Our village, the world.

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On my Instagram account there’s a young woman who lives in the middle of the United States. We first ‘met’ about 10 years ago when I had a brief dalliance with Twitter, and we liked each other immediately. She’s a single Mum, a newly qualified professional so we’re not at all alike, our cultures and interests are completely different, she’s a busy Mom and I’m a retired Gran, her days are packed with outings, school, work and a big family, while I struggle to find things to  fill even a few hours, but we simply ‘get’ each other!  Although I hope that one day we’ll meet in person, if we don’t, it doesn’t matter; I know what she likes, what she wants, I have seen her son as a toddler, watched him grow, admired his photo as he went to school for his first day, seen him decked out for baseball games (4th grade now), smiled at them both eating s’mores (she told me what they were) and I would even recognise her Mom and Pop. We don’t need to be in the same room in order to care about and support each other.  And she’s a great ‘liker’ !  I post maybe four photos a week on Instagram, and they’re nearly all of the beach and the sky. Very very boring, but she ‘likes’ them all!

Her name isn’t Susan but that’s what I’ll call her for this blog.

Susan and me are hugely different in one very important way. I am a Christ follower and she isn’t. But she has an amazing, warm, funny, lively, interesting, inquisitive mind and she delves here, there and everywhere, reads voraciously, devours films….  I love her mind. This is one of her posts from about two weeks ago:

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It wasn’t her original… it’s even banal… but she was reposting from someone else. Was she struggling that day, was her world view dark and lonely, or was she just idly chatting?  I know her circumstances and it must sometimes be a slog, a single parent, a newly qualified professional, not a huge income, elderly and very sick parents….  so I wanted to reach out, a bit like those two hands in the last sketch of her post.  But how?

So I sent this:

IMG_0089.jpegYes. She ‘liked’ it. Of course she did. She’s a great ‘liker’ as I said, so I thought no more of it.

But then, just today, I had an email from one of Susan’s followers/friends. I don’t know this woman at all, never heard of her and I can’t quite work out how she knew my email… but she tells me that she’d been wondering about returning to college, to study Physics, and she had a prospectus on her phone, and kept re-reading it, not sure what to do. She thought maybe she wouldn’t be able to cope academically as she left school as soon as she could and how would she manage financially? She had been dithering for ages. When she read  ‘nothing comes from nothing’ she remembered that wondering could be exciting. So she’s going back to college! She’s already started the process to enrol next Fall.  She says she has a year to save up.

From such a tiny, tiny, tiny thing…..

Wowser, my friends. Sometimes the way this world has shrunk is a heart warming thing. When she gets her degree, or whatever they get in the US, I’ll probably be gone to Glory. I’ll be up there in the Cosmos, the Cosmos she’s just learned all about!

How lovely. I’ve sent her Genesis Chapter One.  ‘And God saw that it was good.’

I’m so excited for her. How brilliant. How amazingly, heart warmingly brilliant. This evening I’m smiling fit to bust.

Ex nihilo nihil fit. 

Creato ex Deo.

I mean, really…. how amazing.

Every good and perfect gift…..

These are some ponderings. Ponder them with me.   You up for it? If not, turn away now.

First off,  I’ve been wondering if we really should we be thankful for everything in our lives. I know that we are to be thankful in all circumstances but does that mean we should be thankful for all circumstances? When there are sad times, grief and pain, when there’s addiction in those we love, or mental health issues, or cancer… should we be grateful and give praise for all these things? Can we attribute them to God?  I can’t. Because our faith is a growing process and sometimes revelation lands with a thump, maybe I’ll come to some other conclusion in time, but for now, I can’t believe that God visits this horrible stuff on us.

Only good comes from good.  Can bad water come from a pure spring?

I don’t believe that our totally good God would send bad things but it’s evident that he allows them. So, OK,  do we thank him for allowing them? Hmm. Not sure about that, either emotionally or intellectually.

What I do thank him for, even in the very worst and darkest hour, is his presence, his love, his unfolding plan. I think that’s what being thankful in all circumstances means. I thank him that he uses these hard times to teach and tenderly reprove and to bring my faith to a firmer  place. And I thank him for the Gospel.

I scrubbed my tiny  tiny yard on Saturday (it really IS tiny) because it was covered in horrible green slime. As I scrubbed I wondered if green slime came from God. I poured a bleach preparation on it and thanked God that there was a cure for the slimy stuff in life. The steps up to my tiny tiny courtyard are steep and deep so it took a few dot-and-carry-one steps, to get up there, carrying a bucket of water. I felt a sciatic nerve beginning to throb. Hmm. Sciatica crippled me a couple of years ago… do I carry on or give up? Did I thank God for this? I didn’t give up but I didn’t thank God either.  You get it. I thought on God, and he was there, but I didn’t blame him for the decay. That’s down to the fallenness of the world. If that’s a word.

That’s a trivial silly example, but in the small things we draw near to God, we explore our lives and our attitudes, we care for our our souls… and in the daily round God prepares us for the big life sorrows. In the small daily exercises of life, in obeying good teaching, reading the Bible,  we develop core strength, good habits, muscular Christianity, so that when the bad times roll in we are not alone but standing with God, who can do all things.

My second thing, the second little itch I have to scratch:

Earlier tonight (ooh, it’s well past midnight already) I was thinking about how the church talks to the world. I think we have to stop talking like the church.  Paul writes in 1Corinthians (this is the message paraphrase)

‘Even though I am free of the demands and expectations of everyone, I have voluntarily become a servant to any and all in order to reach a wide range of people: religious, nonreligious, meticulous moralists, loose-living immoralists, the defeated, the demoralized—whoever. I didn’t take on their way of life. I kept my bearings in Christ—but I entered their world and tried to experience things from their point of view. I’ve become just about every sort of servant there is in my attempts to lead those I meet into a God-saved life. I did all this because of the Message. I didn’t just want to talk about it; I wanted to be in on it!’

There’s a real danger that Christians relate only to Christians, and so when we look out at the world we look out at strangers.  And when they look at us they see…..  erm, possibly this…

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I don’t want my neighbours to see something a bit weird and earnest and do-goodery.

I want them to see Joy.  I can’t help but be excited by the world and my life and eternity, and so I’m jolly well going to tell them that they don’t know what they’re missing. And if they roll their eyes at me, then I’ll laugh with them, and love them and put up with them just as much as they put up with me. That’s friendship.

If we are in love with Jesus, why is it a problem to talk about him in our everyday lives? Doesn’t everyone want to talk about their greatest passion, their reason for living?  I look at the life God has given me, the laughter and the sorrow and I see its richness and variety and I just marvel!

My only job in this world is to draw closer to God. If I do that, then he will do the rest. He will change this clumsy, stumbling, anti-social, impatient, sharp tongued loner into someone you might want to know. He will change me into someone who can show his love to the world. Not my love, a third rate threadbare kind of thing, but his.

And when you see that fabulous love, IF you see that fabulous love, guess what – you’ll want it!

And now, here are some of the good things God has given me. Every minute, and hour and day  of my life is a gift from him. These are some of those days. What a fabulous God we have! How His love for us and our love for Him feeds our souls and lifts us.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Breath of God. How can I stop from singing?

I’ve read two things this week that have really disquieted me. First, I read about a practice of the Communists during the 1950’s to make a ‘red corner’ in their places of work, and if they met with difficulties they were advised to go to this area, where there was a picture of Stalin, and to think of him. Pravda printed this advice ‘If you feel tired in an hour when you should not, think of him – of Stalin – and your work will go well.’

Wow. I’ve been thinking a lot since reading that about prayer, all sorts of prayer; the current belief in ‘mindfulness’ , and then I remembered the new wave (it was new last year – maybe it’s petered out by now) of ‘non-church’ gatherings on Sunday mornings, where people would  hear feel-good messages, encouragements, ideas… a bit like Ted Talks but longer, more social, and very self-consciously non-church. These meetings were all the rage among aspirational young families yearning for community life. They reported feeling good after joining with others and they even used the word ‘fellowship’, borrowing the jargon of the church. But they didn’t want God. Whoever they sang to when, together, they sang Lennon’s ‘Imagine ‘, it wasn’t God.

It intrigues me that Christian prayers, which we value so very highly, are echoed by the world to smaller gods, to success, to mankind, to a general feeling of benevolence and well-wishing, to do-goodery. Even John Lennon’s nihilistic empty lyrics were a sort of prayer to nothing and no one. And of course I’ve been searching to define the difference. I’m like someone in a light mist, I can see where I am, I understand where I’m going, but I can’t quite make out the sharp edges of the answer.

Tonight, online, I read about the Catholic canonisation of Cardinal Newman, dead 130 years ago. To be canonised the RC church requires evidence of two miracles and there’s a story in the Times that a woman, in imminent danger of a miscarriage, with a ruptured placenta, prayed to Cardinal Newman and was instantly healed.

Prayer. Prayer? Is this prayer? It’s not what I call prayer. None of these practices are what I know as prayer. They may well be genuine and sincere invocations, cries for help, and they might make us feel a temporary lift of our mood, but not all invocations are good. It depends on who we’re invoking and what we’re asking for.

When I was a teenager I turned away from Catholicism because I was taught that God would reduce my mother’s time in purgatory if I prayed long and hard. Even as a not very bright 17 year old I could see that a god like this was corrupt, bribable, and his ethics were shabbier than even mine. A god with no integrity. If Mary Gannon would have her time reduced by her praying child, but the soul next to her would serve a full sentence because no one  was praying for her… where’s the fairness, the justice, the purity? How could I worship a god like that? I couldn’t. (I know that the Catholic Church, like all other churches,  makes mistakes, and I known that what I was taught back in the 60’s is not what my Catholic friends teach now)

I’ve asked myself a question posed by Philip Yancey ‘Does a person with many praying friends stand a better chance of healing than one who also has cancer but with only a few friends praying for her?” It’s the same question I asked all those years ago… is this who God is? A capricious self-serving despot, someone we can coax and wheedle? A god who plays favourites?

Questions are great.  Questions asked in humility, trusting God, and not quite demanding THE answer, will be answered. Our answer, when it comes, may be  simple and even incomplete but it will be entirely satisfying.

Is God capricious and bribable? Is his integrity even less than mine, is he less trustworthy than the friends I trust? Does he sway and change with the wind, in response to fawning supplicants? If he was here with me now and we were discussing a family problem, would I look at him with pity, realising that he was a people pleaser, and not even as honest as shabby old me? Are prayers just a load of old flannel flanneling a tyrant?

Well. No.

In the intervening decades, since turning my back on Purgatory and Limbo and Confession and prayers to the dead,  I’ve learnt a few things. Even me! And now, when I ponder the mystery and the joy of turning to Jesus, our servant God, it doesn’t weaken my faith that I don’t have all the answers to the questions posed by prayer, because I do have an answer about the nature of God.

I know the nature of God.

Was God capricious and self-serving when He sent his Son, an indivisible part of His divinity, into this world as a vulnerable child? Was he a cruel despot when He died for me, and all the sins that I bloody well keep on committing*?  Proverbs 21 tells us ‘A man is known by his actions’ and I would add ‘And God is known by His.’

The God I pray to is righteous and pure. He can’t wink at sin, or be flattered by entreaty. He isn’t moved by bribes or blandishments. He is straighter than straight. I can’t hoodwink him. He is justice, pure justice. But he is love, pure love. And when I come to him, whatever state I’m in, I don’t need the prayers of others to be accepted and to sit at his feet. I don’t need to bribe the doorman with twenty Hail Marys and three Our fathers, and a fiver for a Mass for the dead. My price has been paid. But I’m glad of the prayers of friends, because they are an incarnation of the love God has given us for each other. Do I mean ‘incarnation’? OK, they’re a realisation or proof positive of the love God has given us for Him and for each other.

Prayers bring us into the life of God and prove his reality. We share his heart beat, we thrum with it, as it  fills our hearts and souls with his life blood. When we pray and are aware of his presence, of his listening ear and his quiet voice, when we see answers to prayer, when we feel the support of others praying for us, it’s OK if we don’t understand. It’s all too much for our tiny minds, but we know. We know. When I pray, I know God. That’s why I pray.  To get in there with him. Wowser. What a blinder that is. Amazing.

We pray not to persuade God, but to enter into God, being transformed. Prayer breathes God into us, fills us, so that our prayers, breathed out in submission and joy, are his. At one with God. Our prayers, his breath.

*I fell headlong into a right old doozie last week. Think I’m going to tell you? Hah! You’ve got another think coming. I told God, and that was enough. If you’re feeling bad about something right now, lay down that burden (Oops!That sounds like an old Alabama Spiritual), tell God you’re sorry,  take out that sin and look at it, then dump it. Move on. Really, move on. Greater things are waiting. Apologise where you need to, no excuses. Step back into His love. He’s waiting for you. He will transform you.

 

Falling Out Of Love

Just as the heart plunges into love, so it can plunge right back out of love. Sometimes it’s as if a switch has been thrown… power on, and all is light and love and warmth…. power off, and it’s all gone, as if it never existed.

It happens. The heart is a fickle thing. And it’s not always a romantic ‘love’ that we lose, sometimes it’s a love for a friend, or a place, or a community. Sometimes, after a few years, or maybe a lifetime, of loving and being completely devoted, the moment comes when we are able, at last, to step out of the strange enchantment, and say “I am free of you. Hurrah.” It’s as if the scales fall from our eyes and we are no longer under that spell. We can look at the object of our former love and see that this trusted friend is self-centred and  uncaring. That this community is hopelessly unsupportive. That this lover is searching for love elsewhere. That our love was always and only one sided. And we can decide not to be harmed by this realisation but to just quietly, no fuss, no anger, walk away.

The world says “Good on you. An amicable divorce! That’s very mature and constructive. Well done, you.”

Stepping away from love can make life so much easier and truly liberated. When a friendship is one-sided, or a lover is fickle, or a community is unpleasant, it feels life-affirming and strong to turn away at last, to wipe out all the care we once lavished, not even counting the cost, on someone or something else.

And for some of us, walking away is dead easy. It’s the easy option and the one with an immediate reward. Instant gratification.

Sometimes, a little distancing is a good thing, and if a friendship or allegiance is truly one sided, it’s a way to preserve the frail relationship, to make it possible to heal a rift. Distance and coolness is not always bad.

But the heart is a fickle thing (sometimes a fact bears repeating). The heart is a fickle thing, and it can lie. When we are sad, or exhausted, or snowed under by a hundred concerns, we can misread the world around us, and that’s when the lies of the heart can defeat us.

There is more to you and me than our hearts. There’s our souls. Our hearts are ready to be pricked, to see the hurt the world can do to us, to build a wall around the wounds, to create a distance between us and the world. While our hearts  weep “Me, me, me.” our souls whisper ‘Stay steady. Hold on. Trust God.’

Stay steady. Hold on. Trust God. Step back if you need to but don’t stop loving.

Because when you feel as if the switch has been thrown and you are no longer in love, you misunderstand what love is. Love doesn’t end. True love doesn’t end.

Here’s that chunk from 1 Corinthians:

Love does not give up. Love is kind. Love is not jealous. Love does not put itself up as being important. Love has no pride.  Love does not do the wrong thing. Love never thinks of itself. Love does not get angry. Love does not remember the suffering that comes from being hurt by someone.  Love is not happy with sin. Love is happy with the truth.  Love takes everything that comes without giving up. Love believes all things. Love hopes for all things. Love keeps on in all things.  Love never comes to an end.

Keep on keeping on. With God you can weather any storm. Love doesn’t die. If your heart tells you that you are better off without all the complications and grief of love, ask God if this is true. Take it to the only wise friend you have. Listen to him.

Read 1 Corinthians and trust. Forget self, think Christ. He’s there for you, his love and his patience are there for you.

 

 

 

Don’t roll your eyes. It’s another scattergun blog.

A few years ago, when I lived in Wirksworth, a Head of Drama was staying with me and he was fascinated by my stories of all the people who lived around me, sometimes complete small narratives, sometimes just descriptions of their personalities. He wanted me to write a series, a warm and (hopefully) funny look at the odd characters we/they all were.  I refused. He nagged. I kept on refusing; I wanted to live in that town for a little while longer, with neighbours who accepted me, not with neighbours crowding around my gate with burning torches and pitchforks shouting “Kill the writer!”

But the idea of a village drama has stayed with me over the years, and wherever I go, of course, there are interesting, likeable, intriguing, challenging, bloody annoying people. People who somehow enter my subconscious, blended, mashed-up, mucked about with until they dissolve only to reform, like the beamed-up crew members in Star Trek, into ‘my’ characters.

When the BBC told me a couple of weeks ago that they were in a fix, with a writer failing to deliver, and there was just a month or so to write a two part radio play and deliver it in a state ready to produce, I remembered Wirksworth and I knew I could write 90 minutes of drama in four weeks and have it edited and cleared by legal etc, and ready for casting.  When you’re my age, people don’t challenge you often, and I miss the excitement. Oh, yess!

I already had the story in my head, a simple but satisfying tale of an enigmatic character who swans into a tight little community and creates mayhem… but is it in a good way or in a destructive way? That’s the question posed in the play.

I’m on track, time wise. The first episode whizzed off to them yesterday. But here’s the thing – it isn’t the story I sold them. This happens. Characters have a life of their own and when you write one scene you can discover that the next planned scene doesn’t sit in honesty with the first….  I thought that one of my characters would lead an old man to his death…. I was wrong. This character is weak and mean and self centred, she’s amoral and lives only in the moment with no consideration of consequence or the feelings of others, but she isn’t (damn it!) a murderer.

So, my black comedy is a charcoal grey comedy at best.

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Normally, not a problem. You sit down with the producer and director (both the same person in radio) and explain why it’s morphed into something unexpected and everyone says ‘Jolly good!’ or ‘Are you mad’ or ‘You’re sacked’ and we go on from there. But this time there’s no time for discussion. The director is in the studio recording another play so I can’t talk to her, and by the time she emerges from that recording and gets my script, our slot will be already booked. If they don’t like what I’ve done, no time for a second draft,  they’ll just have to fish something out of the archives to fill those 90 minutes.

Will they like it? Watch this space. I’m onto episode two now so they’d better tell me quick-quick!

See that cartoon? I love it. Here’s the story; I did a couple of years on two very very long running UK soaps. I was pretty duff at both of them, because I am no good at plot or structure, while soaps gobble up plot lines, and structure’s essential when there are  four story strands running through a 26 minute episode. It all comes down to maths and being able to keep four or five plates spinning at the same time. They pretty soon discovered how useless I was, and I would be given the death episodes, the pathos episodes and the comedy episodes, when the build-up to the big scene is all sub text, words unspoken, conflicting emotion. Or jokes. But mostly they said things like “All you have to do, Luce, is kill Vera Duckworth” and that’s easy peasy,  so I survived. Just.

But the soap monster takes no prisoners and onto the team came a middle aged man who was relatively inexperienced. Soap writers can be brutal and on this particular team there was a group of not everso pleasant men, some of whom had been there for many many cosy snug years. They formed a horrible little clique that barely tolerated the women writers on the team and they gave new members a really hard time. This newest writer was a bright, interesting man, with an unusual mind, untainted by their years of slogging away at plot twist after plot twist,  an unconventional and creative talent, and so they gave him a really rough ride. A mixture of male aggression, jealousy, tribal loyalty and spite. They didn’t care that he was a father, with a family to support – they were out to get him, to drive him away. Sadly, they succeeded. On his last team meeting, he gamely tried to introduce a new storyline to the group and yet again he was knocked back macho-style, diminished. That’s when he drew that little cartoon. I grabbed it and it sits in a frame by my desk.

When I look at it, I remember him, and I’m touched, because it shows his resilience, his wry humour, and somehow I just know that he will have thrived, in spite of the small and mean minds. He was a lovely bloke.

That little clique of men had just been there too long, propping each other up too long, maintaining the establishment too long, walking along the road of well-worn precedent for too long, cosy and secure for too long. Unchallenged for far too long.  They  were suffering from a stenosis of the mind. An unnatural and unhealthy narrowing.  In every walk of life and institution, frightened people cling to what they know, and club together in their weakness and uncertainty to resist the new.

Woodrow Wilson said “If you want to make enemies, try to change something.”

I’m 70. I don’t want my thoughts and ideas to be the ones I had 50 years ago, or five years ago. Man, I certainly don’t want them to be the same ones I had 5 years ago. God changes things, illuminates life, transforms and mends. He heals hearts. I don’t want to stop changing. I believe that I will, by the grace of God, change and transform and mature right up to the moment of my death. I hope so, cos I’ve still got one hell of a long way to go before I’m properly cooked.

Here’s one more quote I love – it’s from an American engineer and industrialist, Alfred Perlman  ‘After you’ve done a thing the same way for two years, look it over carefully. After five years, look at it with suspicion. And after ten years, throw it away and start all over. ‘

I throw stuff away all the time. One of my favourite places is the town tip.

Those thoughts remind me that change is challenging and difficult, but how we need it! The church needs it. We need the flexibility of mind to change streams, to admit wrong, to try new things, to dare. To risk failing. Today two friends came to pray with me, and as we prayed for the courage to change, to step forward into whatever God has prepared for us, I found myself saying “When our feet grow, we need bigger shoes.”  both men laughed aloud, and so did I –  Mrs Obvious at it again.

I wonder if it made God smile. Or maybe he just rolled his eyes.

 

 

 

Where’s God in all this?

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As  much as I would like this to be a beach study taken by me on my little mobile phone, I’m giving the credit where it’s due; this wonderful photo was taken by a friend, a professional photographer, Tony Long.

I don’t know how you all read this blog, whether it’s on your phones or desktops or tablets, and I don’t know if you see the photos as I see them,  but I hope you do.  Regulars will be familiar (bored?) with my local beach because I just can’t get enough of it! And I can’t help sharing it, like some sort of weird cultist, desperate to show the world that my weird little life should and must be enjoyed by everyone. I’m so evangelical about this small strip of sand that it may seem I’m just a step away from handing out the Kool-aid (you’re OK, we don’t have Kool-aid in the UK). Nearly every morning I’m so eager to share the experience with someone, anyone, that I post a pic on Instagram. If you listen intently at 8am, you can probably hear a fusillade of sighs and groans from places near and far as phones reveal  yet another Poppit sky.

Often when I step onto the beach I’m at my loneliest, needing to share the moment (hence the Instagram) but by the time I come off the wooden walkway heading back home with my two muddy dogs, all sense of solitude has melted away.

I’ve come to realise that loneliness is real and unavoidable, but it’s not inevitable. Does that sound contradictory? It’s unavoidable but it isn’t inevitable. When I’m lonely, it’s a valid feeling, a rational reaction, because it’s a true reflection of my life. I’ve been alone for 27 years now, with no one to share the ups and downs, no one to share a moan with or bounce ideas off, no balancing counter-mind to dilute my daft ideas, no steady breath beside me, no hand to hold. It makes for vulnerability, works against resilience, ‘two together are stronger than one alone’ and all that. It makes for an unbalanced life. So, yes, sometimes living without a life partner brings an unavoidable ache of loss and longing. Unavoidable.

But not inevitable.  I’ve learned that staying in that lonely state is a choice. Sometimes I’m a bit tired and a bit weak and I do stay in it, cranky and unreasonable, for most of the day. But I don’t have to.  I can get out of the puddle and step onto the rock if I choose, if I have the sense, if I turn to the God of my heart and ask for help.

When I go down to the beach in the morning I’m a busy, busy beaver. I have a pocket full of leads, and poo bags (sorry, were you eating?) and in my hand is my phone, and at my feet (or thereabouts) the dogs. There are prayers to be said, the sky to marvel at, the sea to gaze upon, the wind to feel, the cold pure air to breathe. There’s sand beneath my feet, or shingle or rock, or dune grass, and sometimes the swirl of waves as the sea plays around my ankles.  There are  boulders and tree stumps to sit upon, birds to watch, and occasionally a seal to stare back at me as I stare at her. It’s bloomin’ exhausting, I tell you! There are rare orchids in the Spring, swallows in the Summer, great clouds of Canadian Geese in the Autumn, and horizontal rain in the Winter. David Suchet is a click away on my phone, ready to read to me any book of the Bible that my heart desires, and I can listen to “Oceans” or Bach’s Mass in B Minor, or anything else I fancy. All life is here.

Most of all, God. My God is everywhere but I am deliciously, delightedly aware of his reality when I stand, insignificant but treasured, on the curve of his Earth, under the dome of his sky.

Lonely? Yes, of course. But not for long.

I’ve been pole-axed over the last few months by one verse in particular in the Bible, and it’s Jeremiah 33:3. I’m not great at memorising, and I’m hopeless at remembering where verses come, but this one I think will be on my heart and I hope on my mind as I die. I’ve written about it before (repetition seems to be the theme here) but here we go again: “Call to Me, and I will answer you. And I will show you great and wonderful things which you do not know.”

That’s bloody amazing! Do you get how amazing that is? It’s more amazing than the sky and the sea and mountains and the Hadron Collider, the Grand Canyon, the Vatican, the Taj Mahal, and a new born child all put together in a great big fat pink gift box. It is! When I turn to God, and call to him, he answers. I know it for a fact. He does. He has.

But you don’t need the beach, he’s there wherever you are, desperately down down down in the belly of the whale like Jonah, or running across the mountains singing with joy like Julie Andrews…. wherever you are right now, he’s there. And he loves you. Right now. Call to him. He will answer.

And ignore me when I warble on about the morning. I’ve walked the streets at midnight and God is there. Look up into the depth of the sky (Pembrokeshire skies are velvet black), listen to the call of the owl, notice the glow of a lamp in a cottage window,  hear your footsteps echoing down Church Lane…. God is there. Call to him. He will answer.

If you’re in a pub, a club, in the middle of some distress, lost in drink or drugs, if you’re in the gutter, in A&E fighting for breath, under the fist, with a split lip or an aching heart, in poverty and hunger and illness, God is there. Call to him. He will answer.

In depression, deep in fear, in shame, in guilt, in confusion, in illness, in bereavement, God is there. Call to him. He will answer.

That’s not my promise. It’s His.

 

 

 

Prayer? You kidding? In all this rain?

I had a stinky beach walk today; The tide was high so the beach was tiny, it was stormy and terribly grey and the drizzle down there was heavy, almost rain, unrelenting. We trudged along the scrubby beach, muddy and littered with branches, lumps of wood, the rubbish of the sea, and wandered into the dunes for some shelter. My glasses were misted and my coat was not as waterproof as its label suggested, the dogs were unexcited and drenched. Bum.

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I have a few concerns in my life just now and they flit in and out of my sight like those  unpredictably darting bats we see at twilight. My head was away with the fairies, the day to day stuff, the “I’ll say this” and the “They’ll say that” and the “Then I’ll say that…”  stuff. A head full of nonsense. So what was I to do with this lousy rotten drowned walk, when it’s meant to be a time of intentional prayer, a time set aside and offered to God, a time of thankfulness and worship and amazing grace?

It probably took me about 15 minutes to realise that I wasn’t praying. The length of the beach. I wasn’t even going through the bare forms of prayer. Prayer transforms us and boy, did I need transformation! I mean, I always do, but right there, at that drowned rat moment, I was aware of needing it, big time.

You know, I believe that I am in eternity already. I believe that I am present through the torn curtain of the temple, in the presence of God. That two states exist in this addled mind at the same time – stuck in this world, and also there with God. But I have only one consciousness,  I can focus on only one at a time, and the choice is mine, so which way do I turn?

So, wet as I was, with big fat raindrops on my specs distorting everything, I knew I had to  step out of one world and into the other.  To become more than a stumbling wreck of a woman, drowned and just a tiny tad (!) fed up,  to be transformed into a worshipper, full of wonder and praise. How do I do that?

I don’t. God does.

As I plodded  squelchily through the dunes, I remembered the torn curtain in the temple, and as I squinted through the raindrops at the narrow twisting path between the brambles and the grass, I thought of the narrow path to God (I do love a visual prompt, sometimes a flower, a road, a feather, a cloud)  and that was it… I remembered that I’m not in this alone, that I am trudging along with the One who can do all things. And I remembered that He’s just waiting for me, and that He will draw me in. And that was it! In that simple thought God called me into prayer, where I belong, I was at home. Quietly and soberly elated. Apparently you can be soberly elated. It’s a thing.

God and prayer don’t only transform me, God and prayer transform the day. Suddenly the great billowing banks of Old Man’s Beard, higher than a rooftop, were beautiful, suddenly the distant call of Canada Geese was music, suddenly my two wet smelly dogs were miracles of his creation.

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This is the old man’s beard… good, innit?

Prayer transforms. Hey – last week, in our sermon, we heard a quote from Athanasius,  and it’s gorgeous. It’s delicious. It’s exciting and encouraging. Here it comes –

We are becoming, by faith, what God is, by nature.

That’s you and me.

Hah! Who cares about a little West Walesian rain and wind and greyness?