Ten Ideas for Lent. ( from Stephen Cherry’s Blog)
I said to the man who stood at the gate of the year
‘Give me a light that I may tread safely into the unknown.’
And he replied,
‘Go into the darkness and put your hand into the hand of God
That shall be to you better than light and safer than a known way.”
These opening lines of a poem by Minnie Louise Haskings, were used in King George VI’s Christmas Radio broadcast at the start of World War II, in 1939 . He used them to speak to a nation and Commonwealth that was facing very uncertain times, in the upheaval of war. His life has been immortalised this year in the very moving film ‘The King’s Speech’, showing how he faced down his own inner demons and difficulties.
We are again in uncertain times, but the message of this poem seems relevant to me for any year. None of us know what it may contain, nationally, internationally or personally. I am looking ahead into a year of big changes. A house move, ordination and a new job to adjust to. Somewhere before all that lot, there is a degree to finish. Fortunately I am one of those oddities who enjoys change and challenge, and am looking forwards to these new directions, but even so, the scale and pace of all this change feels quite daunting at times. What has been on the horizon for a long time, is almost here.
I know that I am not up to what God is asking of me, and never have been, but fortunately He knows that too. I am in good company. Almost everyone God asked to do something for Him in the Bible felt the same way. Moses certainly did. On one occasion he said to God, ” You have been telling me “Lead these people” but you have not let me know whom you will send with me” and God replies:
“My Presence will go with you, and I will give you rest” Exodus 33:14
That is all I ask, and all I need as I set out on this newest adventure with God. I don’t know what else the year may contain, or what may be demanded of me, but I do know that He has promised to be with me every step of it. My prayer like Moses, is for a continual awareness of His Presence, and to be able to rest in His enabling. My prayer for me, and my prayer for you.
High on the ‘Bucket List’, Taizé is a place that has called me most of my adult life. I haven’t been able, for a variety of reasons, to answer that call. Until now. God’s timing, however is always best, and this has been a timely visit. At the end of a long, busy summer that has been high on the ‘demand’ factor. Placements, essays, exams and overseas trips calling much from me and stretching me in many dimensions. Growing stuff, I wouldn’t be without, ( except the exam bit, perhaps) but God’s rhythms require balance. Retreat and rest, as well as service and growth.
Taizé is like a long hot soak in a scented bath. A gentle place. Gentle in pace and approach. Room to unwind and relax in a restful, spiritual environment. A truly ecumenical centre, where the sharp boundaries and denominational divisions are deliberately blurred. A confluence of nations, people come week after week, from all over the world, predominately large numbers of young people. Language barriers are overcome with careful listening, love and laughter as lives are shared within the context of small groups.
The accent is on simplicity. In everything. Worship is both simple and profound. The pattern follows the rhythm of the Community, with morning, noon and evening prayer. Firmly God focused, the liturgy and music flows naturally and easily. Led by various of the monks, who occupy the central aisle of the church, disembodied voices, in a variety of languages, guide the prayer and song. There is little to get in the way, in this very ‘thin’ place. It is a very moving experience to worship with thousands of others from all over the globe- all sitting or kneeling together on the gently sloping floor. All pretensions, roles and higherarchies are left at the door. Child or bishop, are as one before God. When you are already on your knees, the only step to bow the spirit, is on your face. Lighting is soft, with the dancing flames of a hundred or so candles gracing the chancel. You are bathed in God, in a wash of Love.
We were told the story of a young German atheist who came to Taizé out of curiosity. She could give you a thousand reasons why God simply could not exist. At the end of the week, however, she confessed to one of the brothers, ” I am beginning to have my doubts about that.”
Presence. Gentle and unassuming, and yet inescapable. Brother Roger started the Community in the tiny village of Taizé, in France, during the Second World War, as a ‘mustard seed’ of Peace. An alternative to the craziness of war. Bringing people and nationalities together in reconciliation and understanding. His faithfully planted seed has become a spreading tree under whose branches the nations have gathered to find rest and discover God.
Spoons. All you need to eat with, at Taizé. Food is simple too, but wholesome and nourishing and a miracle of provision. Feeding thousands a day, in a well practised organisation of willing volunteers that has to be seen to be believed. Within minutes all are eating, from trays on their laps, spread out across the site. More than once I had a picture of a hillside in Galilee, and a carpenter from Nazareth, a couple of thousand years ago. Shortly after, it is all cleared away and washed up, by yet more volunteers, often singing, with their arms in buckets of suds.
Taizé is somewhere to bring others to. Young people in particular. Those of faith and none. It is a place you can take at many levels. Forget any ‘Taizé’ services you may have attended. Good or bad, they are very different from the real thing. One of the brothers described Taizé as ” a place to re-discover the joy of living, the joy and the love of God” . I couldn’t agree more.
To find out more go to: http://www.taize.fr/en
The early morning sun streaming through the East windows; bells tolling for worship, that fall quiet to the deep hush of this vast house of prayer. Its soaring dimensions and simple beauty simultaneously uplift and enfold the soul. These ancient stones are steeped in centuries of faithful orisons offered God-ward day and night, in word and song. We gather for prayer, humbly aware of our place in a long line of worshippers that stretches far back into the distant past.
I mused a couple of months back whilst on holiday in Chamonoix ( see Looking Up) about my response to mountains, and how they make my spirit soar. Working in the Cathedral, and being surrounded by such beauty everyday, is not unlike living with mountains, in an otherwise very flat landscape. There are many parallels. The constant changing light, that gives it so many moods and faces. The outsize dimensions and immense scale, to name just a few. This cathedral, like most, may have been built with very mixed motives, including those of power and authority, but it was primarily built to sing God’s glory. It lifts my heart to God, and His presence is very tangible here. Its effect on all who enter its ancient wooden doors is visible. Most simply stop and look, taking in the enormity of space. It catches me every time I walk through the building, or from one part to another- thrilling to a shaft of sunlight lighting a particular space, or the blaze of candles on the priket stand. It manages to combine both the majesty and intimacy of God in a way that is hard to explain. How such a voluminous building is able to convey intimacy, has to be experienced to be fully understood. A bit like God, I guess.
“How lovely is your dwelling place, O Lord of hosts!
Even the sparrow finds a home,and the swallow a nest for herself, where she may lay her young, at your altars, O Lord of hosts, my King and my God.
Happy are those who live in your house, ever singing your praise. ” Psalm 122
“Lift up your heads, O gates! and be lifted up, O ancient doors!
That the the King of glory may come in.
Who is the King of glory?
The Lord, strong and mighty,
The Lord of hosts,
He is the King of glory.” Psalm 24
An invitation to the Quiet. At the end of a busy weekend, and at the start to the season of Lent, it is an invitation that draws me. The need to quieten our souls in God’s gentle Presence is an ever present one.
I have had this in the ‘drafts’ category all weekend, looking for a link to the music that inspired the following poem. The poem was written half a life time ago, but is one that seems to re- surface from time to time.
Come to the Quiet
A proffered hand
outstretched in plea of love
a silent empathy of prayer.
I can see
the child inside
that hides behind the man.
Fear stalks behind a laugh
and pain beyond a smile,
for in some deeper place
the child cries
and cries alone.
The bright facade
shown to the world
boasts confidence and strength-
but where I stand, beside your heart,
I cannot see your mask
I only feel your pain.
Speaking at length, in cheerful note
I could not hear your words,
your spirit’s orison of tears
touched a silent place within
and brought my own soul to my knees.
Hush then, and let the silence speak
His balm of Peace awaits us here.
If you will – then take my hand
and let us come
come to the Quiet.
The song ‘Come to the Quiet‘ is by John Michael Talbot, a Franciscan monk, and is based on Psalm 131. I will add or make a link in the next day or two.
A Song of Ascents. Of David.
1 LORD, my heart is not haughty,
Nor my eyes lofty.
Neither do I concern myself with great matters,
Nor with things too profound for me.
2 Surely I have calmed and quieted my soul,
Like a weaned child with his mother;
Like a weaned child is my soul within me.
3 O Israel, hope in the LORD
From this time forth and forever.
Theosis and Theotokos
Theosis – Participation in the nature of God .. ( 2 Peter 1:4) In Eastern Orthodoxy, this is considered the supreme goal of the spiritual life. I heard it described this morning as
“being drawn into God’s being, and having His Being drawn into us”
The speaker Bishop Simon Barrington Ward, was talking to us about the use of that most simple, profound and ancient of prayers known as ‘The Jesus Prayer’
Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, be merciful to me ( us), a sinner
He spoke of praying it until the prayer “prayed itself within you” and almost became part of your subconscious- finding it on your lips at moments when you respond to situations, and as you wake.
I mused further on being drawn into God’s being, and having His Being drawn into us – through presence, our presence in His Presence.
Blurring the lines between God and us, so that we no longer know where One begins and one ends.
If it were simply up to us, this could never happen, but fortunately it is up to Him. It is His gift of grace to us, His desire to make us one with Him, as He is one with the Father. The simplest of gifts can sometimes be the hardest to receive. We can hardly believe that He means it. That He means it for us.
I linked it in my head with Theotokos – God Bearer.
The name for Mary, Jesus’ mother.
It seemed to me that as we are drawn into God’s being, so we are also made to be ‘God bearers’ . We are given His life growing within us to take to the waiting world. Like Mary, this is not without cost. It demands our ‘Yes’ and that yes is our all.
Aftermath of Angels
Who are you and who am I
that you should choose me?
Who am I now
that I have chosen
to say yes?
How can I bear the weight
of this light,
carry the child of your heart;
hold He who is Love
within the limits of my own?
Face down, I lay my head
upon the earth
hide me under the shadow
of your wing.
As you form Him in me,
shape me within your hands.
Knit my soul
to the fabric of your being,
Cradle us both
In your enfolding
and bring us to birth
encircled by grace