And this is eternal life, that they know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom you have sent. http://esv.to/John17.3
Eternal life is now life. It is ever flowing, ever new, ever fresh. And the source and fount is Jesus. Jesus now!
Moving from the season of darkness into the promise of the returning spring, the lengthening days, gives us a prod to consider the old and contemplate the new, enriching the present. In our small, chapel meeting we contemplated what we had been doing and what we might do. The conversation started from an idea that examining the year was a good practice, just as examining our day in an Ignatian contemplation is.
The practice of being present in our lives, grounds itself in the truth that we are loved and blessed in God and asks the Spirit to reveal to us, firstly, a time of consolation; to enrich our imaginations with the source of this consolation. The practice moves on to invite the Spirit to reveal a time of desolation, to enlighten our imaginations with wisdom grounded in love and consolation. Then, routed in blessing, we allow the light of Christ to show us the way and rest in prayer, imagining the good.
The lengthening of the days and the promise of life and abundant light, calls us to hope. A practice that was shared amongst those gathered, was of putting a pebble in a jar when we felt particularly blessed so that on the days we felt that all was desolation we could look at the jar and draw comfort. What if on the days when we received a word of hope we were to write it on one of the stones? We could then pour out the pebbles when we were feeling low and search for the words of hope and allow them to kindle hope. What if we were to fill the jar to the brim with water so that every time we added a pebble the water flowed over?
For some of us the thought of this practice might appear exhausting. Maybe we could just make a practice of lighting a candle at the same time at the end of the day. In the dark times there is a light shining. There is a light within us and we can see the light shining all around us. We are gifted with creation and the mystery of goodness draws out of us a sense of the power of love; compassion, mercy, steadfastness. The light of creation and our creative looking embodies hope in our hearts. Our faith is that God is good; he is love. Just light a candle.
Yet, look at me; look at my lived life. Look around. Is there hope? Do not be overcome. Breath. Yes, hope is in the breath that I breathe, in the glimmer on the edge of the horizon. Beyond and very near; a gust of wind. The presence of God. Be lead. In this I can rest; God is good. He is calling me to peace, to joy. He is calling me to love.
Joy to the world? Looking within I discover dark places.
But some of those dark places are quiet and comforting, places of birth, places of security where God is knitting me together. Wherever each of us is, whatever the present darkness, there is also a darkness that comforts, a place of intimacy and secure solitude. Find joy in the comfort of solitude, in the silence of a lover, and allow the light to bring you to new birth, calling you out, grounded in security, to walk in faith. Be kind, be fully human just as Jesus our Lord is fully human, not ruled by world but in the world. Become joy in the world.
Put out the candle.
Think into this time of new beginnings. In the beginning, Eve was formed in Adam. The whole of humanity taken from one humanity sharing the breath of life with all life, from a humble micro-organism to the majestic ant. Jesus is the second Adam, formed in Mary, taking his full humanity from her. The created is God, and draws breath in humanity. In this age of reason, here is the challenge, God forms God in the dark, secure womb of a vulnerable woman, Mary. God Almighty formed baby Jesus, as he did us.
Jesus was formed, a man from a woman. Does this mean Jesus is not like us? None of us were formed in this way. How then is Jesus fully human? Is this just a story? The message is that Jesus is fully human and fully God and calls us to partake in his divinity and become fully human. The questions about Jesus conception are unsettling. Don’t walk away from them, explore the mothering of God.
Indifference to the challenge of Jesus is as deathly as a bluster that can’t allow questioning. Embrace doubt. Don’t try to come up with an answer. Truth has many dimensions and layers and is bound up in the person of Jesus. Live with the uncertainty and discover that dark place of solitude where the light might shine. Find yourself shining the light of the God of Love. Be fully human; be the hands, feet and mouth of God. You are a child of God, a little one, the word become flesh, as Jesus is in the Father so are you in Jesus.
Allow the light to challenge your assumptions of power and entitlement to respect, your sense of importance; allow those dark places of fear and loss of control to be exposed. Sin is lodged in your fear. It closes the door on the divine. Our sense of entitlement, our attachment to the world, our sense of status is our rebellion. Prideful entitlement to respect and selfish attachment to our own certainties is the path to rage. Breathe. Let go. Embrace the challenge of not knowing if you are right.
Watch the smoke of the extinguished candle rise.
If your reactions are more visceral, putting pebbles in water, or lighting candles might not do!
Ian Adams in his book, Running over Rocks, Spiritual practices to transform tough times, suggests doing as the title indicates. The danger involved in running over rocks might be a better practice for you than gazing at water running over rocks!
This is my version of Ian Adam’s practice of Discovering Your Thankfulness.
Firstly, breathe in the joy of the day, reflecting on God’s providence, how at each moment there was a good choice to make; in an act of worship open your arms to accept God’s approval as you recall each moment. Take time to feel the times of wrong choices in the pit of your stomach, the fear or the hurt ego and clasp it. Clasp it tight as the wrong done to you or to others surfaces. Clasp it tight as you face up to problems in your family or with health, times of weakness, judging, unkindness. Feel the pull to despair and name it with groans. Acknowledge your anger then breathe and listen, letting go and asking God to enter in. He may answer in a whisper, and he may bring to mind the good Let your arms drop and open them up in an attitude of receiving, circling up to a cruciform shape receiving the silence and the comfort then run, walk, move out and live. This can be a momentary practice, done in one movement, a prayer to begin a time of activity, adding meaning to a work out. Even if you feel nothing you have turned to the light.
In all your practices, even if everything remains as it was, you have put yourself in that place of humility. Christ is born into the mess of poverty and dies a messy death at the hands of authority. Jesus is at home in the mess.
Jesus brings us from the darkness into the light.
In him was life, and the life was the light of men. http://esv.to/John1.4
This scripture is key to my own faith. It has sustained me in my relationship with God and with others. All life is in the Son’s hands and the Son reveals the Father. Every person has this life and it lights all people. In everyone I find Jesus and in all I find the way to the Father. This is my work to believe in the Father. This is the way of freedom, to love God and to love each and everyone I encounter.
10 Hear, O daughter, and consider, and incline your ear: forget your people and your father’s house,
11 and the king will desire your beauty. Since he is your lord, bow to him. http://esv.to/Ps45.10-11
If indeed we can accommodate this psalm to be a song to Christ and us his bride, the church at the marriage feast, then apart from the imagery here is the wisdom we need.
We are made beautiful as we hear and listen to the voice of Jesus. This is what Jesus delights in from the beginning- our personal and intimate hearing of his voice. Jesus calls us away to be with him and turn from all other loves, family and position, standing and tradition; to embrace him fully, new creations held in his all consuming love. And held so, we can love as he loves.
for not by their own sword did they win the land, nor did their own arm save them, but your right hand and your arm, and the light of your face, for you delighted in them. http://esv.to/Ps44.3
It is in seeing and knowing God that we find our inspiration. Knowing God, finding him within us is our journey outward. Everything begins and has its power from the image we hold within us. Truly our work is to believe in the Father. This is the name of God Jesus reveals to us; intimate and close; one who delights in us. Our strength and resilience come from this place of security; in all circumstances the Father delights in us. This is how we navigate the troubles of the day; by seeking the light of his face.
Send out your light and your truth; let them lead me; let them bring me to your holy hill and to your dwelling!
This verse spoke to me at the start of my journey and is my prayer for today.
The days are growing shorter and the celebrations nearer. A time when being together matters; where the two or three gathered to the Light, Jesus, God’s own Son, the Truth, are a beacon for life. Light and truth!
We love it when you succeed. But this isn’t who you are: you are who you were made to be by God who loves you in every twist and turn of your lives. Whether you do well in the eyes of people or whether you really mess up, the Father loves you. Whether your efforts succeed or fail, you are of infinite value in the eyes of the Son.
When you are with us, often you have been hurt and often you struggle. School at its best is like a family. The best we can, we nurture you and help you with the resources we have, with our own failings. But God in his mercy makes this good.
Sometimes as you grow into adulthood you experience deep sadness as the attachments of childhood slip away and you grow up into an increasingly complex world. Your emotions work against you and it hurts. Pain is the way of new life. Through this we work with you as best we can, as near as we can in the transforming power of the Spirit. Sometimes it doesn’t look good and living daily in forgiveness is good news.
As you live your lives now, learn to love who you were and who we were. Build your lives on love not bitterness or regrets. Success isn’t accolades: success is peace and contentment, success is others being blessed by who you have become.
You aren’t the letters after your name. You are the one praying alone, the one visiting the sick, the one caring for the vulnerable. You are the one living victorious in the mess of humanity. You are the light in the darkness. Be who you are.
Philippians 4:8 New Revised Standard Version, Anglicised (NRSVA)
Finally, beloved, whatever is true, whatever is honourable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is pleasing, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence and if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things.
Observe the sabbath day and keep it holy, as the LORD your God commanded you…
…O Israel, if you would but listen to me!
…Open your mouth wide and I will fill it.
2 Corinthians 4:5-12
For we do not proclaim ourselves;
we proclaim Jesus Christ as Lord and ourselves as your slaves for Jesus’ sake. …
We are afflicted in every way, but not crushed;
perplexed, but not driven to despair; persecuted, but not forsaken;
struck down, but not destroyed;
always carrying in the body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be made visible in our bodies. ….
… “The sabbath was made for people, and not people for the sabbath; so the Son of Man is lord even of the sabbath.”
…He (Jesus) looked around at them with anger; he was grieved at their hardness of heart …
The readings today carry us through that narrow place between the absolutes of the law and the freedom we have as people to show compassion; the way the world should be and the way it is.
For most of us, life throws perplexing circumstances and we find we cannot know what to do; there is no answer. Jesus commands us to be obedient to his word and his word is that we are to love God and love our neighbour. The high calling for us is to come to Jesus with the decisions we have in life and know peace as his teaching is not a burden; God from the beginning calls us to choose life.
So where do we stand when people celebrate the freedom to abort babies? We are told it is a human right that women are able control their fertility. We are told that the right to life is a human right. The UK has amongst the most liberal abortion laws in Europe. Abortion is available up to 24 weeks and beyond if necessary. The foetus has no human rights until it is born; up to this point it is only the life of the mother that is considered to have human rights. As a follower of Jesus, the truth is we know the reality of hardship and its ability to crush us; we look around and we see people despairing and abandoned.
Personally, I stand with new life being life from the beginning. I have known people tormented by the power of nature to abort. I have accepted as natural babies being lost through miscarriage and been saddened by hearing of babies being born dead, alive till the moment of birth. I have communed and rejoiced with those desperate for children who in conceiving one life have destroyed the remaining embryos. I have grieved with those whose babies have been born disabled. Am I conflicted?
Abortion will happen: John Wesley in his book Primitive Physick opens with how an abortion could be done. His heart was to see health care extended to the poor. The tragic stories of the lengths women would go to abort a baby remain in our folk memory. John Wesley’s response was to make this safe. To some of us this may be horrifying.
For the Jews, controlling fertility was at the heart of the story of Moses; his abandonment under order of the authorities resulted in him becoming a prince in Egypt. In our time the Chinese have tried to control fertility as have the Russians and the government of Peru to destroy the native population.
At the time of Jesus and into the first 300 years of Christianity, child exposure was practised by the Romans to get rid of unwanted infants, but not by the Jews. Two abandoned babies were said to have been the founders of Rome, brought up by wolves. Babies were left out to die or be claimed as slaves. Many were disabled and most were girls.
What was the Christian response, but to collect these babies and care for them. This has to be my response; my path between law and human freedom. Life sucks for some people and we need to care for all. Yes, the rejoicing over abortion sickens me but what I need to do is show compassion.
The ideal is that life starts at conception, the reality is that every birth is a miracle. This has been my own experience being at the birth of my own children; life is fragile. The world is mucked up.
Given the widespread practice of infant exposure, the Christian practice was to care for the poor and the abandoned, not condemn the poor. By 374 BC they had shown the way and the practice was made illegal. Our weapon is to love, not condemn.
I know it is wrong to argue from silence, but nothing in the scriptures condemns the practice of infant exposure, but we know it is wrong. We do have the wonderful story of John the Baptist recognising his saviour whilst in the womb of Elizabeth and our heart tells us that life is precious from conception.
Conception and birth are redeemed in Christ. Being in Christ, our practice is to care for the afflicted, the crushed; those abused and abandoned. Through our being true to love we can work to create a world around us where there is no abortion only hope.
Prayer can become a seeking after experience; just another high and of no earthly good; lots of words or no words at all.
Ways of praying being idols is a real issue in our times. Prayer methods becoming sacred is a danger. We have to pray somehow, but the how brings quarrels and disappointments. Jesus teaches a place for prayer and a pattern for prayer. His ministry heralds a revelation that worship is in spirit and truth. Repeatedly, Jesus encourages us to ask for what we need in our prayers. But, in my experience we come to worship the manner of prayer not the substance and prayer becomes a way of controlling people. The truth of prayer is important as it makes us fully alive.
The Jesus culture I discern is one where we rest in the knowledge that all things, good and bad are in God’s hands and that there is an enemy that opposes this faith. The attitude is seeking God in all circumstances, in hope. Seeking God in the good and the bad; seeking God in the moments of our lives; knowing God to be near; knowing that we are loved and forgiven, is the foundation of prayer.
To avoid just talking to ourselves, we need to be present and listening in our practice. Jesus sets our relationship with him firmly in love. He commands love. Only through forgiving are we forgiven and in loving our neighbour we know God. Our abiding in him and who he is becomes his abiding in us. The truth is, whatever our practice, God is there waiting. Prayer opens our eyes to this ever-present reality. In a blink of an eye we become aware of this reality (Kierkegaard’s Instant).
This mystical experience is available to all. Suddenly we know beyond words, beyond understanding. This is a ground for our faith that God’s light shines in everyone. From this light we draw faith. In this light we know Jesus and become his presence in creation as we listen and are transformed.
This transformation can lead us to difficult places. Jesus’s frustration with the disciples’ little faith and lack of realisation of who was amongst them, serves as a warning. It is a rebuke we may need to take. The mystical experience is there for reason; it answers a human need. We are here to walk in the coolness of the evening with God yes but we are also here to tend his garden. We are here to serve and follow the leading of the Spirit. Prayer isn’t an end in itself.
“The glory of God is us being fully alive,” says Irenaeus (3rd Century). We are to be fully alive as God created us.
Could this mean, navigating the inevitable wounding that is life; from conception, to birth, growth and death? Does the reality of a free world where we can be free mean we will continually fall from grace and be separated from life? God gazed on what he had made and declared it good; it was all very good. Is this path of woundedness a source of glory? Light is born out of darkness; the new day begins with the morning. Our pool of darkness, the chaos of life, is the reservoir of transformation in us (Bourgeault, p106) that brings transformation in the world. Just as God creates out of the void our glory is to take our brokenness into new life through prayer.
Heaven is the perfecting of who we are. It is the transforming of our woundedness into us being fully alive. The more we know our sin, the more we know our separation from God and the depth of his continuing love. The more we forgive, the more we know forgiveness and the deeper our love.
We see with the eyes of the wounded healer, Jesus. Jesus heals us by his wounds. In suffering our wounds and transcending the assault of the enemy on our lives we are able to bring healing in Christ; bring new life. The greatest healing is the life transformed by forgiveness and abiding love. Jesus says that those who mourn are blessed because they are comforted. It is the blessing of the poor in spirit, that it is they who receive the kingdom of heaven.
Life hurts. Life faces us with a messy reality and God’s heart is to bring blessing out of this. God’s glory is us being fully alive in all circumstances; to live a life of abundance. This is where prayer leads us, why God teaches us to ask in order to receive.
Through prayer we come to know that the life that is in Jesus is our life. We are found in him. We are to do works greater than his as we live in the fulness of the cross, knowing him to be seated at the right hand of the Father. We are found in the mess of the cross and the beauty of the resurrected Christ.
Christ is not physically amongst us and we can’t touch him, yet he is fully present to us in the Spirit. It is the work of the Spirit that is the greater work. The wounds of Christ are still there, his scars remain. It is these wounds that heal us. We are to heal through our wounds. The glory of our wounds, inflicted by others or inflicted by ourselves, inflicted by circumstances, the collateral damage of life, bring glory to God as we bring healing through them. It is prayer that enables this bringing of the presence of Christ to the world.
Jesus calls us to himself to be comforted and to find rest. We are to dwell in the kingdom of heaven in all its vital, visceral glory knowing peace. Jesus shows us in our prayer the fullness of being alive. Jesus heals the afflicted; the lame walk, the blind see and the deaf hear. Today, we are saved through the earthly good of prayer not its form or practice.
… May the LORD give strength to his people!
May the LORD bless his people with peace!
… For all who are led by the Spirit of God are children of God.
For you did not receive a spirit of slavery to fall back into fear, but you have received a spirit of adoption.
When we cry, “Abba! Father!” it is that very Spirit bearing witness with our spirit that we are children of God, and if children, then heirs, heirs of God and joint heirs with Christ–if, in fact, we suffer with him so that we may also be glorified with him.
… The wind blows where it chooses, and you hear the sound of it, but you do not know where it comes from or where it goes. So it is with everyone who is born of the Spirit.”
…God did not send the Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him.