This Little Light of Mine

…historically the Christian life began with the public acknowledgement of two uncomfortable realities: evil and death. And in baptism the Christian makes the audacious claim that neither one gets the final word. 

When I get to [certain] stories in the New Testament I’m inclined to take the sophisticated approach and assume the people who had demons cast out of them were healed of mental illness or epilepsy or something like that which, when you think about it, simply requires exchanging one highly implausible story for another. But lately I’ve been wondering if this leaves something important out, something true about the shape and nature of evil, which, as Alexander Schmemann puts it, is not merely an absence of good, but the presence of a dark and irrational power.

~ Searching for Sunday, Rachel Held Evans

 

 

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Only in silence the word,
Only in dark the light,
Only in dying life:
Bright the hawk’s flight
On the empty sky.* 

As I said to my daughter, who asked me about suffering a few days ago – the darker the room, the brighter a flame burns. This is not an easy answer. Neither is it an acceptable answer, but it’s the only answer I have and the only answer I can have, in this life. Held Evans continues:

…God is in the business of bringing dead things back to life, so if you want in on God’s business, you better prepare to follow God to all the rock bottom, scorched earth, dead-on-arrival corners of this world, including those in your own heart, because that’s where God works…

Evil and suffering are realities in this world, however much we want them to be no part of it. But God has a plan in all this – and it may not be one that we understand. When we call Him Messiah, Jesus gives each one of us the God Light – the Holy Spirit – that burns and forever burns, even in the dark.

The Light shines on in the darkness, and the darkness did not understand it or overpower it or appropriate it or absorb it [and is unreceptive to it].

John 1:5 (Amplified)

*from A Wizard of Earthsea by Ursula Le Guin

Learning to Breathe

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Deep communion and dear compassion is formed much more by shared pain than by shared pleasure… We are not saved by any formulas or theologies or any priesthood extraneous to the human journey itself. “Peter, you must be ground like wheat, and once you have recovered, then you can help the brothers.” (Luke 22:31-32)

from Breathing Under Water by Richard Rohr

I went through a ‘Peter’ experience a few years ago. I promised to love God, to be His child, to follow Jesus with all of my heart – and then I went and did something I was immediately ashamed of. I didn’t just do it once, either. It was a very messed-up time. I think I wanted to show God how unworthy I was of His love. I had been on the receiving end of so much hurt that I truly believed, deep, deep down, that no one, not even God, could love me, and that my behaviour would prove it. What did God do in response to this display of weakness and pain? He brought me, within months, to baptism by immersion (an amazing experience) and a few weeks later to the man who seemed to see the ‘me’ underneath all the hurt and loved me in a way that I never knew was possible (of course, I came to love him too, but Frank loved me first, in so many ways that I could never even have imagined). It was truly a match made in heaven.

When I read the words above by Richard Rohr this morning, I recognised their import and impact on my life. Suffering – for reasons I don’t claim to understand – and shared suffering, are essential for growth in Christ. Maybe we human beings can only truly appreciate (and participate in) the Light when we have experienced darkness.

You are the light of the world. A city built on a hill cannot be hidden.

Matthew 5:14 (NRSVA)

The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light; those who lived in a land of deep darkness – on them light has shined.

Isaiah 9:2

On Refugees and the Murder of an MP

When a stranger resides with you in your land, you shall not oppress or mistreat him. But the stranger who resides with you shall be to you like someone native-born among you; and you shall love him as yourself, for you were strangers in the land of Egypt; I am the LORD your God.

Leviticus 19:33, 34 (AMP)

We were all slaves to sin and shame once. Jesus set us free. Let’s remember that the people we meet may never have met Jesus. When they meet us, let His love be the most obvious thing about us.

“You are the light of [Christ to] the world. A city set on a hill cannot be hidden; nor does anyone light a lamp and put it under a basket, but on a lampstand, and it gives light to all who are in the house.”

Matthew 5:14,15 (AMP)

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The above is all that I was going to post this morning, but I just want to add that my thoughts are with the family of Jo Cox, who was killed yesterday in an unprovoked and almost unprecedented act of violence for the UK. An attack on a Member of Parliament is an attack on democracy itself. So very sad. So many prayers. I pray that there will be some good that emerges from the situation, some light from the darkness, and that the Cox family will know the peace that passes understanding. Although I didn’t know it, Jo Cox campaigned for the Syrian refugees and for those in poverty, so perhaps the post above will be even more appropriate today.

Already Dead

‘In late 1944 conditions in Lunghua [internment camp] continued to worsen, not through deliberate neglect by the Japanese authorities, but because they had lost all interest in us… The huge Japanese armies in China were ready to defend the Emperor and the home islands to the last man.

Nowhere had Japanese soldiers surrendered in large numbers. Fatalism, fierce discipline and a profound patriotism shaped their warrior spirit. In some way, I think, the Japanese soldier assumed unconsciously that he had already died in battle, and the apparent life left to him was on a very short lease. This explained their vicious cruelty.’

from ‘Miracles of Life, Shanghai to Shepperton, An Autobiography’ by J.G. Ballard

I wonder if this is a similar situation to that of today’s suicide bombers, or members of Islamic State? We’ve all seen the shocking news reports of beheadings, violence and rape of young girls. Do they believe there is no other choice and sooner or later they’ll be dead anyway? Is this nothing more than a bleak reflection of a life without hope? Here, perhaps, is how we learn to pray for our enemies.

So I am praying for my persecuted brothers and sisters in Christ in war torn areas. May they be granted the grace and courage to truly be light in all that darkness.

Jesus said, “You are the light of the world. A city built on a hill cannot be hidden.” (Matt. 5:14)

What a great commission. If you would like to know more about how to help our suffering family, please visit Open Doors .

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Sparks

Thinking of Dorothy Day’s words reminded me of this post written just after Holocaust Memorial Day.

multicolouredsmartypants

Holocaust Memorial Day was commemorated on 27th January and a documentary, Touched by Auschwitz, aired by the BBC. I watch little television, but I was particularly interested in this documentary because although it focused on what happened at Auschwitz, it gave equal weight to the lasting impact that Auschwitz had on the survivors’ lives and on subsequent generations. It was clear to me that some of those filmed still suffered Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. This interests me because I can, in part, relate. Readers of this blog will know I am currently receiving treatment for PTSD. I don’t claim to know what victims of the holocaust went through, but I do know how PTSD, especially that gained through years of repeated trauma, haunts you in the here and now. I am also trying to come to terms with the impact my PTSD has had on my children and on…

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The Incarnation of the Light

‘When the Father said, “Let there be light,” he was also speaking of his Son’s incarnation. St. John expresses this more succinctly: “The word became flesh and made his dwelling among us” (John 1:14).

…God said, “let there be light,” and the light of the world was born of the Virgin Mary. “The darkness which covered the abyss” (Genesis 1:2), that is, the hearts of men, was dispelled.’

Seek First His Kingdom by St. Anthony of Padua, edited by Fr. Livio Poloniato

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My husband and I read the above words yesterday and I was reminded of the truly awesome beginning to the gospel of John:

What has come into being in him was life, and the life was the light of all people. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it.

John 1:3-5 (NRSVA)

The darkness, however big, however horrible and scary it may be, cannot and never will overcome the light. This is the gift of the gospel.

Lord, there is so much darkness in the world today. Shine your light through us, make the darkest of corners bright, show us what hides in the dark so we can bring it out into the light. By your will and in your name we pray. Amen.

Reblog: A Well Ordered Exterior

Beautiful post. May we all desire less ‘me’ and more ‘You’, and may we all become more fully ourselves in the process. When I was a child these were the people I called ‘the shiny people’. I want to be one of the shiny people.

You are the light of the world. A city located on a hill can’t be hidden. Neither do you light a lamp, and put it under a measuring basket, but on a stand; and it shines to all who are in the house. Even so, let your light shine before men; that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father who is in heaven.

Matthew 5:14-16 (WEB)

Don’t be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, so that you may prove what is the good, well-pleasing, and perfect will of God.

Romans 12:2 (WEB)

Amen. Do read the post below from Ben over at Contemplative in the Mud. His quiet wisdom regularly floors me and lifts me up at the same time.

Contemplative in the Mud

Many of the effects of contemplation, like all Christian prayer, involve setting up storage in Heaven (Mt 6:20). They concern the Church and the world at large.

On the other hand, another of the effects of contemplation is to reorganize and reintegrate our whole person. The human being who prays becomes rooted more totally and absolutely in Christ, the Father, and the Holy Spirit, and these Three impart a new order and organization to everything about him or her.

That includes the body.

Contemplation is something that happens to persons who are, as we say today, embodied. Perhaps it would be more accurate to note that the body is in the soul (as Saint Hildegard says), but regardless of the way we phrase things, it is true that any reorganization, reintegrating, and reordering of our whole person will involve a reorganization, reintegrating, and reordering of our body

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I ONCE WAS LOST BUT NOW AM FOUND; WAS BLIND BUT NOW I SEE

I LOVE the story from the gospel of John of the healing of the man who was blind from birth. The unnamed man has such a simplicity and purity of spirit, even when faced with the ‘important’ men and their clever questioning. I’m quite certain Jesus loved this about him too! But what struck me in listening to this story are the words at the very beginning:

As [Jesus] passed by, he saw a man blind from birth. His disciples asked him, “Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?”

Jesus answered, “Neither did this man sin, nor his parents; but, that the works of God might be revealed in him…”

John 9:1-3 (WEB)

Jesus’ words, often overlooked because of the rest of the amazing story, are vitally important. We can add nothing to our salvation, nor can we take it away. Even if we follow all the ‘rules’ and worship God, it doesn’t mean our lives will be ok (often rendered as ‘blessed’ but I would question this definition of ‘blessed’ – post on this subject to follow). If we don’t follow the rules, it doesn’t mean our lives will be miserable. This is false teaching, although one that is easy to fall into. I fell into this trap myself a few years ago, thinking that if I did everything ‘right’ then life would be ok. Hurrah! No more bad stuff! God quickly and sharply brought me out of that one.

We latch onto ‘if only I can do it right’ because we’re scared and we want to be in control. Some people spend their whole lives trying to discover what ‘the rules’ are because they think if they follow the rules, everything will be ok, which really means ‘if I follow the rules, I’ll stay in control’. Life is scary. It is not under our control and we can’t do anything to make it under our control. Only yesterday my dear son told me of the death of a boy at school who was only a year older than him. The young man had been fit and healthy until September last year. Now he’s gone. I pray for his family.

Conversely, the most difficult lesson to learn for me (as for many people who have been abused) was that I didn’t do anything to cause any of it. I am not a freak. I am not ‘different’ in some indefinable way. I was not destined for abuse. There is nothing ‘wrong’ with me. God has been gently, carefully and lovingly bringing me out of that one.

God did not and does not cause the bad stuff, although He did allow it to happen. That God allows abuse and evil is a difficult doctrine to swallow, but when we love God, when we become part of His family, God can and does use our suffering for His glory – and it is a truly awesome thing to be a vessel for the glory of God. If I have known what it is to be unloved, to believe myself horrible and worthless and unlovable, how much more is the effect when I realise that not only am I lovable, but that I am loved by the Creator of the universe? And when I do see how much He loves me, what can I do but offer my life, my whole self in return?

It doesn’t matter if you’ve been brought to your knees in despair by your own sin, or whether it has been the sins of others, or a combination of the two: when you’re at your lowest is when God can bless you the most.

Less me = more God:

“You are the light of the world. A city located on a hill can’t be hidden.”

Matthew 5:14

Hallelujah: Hebrew for YIPPEE!**

**It’s not really, literally ‘yippee’, of course. Literally, ‘hallelujah’ means ‘praise God!

AFTER EMDR: WHAT NEXT?

I had my final EMDR session. It went well, as these things go, meaning that I was little more than a quaking wreck by the time I walked out the door. At the end of every session I go ‘into my safe place’, which means I close my eyes and imagine I am in St. Julian’s church in Norwich, kneeling before the altar. I surrender everything to God and I pray the Lord’s Prayer. As I pray, I imagine all the people who have knelt in that place, including Lady Julian, all who have prayed and praised and lived out their lives for God. How wonderful it is to recall centuries of prayers and centuries of saints whose shoulders we stand upon.

Do not be afraid—I will save you.
    I have called you by name—you are mine…”

Isaiah 43:1 (GNT)

Afterwards, at home and curled up on the day bed, I was listening to ‘Flash’ by Rachel Anne Ridge. She quoted the above verse. I recall a friend giving me the same verse several years ago, when life seemed like nothing more than a long, dark tunnel. I couldn’t see the light at the end of it, but I had faith in The Light, if that makes sense. I clung to the belief that just because I was in the tunnel it didn’t mean that light couldn’t exist. It was what might be termed a ‘dark night’, but eventually I found myself able to see the light again. I was bruised and scarred, but I could see.

In ‘Flash’ Rachel Anne Ridge describes the moment she recognised all the names, all the identities, she had taken on herself:

damaged

defeated

afraid

alone

unloved

etc., etc.

I suspect Rachel is not alone and that many of us have borne a long list of negative names for ourselves. It is a prolonged process to become free of the sticky web of lies. As I have learned through the years, abuse shapes a person’s sense of self so deeply that often we’re unaware of it (this is partly why we are commanded not to judge one another – but that’s a post for another day). Sometimes the world creeps in and tells me that because I am not such-and-such, because I haven’t done such-and-such, I am worth less than other people, I am somehow a failure. Now that I have finished EMDR, I admit I haven’t a clue where God will lead and of course I am wondering. Will I get a job? Will I complete my degree? How will I serve Him? What does He want me to do? Will He make use of the talents He gave me?

I have been praying recently, knowing that EMDR was coming to an end, about where my life will go. I know it sounds daft but sometimes I feel my life has been wasted. I’m rapidly approaching 40 and yet there are so many things I’ve never done. I feel odd and foolish when I’m around other people who have done all sorts of different things. But maybe – just maybe – that’s a good thing. Maybe God has given me a gift because I have learned (am learning) that my value is not in what I do or who I am. My value, my dignity, is a gift from God, God-breathed and God-inhaled, and that is a gift worth sharing.

Ridge also says:

‘That afternoon, it hit me: as a child of God, I belong to Him. He made me. He owns me. I am His… Only He has the right to name me… My identity is in Him. He has given me a new name. I am not what I do. My value doesn’t come from my successes or my failures. What I do comes from who I am, not the other way around. My value is inherent, not earned.’

I reached the end of the chapter. Still of a prayerful mind, I felt the stirrings of praise and out poured this song:

‘…I saw the Lord… sitting on his throne, high and exalted… Around him flaming creatures were standing… They were calling out to each other:

“Holy, holy, holy!
The Lord Almighty is holy!
His glory fills the world.”’

Isaiah 6:1-3 (GNT)

I looked up the passage from Isaiah that talks about the angels singing ‘holy, holy, holy’. Then, as I read the following verses, it was like God tapping me on the shoulder. It’s as if He was saying, “You’re useful to me, even if you don’t see it.”

‘I said, “There is no hope for me! I am doomed because every word that passes my lips is sinful, and I live among a people whose every word is sinful. And yet, with my own eyes I have seen the King, the Lord Almighty.”

Then one of the creatures flew down to me, carrying a burning coal that he had taken from the altar with a pair of tongs. He touched my lips with the burning coal and said, “This has touched your lips, and now your guilt is gone, and your sins are forgiven.”

Then I heard the Lord say, “Whom shall I send? Who will be our messenger?”

I answered, “I will go! Send me!”’

Isaiah 6:5-8 (GNT)

I hope these words are useful to you, too, dear reader. God bless.

Reblog: Transfigured and a Source of Joy

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Knowing that this is enough is a huge relief. Knowing that this is enough is also a huge challenge. Too often it is tempting to want to be more, and often it is tempting to be discouraged because we know we are less. I like to think of it as like a pot, like the Romans would have had, an amphora: a vessel which is designed to be useful. The trouble is, we’re all broken. But God puts us together again and the Holy Spirit shines through the cracks. The more jagged the cracks are, the more He shines, and not only are we now useful, but the cracks are bursting with His light. Jesus shines through the cracks in a completely unexpected and unique way.

Contemplative in the Mud

antonio6In one of his sermons, Saint Anthony of Padua says of Christ,

His very physical appearance, on which the angels desire to look, is a source of joy.

This reminds me of Mount Tabor. Christ took James, John, and Peter up Mount Tabor and was transfigured before them. He shone in glory. His appearance was bright, visible, luminous, and pure. That must be how he is in Heaven. He was glorified, and it affected the visible features of his sacred body.

To some extent, this is what is supposed to happen to us here below. We are supposed to be, by our very physical appearance, a joy to others.

Now, of course, this joy isn’t merely carnal, it’s spiritual!

And of course, barring any miracle, we do not physically shine like Jesus on Mount Tabor!

But still, our very physical appearance is meant to be “a source a joy,” real…

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