Releasing the Spirit …

As we approach Advent and Christmas we celebrate the birth of Jesus yet as sure as eggs are eggs we will also be on the path which leads us into a deeper understanding of God . We have celebrated various Christian festivals in recent weeks All Souls day, All Saints, day and concluding with Remembrance Day

As a young 18yr old student nurse, one of my first jobs was to prepare the body of a person who had recently died. The sister told me to talk to the person as though they were still here, then tenderly touch and wash them.

After washing, we wrapped the body in a white sheet, tightly…and it has been this image that has stayed with me all my life … the image of being encased, ‘womb like’, waiting for something to happen … the physical body in a state of slow decay.. Yet the spirit being released …soaring to its final destination… to be a new creation

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I have never seen a soul take flight… yet I have felt what is like to be so overwhelmed with awesomeness that my inner body responds in wavelike motions… it’s a though my Spirit is wanting to reach some ‘outer part’ that I can only glimpse at… yet she can see and feel the Creator God more intimately than I can.

There will be opportunity to reflect on the birth of Jesus through the following weeks, yet I think the final word needs to be with the image of the Spirit soaring to merge with essence of God who is Creator, Redeemer and Comforter… what a happy occasion that will be. !!

The song is one I remember singing as young child, then I heard it sung again in Jamaica at a graveside during my ministerial training … the image of a bird, the Spirit flies to be be in completeness and oneness with God.

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Body Theology….Evidence of a life lived.

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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.

Julian of Norwich and the ‘three windows’

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A little known fact about Julian of Norwich is that she was the first woman to write a book in English. Again I am astounded how a woman, an anchoress could influence the community and the world she lived in, especially in a male dominated society….. when she was incarcerated in a ‘cell’.

In her ‘cell’, or stone room,  she had three windows where she encountered God.

The first window was where she received the sacraments, as the window looked directly into the church. The priest would visit her with the ‘daily office’, and she could observe the church in worship.

The second window was where she received Food and Water to maintain her existence and also where the carers removed her waste. She kept in fairly good health throughout her time in the cell .

The third window was where people from the local community came to seek her advice on matters which concerned them. She chatted to them and formed deep relationships with individuals. Her fame spread and was visited by many wealthy and poor people.

Remembering that this was the Middle ages , where the plague had ravaged families and death and disease were rife , Julian maintained that God was with them  in there suffering . It was in this world of chaos, that she utters the words .. All shall be well, and all shall be … and all manner of things shall be well. This is in direct opposition to what the male priests were telling the parishioners; she stood her ground, as she had gained respect being an anchoress. The thought of God being close to people was a new concept, and Julian encouraged this as she shared her Theology , as God as Father, God as Mother , God as Creator and God  Suffering  just has she witnessed God’s people suffering.

This is even more remarkable, as although little is known about Julian (this is not her true name, but the name she took from the Church she attended ) she could have been a nun or a laywoman , maybe a widow who lost her child and husband to the Plague. She was extremely ill when she was 30yrs old, and it was when she recovered she wrote her book ‘Revelations of Divine Love’ , but her faith in God never wavered . She instilled Hope to people where suffering and pain was their constant companion.

Learning about Julian’s life again, has helped me reflect on ‘the windows’ I use to encounter God . The church to which I belong, the people care for me and support me, the friends and strangers I meet along life’s diverse path, the joys and sorrows that Life brings.

I hope I am bold enough to speak with authority about my faith as Julian did … to articulate my faith to encourage ,to challenge , to boldly go where many fear to tread .. and with God’s spirit as my companion.. all shall be well and all manner of things shall be well.

Prayer

Let our God of Goodness be enough for you.

Ask for nothing less,

for if you ask for less than God

you will always be left wanting.

In God:

All shall be well

and all shall be well

and all manner of things shall be well.

(Julian: Revelations         of Love)

Spiritual Seekers

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One of the memories I have of my children growing up, is that incredible innocence you can see, when something good happens…… a light bulb moment occurs. Let me explain, I have been sharing a few memories with my grandson about his Mum and Auntie, memories that made us laugh, memories that made us sad, memories that made his eyes grow wide open in amazement, and I could see the total disbelief in his eyes and the long drawn out .. Nooooooo!!

At that moment as I looked at him, he was ready to accept anything I said, for he trusted every word that I uttered. That is quite a powerful position to be in, to know that you hold the power to influence another person’s thought process.

Faith is a little like that; people who ask me  ‘why do I have a faith? are not being awkward, for I think for the majority of people there is a true desire to seek the meaning of our existence, for we are all human and therefore spiritual seekers.

What I find wonderful about the Jesus of History, is his capacity to know who were the Spiritual seekers in his Jewish context, then he would reach out to them, say the right words and produce the right action, that would influence their understanding of who God is and how best to seek God.

Our task as Spiritual Seekers and Disciples of Faith is never to think we have all the answers, because God is always breathing within creation, a movement which will inspire others, a dance that will lead us on a different path, a whisper that will energise us.

God will use other people to help us on our Journey of faith; we must be humble enough to recognise this and gracious enough to receive.

God who breaks the bounds of Time and Space

May we always dance with your Spirit

To create and energy for ourselves and for others

May we always breathe in your Spirit

To bring a peace into our lives and other peoples lives

May we always walk the path of humility

To be aware of your love for us overflowing and free for all.

We ask this through the Christ who brings meaning to our lives

Amen

The Journey begins ..

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It’s been nearly two weeks since Easter, and we should be full of the joys of Spring, for through our understanding of Resurrection, the Jesus of History and been changed to the Christ of Faith … yet for some people… Spring has not arrived (quite literally here in England !! ) and the cold winds of depression and weariness can easily fill the void in our lives, where Holy Saturday seems to loom equally large.

As Easter people, we should be living in the light of the Resurrection … living with hope filling our lives, however today’s political and economic climate can be so overpowering, that it engulfs any hope we may have experienced on that Easter morning, and our Easter euphoria may only last a short time.

It seems to me that ‘Holding on’ to what is good in our lives is the key; not to be consumed by the negativity that the culture dictates , but to recognise that our journey HAS begun … and that Jesus said it would not be an easy road that we travel upon. On the road to Emmaus , the two companions were frustrated about the political unrest in Jerusalem, and distraught about the crucifixion and death of Jesus, nevertheless they recognised Jesus , not through conversation, but in action, an action of breaking bread.

The only way that other people can recognise the risen Christ … is through our action; so we need to encourage each other, support each other, be inclusive, recognise when someone needs a shoulder to cry on, be sensitive when difficulties arise, speak about injustice and know that through our actions, other people may see the Resurrected Christ, then Christ then will become alive, and real.

Christ has no body but yours,
No hands, no feet on earth but yours,
Yours are the eyes with which he looks
Compassion on this world,
Yours are the feet with which he walks to do good,
Yours are the hands, with which he blesses all the world.
Yours are the hands, yours are the feet,
Yours are the eyes, you are his body.
Christ has no body now but yours,.            Teresa of Avila

Learning from Hildegard

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Yet again, immediately after Easter, I am drawn the Spiritual mystics that have gone before me, people who have wrestled to find God in their own context, and again I am drawn to Hildegard of Bingen, a woman who was ahead of her time. Although the exact date of her birth is unknown, it is approx. 1098 and she died 1179 She was born in the middle ages, when men ruled areas of finance, politics, and the church. She broke new grounds for women, as she wrote theological, botanical, and medical books, as well as letters, music and panting.

She was visionary, who at the age of three believed that God communicated visions to her. Being a woman, many dismissed it as nonsense, however she rose to become an influential person, and many requests an audience with her, in her role as abbess to ask for advice on many issues .

Why am I returning to this woman? What would she make of the world we inhabit?

Well she believed that we experience God through our senses. . sight, hearing, smell, taste and touch, and as we continue our journey as Easter people of faith, we must be aware of the diversity of God’s world; the richness in creation and the variety of life that it sustains alongside the polarity of wealth and poor as the rich seem to be getting the richer and the poor seem to be squeezed harder with more financial restraints.

I have no mystical answers to the chaotic world we live in, apart from the knowledge that Hildegard addressed issues of her time, in her own way…. and so should we. We need to be assured that God is with us just as God was with Hildegard,, and that we like her will utter words which would change hearts.

Just as a mirror, which reflects all things, is set in its own container,

so too the rational soul is placed in the fragile container of the body.

In this way, the body is governed in its earthly life by the soul,

and the soul contemplates heavenly things through faith.

HILDEGARD OF BINDEN, letter to the Monk Guibert, 1175

Small boy reflecting on Good Friday

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I have a had a very interesting Good Friday.The service went well , ecumenical , quiet and reflective with some music from Keith Duke from Lindesfarne; only one reflection from Mary Jesus mother, and then each person took a nail to the cross and laid it down before the candle was extinguished.

How ever the most powerful image that will remain with me, is the image of my 8 yr old grandson on the floor gazing at the cross( see picture). When I asked him if he was OK … he said yes .. I was just thinking about the pain that Jesus must have had once nails were in him …..he then told me that he liked the red cloth as it reminded him of the blood , but also of the pain the world we live in.  I said that many people live in Good Friday and Holy Saturday mode … that all people can daily see and feel is pain and terror and fear, never getting to the resurrection hope that Easter Day brings.

Even though I obtained have a first class BA honours in Contextual Theology, and Masters in Theology, this simple act and conversation with my grandson that I witnessed spoke to me much more that words can imagine.

He knew pain, from his short life and personal experience, and knew it was part of life and living …yet he sat here thinking about how Jesus had helped him.

Thank God for children , who minister and teach us !!

Good Friday God,

When we can be immersed in Liturgies and words ,

The simple act of a sitting and reflecting in a childlike way …is all it takes ..

As we gaze at the cross, let us be aware of the pain of others

As we see your arms outstretched holding the world in an embrace.

Heal our wounds by your love for us

As we hear the cries of  friends,  families and strangers  who stood  before you .

Help us move from

the pain of living …..to the hope of abundant blessing.

In Jesus name …..we  pray this today 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

 

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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