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.

‘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

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

O God ..I’m stressed!!

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As I have been preparing my sermon … stress seems to be uppermost in my mind. The stress of a daughter preparing and surviving a wedding, the stress of a family whose family member is in prison, the stress of growing old, the stress of meeting deadlines, the stress of being a Mum, daughter, sister, friend, confidante, grandma .. and of course minister !!

However as I ponder on this subject, I realise that I am not alone … I am surrounded by ‘stressful’ people. The knack is to recognise the stress, and ask for help … asking for help is not a sign of weakness but a sign of strength… and know that we are surrounded by ‘angels’ who will ‘pick up’ on our stresses and help us to relieve them. That is not to say they will take them or even make them go away, but by compassion, gentleness and tenderness they help us know we are not alone… then we can face to new dawn.

Jesus was surrounded by his friends who sometimes did not recognise that he was stressed, but Jesus did say that we must be a  ‘neighbour’ to those in need… that means being ‘nosey’ and keep alert if there are problems with those around us…..then one day …they maybe able to be there for us…..

Prayer

God who understand our stresses and strains

Be with as we go about our daily responsibilities.

Enable us to see the bigger picture.

And when situations arise-

where we are confronted

with putting the values of faith, or values of self first

remind us that Jesus also experienced this balancing act

which causes Stress for him

When division erupts,

Bring your healing light to bathe wounds

Bring your calming wisdom to speak words with integrity

Bring your inner peace to soothe troubled spirits.

May we always be aware of Stress, division and conflict that surrounds us

And through your grace

May we always be peacemakers…

Through the Christ

Who felt the stress of life as he walked this earth

Through the Spirit who strengthened and supported him

Amen

Julian of Norwich and the ‘three windows’

julian of nowich

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)

A summer Christmas

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Had a wonderful service this week … the theme was …a summer Christmas !.

Let me explain …we hear the Christmas story in December , and how God came to dwell with us , God Immanuel , God and the Incarnation , however I think during the year, we need reminding about the fact that God IS STILL and ALWAYS with us .

So on a hot summer Sunday morning, in the church service, we heard  the Christmas stories , the Angels and the young Mum , the journey from Bethlehem to Beacon Hill, and the travellers, visitors and gifts.( with slight amendments )

I always marvel how God uses many people to bring this Christmas story to life.

We heard about the’ angel ‘and the young Mum , which as particularly poignant as we have a nursery based in our church ; we then heard about the journey that people take to get their destination, and it was great surprise to have one of our young people back .. if only for a week , to tell us about his experiences , before he goes on his gap year, the people he met , the friends he made , and also the modern day ‘Herods’ that is the people to avoid !!

Then we focused on gifts, the gift of ourselves to other people, and my grandson , who I have mentioned before on here, performed a front roll down the centre of the church. We all smiled, and cheered …. And as we did this….we sensed the delight around the congregation, delight that God is present , delight that even in the messy world we live in , there are glimpses of the Spirit lifting our tensions and burdens .

In summer, children gather to build sandcastles ….. let’s celebrate a summer Christmas , and build a nativity in the sand,( the above picture is  a sand sculpture in Jesolo) let children come and tell the story of when God came on earth to dwell… and let us as parents and fellow’ travellers’ remind them, that he is STILL AND ALWAYS will be here.

Prayer

God who breaks through the Christmas stories,

In the summer sunshine

help us recognise the voice of an angel

help us to give and receive the gift of friendship with those we meet

Help us to ‘gossip the gospel’

So all may know you as ‘God Immanuel ‘

God who lives and dwells with us … not just on a cold winters night ,

But in the sunshine of a summer day

Amen

St Ignatius…. The Examen

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

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

 ignatius of loyola

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

The prayer covers five points.

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

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

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

–      Whom did I meet during the day?

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

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

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

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

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

–      I will give thanks for this.

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

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

 

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

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

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

 

Prayer

Teach us, good Lord,

To serve thee as thou deservest,

To give and not to count the cost,

To fight and not to heed the wounds,

To toil and not to seek for rest,

To labour and not to ask for any reward,

Save that of knowing that we do Thy will.

St Ignatius of Loyola (1491-1556)

The two silences .. and Henri Nouwen

henri nouwen photo

Its a beautiful sunny day today , and after two busy Sunday services yesterday , I needed some ‘silence’ to attempt to still my inner voice. I had a lovely lunch with a friend, then attempted to file the ever increasing paperwork in my study. However i just kept on hearing a voice saying ‘be still’

My thoughts went to Henri Nouwen, a Catholic priest who tragically died in 1996 and is seen as great spiritual thinker of our time. He was involved with the L’Arche community, where his prayers were rooted in the ordinary things of life. He wrote many books about living in a modern secular culture and his books reflect an honesty about his experience of God. He talks about God using us ‘as channels for God’s love and grace’. He too found it a struggle to be’ silent'(  like me, as I like to chat and listen to people’s stories)

In his book ‘With Open Hands’, Nouwen reflects on prayer and silence and confirms that  there is some connection between Prayer and Silence, but if we think about silence in our lives , it seems that it isn’t always peaceful, silence can be frightening . He also highlights that  there are two silences; one frightening, where we have the busyness of the day’s activities roaring in our head; the other peaceful…the silence which is full of sounds, the wind , the leaves rustling , our own quiet breathing , the swallowing in our throat,  hearing or feeling our heart beat.”

We are invited by God to move from our noisy world into a ‘sound – filled silence’ .” “But moving further is  to achievement of inner silence, a silence of the heart.”

 “Achieving inner silence is where feelings of love and hate.tenderness and pain ,forgiveness and greed……are separated, strengthened  or reformed by Gods grace.”

 

Dear God

Speak gently in my silence

When the loud outer noises of my surroundings

and the loud inner noises of my fears

keep pulling me away from you .

Help me to trust that you are still there

even when I am unable to hear you.

Give me ears to listen to your small soft voice

saying  ‘Come to me all who are overburdened and I will give you rest … for I am gentle and humble of heart’’

Let that loving voice be my guide

Amen

Excepts from ‘With Open Hands Henri Nouwen

Ava Maria Press

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