouragement, enabling.. but it can often feel like anything but- like a poke with a sharp stick!

How do we give thanks in all circumstances .. only because we know that God can use and transform even the toughest of circumstances for good. The sharpest, most pointy things can be used by him for good. Please note that I AM NOT saying that God sends hard things for our good. I am saying that if we offer those hard things to him he can transform them and us. There is a saying that goes: Life is 10% what happens to us, and 90% how we react to that 10%.                                                                                       We can react with bitterness, the oh,so dangerously, slippery slope of self pity, or by walling ourselves off from God or other people. OR with the help of God’s Spirit we can come to him Just as we are.(Opening hymn) On any given day. UP, down or in between. Fearful, doubtful, tired. Just as we are. We come. We come to the one with nail pieced hands who comes in to the darkest of places and sits with us.

I cannot tell how silently He suffered,
  As with His peace He graced this place of tears,
Or how His heart upon the Cross was broken,
  The crown of pain to three and thirty years.
But this I know, He heals the broken-hearted,
  And stays our sin, and calms our lurking fear,
And lifts the burden from the heavy laden,
  For yet the Saviour, Saviour of the world, is here.   (Closing Hymn)

We will sing those beautiful words at the end of our service this morning.                      ‘The Saviour of the world is here.’ 

Emmanuel. God with us. In it all. The hard bits, the good bits, the boring drudgery bits and the rest.

Emanuel. God with us -spirit, soul and body.  Touching our weary spirits with his peace, lifting our heavy souls and carrying us, in his faithfulness, fuelling our flagging bodies with his joy.

1 Thessalonians 5 (The Message) 

23-24 May God himself, the God who makes everything holy and whole, make you holy and whole, put you together—spirit, soul, and body—and keep you fit for the coming of our Master, Jesus Christ. The One who called you is completely dependable. If he said it, he’ll do it!

Amen.

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Called by name

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Somewhere, under those very many, outstretched hands, is me.

It is a picture of the moment of my ordination as a priest in the Anglican Church. Under those hands, I was trembling like a leaf. A precious, holy moment, that I will never forget for the rest of my life. It still makes me tremble to look at the photo and remember. I hope it always does.

The next day, I was given another awe-filled, humbling privilege. I presided at the Eucharist for the very first time in the church in which I serve. It was an immensely moving occasion. I had been given leave to put the liturgy, readings and music together, and friends and family all took part. My husband, who is a Reader, preached. His words last Sunday morning, are what follows.

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“The gifts he gives are that some would be apostles, some prophets, some evangelists, some pastors, some teachers, (why?) to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ.” Ephesians 4:11

A few years ago the driving test had an additional part added to the theory test, referred to as hazard perception, the skill to look ahead and see what might happen in order to take avoiding action…

I think I may fail this test.
A few years ago now, I married a gorgeous nurse, who became a midwife, and then a mother, and then a palliative care nurse, but (as we have sometimes joked with each other,) we certainly didn’t see this one coming all those years ago!

And yet, it has always been the desire of both of us, to serve God in whatever way He wanted us to do. It can be quite scary to abandon ourselves completely to God’s will.

Yesterday Ruth reached a mile stone on the journey. A most significant moment in time- the end of a long journey, the fulfilment of a calling, but just the beginning of another journey, whose route and course has yet to be revealed. However, we do know that He who has called, is faithful and true, and will see this through to completion.

Today we celebrate with her, as she for the first time, stands as God’s representative to consecrate bread and wine into Holy Gifts of Christ’s body and blood, and shares these spiritual gifts with us. She will then stand as his representative in calling God’s blessing onto us.

Ruth choose the readings today very carefully, as they reflect her journey, and as you can see there is a clear link and theme between them.

Jeremiah 1: 4-9

Jeremiah’s Call and Commission

Now the word of the Lord came to me saying,

‘Before I formed you in the womb I knew you,
and before you were born I consecrated you;
I appointed you a prophet to the nations.’

Then I said, ‘Ah, Lord God! Truly I do not know how to speak, for I am only a boy.’ But the Lord said to me,

‘Do not say, “I am only a boy”;
for you shall go to all to whom I send you,
and you shall speak whatever I command you.
Do not be afraid of them,
for I am with you to deliver you,
says the Lord.’

Then the Lord put out his hand and touched my mouth; and the Lord said to me,

‘Now I have put my words in your mouth.

Psalm 139 : 13-18

For it was you who formed my inward parts;
    you knit me together in my mother’s womb.
I praise you, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made.
    Wonderful are your works;
that I know very well.
    My frame was not hidden from you,
when I was being made in secret,
    intricately woven in the depths of the earth.
Your eyes beheld my unformed substance.
In your book were written
    all the days that were formed for me,
    when none of them as yet existed.
How weighty to me are your thoughts, O God!
    How vast is the sum of them!
I try to count them—they are more than the sand;
    I come to the end—I am still with you.
Ephesians 4: 11-16

The gifts he gave were that some would be apostles, some prophets, some evangelists, some pastors and teachers, to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ, until all of us come to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to maturity, to the measure of the full stature of Christ. We must no longer be children, tossed to and fro and blown about by every wind of doctrine, by people’s trickery, by their craftiness in deceitful scheming. But speaking the truth in love, we must grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ, from whom the whole body, joined and knitted together by every ligament with which it is equipped, as each part is working properly, promotes the body’s growth in building itself up in love.
Mark 9: 33-37

Who Is the Greatest?

Then they came to Capernaum; and when he was in the house he asked them, ‘What were you arguing about on the way?’ But they were silent, for on the way they had argued with one another about who was the greatest. He sat down, called the twelve, and said to them, ‘Whoever wants to be first must be last of all and servant of all.’Then he took a little child and put it among them; and taking it in his arms, he said to them, ‘Whoever welcomes one such child in my name welcomes me, and whoever welcomes me welcomes not me but the one who sent me.’

But as we look at these more closely, I want us all to realise and take on board that what I am about to say applies to us all. Some have been called to the priesthood, some to a whole variety of other things. It is important for each of us to seek and know, that we are fulfilling that to which we have been called, as ALL HAVE BEEN CALLED.

The first two readings could be summarised in the following words;
known, formed, called, consecrated, (set apart), prepared, anointed (equipped).

Ruth has shared with me the sense she has of knowing this was what she was meant to be. God has known this, and of course known her, from before she came into being. Her life to this point has been a time of preparation, walking along a prepared path, right and fulfilling , but points on a road, and not the destination.

path-2

Like any journey, some bits are easy going and some are very tough, and we want to give up, we get major set backs, we doubt, we want to turn back to safety and security.
What is important for us to know, is that this journey for any of us is not unaccompanied. God is with us, beside us and like that poem ‘Footsteps,’ sometimes we are carried, but don’t know it.

The calling of Jeremiah, also shows us how none of us can do anything without the anointing and empowering of God the Holy Spirit, any of us who preach will tell you that almost every time we get up to preach we ask
“What am I doing? Who am I, to be standing before God’s people and preaching?

And the answer is always very clear.
“Because I have called you and anointed you to preach my words, I have put my words in your mouth”

The problem of calling is that we all have choice. we can choose to accept that calling, but of course we can say also say no. The ‘no’ maybe for all sorts of reasons- we only need to look at Moses, Isaiah and Jeremiah to name but three, who wriggled and wrestled said “I can’t do that, sent someone else”
There can be a host of reasons why any of us may turn away from our true calling and purpose.

Lets go back to preparation, what I referred to previously as ‘the journey’. This can be long, hard and frustrating. I promised to not to say how old Ruth is, but the journey has been..shall we say, a while…
Was the time before this, wasted? Absolutely not. It was all part of preparation and all part of the priest that is now with us.
I was struck forcibly by the screamingly obvious point, that Jesus, the Son of God waited for thirty years before his ministry started.

What was going on in his life during those years? We know very little, other than a few glimpses- a twelve year old in the temple, for example, but we can be sure he was being prepared for the right time, of what was to be a very short ministry. Clergy often say how brief a curacy is, ‘what can you do in three years?’
Well, Jesus did quite a lot!
Known….formed…..set apart(consecrated)….called(choice)……prepared…..anointed (equipped)

Then comes two more highly significant points. The disciples were arguing about who was the greatest.. you know the sort of thing.. “Is it the Rector, or the Archdeacon or ..perhaps the Bishop? ”

Jesus makes this profound statement, which was the foundation of the Kingdom, an upside down principle of power and authority.

Whoever wants to be first, must be last of all, and the servant of all.
The servant King who was the Son of God, yet  he washed his disciples feet, the job of the lowliest servant.

The call to service in God’s kingdom must surely be that of being the servant of all.    The greatest is the least.

baby hand

To come back to where I started, in the reading from Paul’s letter to the church in Ephesus…

As a doctor I have always loved Paul’s illustration of the body. We all, as individuals makes up the body of Christ, and like the human body all the different bits have different functions, but all are important for the health and function of the body.

I have always had a little chuckle at the arrogance of doctors, I was taught at medical school that the tonsils had no function, along with adenoids and appendixes for that matter, yet we now know they serve an invaluable role in teaching the immune systems to respond to a raft of infections, and the body, whilst it can function without them, is not quite as good as it was with them.

I have realised every bit of the human body is important, however small and seemingly insignificant, and if we don’t know what it does, it’s only because we haven’t found out yet. So it is with the church.

Every bit of the body has a function and purpose, and plays a part in the whole, and it is no good trying to be a different part of the body. Imagine if the ears suddenly thought ‘we would like to be toes’. We would have a lot of trouble walking, let alone trying to hear when we had shoes and socks on!

So, God has given that some would be apostles, some prophets, some evangelists, some pastors, some teachers. This list is,of course, for illustration and is not exhaustive.

As we celebrate Ruth reaching this fulfilment of calling, and the beginning of the next part of the journey, let us all ask ourselves and ask God:

For what purpose have I been known, formed, set apart, called, prepared and equipped? And where on that journey am I ? Do I have no idea why I have been formed? Do I think so little of myself that I can’t see God has any purpose for me?
Have I been called, but not responded?

What I am sure of, is all have been called, not all have responded, and all of us are still a ‘work in progress’ .

Are we ready to seek God, for our calling? Are we ready to be called off the road we are on, onto a completely different one? Or are we ready to stay on the road we are on, even if we don’t want to be on it?

The body has many parts, some seem to be more prominent and important than others but ALL parts are essential for health and proper function of the body of Christ.

As Paul says, this calling is to equip the saints for the work of ministry for building up the body of Christ, until all of us come to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to maturity, to the measure of the full stature of Christ.

Today we celebrate Ruth’s journey from beginning to now, watched over throughout by her (and our) loving Heavenly Father. We commit her to God, continuing that journey with her, knowing He is faithful and true.

Let us also pause and consider our own journeys and our own calling, and listen together as a body, the body of Christ.

‘It takes courage to grow up and become who you really are, the privilege of a lifetime is being who you really are.’ E.E. Cummings

I pray that our prayer today would be;

Lord here I am, wholly available to you. Take me and use me as you choose, for your purpose and for building up your kingdom, as I find and function in my place as a part of the whole body.
Let me always be a servant of all.

Between worlds

Leaving people and places is hard. No matter how many times I have done it, (and that would be allot) it doesn’t get any easier. When you throw your self in deep, as I tend to do, you give away your heart. When it is time to go, extricating that same heart is impossible without leaving pieces of it behind. It is a tearing process.

 Two years at theological college have come to an end. I have written about Liminal Spaces and Transitions before, and pointed out that the word liminal means threshold. The journey towards ordination is full of liminal spaces, so I ought to be used to it by now. In the early stages of exploring vocation you are mostly on your own, reflecting with professional guides, turning over the stones of your life thus far, with the timing and direction of your future, firmly in other’s hands. It can be a lonely journey. Coming to theological college is yet a different sort of liminality. This time it is shared by a close community of others, all going through a similar set of experiences. The courses and placements vary of course, but living and praying together, sharing the academic and formational pressures brings a special sort of bond. An understanding at deep levels.    The college community was from a wide range of backgrounds, ages and eccelesiology , which adds hugely to the rich experience, but also adds challenges, as we all have a part of shaping each other’s lives, consciously or unconsciously. Not everyone experiences living in community as a positive experience, but my gregarious, extravert nature loved it. I learnt as much, if not more, from my fellow students than I did from my tutors, books or courses, stretching and growing me as a person. Precious memories. Precious people, for whom I am very thankful. The friendships I have made, I will take with me of course, but the unique community I was a part of for two years, is no more. Even now, new students are packing up their lives, preparing to move and wondering nervously what might lie ahead. These, and the students whose courses mean that they will remain studying for the next year or two, will form a new community which will inevitably have a different shape and feel.

The leave taking was done beautifully and symbolically within the rich context of a EucharistEucharisteo = thanksgiving. The stoles with which we will be ordained in a week’s time were laid on the altar and blessed, then given to us by our personal tutors. The liturgy was creatively put together by students. We were given a book and a glazed pottery cross  (shown above), made by a skilled fellow student. (the heart was received at the Federation Commendation service earlier that week).  We were prayed for and then processed out from church to college. It was an immensely moving service, and there were plenty of tears. I  cried through all of it, seeing these people and their families whose lives had been woven so deeply with mine. A good friend carried his newborn daughter with immense pride and joy, to receive communion/ blessing from the principal who was celebrating and my heart turned over. The service was followed by a wonderful party, enjoyed outside, on an unexpectedly dry and sunny evening (against all forecasts).

Leaving over, we were spun out country wide, into yet another liminal space of waiting. No longer an ordinand in training, and not yet a Deacon.  No longer part of the ‘old’ community and not yet a part of the new. I have moved to the benefice (group of churches) in which I will serve as curate, but it is not general practice to attend these churches prior to ordination. To extend and analogy I used in my last post, Stepping Stones, it is as if we are pushed off the last stepping stone into the cold water and have to swim and climb out onto the bank.  A spin cycle of emotions, combining with the exhaustion of  the efforts of recent weeks  to organise a move and finish academic work simultaneously, gives it a very strange feel. Looking forwards, looking backwards and trying to process it all.  The church wisely provides a time in which to do this. For four days before the ordination I will go into silent retreat, my family and friends not seeing/hearing from me until I appear in the cathedral procession at the start of the service.  I can’t predict how I shall be feeling at that point, but that my heart will be full, I have no doubt. Like my marriage, it is an intensely personal moment shared in a very formal setting and witnessed by family and friends. A moment of consecration and line crossing; of saying my YES to God publicly and symbolically.

O Lord, you have searched me and known me.

You know when I sit down and when I rise up;

You discern my thoughts from far away.

You search out my path and my lying down, and are aquainted with all my ways.

Even before a word is on my tongue, O Lord, you know it completely.

You hem me in, behind and before, and lay your hand upon me. 

Such knowledge is too wonderful for me;

it is so high that I cannot attain it. 

Psalm 139 v.1-6  NRSV