Doubt and faith

I’m getting into some kind of pattern in the writing of this daily blog. Patterns are not really my thing, but to be frank if I don’t ‘patternise’ (sorry) my thinking, this would never happen.

The pattern for the moment (subject to change) is that I’ll look back through photograph albums and then choose one that resonates and allows me to hang thoughs upon it.

Waves; a statement of the obvious! The photograph was taken in February this year, just before the world changed. I have never thought of waves as having a prophetic element, but perhaps this needs a re-think. My memory of the moment I took this photograph is one of overwhelming power and relentlessness; but not necessarily in a forboding way. I think I just stood and watched for some time, before I took the shot. Anyway, that’s something of the back story.

But why the heading; ‘Doubt or Faith’? Hazzarding a guess, I think we all live each moment in either one state or another. Perhaps holding both in tension at the same time. I remember having a conversation with my line -manager in the first prison I worked in. He was an avowed atheist, and we used to have occasional moments of ‘sparring’ as he called our exchanges. At one point we came to a pause and he looked at me and said…`Barrie, there’s something about you people that makes me wonder!’ We laughed and sparred a little more. I was always honest with him about doubt and faith and how we needed to hold them in tension, Sometimes there were no answers, just living with tension.

I’ll come to the point. For me there is no faith without doubt, and that is being tested in these moments in which we live. There are times when one reaches an impasse and the feeling is one that I can only imagine is like being like a rope held in tension in a tug of war match. The tension is where we can find stability in a strange way. The witness of life is that God reaches us in the most of unlikely of ways or places. Doubt is not a negative but a place on the road to faith. It’s not a steady state of bliss I’m looking for, it is the still point, which may be fleeting, but which speaks of something deeper than I know or normally access.

As always thank you taking a moment to read this blog.

Self giving

I wanted to start my reflection with this image I took yesterday. Nothing really deep and meaningful to say about it; I’ll just let it speak for itself.

Self giving is around us and within us all on one level or another. Acts of kindness from others to us, and vice versa. In these moments in which we live it is very easy to become overwhelmed by all that is unfolding; some of us are naturally optimistic, others not so much. I guess most of us are somewhere inbetween.

What has spoken to me in these past days is the strength of the human spirit in the midst of fear and worry. Those who put themselves on the line for others, or reach out to others in simple acts of kindness. The tenaciousness of the human spirit, as exemplified in the person of Captain Tom, as he walks to raise funds for the NHS. But we all have something within us that whispers and prompts us. I want to name that whispering and prompting voice as God’s Holy Spirit.

In these days of uncertainty, we naturally reach out for answers; a seeking for meaning, and often we sense nothing; it is as if God is silent. Perhaps in odd moments we dare risk the thought that God might not care, or is helpless. I’ve often counselled people that it is alright to shout (outwardly or inwardly!) at God, in moments of despair of uncertainty. Believe me, I’ve done some myself. Often the response seems to be silence, but then in that moment, a word or phrase or sense or feeling enters our consciousness.

You might rightly question whether I have taken leave of my senses. But think about who and how God is for you. I spend time worrying; about the past, present and future. God says; ‘Take the moment, not the fear. Live every moment in that moment;’ and by some miracle, you will hear, perhaps imperceptively, the voice of the one who sent his only Son into our existence, to experience, life, death and resurrection…the self-giving that heads this reflection.

Light

Just as I began to write, Helen drew my attention to a very large cargo ship on the horizon; the play of light on the water was captivating as it moved gently across my field of view. Soon it will be lost to sight.

All this got me thinking about what to say this morning. To be perfectly frank, I’m not certain how this musing is going to turn out! I’ve had in my mind the image of ‘The Light of the World’, by William Holman Hunt, for some days…..

As if by magic…here it is! How clever I am! The original of this painting hangs in the side chapel of the glorious chapel of Keble College, Oxford. I came to faith in my early days at Keble and Holman Hunt’s painting captivated me then, and still does today. Do take a moment to reflect upon it for yourself.

There is an elegant simplicity to what Hunt captured, but that very simplicty draws the eye into the heart of the scene. Simply, the risen Jesus Christ knocking on a door and waiting for a response. Note there is no handle on the outside; the response to the knock relies solely on whoever hears. You, I……anyone. The handle is in the control of the one on the other side.

There is no coercion. But hear these words of Jesus from the Book of Revelation…’Behold, I stand at the door and knock…’, and from the gospel of John, Jesus again..’I am the light of the world…whoever follows me will never walk in darkness.’

I don’t need to say any more. I simply thank William Holman Hunt. I thank God for you as you read these words in this difficult time.

Time

Thank you for taking time to read what follows. My apologies for the delay in composing another post, but the muse had somewhat deserted me, until I took a walk, yesterday, along the sea shore near my home.

The photograph was taken as the ebb tide revealed what remains of the stump of a tree; around 7,000 years old. This ancient forest is being eroded very quickly as sea levels rise. Incredibly, the footprints of adults and children who lived during this period, have been found imprinted in the ancient forest floor.

They were human, like us. They had hopes, fears, dreams and their own undetstanding of their world and their place in it. As an avid fan of Time Team, I remember well the excavation of a burial of cremated remains placed in a clay beaker, which was eroding from the cliffs at Hauxley. What religious rituals they developed are lost to us, but they clearly reverenced their dead and ritualised their passing.

I ask myself the question, what actually is the difference between them and us? In the middle of the uncertainty of our present days, we question and try to make sense. We fear, we worry, we look for certainty and a framework of understanding. Often, I feel myself standing in a void of silence.

Just at this moment, as I was working out what I wanted to say next, up popped some words from Psalm 46, verse 10; ‘Be still and know that I am God.’ A very simple phrase, but profound in its reach. How you understand those words are unique to you, and I am glad about that! Because you are unique, as those were who lived 7000 years ago on the Northumberalnd coast. We have a connection!

Take time each day, just to reflect on those words of the Psalmist. Have a moment of stillness, even in the press of thoughts! If you’re not convinced, remember the words of the closing verse of the hymn, ‘Dear Lord and Father of Mankind.’; …’Speak through the earthquake, wind and fire, O still small voice of calm….’

May the blessings of the still small voice of calm be with you and with those who you love and remember, now and every moment of the days ahead.

The Day After

Lord, it’s the day after Easter Day,

And I’m lost.

Waiting, expecting, perhaps longing

For something to happen; break in to my consciousness and give me faith or something, to connect me…to you….Risen from the dead.

I’m outside of my comfort zone in these Coronavirus days and making sense is mind blowing. Praying, hoping, bearing, holding…silence…unnerving and unerring.

Lord Jesus ….leaving the disciples for a week after showing up on Easter Sunday; Thomas missed the show and was left to wait; angered, adrift, let down. I identify with him; and the waiting is unbearable.

I don’t always know what I want; unerring certainty, some kind of proof, a still small voice, a shivery spine, an overwhelming vision. I’m human, God made, complex, but longing for simplicity.

In this aftershock of resurrection I only wish to hear something from you; not even a call…something far deeper, to connect me with you, if it’s not too much trouble. Thanks in anticipation.

Good Friday Reflection

Good Friday seems to me, like a moment when I should be silent. Anything I could say might seem crass, or words for the sake of words. There’s a hymn by Isaac Watts; ‘When I survey the wondrous Cross’, written nearly 300 years ago. It’s always been there or there abouts in my conscious and subconscious mind.

Often, throughout my life I’ve heard it playing, particularly in difficult moments and times of trial or uncertainty. It’s a kind of anchor, blessing, guide or guiding star in what can seem like dark days. I have suffered from intense bouts of depression throughout my life and so often Isaac Watts’ words have reached out to me, because they describe a profound reality which is sometimes just out of reach, but closer than I might understand at that precise moment.

Just hear the words of the opening verse; ‘When I survey the wondrous cross, On which the Prince of Glory died, My richest gain I count but loss, and pour contempt on all my pride’. Curious words on one level, but they search my soul, each time I hear them. For Watts describes the human condition perfectly and our need to be open to the boundless love of God, revealed in the life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ.

As you read or hear these words, you may be struggling, physically, mentally, spiritually or emotionally. Perhaps all together! I have no simple answer to what is happening to you, as I have no simple answers for myself! But this is where dear old Isaac steps in, inviting us to reflect on the depth of God’s love for you, me, all people. The news should be proclaimed from the rooftops, but in a virtual sense, please! That simple last sentence…’and pour contempt on all my pride’ speaks of the trap that I fall into, which is a pride that focusses on the negative, in myself and others. It will be different for each of you. Perhaps take a moment between now and Sunday to reflect on this for yourself.

I just want to move our focus onto the fourth and final verse of this great hymn…here it is; ‘Were the whole realm of nature mine, that were an offering far too small, love so amazing so divine, demands my soul my life my all.’ That’s it, in a nutshell!!!

As a new undergraduate I went to hear Revd. David Watson, at the Oxford Union. I was struggling with lots of things but at one point I became overwhelmed with the love and presence of God and God’s Spirit spoke peace into my heart, through David’s words. It was a seminal moment and I can still fell the intensity and shed tears as I speak to you now, 45 years later!

Replay those words of Isaac Watts in your own consciousness…write them down, stick them up somewhere, ponder them, be assured. God is not far off, unable to understand the human condition, or what we are going though at this moment. He is nearer to us than we are to ourselves and through the life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ, shows profound understanding and identification with each of us.

Just to end, just a reminder of the words of the third verse; ’See from his head, his hands, his feet, sorrow and love flow mingled down, did e’er such love and sorrow meet, or thorns compose so rich a crown.’

Just know, on this Good Friday, even in the midst of all that goes on in your life, family, friends, wider community and world, that God is with us and understands us completely