How do we gather the people we love together, to share, to lament and to laugh with one another? Over the last few weeks we’ve been video-calling those we love, sharing coffee together as well as laughing and crying about the highs and lows of lock-down. This gathering, or drawing together as community, as family is more important than ever! God is a God of relationship, of community; God works through each of us for each of us. Gathering in creative ways is more important than ever…and it is a powerful form of prayer!
This evening I’ve been fire-gazing…in my view one of the most ancient forms of prayer! I invite you to get lost in your own thoughts with God our Creator, Redeemer and Sustainer at your side as you gaze into a fire, sit with a cup of tea or just watch the sun goes down….
Glory to God, Source of all Being, Eternal Word and Holy Spirit, as it was in the beginning, is now and shall be for ever. Amen.
“Give me a candle of the Spirit, O God, as I go down into the deeps of my being. Show me the hidden things, the creatures of my dreams, the storehouse of forgotten memories and hurts. Take me down to the spring of my life, and tell me my nature and my name. Give me freedom to grow; so that I may become that self, the seed of which you planted in me at my making. Out of the deep I cry to you, O God. Amen.“George Appleton (1902-93), adapted by Jim Cotter (b. 1942)
After a week of ‘lock-down’ my way of life as ministering from home is becoming the new ‘normal’. No doubt for many of us, the novelty (if there was one) has well and truly worn off as the tensions of more than one adult needing a space to work, home education causes stress, the internet slows because we all need it, we are becoming increasingly worried about money and security as for some ‘working’ will soon cease to be an option, as job roles become redundant under these conditions…I could go on.
In conversation with a colleague this afternoon though I was pointed in the direction of the George Appleton prayer, quoted above. We had been talking about where we find our energy, and what the current circumstances reveal to us about ourselves. I invite you in the cool of this evening to spend time with these words, and ask that God “tell me my nature and my name”…. Ponder your responses to this new ‘normal’, your emotional responses. Notice where you are getting your energy. Notice where you are being drained. Hold them before God and ask that God would show you how to use your God given nature for the glory of God and God’s Kingdom…. Amen.
Small things feel very moving at the moment…the solidarity around an appreciation for those who are working so hard, often in very difficult circumstances, was huge this evening. I’ve not seen people out of their homes, on their drives, for some time now…of course observing the physical distancing! We applaud you, and we thank you!
A welcome retreat has given me an opportunity to reflect on which paths I have walked over the last twelve months, where I lost my way, as well as those moments I barely remember because I failed to pay attention. The next step is usually to look ahead, but I am beginning to wonder whether it is possible to second guess the next journey.
Prayerfully pondering my shoes, which have been faithful friends in times of change and seem to attract a fair bit of attention, led me to consider whose shoes I would envy…? An even harder question is whose shoes I would shy away from, and for what reason? Perhaps they are the people I ought to really get to know, rather than making assumptions about what brought them and their shoes to a particular journey, and how that might feel – that feels like #radicalinclusion for our time…isn’t that where Jesus would be?
So far, summer has not afforded me as much opportunity to get out and get lost in photography as I would like. That said, I have recently been thinking through what beauty is…what it really is, not what we see it as from so many areas of society which wish to control what we want and how we look.
A few months ago I spent a week in Portugal and had the privilege of getting lost behind my camera, which was so refreshing. As well as the obligatory holiday snaps though, I wanted to capture a different view of beauty…
This was the view from our hotel room…I found it bizarre that each day these were the items which were hung to dry, and yet I saw something of beauty in the simplicity of this display.
We met a couple who were making their living through this art; one would paint the rocks the other would arrange them. Their messages were simple. For me the beauty was in the way they were seeking to challenge and their understated way of offering this to the world.
I had never been so close up to even one peacock, let alone whole families of them. Here the beauty was in what had not been previously seen, as well as in their inquisitive charm!
We had not been aware that it was PRIDE on our first day in Lisbon. Watching the parade come through the city was incredibly moving though. Again the beauty was in the simple sentiments, such as ‘Love has no limits’.
Beauty as attraction! In the square bubbles were being blown and flying off in all directions due to the wind. It was so simple, and yet fascinating to watch them, wondering how long they would last, where they would land, when they would burst.
Beauty in the simple solutions, in that which is old, or distorted by rust, beauty in that which many would not notice, or is the beauty in the blue backdrop?
Beauty in the warmth of the evening, beauty in the sunset glow.
Whilst I am not sure I managed to capture a different view of beauty, I see this as the beginning of a conversation, which I invite you to join in with. A conversation where we capture beauty in all of its awe and wonder, beauty as breath-taking because of its freshness, not as perfection but rather as imperfection, beauty as that which is not known, beauty as something which allows us to glimpse the Divine in the everyday.
Please share your images of this kind of beauty in the comments section to enable us collectively to rewrite the meaning of beauty, so that our sons and daughters, nieces and nephews and grandchildren can grow up being released and liberated by its definition, rather than constrained or imprisoned by it, afraid to go out, to wear what they really like, or to be truly and wonderfully who they are!
After taking a break from writing over the last few months, I am finally seeing those glimmers of God once again, inspiring thoughts and even gifting a few lines of poetry. It would be fair to say that writers block has silenced me, yet perhaps there are times when it is more important to listen than to speak, to hear rather than be heard. As I have listened, as I have lived in the mess which sometimes finds its way to each of our doors, I have found myself asking, where is God in all of this? The answer has been simple: right here, if only I would stop to look and see, listen and hear.
How different would each day be if we only had a small number of words to say, if we had to savour the opportunity to speak for those occasions when it really mattered? Would we choose to speak words of love, or hate? What would we prioritise – building others up, or knocking them down? How much of what you have said today falls into words of love and care? It is a huge challenge, but could listening change the world?
“Listen much, speak little.”
St Ignatius of Loyola
Torii, a link between the sacred and profane – a gate to gods and all that lies beyond. Does this mean that God is there and not here? Are we left without guidance or care unless we search for it? And when we seek, is it enough to pass through, beyond? Who is there to greet us, and how far should we go?
So many questions spring from a deep desire for the divine, to encounter the one who created, formed and fashioned. Yet this Shinto shrine is not where HaShem dwells. Instead people come to pay respects to Kami gods. Does this mean that God is absent, the Alpha and Omega is limited by space and belief?
So often we are guilty of confining God, of organising God within our own understanding. Why is this torii filled expression of God not acceptable? That deep yearning to know, to be heard, to find that which lies beyond propels people to pursue, to purify themselves and pray. It is beautiful and honourable.
Even though these expressions do not fit with that western, middle-class, male driven understanding of God and worship, does that make them second rate, or worse, unacceptable? Must all ritual and practice fit into one single understanding of God and salvation? Is Jesus the Christ absent in this space?
Does Jesus, our intercessor, fail to hear or acknowledge the steady stream of pleas written on ema? Does he refuse to take them to God our Creator? Is this a place where the Holy Spirit refuses to go-between one and another? Is the Trinity absent or unwelcome here? I cannot conceive that it would be so.
God is not limited by time and space – Adonai cares for creation, people and place. God is here as I pass through the Torii, and God is present on my return. God lives in each of us, we see an echo of that divine, perfect face in one another. Torii, rather than being a gate towards the sacred, is a reminder that God is here – now.
I had the great privilege of spending a few days alongside a community of ordinands at Central Theological College in Tokyo during my time here. The college itself felt to be a symbol of the history and potential available to the NSKK (the Anglican Church in Japan) more widely, with its huge space to accommodate the, as yet, unknown.
A number of people I have encountered have said that the NSKK is shrinking, both in terms of membership and clergy, and needs to think more widely about growth strategies. Whilst it feels like this is an issue that may be pertinent to a number of provinces and dioceses in the Anglican Communion, and yet the ways in which growth is often understood – typically by what can be quantified – concerns me a great deal.
I found myself reminding my hosts of Jesus’ ministry: how his twelve disciples became eleven after a huge betrayal and the crucifixion – and yet modern Christians are the legacy of such humble beginnings. Despite the logic, against the odds, followers of ‘The Way’ grew in large numbers…but why? What made such growth possible all those centuries ago, and yet seemingly so difficult to achieve now?
There is something about both modern British and Japanese culture which boasts an element of entitlement to all things material. All things are possible in our societies – from electronic baths to robot servers to control of household appliances from smartphones. In my view, people within our societies have never been so busy and yet we are given (for a price!) so much to help with that.
One question which keeps coming back within all of these musings is ‘What does the Good News have to offer that is liberating within our tired, over-pressurised society?’ Put more simply, what different way does the Good News point to? When membership of a church means taking on the running of an aspect of church life, volunteering to help with children’s groups, planning the annual church festival or bazaar, and being added to the coffee, reading and prayer rota; what aspect of this new life is liberating? It has struck me that possibly churches have ceased to be attractive to working people because they simply do not have time to participate in all that they are expected to.
I remember trying to justify to my priest why I could not be involved in a fourth church activity as a full-time secondary school teacher who regularly needed to work between 50-60 hours a week. He did not understand and thought that I ought to speak to my line manager about my workload if I was not able to find time for this one other thing. Incidentally, there was no conversation about whether I was gifted for this one other thing or called to it!
So, how can the Church be more relevant to the people it serves? How can it offer liberation from the pressure that we are barely able to see much of the time, due to busyness? Equally how do we move away from the cycle we seem trapped within of serving the church (building), rather than the church (followers of God) serving the wider community?
My hosts heard me refer back to prayer so many times whilst I was with them, but it is so important. I was tasked with praying for between two and three hours a day for each day I served within the NSKK, and through that diligence I have grown in the depth of my relationship with God and noticed God changing my outlook….this example from Jesus is surely the first place to begin?