His coat tails

I had my autobiography published this year. ‘The Amazingly Astonishing Story’ is a (sometimes) funny and sometimes chaotic account of a cradle-Catholic’s disrupted and strange childhood. An elderly woman in my church is reading it (sorry about the ripe language, my chum!) and this afternoon she braved a real hoolie, horizontal rain and a cold howling wind, to visit me with flowers, walking up the village street with the aid of her stick, half crippled as she is, simply because she wanted to say that the book has moved her. By the time she reached my door she was soaked. I moved her? It’s a long time since I have been so touched by someone’s kindness in a world where it can sometimes seem that no one gives a damn. She doesn’t read this blog, she’s not into computers and screens, but I’m thanking her anyway.

For a couple of years I’ve been fascinated by the first two chapters of Genesis and I’ve read them probably once or twice a week, and then – almost inevitably – I’ve turned to the first chapter of John’s gospel. The accounts of creation. Why aren’t we all dizzied by the very fact of our own existence? Why, or maybe how, do we take our life for granted? Creation! That’s the truly amazingly astonishing story. And I’m on a hiding to nothing trying to write down my jumbled thoughts but here I go, because when something is this wonderful and amazing, you just have to give it voice:

‘In the beginning God created’

Before time. Before space. Before existence. There was God. ‘In the beginning God…’

You and I cannot comprehend ‘no space, no time, no existence’. The beginning. We live in space and time. We know only existence. We can’t even explain it by saying ‘There was nothing’ because that very concept suggests the absence of something. There was no ‘nothing’. There was no ‘was’. There was no ‘there’. No present or past or future. Only God.

Before time and space and existence, God created. And in the act of creation time was. Existence was. And then plants and animals were. And everything, every atom and molecule of his great creation is fleeting. It dies and is replaced, dies and sustains other life, even rock crumbles and forms a new strata, even lava, even the atomic nucleus decays, everything passes. And everything is beautiful. Everything created has its own beauty, its own miracle of being. And everything, when we pause to really look and think and ponder, points us to a creator.

The heavens declare the glory of God;
    the skies proclaim the work of his hands.
Day after day they pour forth speech;
    night after night they reveal knowledge.
They have no speech, they use no words;
    no sound is heard from them.
Yet their voice goes out into all the earth,
    their words to the ends of the world.
Psalm 19:1-5

Maybe that’s why I love the beach so much, and the sky, because that’s where the world grabs me by the throat and shouts “Look! Look what God has made!” Maybe that’s why, yesterday, I had to stop the car to take this picture;

Where I’m going, where I’ve been, under God’s magnificent sky.

Sometimes we struggle to recognise the miracle of creation but we miss so much when we take life for granted. A few years ago my friend Jane died of bowel cancer. I remember sitting in her garden, when the disease was in its final stages, talking about the human body as a sort of plumbing system. That’s what we are – plumbing systems with intelligence and appreciation of our environment, with emotions and loyalty and humour and the capacity for great selflessness alongside our capacity for massive selfishness and cruelty. Plumbing systems with brains. iPlumbing you might say. Jane thumped me for saying it, and then hooted with laughter and appreciation. God made everything to be transient. God made everything to die, to rot or crumble or melt. And in the rotting and crumbling, there is such beauty. In the rot and the decay there is transformation. Life is transformation.

Every breath we take is a process of transformation, oxygen in, carbon dioxide out…. every step we take burns sugar and transforms salt, processes potassium, uses water… and all these things are recycled. God was the first recycler.

In the act of creation, God made the world temporary and dying and yet wonderfully and miraculously whole and regenerating.

Isn’t that amazingly astonishing? I never want to lose that wonder, that amazement. I know that it’s a gift of God so I’m guarding it jealously!

And listen, that’s the final huge amazing wonder of it all – that every good thing comes from God, even our love for him. It’s his gift to us. Another gift to us. His love is unending, limitless, his gifts come every moment of our lives. The God who created life and death and regeneration has been one of us, has experienced everything from birth to death through childhood and adolescence. He knew companionship, eating, drinking, walking and talking and laughter. And he knew cruelty and pain, loss and grief, torture and abuse. Why? Because of his great love. Because of his driving desire to be with us. In us. In the beginning…. before space and time and life…. God knew all about today, knew you and me, and loved us. And loves us still.

That’s the truly truly amazingly astonishing story. And it’s his, not mine. All his. But I’m hitching a ride on his coat tails.

Still singing

Sometimes an ear-worm is annoying and stubborn, but today a little worm sneaked into my inner ear, the white noise of my mind, and it reminded me of something that I needed to know.

There is a sadness in my family just now. A struggle. Someone we love so dearly is in distress and ill, and there is nothing we can do to help. Nothing except prayer. And, you know, I’m not a pious sweet faced icon of Godliness – I’m just me. I trip and stumble, and swear and sigh. I’m not Mother Therese and not Pollyanna. Just me. And this morning, when I was praying, an old and simple (simplistic!) song slipped into my head, and I found myself singing it, and meaning it, and filled with it, to overflowing.

It’s not a clever or beautiful piece of music, no great flight of creative imagery or emotive melody here. It’s a bit plinky-plonk, truth be told, but there is a wonderful truth in it too. It’s a bit embarrassing how sometimes the simplest, most banal things hit us right where we need them most. WARNING: if you’re not a Christian, if you react badly to open hearted unselfconscious love, look away now! The words that flooded my mind were these:

Turn your eyes upon Jesus,
Look full in His wonderful face,
And the things of earth will grow strangely dim,
  In the light of His glory and grace.

And as I thought of him, rather than just my own sorrows, as I saw them through him, well… even in the middle of sadness and concern, there was such deep and grateful joy. So I took this little video, right there and then, to remind me during the day, when the going gets tough, just how blessed we are, in this world of his creation.

Though the fig-tree does not bud
    and there are no grapes on the vines,
though the olive crop fails
    and the fields produce no food,
though there are no sheep in the sheepfold
    and no cattle in the stalls,
 yet I will rejoice in the Lord,
    I will be joyful in God my Saviour.

That’s from Habakkuk 3.

Great, isn’t it? We have joy at all times, ALL times.

I can’t quite claim to own and fully appreciate the next verse yet, but I know that it’s true:

The Sovereign Lord is my strength;
    he makes my feet like the feet of a deer,
    he enables me to tread on the heights.

I may be sinking into soft sand, and buffeted by the wind, and a bit cold, and my mind is with the family member I love so far away…. and the day is long and empty…. and I’m a million miles away from any mountain top, but God enables me to tread on the heights, to hold a core of joy whatever comes my way. And a hell of a lot has come my way in my 72 years. I don’t have to screw up the strength to tread the heights. God enables me.

It’s counter-intuitive to feel joy at all times, eh? We can’t do it. On our own we can’t do it, but God enables us. His joy, in us. His joy.

Joy is available to all. God’s joy is not withheld. Ask and you’ll receive, you will. That’s his promise. Whatever is causing your sadness, whatever your circumstances, God’s joy is yours.

Oh, my writerly friend

Many years ago, when I was the writer-in-residence at The Bush theatre, I had the great job of reading unsolicited scripts which came from all sorts of people, from all over the world. I remember one writer in particular, a woman from the UK, who sent us about 15 pages of her first play. They were absolutely thrilling. I can still remember the scene she described, the flow and richness of the language, and the imagery her character conjured up. Just magical. I phoned the writer and encouraged her, not giving notes because the piece wasn’t developed enough for that, but saying “Yes! Yes! More! More!”. Weeks went by and she sent nothing so I called her again and she said she would be sending something soon. Then it arrived; another 15 pages, absolutely wonderful writing, so exciting… but it was the start of another completely different play. This went on for months, one play after another, half an act each time, intriguing vivid characters with lively believable dialogue and fabulous scene setting…. but she just couldn’t come up with a story. She had the beginnings of a dozen stories but the middle and the end of none.

Man, that was so frustrating both for her and for me. She was a young mum, with two children under three, so I’m sure that she was so busy and distracted that she never had more than a few snatched moments to think about her writing. I can’t remember her name now, but I think of her often, and wonder if she ever found a tale to tell, if she ever finished a play, if she ever discovered the thrill of hearing her characters voiced, seeing them walk, incarnated by actors. I hope she did. To see your imagined world created on stage, or on set, and to see and hear your characters living out your story… well, I can imagine few things more satisfying, giddying. It’s been the greatest reward for me.

Today I had a lovely long Skype call with another writer, a lovely friend, and this woman is a story teller from the top of her head to the tip of her toes. Her every conversation is a funny, surprising story unfolding, just rolling out, bung full of incident and twists, inviting me (her audience) to exclaim and become involved, so that when her lively face vanishes from the screen I sit for a moment, in silence, thinking about the story, how would she write it? How would I write it? Who would be cast as the hero or the villain? And the stories she tells are about her life, the vibrant interesting people she’s met, the world she lives in. There are no murders, or kidnappings, no spying or ghosts or … any of that nonsense. She takes the strands of every day, the delicate threads of our emotional lives, and she spins them into the most gorgeous fabric, fabric crying out to be cut and joined and shaped into drama.

What makes one person a story teller and another just someone who’s ‘good with words’? Talent. It’s the mysterious gift, the alchemy of the mind, and just like the alchemists of old, my writerly friend takes base metals – a trip to the shops or a pair of red knickers – and turns those mundane things into gold.

And she doesn’t know how wonderful that talent is. She has no idea what a wonder she is.

I was on set on a warm summer’s day with a very successful and quite famous old actor, a lonely and troubled man whose consolation was the bottle, and we were watching three lovely youngsters as they fooled around, gorgeous and unselfconscious, with the bouncy energy of all young animals. The old chap was wistful. He nodded towards one young, long-limbed lovely, in her flowing dress with her hair tumbling around her shoulders and he said “Why were girls never like that when I was young, Luce?” But of course, I knew (and so did he) that when he was young the girls were just as beautiful and desirable, but then they were attainable. Obtainable. And he wanted work and fame more than he wanted them.

We long for what we can’t have, and so what we cannot have takes on a greater allure and a greater value than ever it had when we could just reach out and take it. And we are so busy looking to the future and to the past, and yes, to other people, that we don’t appreciate what we have right now.

In her story today, my writer friend described herself at 30, “Beautiful, and – you know – gorgeous like you are when you’re young.”

I looked at her on my screen. She’s beautiful now, gorgeous now. Shiny black hair, twinkling eyes, a laugh as light as wind chimes, perfect skin…. and I want to shout “You’re gorgeous now!” but she’s telling me her story so I don’t interrupt and she builds it to its natural crescendo and that climax is funny and awful and heartfelt and memorable, so that we end up laughing and laughing… her in London and me in Wales.

If the young mum who wrote so many first scenes so many years ago, had really understood how talented she was, she would have lived on the mountain top. If my wistful actor friend had known, when he was young and ambitious, that love was his for the asking, he would have found peace. If my friend in London saw that she is beautiful now, not in the past, and talented now, not in the future, she would soar with the angels. Right now.

She would soar and glide and dip with the angels, with her mouth the perfect ‘O’ of delight…

This morning. No filters needed. The heavens declare the glory of God.

You know I’m no good (pinched from Amy Winehouse)

We love to say ‘The church isn’t the building, it’s the people’. But I don’t think that’s right. I think that the church is Jesus Christ. He’s the essence of church, the beginning and the end of it, the whole of it, not me with all my faults, not you with yours, not the wisest kindest holiest Elder with all theirs…. Jesus is the church. And if he is in us, as we are in him, united, then when the world looks at us they should see glimpses of Christ. Sometimes they will be tiny tiny glimpses, right enough, but when we live with God then God’s love will shine out of us.

That’s the theory anyway.

But listen, listen… if the church really was showing Jesus to the world, crowds would be flocking to hear more, the joy of his message would be electrifying the world, youngsters would be mobbing worship services – Glastonbury would look like a village fete by comparison, my town would be buzzing with praise and light and love. My three granddaughters would- with all the other young people – be desperate for church to be open again, for meetings to recommence, for teaching and outreach. But that isn’t happening. So, what’s gone wrong?

I know that the majority of people who read this blog are not Christian, and I’m always aware that you may well be reading it with a jaundiced eye, that your experience of the Christian Church may not have endeared you to all things Christian. I don’t blame you. I struggle with the traditional, existing, prevalent concept of church too. You have my sympathies. Church too often feels comfortable and self-satisfied, tightly knit like an exclusive marriage, tending only to each other and never looking beyond our own front door. ‘We’re very happy, thank you.’ and the door gets firmly shut against the outside world.

But the true church is Jesus Christ, and he shuts no one out. Our problem is that we think the church is us. That means we are busy distorting his image, his message and his truth. It’s like the Garden of Eden all over again. We have perfect love and we are all, all of us, busy mucking it up. But that’s us. That’s not him.

Today I had a long long chat with a non-Christian who has recently had some business dealings with a Churchy person and they have not seen any of the love of Jesus. Instead they have seen selfishness, arrogance, entitlement and a lack of openness. I sat at my table, listening to the outpouring of frustration and hurt, and I didn’t know what to say, how to make it ‘better’. The experience of dealing with this particular personality is a problem for many. “Hah!” you Christians might be saying “Then he can’t be a real Christian!” but he is! He really is! I know that he loves God, he has a kind heart and really wants to serve God, all his life. I know that he’s sincere.

It’s a puzzle, isn’t it? The difficult personality of this Christian friend is undeniable, as is his passion for God, so how do these things co-exist?

Life. It gets messy. I tried to deflect the conversation, but it didn’t work. I was reminded of that old mantra “Don’t look at the Christian, look at Christ.” but – as above – when we look at the Christian we should indeed be seeing Christ. Christ’s love shining in us.

Did I tell my friend that we Christians are flawed and stumbling? Did I tell her to look to Jesus rather than to his messy followers? Well, I don’t think I did. I think I said “Awww, but he has a good heart and he’ll mature with time… “. What I should have said was –

‘Listen to me, you who pursue righteousness
    and who seek the Lord:
look to the rock from which you were cut
    and to the quarry from which you were hewn;’

Isaiah 51:1

That’s what we have to do. Look to the God we follow, not the messy people who stumble along beside us.

I’m so wise. Aren’t I? Just wise enough to know that I’m not wise. Or good. Or shining with love. When I look into my soul I see just me. Selfish, arrogant, defensive me. Confused me. Conflicted me. The me who loves Jesus and follows him and wants nothing better than to keep her eyes on him but spends half her life flat on her face, wallowing around in the mud.

Like my friend with the difficult personality. Just like him. We’re all in this boat together.

It’s a good job that our God is the God of love. Imagine if he was the God of justice or retribution without the love! You know one of the things that makes it difficult for many people to explore the idea of church? They have the impression that we hold ourselves up to be good. We don’t. We really don’t. We hold our God up to be good, because he is, and we hold ourselves up to be…. what? Forgiven. Loved. Flawed but cherished. Accepted by the God who accepts everyone who turns to him. You, me, everyone. My flawed church acquaintance? Oh, yes, he is loved by God and God’s love will soften him and gentle him and transform him. Just as it will do all those things to me. And even as I listened to his latest goings-on, my heart was just plum full of love for him, awkward and chippy as he is, because in him, somewhere, sometimes, I see the glimmer, the hint and tint of Christ. He’s my brother and I love him. Awkward sod.

Listen! We have been out for dinner! My granddaughter and me went out to dinner with friends, the first evening out in, oooh, 343 years at least. It was amazing. Real people, not on a screen but in person, and a delicious fish pie (gourmet style) and a wander around a real garden. Life is returning to this little corner of Wales, shops are open, pavements are busy, holiday makers are arriving, and friends can meet again.

How wonderful. How human. How messy. Yay!

A drone flies on Mars…

This week the tide is way out in the mornings, so that when we reach the edge of the waves and look back at the beach, there is a new perspective, a new sense of distance, so that I see with new eyes, how beautiful the world is, and how rich we are. I’m aware, with wonder, that God has given us life, and beauty, space, time, thought, love, laughter, grief, our beating hearts, our every breath. Given us all these things. How fabulous. How wonderful. How amazing.

A small drone flies on Mars and that’s amazing. Man walks on the Moon and we are lost in wonder. Luce walks on the beach and … wow.

All these photos have been taken in the last week or so, in my quiet time. Does that sound monastic? Don’t be fooled. My quiet time isn’t always ever so quiet! There are dogs scampering, and chasing birds, and yesterday Pico took furious umbrage at a buoy bobbing in the channel and had to be dragged away, and sometimes I’ll meet someone and we’ll chat for a while, sometimes we’ll even pray as their dogs and mine chase and squabble…. and sometimes there’s an inquisitive seal staring at us from the waves…..but mostly it’s peaceful, mostly it’s solitary, mostly it’s prayer.

Looking back

It does seem to me that when we pray we approach Eden again. I don’t think we can know the full joy of Eden, because we carry with us all our worldly experience, good and bad, and there, at the break of time, there was only innocence and newness, but I believe that we come closer to God in prayer, so that we can share his delight and peace and savour his perfect love.

In prayer, everywhere we look, God’s hand is there, whether we look up at the sky

Or down at the ground

Where the sea leaves a million ripples

In prayer, we find God. Evidence of God, everywhere.

Today, trying to work out how to take a screen shot I inadvertently brought this up…. the information on that last photo, the sand ripples

Look! I was in the sea! That’s how far we had walked. And now, as I type this, the sand we walked on is under metres of water, rolling waves, teeming with fish and crabs and seals.

This is the world God has given us. When life gets between us and God, as it does, when there is illness and loss and pain, we can lose sight of all his gifts, forget to gaze in wonder at the fact that we even exist.

He gave us Eden. And he walked with us there. He walks with us still. He made us because he delights in us, and when we delight in him we are fulfilled.

Disconnected

I am feeling very cut off from everyone today. Lockdown has eased but there’s still no church meeting, no coffee sharing, no one is pushing the door open and calling “It’s only me! Just thought I’d pop in…” The idea and reality of an open door is really important to me, central to my life. For the last 8 years, usually living alone, it has become a big ‘thing’ to me to always have my door open, from the moment I get up to the moment I go to bed. Neighbours and friends know they can just walk in. It’s how I’ve kept in contact with the world. When you’re elderly and single and your family lives some distance away, and most of your friends are in relationships or married, it’s very very easy to become isolated and entirely self-centred. Even a bit (I admit) paranoid that everyone else is OK and you’re the only one feeling that way. I was heading into real trouble until I realised that the open door ploy might just be the answer, and it was.

Then, just over a year ago the world changed, lockdowns and distancing, and masks and all that. The snub went on the door and no one calls any more.

Cut off.

But looking at my stats for the last ten days I see that this blog has been read in the UK, in Bangladesh, Kenya, Australia, Hong Kong, Lebanon, Canada, America and France. Wow. I am so curious about you all. What on earth do you make of the meandering thoughts of a woman who lives in rural Wales, in a busy village, on the edge of the sea? How old are you? Do you have families? Millions of kids? One or two? Or just a dog, a few chickens scratching around? Or are you in an apartment building? How about a bird or an aquarium? Oh, I want to know…. Are you in a bungalow perched a hillside? Do you have a husband, a wife, a lover, a mate, an elderly parent to care for, are you alone or in a crowd? Are you a writer, a farmer, a shop worker, a poet, an artist, a potter…. oh, so many questions.

Hello, hello, whoever you are. What on earth do you make of this blog? Are you feeling a bit cut off too?

When the Apostle Paul was in prison he wrote to the Ephesians and this is one of the many things he said about his incarceration and all the hard stuff that was coming his way:

My response is to get down on my knees before the Father, this magnificent Father who parcels out all heaven and earth. I ask him to strengthen you by his Spirit—not a brute strength but a glorious inner strength—that Christ will live in you as you open the door and invite him in. And I ask him that with both feet planted firmly on love, you’ll be able to take in with all followers of Jesus the extravagant dimensions of Christ’s love. Reach out and experience the breadth! Test its length! Plumb the depths! Rise to the heights! Live full lives, full in the fullness of God.

That’s the Message translation and it really speaks volumes to me about what we should do when we are feeling a bit disconnected…. I’m not in prison, not sleeping on a hard floor, undergoing privations and beatings and goodness knows what. So, shake yourself, Luce, think like Paul. Reach out and experience the breadth of Christs’ love. He doesn’t give it so that I can hug it to myself. He gives it so it can tumble into the world, generous and welcoming and full of joy. The opposite of ‘cut off.’

OK, today I am going to welcome you into my life. You can’t open the door and walk in, so I’ll bring you in, instead. I’m sitting at my small corner desk as I write this, in my home which was once a church building. It used to be the overspill for the big chapel next door, where they held their Sunday school, and church meetings, and had their church office. Now it’s just a spacious living area, with a corridor leading to two small bedrooms and a bathroom. That’s it! No garden, no drive, just step out of the front door onto the street. A living space, a sleeping space and a washing place. What more does anyone need? Want some pics?

This is my front door…..

And this is the view down the street, from that doorway on a snowy morning

I’d like to show you the space I live in but it’s really difficult to get the scope of it… I have one pic, when the place was being redecorated, that shows the height of the room, so here it comes…..

My desk is just inside the front door, the sun is streaming in today, the sky a wonderful blue with great rolling clouds… look….

There’s a cosy fire for winter days

And plenty of room for friends

But usually there’s just me…. and the hounds. Here they are, the two white ones are mine and I’m fostering the little brownish one for a year

Pip, Percy and Pico

And here’s the beach I walk on every morning (and the couple who bubbled with me in lockdown and kept me from going feral)

Sadly, the church is closed at the moment, due to Covid, but this is the outside view. It’s just a couple of miles away.

But the church is not a building, the church is the people, and we have found a new and exciting home on the internet, every week offering a very real welcome to the church family and while most of us have been aimlessly mooching around for months, our leadership has been finding new ways of reaching out, sermons and services of course, but a discipleship group too, and Zoom prayer meetings, and now an Alpha course. This is the one minute intro to our online service,

You can find all the services for the last year at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=25TpY6Ljtec&t=157s

So! There you go. Now you know the world I’m coming from. Now you’ve popped in and met me.

I think that our greatest responsibility to each other in this strange Covid time is to make contact, and to do more than that, to make that contact open and meaningful. It’s too easy to say “We can’t meet, so we’ll just sit tight, batten down the hatches, wait till the all-clear sounds.” By then we will have lost friends to illness and loneliness. Normally sociable people are already feeling estranged and awkward about the simplest journey, to the bank or the supermarket, about meeting up again, unsure of themselves after so long alone.

This is just woolly minded me saying to anyone who wants to listen, that we can still reach out , even when our country is experiencing a second or third wave, even when we’re weary of restrictions and beginning to feel a tad rebellious, even when friends are ill and we’re missing our family. Even when, not to mince words, we’re bloody well fed up with the whole damn pantomime. We can still reach out. Make a phone call, write a letter (!), send an email, forward a silly joke, walk to the park and meet who ever’s there, look out the window and when someone passes, risk a chat! It’s possible. It’s possible to make contact, safely distanced, even now. You might make someone feel a whole lot better about their day.

I wish I could sit with you all, one by one (I’m not great in huge groups) and look into your eyes and enjoy being with you, but until then….

“God is our refuge and strength, an ever-present help in trouble. Therefore we will not fear, though the earth give way and the mountains fall into the heart of the sea, though its waters roar and foam and the mountains quake with their surging.” Psalm 46:1-3

Three strangely wonderful connections….

Three wonderful connections that make me feel held by an unseen hand. Three connections to remind me that there is an unseen reality, and that God is here right now, alive and well and wherever we are:

First..…. We watched ‘A Star Is Born’ the other evening. It’s a remake, with Lady Gaga and Bradley Cooper. Frankie (granddaughter) didn’t know that there was an original and very famous version of the film, and I had never seen it anyway, so we came to the title sequence with no high expectations. I don’t think we moved for the entire film. We were silent and engrossed. At the end, the closing song, I found myself weeping. Me! Hard hearted Hannah! Weeping at a fiction created by someone else, a fiction! Me, who reserves tears for real life and can see through the manipulation of storytelling…. And I hadn’t even once criticised the plot, or sighed at the dialogue, or complained about cliché, or called the director a twit or…. anything. It’s a good film. During the closing number Frankie was weeping too, but she has the excuse of being 18 and so she’s ready for a good old bawl at just about any time. I suppose I have the excuse that my husband has been dead for years and years and years and the song had lyrics like “Wish I could have said goodbye… If I knew, it would be the last time it would have broken my heart in two, trying to save a part of you.” The power of music. The truth of words. The sweet pain of longing. They sent me right back to the last time I saw my George, waving a milk bottle at me (true) and pulling a daft face. And when I came back to the house, not long after, he was dead. ‘Wish I could have said goodbye.’

And then….. connection number two: Yesterday I was talking to a friend and we found ourselves once again talking about prayer. It struck me as we spoke that prayer is like beautiful music, and like music it exists for our delight. Music and prayer take us to another level of consciousness, of tenderness and vulnerability. There is a completeness and perfection in both.

You all know by now that I’m not wise, and I don’t claim any great insight but I know with calm certainty, unshakeable certainty, that when we pray we delight God. I feel his delight and it delights me. Maybe that’s the whole story of prayer, beginning to end. Maybe there’s no more to say. Prayer exists to delight God. And in his delight we find our own, and that’s what God wants, our delight. He wants our joy. We are the infants at his knee, trusting and full of nonsense, and he loves us. 

In prayer we are fulfilled, right back there in the Garden of Eden, where God always intended us to be. We were made to be in communion with him and the tragedy of sin is that we spend our whole damn lives away from him but in prayer we step into eternity, step into God. Prayer completes us, imperfect as we are.

If I pray for you, it’s not about getting what I want for you, prayer is submitting to what God wants for you, knowing that he gives goodness, because he is goodness. We don’t pray in order to persuade God about anything. And we don’t earn anything by praying. Praying is its own reward, the way of joining with God in his love for the world, for the people we are praying for, it’s about revelling in God’s love for humanity, flawed and defiant as we are. Prayer delights both the worshipper and the God of the Universe, the listener and the musician. It has no other purpose but to be. 

Waiting for connection number three? This is the stunner: I was thinking about all this as I made dinner tonight. I don’t usually have music playing, I love silence, but tonight because of my thoughts about prayer and music I played that song by Lady Gaga again, and then – thinking of my husband – I played two Tina Turner songs (he loved Tina T!) volume up, raw voice, strong words, demanding a reaction.

We ate dinner. As Frankie did the washing up (good girl!) here’s the third and amazing connection.….I had an email from my daughter, the first for some time, and this is what it said, referring to the first few years after George’s death:

if you get a few minutes to blast this bad-ass tune out full belt then join me in the wonderful flashback of being together in one of your old jags, you on the phone, me changing to 5th gear when you hit the clutch, and Dad being somewhere there too, taking in Tina Turner with us both. Love you x 
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3JH28-aDfXY

Why then? Why Tina Turner? The first time we have spoken about her for years and years and years…. my daughter had no idea what I’ve been thinking about, who I’ve been talking to… we are a hundred miles apart, but tonight God has brought us together. Tonight God has taught me something very important about prayer, something so delicate and wonderful that it defies words. But hey – this is me – so I’ll give it a go, stand by… here it comes…..

God is real. He is active in our lives.

So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen, since what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal.

2 Corinthians 4:18

PS. Yes, in that email… she’s right, I was on the phone, driving. But in my defence, M’Lud, it was the early 1990’s… we all know better now.

What is love?

Two unexpected and warm notes have pinged in, from friends I haven’t seen for ages. I do love it when this happens – when I know that someone has thought about me and taken the trouble to write. It makes the miles between us melt away, and it’s almost as good as a chat over a cup of coffee, a shared time. Almost. Oh, OK, that’s a porky, it’s not nearly as good as that, but it’s at least an attempt.

I really love receiving emails and texts but I send loads, and rarely get more than a vague bit of well-wishery in return. Maybe we’re losing the ability to write letters, or perhaps the email mindset has clipped everything to the bare essentials so that it’s a message rather than a correspondence. And anyway, other lives are busy and I have little to say when it all boils down to it and so maybe… whisper it… maybe my emails are boring. It’s not a big deal if they are – it doesn’t upset me. You have permission to find me dull and unexciting. It’s not one of the world’s worst sins. And I have been much worse than boring.

I know I’ll keep on emailing even though few people reply in full. Some leave it a couple of days and then answer dutifully, but most whizz a one liner back at me ‘Thank, Luce. Wonderful.’ or some such say-nowt acknowledgement. If it’s a Christian they might bung me a quick “God is good’ which makes me smile (or is it a wince?) but I do know that other lives are busy and anyway, my friends come in all shapes and sizes and colours – and the gift of friendship is like every other gift, some have it in great skiploads, others have a tiny ingot that they guard jealously, self-protectively. And many reserve true honest friendship for their partner or family so that everyone else may receive courteous consideration, but nothing lavished or free flowing or rich and wild and reckless and generous. Their love is limited, measured out carefully. Measured love is the opposite of God’s love. ‘See what great love the Father has lavished on us, that we should be called children of God!’ 1 John 3:1 

Ah, well. Some people don’t lavish. Isn’t that a lovely word? It reminds me of Luke 6:38 ‘Give, and it will be given to you. A good measure, pressed down, shaken together and running over, will be poured into your lap.’ What an image! How fabulous!

If you send me a chatty email, I know you have time for me and that warms the cockles of my heart, but if you don’t, do I take this as an insult or do I understand instead that your life has other priorities, other demands? I choose to do the latter and keep you close to my heart anyway.

I used to befriend people on the basis of mutuality, but I’ve realised over the years that this is not helpful. I have some dear friends, the dearest, who really just don’t have the gift of friendship, but that doesn’t stop me loving them. They would never just pop by, or FaceTime unannounced or send a ‘thinking of you’ message, or a silly gift, or a bad joke. They just don’t do these things. They are formal and reserved. But they don’t have to be super warm for me to love them, any more than they have to be super-brilliant or stunningly beautiful or mega-rich. And they can’t help their temperaments and their experiences or the culture they grew up in – friendship is forgiving and accepting. Forgiving their lacks as they forgive mine, accepting their personalities as they accept mine. When you love someone it’s a great feeling – and they don’t, they really don’t have to love you back in the same way.

Here’s a funny story, about someone who measures out her friendship in careful 5ml doses; I had been in a small community for about two years, slowly getting to know people, not making friends particularly easily, but trying to find my feet there. One of the matriarchs, very respected, told me that she hadn’t been able to visit her family for two years (this was before the limitations of Covid) and that she really missed them. She was crestfallen and yet sort of ‘brave’ about it and I could see that, at her age, it meant a lot to her. Even the shortest visit would mean a two night trip, a ferry, four or five hours driving, me staying in a B&B while she caught up with her siblings and their families, but it was no big deal. I put my dogs into kennels and took her. We had a good trip, lots of laughter on the way, and I had a couple of days pottering around this new area while she visited. It was no great hardship for me – absolutely not. On the drive home she looked at me thoughtfully and said something like “You know, Luce, I have a lot of friends and I don’t have time for another one. I know you won’t mind me saying so.”

That’s me told! It made me chuckle that she waited until the journey home to tell me. Did she think I wouldn’t take her if she had said it beforehand? It wouldn’t have changed anything at all. One response to her lack of love is to love her for who she is, and one response is to withdraw love because of who she isn’t. I choose to love her anyway.

Loving is not all emotion. That’s a mistake we make, especially in the Western World. Love is a choice. Love doesn’t look for reward. Love is. Love is a noun and a verb. I choose to write this blog, I choose to love. The same part of the brain is involved in both!

I’ve been thinking about love a whole lot – God’s love. We so glibly say ‘God is love’ but do we really understand what we’re saying? I’ve been following a series of talks and videos on rightnowmedia, a series called ‘Life Explored’ by Barry Cooper and I’ve really enjoyed it, been intrigued and engaged by it. It’s just a fab series. The second talk, titled ‘The Good God’ has given me a more complete view of God’s love than ever before. Not complete, because this is me with my myopic eyesight, but more complete than it was. It’s opened my eyes so that I understand why – although it doesn’t make sense in a worldly way – I love people who don’t love me, how I am able through Christ to love people who don’t love me, why they are loveable even when they don’t love me, why God loves us even when we don’t love him…. why God loved me even when I was against him….. it illuminates the thought and truth that God is love. And when we follow God, when we want to be like Jesus, love is a choice we can make. If he lives in us, his love is in us, and if his love is in us we can’t withhold it from anyone. His love envelops everyone.

What is love? God is love. Who does he love? Everyone. You. You and you and you and even, wonderfully, me.

In case you want to look up that righnowmedia series, here’s a link that might help:

https://www.rightnowmedia.org/Content/Series/481578?episode=2

This is not a blog

But I can’t resist wishing you all a belting and joyful Easter. May you all, every single one of you, know that Jesus is risen, he’s alive, that he’s in our lives, with us in our waking and our sleeping, active all around us and that his reality is undeniable to those of us who know him.

They can write a thousand historically accurate books proving that the Resurrection was documented at the time, proven at the time, a pain in the neck for the Roman authorities, a source of delight to the early Christians…. they can make a hundred videos taking us to modern day Israel, to this site and that site… they can do all this and more, but ….

BUT

if we know Jesus Christ as our Lord and Saviour we need none of that. Once we did. But not now. That’s for those who are still on the journey.

Those who know Jesus have no need of external reassurance about the Resurrection.

Jesus is risen. I know because he is alive and with me. With you if you call on him. In our lives, active and present and full of love.

I wish I could post a surprising picture to lighten your hearts, but guess what? It’s the beach again! The wonderful beach. The lockdown beach. The Easter Sunday beach. I haven’t been anywhere else for what feels like half a lifetime but see how beautiful the day is….

He is risen!

Easter Sunday

Is it a bird, is it a plane……

I am not great at formal prayer and I’m getting worse! God is with me, and I live in his presence, so I’m finding increasingly that words are not helpful, that he knows my fears and longings and praise and accepts my thanks. He is here in my heart and head, and words just clutter up that unity, dispel it…. I dunno, diminish it. Having said that, I do find myself saying some odd things to the creator of the world “Oh, look at that amazing sky!” and “Don’t you love to hear that sort of throaty laugh?” as if he had not created the sky and given us the gift of laughter. I think of it as a sort of close marriage, one where a couple don’t have to continually put into words their hopes for the day and for the future, or their love for each other; their hopes and love are still there, primary, central, essential and the two hearts beating under one roof share a consciousness. And sometimes the words just have to spill out. Sometimes silence, sometimes laughter, sometimes sharing the deepest, hardest thoughts, two hearts beating as one (and all that). .

Anyway, I want to talk about prayer. I think. Today, Good Friday, I decided to mark the day by really really, no, really, getting into the gravitas of remembering the death of Jesus on the cross. Me and my decisions. I would be there in Jerusalem, conscious of his fear, and his resolve, his great courage, and I’d meditate on the sacrifice and the humility and the cost and… well, you get the idea. The best laid plans of mice and men, eh? 

On the way to the beach I followed my usual pattern, getting ready for prayer, reminding myself intentionally that this was a huge privilege, one hard-earned by the death of Jesus, a privilege the patriarchs of the OT couldn’t even dream of… walking with God, being with Jesus, the one who is mighty and righteous and pure. No barriers between us. A gift from him and nothing to do with me. Freely given, gratefully received. That five minute car journey each morning is a discipline, a stern reminder, a call to attention (well, I was once a soldier).

 As I walked onto the sand I brought to mind, as usual,  all those I love and pray for, thinking of the prayer in Ephesians, thinking of a few Psalms, but mostly simply bringing them before God, or my mental image of them, longing for their even closer walk with him. My prayer is short on words but rich in imagery,  as I think of each loved personality, quirks and all…. each of you…. bing… bang… bong. “Lord won’t you please let him know he’s loved and so precious? Bring him nearer to you today, even nearer? Fill him to overflowing with your essence, truth, vitality, resolve and steadfastness. ”    “See her, Lord? She needs you so much right this very minute, to know you and to love you and she can’t do it on her own, the world is tugging at her – go on, Lord, please, grab her tight.” 

Is my mood annoying you? Sorry, I can’t shake it off. My heart is just full of joy and my soul is dragged down with sorrow. How can I walk a sensible line of moderation with all that going on? I’m babbling.  

Anyway, listen. This was the beach I took you all to, all you people I love. Look at that! No filters needed. 

And then, I thought, time for the serious stuff. The meditation. 

And I couldn’t do it. Yes, even though I was so aware that this is Good Friday, the day to remember, to prepare for the agony of a brutal death, the sadness of the body abandoned in the tomb, all I could think and feel was joy. I was bung full of joy! I looked out over that whispering silver sea and I said to my Lord “Wouldn’t it be great if we could see a seal now? That would be such a confirmation of everything.” And as I looked… a disturbance on the surface, a dark shape…. A seal! A seal!!! 

A seal! 

A s- …. oh, no…  The shape moved strangely… lifted…. And the ‘seal’ flew away. Not a seal but a cormorant, followed by another. I laughed aloud. There on the sunny cold beach, God and me laughed at my bonkers mind. 

Did I need the miraculous appearance of a seal to let me know that God was with me? Nope. No no no. Faith doesn’t rule out miracles but it doesn’t demand them, either.

It was a funny and delightful moment but it was enough to remind me that sometimes my mind is a clamour.  Sometimes I am so busy being with God and marvelling and shouting my bright ideas at him, studying this and looking up that, and having a lightbulb moment….  that I don’t listen. So, I listened. I listened and there was perfect silence. Even the sea was silent. But I knew his presence. It was enough. 

Good Friday. You think I’m alone? I’m not.

And as I came off the beach an hour later, I met someone I’ve known for 5 years. This blog is where I write my beliefs loud and clear because I have to do it somewhere or I’ll burst… but in everyday life I don’t carry a Bible around with me, or give out tracts, or try to convert people, or throw Bible verses at their heads…. I don’t hide my faith and joy, and sometimes my pain, but I don’t proselytise either. That’s for God, not me. I just try to be honest and open, a good friend.

But this bloke, a deffo non-believer, funny and rebellious and cheeky, someone who delights in being that bit contrary, walked across the strand to talk to me about Easter, and then about the Bible. I really didn’t have to say very much at all. “It is” he said ‘the best book in the world.’ I was too stunned to say much. And he spoke with knowledge and understanding about eternity, and death, and I recognised thoughts from Ecclesiastes and some from the parables. What was my role in that conversation? To be wise and clever and come up with fabulous insights? To teach and enlighten? No, my job was just to listen. To give him someone who would pause and be still, with him. To recognise that God was there before me. I think God had prepared me for that exact moment, just an hour earlier. 

A couple of years ago our Pastor had a little saying, a saying that I and a late dear friend, Jane,  just loved. He would say “Jesus is brilliant. He says the words our hearts need to hear.”

I would add to that, “Jesus is brilliant, he silences our clamour so that our hearts can hear.”