Tag Archives: life

13 May: Time to have fun

herefords

The Christianity many of us grew up with was not big on laughs. My childhood parish priest seemed determined to make sure we were suitably miserable. Fun was equated with self-indulgence – all too likely to carry us away into the path of sin. The eleventh commandment was ‘Thou shalt not laugh, nor enjoy thyself’.

The hangover of that upbringing is that I have sometimes struggled to allow myself to enjoy life. The notion that God is a spoiler is not one I adhere to rationally but somewhere inside that image of God must linger. And yet when I remember some of the moments of deep fun that I have known I see how they abound with love, friendship, wonder, energy, and liberation: and as I put themselves back into those times I sense the presence, joy and life of God.

  • Sledging down the snow covered slopes of Greenwich Park while the ambulances circled below
  • Playing foot ball with my nephews in a muddy field
  • Losing myself in working with clay and not minding too much what shape I came up with
  • Making music with a group using my three and a half chords on a guitar
  • Going swimming on the spur of the moment with my sister in West Wales
  • Being thrown around at a barn dance without really having much clue what steps I was supposed to be making.

What moments do you remember?

Fun can have its downsides. Making fun of another at their expense is destructive. Thrill seeking can be addictive and self-centred. But these are perversions of what is essentially good and of God.

It is through fun that we lose our self-consciousness and allow ourselves to run free.

Walls of polite distance or even hostility between people evaporate in shared laughter.

Bonds of friendship are forged.

We stop taking ourselves too seriously – as if everything depended on our performance

We discover that we are creative after all – and all we needed was the opportunity and the courage to dare to express ourselves.

We delight in life, in the company of those with us and are completely held in the moment, putting aside our fears and preoccupations.

These are good moments, God moments.

In our churches and within our neighbourhoods,

in our tired lives, and amidst our difficulties

it is time to have fun!

CC.

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12 May: Reflection: The river of life

river.monnow. 

I remember spending a week in the house of a friend, on the bank of the river Monnow, in the Welsh borders. The sky arches over rich pastureland and rising hills. As the light of day fades, bats tumble and spin across the darkening sky. And night and day the river runs, playing over the rocks and shaping the land. I remember and am stilled by the sound of that river. The river is movement and presence: always new, yet older by far than I who hear it.

The prophet Ezekiel, writing in exile from his homeland, wrote of another river, flowing from the Temple, the dwelling place of God:

water was flowing from below the threshold of the temple…and it was a river that could not be crossed…This water flows towards the eastern region and goes down into the Arabah; and when it enters the sea, the sea of stagnant waters, the water will become fresh. Wherever the river flows, every living creature that swarms will live…everything will live where the river goes. On the banks, on both sides of the river, there will grow all kinds of trees for food…their fruit will be for food and their leaves for healing.

  Ezekiel 47

The river of the life of God brings life to the place of death and decay; it is always creative, fruitful and medicinal.

Perhaps one way of thinking about the incarnation is as the pouring out of the life of God into all being like Ezekiel’s river. This river of the Word made flesh flows not only through green pastures but desert places, and because of the river, barren wastelands live. Because of Christ’s life, suffering, dying and rising there is no place of human struggle and despair where the river of hope will not and does not flow. This does not mean that we do not continue to experience pain, or no longer struggle to make sense of suffering. Christ still feels the pain of nails in his hands and the rejection of those who had been his followers; yet Christ is also risen, the tombstone rolled definitively away. In the Gospel of John, as Jesus dies, blood and water flow from his side. This moment of death is also the outpouring of life. A river flows.

The river always runs, and we are caught up in its flow; more than this, through the gift of God we discover this same river flowing within us. As Jesus told the Samaritan woman:

If only you knew what God is offering…you would have been the one to ask, and he would have given you living water…Whoever drinks this water will get thirsty again; but anyone who drinks the water that I shall give will never be thirsty again; the water that I shall give will turn into a spring within, welling up to eternal life.

John 4: 10-14

It was at night, when the last sheep call faded into the twilight, and the earth stilled that I heard most clearly the river running. Not that it wasn’t always flowing, but the sounds of the day, and the noise of my own activity prevented me from hearing it clearly. There are moments in the world of here and now when we hear the river flowing within all things and know this same river is the source of our own being, becoming and giving.

The river flows from the Temple of God, and sometimes, sometimes even at night, we hear it running. Wherever the river flows, through our own meanness and narrowness of heart, through the pain of loss or cruelty of others, unexpected trees grow with fruit for healing: – for our own easing, and to be shared with others.

CC.

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8 May: In the place of God’s presence

ruined abbey

Surely the Lord is in this place and I did not know it

…this is the house of God, the gate of heaven.

Genesis 28: 16-17

Every place is the house of God, the gate of heaven. Often, when pushed and pulled by noise and movement, it seems God is nowhere – but break the word open and you have the truth: God is now – here.

How do we become awake and receptive to this presence? We might try two things:

The first: To find or create a physical space in our home or environment where we purposefully [and regularly] go to be open to God.

This is likely to be somewhere where we feel at home or comfortable. It could be a corner of a room in the house, where a chair waits, a candle just sitting there invites you to light it and a bible rests ready to restore your soul. Such a space works in a similar way that a church building does. A church is made of bricks and mortar like so many other buildings but you know when you enter why you are going there. Walking in, sitting down, you become open to God who is in that place. The dedicated space in your home becomes your ‘church’; through daily practice you have only to go there to begin the act of prayer.

Your ‘holy’ place could also be a garden shed, a bench in the park where you sit in your lunchbreak, or a place where you regularly walk. What helps is to make your going to whatever space you choose intentional, in just the same way that you choose to visit a friend or family member.

The second: Each day to purposefully seek God in a place that up to now we have found uncomfortable and that seems to work against any sense of God’s presence.

I can think of a few: For example, I rarely enjoy walking along Borough High Street, near London Bridge, where I sometimes work. There is no green of tree or plant to soften the concrete. The pavements are thronged with people walking against the flow of wherever it is I want to get to. The traffic is noisy. Why even try to seek God here? Because God is here and now. So as I walk along I breathe out my hurry and worry, and breathe in God with me. I pause long enough to see the faces that pass me, the cars moving by, the sky framed by the buildings and ask the Lord to help me see well, with an open mind and heart. Perhaps I will hold the line of a psalm as I walk along, dodging those who cannot see because their eyes are trained on the screen of their mobiles.

Where is such a place for you – somewhere that is a regular part of your life? Or perhaps it will be a time of day more than a physical place: perhaps the time when you first get in from work and all the emails are awaiting you, or the commute home on a busy train.

Seek God there, and you will find. It may not be anything dramatic or immediate. God inhabits the ordinary, and moves within the waiting heart.

CC.

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7 May: Our Daily Bread

 

bread

Our Father in heaven,
hallowed be your name.
  Your kingdom come.
Your will be done,
on earth as it is in heaven.
  Give us this day our daily bread.
And forgive us our debts,
as we also have forgiven our debtors.
And do not bring us to the time of trial
but rescue us from the evil one.

Matthew 6:9-13

In whatever version we are familiar with, the ‘Lord’s Prayer’ or ‘Our Father’ is a simple, yet sustaining way of ordering our life towards God.

At the start of the day the prayer sets us on the path of life.

In a pause within the busyness of life it helps us unravel our complexity and return to the simplicity of abiding in Christ.

At the end of the day its phrases return us to a place of rest.

What follows is not a detailed scriptural analysis but a simple prompt towards aligning ourselves towards God in the midst of different feelings and experiences.

Say the words of the Lord’s Prayer, pausing between them to allow them to draw you into a place of trust and openness before God.

Our Father in heaven,

We are held in relationship with one who loves us.

Here we can rest even as we move through the day

Hallowed be your name.

We look at, ponder, and wonder at this God so intimately close to us yet far beyond our imagining.

Your kingdom come.
Your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.

In all we do on this day we seek to co-operate with God and to be open to the Spirit.

Today and in this place God is renewing all things.


Give us this day our daily bread.

God gives for the day. There is no need to be anxious for tomorrow.

We seek to live this day simply, by trust, rather than by fearful accumulation of possessions.


And forgive us our debts,
as we also have forgiven our debtors.

As God lets go of any desire to blame or desire to punish so we seek that same freedom of Spirit

And do not bring us to the time of trial,

but rescue us from the evil one.

We acknowledge our frailty, and our continual need of God’s provision and protection.

CC.

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21 April, Easter Friday: “Who are you?”

Easter Friday
Image from: http://fatherkevinestabrook.blogspot.co.uk/2016/04/homily-easter-friday-2016.html

Jn 21:1-14

‘None of the disciples was bold enough to ask, “Who are you?”

I was wondering why such a question would even arise? Didn’t the disciples know what Jesus looked like after going around with him for three years?

Then it occurred to me that perhaps Jesus’ appearance was different after the Resurrection. After all, the disciples on the road to Emmaus did not recognise Him either. It was only Jesus’ familiar actions – breaking bread, feeding and caring for them, creating miracles of abundance that gave Him away.

The lesson from this for the disciples is that, from now on, the Christ will be recognised not by an individual physical appearance but by what he does. That is why He asks Peter to feed and care for the people of God, continuing His ministry. It applies to us, His followers, who continue His mission today. People should be able to recognise Christ in us by our actions: breaking bread in the Eucharist, feeding and caring for people, trusting in the Father’s providence for our needs.

I ask God to keep reminding me that my actions should always be those of Jesus, to witness that He is alive in the world today.

Amen – alleluia!

FMSL

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7 April, Shared Table XII: Washing Up is Part of the Meal.

washing-up-waiting

I’m afraid this posting is well and truly out of sequence! Our Shared Table season will begin at Corpus Christi, June 18 in England, but this follows on from yesterday’s reflection on ‘eat whatever they set before you.’

More than one local miner told me that the men who had been sent down here to Kent to open the new pits were largely the ‘awkward squad’ from mines in Scotland, Wales and Northern England. George was one of the last-named. His reputation lives on, as I discovered maybe twenty years after he left us, when I was working in his village of Aylesham.

George was not awkward for the sake of it. He saw the hardships and injustice his fellow miners endured in the days before the pits were nationalised and did something about it. He often pointed out that landowners whose fields sat over coal measures earned more from selling the concessions than the miners who endured harsh conditions to dig it out. George conquered a stammer to be able to stand up and speak for his fellow workers. He even went back to the mines after spending his War service in the Merchant Navy.

In his ill-health retirement – coal was not always kind to those who worked it – he came to L’Arche from home, working in the garden or the workshop, sharing our meals, and always first at the sink when washing up was to be done. There was always plenty of it, and if George did not cook, he certainly contributed to the meal and to the community in this way.

George was a cheerful giver, and is no doubt cheerful in a happy place now.

MMB.

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5 April: We who are made brave and afraid.

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God … Counts every tree, Makes every leaf.

Lent is a chance to sort ourselves out – a little at least. But as the first verse of Radclyffe Hall’s poem asks, ‘What can we do?’ I can remember understanding, from an early age, that there was a competitive edge to Lent: who could perform the most penances, collect the most pennies for the missions …WRONG!  the second verse reminds us to seek God in it all. Let’s not lose sight of that quest this Lent.

W

WE

 

We who are made
Brave yet afraid,
Happy yet sad,
Good and yet bad,
Sane and yet mad,
What can we do?
Turmoil and strife,
Passion and life,
Love and desire,
Can these inspire
Spiritual fire?
How can we live?
Stumbling feet,
Tasks incomplete,
Longings that kill
Even the will,
Left to fulfil,
How can we die?


Little have we
Bond and yet free,
Strong and yet weak,
Proud and yet meek,
Save but to seek
God in it all.
God with His hands
Holds all the lands;
Rules every sea,
Sets the winds free,
Counts every tree,
Makes every leaf.
Then shall we fear?
He placed us here.
If God commands
God understands,
Ponders, and plans;
Knowing it all.

 

 http://www.gutenberg.org/files/49277/49277-h/49277-h.htm

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Talks at the Franciscan International Study Centre: Jesus beyond Dogma.

 

 

austin

Starting on Monday 24 April, at 7.00 p.m., for ten weeks until 24 June, Friar Austin McCormack will be speaking and sharing on ‘Jesus – beyond Dogma’. Everyone is welcome to attend as many of these evenings as you can.

Maurice Billingsley.

Dalit Madonna from Methodist Modern Art Collection

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18 March: Human Will XII: To Singers

chidavidwindow (585x800)

We continue reading poems by Radclyffe Hall. A great deal of her work has not aged well, but we have collected these  in Agnellus’ Mirror because they invite us to reflect.

This scrap of verse comments on giving the Human will full expression. Singers, dancers, writers, artists in any field; parents, teachers, carers: we will be more effective in our work if we combine mind and heart, intellect and soul; if we bring our whole selves to the work.

Sing with your intellect and soul combined;

Not all technique, nor yet all wild emotion,

Thus shall you touch the heart and please the mind,

Winning a real and merited devotion.

Radclyffe Hall lived in Sussex; this window of King David and others singing is in Sussex’s Cathedral at Chichester.

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15 March, Human Will X: No permanent city here.

 

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The future Archbishop Arthur Hughes is front centre above with fellow Missionaries of Africa in 1934 just before he left Europe for Uganda, where he would later be posted to Gulu. Here are some thoughts of his on carrying out God’s will and the joys and hardships he experienced in the process. He is writing to his parents. Missionaries of Africa are commonly called White Fathers because of their habit.

I stayed in Gulu until on the 27th March 1942 I got a telegram from the Mombasa  [Apostolic] Delegation asking me to go to Abyssinia.

Like a true White Father I obeyed instantly and the very next morning at nine was crossing the Atura ferry on my way back to Rubaga en route for the coast and Abyssinia. I will not hide from you that I found it a wrench leaving Gulu and the journey was rather sad in a way: but missionaries have no permanent city here and sadness is not part of our life and certainly not part of mine. The will of God must rule our life and in carrying out that will we find our greatest joy.

I left Rubaga the following Wednesday and went to Mombasa to await a boat for Berbera. I arrived in Berbera on the 6th May and went up by military convoy through Somaliland to Ethiopia.[1] The journey through Somaliland has no attractions: poor old Somaliland being for the most part a most appalling desert with an amazing number of camels (more than I ever saw in North Africa). We stayed for a few days at Lafaruk: an appalling camp in the desert while our convoy was in formation.[2] Once you rise up towards Jijiga the country becomes green and then becomes cold – too cold for my liking. The famous Mahda Pass is stupendously beautiful and then the first view of the town of Harar is really rather lovely. It’s a very old town; really a sort of Turkish[3] town amongst the hills.

From Harar to Diredawa you have thirty miles of sheer beauty amongst the mountains – a most wonderful road winds round the hills and above you on the heights you can still see the remains of the ancient camel tracks over which tradition has it that the Queen of Sheba travelled when she went from Ethiopia to the Holy Land in the days of King Solomon… At Diredawa I left the military convoy and the good Officers with whom I had made friends on the way and took the Littorina electric train to Addis.

From the 12th May to the 12th August I stayed in Addis with of course occasional trips to other places rendered necessary by my work.

…  I must confess that I did not like the Ethiopian climate. I found it too high for me (it is nine thousand feet up in most places) and I was there in the rainy season and found it most unpleasant after sunny Uganda. It simply rains unceasingly for three or four months and is most unpleasant and always cold. I found this very painful indeed. Also I was there only on a temporary mission and there was not as much to do as I should have liked. It was therefore a very great delight to me when on the 29th July I got a letter from Archbishop Dellepiane in the Congo[7] writing to inform me that the Holy Father had decided to confide in me the control of the Apostolic Delegation of Egypt and Palestine.

[1] Berbera was the principal port in British Somaliland. The road to Ethiopia is being rehabilitated with European aid: http://somalilanddevelopmentfund.org/news/75-official-launch-of-lafaruk-berbera-sheikh-road-rehabilitation-project

[2] The British had a POW Camp for 35,000 Italian soldiers; its desolation can be imagined from the background to the Lafaruk Madonna by Giuseppe Baldan. Did Fr Hughes celebrate Mass before this triptych? No doubt the convoy was a precaution against guerrillas. http://scottishchristian.com/the-maize-sack-masterpiece-that-symbolises-hope-in-africa-over-60-years-on/ . Accessed 4/11/2016.

[3] Harar had been a Moslem city-state.

[4] Where he was Apostolic Delegate – http://www.catholic-hierarchy.org/bishop/bdell.html

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