Monthly Archives: February 2015

Saturday 28th February

Philippians 4:6
Don’t worry about anything, but pray about everything,
tell God all your needs, and don’t forget to thank him for his answers.

“Things often work out perfectly. When they do I return thanks to God for it.
Sometimes everything goes wrong.
When it does I bless God for that equally, and offer it as a sacrifice.
Once this surrender is made, God tends to sort things out.”
– Jean Pierre de Caussade

Surrendering is not about giving in, but allowing God in.

Today’s reflection is by Jane

The other day I took another look at a book called Praying Twice (by Brian Wren) that I first read 10 years when a student. In a survey conducted among clergy and laity, they were asked “What is the most meaningful musical activity in worship?” “Anthems” said 41% of the musicians (but only 7% of the clergy). “Hymns” said 79% of the clergy (but only 38% of the musicians).
I have a fondness for a particular anthem for four-part choir by Purcell titled ‘Rejoice in the Lord Alway’. He used the King James Version of the Bible in which today’s text is translated as:
“Be careful for nothing. But in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving, let your requests be made known unto God’.
I have looked in various hymnbooks for a hymn based on the text but found only one that came near in sentiment but not in text – so on this occasion my vote falls on the musicians’ side in favour of anthems!
What I particularly like about the anthem is Philippians 4 v. 7-8:
“And the peace of God which passeth all understanding, shall keep your hearts and minds through Jesus Christ our Lord.”
It reminds me that however angry, depressed or anxious I might be about someone or a certain situation, in sharing it with God I am beginning to work through that emotion. It may feel uncomfortable and strange and be a struggle. For a while the best I can do might be to say, along with Nicola Slee in her poem Prayer for Friends Turned Enemy:
“I do not know how to pray [for them]. I cannot pray [with them]. I have only anger and rage and pain and confusion [to bear them]. God, you alone are faithful. Accept the prayer I cannot make.”
I may need to go on saying this until I can accept these bits of me I feel uncomfortable with and dislike, until I can meet myself in their strangeness, “and greet my God in the discovery of strangers become friends”.(from Welcome the Stranger, also by Nicola Slee).
What hymn, or other music, calls you to prayer? Makes your love ‘something real and
active’? (1 John 3 v.18)
Bless the Lord my soul, and bless his holy name.
Bless the Lord my soul, who leads me into life.
(Taize chant)
(If you would like to hear ‘Rejoice in the Lord Alway’ go to YouTube and enter Souvigny Sidney Sussex Henry Purcell Rejoice in the Lord Alway in the Search box.)

Reflections for Thursday and Friday

Thursday 26th February

Luke 6:37
Be compassionate as your Father is compassionate.
Do not judge, and you will not be judged. Grant pardon; and you will be pardoned.

“The way I regard those who hurt or annoy me today,
will affect how I experience the world in the future.
In any encounter we have a choice:
We can strengthen our resentment, or, our understanding and empathy;
we can widen the gap between ourselves and others or we can lessen it.”
– Pema Chodron

Which will you and I choose?
If there is one thing our world needs today it is to understand the gift of tolerance.
Today’s reflection from the Buddhist monk, Pema Chodron,
is so important for us to consider and reflect upon:
“The way I regard those who hurt or annoy me today,
will affect how I experience the world in the future….
We can widen the gap between ourselves and others, or we can lessen it.!

It is so easy to judge. It is so easy to condemn. It is so easy to criticise.
It is easy to be so set in our own opinions
that we are not prepared to even consider the views of others.
Lessening the gap between ourselves and those we find difficult and disagree with
does not mean we have to change our mind and agree with them,
but it does mean we have to accept that there are alternative world views to ours.
We can disagree with the views and lifestyles of others
without condemning them as wrong or as bad people.
Jesus did not always agree with or condone the views of others,
but he never lost the capacity to love them and respect them.

There will always be people we disagree with;
there will always be people who hurt or annoy us with the things they do.
But consider the words of Pema Chodron:
The way we respond to them will either widen the gap or lessen it.
Are we prepared to give a little and make the gap a little smaller?

Friday 27th February

Matthew 13:45
The kingdom of heaven is like a merchant in search of fine pearls,
who on finding one pearl of great value,
went and sold all that he had and bought it.

“Only a few have the capacity to listen; to remain quiet, open and waiting.
Only a few have the capacity to allow another’s words to enter their heart.
In listening such as this,
no word is praised or rebuked; no word is applauded or judged;
a space is simply offered where the words can be present and accepted.
When you discover such a listener, you discover treasure.”
– Simon Parke

Today let us listen attentively to others without praise or rebuke.
What a gift we will give them – a pearl of great price.
About once every other month I go and see my spiritual director
who has a wonderful capacity to simply sit there and listen.
Listen, while I babble on and on about what is happening in my life,
while I let go of all the things that have built up within me;
all the things that have hurt me, all the things that I feel bad about,
all the things I feel angry about, guilty about, sad about, or unsure about.
My spiritual guide just listens and, in listening,
creates a space where all my words seem to find some order and cohesion.
A space in which I can begin to separate the wheat from the chaff.
A space where I can gain some perspective on the things I experience.
A space in which I can smile and laugh at myself.
It is a space of healing and renewal.

True listening is a pearl of great price.
We all need a good listener, and we all need to develop the gift of listening.
Let us thank God for the listeners in our lives,
and pray for the grace to develop and deepen this gift within ourselves.

Wednesday 25th February

Matthew 6:34
Do not be anxious about tomorrow,
tomorrow will be anxious for itself.

“The next time you are caught in a traffic jam, don’t fight. It’s useless to fight.
Sit back and smile; a smile of compassion and loving kindness.
Enjoy the present moment.
This moment will never come again, be happy and relax”
– Thich Nhat Hanh

The same is true for a queue in the supermarket,
or waiting for a bus, or sitting in a doctor’s surgery.
This moment will never come again, live it and enjoy it.
Mindfulness seems to be the in word at the moment,
you will find a whole library of books about mindfulness out there, some better than others.
Courses on mindful living are springing up everywhere; so what is mindfulness all about?
The Buddhist monk, Thich Nhat Hanh, sums it up best for me:
“When you wash dishes”, he says, “wash dishes.” In other words, be in the moment.
We usually wash dishes in order to get the job out of the way
and get on with the next thing, or something else we would rather be doing.
Thich Nhat Hanh reminds us that it is foolish to sacrifice one moment just to get to the next,
just live each moment as it comes along.
Washing dishes can be a deeply rewarding task if we allow it to be,
but we need to give it our mindful attention.
The 17th Century French Christian monk, Brother Lawrence said exactly the same thing,
but he called it: Practicing the Presence of God.
Whatever you are doing, he said, do it mindful that God is doing it with you.
Every moment, every task, be it enjoyable, mundane or difficult,
is spent in God’s Presence, so why would we not want to be there doing that task?
So today, while we are washing dishes, doing the ironing, digging the garden,
Waiting for a bus, or standing in a supermarket queue; let’s just be in the moment
and remind ourselves that it is a holy moment filled with the presence of God.

Tuesday 24th February

Ephesians 1
Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ,
who has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing .
In him we have redemption, according to the riches of his grace,
which he has lavished upon us.

“To give someone a blessing is the most significant affirmation we can offer.
To give a blessing is to say “yes” to a person’s belovedness.
The blessings we give each other are expressions of God’s blessings
that rest on us from all eternity.”
-Henri Nouwen

It is an essential part of all our Christian ministry to bless.
May we bring God’s blessing to all we meet this day.
Blessing comes from the Latin word, Benedicere,
which means “to speak good things”; and “to declare God’s goodness.”
So when we pronounce God’s blessing we declare God’s goodness.
We declare God’s presence. We make God present.
That is not to say God is not already present in every situation of life,
but sometimes the presence and goodness of God becomes hidden from us
behind clouds of sadness, uncertainty, pain, fear;
or we simply become so used to it we take it for granted.
So it needs to be declared, to be remade present for us in that situation.
When we declare God’s goodness and presence
we release its power in our world in our lives.
An elderly person in a nursing home once said to me
that when she receives her blessing during the service I take there
it reminds her of when her mother used to light the fire on a cold day.
She feels a warmth and glow that keeps the cold at bay.

To bless, to declare God’s goodness, is much more than a reminder that God is there,
it also reignites the fire of God’s goodness and presence in our lives.
Blessings keep the channels to God open,
they clear the channels of all the debris that life seems to pile up
and allows God’s presence and goodness to shine.
To give and receive God’s blessing is one of the most important things we do in life.

Monday 23rd February

Genesis 2:7
Then the Lord God formed man of dust from the ground,
and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life;
and man became a living being.

“Life is like breath:
we must be able to live in an easy rhythm between give and take.
If we cannot learn to live in this rhythm, we will place ourselves in great danger.”
– David Steindl Rast

The rhythm of our breath is the rhythm of God;
if we learn to listen to our breathing, we learn to listen to God.
Prince Siddhartha, on his quest for enlightenment, took a number of turns.
His early life was one of comfort, and he soon realised that a life of comfort and ease
was not one that would help him develop spiritually.
He began to seek other ways to fulfil his goal,
eventually shedding all manner of comfort and ease by leaving the Palace environment
and becoming a wandering ascetic.
He fasted to extreme and gave away all possessions,
hoping this would lead him to enlightenment and spiritual fulfilment. It didn’t.
Then one day on his travels he came across a musician giving sitar lessons to children.
He watched as the musician taught them how to string the sitar.
He told them that if the strings were too slack they would not give a mellow sound,
but if they were strung too tight they would be liable to snap and be of no use at all.
Not too slack and not too tight.
These words had a life changing impact upon Siddhartha
and he realised the importance of balance in seeking spiritual enlightenment.
He had veered first to too slack, and then to too tight.
He realised that day that he needed to find a middle way – a way of balance.

At the heart of Lent is the recovery of balance in our lives, and on our spiritual journey.
Are we strung too tight? Or too slack? What needs adjusting?
Is our spiritual practise too demanding or do we make too little effort?
Is our life over busy or do we need to find a purpose?
Are we turning into a couch potato, or do we need to chill out and relax a bit more?
Is life all about “me”, or do I need to make more space for me?
Finding the right balance is the key to life.
As David Steindl-Rast wrote in today’s reflection:
“Life is like breath: we must be able to live in an easy rhythm between give and take.”

May this Lent help us to discover the right rhythm for our lives.

Sermon for the First Sunday in Lent

The wilderness is a pretty daunting place to be I would imagine.
Whether that wilderness be a desert; the sea; a jungle; the mountains;
the arctic regions or outer space – it is a place you do not want to be lost in.
Many novels and films have been inspired by the wilderness theme;
and once the writers imagination has been fired
they have come up with many chilling scenarios that play on all of our inner fears.

The wilderness conjures up images of isolation; danger and deprivation;
and there are those who thrive on the challenge and voluntarily put themselves in these situations
just to test their endurance. Most of us do not.
Now, I love out of the way places;
I like the feeling of being cut off from the ordinary everyday activity of the world.
But personally, I also like the idea of their being a pub within an hour’s walk.
Not really what you would call a wilderness then!

Certainly not the kind of wilderness that Jesus found himself in for 40 days,
deprived of food, company, and the reassuring comforts of home.
I imagine it is not a situation that many of would enter voluntarily.
Nevertheless, like Jesus, we do at times in our lives find ourselves in the wilderness.
You see the wilderness is not just a place out there that we choose to visit or avoid;
the wilderness is also an inner realm; a place within ourselves;
and we often find ourselves there without having any choice in the matter.

In fact, according to Marks Gospel, Jesus wasn’t given much choice in the matter.
he tells us that Jesus was driven by the spirit into the wilderness.
Jesus was not in the wilderness as an excited explorer,
he was driven there by inner questions, doubts and issues that needed to be worked through.

Jesus’ life was changing fast.
It was beginning to dawn on him, as he hit the age of around 30,
that he was not always going to have the quiet life of a carpenter.
I believe that it was beginning to hit home just who was, and what he had to do;
and, when he contemplated the significance of that,
he was filled with self-doubt and dread.

He was driven not only into the wilderness of Palestine,
but more significantly into the wilderness of his own mind, and heart.
There he faced his inner demons of doubt and uncertainty.
“If you are the Son of God show us what you can do; how you can make a difference?
how you can reach people with your message?
Some saviour you are who doesn’t even trust your own powers.”

And, like Jesus, we find ourselves at times driven into our own inner wilderness.
We feel isolated and alone; we too are filled with doubts and uncertainties;
We begin to feel sorry for ourselves and feel that life is conspiring against us.
And, as the devil taunted Jesus: “Call yourself the Son of God? – then prove it to yourself”
Our inner demons also taunt us: “Call yourself a Christian! Where’s your God now!
If you really had faith you’d be able to deal with this. You might as well give up.”

Yes, the wilderness is a tough place to be.
It is an easy place to be driven in to, but it is a darn sight harder finding our way out.
All we can do is what Jesus did: hold on firmly to what has sustained us so far;
and place our trust in God’s strength and not in our own strength alone.

And if we think that was easy for Jesus we should think again.
When we hear that story read to us
it is easy to think of Jesus sitting there very piously batting back all the devils taunts.
But in reality his inner demons had got to him.
This was not just a pious exercise – it was a real spiritual battle.
At that point he was truly tempted to attempt something dramatic to prove his calling;
like turning stones into bread.
He needed to know if what he was beginning to believe about himself was true;
he was that close to pulling off some cheap magic stunt to make himself feel in control.
It took all his spiritual grounding to ignore the urges and wait on God.

When we find ourselves in the wilderness, as we are all wont to do in life at times,
we need to remember this incident in Jesus’ life, and remind ourselves
not to make any rash choices or decisions, or reach any ill thought out conclusions.
May we have the grace and strength to wait on God and trust in our spiritual grounding.

The passage in Mark ends with Jesus being ministered to by angels.
We will find in our wilderness the ministering angels of God are always there with us,
and we are never left alone, no matter how much it may feel it at the time.
The inner wilderness can be a daunting and painful place to be at times,
but it can also be the very place that we discover God and ourselves in a whole new way.

Saturday 21st February

Psalm 34:8
O taste and see that the Lord is good,
happy are they who put their trust in him.

“Become a tasty morsel for God……our prayer is food for God.
We also feed from the Divine when we pray,
inasmuch the same way as energy is exchanged when we kiss.”
– Lorraine Kilsy.

Prayer is a two way affair.
God feeds off our prayer as much as in prayer, we feed off God.

There is a particular African tribe where, when a woman becomes pregnant,
she goes with other women to a remote place outside the village to meditate.
During her meditation, it is said,
that she listens to the song of the soul of her unborn child.
Once she has listened to and memorised the song of her child’s soul
she shares it with the other women and they sing it with her.
They then all go back to the village and teach that song to the community.
The song is sung at the child’s birth and all the rites of passage into adulthood.
But the other interesting thing is that
in times of difficulty and hardship; when things are difficult and tough,
the community will gather around them and sing them the song of their soul,
to remind them who they truly are; to remind them of their true beauty and worth.

Isn’t this what prayer is all about?
It is the means of connecting the with song or kiss that God has placed in our soul;
It is the means by which we help other people connect with that song and kiss.
When we say that we will pray for someone
do we not gather around them as a community and sing them the song of their soul?
When we pray for someone are we not reminding them of who they truly are?
Are we not reminding them of their importance to God?
Are we not reminding them of their true beauty and worth?
Is it not about us and God feeding off each other’s love
and allowing it to flow, and bless, and heal?
O taste and see that the Lord is good!

Friday 20th February

Colossians 2:6
Live in Christ Jesus; rooted and built up in him,
abounding in thanksgiving.

“There are times in the lives of most of us,
when we would have given all the world to be as we were but yesterday.
Though that yesterday passed over us unappreciated and unenjoyed.”
– William Lecky

Make sure today does not pass unappreciated and unenjoyed.
Savour each moment, recognise God’s Presence in each moment,
and be thankful for all the gifts you are given.
Life’s woes have an unerring tendency to make us blind to life’s blessings.
The things that go wrong and make life difficult easily occupy our thoughts,
but blessings often slip by unrecognised and unacknowledged.
We need to make a conscious effort to keep mindful of the blessings.
The gift of Gratitude can have a most incredible healing effect upon life’s burdens.
Gratitude creates a bit of space between us and our woes,
and in that space we find a better perspective on life;
worries no longer crowd us, and life’s blessings can be seen and experienced.
When our worries are pushed back a bit and are no longer given pride of place,
we then find the strength and inspiration to cope and deal with them better.
So let’s take a moment to appreciate and be thankful for today.

Thursday 19th February
Psalm 40:1 I waited patiently for the Lord.

“Above all trust in the slow work of God.
We are naturally impatient in everything to reach the end without delay.
We would like to skip the intermediate stages;
we are impatient to be on the way to something different, something new.
And yet it is the law of all progress to pass through stages of instability,
and it may take time.
So trust in the slow work of God, our loving vine dresser.”
-Teilhard de Chardin

May we today remember to be patient with God,
with ourselves, and with those we find trying.

A couple of Sundays ago I preached on Francis de Sales, a 16th Century priest.
I spoke of his teaching that we need to be more gentle with ourselves and each other.
He also said that developing such gentleness requires patience.
“What we need”, he said, “is a cup of understanding
a barrel of love, and an ocean of patience.”

The Buddhist Master, Atisha, saw the development of patience has being so important,
that he had his own special method for developing it within himself.
On all his travels he always took with him a very difficult and annoying companion
who was constantly rude and irritating.
Atisha was faithful to this companion because he helped him to develop patience,
and was a good measure as to how much it had deepened.

We may not want to go to the same lengths as Atisha,
but I am sure we all have people in our lives who can do his companion’s job admirably!
(And no doubt we do the job admirably for others)
Let’s allow the irritating moments of this day to become an opportunity
to develop and deepen this great gift of patience.

Ash Wednesday Reflection

1 Corinthians 1:27
God chose what is foolish in the world to shame the wise,
and God chose the weak to challenge the strong.
God chose the lowly, so that no human being might boast in the presence of God.

“God is always using people’s mistakes in their favour, to transform them.
Weakness becomes the means of God’s grace.
God is the perfect recycler and, in the economy of grace, nothing is wasted.”
– Richard Rohr

Instead of denying our sin, or beating ourselves up about it,
let’s simply allow God to use it to draw us closer to him
and open our hearts to others.
Today’s Lenten reflection is a quote from the Franciscan Friar Richard Rohr,
who tells us that God is the great recycler, and is always using our mistakes in our favour.
I believe that God gets far more excited about our sins than about our gifts.
Our gifts are wonderful things to have and play an important role in our lives,
but our sins, our messes, our seemingly utter incompetence, is our true gold.
It is this aspect of our life that can help us to develop and grow as human beings
more than anything else.

God wants an opportunity to work with our sins; to explore them with us,
to encourage us to explore why we keep making the same mess over and over again.
Our gifts and qualities can easily become a means for us to pat ourselves on the back,
a means to make us feel superior.
Whereas our sins and failures can be a powerful catalyst for change and growth;
a real opportunity to develop compassion and gentleness in our dealings with others.

Repentance is the means of giving God what God desires most,
the opportunity to help us develop and grow as human beings.
Repentance is all about offering God the messes in our lives,
so God can recycle them into something beautiful and worthwhile.
Sin is not an aberration in life, but a necessary part of life
to provide fuel on our journey to wholeness.
To deny our sin, ignore our sin, or be continually horrified at our sin,
is to deny, ignore, and be horrified by the very nectar of life.

That is not to deny the destructiveness of sin,
but sin is mostly destructive when we are afraid to face it and own it.
The repentance that Ash Wednesday calls us to is to own our failings,
and to be honest with ourselves and with God; and, most importantly,
to trust God with our sins and give God the opportunity to use them in our favour.

The anointing of Ash is a means of that repentance and an offering of that trust;
It is also a promise from God that such an offering will not be made in vain.