Saturday, 29 June 2019

Spooning with God

Song of Songs 2:4
He brought me to the banqueting house, 
and his intention toward me was love.

I’ve always loved Julian of Norwich, one of the first writers I encountered who brought into focus, for me, a mothering God and a feminine Christ. Last year I had the opportunity, while visiting a clergy colleague in Norwich Diocese, to receive mass in her cell and, often, since then, as I’ve revisited that experience and read again some of her writings, I’m aware of a deep longing in me to have that intimacy with God that allowed her to see far beyond the binary notions that we so often attribute to the Trinity. The intimacy was not merely in her head or in her visions but a whole body, whole life experience.
I’ve always been pretty restless in my Rule of Life. After a time, I inevitably become bored with specific spiritual practices and have to revise and revisit. And that’s not about avoidance but about being as vigorous and as vital in connecting with God and creation as possible. In my prayer time and space I desire much more than a head and heart connection if I am to be strengthened to withstand the vagaries of working in an angst filled institution. I need a deep sense and source of calm that I can embody as I seek to be a loving non anxious presence in the midst of the loss and yearning and sometimes rage that afflicts the church at present. Visualisation plays a big part in that. If I can recall the sensation of sitting back to back with Jesus, like two kids in a play park, or imagine the Spirit enjoying sitting on the swings next to me, or snuggling up, spooning with God, my body a familiar fit in God’s embrace, there is always a place for me to run when I feel the challenge and weight of expectations and confrontation becoming oppressive. And, while that prayer time in and of itself is sacred, so too are those moments when I can briefly retreat and recapture the intimacy that God offers. God’s intention is love. So often, our conventional ways of accessing that love create distance rather than intimacy. Indeed, intimacy has become repressed. Today, I give thanks for saints like Mother Julian who gave us a new way to speak of and to relate to God with all our senses and who draw us once more into intimacy with God and all of creation.

Thursday, 27 June 2019

Running away

Genesis 16:7-8
The angel of the Lord found her by a spring of water in the wilderness, the spring on the way to Shur. And he said, “Hagar, slave-girl of Sarai, where have you come from and where are you going?”...

Where have you come from?
And where are you going?
And what about this moment?
What, in this encounter, might make sense
of what has gone before
not explaining
not diminishing
but simply holding
the cup that has passed.
And what might enable
the unpacking of insight
unconsciously accumulated along the way
to bear witness to the future?
What vessel
might withstand
the anguish
and the searching
the sifting through
of hurt and disillusionment 
and be able
not only to hold
but contain
and in the containing
create space
for wisdom
to emerge?
What might hold
the tears and the rage
that will chart a course
to the healing and wholeness
that seems so remote at present
yet remains
a dream worth pursuing?
Where have you come from?
And where are you going?
And where, along the way, 
have you encountered
the disturbing Spirit of God?

Wednesday, 26 June 2019

Keeping it real

When our children were small, they had a favourite CD of nursery rhymes that they played seemingly non stop in the car. One of the rhymes was Humpty Dumpty - but it was an edited version, with a verse added that said:
Humpty Dumpty counted to 10
Humpty Dumpty got up again
All the kings horses and all the kings men
Were happy to see him together again.

I didn’t like that the producers of that nursery rhyme collection gave Humpty Dumpty a happy ending. Because that simply is not real life!
Not all broken things can be fixed.
There may be the possibility of transformation through brokenness but that is not guaranteed and certainly not without a lot of painstaking work.
There are some in the church at present who seem to prefer tinkering with truth and editing the facts to secure a happy ending rather than engage with the real possibility that the church, as an institution, is broken.
And, until the systems that contribute to that brokenness are addressed, there will be no transformation. Addressing those systems, however, is hard work and resurrection is not guaranteed. So we just keep on patching things - and people - up and expecting them to achieve different results. And we do that by distracting ourselves with doing what we know rather than questioning how, together, we might be different. 
It may be easier to sweep the broken pieces under the rug - radical change and healing demand courage and are not for the faint hearted but the pain and the cost of denial have been borne for too long, their scattered debris testimony to our tendency to take the easy way out. It is time to align ourselves with Christ who sits and weeps amidst the brokenness while holding in his hands the shards of hope.

Saturday, 22 June 2019

Pray without ceasing

Psalms 8:1
O Lord, our Sovereign,
how majestic is your name in all the earth!

Lord, sometimes I wish the disciples
had not asked: “Lord, teach us to pray.”
For the prayer you gave
has become, for many,
the gold standard,
the winning formula,
inhibiting imagination
and creativity,
and downright exuberance!
And, while I  recognise
the need, (perhaps),
for a community recitation,
I so want for others
a 360 approach and experience
of prayer.
To recognise in their sharp intake of breath
at the beauty of a sunset
or their sense of awe
at the wonder of creation
the vestige of a prayer.
To know that when we text one another
good thoughts and encouragements
therein lies prayer.
To be convinced that
in each sigh of peace
or wail of anguish
your being is summoned
And that all of these,
along with our formal incantations
align us with you, our Sovereign
whose name is majestic in all the earth.

Thursday, 20 June 2019

All the broken things

A reflection inspired by using a broken chalice to share in the Eucharist.

God you must have quite a pile by now
of bits and chips and discards
among which you take your place
by splinters and fragments 
some still sharp 
with the potential for harm 
some worn smooth
by years of caress
You wept at their breaking
and, when others had moved on
you quietly gathered up the pieces
even though there was
and still is
potential for harm.
You sit among those broken pieces 
recalling the stories
of pain and loss
of hopelessness and despair
of weariness and indifference
You sit
among them.
and resist the urge to repair
that is within your divine gift.
You sit among them
knowing that the brokenness you see
may never be fixed
but may be transformed
by the power of love.
You sit with broken things
for you too were broken 
and you offer your brokenness
for our healing
and your love
for our transforming.

Sunday, 16 June 2019

Dancing with God

Rublev’s Icon of the Holy Trinity
An offering for Trinity Sunday

In the beginning
God gathered God’s self together
to create the universe
Fashioning with goodness the sky
with its galaxies and constellations
its suns and moons
its  light and darkness.
And there was some fun and mischief along the way
as God messed about with incredible light shows
and sent the planets into orbit
and played around with tides and seasons 
and day and night.
And then God created the earth
with its mountains and valleys
its oceans and streams
its continents separated by vast seas and deserts
its forests and ice caps
and plains of fertile land.
And God enjoyed attending to detail - 
the bumps and the curves
the flow from one landscape to the next
the separation of water from land
and earth from sky.
And God loved that beautiful world and wanted to share it.
So God created animals
For the hills and the plains
for the sky and the sea
for above and below the earth.
Each with a place and, largely, a purpose.
And then, with a flourish, 
involving dust and breath,
God created human beings
who would care for all of creation
for all that God had made
and who would be co- workers with God 
in nurturing and sustaining creation.
God saw that it was good and delighted in all of creation.
As it was in the beginning, so it is now.
God delights in us.
Desiring nothing more than relationship 
Inviting us to be part of
the divine dance
The dance of Creator, Redeemer, Sustainer
God invites us to be caught up
in the mystery that is God...
Instead, we spend our time 
trying to unravel that mystery
We tie ourselves in knots
instead of enjoying the different kind of knowing
that is offered by God
We distance ourselves
rather than entering into relationship
We ponder how we can change the world
when God’s invitation is simply to dance....
In that dance we discover compassion
that moves us to care for creation.
In that dance we discover anger
that fuels us to root out injustice.
And, in that dance
we discover freedom
made up of Love, Joy, Peace, Patience, Goodness, 
Faithfulness, Gentleness, 
the fruits of God-control,
the elements of the dance
that sustain the world.
God’s laughter and delight 
and tears and compassion 
form the rhythm that draws us in
and sends us out 
to dance.

Saturday, 15 June 2019

Angels today

A conversation (more of a monologue - no space was left for responding!) on the 13:00 train to Ayr

Everything changes
Coffee shops are now gin boutiques
Tea rooms are Prosecco bars
And the Italian’s on the corner
is now a wine bistro
Rail tickets are stored on plastic
that the machine reads with a tap
And there’s a piano player in the station.
The train windows don’ t open
The aircon is either too hot or too cold
And, the announcement “ We are now approaching...”
wakes you up before you miss your station.
Do you believe in angels?
(Without waiting for an answer)
Well, they’ve changed too
Mostly, they’re not scary
Although they might be dressed all in black
rather than in white
And they might have long hair, tattoos or piercing 
And sometimes they’re virtual
They appear as an email, a text message
or in a Facebook or twitter post
They’re visible when a stranger smiles
or when someone puts down their phone
long enough to have a conversation.
They show up when someone
notices you could do with a wee hand
Aye, everything changes 
but still
God sends angels.

Friday, 14 June 2019

Not far from the kingdom

Mark 12:32-34
Then the scribe said to him, “You are right, Teacher; you have truly said that ‘he is one, and besides him there is no other’; and ‘to love him with all the heart, and with all the understanding, and with all the strength,’ and ‘to love one’s neighbor as oneself,’—this is much more important than all whole burnt offerings and sacrifices.” When Jesus saw that he answered wisely, he said to him, “You are not far from the kingdom of God.” After that no one dared to ask him any question.

Not far from the kingdom
How often are these words preached
as words of rejection
rather than words of hope?
Not far from the kingdom
How often are they turned into 
words of condemnation
rather than words of encouragement?
Not far from the kingdom
How often is this interpreted
as missed opportunity
rather than glorious potential?
Not far from the kingdom
Words focusing not on my sinfulness
but on the amazing grace of God.
Not far from the kingdom
Today I choose
to hear these words
and to focus
not on the ways that  I disappoint
but on the ways that I bring joy
Not far from the kingdom
Today I choose 
to hear these words
as words of love
and to experience them
as light
as hope 
as blessing
Not far from the kingdom
A wonderful place to be!

Friday, 7 June 2019

Feed my sheep

John 21:15
When they had finished breakfast, Jesus said to Simon Peter, “Simon son of John, do you love me more than these?” He said to him, “Yes, Lord; you know that I love you.” Jesus said to him, “Feed my lambs.”

When I’m too busy squabbling with the wolves and the goats
that I neglect the sheep you place in my path
Lord, forgive
When I’m consumed with chewing over words not said, hurts unacknowledged
Lord, forgive
When I’m choking on self righteousness
that blocks the way for compassion
Lord, forgive
When I’m too full of my own importance
to recognise the struggle of another
Lord, forgive
When I’m distracted by hopes and dreams
and fail to be open to this day’s gifts
Lord, forgive
Lord, you know that I love you
Help me to feed your lambs
Not with bread that is contaminated by my self absorption
spoiled by my lack of leaven 
but with the bread of life
that you give in abundance daily
In every day may I stay close enough to you
so that I can inhale the fragrance
of sweet,fresh bread,
still warm from the making.
May I feed on that
and share it with others.
Lord, you know that I love you...

Wednesday, 5 June 2019

The Temerity of God

How often does our writing - be it poems, prayers, sermons or reflections convict us. Especially when we think we have written them for another.  I’ve always been aware in my preaching practice that I’m speaking into the areas that are itching in my life, into the struggles that I own, into the places that I need to grow. If the words I use also speak into the struggle of others, especially those with whom I share community and faith, I am grateful. In parish ministry, this happened more often because I was engaged in listening and walking alongside folk and, together, we were able to articulate where we experienced God and what constituted good news for our community.
On other occasions the words that we offer to others arise from the unconscious or unacknowledged in ourselves and it may take some time before we become aware of that and have the opportunity of addressing it.
I’m not sure that I think out loud - perhaps I do. But I know that I process out loud, by writing.
It’s not the first time that my writing has caused offence - and on the whole I’ve been largely unapologetic about that. If my processing offends you, touching a nerve, exposing a wound, then perhaps you have some work of your own to do.

Recently, however, wanting to find a way of expressing concern for and appreciation of a friend, I penned some words that have, in fact, found their way back to me, confronting me, challenging me, mostly in a good way but I have been surprised by their incisiveness in revealing things of which I was blissfully unaware or perhaps skilfully denying - wounds buried deep, well scabbed over. And while that means I have some work to do, I can’t help smiling at the temerity of God, who never lets us off the hook but who will always find a way in, a way to breach whatever armour we have embraced. As the saying goes:”Be careful what you wish for!”
In the Spirit of God’s temerity I look forward to grasping hold of a thread and seeing what unravels or where it leads.

Tuesday, 4 June 2019

What is mine to do?

John 17:4
I glorified you on earth by finishing the work that you gave me to do.

Lord, what is mine to do?
And who will be my accomplices?
I want to glorify you
I want to do the work that you have given me
I want to be faithful, obedient,
and  - I want to know joy.
But, Lord,
What if discernment
takes me to somewhere I’d rather not go?
What if the work you reveal
means that I must conform
to expectations 
and navigate old territory
in which I feel subdued.
Lord, will you give me other outlets
where I can be fully me?
Will you show me those places
where I needn’t tread so carefully
and where I can find sustenance
for the work you need me to do?
Lord, I want to glorify you
and I want to be
fully alive in you.
I’m just not terribly convinced
that those desires
are wholly compatible.
Teach me, O Lord,
how to grow
how to delight
how to glorify you
in finishing the work
you give me to do.

Monday, 3 June 2019

There’s more

Acts 19:4
Paul said, “John baptized with the baptism of repentance, telling the people to believe in the one who was to come after him, that is, in Jesus.”

There’s always more...
Perhaps a comfort
for our restlessness
Or a challenge
when we dare to settle for less
There’s always more...
Even as the disciples
took their heads out of the clouds
after Ascension
there was the promise of
The Holy Spirit
There’s always more...
What will that look like for us today?
Are we ready to confront it?
Or are we still too busy
licking the wounds of the past
to meet head on
the more
that is promised?
There’s always more...

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