Reflections on logging off for Lent

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

DD3E2A1F-1D8C-42FD-9592-D9E766F493A4

I pause

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

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

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

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

It was time

img_2420

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

 

Deep Roots

image

Deep Roots ..

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

Psalm 92 

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

“How do we stay evergreen?

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

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

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

deep Roots

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

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

image

I found much richness in its imagery.

Flourishing in sunshine and shadow, light and dark.

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

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

image

The words that came instantly were

in the middle of something Big

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

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

stretching out into the distance..

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

image

image

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

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

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

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

The Prayer
He kneeled down

dismissing his orisons

as inappropriate; one by one

they came to his lips and were swallowed

but without bile.

He fell back

on an old prayer: Teach me to know

what to pray for. He

listened; after the weather of

his asking, no still, small

voice, only the parade

of ghosts, casualties

of his past intercessions. He

Held out his hands, cupped

as though to receive blood, leaking

from life’s side. They

remained dry, as his mouth

did. But the prayer formed:

Deliver me from the long drought

of the mind. Let leaves

from the deciduous Cross

fall on us, washing

us clean, turning our autumn

to gold by the affluence of their fountain.

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

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

He told the story of Abba Lot ..

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

image

Journey to joy

282286654

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.

personroots

Hildegarde of Bingen ‘A feather on the breath of God’

A feather on the breath of God

If ever a woman in history has captured my imagination it is Hildegarde. She defies all ‘boxes’ and perhaps that is significant in her attraction. This extraordinarily gifted woman born in 1100, in Bermersheim, Germany was given to the church at the age of eight. The tenth child of Hildebert of Bermersheim and Mechthild of Merxheim, she was promised as a tithe to the church from her birth. She was later to become an abbess. The book Hildegard of Bingen, The woman of her age, by Fiona Maddocks  speaks of the multiplicity of her gifts.

‘Today she is best known for her music. Yet her compositions form only a small part of her story. She was a polymath: a visionary, a theologian, a preacher; and early scientist and physician; a prodigious letter writer who numbered kings, emperors and popes among her correspondents. She an artist, not only in the musical and literary sense but in painting and, it would seem, architecture. She even invented her own coded language.’

She inspires and intrigues me. The name of the blog is taken from phrase she used to describe herself. See About & Ruach Yahweh

” Listen ; there was once a king sitting on his throne. Around him stood great and wonderfully beautiful columns ornamented with ivory, bearing the banners of the king with great honour. Then it pleased the king to raise a small feather from the ground and he commanded it to fly. The feather flew, not because of anything in itself, but because the air bore it along. Thus am I ‘a feather on the breath of God'”

She designed one of her monasteries- with plumbing- recommending her nuns to take hot baths… she purportedly invented dark beer; she wrote extensively on plants, animals, illnesses  and cures describing cancer and its development in great detail, even devoting a whole chapter to breast cancer. ‘According to Hildegarde, the key to successful cancer treatment therapy was early detection and treatment beginning in the pre-cancerous state.’ Hildegarde of Bingen’s Medicine Dr Wighard Strehlow & Gottfried Herzka M.D. 

She wrote about sex, female orgasm and in common with the Greek physician, Galen, believed that both men and women produced ‘seed’ necessary for conception. Her compassionate views on menstruation were that ‘the woman should be cherished in this time with a great and healing tenderness’. All astonishing insights from a chaste nun in the 12th century.

She had a wide ranging knowledge of the created world, and her entire theology is founded on the harmony of the created world and its relationship with God. She was a very early Green in her passion in this regard. Her cherished concept of viriditas, translated variously as greeness, vigour, youthful freshness runs through all of her writings, poetry and music.

Malcolm Guite, a poet priest has written the following poem about Hildegard of Bingen which appears in his book of poetry, The Singing Bowl which is due to be published on Oct 25th.

Hildegard of Bingen

A feather on the breath of God at play,

You saw the play of God in all creation.

You drew eternal light into each day,

And every living breath was inspiration.

You made a play with every virtue playing,

Made music for each sister-soul to sing,

Listened for what each herb and stone was saying,

And heard the Word of God in everything.

Mother from mother earth and Magistra,

Your song revealed God’s hidden gift to us;

The verdant fire, his holy harbinger

The greening glory of viriditas.

‘Cherish this earth that keeps us all alive’

Either we hear you, or we don’t survive.

I am still learning to be a feather on God’s breath. To float where and when He wills and only at His bidding. This feather tries too often to have energy of her own, and direct her own path/trajectory.. instead of resting on the loving breath of God and letting it all depend on Him. To let go and fly on Ruach Yahweh is my deepest joy, and my constant prayer.

Beauty for ashes

I am not and alas, probably never will be, a linguist. I  do try whenever we travel, to learn a few basic words in the language of the people we are living amongst. Thank you, being the most important word. . ευχαριστώ – ef̱charistó̱
in Greek. I must have said it ten or twenty times a day, these last couple of weeks.

A regular reminder of living life with eucharisteo at the centre. Whilst re- examining the Eucharist at college, theologically and spiritually, (see ‘bringing love where love was absent’)  I stumbled upon a book that I am still being formed by.

One Thousand Gifts by Ann Voskamp was one of those books. A book that shook me, shaped me and challenged me to my core.

A mother of 6 and a farmer’s wife, Ann writes poetically of her journey towards the spiritual secret of thankfulness. Receiving everything from God’s hands with thankfulness. The good, the bad and the ugly. She does not gloss over heartache, brokenness and pain, but learns to find ‘the treasures of darkness’ amidst it all. Her journey was not a new one to me, but the way that she expressed it, spoke to deep places in me and connected.

‘”And he took bread, gave thanks and broke it, and gave it to them” (Luke 22:19 NIV)
I thumb, run my finger across the pages of the heavy and thick books bound. I read it slowly. In the original language, “he gave thanks” reads “eucharisteo.
I underline it on the page. Can it lay a sure foundation under a life? Offer the fullest life?
The root word of eucharisteo is charis, meaning “grace.” Jesus took the bread and saw it as grace and gave thanks. He took the bread and knew it to be gift, and gave thanks.
But there is more, and I read it. Eucharisteo, thanksgiving, envelops the Greek word for grace, charis. But it also holds its derivative, the Greek word chara, meaning “joy.” Joy. Ah … yes. I might be needing me some of that. That might be what the quest for more is all about- that which Augustine claimed, “Without exception… All try their hardest to reach the same goal, that is, joy.”  

I breathe deep, like a soujourner finally coming home. That has always been the goal of the fullest life- joy. And my life knew exactly how elusive that slippery three- letter word, joy, can be. “
… I longed for more life, for more holy joy. That is what I was struggling out of nightmares to reach, to seize. Joy. But where can I seize this holy grail of joy? I look back down to the page. What was this clue to the quest of all most important? Deep chara joy is found only at the table of the euCHARisteo– the table of thanksgiving. I sit there long… Wondering .. Is it that simple?
……eucharisteo, the Greek word with the hard meaning and harder meaning to live- this is the only way from empty to full. ‘  (From Chapter 2, a word to live..and die by of One Thousand Gifts.)

Holidays. Time apart, to mull and ponder. To breathe. To wonder.

Santorini is an island that has literally risen from its own ashes. Always an island of intense beauty (an ancient Phoenician name for it is Kalliste meaning ‘ most beautiful’), it is, nevertheless, beauty born of fire.

volcano

It has a moulten volcanic heart, that is still active. Over 3000 years ago, it was peopled by sophisticated Minoans, who lived in 2/3 storey, elaborately frescoed houses, with piped water and plumbed sewerage systems , to name but a few of their accomplishments. They prized beauty, art, and sport, and traded far and wide. Their seemingly idyllic existence (there is allot of speculation from some scientific & other communities that it may have been the fabled, lost Atlantis, as described by Plato) came to an abrupt end.

After a series of earthquakes, the volcano blew in a cataclysmic explosion that was off the end of the scale of those in recorded history. The centre of the island collapsed into the depths of the sea, leaving a caldera of 1000 ft high cliffs towering over the Aegean Sea that now fills what was once the heart of a round island.

IMG_2372
The land that was left, was covered metres and metres deep in volcanic ash. Unlike Pompeii, 1500 yrs later, there were no bodies left behind. The partially uncovered port city of Akrotiri, is a ghost town. Its citizens left it seems, in the nick of time, taking everything of value with them.

Akatiri
That could have been the end of the story. But it wasn’t. The Phoenicians found it, several centuries later and re- peopled it. The ‘most beautiful island’ was a very different form and shape, but it was just as beautiful.
Beauty for ashes.

Isaiah 61:2-3 NIV
 … to comfort all who mourn, and provide for those who grieve in Zion— to bestow on them a crown of beauty instead of ashes, the oil of joy instead of mourning, and a garment of praise instead of a spirit of despair. …

The island has reinvented itself many times since then, and the wind, and the fire of the volcano are still re- shaping it.

Pumice cliffs

Visiting this island has been a timely gift, ευχαριστώ – ef̱charistó̱ . A feast of beauty, that has fed my spirit. I have had necessary time away to process, in particular, the most recent ‘becoming’ – my ordination as a priest.

I trembled under the hands that ordained me. Like the tremors of an earthquake, I felt the ground beneath my spiritual feet shifting.

In my experience, when God is at work – it isn’t always comfortable!
In fact, it rarely is.
The book that I took on pre-ordination retreat with me,                                                 Spirituality and the Awakening Self, The Sacred Journey of Transformation, by David G. Benner PhD, speaks of this type of experience.

” It is possible to experience a profound reorganisation of the very foundations of our identity, values, meaning, and consciousness. It is possible for our whole perspective on life- on ourself, on others, and on God to shift dramatically.” Everything becomes fluid or molten. Scary stuff.

I have quoted the following poem before, in Light in the Cracks. It expresses this same thought, beautifully. (The author’s own explanation of the poem is included in that post)

This Room by Imtiaz Dharker

This room is breaking out
of itself, cracking through
its own walls
in search of space, light,
 empty air.The bed is lifting out of
its nightmares.
From dark corners, chairs
are rising up to crash through clouds.
 This is the time and place
to be alive:
when the daily furniture of our lives
stirs, when the improbable arrives.
Pots and pans bang together   
in celebration, clang
past the crowd of garlic, onions, spices,
fly by the ceiling fan.
No one is looking for the door.
In all this excitement I’m wondering where
I’ve left my feet, and why
my hands are outside, clapping.
 

SkyFall. The words of the theme song to the latest Bond film, sung by Adele, keep repeating themselves in my head. I can’t quite make out its meaning, or even it’s connection with the film, but it could have been written for Santorini on the day that the sky did, indeed fall.

I read about those long ago Minoans and my imagination travels with them. Feeling those first temors. Then more. Gathering up their lives, and sailing far from all that was familiar and known.

“This is the end
Hold your breath and count to ten
Feel the earth move and then
Hear my heart burst again

Let the sky fall
When it crumbles
We will stand tall
Face it all together”

A later verse connects on a deeper level, yet.

“Where you go, I go
What you see, I see
I know I’d never be me
Without the security
Of your loving arms
Keeping me from harm
Put your hand in my hand
And we’ll stand”

Shifting paradigms. Moving further into the unknown, on this journey of becoming.             I may not know where I am headed or have any idea of the shape God is forming me into, but I know that I am surrounded by His love. That he stands with me, and will help me face whatever that process of transformation involves.

Eucharisteo. Gift. Grace. Thanksgiving, even when the sky falls.

Becoming a priest allows you the immense privilege of presiding at the Eucharist.                 The heart and centre of faith and encounter.

A mystery, about which the more I know, the less I know.
The book I took on holiday with me is called Take this Bread: A radical Conversion, by Sara Miles
I think I thought it would be an easy read.                                                                                      God, however, had other ideas. Another of those books. (do you ever wish God would let up on you?)

Back to the meaning of eucharisteo. Becoming broken bread, and poured out wine.

bread and wine

I will have to let God continue his challenges to me with that one, and perhaps blog further about it, when the dust settles…

In the meantime you might want to read any of the three books I have mentioned, yourself. If you dare.

They come with an earthquake warning.

Running on empty

Single-Tree-60x22

He was running scared. Fear was all that filled his heart and head, blotting out everything else. He had run before.

Just days before, he had run down from the mountain top, with joy giving wings to his feet. God had showed up and how! He had set the soaking altars ablaze at Elijah’s call. Fire from heaven. Then after a long drought, he sent the rain.. He had run with water running down his face, soaked in joy. God was good, and he was proud to be his prophet.

But the joy had gone. Sunk into the sand, like the rain.

He had had enough!

He was tired, overworked, under appreciated, and spent. Fear and self pity, sucked the moisture from his soul, even as the desert sun did the same to his body.

Alone. Deliberately alone, he wasn’t looking for God. He was looking for death.           Deaf and blind to the blessings of the past and the future possibilities, he could only see his dusty feet. Feel his bone weary body. Taste the bile of self hatred and failure.

Finding a scrap of shade in the burning desert, he slumped under a solitary tree.

“Enough! ” he croaked. His throat parched and dry. “finish me now. Here. I might as well have never lived.”

He lay down, expecting never to get up. To die in the desert, unwatched and unloved. Alone.

The heat of the sun gave way to the chill of the desert night. Tightly curled into himself, he slept on, oblivious to the stars above his head, and the love that sheltered him.

A soft hand on his shoulder drew him out of his darkness. The smell of freshly baked cake wafted into his nostrils before he dared open his eyes. The sun was rising, and the gentle hand insistent. ” Get up, and eat.

No questions. No judgment. No one there, but freshly baked cake laid lovingly at his head and a jug of cool, clear water. Food for his famished body, nurture for his soul. He couldn’t think or work it out, he could only eat and drink. Taste and swallow. Great gulps of life- infusing water. Sweet bites of grace.

Refreshed and filled, his body slept a different sleep. Relaxed and heavy limbs, resting on a bed of love. Same soft hand. Same gentle summons. Calling him to life. Calling him to eat and drink and go. Take in the heaven- sent sustenance, and move on. Leave the solitary tree, and travel with purpose, following the God who called his name.

Forty days and forty nights he trod a path without a sign. Seeking his God, he walked slow steps of perseverance through empty wilderness. And up, and up the sometimes sheer face of Horeb‘s peak, had been so sure he would find God in this place.

His own strenuous efforts had not been enough, and weary with trying, certainty slipped through his fingers. The cool depths of cave drew him in, and offered a place to hide. A dark cocoon of doubt. Had he heard wrong? Had God turned his back?

Fear nips and bites like the imagined creatures in the cave. Night falls and his heart plummets with the light. A tree, a cave, he is still alone, and he doesn’t know,

he doesn’t know,    he doesn’t know… anymore.

Sleep comes in snatches as his spirit seeks, his body wrestles with the hard rock floor.    In the turmoil and the stupor, finds he can still receive the Word. Asleep? awake?         The question sits down beside his head.

What are you doing here, Elijah?

The answer blurts in a gush of excuse. Overworked, misunderstood, persecuted and alone. I alone, am left.. What are you going to do about this God? The words left unsaid taste bitter on the tongue.

Come out of your deep, dark cave and stand. God is passing near.

The wind roared and shrieked and threw a hail of rocks. The power of its breath stealing breath itself.. Mountain-flattening blast. He heard anger in the wind .His own anger magnified a thousand times, but it was not God.

The ground trembled, at first as if in fear. Then fear to violence, throwing him across the cave and on his face. The underpinnings of the world, his world, pulled apart. There was terror in the quake, but it was not God.

Fire! The mountain was ablaze. No way out. A wall of flame blocking the entrance of the cave, excruciating, suffocating heat. But it was not God.

After the fire, the sound of sheer silence. Deep, bottomless quiet.

He knows, and draws his cloak over his face.

God is here. Here in this stillness.

Finding courage at last, he steps out of his cave.

The voice was gossamer. A whisper.


What are you doing here Elijah?