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.

My Utmost for His Highest Oswald Chambers

English: Oswald Chambers (1874-1917)

Image via Wikipedia



 
Updated Edition in modern English 

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

Ten Ideas for Lent

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

Ten Ideas for Lent

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

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

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

1. Take Off Your Shoes

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

2. Admit a Recent Mistake

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

3. Pocket an Insult

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

4. Behave as a Child

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

5. Step across a Boundary

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

6. Give up Grumbling

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

7. Practise Hospitality

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

8. Do Something for Someone Else

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

9. Be Proud of Yourself

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

10. Encourage Others

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

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