‘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

Advertisements

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

The Journey begins ..

Jesus walking on water !

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

hildegard_von_bingen_banner

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

2013_0329PictuMyURCHillBeacon0001 copy

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

What a privilege !

flower_of_life_crop_circle

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   

Moving onwards

Image

As I write this post , my belongings in my manse are ready to be packed away, my office and computer will be in boxes soon , and the freezer is empty. God has called me to go 230 miles away, and continue my ministry in a new and exciting place in Hampshire. However  as I consider the move, I know that, as God’s presence was surrounding me before my birth, and when I leave this earthy form , God’s love and essence will still surround me, I ask the question …… what will the future hold for me ?

As Life has many twists and turns , some steep drops, or hills to climb, God’s love is never ending, it never stops, it is always a quiet presence within me … encouraging my footsteps forwards.

I will meet new people, some I will get on with, some may be challenging !!.. yet God will be in the midst, soothing my fearful heart… when I ask myself … will they like me ?

The journey of discipleship is a continuous Journey where there is no beginning or end … for it is not that all roads lead to God … but all roads are in God.

Timeless God ,

who is beyond all measure

Soothe our fears when new ventures emerge

still our anxiety when our heart races

ignite our enquiring mind .. to learn more about you in the people we meet

Until we rest in your presence once again

And we are at one with you …. Amen

Hymn for journeying and discovery

O Gracious God, your love for us is yearning,

Deep in our hearts, you still our doubts and fears;

Blessing with love, so great and so abundant,

Come to us now and be with us, so still.

Come now and rest your blessing in our Spirit,

Come now and rest your blessing in our hearts,

You are our God, and we your loving children;

Who travel on life’s path and find in you our goal.

 

O Jesus Christ, you walk this earth, as we do;

Making us whole, with every step you take.

Teaching all people, with the words of healing

And reaching outward to the lost and loved.

Come now and challenge all our social boundaries,

Come now and challenge all that comfort brings;

You are our God and we your loving children,

Who travel on life’s path, abundant with your love.

 

O Holy Spirit, breathing through creation,

Touching all life with energizing power;

Guiding us through the trials and temptations,

That block our journey on our way to God.

Come now and breathe your gentle breath,-enfold us;

Come now and breathe your comfort when it hurts;

You are our God and we your loving children,

Who travel on life’s path, to our eternal home.

Tune Londonderry air

Words Ruth Dillon