Advent 2 – Stars in the heavens – Wednesday 6th December – Luke 21:34-38

advent star small

And all the people would get up early in the morning to listen to him in the temple. v38

It’s hard being a disciple. There are days when we want to do our own thing; maybe we feel rebellious, grumpy, and the last thing we want to hear is about thinking of others, when all we want is to think about ourselves!

Yet breathing spaces occur in the most unexpected places, to make us realise the importance of being a follower of Jesus. It could be a word, a sensation or a phone call, where we stop, think and allow  Jesus to soothe our selfishness souls, and return to the Holy Habits of discipleship. For me, that breathing space is every morning, when I hear the birdsong calling me to wake to a new day. What’s yours?

Lord, thank you for many ways you show your Love for us, in birdsong, in tender moments, and in the cry of a newborn Infant. Amen 

 

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Advent …. 1.Great Expectations

Great-Expectations1

Advent !… I love Advent … yet I have already succumbed to the rush of the Christmas , the consumerism , the general mayhem of chaos, struggling to put the Christ into Christmas.

I started Advent with conducting a quiet day for people who needed to stop, reflect and wait for the meaning of Christmas… yet look at me!.. quickly involved in Christmas activities . I ask myself .. what do I expect from Advent ? is it stillness ? is it preparation time ? .. or is to look ahead to the future … of my expectations what the Babe of Bethlehem will bring in my ministry and in my life and discipleship. Over the next few weeks…. from Advent right through to Epiphany, I shall be offering my thoughts and reflections on certain passages with ‘Great Expectations’ in mind. Advent for me is a period when I offer to God my life and heart at the cradle, and I wait in Great Expectations of how God will use me in the coming year

1 John 1 :5 This is the message we have heard from him and proclaim to you, that God is light and in him there is no darkness at all. 

In the darkness I have no identity

In the darkness I have no opinions

In the darkness no one can see me

In the darkness I am a shadow person

 

The Light looks frightening as it will reveal all my faults

The Light looks risky as it will show my imperfections

The Light looks warm as it creeps and disperses the shadows that surround me

The light looks strong as it permeates into every nook and cranny

 

As I wait to take the first step

from the shadow lands of my existence

to the open warmth of the light,

my soul flutters with excitement….

 

Knowing that my life never be the same

Knowing that my heart will be full of Love

Knowing that my journey will be a journey filled with Hope and Love.

Holy Spirit strengthen me to journey into the Light

Ruth Dillon

Straddling the sacred and the secular

thomas merton

We are living in a world absolutely transparent, and God is shining through all the time’ Thomas Merton 

 I love this quote from Thomas Merton…the thought of God’s piercing light radiating in our world … shining in places and people, where hurt and fear prevail. Straddling the spiritual and the physical realm can be a difficult achievement. Yet one man in the 20th century has shown us the way.

Out of all the 20th century mystic spiritual writers, the most influential is Thomas Merton. His early life was a tumultuous one, and he became a Roman Catholic through the influence of a Zen Buddhist master. He affirms that ‘contemplation’ is the gift that God gives us…and through contemplation our Love for God increases. However, he warns that contemplation will not be given to those who willfully remain at a distance from God. His story is one that touches the hearts of most people, as he brings all of his life’s experiences to God and is rewarded by being one of the most prophetic voices in the 20th century.

Thomas Merton was born in 1915 in France, and was educated In France, America and England. He grew up in the 1920s and 1930s and tried his hand at many pastimes. While in England he attended Cambridge University and his peers often called a womanizer and philander, enjoying company in the clubs.( he is supposed to have fathered a child at this time ). For a short time he embraced communism, yet it was Catholicism which in turn catapulted him to a strictly cloistered life in a rural Kentucky monastery.

The writings that flowed from his monastic cell over the next 27 years examined spirituality (of the west and east), the Cold War, the civil rights movement and the challenges for the individual in the post-modern world. In short, Merton’s writing took on many of the struggles of the 20th and 21st century. And it is for this reason that many people turn to him for guidance and inspiration.

Thomas Merton died by accidental electrocution while traveling in Asia but remains one of the most widely read and written about spiritual figures of the modern era. On a personal note, I find the spirituality of Thomas Merton refreshing. He does attempt to straddle the sacred with the secular, and in doing so he enables us to see the radiance of God’s Love in the most unexpected places.

Radiating God,

In the times when we falter, steady us

In the times when we doubt, inspire us

In the times when we feel disappointed, embrace us

Radiate your love in the shadow places of our lives.

So all may witness your glory

As we turn radiate your love to others.

Amen

St Ignatius…. The Examen

I find ‘Spiritual Direction’ vital to my ministry, indeed I feel that anyone who is serious about their relationship with God, should have the opportunity to reflect, and ponder how to deepen it with a Spiritual companion/accompanist /director (depending on which word your feel most comfortable to use).

Many years ago I used Ignatian Spirituality help me focus on my prayer life, and my director at the time advised me to use the EXAMEN, an aspect that I still use to this day. I hope you will find it a useful response to help you as we all journey through life with the Living God

 ignatius of loyola

St Ignatius of Loyola (1491-1556) is the founder of the Jesuits. He used prayer as a means of centring on God. More than any other prayer, The EXAMEN is the central prayer of St Ignatius. It is a prayer of looking back. It is not just reflecting on what has gone wrong, but a wider look at what has happened during my day – the good things and the bad things – trying to see where God has been moving. The Examen is best used regularly. Most people find it helpful in the quiet time before going to sleep. It takes about 15 min.

The prayer covers five points.

  • No matter what I am worrying about ….STOP!  God is with me – quiet perhaps, but always there. I remember that God has created all things. All I have is a gift from God. Is there something I would especially like to give thanks for today?
  •  I ask God to shine his light into my heart so that when I look back over the day I may be able to see God working in the things that have happened.
  • Now I remember through the day starting from when I woke up. I remember the people I met and the things that have happened.

–      On the whole , was is it a “Good” or a “Bad” day

–      Was it a normal day, or unusual in some way?

–      Whom did I meet during the day?

–      Was there something surprising? …A long lost friend …or and awkward old enemy?

–      Does something special come to mind :…a beautiful sunset…something I was told….something on TV.

God guides us through our moods and feelings. Normally God’s way is (in a deep sense) peaceful and consoling. If your day was disturbed or if you were uneasy, can you sense where the uneasiness was coming from?

Like a sailor buffeted by different winds, we are affected by many different feelings. The better we come to know these swirling breezes, the easier it is to see the perhaps subtle movements of God in our lives.

  • An important question to ask is: What can I be proud of today? (there will be things . If you can’t think of anything then you haven’t looked hard enough!)

–      I will give thanks for this.

–      But also, did I turn away from God during the day? Maybe I turned a blind eye when it suited me ? Did I recognise God in that homeless woman, that annoying child or that spiteful old man?

–      I will say a prayer asking for forgiveness for anything I may have done to ignore or hinder God’s love during this past day.  will ask especially for the graces of healing and strength.

 

  •  The final part of the prayer is to look forward to tomorrow. We are people of hope. Let us remember that God will be with us then.

The Examen is a prayer which helps us become aware of the presence of a loving God, and helps us move into a position where we can look more closely at how God has been moving and working in our life.

The focus the prayer is God – in the case of the Examen, God may appear to have been deeply hidden (or in heavy disguise perhaps) but God has been there nonetheless. Our task is to simply notice.

 

Prayer

Teach us, good Lord,

To serve thee as thou deservest,

To give and not to count the cost,

To fight and not to heed the wounds,

To toil and not to seek for rest,

To labour and not to ask for any reward,

Save that of knowing that we do Thy will.

St Ignatius of Loyola (1491-1556)

Holiness

holiness

‘Holiness’ cannot be defined and can never be adequately described, as holiness means that God is present. In exploring the meaning of ‘holiness’ we are not only searching for God, but also the meaning and value of our lives. In coming to know God, we find ourselves, because it is in God that we live and move and have our being. Gerard Hughes book ‘God in all things’, gives indications to our own personal journey and spirituality to seek God and to find holiness.

  • Hunger for Knowledge and Truth is a sign of our holiness, as God beckons us into a deeper communion with him.
  • The gift of awe and wonder, enabling us to sense the sacredness of a particular place, or  glimpse the of depth in another person is also a sign of holiness.
  • Laughter as a sign of holiness is the ability to laugh at ourselves, and see the comedy of a situation. A spirit of joy and merriment has been one of the special hallmarks of those who are declared saints!!
  • Human Love and desire as a sign of holiness. Love can take us out of ourselves, but there is always a part of us where no person, no created thing can satisfy our inner hunger. Loving another person releases us from our self-centredness and draws us into the service of others.

My blog has a sub title … my long struggle to attain holiness…It is a subject  which draws me nearer to understanding God.

Holiness is cultivated, nurtured and emerges , as the more we recognise God’s presence in our lives….. the more our Holiness develops.

 

Holy God ,

May each day bring a new experience

where we can recognise your Love.

May each day bring a new joy

where we can recognise your grace.

May each day bring a new opportunity

where we can claim you as our God.

 

Amen

Walking on the edge

walking on the edge

Every year, ministers in the United Reformed Church attend a Spring/ Summer school. This year is an opportunity to consider with colleagues what is means to be part of the ‘Leadership team’ in URC churches in the 21st century. .

The speaker‘s opening words caught my attention, ‘Leadership ..  is a risky place to be ,for  if you are too near the edge you can fall off into chaos, and if you are not on the edge you solidify and become stagnant’.

In past years, church members have been associated with the Church from cradle to grave ( many  over 60 and 70 years),  absorbed faith knowledge and then repeated it. Hence the phrase, it’s always worked, it was fine for me, so why change ? Change can mean uncertainty and anxiety, but if we are to be on the edge, then change must happen. By that I mean not just about Church buildings, but about a change of heart and understanding of what it means to be a disciple and be a relevant church in today’s society.

The question was posed that being ‘church on the edge’, means that we must appreciate that society has changed. In the last 40yrs, Medical knowledge has increased, so too has Technology, Engineering and of course  Theology. We live in an age where we have a choice, and vital to our choosing is discussion and discernment. Alongside that is journeying with people, who are trying to find out what God means to them, through discussion not blind acceptance.

Its seems to me that being in ‘Shared Leadership in Churches (and by that I just don’t just mean  the minister but the whole appointed Eldership as well) can easy be perceived as ‘Management’, however management is about problem solving. Leadership asks the question .. why are we doing this and is it the right thing to further the Kingdom of God..

For the church to have a viable future, the Gospel must not just be spoken about , but to be lived out, where forgiveness and inclusivity changes lives, and so transformation to hope and wholeness can be visibly seen.

I have no answers, save that I know that I believe the people of God need to know they are beloved and treasured by God, and that the rebuilding of trust, restoring confidence and renewing of hope must happen. I am grateful for David Grosch Miller for his thoughtful reflections, however he left a challenging call to all of us … we are called to be, not just pastors…. but prophets. I am grateful he used Moses in Exodus as an example of Leadership, with all his faults, flawed humanity and hesitations, he trusted God.

God who led your people out of slavery to a land flowing with milk and honey,

We pray that you would lead us to the edge,

Not so we can fall into chaos, but we can see the true landscape ahead of us

Be in our minds that we may reflect on issues of faith with clarity

Be in our mouths that we may speak words that bring wholeness

Be in our steps , so we may walk alongside the edge with confidence knowing you are there to hold us and guide us.

We ask this in Jesus name

Amen

Life is like music

I love the thought of the created world living in harmony with each other … yet at times we want to go it alone. As Passion Week approaches, the crowds are rich in song and praise, yet all too quickly Jesus will be alone.

When life is joyous and fulfilled, it is as though we are one with our Creator God, when the orchestra of life is rich, a full bodied tone reaches out and fills our soul … yet there are other times when our life is like a solo oboe player, playing a soulful tune…waiting for the instruments of life to re-join the music.

I wrote this prayer a number of years ago to remind me of the joyous praises as Jesus enters Jerusalem, the loneliness as the week progresses, then returning to the hope and euphoria of the resurrection.

O God,

You made the world.

In creation we see the wonder of your handiwork… the animals, and rolling hills.

In our humanity we see, we feel , we sense your presence

Surrounding us, embracing us, and sustaining us.

In this creative atmosphere,

An artistic process occurs.

You call us…A Voice …a melody …a song .

You become the conductor to a wonderful symphony .

The sweet solo song of the Lark ascending from earth to sky.

The musical notes of our conversation with each other.

The excited and enthusiastic melodies of the ultimate joy

In knowing you are near and guiding us.

Creation and humankind come together in harmony,

To sing a chorale of unity and wholeness.

Where our song is sweet and our spirits soar at the very sound of you.

You are the conductor, the composer …of all that is.

However, Lord

There have been times

When we want to go it alone.

When we think we can create and compose

A sweeter and more distinctive sound.

We have listened to our own voice.

Clashing noises have been heard.

Our pride and self-centredness create disharmony,

And we find ourselves alone.

The grand symphony has gone

And the loneliness of individuals hearts wander aimlessly,

Longing to be re-united,

with the harmony of creation , humankind and you.

O God

Forgive us our arrogance

Forgive us our pride

Forgive us for destroying the harmony of others.

In the silence, let us ask for forgiveness.

Lord,

Thank you for your forgiveness and

healing our wounded spirits

Thank you for enabling us to join the orchestra of your creation.

Where voices, hearts and spirits can mingle together

Until we become a permanent member of your eternal musical creation…. Amen

The ‘scent’ of Love

 

annointing woman

 

My favourite perfume is Green Tea, by Elizabeth Arden … Not that I ever wear it a great deal, apart from special occasions, however I also love to have aromatherapy burning in the house. I adore the many scents and fragrances and often will mix them up and see what will develop. Although it has been a while now, I used make bread, which can evoke such memories of warmth and comfort, yet I feel one of the most tangible ‘scents’, is the scent of Love. I have been in a room where I have felt the magnetism in the air between two people, and again when I read the reading of the woman who anointed Jesus from the Gospel of John, I wondered what the atmosphere would have been like.

The onlookers would have been shocked and disgusted, that Jesus allowed her to anoint his feet; not a slave, but a woman of status, and her hair not bound and tied up like a good obedient Jewish woman would do, but let down, flowing locks for all to see, so she could wipe the excess oil from his feet. This act of true devotion has been discussed many times, and yet again, I too am reflecting on it. Recently, I thought that the smell of the oil would have been with Jesus for a long time. I know when I spilt aromatherapy oil on my fingers, the smell lingers for ages. Jesus knew that this caring and tender act would be a ‘final goodbye’, for now he faces Jerusalem; the city that is full of betrayal, deceit, bitterness and death.

He can smell the tension in the air, yet…. The overpowering scent which he will take with him is one of Love.

A scent which will sustain him through the difficult days ahead.

A scent which will calm his nerves

A scent which is just for him

And what does Mary get in return?…As she anoints his feet with oil, and the fragrance permeates every pore between them, she wipes his oily feet with her hair, and as the oil sticks to her hair it becomes drenched, so she unwittingly anoints herself on her forehead with the same oil . That simple, yet important act of courage and faithfulness, has been blessed by God.

As disciples, we serve the God of Love, and it is that Love which will be our ‘scent’ in the world, a scent which will linger, a scent which means devotion, a scent which will carry us through our difficult and sometimes tortuous journey of life.

God who is Love

whose Love for us is overflowing,

whose Love for us is eternal whose love for us is seen in the act of a woman

Bless us with the oil of gladness and faithfulness

So all may know that we are your disciples

Amen

Epiphany.. Wisdom v Common Sense

There is a story in Thailand,… a king gave a poor man a gift of a white elephants, the elephants could not be disposed of , they could not work and were very expensive to keep . The recipient of the elephant and everyone in the village knew that the gift was dangerous and useless. Yet the white elephant in that country symbolized regal power strength. It was given as a mark of respect.

Our travellers from the East are wise men, for sure; everyone agrees on that. They might even be rich men, or kings, if the legends are true. But that’s not how the text introduces them, is it?—”rich men from the East.” No, it is very clear: “In the time of King Herod, after Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea, wise men from the East came to Jerusalem, asking, ‘Where is the child who has been born king of the Jews? For we have observed his star at its rising, and have come to pay him homage.’”

Let us cut straight to the point. Being wise is not the same as having common sense. To search for the Christ is the epitome of wisdom. To underestimate King Herod is the epitome of stupid.

The first people to hear this story would have caught the supreme irony at work in the telling, because they would have remembered what it was like, when King Herod was on the throne. Herod was one of the cruellest dictators ever to pass through the Middle East, a man so paranoid about succession that he had his own sons executed, to keep them from inheriting his throne.Being wise is not the same as having common sense. You can be wonderfully clever at astrophysics and yet not have an ounce of being street smart.

The truth is that earnest seekers only ever have part of the truth. The pursuit of wisdom, the search for the Christ, is a lifelong journey. It unfolds over time and with a lot of help. We will, as the “wise men” demonstrate, make a lot of mistakes—really stupid ones.

May God send us the dreams, the spirit, the wise ones to guide our journeys.

HeQi_030-medium

God of wisdom ,

Christ our morning star that never sets

Help us to wise people

and to follow you.

Amen

Advent .. lets de-clutter !!

As Christmas approaches, the shops are full of toys and gadgets to buy and food supermarkets are stacked to overflowing … and many buy one get one free offers abound. However as Christians, this causes a dilemma. We want to celebrate the birth of  Jesus, and not to loose heart or loose the true meaning of what the babe of Bethlehem brings us.. that is

God came to dwell with us ,

God came to be a shining light ,

a great presence in our lives ,

however we have turned Christmas into a huge shopping spree, that favours those who live in some degree of wealth.

For those who live in poverty, or on the edge , Christmas can be a trying time , a time that some dread, and celebration is the last thing on their minds .In my experience Faith can be stronger when there is ‘nothing left’, by that I mean that when you are at the end of your tether…. God is still there and will never abandon you.. But for those who see success in material wealth, for those who focus on self and not the other, God has no where to dwell in their lives .

In the western world we are very fortunate , for the majority of us live in societies  than enables us to live in relative comfort, so PLEASE spare your time and money, to think of others who are not as fortunate… put an extra tin of food in your shopping and give to a food bank, help at a homeless project on Christmas day( my children still remember us doing that , and they said it was the best Christmas’s !!) , look around and see if you can help God find a home….

God did not come to palace , or an expensive luxurious home …

God came to dwell alongside us… in the mess, in the pain , in the Spiritual and Physical poverty .

nativity  advent

God came to dwell … so as we wait … let us make room… let us de clutter, and throw out the rubbish that accumulates, and make ready… not toys or gadgets … but build a manger in our hearts, that the Christ child may enter.