Saying it all!

Yesterday, I was looking through photographs that I’d taken over recent years, and I came across this; the remains of a tree, transformed into a sculpture.

The lettering at the top is a quote taken from one of the early church Fathers, Augustine of Hippo, and it reads thus; ‘There is no saint without a past, and no sinner without a future’. Breathtaking, a sit down and take it in moment! Profound, all embracing, no ifs, ands or buts. Blunt, no wriggle room, speaking to everyone, saint or sinner or both together! This is the great leveller of a quotation, it leaves no-one left out. Just let those words move around your inner conversation. If I might dare to express it, I think it’s transformational.

The absolute clincher are the words at the base, below the carving of the ‘Lamb of God’. Taken from the opening chapter of the Gospel of St John, verse 29, The words of John the Baptist on seeing his cousin, Jesus….‘Behold the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world.’ The icing on the cake…the quote at the bottom of the tree stump (!), it is utterly all encompassing, and resonates so profoundly for you and I.

Can we dare belive it? Does it feel a bit too good to be true. Do we try and hedge around, qualify it, change it, so that it makes sense to our own world view? Will we let the words speak to us today?

The fact that the sculptor chose these words, is calculated to produce a response in our mental map, and our hearts. It makes me weep, and be overwhelmed by the love of God.

I first came across these words of St Augustine in my early days as a Prison Chaplain and it shaped my ministry. I am so gald that I’ve become re-aquainted with it again. I offer it to you today.

Grace and Peace be with you.

Power

I took this photograph at the height of the storm, yesterday afternoon. The whole moment rendered me speechless. It just spoke to me of power and chaos and creation and my insignificance. An energising moment holding together a multitude of feelings.

I can hear the roar of the tumbling, racing sea, in my head even as I write this! The great thing is, that you will have your own feelings and thoughts, from your unique perspective. Which sums up life for all of us; perspective. Unique to us. Observing moments from our perspective, and offering them as a prayer, for ourselves, others and the world.

This may appear a completely random jump in my thinking, but I’d like to zip across to the prophet Isaiah in the Old Testament, because I need to!! To be precise, it’s Chapter 53 and verse 5; the end thereof…here it is..’…by his wounds we are healed’. This is a massive challenge because it makes it plain that the individual in focus, is God, in the shape of the wounded servant; Jesus Christ. We don’t like simplicity; religion likes to make things complex,

The rage of the sea, the seemimg randomness of life ( and death) mixes us up, like a load of washing on a fast spin!! Fear is normal, but in the middle of that moment we can be assured of God’s profound understanding of what we are going through and experiencing. My experience is that fear is not taken away it is given a new perspective.

The boiling of the sea, the seeming chaos, reflects in our own psyche; it’s good to search for the still, small voice of calm. It’s there, believe me!

Peace be with you and all who you honour and remember.

The Doubter

We are all experiencing the highs and lows of the moments we live in. Some days better than others. This week we have a set of readings that take us from the stoning of Stephen, to the powerful trust of the Psalmist, to Peter’s assurance of God’s mercy, ending with John the gospeller relating Jesus’ words…’I am the way, the truth and the life’. Wow!

It feels like there is too much to digest with every emotion and motivation laid bare. Being a simple soul, I want us just to home in on Jesus’ response to Thomas, the ‘doubter’. Poor old Thomas, he was simply expressing what others were thinking, but who didn’t have the bottle to verbalise it! There is some strange weaving here, as my eldest son is Thomas and the name goes back on my maternal side, five generations!

‘Lord……How can we know the way.?’, asks Thomas. I bet there are some of you reading this and asking the same question. Good! The fact that Thomas’s reaction has set him down in history as ‘Doubting Thomas’ is massively unfair. He was being honest for heavens’ sake; good for you Thomas!

Look at Jesus’ response; ‘ I am the way and the truth and the life….if you know me you will know my Father also.’ Does it seem like a put down or a Captain Mannering, ‘Stupid boy…!! or girl !’. Not at all. I identify so much with Thomas, the ‘Ooops, did I really think that, verbalise that question?’. Jesus was not angry or shocked by Thomas’ question, he simply pointed out the reality…. ‘I’m the route through which you’ll find God!’

This almost seems too simple or actually makes us feel uncertain. How, where, what? The word is ‘trust’. That’s what Jesus invited Thomas to do. Make that step. There have been times in my life and still are, when I hear that still, small voice calling, imperceptible, but drawing me on.

Many a time I’ve prayed with someone who is hurting, without hope, longing, and I hear those words of Jesus for them and I verbalise the words of Jesus…’I am (for you), the way, the truth and the life.’

Thomas is famous for his doubting, let’s take comfort in that at this time of uncertainty. Doubt and faith go hand in hand. It’s impossible to have one without the other. Jesus wants us to open our hearts and minds to see the reality that weaves itself into what we define as ‘our reality’. That he is with us each step of our journey. In every moment. Even when we feel lost or abandoned.

Thomas was not rejected by Jesus, for his doubt, he was encouraged to see differently. Just let those words, ‘I am the way, the truth and the life’, play around your consciousness in each moment and sense the moving of the Holy Spirit, as you walk your way with Jesus.

The Lord bless you and keep you.

Light, Life, Complexity

There’s a complexity in life that is profound and energising. The presence of light wherever it’s origin, is creative and life giving.

Read again these opening words of Genesis;

‘In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth. Now the earth was formless and empty. darkness was over the surface of the deep, and the Spirit of God was hovering over the waters. And God said, ‘Let there be light,’ and there was light. God saw that the light was good, and he separated light from darkness…..and there was evening and morning-the first day.’

It’s worth just reading those words in odd moments and turning them over in your thinking, allowing them to drip through your consciousness. Science can add so many other details to our understanding. I spent a happy half hour trying to understand the origin of the first light! Confused but excited and energised. Thankful for a resonance between faith and science.

But for a moment let’s just look at the photograph above. Taken yesterday evening as the sun was going down. Flowers from the garden and in the background a fused glass cross, made for us by an amazing couple who had a studio at Kirkharle , in Northumberland. The interplay of flowers and light is profound. I just have overwhelming sense of thankfulness, even in the middle of these dark days which we are living through.

Light, life and complexity are the building blocks of what we see and explore, every moment of our lives. The Creator is present in each of these elements, in every moment; nothing is lost or forgotten.

Perspective

I think that today’s blog will be short. This photograph was taken last might as the sun was setting. We will each interpret it in our own way.

Setting sun, fading light, brokeness, connection, hope, fear, expectancy.

A poem and/or a prayer:

Grace filled moments, darkness touched by light.

Cradled with hope, to see beyond this space

Thankfulness in movement, imperceptible but fulfilling.

Hold the passing day in memory and prayer and rest.

Giving thanks for all that is and was and might be.

Amen

Breathe

Just give yourself a moment to reflect on this scene.

I see it with the experience of having walked the path. The baked and cracked earth; single, solitary hawthorn bush, left when the rest of the hedging was taken away. The gradual slope, drawing our attention to the coppice on the crest of the ridge. The tenacious grasses trying to survive as they compete to draw water from the parched land.

What resonates in your own thought processes as you observe and read?

There have been moments over the past few weeks when I’ve found myself slipping into the ‘slough of despond’; you will have come across the latter if you’ve ever read John Bunyan’s, Pilgrim’s Progress. Basically I find it to be a very annoying place and not terrifically positive!

Turning the negative to positive is a task for some of us; it may be for you, or you may be blessed with eternal optimism!! But whatever our temprement we have to try to make sense of our natural external environment, and our internal thought processes. The moment we inhabit is given as a space to learn.

I remember a publication that I received each week, when I was around 9 years old, called Look & Learn. It was wonderful, because it took me to other places and opened my thinking to new concepts. Now I would ‘Google’ it….not quite the same!

Anyway, the point is that in these moments we inhabit we need to breathe in ‘good stuff’. Trying to fill our consciousness with those things that energise, even if it may be the slightest thing, which almost seems incidental or even a tad negative, like parched land; solitary hawthorn bushes…..

These moments we give ourselves allow us to see differently and hear the voice of the Creator.

Blessings & Peace; Always

Rock of Ages

You will no doubt know the hymn , ‘Rock of Ages’. It’s a classic! I reckon it appeals to the geologist in me! I simply mention this because Helen and I came across an amazing range of rock formations on a hill in the Danby Forest in North Yorshire. The evidence is before you!

It was a fairly bleak day and a long walk to get to the top of the hill, crowned with these crazy remnants of the power of eroding ice, from the last Ice Age. It was cold too, as Helen’s attire witnesses!

I remember hearing the hymn playing in my head as I observed the scene on cresting the ridge. Here are the opening words; ‘Rock of ages cleft for me, let me hide myself in thee……’ ,Written in the mid 18th century, by the delightfully named, Augustus Montague Toplady!

Just let those opening words resound in your consciousness for a space. Savour the words, let them speak into your situation as you read. You’ll find that if you try doing this at different times of the day, you will sense and feel different emotions or images. Anything that pops into your consciousness, write it down, or draw a simple image even if it seems ridiculous!

If you get a moment over the days ahead, try and turn your scribblings into your own offering to God, or as a reflection on how you are feeling in the moment you write. Don’t be afraid of words…let them speak from you and for you.

Grey & Yellow

I saw this the other day and took the photograph to use in a blog post. So here it is. What your interpretation is of this scene, will be probably quite different to mine. I should just leave you to your own reflection.

But here are some of my thoughts. There is the juxtaposition of the yellow rape flower with the foreboding grey of the storm clouds. Hope and menace. A visual representation of the days we live in and through. The apostle Paul wasn’t noted for snappy writing, but he wrote something in a letter to a group of believers in Corinth, which reads like this; ‘now these three remain, faith, hope and love, but the greatest of these is love. Done. Finito. There it is.

Three elements for living well, however that happens for you and I. Guide posts on our journey, wherever it leads. Somehow we have to work out the balance between these three, with love being the hinge point. That almost seems too big an ask. When all around us we find uncertainty, isn’t this all just ‘pie in the sky’? Wishful thinking? Probably! But we don’t stop there do we? Give up?

Faith and hope undergird love, they exist as a whole. Each needs the others and we need balance in our lives in these difficult times.

I cannot rustle up answers for my own questioning, never mind anyone else’s. But I pray for you in this moment. Our connection is the humanity we share. The assurance of the unending love of God for all, in the sometimes chaotic mix of our lives.

I think I’ve given myself more questions than answers, but that is the way life is. Faith, hope and love…..allow those words to permeate your thinking, even in the moments of uncertainty.