The hope of a new day dawning

When we are in the dark, the temptation is to put on an artificial light to illuminate our way and make us feel better. However, to do this before the blackness has taught us all we need to learn may mean missing out on wisdom we’ll need for the rest of our journey. Putting on a light might be literal. A friend responded to my last blog by telling me how when she was awake in the night with all her worries and fears looming large in her mind, she instinctively put on the bedside lamp, but then chose to turn it off again. When she did so, she realised the new day had dawned and it was actually naturally light again outside. She says of this experience, “I was reminded, if we don’t let the darkness fall how can we see the dawn when it comes? Trusting the process of the dark seems in some ways like giving in to circumstances, to me it seems like that anyway. And I’m scared, to be honest terrified. Can I really trust an unseen God whose ‘church’ has so often been so hurtful? But I really want to trust Love, the God of love.”

Other ways in which I’ve become aware of turning on the light is to immerse myself in busyness. I can keep darkness at bay by allowing no time to let it in. I can kid myself that all is well, I’m loved and productive all the time I’m doing worthy things for God and for others. Yet, I’m a human being not a human doing. Intellectually I know that I am valued because I’m made in the image of God. But I still try to earn approval and justify my existence with constant activity in Her name. How else do we rely upon artificial illumination to make ourselves feel better? Dare I suggest that upbeat, charismatic-style worship could offer a similar means of avoiding the reality of disappointment and confusion when what we’ve been led to believe about faith does not tally with our experience of life? Can church become an unreal bubble where we pretend that the Bible is literally true and prayer always works when in our day to day lives we are struggling to come to terms with relationship breakdown, childlessness, redundancy, bereavement, terminal illness, and countless other symptons of a world that is not exactly the way God intended it to be?

However, this week I have been reminded that it was out of blackness and a nothingness void that God created all that is good, beautiful and wonderful in the universe. It was also out of the darkness of the tomb where Christ’s broken body was laid that death was finally defeated and new, everlasting life became possible. God comes alongside us in the darkness, but He doesn’t leave us there forever. If we are brave enough to sit and wait, She will, “bestow upon us a crown of beauty instead of ashes, the oil of gladness instead of mourning and a garment of praise instead of a spirit of despair.” (Isaiah 61: 3) For joy does indeed come in the morning.

A new appreciation of the dark

Some people think me odd. This is because I don’t much like being in the country. I have good reason, though. I get hayfever, grass literally gets up my nose! If I walk too fast, asthma is the result and I struggle for breath. And at night it’s just too dark without the comforting glow of light pollution. I fear I will fall in all that disorientating blackness, injure myself and be miles away from swift medical attention. I have, therefore, come to the conclusion that green fields and rolling hills are best enjoyed from the window of a nice, quiet pub with pint in hand.

Yet this week I was encouraged by author Barbara Taylor Brown to learn to walk in the dark. Like me, she grew up with the conventional Christian teaching that light was universally good and to be magnified, while the dark was synonymous with all that was devilish and to be resisted. The words of Jesus such as, “the light has come into the world, and people loved darkness rather than light because their deeds were evil.” (John 3:19) and, “The eye is the lamp of the body. If you eyes are good, your whole body will be full of light. But if your eyes are bad, your whole body will be full of darkness.” (Matt 6:22) seem to overwhelmingly support this. But as she dug deeper, she realised that many significant divine encounters actually happened at night. God affirming His promise of countless descendants to Abraham by pointing out the stars in the night sky. Jacob wrestling an angel all night to receive a dislocated hip and new identity at dawn. Hebrews enslaved in Egypt making their exodus under cover of darkness. The shepherds witnessing the heavenly host heralding the birth of the Messiah. Countless dreams foretelling events, giving directions or issuing warnings.

Also in scripture, God’s presence is not only described as coming in light. For example, while Moses is initially called out of a burning bush, he later meets God in cloud on a mountaintop. Maybe there are times when encountering the divine can actually obscure or confuse our vision, rather than simply bring greater clarify and sharper focus? This seems to be what many of the mystics came to understand. These include Gregory of Nyssa, St John of the Cross and Teresa of Avila whose writings are often about the mystery of un-knowing. Perhaps just as we experience joy and sorrow and all other emotions in between on the journey through life, we should expect varying degrees of light and shade in our spiritual walk? God seems to use times of darkness and gut-wrenching uncertainty to deepen our relationship with Her and stretch our faith to attain greater wisdom and maturity in Christ.

Oh how I wish it were otherwise! No one would choose the dark night of the soul. I am currently lost and wondering where next. It feels God is stripping away support structures, friendships and even my very hopes for the future. And I’ve been here before. It’s just last time I had the arrival of the new to make sense of the grief and confusion at what I was leaving behind. This time there is nothing and nowhere obvious to jump. I am letting go of the constant, purposeful activity that staves off depression and attempting to confront my deepest fear that I have no significance. It is hard and I have no idea how long this emptiness will last. But as I’m learning to enjoy the outdoors by walking along the seashore at my own pace, so I trust I will come to a new appreciation of the dark. I will overcome the panic of not being able to see, my eyes will adjust and I will find God is enough in the unknowing.

The value of human life


After the massacre in Tunisia on Friday, I have been reflecting on what I believe about the value of human life. In one sense, it is incredibly fragile and can be snatched away in an instant by a radicalised individual with a gun. Yet, as the shocked and bewildered begin to tell their survival stories, we also see the resilience and personal dignity of human beings. The woman who played dead at the feet of the gunman as he reloaded his weapon, the man whose wife’s handbag took the bullet meant for him and the courage of the fiancee who was willing to pay the ultimate price to protect the one he loved. So many acts of bravery, compassion and selflessness in the midst of the horror perpetrated by one man consumed by a cause for which he killed tourists sunbathing on a beach.

The Bible too, seems to reflect this tension. Psalm 103 says, “A person’s life is like grass. Like a flower in the field it flourishes, but when the hot wind blows by, it disappears, and one can no longer even spot the place where it once grew.” But the Psalmist also asserts, “what are human beings that you are mindful of them, the sons and daughters of man that you care for them? You made them a little lower than the heavenly beings and crowned them with glory and honour. You made them rulers over the works of your hands; you put everything under their feet…” (Psalm 8, verses 4-6) And Jesus says of our worth, “Look at the birds of the air; they do not sow or reap or store away in barns, and yet your heavenly father feeds them. Are you not much more valuable than they?” (Matthew 6:26). While God remembers we are dust and has infinite compassion upon us in our fragility, She also bestows upon us eternal glory because of our intrinsic value which She won for us by sacrificing Her only son.

How do we then live in the light of this wisdom? It seems to me a difficult balance to negotiate. We need to be self aware enough to recognise the power entrusted to us which can positively transform our world or do untold damage and destruction. At the same time, we must consider our own weakness and mortality. This is not to be morbid or depressing but realistic so that we might celebrate and squeeze the most out of life, for we do not know when it will end. It can also help us re-evaluate priorities. For those caught up in the horrors of last Friday, it became all too clear that their most urgent need, other than staying alive, was to say I love you to those they held most dear.

I think what we all need in the days ahead is hope. Hope that terror will not win. Hope that darkness will never put out the light. Hope that love will ultimately triumph over fear and despair. I wonder if we also need to regain a hope that this life is not all there is. Actually we have an eternal purpose and destiny that is assured when we put our trust in Christ. What is beyond is a great mystery and the unknown is always frightening. However, I was recently introduced to a wonderful poem called ‘I never wanted to be born’ which contrasts the uncertainties we had at birth with those we experience as we contemplate death. It is by John L. Bell and I will share it with you in it’s entirety…

“I never wanted to be born.

The older I grew,
the fonder I became of my mother’s womb
and it’s warmth
and it’s safety.

I feared the unknown:
the next world,
about which I knew nothing
but I imagined the worst.

Yet, as I grew older,
I sensed in my soul
That the womb was not my home forever.

Though I did not know when,
I felt sure that one day
I would disappear through a door
which had yet to be opened,
and confront the unknown
of which I was afraid.

And then,
it happened.

In blood, tears and pain,
it happened.

I was cut off from the familiar;
I left my life behind
and discovered not darkness but light,
not hostility but love,
not eternal separation
but hands that wanted to hold me.

(pause)

I never wanted to be born.

I don’t want to die.

The older I grow,
the fonder I become
of this world
and it’s warmth
and it’s safety.

I fear the unknown:
the next world,
about which I know nothing
but imagine the worst.

Yet as I grow older,
I sense in my soul
that this world is not my home forever.

Though I do not know when,
I feel that one day
I will disappear through a door
which has yet to be opened.

Perhaps having come so safely through the first door,
I should not fear so hopelessly the second.”

Written originally for the funeral service of a group of teenagers who had been killed in a car crash.

Aramaic Lord’s Prayer

prayer at sunset
This translation of the Lord’s Prayer from Aramaic into English was posted by Janet Sutton Webb on Facebook. It really resonated with me.

O cosmic birther of all radiance and vibration!

Soften the ground of our being and carve out a space within us where your presence can abide.

Fill us with your creativity so that we may be empowered to bear the fruit of our mission.

Let each of our actions bear fruit in accordance with our desire.

Endow us with the wisdom to produce and share what each being needs to grow and flourish.

Untie the tangled threads of destiny that bind us,

as we release others from the entanglements of past mistakes.

Do not let us be seduced by that which would divert us from our true purpose,

but Illuminate the opportunities of the Present Moment.

For you are the ground and the fruitful vision,

The Birth Power and the Fulfillment,

and All is gathered and made whole once again.

by Mark Hathaway, published in The Cygnus Review 2003 Issue 3
Here is the link http://www.free-meditation.ca/archives/446

Letting Go

Letting_Go

The harder I try to hold on

The more I seem to sink lower;

My head is telling me let go

My heart is so full of fear.

 

If I let go of feeling secure

What will I have in it’s place?

Well – possibly a new found freedom

Do I therefore trust in God’s grace?

 

The road less travelled is not an easy one

Yet my options are closing in;

I know I need to take a deep breath

Pick up my pen and begin.

 

Where it may lead I do not know

I guess it doesn’t matter where;

Inside the fear sometimes grips my heart

Then I hear Jesus say “It’s OK I care”.

 

“Take my hand and I’ll show you

The next step is all you need take”;

Negative thoughts and chains of fear

Jesus assures me he will break.

 

Today I put my hand in his

and let go of what holds me back;

With him by my side, continuing on

Assured there’s nothing I will lack.

by Denise Dale

Remembering Brigid, Imbolc and Candlemas

1st woman bishop

The Right Reverend Libby Lane being received as a Bishop in the Church of England

 

Today is an auspicious day!  The 2nd February is when celebrations in the Celtic, pagan and church calendars align.  It is Brigid’s day, when she is honoured as both saint, in the Christian tradition, and goddess with three aspects, maid/virgin, mother and crone.  Each aspect is marked in different seasons and this day, the beginning of Spring, celebrates the fruitfulness of womanhood.

Brigid was born in Ireland in AD453 and, having infuriated her father by giving away his wealth and refusing to marry, she chose a religious vocation.  It is said that at the moment of receiving the veil, a ring of fire appeared above her head and the bishop consecrating her, elevated her to bishop in his shock and confusion!  Perhaps this was no mistake but an intervention by the divine spirit, for she went on to found an educational order for men and women and people came to her for healing at a holy well.  She is said to be the keeper of the Sacred Fire and the church in Kildare was built on the site of a pagan temple where a flame burned constantly.  Brigid’s sisters maintained this tradition and kept a fire alight for a further 1000 years.  She is associated with poetry, prophesy, the importance of friendship with humans and animals, as well as learning and healing.  She is often pictured with a white cow and is associated with birth.  The word ‘Imbolc’ means milk or ewe’s milk and was thought to come in at this time.  She was said to be ‘wet-nurse’ or ‘mid-wife’ to Christ and Imbolc is considered as midwifing the year.

Candlemas celebrates the fruitfulness of another woman, Mary the mother of Jesus.  Women were considered unclean until 40 days after childbirth and once this time had elapsed they went to the temple to perform the ceremony of purification.  It is when Mary and Joseph present themselves and their newborn son at the temple for this ritual, that the prophet Simeon takes Jesus into his arms, looks to the heavens and says, “Lord, now let your servant depart in peace, for mine eyes have seen your salvation which you have prepared in the presence of all peoples, a light for revelation to the gentiles.” (Luke 2:29-32)  These are the words of the Nunc Dimittus which remind us that Christ is a light to all peoples.  Traditionally all candles that were to be used throughout the year were blessed at a special service of Candlemas.  Yet, Simeon also prophesies to Mary, “A sword shall pierce your soul too.”  Tess Ward makes the following comment in response to this, in her excellent book and worship resource, ‘The Celtic Wheel of the Year’, “So here, in the midst of the occasion of Mary’s requirement to be purified from the natural processes, the mess, blood and pain of giving birth, an old man can see what messy, bloody, painful times are ahead for a woman loving from the depths of her mother’s heart (p. 36).”

Last week saw another amazing woman of faith and courage consecrated as bishop.  This has felt like a particularly long, painful and traumatic labour!  But now, along with Simeon the prophet, we can rejoice that we have seen what we long hoped for, but hardly dared to believe.  I offer a prayer, also by Tess Ward, that we might all see more clearly the better future we’re promised through Jesus and have the strength to bear the waiting for the newness that’s yet to come to birth.

“Morning Invocation

Healing Spirit,

midwife of my newness and growth,

tend the fresh shoots of my emerging as I set foot this day.

Heal my birthing soul when I pass through the ring of fire and broken waters on my journey through this world.

Fuse my backbone mettle with your courage

as I stand against all that is unjust.

Craft my words that they might meld heart and mind

and mend with fiery precision.

Befriend my creaturely ways that I might be friend to all your creatures that share our precious planet.

Create in me a prophetic eye that I might see the new thing you are doing this day and have vision for tomorrow.

Healing Spirit, be with me as I walk this new day.”

by Tess Ward, page 46,  ‘The Celtic Wheel of the Year’

Thoughts on Community

simplicity book image

Yesterday we had our annual community meeting.  We reviewed the good, as well as some disappointments, experienced last year and made plans for the year ahead.  One of our number, Sue May, has been reading Richard Rohr’s book ‘Simplicity’ and she shared some of her thoughts on what she learned of community from her reading.

1. Others can get through to me – I can get out of myself.

2. Not a special kind of structure – but a network of relationships.

3. Relationships between the established church and the ‘base community’.

4. Both are needed, established church has history and communities have vibrancy and honesty.

5. Advocating living on the edge, holding both together but holding things lightly.

6. Act of faith is to give away what we don’t yet have. For example, healing when we aren’t healed, love when we struggle with bitterness or unforgiveness, compassion when we struggle with pride.

cross

The cross is an excellent reminder of our posture and orientation. To look up and fix our eyes on Jesus, with our feet rooted in the soil of ordinary life. Reaching out in one direction to institutional church and in the other to community on the edges.

Faith in Hindsight

Stan origami

A five year old dies from meningitis

A young woman commits suicide within hours of being released from hospital

The blog of a young man suffering from severe depression

A young mother miscarries

Loss

Stress

Grief

Tragedy

Heartbreak

WHERE IS GOD?

THIS CARING,LOVING GOD?

Verses quoted by well-meaning but un-empathetic people

Become a weight round my neck

Adding to my misery and despair

I don’t see him Not even a glimmer

In the deep dark pit of

WHY?

It is only as I come out

Of the darkness of despair

That I begin to see

That God has not left me

And in hindsight

I see the provision

Growth

Change

Hope

Strength

For that deep dark chapter in my life

And my faith deepens

And I can say

GOD, YOU WERE THERE!

YOU ARE WITH ME!

YOU DO CARE!

Hindsight Gives me the strength

To hold on

When life gets tough

Bible verses only become real to me

As I live out the ups and downs of life

These are the verses I can hang onto

Strengthening my faith

AND I KNOW YOU ARE STILL GOD!

Carol Clack, 21st January 2015

Spend! Spend! Spend!

sales shopping

One minute everywhere, the next gone.
The shops adorned with decorations and full of seasonal song
Full of everything one must have for the perfect Christmas
Spend!
SPEND!
                    SPEND!
Black Friday
Manic Monday
Cyber Monday
Special offers
Spend!
SPEND!
                    SPEND!
Retailers desperate that we spend
And buy everything
From mince pies to turkey and all the trimmings
To tablets, kindles and complete entertainment systems
So that you need not miss the unmissable
To that furniture you must have before Christmas
Spend!
SPEND!
                   SPEND!
Retailers caught
Emptying stores of Christmas cheer
Before Christmas Day
So the Sales
Can begin
Spend!
SPEND!
                   SPEND!
As mince pies go out
Hot cross buns and chocolate eggs enter
For…..
EASTER!

by Carol Clack,
January 2015