They also pray, who only stand, properly shtum.

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This morning, in West Wales, dabbling my feet in the surging waves.

You may be glad to know that I don’t have words at the moment. But that’s OK because the Bible is chock full of them. I can’t find the words, just now, to put my thoughts and a sort of bewilderment into structured sentences.  The emotions and longing battering around in my soul create only a cacophony,  too discordant, too much of a clamour, to make sense to anyone but God. So, for me, just now, it’s silence and the Word of God.

But God knows my heart, and He cares more about that than He does for any words, and so it’s my heart I bring to Him today, laying it at His feet. And now I step back, in silence.

Waiting. Trusting.

My silence, His voice.

Lord God, unlock my heart, unlock my lips,
and I will overcome with my joyous praise!
For the source of your pleasure is not in my performance
or the sacrifices I might offer to you.
 The fountain of your pleasure is found
in the sacrifice of my shattered heart before you.
You will not despise my tenderness
as I humbly bow down at your feet.

Psalm 51, The Passion Translation

As I finished pasting those verses, I saw another verse, also in the Passion translation and – listen, listen, please understand that this for me right now is a direct word from God, just when I need it. Answered prayer. From God, from actual GOD to me, right now, right absolutely now. Words written by David, inspired by the Holy Spirit, echoing down over all the centuries, as true now as they were when David first wrote them,  and reaching up – all the way from little old West Wales – to God in His glory:

Lord, you know all my desires and deepest longings.
My tears are liquid words and you can read them all.

Psalm 38:9

Liquid words.

That’ll do.

Liquid words to the God who wept.

This is joy, this is sorrow, this is prayer.

Church. Is it working?

We talk easily and readily about the need we all have to love and to be loved, but as we grow into adulthood we need something else: to be needed.  The human heart finds fulfilment in meeting the needs of someone else, but as we age we are needed less and less. This is a huge problem for a swathe of our population, three generations, leading to isolation and depression.

In May last year, in the UK,  there were over 12million over the age of 65. That’s more than the total population of Belgium, and more than Denmark and Finland combined. A huge nation of the aged. What’s the future for this rapidly growing population if no one needs them to get up every day? I’m thinking particularly of the single elderly person because where there is a couple each one tends to serve the needs of the other and singles make up 40% of our retired population (and the proportion will grow as the divorce rate of people now in middle age takes its toll in years to come).

Am I, then, discounting the needs of couples?  I hope not, but in a couple both probably feel needed because both have needs, however small. When I walk my dogs I’m conscious that couples talk to each other, sometimes continually, as they walk ( I do wonder what they find to talk about), that they have somewhere to go and something to do, that they are holding each other to a sort of informal unspoken timetable, just by being there. Jack needs Jill because not only will she pick him up when he falls down and breaks his crown, but because if Jill isn’t there he will feel her loss. Yes, he will need to collect only half a pail of water when he goes up the hill, which may seem like an immediate benefit, but he won’t have anyone to share it with. If he adapts his routine and fills the bucket to the brim only once every two days, then by the second day not only will the water taste stale but he also won’t be getting the exercise he needs. And he’s alone. And maybe lonely.

The most unfulfilling job I ever had was one with few responsibilities, no team, no staff meetings, no timetable,  no acknowledgement, no urgency or set hours, no obvious end product, no jokes or teasing, no friendly familiarity, no thanks and no outlet for creativity.   I can imagine you all saying “But is that even a job?”

Good point, compadres. And it’s a perfect picture of the old age experience for many; A retiree living alone has few responsibilities, no timetable, no one in need, no team, no appreciation, and no urgency.  Few bloody jokes. A no job.

If we are to continue to intervene medically and surgically to keep the elderly alive, it would be good if they had something worth living for.  I noticed, several months ago, that if you see two elderly people talking, then as you draw near you will hear words like “GP…. scan….MRI… blood test…” . Very very rarely (in fact, in the intervening months, not even once) will you hear about anything other than medical interventions. Is this to be our lot? Is this OK? Is this why we are alive, to do nothing but hold onto life grimly?

Apart from B&Q (more of them later) and a few others, not many employers say “We want to work with retired people! We value your experience!”  but corporations, church leaders, politicians and entrepreneurs are always recruiting young people, saying they have the vision and the energy, and new ideas untrammelled by precedent.  Of course all this is true,  but if they unthinkingly rule out the contribution and value of the elderly, then it’s bigotry.

A few years ago B&Q started recruiting retired people as in-store staff and this was very successful. Since then others have followed suit, including banks, MacDonalds(!)  and even coach companies. One cashier at B&Q was still working at 96. I am not a practical person and when B&Q began to advertise for older employees my husband had just died and I was moving house, with a teenager in tow. B&Q was the one store where I could ask about locks and drains and gutters and electrical wiring, and get the advice I needed, without the bored shrugs and indifference of spotty youths.  I loved B&Q!

But sympathetic employers are still rare so how do we take this huge population of the ‘elderly fit’ and bring them into our sphere of activity? I don’t know, any more than anyone else knows. It’s one of the great challenges of today.

As a Christian I would love to say that the Christian church has the answer but I can’t. Certainly Jesus Christ holds the answer, but His church hasn’t found it yet. There are clear instructions in the Bible, scattered throughout, and a big chunk comes in 1 Timothy. Culturally it was the widow who was in need of support, but now it is equally the widower, and the singleton;

Give proper recognition to those widows who are really in need.  But if a widow has children or grandchildren, these should learn first of all to put their religion into practice by caring for their own family and so repaying their parents and grandparents, for this is pleasing to God.    1 Timothy 5:3&4

And James has quite a bit to say, with relevance to all in need at any age:

What good is it, my brothers and sisters, if someone claims to have faith but has no deeds? Can such faith save them? Suppose a brother or a sister is without clothes and daily food.  If one of you says to them, ‘Go in peace; keep warm and well fed,’ but does nothing about their physical needs, what good is it? James 2:14-16

I wonder if there is a way we can embrace and include the elderly, not just say ‘we value you’ but then tuck them away out of sight? I don’t have any answers. I really wish I did.

Last year I looked at Christian Communities, hoping to find one that I could usefully join but I soon realised that I’d left it too late. If I had joined as a younger person, with more to give, then my old age would have morphed into an integral part of community life, but to join now would be loading them unfairly, treating them as a geriatric facility, and that’s not what a Christian commune is about. Maybe that’s the answer I’m looking for… maybe it’s only by living as a community through every age that we can live as a community in our later years. If this is true then I, and my generation, have missed the boat.

I think that’s true. Do you? Do you think it’s true that an old person can live as a vital part of community only if he or she is already established as a part of that community? That they can’t be grafted on in their frail years and truly integrate because that’s when they need far more care than they can give. If I had lived as part of a church community, then as I reach old age I would still be an intrinsic part of that church. But that’s not how I, and the vast majority of my generation, has lived. And so we are alone.

What’s the church doing about the millions of ageing loners? What am I doing about them? I’m the church. Being elderly doesn’t absolve me of responsibility. How can we, how can I, support everyone, including our older brothers and sisters and bring them all right into the heart of worship and church life? And beyond this, how can we take the Great Commission to people who are housebound and isolated? How can we reach out to the elderly who don’t yet know Christ? It’s great and necessary and wonderful to have youth clubs and drop-ins and activities for the young…. but is the octogenarian soul worthless? How do we reach the shut-ins?

My church has a craft afternoon and a coffee morning, largely attended by retirees.  In a small room. In a quite large town. Hmmm. Now, here’s the thing… if someone has only a very small opportunity for companionship, then they will cling onto that small opportunity for grim life. They will guard it jealously. And I mean ‘jealously’. It won’t necessarily be a beautiful sight, the way they cling on.  If the ministry for the elderly is meagre and minimal, then the elderly might, being human, become defensive, resenting any suggestion of change and maybe even resenting the rest of the church. We might just end up with a them-and-us division.

I know I’m looking at a huge problem. There’s no quick fix for this age-divided society. But I know, too, that I’m part of the problem and I can’t absolve myself.

What could we start?  Not a weekly ‘event’ but a coming together, a belonging, a family for those who have no family….  something that’s more than a small opportunity… something that stretches over time like companionship, like friendship, something that isn’t cancelled for Christmas, something that isn’t a couple of hours on a Sunday and another on a Thursday. Something that accepts and values all people and makes time for them.

It may be too late for my generation, but for the 30, 40, 50 year olds, the old people of tomorrow… is there a community we can forge together? Is there a way of life we can share? Is it called the church? Is it working?

 

 

Enough, already. And it’s only Jan 6th

This week is going to be exhausting. I feel it coming on already and it’s only Monday. On Thursday a built in wardrobe will be delivered in flat pack. On Friday an installer will arrive and have it all done in a day. Fab, you say, where’s the problem? This is just a two bed house, so everything in that room will have to be stored elsewhere (and there’s a lot). There is nowhere else except the living room. We can stack some stuff in the bath, I suppose… and because the bedroom will be emptied on Tuesday (the only day my son-in-law can help) my granddaughter will have to sleep on the settee, in the middle of all the stuff we’ve decanted. Also, the existing wardrobe arrangement (a Fred Karno affair) will be dismantled tomorrow and ALSO stored in the living room until someone comes to collect it….. but I have to advertise it first and I’ve never done that before…. and how many people will call about it?….. should I put my phone number in the ad or is that asking for trouble? …..and I have two dogs, and a script to deliver….

So, do you know what I’m going to do about all that? I’m going to make another cup of coffee, butter a teacake, and talk to you. Problem solved.

Today a friend sent me Psalm 139 verses 23&24. Not comfortable verses.

“Search me, God, and know my heart;
    test me and know my anxious thoughts.
See if there is any offensive way in me,
    and lead me in the way everlasting.”

There’s loads of offensive ways in me. I’ve had them all spelled out to me this week, at length and with no holds barred, a fair bit of name calling, a load of vitriol and stored up hurt – it never occurred to me that anyone could loathe me with quite so much intensity. It’s left me reeling and – Psalm or no Psalm – I don’t really need God to get in on the act too. Do I really want the all knowing One to shine a light on all the dust and dirt in my hidden corners? There’s a limit to how much I can take in one week, folks.

Anyway,  I did read Psalm 139, all of it, culminating in those last lines (a prayer I sort of half-said, fingers crossed and wincing) and by the end I was proper grumpy-grumpy, lonely, abandoned, disliked and thoroughly HORRIBLE on a wet Monday morning. If I had a cat I’d have kicked it (oh, stop with the eye rolling. I wouldn’t)

BUT then I remembered. It’s all about surrender. It’s all about God. It’s not about me. (“It is!” the 3 year old within me shouted “It bloody well is!”).

And then I remembered that last week I was given the Passion translation of The Psalms, so I closed my NIV and opened that… and look how this version puts that same thought;

God, I invite your searching gaze into my heart.
Examine me through and through;
find out everything that may be hidden within me.
Put me to the test and sift through all my anxious cares.
See if there is any path of pain I’m walking on,
and lead me back to your glorious, everlasting ways—
the path that brings me back to you.

That’s it! That’s bloomin’ it, mate! Innit? If there’s stuff I need to change, if the things that were said to me about my character were even half true, then it’s all stuff that’s harming my relationship with God. Do I want to know what that ‘stuff’ is?

You’re cotton pickin’ right I do.

And will God let me know which bits of that bitter tirade against me are true? You’re cotton pickin’ right He will!

And then do I want to be led back to the path that leads me straight back to God?

Outta my way, chickens – crazy woman coming through – crazy woman with some soul searching to do.

And it’s stopped raining, for the minute.

Amazing! Astonishing! Hi

Last night I introduced my 16 year old granddaughter to The Sopranos. We watched the first two episodes and they stood the test of time for me while completely engaging her, although I may have been a bit distracting, laughing in anticipation of favourite lines and crowing every now and then, “Oh! This scene’s so good – watch this!” (although she already was). Never watch telly with a dramatist, we will ruin it either with our criticism and sourness, or with our enthusiasm.

I love the title sequence of The Sopranos so much that on a trip to New York 5 years ago I hired a huge luxury 4×4, and a driver, and we followed as much of Tony Soprano’s route as I could recognise from google earth and maps. I had my iPad with me playing (over and over) ‘Woke up this morning’ and it was just glorious! We came through the Lincoln Tunnel, the New Jersey turnpike (recognisable only by the huge overhead signs) saw the great span of that ‘skyway’ (can’t remember its name) and the industrial area, the many bridges and fly-overs, some great old advertising hoardings and then to top it all, we passed the ‘statue’ of the bloke with a carpet! It was great. The driver was Moroccan and he said I reminded him of his mum so he drove us to some of the places he took her, including a tiny park where we had a great view of The Statue of Liberty and then, although I’d paid for only two hours, he drove us to a coffee stand and all round the centre of New York. He was lovely. A warm memory.

The Sopranos. Fargo. Frasier. House of Cards. All unforgettable. I can remember huge chunks of dialogue and sequences, images, shots. Not a lot of TV is so memorable and exciting and I should know – I’ve spent my life writing instantly forgettable drama. What a shocking admission! Mea culpa, mea culpa, mea maxima culpa and all that stuff. But now, almost without deliberately setting out to do so, I’m aiming for one more shot at getting it right- that rustling sound you hear is me girding my loins, the scraping sound is my feet pawing the ground, the whinny is my excitement…. 2020, the year of return.

Ah, but the writer can’t decide on her future, not really. I could have the very best idea in the world, write the most amazing script (unlikely) and yet not be able to find a producer or I might find a producer and together we might go on to fail to find a broadcaster. Most of the TV and theatre world think I’m dead because I’ve been so quiet for so long, so it’s going to be a challenge, but in the week before Christmas I started reminding them all that I am still extant, and full of loin-girding, hoof pawing and creative excitement. Why? What has taken me back into drama?

I gave up telly five years ago, slowly and falteringly, not absolutely sure that this is what I was doing, until it was done! Does that make sense? After a couple of years, I realised that I had said ‘no’ to every offer that came my way, and to every enquiry about my availability, I had read books sent to me for adaptation and turned them all down, I’d met producers and actors who wanted to get projects going but I had remained uninspired. I wrote to my agent a couple of times excusing him from the job of representing me, but he wouldn’t let go. He’s a good friend. I wasn’t sure what was happening or why, and I questioned every negative decision I had made, but after those two years I  realised that I was turning away from drama and towards God.

But you know what? God didn’t have a job for me. I was completely irrelevant in my church, in the practical day-to-day stuff. My life became about reading the Bible, praying, and erm… reading the Bible and praying. That’s what life has been for the last five years, falteringly at first, often losing my way,  but with growing enthusiasm and joy.  Once my ego and emotions had accepted that there was no structure or ministry within the church where I was needed, I found unexpected reward and delight in prayer and study.

So, now, what’s happening? Am I turning  from God back to drama? Looks like it.

This year my autobiographical novel will be published (not quite an autobiography and not quite a novel. Whaddya expect? I’m a script writer) and I realised just a few days before Christmas that it could be adapted as a film or series. I wasn’t sure what form it would take, where the narration would sit, how the structure would adapt to the demands of drama, but I knew that it could be done. Somehow. Just had to wait for the answer to arrive.

Why? Why do I want to return to the exhausting and fickle world of television? Several reasons, and over Christmas and the New Year I’ve realised how surely I’ve been led to this point;

I’ve had the most unexpected, unusual, rich and rewarding life. When I wrote the first few series of Peak Practice, Soldier,Soldier and Bramwell we would get audiences of 18 million, overnight.  Those were the days when there were only 4 TV channels, so the water cooler talk the next day would be about only one or two dramas the night before. Even later, when a few other platforms came along, my single films or mini series would get 12 million. All those words, all those words, and none about the Gospel! Not one. In an hour’s drama (just looked up an old script) there might be thirteen thousand words…. all those hours I’ve written and not one word about the greatest story to be told, until this last year or so when I’ve written two radio plays…..

The ‘why’ of my return to drama is quite simple; I want to tell the world about God. I want to tell them how He has shaped and saved my life. The title of the book is The Amazingly Astonishing Story and I hope it’s lively and funny, and certainly not serious. In the book my story ends at 17 when I left school, when I still didn’t know that God was all to me, was to be all to me in the rest of my life, that everything is about Him…. but the drama (if it gets made) will take me on from 17 and make sense of it.

Repeating myself: So, now, what’s happening? Am I turning  from God back to drama? Not flippin’ likely! I am going back to drama with God.

I’m praying so fiercely that the adaptation will make sense of my life for the person on the outside looking in, because God has done a wonderful thing in my life. He is my hero. He is the centre of everything. Not the church, or feel-good, or do-good, but Him.

My life really is an Amazingly Astonishing Story, but it’s His, not mine. My prayer is that the adaptation will show this, very very clearly. If you have room in your prayer life, will you join me in that hope?

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Just as I was getting used to writing 2019

I’ll tell you a secret, I really really don’t like New Year. For me it’s too sentimental and nostalgic, and the TV schedule is full of  boring retrospective programmes (cheap to make) and rubbish films. I just can’t wait for January 2nd. My Scottish husband, however, loved Hogmanay, because to him it spoke of hope and new beginnings.  Yes, it was about taking a bottle of whisky to friends, first-footing,  but there was also a real meditative side of  the New Year for him, and a sort of formality. If anyone said ‘Happy New Year’ before we crossed the midnight threshold he would say ‘Aye, when it comes.” One of his New Year customs was to say “May the best of this last year be the worst of the year to come.” Which always made me smile because it’s quite a small wish, isn’t it? And whenever I tried it I always got it the wrong way round.

If he was here he would be checking we had whisky and a piece of coal and some bread ready for the first footing on the night, and he’d be planning who to visit, and wondering who would come here….  I sort of miss that. Well, no I don’t. But I do miss him and his enthusiasm.

George was a quiet, stoical Scot. He was (annoyingly) much calmer, wiser, and funnier than anyone I knew. Witty. That man could reduce me to helpless laughter with one quiet word. In the area of my brain that creates characters and casts actors, the Scot is always sharp and witty, while the Irish character is always just a little inept, stubborn and wayward (I’m Irish. But not at all like that. Obvs). I wonder if he would recognise me now, 27 years since we saw each other? I wonder if he would see change? I don’t mean physically, but emotional, attitudinal change? Would he recognise the me in me?

If he was still in this world, how different life would be.  We wouldn’t be welcoming the New Year  here in West Wales, for starters (he refused to live further than ten minutes from a B&Q store, immediate access to a wide range of screwdrivers being essential to sustain life). And I certainly wouldn’t be going to church (loved God but mistrusted anything even vaguely like religion). But I also wouldn’t be wondering how I was going to dismantle the wardrobe, or how to drill a hole in a bookcase for an electric cable, or sort out a shelter for the recycling. He would get all those things done in a single morning, my broad shouldered, blond haired, blue eyed, fixer of all things wrong.

Who am I kidding? If George was still alive he would be in his eighties. Shocker! Really, that is a shocker. I struggle to accept it. In my mind he is always fit, strong, 55ish, walking with a bounce, quick and funny. If he had lived, who would he be now? And who would I be now?

All life is change. How tragic it would be if  we had lived through those 27 years but had learned nothing new, not grown closer to God, remaining the same in 2020 as we were in 1993. If nothing much has changed in the last quarter of a century ….. you got problems, brother! Change is everywhere, in nature and in technology and in society.

George grew up in the shadow of Barlinnie Prison in Glasgow where, on execution days the early morning streets would grow silent, and he and his brothers would stand, heads bowed, as their mother, a Christian pacifist, prayed. The morning lost its colour as they thought of the man going to the gallows behind the high grey prison walls.  Each executed man was commemorated by a prayer card on the wall next to his mother’s bed. George would gaze at those cards, the oldest yellowing and creased, the most recent shockingly white and fresh. His Mother prayed for them until five minutes past eight, because each of them was loved by God, and then she prayed for their families, because each of them was a mother’s child. I asked how many cards there were and he wasn’t sure, probably ten or fifteen. The world changes; attitudes, culture and even the law… all things change.

My father didn’t see a car until he was 7, planes were stick-and-canvas rickety things, but in his lifetime Dad learned to drive (badly and dangerously), Concorde came and went, the atom was split and man landed on the moon. That’s technology for you! It changes even faster than culture.

If an organism doesn’t adapt to new environments, it won’t survive. If we stop producing new life, we become extinct (ah, if only the church could realise that. Really realise and embrace that fact) . If our cells no longer regenerate, we die. It’s a law of nature and the way God planned it; from the moment of our birth we are in a process of change.

My church has a strap line “Real people, real God, real life change”. If the Christian life doesn’t change us there is something very wrong. Fundamentally wrong.

‘ we all, who with unveiled faces contemplate the Lord’s glory, are being transformed into his image with ever-increasing glory, which comes from the Lord, who is the Spirit.’  2 Cor 3:18

But of course change isn’t comfortable, even the smallest. I remember how my Aunty, a good Catholic woman, was scandalised when, at Mass, the priest invited the congregation to applaud a family who were leaving the area. All he got was a tiny smattering of feeble embarrassed flapping, really, but it was enough to shatter my Aunty Nelly’s composure and she prophesied gloomily ” Well, that’s him just asking for trouble! It’ll be half naked girls with feathers doing the can-can next.”

Change comes whether we like it or not. Because change isn’t about us. It’s inevitable. It’s about the next generation and about the future.

So, here I am sending a small (and a bit ungenerous) Scottish blessing to you all “May the best of this last year, be the worst of the year to come.”

But I don’t really want 2020 to be anything like the last year! I want it to be something completely new and exciting because the world needs new and the world needs change.  Wherever you are, from Australia and the Amazon with their raging fires, to global floods and famine, local wars, a generation of refugees sweeping across Europe, terrorism, world poverty, crime…. It’s all a bit grim.

Or is it? Before you put that Kalashnikov to your head (don’t write in and tell me your arms aren’t long enough because the barrels measures…) , listen up, because the Bible is full of deep calm truths about every time of trouble. So many verses to take into a New Year.

 “In this world you will have trouble but take heart! I have overcome the world!

That’s Jesus of course.

Even though I walk through the valley of death, I will fear no evil.

That’s David in the Psalms.

“Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid.”

That’s Jesus again.

365 times the Bible tells us, commands us, not to be afraid, or to have courage, or to take heart. Don’t be afraid of storm or want, or death, or persecution…. in Deuteronomy God told the Israelites not to fear the enemy….

Be strong and courageous. Do not be afraid or terrified because of them, for the Lord your God goes with you; he will never leave you nor forsake you.

He was telling the Israelites, led by Joshua, to go out fearlessly into the new land. Today, I believe, God is telling us not to be afraid of the future, the New Year, to step into it fearlessly,  not because we won’t be hurt or because it’s all going to be easy-peasy, but because God is leading us, and He will never leave us or forsake us. However hard it gets, whatever obstacles are put in our way, He will overcome them and He will be glorified. We may not be glorified in the sight of the world, and even in our own eyes we may seem to struggle and fail, but if we walk with God, we will see marvellous things, and be part of His Kingdom work. Really. Really.

There are so many strap lines we could come up with and they all sound great – but there’s one that sounds  a bit challenging, a strap line that needs a whole lot of obedience and which takes us straight out of our comfort zone. One that challenges me, tells me to leave the past far behind me, to walk into whatever God has prepared, however long the journey, however steep the mountains;

2020, the year for change.

 

This is what the Lord says –
    he who made a way through the sea,
    a path through the mighty waters,
who drew out the chariots and horses,
    the army and reinforcements together,
and they lay there, never to rise again,
    extinguished, snuffed out like a wick:
‘Forget the former things;
    do not dwell on the past.

See, I am doing a new thing!
    Now it springs up; do you not perceive it?
I am making a way in the wilderness
    and streams in the wasteland.

Isaiah 43

A Prayer for Christmas Eve

It’s Christmas Eve, and here’s a prayer I’m saying, writing and thinking…. I  love the thought of being with others as we all pray, reaching out to God in unison, from different lives and cultures, so will you join with me in this prayer?

If you can forgive any clumsiness, or thoughts that don’t quite chime with yours, then do please join me, thinking about God, and offering our love to Him:

Lord, I’m full of wonder today, one more amazing day in the miracle of our existence. Forgive me when I don’t see the extraordinary, focussed only on the ordinary, forgive me when I forget that every breath is a miracle of your creation, and that my life is your gift, forgive me when  I am all about me.

Today a small chevron of Canada Geese, late flyers, rose from the estuary, and as they banked and dipped to come swooping across the beach, calling to each other, I stood, entranced, listening to their wings whump-whumping the still air. You were there. And I thought of the very first day, when the first birds flew in the new miracle of the sky… and I was filled with an awareness of you. Of your great kindness. Thank you for that.

And then, all around me, rising from the dunes, there was a flutter of birds, small darting, diving birds, just dazzling to watch. And I remembered that you care even about every sparrow, and without knowing it, my prayers took on a life of their own, away from my thoughts, nothing to do with me, they just happened. Thank you for that.

Everywhere I looked, I saw you, my God. It felt like this was  the beginning of the world and I was there – right there – when you breathed everything into existence. As if I was in page one of Genesis, when there was nothing but nothing, not even darkness, and then there  was  darkness… and then there was the earth, and then light and then the sky and then land…. stars spun across the universe, and on earth the seas rose, mountains shook the earth and pushed up through the rock…. rivers appeared and above us the sun blazed for the very first time. Amazing.  And I was there.

On the little scrubby beach here in West Wales, I was there, in Genesis. I turned to the land, and saw the white cottages and farms dotted in the fields, and all around them, sheep.  I heard, silently spoken into my soul, these lovely words The Lord is my Shepherd.

You are my Shepherd, Lord. Thank you for your care and guidance, for your constant presence,  so real and undeniable that I can say with peace and confidence, “My God never slumbers, and he watches over me for ever.”

That’s amazing, Lord. That you watch over me now and for ever.  You have always watched over me, in all my mess and sin and stubbornness, you have been there, my Shepherd. Wow, I look back in a sort of bewilderment. You were there, way back when, there in Lancashire, there in the horrible times, there in the worst of times, and you were always Love. Jesus , Love personified. I wish I had known. I wish I could have told the lost and broken people all around me, in my family, in that place. Whatever was happening to me, you were always in my life. When I was blind to you, you were there. When I felt alone, you were there. You are unchanging. Blows my mind.

Just as you watch over me, so you watch over every life. Yes? Yes! That’s a thought to make me take a deep breath and concentrate… do I get that? Not quite. It’s a fabulous truth, Lord, but it’s also kind of unthinkable, millions and millions of lives….. you know I can’t grasp that, but I know it’s true. The love you have just makes me want to crow, you bring tears to my eyes… I think of all the people I love and I know that you love them even more, deeper, wiser than I can ever imagine. And you’ve given them to me. Oh, how can I ever thank you for these people? I can’t. I stutter and stumble but I can’t put into words my heartfelt gratitude, for this great great gift. I’m amazed by it.

So now I’m bringing them to you, my little army of loved ones….  family and friends, the people I know and love and care about. Sweet Jesus, you know who I have in my mind, so all I’m doing in this strange written prayer is bringing them to mind, entrusting them to you, knowing that you know my heart and the cares I have, the concerns and the hopes for each one of them. Won’t you please draw them close? Please take every one of them, as I lift them up before you, and fill them with your Holy Spirit, with the knowledge of you, with a raging desire to draw closer (ever closer), to become more Christ-like, to revel in obedience, to rejoice in wonder.

Ah, Lord, I’m old now and maybe because I haven’t many years left down here, you fill me with this need to pray, a raging need, like a great big roaring waterfall and I stand there, in it, deafened, paralysed, exhilarated by your power, dumb (do you smile at that? Do you, my Lord, say ‘If only’?) . You’ve brought the discovery of prayer to me so late in my rackety life, but I’m sort of glad because it’s urgent, undiluted, too shocking and exciting for words. Strong enough to knock me off my feet. I don’t have the years left to mete it out, to measure my prayers,  I just have to jump in, reckless.

I love that word. Reckless. Not counting the cost. I have done with counting the cost of following you, Jesus. What a futile thing, to count the cost of receiving the greatest gift life can offer.

And urgent. Won’t you please help me to pray with urgency?

So anyway, sorry, here I am, Lord, jumping in. Sinking into prayer, drowning in your love and guidance, a bit bonkers in this moment, weeping with the sadness of your life and death, and yet weeping with joy at the gift of your life and your terrible death. Strange emotions.  And it’s fabulous. You crowd in, Lord, filling my mind and senses with the truth of your saving grace. I need to calm, to empty , to listen.

And so, to calm. To listen. To be still and know that you are God. A moment. A quiet moment.

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Tomorrow we remember that God so loved the world that He gave his one and only son, that all who believe in Him shall not perish but have eternal life.

Wowser!

Sweet Lord,  help us to remember and to pray for, those in need. Help us to serve their needs. The sick and the frightened, the lonely and the dying, the bereaved and the lost. I bring them all before you, and I’m so glad that you honour my intention and disregard my weakness. I find it hard to care about people I don’t know, but you know I want to. It’s scary to realise that even as I write those words, you know how shallow my desire is. Hmmm. Bother. Please help me to care, really care. Please help me to pray, really pray. I know that you’ll work in our hearts so that we begin to understand the love you felt when you wept over Jerusalem. Help us to care that truly, madly, deeply for those we don’t  know.

Oh, and now Lord, that’s sent me down another path completely – into the New Year. Will you truly please make 2020, the year of the Lord? I’m seriously praying, seriously asking, stepping into this desire with intention and commitment, that this coming year will see your kingdom come, in my life, in the life of your church, on the streets of my town, in every village and hamlet and crowded city in this world.

Overcome us, Lord. Overwhelm us with your truth. Fire us with your passion for the lost. Just rip into us. Go on, Lord. Please. Please? Give me the pressing need to share the Gospel. Please?

Bring the birth of Jesus to complete fulfilment, Lord. Your reign is supreme and established, your victory is complete in eternity. Help us Lord to play our part in this tiny world, in this tiny year, in our tiny lives.

Now I have to fall silent. Silent and worshipping. Thanking you for Emmanuel, for the Cross, for the Resurrection, for Glory.

Thank you for Christ’s Mass.

 

Up Close and Personal

I’m reading a book about prayer at the moment and I begin to see the impossibility of putting into words the magnetic draw and the passion of prayer. The poor author! Who could ever describe the work that prayer does in our hearts and minds, when God moves in every heart in the way that only that heart needs? We are all so alone in our prayers and our relationship with God that there is nothing anyone can say that can step between God and me to improve my discourse with Him. No, that’s not quite what I want to say… I can be taught a whole lot about prayer, and I do welcome and need that teaching, but God is the best teacher. I turn to Him. I didn’t know what prayer was a couple of years ago but now I’m taken-over by the idea of an open, honest, worshipful discourse with God. With God! Blog writing is a prayer. This room is full of the clutter of a Christmas family lunch and when I can ignore it no longer and clear it up,  that will be a prayer. I’m going to watch a film tonight by my fireside but I’ll watch it conscious of my God, with Him, in something I call prayer. You might not call it that.

Anyway, that book : On the whole I struggle with authoritative writing about my relationship with God. The ‘how to’ and the ‘don’t ever’ of it all. In fact I resist most Christian books, the often named ‘devotionals’. You probably think ‘Ahah! She thinks she knows better!’  but my problem is the very opposite: Brought up in an Irish Catholic environment, taught to believe and obey the priest, the daughter of a clever and well educated military man, struggling at school, leaving as soon as it was legal to do so, I know how to examine and ponder but I don’t know how to discuss, how to sit in a group and put my case, how to question without seeming to challenge.  And then, of course, Catholic girl that I was, I feel bad about opening my gob. Weird, eh? It might help to understand when I tell you that in a Religious Education Class, as a teenager, I said “But Madame, I think…” and the Nun (an Irish woman in a French order in Bath. Go figure) replied immediately and forcefully “You do not think, Lucy Gannon. Sit down.”  This was typical of the atmosphere of my childhood, and of many  in my generation. I struggled with maths and my father, a clever man, decided to tutor me – every time I got an answer wrong an arm would shoot out and I would go flying. Big strong arms too, because he was a Sergeant Major. So, questioning authority doesn’t come easily.

I struggle with these books not because I know better, but because I can get lost in the worry of  ‘Am I understanding this or am I just getting it stupidly wrong? Who am I to  question this, to know if the writer is on the right track?’

And ‘Help! How the hell do I find out?’

I didn’t go to college or Uni, so I have never learned how to question aloud, or in writing, how to be a part of an interested and constructive debate in any medium. It still seems morally questionable to question a belief put forward authoritatively, although my mind is screaming the questions. I  don’t know when an academic paper is valid or  biased. I can google the name of the writer, try to glean who he or she is, but really I’m a bit lost.  So, reading books about a relationship with God,  I feel either that I must believe them totally (plainly stupid and I jolly well shan’t) or disregard them as soon as a single statement is made that I disagree with. Almost as stupid. I struggle to find a balance.  That’s why I love the teaching we receive in church – we know the people doing the teaching, we see their lives, we know when they are Godly, we understand what they mean this week when they say something that has a bearing on what they said last week. We trust them, whereas I don’t set out trusting any book written by someone I don’t know.  They have to earn my trust! And  some authors have done that; last year I read ‘Shaped By The Word’ and it changed the way I read scripture, it changed my daily routine, it taught me so much. I could happily learn from it, be open to everything in those pages, apply it to my life. But such books are rare.

A trusted friend said a little while ago “I know what your ministry is!” and I had that feeling you get when someone who knows you really well is about to sum up your personality in just three words;  a feeling of real curiosity fighting with mild panic. Here comes a truth and it might be properly uncomfortable. Was I going to be told that my ministry is to go out into the world with just a pair of sandals and a staff, preaching the word? Or maybe to start an orphanage in Afghanistan? Or, as one of our church men (had to be a bloke!) suggested, that I might find my calling making cakes for the firefighters of the town? Thankfully, none of the above.

My ministry, said he, is prayer. Phew! What a relief. I’d known that prayer was a deep calling for some time, and this came as a confirmation – not only a deep calling and personal need, but also a wonderful joy and fulfilment.  Hah! Make yer own cakes, firefighters! At first, discovering the relevance and reality of prayer, I thought I had fallen into it by happy happenstance, but now I see that God guides in all things. Last year He took me to a verse in Jeremiah, a verse that consumed me for weeks, I spoke on it at Church, and now it’s on a large canvas in my home… “Call to me and I will answer you and tell you great and unsearchable things you do not know.” and that led me into prayer, calling on Him, waiting for the answer. In my church we are often encouraged to give thanks  ‘in all circumstances’, and to pray ‘without ceasing’ , to make time for prayer, to consider it absolutely essential. Our aim is to be ‘prayer saturated’. All this has led me into a whole new experience of prayer, rich and sometimes rugged, sometimes exhilarating, sometimes exhausting and sometimes just plain dogged and dutiful.

Prayer is what I’m fitted for, and not much else! And I’m dead chuffed. A year ago I would have wished for a different suggestion – writing or broadcasting or storytelling, but in the last few months prayer has risen and risen and risen, like the most wonderfully fragrant, lightest, most delectable bread, to sit, centred and nourishing, in my life. And now it is the most important aspect of every day. I can’t imagine a morning without prayer. I would be lost.

The book I was telling you about is very thoughtful and thought provoking.  It’s so certain, the author so authoritative, his statements are so startling that they can take me by surprise. I’m not an underliner but there are underlinings and question marks and exclamation marks on several pages.  Amazing stuff. Great truths and a couple of places where I say ‘Erm…. Hang on, let me get my head around that.”

I think, I think, I like the writer. But I’m very glad he’s not coming to dinner.

The writer is Andrew Murray, and he casts prayer in a strong and bold light. For him prayer is full of assurance and faith and courage. He examines the teachings and prayer life of Jesus, and makes some bold claims. That’s fabulous and he’s thrown new light on so many aspects of prayer. But ( I say this  tentatively because I’m still praying about it) I think that his prayers are nothing like mine.  Maybe because I came to prayer so late, and after such a Maverick life, I’m jealous of my time with God and how we spend it. I have peace and confidence but I don’t ask for Mr Murray’s bold certainty and claims. God is leading me up a slightly gentler slope.  And here’s the thing, here’s what I really want to say tonight; reading this book (and I will finish it) has shown me that the verse in Jeremiah is true and real and NOW and has actually been proved in my prayer life:

“Call to me and I will answer you and tell you great and unsearchable things you do not know.”

I have called to Him, and He has answered, and He has shown me great and unsearchable things. They are also things I can’t quite put into words. They are the world receding, the sea falling silent, a deep calm knowledge of His love, time standing still, great peace in prayers offered, impossible knowledge of His delight in others, a glimpse of grace, eternal forgiveness, oneness with the sacred. These are things that Andrew Murray doesn’t speak about. God has shown me how to pray, but it’s so personal, so intimate, so broken and healed, it fits only me. I can’t tell you how to pray. I’m not the one to do that.  But I can repeat and encourage you with what Jesus and the Bible says, pray, go to a quiet place, give time to God, be still and know Him, give thanks, ask and know that He will give you only good things, rejoice, trust, care, plead and never, ever stop.

Prayer. What an adventure. Up close and personal.