Needed Time

I’m off to my EMDR session tomorrow, with the full intention of trying to ‘let go’. My friend is in labour with her first baby. My parents are flying back to Europe this week from America. The children are at school tomorrow. A friend mourns his wife.

In the Middle East, Christians are fleeing their homes, their livelihoods, running from everything they have ever known. Worse still, some of them stay, knowing the consequences but choosing to live as people of light in the land of darkness, God help them. God bless them. See how bright they blaze in the darkness?

Children the world over are abandoned, abused, neglected. Families starve in the basement while in the penthouse they party with champagne. One is born into poverty. One is born into privilege. The world groans under the weight of her own iniquities.

Now is the needed time. Lord. As much as ever, we need You. We need a Saviour. Help us to be thankful for ‘enough’ and when we have more than enough, help us to share. Help us to always be alert to the suffering of our brothers and sisters, and to help them in whatever small way we can. We know that with You, Lord, small becomes big, last becomes first, poor becomes rich. Thank you, Lord, for your Upside Down Kingdom. Help us in our weakness. We need You.

Amen

The End of Advent

Advent when you are a child is a time of great expectancy. It is a time of tinsel and lights and parties and nativity plays and fun. On the final day, Father Christmas brings you a sack full of goodies and you eat your own weight in chocolate and mince pies before the end of the year.

Sometimes, Christmas is like that for adults, too. Many of us focus on the glittering, the twinkling, the excuse for a drink or two – and there’s nothing wrong with that. But Christmas isn’t an excuse for a party. Advent isn’t the preparation for gluttony and falling asleep after the Queen’s Speech. Advent is the time we expect the unexpected, yet long-awaited, child who was to rescue the world. In a desperately dark time, when there was famine and dissent and war, Jesus’ contemporaries awaited a saviour who would perhaps sweep across the Middle East, who would destroy their enemies and become a powerful, warrior king – King David with knobs on. But God didn’t choose to be the great destroyer; God instead redeemed His people by sending Himself as a baby.

A baby…?

Then, when He was still small, Jesus became a refugee – the lowest of the low, the least of the least.

There are many Christian refugees fleeing persecution as I write

read more here and find out how you can help these desperate people.

since you have plenty at this time… you should help those… in need.

2 Corinthians 8:14 (GNT)

 

The God of heaven became the God of earth by taking not the form of the most mighty, but the form of the most vulnerable. Like His death on the most gruesome, humiliating piece of torture equipment that the ancient world could imagine (crucifixion was the Roman idea of absolute subjugation of the occupied nation – more on that during Lent, perhaps)… yes, like Jesus’ death, His birth was, and still is, totally, utterly, beyond counter-intuitive – it’s counter-counter-counter intuitive; it’s virtually insane. God becoming man is crazy enough. But before He became a man, He entered the world as we all do, ‘between the p*** and the s***’ to quote St. Augustine. What God is this who would make of Himself a tiny, squalling, red-in-the-face, blood smeared ball of humanity, utterly dependent and utterly vulnerable? What crazy God is this? And what woman was Mary that God entrusted her with His precious son? Does this give an insight into the Roman Catholic reverence for the ‘mother of God’, perhaps?

Our world is still crazy and screwed up and filled with sorrow. It is also thriving, beautiful and filled with joy. How can it be all of these things, all at once? To paraphrase Ann Voskamp, it’s not the screwed-up-ness of the world that is noteworthy, it’s the good bits – they’re the most crazy… and the good bits were made flesh incarnate in the form of our tiny, newborn king.

Come, O come, Emmanuel…

God

with

us.

Teaching Your Child about Jesus: What Not to Do…

We were running very late on Friday with dinner because we were making homemade scone base pizzas and we didn’t even start until we’d got back from the pool. The pool doesn’t open until half five and Prince* was soooooo slow getting changed afterwards that by the time we got home it was seven o’clock. Little Chip was still eating when I decided to go ahead and begin lighting the candles on the advent wreath and reading Unwrapping the Greatest Gift. Conveniently, the advent wreath was in situ in the dining room.

“Today’s reading is,” I began, and then I looked at my daughter, who was pushing food around her plate making a face instead of eating it. I gave her ‘the look’ and she stopped. I cleared my throat.

“Today’s reading is…” She started it again. “Chip, eat your pizza!”

I suddenly realised what I had said and we all collapsed into giggles.

*Yes, we actually now have a young man who will get in the pool, ‘swim’ a little and get himself showered and changed afterwards. This is nothing short of a miracle!

He Holds Us When We Fall

When we fall he holds us lovingly, and graciously and swiftly raises us.

In all this work he takes the part of a kind nurse who has no other care but the welfare of her child. It is his responsibility to save us, it is his glory to do it, and it is his will we should know it.

Utterly at home, he lives in us forever.

From Enfolded in Love, Daily Readings with Julian of Norwich

I will not forget you… I have inscribed you on the palms of my hands…

Isaiah 49:16 (NRSVA)

Jesus came and said to them, ‘All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations… [teach] them to obey everything that I have commanded you. And remember, I am with you always, to the end of the age.’

Matthew 28:18-20

Lest We Forget

On the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month, peace was finally agreed. Too late for so many men and boys who had lost their lives, lost their health, lost their sanity. Too late for so many wives and mothers who had lost their precious husbands and sons.

We say ‘lest we forget’, but we do forget. When we close our eyes and our lips for two minutes’ silence this morning, perhaps we, the body of Christ, can pray for all the places in the world where the brutality of conflict is not something distant and remote but the reality of every day. God help us all.

I can’t add any more useful words, but I would like to share this breath-taking poem, slightly less well-known than Owen’s ‘Dulce et Decorum Est’, and these verses from the book of Revelation:

I heard a loud voice from heaven saying, “Behold… God is with men, and He will dwell with them, and they shall be His people. God Himself will be with them and be their God. And God will wipe away every tear from their eyes; there shall be no more death, nor sorrow, nor crying. There shall be no more pain, for the former things have passed away.”

Then He who sat on the throne said, “Behold, I make all things new… I am the Alpha and the Omega, the Beginning and the End…”

extract from Rev. 21:3-6 (NKJV)

Blessings

A spider busily weaves his web over the glass as the sun shines through the pane, lighting up the windowsill. The crackled, peeling paint doesn’t look shabby in the sunlight. It looks somehow blessed – as if the light shining on it gives it new character; makes it beautiful. In the distance I can see dark clouds. Rain is probably moving our way, but right now the sun is shining.

Sometimes folk say, “aren’t I lucky?” and their Christian brother or sister nods sagely and says, “ah, but are you lucky? Or are you blessed?”. I know what they mean, and I know they mean well by pointing out that God is the giver of all things, but aren’t we blessed in the good times and in the bad times? Do we really believe that the bad times are because God withholds His blessing? Should we go around during the good times praising God for His blessings, but not in the bad times? Doesn’t that make it seem as if God favours some (i.e. those He has ‘blessed’) more than others? Isn’t that the same lie that underpins the prosperity gospel? Isn’t that the same lie that says I can earn my way into God’s favour?

The world is good. The world is bad. Life is good. Life is bad. I don’t understand why some suffer so much more than others. I do know that in suffering we can learn more about God, and more about our dear Jesus and His Passion, than we ever could without suffering. We’ll never know the whys and wherefores in this life. Ecclesiastes tells us:

For everything there is a season,

and a time for every matter under heaven:

a time to be born, and a time to die;
a time to plant, and a time to pluck up what is planted…

a time to weep, and a time to laugh;
a time to mourn, and a time to dance…

Ecclesiastes 3:1,2,4 (NRSVA)

I am thankful for all the seasons of my life. I am thankful that when I desperately needed help, the hands and hearts of my brothers and sisters in Christ were there for me, especially those in Celebrate Recovery. Without Celebrate Recovery I wouldn’t be here now.

Carry each other’s burdens and so live out the law of Christ. ….

Galatians 6:2 (NRSVA)

Thank you.

I don’t know why I continue to be so surprised at all the good things that we have been granted in the past few years. Why am I surprised to not be suffering for the first time in decades (I don’t consider this illness as suffering – far from it)? God is good. God is always good. But when life is good we must never become complacent. We must love our suffering neighbour all the more, all the more. As Ann Voskamp says, all is grace.

This song is not written about God, but it’s the one that makes the most sense to me today. It also serves a dual purpose of saying thank you to God, and thank you to my beloved husband, who has shown me God’s love with such generosity and patience through the good times and the bad. I hope you like it, too.

 

There is No Other

I keep humming this beautiful hymn. I hope we can visit Holy Island one day (not that that has anything to do with this hymn, or St. Patrick).

Be Thou my Vision, O Lord of my heart;
Naught be all else to me, save that Thou art.
Thou my best Thought, by day or by night,
Waking or sleeping, Thy presence my light.

Be Thou my Wisdom, and Thou my true Word;
I ever with Thee and Thou with me, Lord;
Thou my great Father, I Thy true son;
Thou in me dwelling, and I with Thee one.

Be Thou my vision, Lord. Be Thou my all.

Know, recognise, and understand therefore this day and turn your [mind and] heart to it that the Lord is God in the heavens above and upon the earth beneath; there is no other.

Deuteronomy 4:39 (AMP)

From the Ridiculous to the Sublime

It’s that time of year again. You know, when all the Hallowe’en gear starts appearing in every shop. My children ask whether they can join in. I say no, and explain why. Again. Here in the UK Hallowe’en is a combination of an old, rather dark tradition with 21st century consumerism, as copied from the US.

When I was a child Hallowe’en was a bit of a nonentity. Bonfire Night on 5th November was the big, fun celebration. Hallowe’en was never really an issue one way or the other. There was certainly no expectation of trick or treating. It was something a very few, odd children did, only to be shooed away by a stern, “No thank you!” from my mother followed by an immediate shutting of the door (much the same as when the Jehovah’s Witnesses came knocking). But it’s different now. Hallowe’en and Bonfire Night are a kind of extended festival. I have no problem celebrating the prevention of an act of terrorism in 1605, though I do take issue with the burning of effigies resembling Guy Fawkes or anyone else. That’s all a bit too pagan for me, personally.

So where does the 21st century British Christian stand when it comes to Hallowe’en? Do we ban it with a single stroke? Or do we allow our children to join in because ‘it’s just a bit of fun’ and we don’t want them to be singled out at school? I have never felt comfortable with either of these responses. I do believe that, whatever its origins and circuitous routes through the ages and various belief systems, the modern celebration is a celebration of darkness and scary stuff. And that doesn’t sit right with me. There are so many more things in our culture and in our world for us to be afraid of than ghosts and witches! I do talk about those things quite candidly with my family, and we also discuss what our response should be to the horrors of the world, as followers of Christ. My children know that life is not easy, it is rarely fair and it takes courage to stand up for what is right.

Last year I had a bit of an epiphany when it came to Hallowe’en, after viewing this video:

We bought party bags and filled them with sweets, as well as some lovely little leaflets from The Good Book Company: (see below). We handed them out when the mini ghosts and ghouls came knocking, and we talked (among ourselves) about how, when we know Jesus, we celebrate every day the light that shatters the darkness.

The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has never put it out.

John 1:5 (GNT)

“I am the light of the world,” Jesus said.

“Whoever follows me will have the light of life and will never walk in darkness.”

 John 8:12 (GNT)

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It turns out that, just like everything else, Christ turns our expectations and understandings on their head! It is not the darkness we celebrate, but the victory over darkness that has already been won. This is why, in just a few weeks time, Christians all over the world will begin the season known as ‘Advent’ – the quiet waiting for the birth of the Light, promised so long ago by the prophet:

The people who walked in darkness
    have seen a great light.
They lived in a land of shadows,
    but now light is shining on them…

He will be called, “Wonderful Counselor,”
    “Mighty God,” “Eternal Father,”
    “Prince of Peace.”

Isaiah 9:2,6 (GNT)

A Voice for the Voiceless: The White Ribbon Alliance

Speak up for people who cannot speak for themselves…

Proverbs 31:8 (GNT)

Remove the chains of oppression and the yoke of injustice, and let the oppressed go free.

Isaiah 58:6 (GNT)

…your light must shine before people, so that they will see the good things you do and praise your Father in heaven.

Matthew 5:16 (GNT)

Immerse yourself deeply among people by sharing their life, by friendship and by love. Give yourself to them completely, like Jesus who came to serve and not to be served; you, too, become one with them. Then you will be like leaven which must lose itself in the dough to make it rise.

Little Sister Magdeleine (1898–1989)***

*** From Contemplative in the Mud

Reblog: Little and Nothing

********

I think this is why broken people seem to respond to God in a way that others can’t. Whether their brokenness is self-inflicted (by which I mean they have made poor choices) or whether life has just been too cruel, when you’re brought so low that there’s nothing left, you realise how much you need God and how you can’t even stand up without Him. This is why Jesus’ words in the beatitudes are so wonderfully true, although they seem counter-intuitive.

I’m sitting typing with my new Open University textbooks beside me, just about to begin the next module in statistics and probability. The more I learn of statistics, the more I realise how little statisticians actually *know*. But I still fall in love more and more with the numbers and the ‘truths’ they demonstrate. In a way, this mirrors my spiritual life. I’m making no sense(!) but I thank God for all that I have been through because it’s only in darkness that you can see the light. I don’t ask for more suffering and I don’t desire more suffering, but I know that without the suffering I wouldn’t know God and I know that my deepest desire has always been to know Him.

Lord, You are everything. Fill my nothing.

‘You will guard him and keep him in perfect and constant peace whose mind [both its inclination and its character] is stayed on You, because he commits himself to You, leans on You, and hopes confidently in You.

Isaiah 26:3 (Amp)

Contemplative in the Mud

Jerónimos Monastery in Lisbon, Portugal

To be little in his sight is not enough; we must be nothing – this is the foundation upon which he would build… The greater our annihilation, the loftier the building he erects thereon.
Saint Jane Frances de Chantal

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