Perfect peace

One of the things that I love most about Scripture is how you can thumb past a passage time and time again without it having any real connection until, WHAM!, one day when you are in a particular spiritual space, it suddenly comes into focus.

This morning, the few lines of Psalm 131 had a significant effect upon me:

My heart is not proud, O Lord,
my eyes are not haughty;
I do not concern myself with great matters
or things too wonderful for me.
But I have stilled and quite my soul;
like a weaned child with its mother,
like a weaned child is my soul within me.
O Israel, put your hope in the Lord
both now and forevermore.

O Abba,
I confess that my heart has been proud:

full of selfish desire and ambition,
of secret wants and dreams;
I’ve been patting myself on the back
and holding my chin up high
in defiance of those who have neither seen nor affirmed me.

O Abba,
I confess that my eyes have been haughty:

that I have looked down on
~ those less educated,
~ those less articulate,
~ those less spiritual,
~ those less self-sacrificing,
in denial of my own inner poverty.

O Abba,
I confess that I have reached for things beyond me:
~ wisdom beyond my years,
~ position beyond my station,
~ meaning beyond my calling;
~ priorities beyond what truly gives me life
out of envy for what I could be missing out on.

Forgive me.

Still my soul.

Quiet my restless.

Tame my thoughts.

Curtail my desire to rush after that which will harm me.

Let me settle into Your motherly arms.
Let me enjoy being rocked back and forth to a place of calm.
Let the lullaby of Your love
affirm my belonging, my security,
and drive away my doubts and uncertainties.

And as my eyes grow heavy,
and my heart grows full of You,
and my head falls in perfect peace against Your chest
to better hear Your heartbeat,
fill my dreams with the hope
~ of home,
      and an eternity with You
         in such unbridled intimacy.  

Blessed to be a blessing

In Genesis 12:1-3, God promises to bless Abram with protection, with fatherhood, with greatness: he will be known throughout the earth for birthing a great nation.

Yet these blessings are not given for Abram and Sara’s enjoyment or fulfilment. They are not a reward for good behaviour or unwavering obedience. Each blessing that they receive is a gift to be passed on to others:

… and you will be a blessing … and all peoples on earth will be blessed through you.

This morning I am mindful of the blessings that I have received over almost 40 years of life; particularly in terms of the family that I was born into, the family that I was baptised into, and the family that I chose in marriage and motherhood.

These precious gifts from God are a constant, tangible reminder to me of God’s great love for me: they are the people who truly know me, who encourage me to live authentically, who support my choices and hold my hand when I get myself into trouble, who appreciate my nonsense and encourage my story-telling, who tell me truth that is hard to hear with gentleness and integrity, who laugh and play and love and cry and dare and die with me.

Gift-giving God, forgive me when I take such blessings for granted;
when I am so consumed with the longing for bigger, better, more
that I fail to see the immensity of love that surrounds me.

Self-giving God, help me to give as generously –
of words of affirmation and acknowledgment,
and postures of prayer and support,
that I, who am so greatly blessed, may in turn become a blessing.

What is that blessing that I believe I am called to be in the world around me? 

I believe my vocation is to use the creativity so lovingly nurtured by teachers and family and friends to create spaces in which others can connect with God, with themselves, and with others.  

   

The Best Way of Living

Once upon a time there were people who lived terrible, painful, back-breaking, heart-aching lives in a country called Egypt.

They were not Egyptians. They were slaves to the Egyptians. They hungered and they thirsted and they worked. They worked and they hungered and they thirsted under the baking heat of the sun and the cracking sting of the whip They worked from the moment the sun came up to the moment the sun went down and then they lived and loved and slept and shared of simple food in simple shelters.

Day after day, night after night this went on – from one generation to another – until they knew nothing but hunger and thirst and work and cruelty, and their groaning and their crying were always in the air.

Then came a man sent from God. He came to ensure that they were set free. He came so that they could remember who God was and who they were – children of the Great I AM who would be all that they needed.

This man, Moses, led them from the agony of Egypt into the dangers of the desert. He was leading them to a land of milk and honey, a land full of promise. But again the people had to hunger and thirst and work and walk and trust that I AM was with them and would not let them die.

And so they began to complain, to moan and groan. Some of them even missed the days in Egypt where at least they had had simple food and simple shelter. But I AM sent them a cloud of smoke to lead them by day and a fiery pillar to warm them by night and let them know that I AM was with them. And I AM helped Moses to find the food and the water that they needed to survive.

These were great gifts. But the greatest gift of all was given on the day that the people reached the safety of a holy mountain covered with fire and smoke. This was I AM’s mountain, and I AM’s servant, Moses, climbed to the top of it to meet with I AM face to face and receive the greatest gift.

What is the gift that I AM gave to the people, the gift greater than food or water or shelter or freedom or reassuring presence?

I AM gave these beloved people who had known such hunger and thirst and pain, the ten best ways to live in community in such a way that they would never become like the Egyptians to anyone else.

  1. Don’t serve other gods.
  2. Make no idols to worship.
  3. Be serious when you say my name.
  4. Keep the Sabbath holy.
  5. Honour your mother and father.
  6. Don’t kill.
  7. Don’t break your marriage.
  8. Don’t steal.
  9. Don’t lie.
  10. Don’t even want what others have.*

I AM knew that these ways would be difficult to walk in, but I AM also knew that those who had suffered in the land called Egypt and faced the dangers of the desert would have the courage to try and walk in the best ways. Most importantly, I AM knew that if they could keep to the very best ways, the memories of Egypt would become a thing of the distant past and they would be able to live in peace and harmony in their Promised Land.

10 best ways – so amazing, so precious that they were placed in a chest made of acacia wood which was covered in gold that could only be carried by holy people called priests who dedicated their lives to God.

But over time, the priests started to think that because only they were allowed to carry the very best ways, they were better than the people that God had given them to. They became full of the sense of their own importance. They became like the Egyptians from whom they had fled – beating the people not with whips but with extra words; with laws for living that they added on to the 10 best ways.

10 best ways for living became 613 commandments through which the priests grew rich and powerful and the people began to groan and cry out again in their suffering and their sinfulness, their brokenness and their illness, their loneliness and their poverty.

Then came a man sent from God. He came to ensure that they were set free. He came so that they could remember who God was and who they were – children of the Great I AM who would be all that they needed.

The truth is that he was more than a man. He was the Son of God and the Son of Man. He was I AM living and breathing and walking among us.

“I AM the bread of life,” he said and fed the hungry and ate with sinners.

“I AM the light of the world,” he said and cast out the darkness within people and opened the eyes of the blind.

“I AM the door,” he said and welcomed in women and lepers and children.

“I AM the good shepherd,” he said and healed those for whom no one else had cared.

“I AM the true vine,” he said and turned water into wine and shared the cup with those who would betray him.

“I AM the resurrection and the life,” he said and he brought Jairus’s daughter and Lazarus out of the grave.

“I AM the way, the truth, and the life,” he said so when one of the Pharisees who had prospered and profited from people’s pain asked him which is the greatest commandment, I AM pointed him back to the very best ways.

This time, he took the 10 and summarised them into 2 so that the priests and the people could always remember:

Love the Lord your God with all your passion and prayer and intelligence. This is the most important, the first on any list. But there is a second to set alongside it: Love others as well as you love yourself.**

O Ancient of Days,
help me to remember
where I 
have come from
and where I am going;
what it has cost
for me to live free.
And in my remembering
let there be a re-ordering:
of my passions,
of my priorities,
of my relationships,
of the beginning of every sentence –
That rather than “I,”
every moment originates
from my love for “I AM.”
Amen.


* From the Godly Play series

** Mark 12:28-31, The Message

Prodigal Daughters

Meditating on Charlie Mackesy’s sculpture of the prodigal son returned home to his father’s embrace while on retreat this weekend, I felt God saying clearly to me:

“Beloved daughter,
flesh of my flesh and heart of my heart,
how I have yearned to be the arms you run to;
to wrap them tightly around you
and whisper tear-choked into your ear:

‘There is nothing that can keep you from my love –
no sin,
no worry,
no unspoken thing too big, too small
to dampen my longing
to laugh and dance and feast and sing
and work and love and rest and eat
and be …
… just be with you.

I’m sorry you’ve felt the need to stay away so long;
that you’ve thought yourself unworthy, unwelcome, unforgiven.

In my eyes
I hope you see only compassion
for the things that have hurt you,
for the times you have chosen wrong,
for the desperate, aching need to know you are loved.

In my embrace
I hope you feel how much you have been longed for,
how much you are my delight, my joy,
as my heart beats against your own.

In my welcome
I hope you believe you are at home;
that though you felt dead and distant,
you are alive and well;
that though you felt lost and alone,
you are wanted and found.

Beloved daughter,
flesh of my flesh and heart of my heart,
I will never let you go.'”

***

It’s good to be in the space to write and dream and know my belovedness. Thank you Daddy.

Ash Wednesday: a liturgy of stones

Based on Psalm 51 and John 8:1-11

Call to worship (based on Psalm 51)
Have mercy on us O God,
according to Your faithful love!
Wipe away my wrongdoings according to Your great compassion!
Wash us completely clean of our guilt.
Purify us from our sin!
Because I know my wrongdoings,
my guilt weighs heavily within my hands.
We’ve sinned against You – You alone,
committed evil in Your sight.
Yes, I was born in guilt, in sin;
from the moment my mother conceived me I’ve wanted to go my own way.
That’s why You are justified when You render Your verdict,
completely correct when You issue Your judgment.
Purify me with hyssop
and I will be clean.
Wash me and I will be
whiter than snow.
Create a clean heart for me, O God;
and put a new and faithful spirit
deep inside me!

Prayer
O Lord, Your love for us is too vast for us to comprehend;
its height and width and length and breadth
beyond our shallow imaginings.
Your glory is indescribable,
Your mercy incomparable,
Your faithfulness like nothing
we have ever known.

When we consider who You are
and what You have done for our sake,
we should fall to our knees
in awe and trembling,
knowing how unworthy we are
to enter into Your Holy presence –
so full of sin and selfish ambition.
Instead, we spend our days trying to
build our own kingdoms,
elevating ourselves above all others,
isolating ourselves in a tower of Babel
built stone by stone with selfish hands.

When we consider who You are
and what You have done for our sake,
we should fall to our knees
in awe and trembling,
knowing how unworthy we are
to enter into Your Loving Presence –
so full of judgement and hatred and envy.
Instead, we spend our days casting stones at others:
Words designed to hurt and harm,
Slurs and slander to tear down what we have not earned and do not have,
Judgements and criticisms that cover our own fears and inadequacies.

When we consider who You are
and what You have done for our sake,
we should fall to our knees
in awe and trembling,
knowing how unworthy we are
to enter into Your Perfect Presence –
so full of half-hearted commitment and excuses for not following in Your way.

Instead, we harden our hearts against You and tell You to take us just as we are.
We deafen our ears through the noise of our lives
that Your still, small voice may not disturb us in our guilty pleasure.
We justify our failures, our bad choices, our addictions
though they keep us from wholeness and newness and real life.

Here, at the start of this season of Lent, we sit with the weight of our choices,
our sinfulness, our selfishness in the palm of our hand.
And we know that we are unworthy –
unholy, unloving, imperfect.

Silence is kept

But we remember how on the night that You were betrayed,
You took bread and broke it and gave it
to those who would follow, to those who would fail,
to those who would deny and betray.
This is Your body – broken for me.
I will eat in remembrance of You.

In the same way You took the cup, gave thanks and gave it
to those who would falter, to those who would fall,
to those who would doubt and hide away.
This is Your blood – poured out for me, for the forgiveness of my sin.
I will drink in remembrance of You.

Here, at the start of this season of Lent,
we come to Your table, Lord, knowing that we are unworthy, unholy, unloving and imperfect,
and we fall on our knees in awe and in trembling at who You are
and at what You have done for our sake …
… for my sake.
Amen.

God of the Upside-Down

Oh God of the Upside-Down,

You turn chaos

into the order and the beauty of creation,

The simplicity of water

into the fragrance and the fellowship of wine,

The desolation of mourning and ashes

into the anointing of oil and gladness.

Come into our lives with Your transforming power.

Shake us.

Move us.

Stir things up a bit

that they may settle down again into new patterns of life and light.

Oh God of the Upside-Down set our hearts,

our thoughts,

our lives aright.

Amen.

Chasing Rainbows

Amidst all of the spring-cleaning of the last few days, I came across a rosary that I had purchased in order to experiment with a variety of prayer techniques set out in a course on deepening our spiritual roots and I remembered the richness that it had offered me in terms of new ways of connecting with God.

I cannot recall how it came to be cast aside, and caught up in a pile of junk in my dressing table drawers.  Most likely I had gotten caught up in the junk of life – the rushing around, the busyness, the routine, the administration.

Rediscovering it has started me thinking around the significance of symbols.

There can be much power in symbols.

Each time a rainbow appears in the sky, God remembers God’s covenant with Noah and spares us from the wrath that our stubborn, self-seeking, disobedient humanity so greatly deserves.

Whenever a rainbow appears in the clouds, I will see it and remember the everlasting covenant between God and all living creatures of every kind on the earth.  Genesis 9:16 (NIV)

Yet when we see the rainbow, is that the first thought that we share with our children as we stare in open-mouthed wonder at all the pretty colours bursting out of the canvas of darkened sky: that God is renewing a covenant made thousands of years before our time, yet honoured even today?

And what symbol have we adopted in turn to remind us of the covenant that we made with God when we opened our lives to God?  A crucifix? A WWJD bracelet? A Bible? A pebble?

I think that the God who uses stories and symbols, elements of every day lives to help us remember how much we are loved and at how great a cost, can be honoured by each of us finding a symbol, a talisman, that we keep close as a regular reminder of our commitment to and covenant with God.

What will your symbol be?

Connected

That God gives us community as a means of a grace, as the context in which we work out our faith, is, at times, a wondrous gift; at others, a bizarre and even cruel joke.

Community, in its messiness, its transience, its unreliability, its apathy, and its cliques, can sometimes be the least likely place for us to be open to the loving, moving presence of God.

And yet, our knowledge and experience of grace and faith are as intimately connected to community as we, in Christ, are connected to one another.

For just as each of us has one body with many members, and these members do not all have the same function, so in Christ we, though many, form one body, and each member belongs to all others.  Romans 12:4-5 (NIV)

O Creator of all things,
Weaver of the subtle connections that bind each one to another,
Maker of past, present and future,
Giver of dreams:

Help me to see the grand design.
Open my eyes to the ties that bind –
me to another,
another to You,
You to me.

And in these connections,
let me discern 
the beat of Your heart,
the call of Your voice,
the movement of Your Spirit
across endless galaxies
and throughout the very fabric of time.

In these connections,
help me to see that I am never alone
and give me a glimpse of the powerful mystery
of One God, yet three Persons,
who are united completely
in love, in purpose, in power.

In these connections,
may I be found and refined,
for the ties that bind me to brother and sister
are the ties that bring me meaning and growth.

Lord, open my eyes to the connections
and help me to see myself reflected
in the eyes of the other looking back at me.
Help me to be open to their care and to their concerns,
to their honesty and to their mystery,
to their giftings and to their need for grace,
to their life stories and to their love.

Help me to be a part of Your body.

Life-loving and love-living God

An opening prayer for Sunday services based on Psalm 23 and Matthew 22:1-14. Interspersed with verses from “Be still and know that I am God.”

Leader:
Oh life-loving and love-living God,
You are the Lord of the Dance,
The Provider of the Feast,
The Host who welcomes us with open arms,
The Guide into ways rich with Your goodness and Your grace.

Congregational response:
You call us from our work and busy-ness
to rest quietly a while with You.
You invite us in our scarcity and our loneliness
to eat and drink and rejoice with the family Your love has created.
You journey with us through places of brokenness and despair
to spaces full of light and love and possibility.

Leader:
Be still a while and become aware of the Love with and within you …

(Silence is kept)

Be still and know that I am God,
be still and know that I am God,
be still and know that I am God.

Congregational response:
Oh life-loving and love-living Lord,
Forgive us when we fail to show up,
When we do not respond to Your invitation,
When we cannot hear Your call over all the voices
that we have given place and power to in our lives.
Rescue us from wrong priorities,
Confront us with our self-centeredness and our superficial commitment –
to You,
and to others that we love.
Open our eyes to Your generosity and Your constant, comforting presence, and clothe us anew in goodness, integrity and honesty.

I am the Lord that healeth thee,
I am the Lord that healeth thee,
I am the Lord that healeth thee.

Leader:
Oh life-loving and love-living Spirit,
Settle into the depths of our soul,
the knowledge, the assurance
That our prayers have been heard,
Our sins washed away,
Our capacity for seeing, embracing,
and sharing life and love restored.

Congregational response:
Be the Rod and the Staff that comfort and protect us,
The Oil of gladness that anoints and heals us,
The seal and the symbol of the eternity of days
that we will dwell in the house of the Lord,
Even as we gather in God’s house this day.
Amen.

In thee, O Lord, do I put my trust,
In thee, O Lord, do I put my trust,
In thee, O Lord, do I put my trust.

Daddy

My relationship with my father has always been a tricky one.  Yes, there is love.  But also inconsistency.  Yes, there has been pride in my accomplishments.  But also the need to prove my worth.  Above all, as a pastor, there is pressure. Pressure to get it right; pressure to forgive and reconcile and move on with everything picture perfect.  It’s definitely impacted my relationship with God.  I cringe whenever I pray, “Our Father….”  I feel guilty and disconnected.  I keep wondering what it is that I need to do to make God happy – a proud Father.

As I have journeyed with this over the years I hadn’t actually realised quite how far I’d come: how the sense of my belovedness has snuck up on me and started changing me from the inside out.

It was with great joy and wonder that as I read the words from Romans 8:15 “And by him we cry, ‘Abba, Father,” God, as Daddy, suddenly made sense to me:

Daddy, I need you to simply sit beside me tonight.

I need to feel the warmth of your presence

and to know that I can rest safely in your mighty arms.

I need you to pull me close

and whisper words of love and assurance into my heart.

I need to know that despite my faults and mistakes,

I remain precious in your eyes

and that you love me simply because I am yours.

Hold me until I feel safe.

Hold me until I am healed.

Hold me until I know love.

Hold me until I see where I truly belong –

ever, always, on your lap and in your arms.

Amen.