Advent 2 – Stars in the heavens – Sunday 10th December – Genesis 1:14-18

advent star smallThere are many ways in which we can see the evidence of God in the world around us. Some people may be struck by the intricate beauty of a flower, while others are amazed at the majesty of the night sky, especially when there is no electrical lighting nearby. Gazing heavenwards to look at the light of distant stars, especially if using a telescope and in some remote place, and the number of stars in the vastness of the sky can be awe-inspiring. It enables us to see God not just as a small infant or a caring parent who loves us, but one who is a creator of all things.

As we light the second candle this Sunday, we think about our world, with all its complexities and its joys. Fascinated by the skies, its endless lights darting around the night skies, echo the possibilities for your Kingdom Lord. We remember people who explore the heavenly and the earthly realms; the scientists, the philosophers, the farmers and of course ourselves. Let us always remember that God, the Creator of the vastness of the heavens, and the Creator of smallest cell in our bodies, came to live among us as an infant called Jesus, to bring a light of promise to a world of darkness and doubters.

Prayer

God of the stars

You walk among us yet

You flung stars into space.

 You are closer than breath itself yet

You are beyond our reach.

 You are a mystery and also the majesty yet

You are the promise of what is to come.   

Amen

 

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God’s ‘Bubble wrap’

Bubble wrap ..!

bubblewrap

It is addictive when you hold it .. you immediately want to pop it … to feel the round spheres  and their pressure under your fingers.  It has many uses, and having received quite a bit of bubble wrap over the years. It made me think of three ways in which God uses bubble wrap for us.

Firstly as a protection … as we protect items of value in transportation with bubble wrap, so God protects us in bubble wrap of Love… buffering us from the sharp edges of life which could hurt us, gossiping , fear, and doubt. Bubble wrap also is used as a pest deterrent, so as well as God protecting us from the sharp edges, it can protect us from the slow nibbling of pride, arrogance and power. Its buffering qualities are strong, yet if we are attracted to the forces outside the bubble wrap, the spheres can puncture and leave us vulnerable.

Secondly as a warm blanket … Bubble wrap is used to cover new born infants, athletes, and people who have been exposed to the elements of the weather and so retain heat. Our Bodies respond to the warmth, a change happens…a positive reaction to the heat.  As we feel the warmth of God’s love and strength surrounding us, we are mindful of the times when the chilly winds of life have battered us about…of disappointments, redundancy, debt and illness. To be insulated and cocooned in a blanket of God’s Love for us, a rich treasure, one that we loathe to discard.

Thirdly to make us seek the child within us. Even though God delights in protecting and warming us in Love, God also delights in our laughter and enjoyment in the little things of life. The revelation we seek from popping the thin plastic circles, is an instant distresser and comforter! However, If we hold the bubble wrap up to the light, our vision is clouded and we cannot see directly through the wrap. We know there is air inside, we can feel it and hear the air explode out, yet sight is distorted. Paul writes about’ seeing through a glass dimly’. Life is a constant revelation where through relationships , physical, sexual and emotional we can start to encounter the God who dwells in life itself.

To understand God in the fullest sense, we need to seek the face of God…. not through the Bubble wrap, but in Jesus, together with the guidance and reflections of spiritual mystics of the early church Fathers and Mothers, and in spiritual contemplatives and theologian throughout the centuries.

God, be in my head, and in my understanding.
God, be in mine eyes, and in my looking.
God, be in my mouth, and in my every speaking word.
God, be in my heart, and in my thinking.
God, be at mine end, I pray.
God, be in my heart, and in every breath I take

Adaptation of a medieval prayer (from the Sarum Primer 1538)

Body Theology….Evidence of a life lived.

Dark-and-Light-Terracotta-A

If I wanted to describe my outlook on life, I would use a phrase … I celebrate life in all its fullness’. I know it’s a strange phrase, as most of us would reply ‘and so say all of us’. But what does that mean for us as Christians …when we follow a God whose body was mutilated and tortured on a cross through the death of Jesus., Some people may look at their own bodies and feel shame, disgust, and revulsion.

We need to reflect and reclaim what that means for us in the light of ‘Body Theology’.

Our bodies are how we live and move within God’s world. As St Teresa of Avila clams … God has no body but ours, no feet but ours, no hands but ours, ours is the body with which Christ moves.

So what will Christ feel and see if he moves about in my Body!

Well after three hip operations, two children, a life of enjoying good company, friendships, food and fellowship, pneumonia and various illnesses …this very rounded body is holding out!  Nevertheless, my Body is sacred … with its scars and cellulite, and spots and menopausal symptoms.

My body tells a story of life that I have lived in all of its fullness… some have been painful memories which i would want to forget, where ‘abuse’ has tortured my inner being, yet I want to celebrate God dwelling in me  .

I have loved passionately and deeply, with all of my being, and some scars are deeply hidden, but to love and trust someone, to give one’s Body over to someone else to care for whether friend , relative or lover is incredibility humbling….. God delights in Love

I have played energetically, seeing the sights and sounds of different cultures, different traditions, and different relationships, all have enriched me in many surprising ways, pushing my Body to its limit( for me ) ! … God delights in my Playfulness

I have lived rejoicing in my womanhood, experiencing  being a single mother, breast feeding my children, the menopausal symptoms which can overtake my Body, forgoing food to feed my then two young children; snacking and not eating properly is still a habit I have not relinquished. … God delights in my Faithfulness

I have worked hard, as a nurse, teacher, friend, colleague, and now a minister, and have given 150%, which yes has taken a toll on my Body, through tiredness and exhaustion… God delights in my commitment.

Yet, my Body is a place where God has delighted in all my experiences, and still delights. My Body is still the place of discovery, still the place where God chooses to dwell, and be with me as I explore the world around me.

So… I am not thin , so…. I don’t exercise , yes have yo- yo dieted for most of my life, but God’s Spirit dwells in me and delights in my Body that brings fullness into my life.

I have LGBT and disabled friends who have over the years helped me reflect on my Body, when some have had gender reassignment, some in wheelchairs and to them I will be forever grateful. Body Theology speaks to the deep inner self within us. It bubbles with excitement as we push our boundaries of discovery.

My physical, psychological and sexuality are how I live my life in all of its fullness, and I give glory to God for my experiences so far, and for ones that I have yet to encounter.

What will Christ feel and see in your Body ?

Glorious God

Our bodies have been changed

over the years through disease and injury,

Yet you choose to lovingly dwell within us.

Help us to Love our Bodies that tell the story of the life we have lived

To sense the delight you have when we discover new experiences

And when our Bodies give up on us

Journey with us until we become a new creation.

Amen

I am grateful for the beautiful images of the’ abundant Goddess’ which have helped me explore my own Body Theology.

‘All Saints day’ with our inclusive God

communion of saints

 

For those who have visited my blog previously .. It is a called ‘a saint in the making’. It is a concept that I hold dear to my heart. Let me explain … All Saints’ Day is one of my favourite celebrations in the whole liturgical year. It ranks right up there with Advent, Christmas Eve and Easter in my spirituality and I treasure marking its observance. It also invites us to quietly and prayerfully recall the blessings of God shared with us through the communion of saints – that great cloud of witnesses as the book of Hebrews puts it – who form a celestial crowd too huge to number from every nation, tribe and race – who are gathered in love before the presence of the Lord to sing praise to God and bring us encouragement and blessing until we are reunited with them in the realm that has no end. It is one of our most exquisite celebrations – and sadly, most of us in the Reformed tradition don’t really know what to make of this incredible feast day.
Saints are people who are ‘windows in this world’.  The light of God shines through them so brightly that people say they have seen salvation in them, and in the household of their lives.  A remarkable thing about them is that many were scapegoats early in their lives, bullied and called contemptible by folks around them.   To mention a few:

St. Francis of Assisi’s father dragged him into court in the town square, enraged because his son had secretly arranged to steal his father’s valuable assets, and given them to monks to sell for support of the poor.  He was found guilty.  Then, as a monk himself, he angered the local bishops by saying Mass without being ordained, creating his own liturgies, including animals in his congregation.

St. Teresa of Avila was considered a nut and way too outspoken for a woman, and shocking in her opinions.

Julian of Norwich lost her entire family to the plague, and had visions so extraordinary no one knew what to make of them.

Mother Teresa expressed her strong doubts about God, in writing.  And became a nun to escape life in her small town in Italy, where she was very unhappy.

Oskar Schindler, who saved Jews from death in World War II Germany, was a Nazi, womanizer and a drunk, who used his popular and deserved reputation as a scoundrel as a cover for what he was doing.

Nelson Mandela was considered a public enemy by the government of South Africa, which put him in jail for 27 years, during all of which he was a beacon of hope for black South Africans.

These saints, and so many others, flouted public conventions in ways that were painful for them, but also allowed them to let God’s light into this world.

So let’s take the first insight…..In our tradition, most of us aren’t aware that the celebration of All Saints’ Day is almost as old as Christmas. Scholars are certain that believers have been returning thanks to God for their martyred dead since 359 CE in Edessa, Turkey and 411 C in Eastern Syria. And by the 7th century the feast had come to include the faithful non-martyrs, too. That means that the celebration of All Saints Day has been going on for 1300 years.
There are at least three ways of categorizing saints.

1.We might even want to expand the New Testament and call all people saints since all, not just Christians, are children of the inclusive, all-embracing God.

2. Another category of saints is that of those special people from ages past who are placed on the calendar of saints and are held up for the world to emulate, like the people I have just mentioned earlier.  But let us not forget that each and every one of us here this morning are called to be extraordinary even if history does not remember us.  We can be extraordinary mothers, astonishing farmers, amazing nurses, outstanding grocery clerks, exceptional bankers, stupendous bakers, just plain amazing people aside from our jobs.

3.Thirdly, there are saints not yet born, those still to come.  God is not bound by our time sequence issues.  Right now God is gracing these people not yet born into sainthood, into holiness, into blessedness, into happiness. All three together, those from the past, those of us alive now, and those yet to come, we call the communion of saints

 

So what does it mean to honour the saints and mark this day reverently? What’s more, what is the spiritual wisdom of All Saints’ Day all about and why does it matter for you and me?

One clue comes in the very word saint… Literally the Greek word we translate as saint – hagios – means the ‘holy ones’: those who have dedicated themselves to God – those who are set apart from what is ordinary – those who have claimed God’s blessings in a deep and profound way. That means that the saints are not only those who gave up their lives for the love of God as martyrs, and this is the crucial point…..but those who lived their ordinary lives with an extraordinary awareness of God’s grace.
So the first truth is that Saints are not just ancient souls who have made something of God’s light visible in the darkness, they are also those we have known in our own time who have been open and alive to making God’s love real.

Saints are those who have been blessed by God, to be blessed by God, seems to me, is to be opened to grace and to respond by giving shape and form to the way of God in our ordinary lives. This is what saints do – and saints are you and you and you and you and all of us.
Yes , being a saint IS too hard, too demanding, too high – that’s why Jesus told us we cannot become saints – or disciples – or people of faith all by ourselves. We have to open our hearts to God when we are empty. We have name and own our sin or selfish traits and ask for forgiveness over and over again. And we have to trust that God is God…… and loves us with a love that never gives up.

And that is why trusting the ‘communion of saints’ – opening our hearts to their constant prayers for us when we have only sighs too deep for human words – can be so healing. We don’t have to do it all – that great cloud of witnesses is praying for us and encouraging the Lord to meet us where we need God the most.
That is what we claim by faith on All Saints’ Day: that God is with us in love in ways that we cannot comprehend.

 

Prayer

 

Lord as we gather on this special all Saints Day.

we ask that you would bless us as your saints of today

Enable us to show the Light of Christ,

and may our lives be windows to world of your love, grace

and wisdom

This we pray, through Christ Jesus

Amen

Ecology for the Soul

songofsongs_lrg

I have been sorting out my office and found this little gem in a file. I must have kept it for some reason…. maybe it was a reminder for myself, or to give someone. I can’t remember. But I like the title …Ecology for the soul

What will it matter?

Ready or not, someday it will all come to an end

There will be no more sunrises,

No minutes, hours or days.

All the things you collected, whether treasured or forgotten,

will pass to someone else

Your wealth, fame and temporal power,

will shrivel to irrelevance

It will not matter what you owned or what you were owed.

Your grudges, resentments and frustrations

will finally disappear

So to your hopes, ambitions and plans to do

will expire.

The wins and losses that once seemed so important

will fade away

It won’t matter where you came from

Or what side of the fence you lived at the end

It won’t matter whether you were beautiful or brilliant

Even your gender and skin colour will be irrelevant.

 

SO WHAT WILL MATTER?……How will the value of your days be measured?

What will matter is not what you bought…

but what you built

Not what you got……

but what you gave

What will matter is not your success……

but your significance

What will matter is not what you learned…

but what you taught

What will matter is not your competence …

but your character

What will matter is not how many people you knew…

but how many will feel a lasting loss when you are gone

What will matter is not your memories …

but the memories that lie in those who love you

What will matter is how long you will be remembered,

by whom and for what

What will matter is every act of integrity, compassion, courage or sacrifice that enriched, empowered or encouraged others, to emulate your example

Living a life that matters doesn’t happen by accident

It is not a matter of circumstance…..but by choice

So choose to live a life that matters

Author Michael Josephson, by permission of the Josephson Institute of Ethics( 2006)

Prayer

God in whom I live and move and have my being,

Help me to see the world through your eyes.

Not to be focussed on self,

but on you

Not to be focused on how others see me

But if I am focused on what you would me to do

Not to think … what can they do for me

But     what I can do for them

Bless me with your Abundant Spirit

So I may tread softly on the earth

And preserve what you have made.

Amen

Sunshine and showers

sunshine and showers

The summer weather has been a mixture of the two S’s …sunshine and showers.  Mostly the sun has been shining, and when this happens, everyone seems to be happier and more positive, yet when the showers did come … gosh did it rain !! Dark clouds, thunderstorms and the rain pounding onto the pavement and grass….. much needed water for the plants and crops.

For most people, the weather can affect us quite significantly. We feel positive and optimistic when the weather is sunny and warm, however wind, cold and rain can bring gloomy thoughts – even despair. Like the weather- each of us as individuals, has a sunny side and a shadow side. Many of us feel we always have to put on a ‘sunny’ face, always be cheerful and positive  ….and yet yearn to have someone listen to us, to tell them of our fears, worries and doubts.

God knows us intimately, the sunny side and the shadow side, and with his unconditional love and grace he always will love and treasure us. After the heavy shower and the sun starts to peek through the clouds we sometime get a rainbow, or beautiful rays that shine through the dark clouds, a reminder of God’s promise to us and bless us with abundant love.

If life is treating you harshly, or you feel that you cannot allow people to see the real you….if you are fearful of being judged or feel excluded in some way from society and community, remember there is one loyal and true friend you have who loves and totally accepts the whole you, the real you , the you that no-one else sees or knows …and that is Jesus.

 

Prayer

 

God of the sunshine and showers .

In the days when I feel depressed , and full of despair

When the dark clouds loom ever closer

And all I feel is emptiness

Enfold me in your tender care

 

In the days I feel unworthy and excluded

When my loneliness pulls me to greater depths

And hope is replaced by fear

Enfold me in your tender care

 

In the days when I feel uplifted and full of joy

When the sunshine lifts my Spirit

And every moment brings a smile

Enfold me in your tender care

 

Enable me Lord to see beyond the rain

To bright skies and a soaring Spirit

As the eagle rises on currents of warm air to glide high above the earth

May we who are part our your body

Rise to new heights within us

To capture the essence of your Grace

so we may forever bathe in your goodness and light.

Amen

 

Closeness of God … Come down O Love divine by Fernando Ortega

I have just returned for a short break … hence the lack of posts!!. No holiday for me, however my eldest daughter got married, and it was a wonderful occasion. As a single parent, I remember wondering how my daughters would ‘turn out’ as they are both very different in looks and character. As a young Mum, I can recall standing in the front room of dingy flat and shouting and being frustrated with God, wanting to God to sort everything out!! Yet, looking back I was never without a job, and always had food on the table. Now watching my eldest daughter walk down the aisle, and being asked to preach at her wedding …was a great privilege…. So Thank you Katharine.

She had wanted to walk down the aisle herself, and we had discussed it at length, and she … being a fiercely independent woman…. wanted it to be done her way. I felt as a Mum, a little put out with her decision, , but seeing her simple white dress, and string of pearls, coming through the chapel door, I had done my job , as a parent , confidante and friend . As she slowly walked, I sense she was struggling , being overcome with emotion, so when she had walked half way …..her fiancé put his book down and walked to her, steadying her, as they walked up the aisle together.

There is something profoundly theological about this, for she had been searching for God, wanting to be close to God… and I recalled many deep theological conversations we had till 3am over a bottle of wine … Yet in this man she had found the heart of God, a companion, a friend, a lover …someone who has shown her what Love and being Loved  is all about.

It was right that he walked her up the aisle … not me. I had done my part, as a mother  I had nurtured her , and asked God to help me in caring for her , now God was bringing another dimension of Love for her to experience.

I still pray for her to experience the closeness of God, and for the Holy Spirit to reveal herself in new and creative ways to the both, as they journey together in this life.

This Fernando Ortego song is for them, words by Bianco of Sienna in the 15th century and music by Ralph Vaughan Williams.

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