Do Dogs have souls?

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When you hear the terms “soul” and “spirit,” what comes to your mind? Many people believe that these words mean something invisible and immortal that exists inside us. Individuals and communities think that at death, this invisible part of a human leaves the body and lives on.

I have conducted many funerals, and I endorse this hope, and often speak about the essence of God’s Spirit which dwells within us, merges with the greater Spirit which we call ‘God’. Where two become one, and where the person, (myself included when my time comes), will find ultimate peace, ultimate fulfilment, ultimate healing and ultimate wholeness, which is called SHALOM.

A member of my family is very poorly at the moment, and may die. He gives us joy, he eats with us, sleeps in our house, shares our joys and sorrows, he shows emotions and intellect, he is quiet yet noble, he is our dog Danny, a greyhound. He is a part of our family, and that means also God’s family, and because of this, I know God treasures him and loves him.

Danny has taught me many things, to trust, to love, to give and receive affection, to depend on mystery and relationship between a human and a canine friend. He has been there in times when I just needed someone to cuddle, he has been there jumping around the garden in happiness when I am doing the gardening.

Do Dogs have souls ?… I know they do. Love and trust which Danny shows me are qualities that God shows to each one of us. As humans, we have to encourage each other in times of difficulties and sow seeds of love, to bring about the kingdom of God. It seems to me that Dogs are our companions in this task. Danny has accompanied me on many a pastoral visit, and the person I am visiting has spoken more to him than me !

There is divine connection between humans and dogs, a connection which is moulded and forged in the mystery of God. Now it is my turn to be with Danny, as he journeys through this very difficult path, visiting him and comforting him, feeding him and yes his Spirit is bruised, but still strong. I am there for him , as he has been there for me. Surely that is what the Kingdom of God should look like , being visibly there for each other. ?

I pray that when the time comes and I release Danny back to God, God will bless him and say ‘Well done my true and faithful servant, in you, I have been well pleased’

Prayer

God who shows us how love

We thank you for the love and joy our pets bring us.

We thank you those with healing hands heal and restore life to our pets

We thank you for the divine connection you give all animals.

Enable us as partners in your creation to recognise your divine Spirit in our animals,

to always be kind to them, and never abuse their trust in us.

For your kingdom would be poorer without them.

Amen

©Ruth Dillon

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Lent 2015 .. Day 16…Grace

Grace cloud

Can you ever define ‘Grace’ ?

I am not too sure, but I know what ‘ungracious’ means and what it’s like to be on the other end of it ! It is when someone is churlish, ungrateful, offhand, rude, insensitive and disrespectful to me, and I feel inadequate and hurt. It’s a horrible feeling.

Grace, it seems to me, is about respect, love, being valued, cherished, kindness, and treasured, in other words the total opposite of ungracious.

Personally … I don’t even try to define what grace is, I just know when I experience it, it makes me feel elated, loved and it’s like walking on air !

. Many people can look back at a gracious situation, and recognize that at that moment it felt like God stepped in and touched a situation in their life in a way that is unique, and sometimes unexpected. It almost defines any comprehension, where it becomes a ‘holy and spiritual experience’ which can stay with us for a very long time, and strengthen us in time of crisis. The wonderful fact is that God’s grace is something that we have no right to, yet God blesses us with grace which is in abundance and given freely to us.

Just for one moment think about that ……..

A love given freely with no strings attached,

A Love given unconditionally,

A love which knows no limits,

A love regardless of our faults and failings,

A love given regardless of our gender, sexuality, and abilities.

If we take this seriously then our response is to praise God, and do whatever we can to work for a just world, a world that is inclusive, and that encourages God’s light to shine from within us … so all may recognise that the Love we have for all people,  comes from our gracious God .

We are mirrors whose brightness, if we are bright, is wholly derived from the sun that shines upon us.
~ C. S. Lewis

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.

‘God-centered’ Families

the beauty of sand

Family trees…… more to the point tracing family trees. Who has traced their family tree?. There are even books and leaflets you can get on how to do it properly. The TV schedules have really gone to town on this; many celebrities have traced their families. The newsreader Moira Stuart, and David Tenant otherwise known as Dr who, Deidre Barlow from Coronation street to name but three… and we also have Long Lost Families, where individuals attempt to find long lost relatives.

My cousin traced my grandma’s family back about 4 generations, and found out we came from Gloucester.We put such importance on our names. It gives us our identity, our heritage, our individuality, or uniqueness.Another example is …..family doctors . How is it that some families have a series of doctors, vicars, or plumbers  in past generations?

Having an identity, a base, a family is vitally important.

But in our society  there are people who are struggling with identity; with where they come from and …who is their family

  • Homelessness where many thousands of people whom roam the pavements and seek to find shelter from the harsh realities of our world .
  • Leprosy where who have been alienated from society, rejected by family members because of a skin disease and the effects of that disease of their bodies
  • Refugees and asylum seekers where those speaking out against injustice, conflict and people who have been displaced particularly those is war-torn countries who have lost their family roots.

Families and particular ‘identity’ is important to us, for they tell us and those around us who we are.

Many people use a wonderful image to describe our ‘church family’… a dysfunctional family !… We have many relationships to consider, some positive and affirming, others can be very challenging and destructive.

Like the sand in the picture above, each particle of sand is unique and beautiful , yet different and distinctive. It can be risky living next to a particle of sand that has very sharp edges !!

We may speak the words of a Christian, but do we really open up and live a risky Christian life, where our words and actions are spoken in love… knowing that in doing so, our reputation will be judged and opinions formed for we are adhering the sacredness of God.

Living our lives in love… is risky; it means that we can never said we have got it right.

It means that love is source of strength and our life…or as a wise woman said to me a long time ago, love is the currency of eternity.

Love is the essential ingredient of our behaviour, but as I mentioned earlier it has a cost. The cost is that we must be vulnerable, exposed , not allowing the abrasive elements of our characteristics come to the fore but to allow God to speak for us

Do not be afraid of them, for I am with you to deliver you, says the Lord.’ Now I have put my words in your mouth. See, today I appoint you over nations and over kingdoms, to pluck up and to pull down, to destroy and to overthrow, to build and to plant.’

We may feel that we are not mature enough to speak for God, by the very nature of plucking, building and planting it means challenge and change, but God recognizes our fear and promises us to be with us as we step out in faith to obey.

Family trees…..whatever your surname, …..however you trace back your family, …remember that  we are all in the family of God, and being part of that family means that we live our lives in tension with the secular and the sacred world.

Next time you speak, next time you utter any words, ask yourself are they the sacred words of love from God.

Prayer

Lord like the grain of sand that is washed repeatedly on the shore .

Wash me in the waters of Love ,

That I may seek to do your will

That I may strive to walk the extra mile

That I may speak words of love as the ‘currency’ of a Christian.

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

What a privilege !

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I am always humbled when I conduct a funeral. I think it is such an honour to be there with relatives and friends as they ‘hand over’ the person that they have loved and cherished over many years to God.

However, it does need reinforcing that God never leaves us, and ‘Time’ as we understand it, is all too precious. However in God’s ‘Time’, life and death merge into a cyclical time, not linear. God is present with us in this life and also continues to cherish us through into the phase of our journey… the circle of existence. We are all part of the essence of God, so when we journey through to the next part of our existence that we call heaven, I like to think that the Spirit of God that dwells within us, merges with the perfect essence of God, which we call Love, and therefore we become a new creation.

We are changed and transformed into something that radiates God’s love even brighter than before. I am not so bold as to think that I know what heaven is like, however as I Christian, I believe and have hope,  that we have a new beginning surrounded by the Grace and Love of God; that I am reunited with all my friends and relatives, whatever their colour, gender, race or creed. ‘For there is nothing in this world or the next that can ever separate us from the Love of God’. What a privilege to have faith!!

God who is Love,

Enable us to recognise your Spirit within others

So we may look into their eyes

and see your love radiate back to us

So we may feel the pain,

and hold your hand

So we may speak word of comfort

And show you that we care

What a privilege and blessing it is

to have you in our lives

Amen   

Tough Love

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As I write this I am filled with joy as it is Mothering Sunday, the day when we acknowledge and are aware of God’s nurturing, comforting and all-embracing love  for us. It is a day to remember the women and men who have cared for us.

In a box at home I have kept the cards that my children made for Mother’s Day when they were at school. They are a lot older now 33 and 29. Yet it does not seem that long ago since they were small, and running to give me the card made from feathers and cotton wool at the school gate.

Yet I am also aware that 1in 10 people in Britain have experienced a degree of child abuse in the name of parental love; I am also aware that for some people motherhood and memories of mothers maybe tinged with sadness, regret and pain.

Being a parent does brings its highs and lows, ranging from the terrible twos and trusting threes to the turbulent teenage years. However you don’t have to be a parent though to forge meaningful relationships with children. Relationships vary whether you are a mother, father, grandparent or someone who has never had children of their own. What binds them all together is love.

Love is preached on many times, however I would like to focus on one particular type of love …tough love.

Love is a gift from God, not the fragile, vulnerable, ‘here- today- gone- tomorrow’ love, but a love forged with strength, courage and ‘stickability’.

It is by God’s grace that we can love; it is that same love, that are the cords that bind us together with God and the world ;it is that same love which Anna and Simeon felt when saw the infant Jesus,and recognised the pain that would eventually come to him and it is that same love which enables each one of us to take a step each day into the unknown day ahead.

Whether we like it or not loving is tough

Firstly, let us think for a moment about Gods love. God understood the need to let go …the stories of Adam and Eve are surely stories that echo our experience as children. Eager to try the forbidden, eager to taste new experiences and explore beyond the bounds that our parents have drawn for us.

Secondly, a mother’s Love. Mary is often portrayed as a Jesus mother an idyllic picture of family life, round the manger, the time when Jesus stayed in the synagogue and Mary could not find him and at wedding at Cana. However the story of her at the cross is often missed. Yet here she reveals a love, which is unique.

A tough love…

Loving to the uttermost.Loving when it hurts.Loving to the bitter end. She watched her son, beaten, taunted, shamed, and hung on a cross. Yet in this moment, his greatest moment, Mary was still there loving him.

Finally, the tough love of Christ on the cross. The cross truly is a place, where humanities brokenness meets Christ’s brokenness. Not just the physical, but spiritual brokenness. A place where many fear to go … however if we venture to the cross, we will be in good company. We will be alongside other people whose love has been strengthened, and forged in the cross.

One the wisest statements given to me, was by my father about my children. he said, there would come a time when I will have to drop the reins, and let them go it alone.

If you hold on too tight that’s possessive love, and they will run away. But if you gently drop the reins, they will want to come back in your arms.Wise words…. yet when the moment came for me to drop the reins … it was tough, and painful, knowing what lay ahead could be danger.

Yes, tough love is necessary for certain situations, but remember you are in good company for our love comes direct from God. A God who loves is so immense, that he can cradle all of humanity in the crook of his arm. A God who knows what is like to experience pain and nurse us back with tenderness.

Gracious God,

Whose Loving Spirit knows no bounds,

We ask that you would help us into being open to your Love

a Love that knows no limits

a Love to care for others

a Love to journey with us on a voyage of self-discovery

Enable us to see more clearly,

and so to love you more dearly, day by day

Amen

Aside

Warm up this winter with a Prayer shawl

shawl

 

 Shawls … made for centuries universal and embracing,

symbolic of an inclusive, unconditionally loving, God.

They wrap, enfold, comfort, cover, give solace,

mother, hug, shelter and beautify.

Those who have received these shawls have been

uplifted and affirmed, as if given wings to

fly above their troubles…”

Whether they are called Prayer Shawls, Comfort Shawls, Peace Shawls, or Mantles, etc., the shawl maker begins with prayers and blessings for the recipient. The intentions are continued throughout the creation of the shawl. Upon completion, a final blessing is offered before the shawl is sent on its way. Some recipients have continued the kindness by making a shawl and passing it onto someone in need. Thus, the blessing ripples from person-to-person, with both the giver and receiver feeling the unconditional embrace of a sheltering, mothering God!

 Many groups that I have been involved with, have taken up the challenge of knitting prayer shawls. They are given out to people in the community, free of charge.

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Shawls can be used and given for people undergoing medical procedures; mental health crisis; as a comfort after a loss or in times of stress; during bereavement; prayer or meditation; commitment or marriage ceremonies; birthing, nursing a baby; a wedding gift; leading ritual; during an illness and recovery; ministering to others; graduation, birthday, anniversary, ordination, holiday gifts; or just socializing…there are endless possibilities!

 In the last five years, we have distributed over 50 shawls, knitted by men, women and children. We hope and pray that the recipients will feel the warmth of God’s love around them and feel treasured. If you have not thought about doing this , then please consider it..  it is a very practical and symbolic act to illustrate God’s love for us.

Prayer

 God who wraps us with love

Enfold us in your embrace,

So we may nestle our wounded spirit,

Within this garment of healing.

 Amen 

Hymn to sustain our Prayerlife

Lay your healing hand upon me,

When my heart seems all alone;

Give me Strength, through Prayer and Praise

Accept the Love, that you have shown.

 

In my prayer life, Lord sustain me,

When the words are hard to find.

In your stillness, come be near me,

Tenderness to fill my mind.

 

When the world around is hurting,

and the pressures fill my time.

In my service and my witness,

Prayer enriches life, in kind.

 

On life’s journey, still my mind-

my heart, till I am one with you.

Then in one with all Creation

Hope and Love will bring me through.

 

©Words Ruth Dillon

Tune Servant song 8787