It’s the wee small hours of the morning

It’s three minutes past three as I write this first sentence. When I lie down the room spins, due to a stubborn ear problem, so I’m propped up at my desk, tea at hand and fighting the urge to have a biscuit or a brioche… and there’s hardly any snacks in the house… would an ice-cream be ridiculous? But I’m not keen on ice cream so …. cheese and crackers? What do you think at 03.07 (doesn’t time fly?)…. tell you what, if I have a banana I can justify it as an anti-cramp measure! There you go… you never have to look far for an excuse/get-out/justification.

It’s Monday morning and I’m a bit sad to leave Sunday behind. It was a great Sunday, a Sunday of promise and celebration. Our church sent about 36 children and youngsters to a week’s camp in North Wales, and what seemed like the same number of adult volunteers went with them. Every year they trot off to a valley not far from the sea, and there they roll in mud, rub it into each other’s hair, pack it ritualistically into sleeping bags, and dip  white trainers in it. Yes, white trainers. One of my grandchildren took white flip flops. Part of the experience is called get-your-biggest-towel-soaking-wet-put-it-in-a-plastic-bag-with-some-once-white-socks-and-burrow -it-down-into-your- few-clean-clothes (and leave it there, airless for 5 days) . Most children like that  game.

They arrived home on Saturday at mid-day and, all over the town, parents and grandparents have been marvelling at the rich variety of North Waleian mud and its clinging quantities. By  Sunday morning church service the campers  were all fed and shining clean, rested and so very eager to see each other again. The delight on their faces as they fell into each other’s arms (nothing like a 12 year old for drama!) after a whole night apart was heart warming, and I can’t tell you how happy I was to see my youngest granddaughter not just obediently joining in with the worship but living it. What a lovely lovely morning. What a great gift from God.

And today I’ll hear all about the recording of my radio play. I was Skyped for the read-through but it’s the first time ever, in a near lifetime of writing, that I’ve not been present for the filming or recording of a play. It’s a strange feeling, but it’s been a good experience too, trusting the director, stepping back. The read-through was great, and the main character was such a consummate actor, his voice so rich with time and place, that it was all I could do not to shout out with excitement in the middle of it all.

That’s what I want to talk about now. Excitement. Life should be exciting. I don’t mean dangerous, or full of derring-do, but just plain exciting! Each day is an unwritten page, so what are we going to write in our life today? What will God teach us, where will He take us, how will we love Him? I spoke to a group tonight and hit a vein of excitement I couldn’t ignore; In my church we observe a special 24 hours of prayer every month. Out comes the white board and on it there’s a chart covering 7pm Monday to 7pm Tuesday – we don’t put our names down but we just bung a coloured sticker in the hours of our choice. Sometimes there are empty spaces, often in fact, but every sticker is just plain exciting! If you believe in the power of prayer, as we do, they hold out such promise! Not because our prayers are magic words, as if they of themselves have power, and certainly not because we always get it right and petition wisely or praise wonderfully,  but because God hears our stuttering words and thoughts and whenever He hears them He answers. Those answers, even the answers we don’t recognise, the quiet steps of God in our lives, are the weft and weave of the Christian life, God at work around us, among us, in each heart. So when I see the coloured dots, the promise of prayers ascending, I do a mental cheer, a fist-pump, high five and double somersault –  God will hear us, He will guide us, He will answer, He will reveal Himself. How amazing! How wonderful to be part of a praying community.

I investigated Christian communities recently (God shut the door very firmly on that bright idea) and the great attraction for me was the idea of being part of a praying community, a community devoted to prayer (and other stuff!). That would be so exciting. But now I see that my church has to be that praying community for me, right here and right now. And that is exciting!

Excitement is contagious. It’s life itself. Seeing the children greet each other after a bare 18 hours apart, was exciting. Happiness is infectious. Passion ignites. And we crave joy. I know, I know, joy can be deep still water in the soul, and it usually is. But it can also be a racing heart, a catch of breath, a sparkle in the eye, a leap, a hug, an idea. And excitement is creative, it moves forward, reaches out.

If we are not excited about our lives, what will we do with them? If we are not excited about today, what will I look back on tonight? If we are not excited about what God is doing in the world, do we understand who He is?

Some mornings I read Psalm 46 because, man, it’s so exciting! Because it reminds me who God is and who I am, it puts the world into perspective. Listen to the first few verses:.

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.

And then I ask myself, a sort of soul-sounding,  OK, Luce, suppose now the earth begins to shake, waters rise, the building begins to quake and crack.. the sky darkens… and this is it. This is the moment we’ve all been heading towards since the dawn of time… what will you do? Will you be afraid, will you run and hide? You know, once upon time I would have been terrified, but now? Now my heart is going to leap and I’m going to shout “Here He comes! Out the way! Out the way! Out the way!” and I’ m going to run, run, run to meet Him.

Here’s my prayer at.. let me see… 3.46 am; Lord God of all creation, please give me an awareness of your power, your love and your eternity. Please give me the excitement and energy to do today the things you want me to do, to draw nearer to you, to grab this life with both hands and plunge into it, this life of love and service and adoration. What could be more exciting than knowing you? Help me to have peace in the excitement and passion in the peace. Wow, Lord, how come I know you? I mean, me… me! I mean, you know, Lord, ME!

Our God is a great great God, the God of the possible and the impossible. How we love Him.

Night night. I’m going to try lying down again.

 

 

FIVE YEARS

Five years ago I walked into a church in West Wales, and my life changed.

I grew up in a Roman Catholic family – it was a broken family and the adults weren’t kind, enough said. I would head off to church whenever I could, because the actual building became a sanctuary, a place of safety. Looking back over all these years, I think that’s how I saw God. He was a place of safety. A refuge. And I really really wanted to know him. As a child I craved for safety.

In a Catholic church, back then, the altar was raised and a balustrade ran across in front of it, separating the congregation from the altar or sanctuary. There would be a small lit sconce on one of the sanctuary walls to indicate that the host was in the tabernacle. The tabernacle would be a sort of stand-out safe, on the altar, draped in an embroidered  vestment, locked to keep out thieves and desecrators. And inside the tabernacle would be the host, the consecrated wafers of bread that we were told had become the actual flesh and blood of Christ when transubstantiation took place… No wonder we genuflected as we approached.

In a Catholic church in the 50’s, during Mass (the service of worship), no woman could be in the sanctuary (at a convent, an exception was made for the nuns, who could serve during the mass).  A priest would officiate between the tabernacle and the people, to mediate for us. And he wouldn’t just be a priest, trained and ordained and given the power to forgive sins (really! That’s what we were taught) but he would be robed…..first of all, a cassock, the long black robe…. Then the alb, a long white robe made of fine linen…. Then the amice, a sort of cape tied around the shoulders, and then a cincture that’s a belt made of cord, worn in a certain way and tied in a certain way, then a maniple which was a decorative band of fabric hanging from the arm….  then a stole which is a narrow sort of scarf draped around the neck (the priest kisses it before putting it on) and over it all, a chasuble… decorated and often brightly coloured. And as he came in to serve the Mass, flanked by altar boys in black robes with white surplices, the priest would carry a gold lined chalice in which to place the host, and he would be wearing a biretta, (a hat, not a gun!)

That may sound obscure and exotic, trotted out like that, but each of those vestments signifies something, carries a symbolic weight and, like all traditions and ritual, these things came into being over a long period time, and with the best of intentions.

There would be a Mary chapel somewhere nearby, or maybe just a small niche with a statue depicting the mother of Jesus, and a whole load of candles so that each one lit would signify a prayer offered to her.  On the walls would be the 14 stations of the cross, pictures or plaques, representing incidents as Jesus was condemned to death and His burial, used as points of meditation and devotion. At the door would be a font of holy water (often simply blessed by the priest, but maybe even bottled and brought over from Lourdes or Rome).

Dotted around the church would be other statues, maybe Joseph (Mary’s husband) usually carrying his emblem of a lily, or Francis of Assisi surrounded by birds, or … well, there are over a thousand canonised saints, so there are plenty to choose from. Sceptics accuse Catholics of idolatry because of these statues but they don’t pray to the statues, they use them as a focal point for prayer, and again these are described as intermediaries, interceding for the ordinary person to God.

That’s what church meant to me. That’s the nearest I could get to God, going through the mediation of a priest, or a dead saint, turning to a priest for forgiveness of sin. I don’t look down on any of this, and I don’t judge any of those believers, because I was heartily and passionately one of them, and I know too that the church is a living thing and with time and God’s grace we grow in our understanding. I know that if I had visited my own little church here in Wales at that time, I would be telling you about a pulpit (we no longer have one) , about deacons ceremoniously entering with the pastor (no one’s ceremonious now), about formality and rigidity and legalism…. so, truly, believe me, I don’t judge anyone from those times. Indeed, I found some kindness in the Roman Catholic Church, and usually that longed-for sense of  safety.

On Sunday I’m inviting whoever is in church to look at a verse with me. It’s from Jeremiah 33:3 “Call to me and I will answer you, and will tell you great and hidden things that you have not known.”  

I didn’t know that this verse would consume me as it has this week. Just yesterday I learned a new way of learning, of reading the Bible. And the excitement of that, and this verse, has somehow sent me back, skittering down through all the years, careening into memory, ricocheting off new and startling insights. I’m sort of spiritually and emotionally knackered just now.

Sometimes the great and hidden things God spoke of  seem tiny, tiny, tiny to an onlooker but MASSIVE to the learner. I’ve been wondering what the difference is between trusting God and complacency. Yesterday I learned and it was a lovely refreshing insight, coming with  reassurance and clarity. I lay awake last night, going over it, applying it to this situation and that situation, marvelling at God’s work in the world.

And this morning I am knackered, my little dumplings. I didn’t get to the beach until well past 8 o clock.

So I’ve deleted my last two blogs (too crazy, too excited, too me) and I’m taking a step back; today I’m writing only this blog, giving myself time to be with God, to reflect on all He has done for me in the last five years.  I’m taking the time to really delve into my thankfulness, and to contemplate the greatest hidden truth that God has revealed to me… He loves me so much that I can go to Him just as I am. Right now. Any time. Whatever state I’m in. He will not turn me away.

Hey … and those of you from my church who are reading this…. I’m taking time to thank God for you.

 

Sorrows

“When sorrows come, they come not single spies, but in battalions” That was Claudius in Hamlet. And there are times when we all shout “Spot on, Claudius!”

There’s a mighty battalion of sorrows around this little town just now – a lovely young man died suddenly and shockingly two days ago, two sweet mothers are leaving behind their young children, another parent – this time a young father – is dying, and everywhere we look, prayers are needed. Prayers and thoughts and concern, not forgetting (James, we listen!) practical help. But all this sadness…. what are we to make of it?

Are we to be like the small child stamping her feet and demanding “More! More!” of the parents who have already given her everything? Or are we to thank our God  for the days that he’s freely given us, the days those young people have already lived?  It’s our choice. I learned quite soon after my husband died that it was a choice. I could choose to be angry because he (and me) didn’t have ‘More! More!’, or I could choose to remember with thanks all that we did have. It wasn’t an easy lesson and one day, as I caught my reflection in a supermarket, I was deeply shaken by the anger and bitterness in the face looking back at me. My wake-up call. From that day I began to consciously remember the good times, slowly and haltingly I tried to thank God for George,  for every waking and every sleeping, for the friends he had made, the laughter we both shared, for the food on our table, and yes, for the troubles we had, for all that George learned and all he loved. I thanked God for his life and as I did that I learned, much more recently, to thank God for his death too.

Does that seem odd? I do thank God that we don’t go on in this physical world for ever. I’m so glad we have a beginning and an end, and that it’s all in His will, not ours. Can you imagine the mess, the chaos, the suffering and rage there would be if we, selfish and greedy,  could decide how long we would live? There’s a beauty to the rhythm of life, the beginning and the ending, the first cry and the last breath,  the day that darkens to night.

The life of mortals is like grass,
    they flourish like a flower of the field;
the wind blows over it and it is gone,
    and its place remembers it no more.
But from everlasting to everlasting
    the Lord’s love is with those who fear him, (Psalm 103)

Yesterday we had a Summer festival in a local field, inviting anyone and everyone to join us, for free activities and refreshments, and one of the local churches had made up some small gifts to give out.  The day was glorious, really hot, and the crowds came but I was feeling down and ready to be defeated, sorrowing for the man who died the day before. Plus (in hasty self-justification) I have a stubborn middle ear infection at the moment which makes me quite dizzy and so I fled early ( wimp!) giving my remaining little gift to a visitor, Lynne, in the car park. She looked inside the tiny wallet and found a copy of the Lord’s Prayer and said she used to pray but when her Mum died she packed it in.  Sensing her bitterness, I asked how old she was when her Mum died…. 37.  I confess, chicklets, I would have found it easier to talk to someone who had, like me, lost a parent in early childhood. I don’t mean that her grief was less, but it was certainly different. She mourns for someone she knew and valued, while I mourn for someone I can’t remember at all. Mine is the lesser loss.

Just then a couple of women with a small brood of tiny children walked past and all the children were happily opening little bags of sweets, except for one little toddler who was screaming with rage. I don’t know why, what injustice she was protesting about, but she was making herself sick with her fury, hiccuping and retching and screaming in turn. Lynne, a mother herself, rolled her eyes in rueful sympathy with the screamer’s mum. We sat on a low wall, in the shade for a few minutes, and I asked Lynne to tell me about her mother, what sort of woman was she, what did she like, what did she do, hoping that she would for a moment forget her bitterness and maybe even thank God. I don’t know if it worked for her, but as we sat there it worked for me! The picture she painted  was of a funny, lively, resilient, loving woman. And God had made her!  I wanted to say to this grieving daughter “And God gave you this wonderful Mum for all those years. For years and years and years, till you were grown. What a fabulous gift that was!” But I didn’t.

For everything there is a season, and a time for every matter under heaven: a time to be born, and a time to die; a time to plant, and a time to pluck up what is planted; (Ecclesiastes)

I felt for Lynne, a grown-up version of that screaming, furious little tantrum-thrower so busy being angry with God that she couldn’t enjoy His sunshine. 

Media vita in morte sumus….  but oh, what a miracle every day is, what a wonder every human thought is, what a precious gift we are to each other, and how compassionate and loving is our God.

 

yet I will rejoice in the Lord,
    I will be joyful in God my Saviour.

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

(Habakkuk, chapter 3: 18&19)

Character piece

I was at the front of the house one day, doing something ordinary and unmemorable so it’s long since forgotten, when I heard a rhythmic clink, a strange quiet sound, as a neighbour I know vaguely but not by name, walked past and up the hill. She’s a strange little creature, wispy, wild grey hair, maybe 50 years old or maybe 70, it’s impossible to tell because she wears a dress and trousers, an anorak and wellington boots even in the height of summer, and there’s a cycling helmet firmly strapped on whether she’s out with her bike or not. If it’s true that we reveal our tribe  by the clothes we wear, this lady is the last surviving member of an ancient Iceni clan, but with her serene smile I think she would have been a bit pants when they went to war.

That day her dress was even more idiosyncratic than usual, her boots slapped her calves as they always did, and her hair exploded from the rim of her helmet as it always did, but she walked to a new accompaniment of clicks and clanks. Over her dress (which was over her trousers) was a net curtain, hanging upside down, as a skirt. The top of the curtain was at ground level, and the strange noise came from the plastic curtain hooks that were still attached.

download.jpgCurtain lady lives alone, in a higgledy piggledy cottage, with a higgledy piggledy garden, the stone walls a tumbled mass of brambles and glorious weeds and, at this time of year, courgette flowers. The vegetable beds are haphazard things, but ladened with fat joyous marrows or bouquets of vibrant lettuce, and sometimes a clump of corn – seeming to have wandered in from some other more exotic place.

I’ve tried to talk to curtain lady, but she just smiles and returns the greeting and walks on. If she’s on her bike and I’m in my car she returns my wave. I would love to know her better, I think her mind will be interesting and her soul will be  warm. I can imagine her looking at the plastic curtain hooks and shrugging to herself “They’re not doing any harm… let them be.”

I wonder if she has cats?

Wales isn’t the only place where ‘Characters’ come to enjoy old age. When I lived in Derbyshire I lived next to a man I came to know as ‘the cat killer’. I won’t go into details except to say that he always helped the distressed owners to look for the cats he’d killed and once said to me “It’s the least I can do.” At the time I thought he was a kind and good and selfless bloke, until I discovered why so many felines went missing thereabouts. After that, I found him quite scarey. I didn’t dwell on his mind or his soul too much.

Another of my neighbours in the Midlands was a retired scientist, who had turned his back on science to study History. He was very posh, very dishevelled (and not ever so clean) and  lived in a small miner’s cottage, which had stood derelict for many years before he moved in. His love of the past was such that he had done nothing to modernise this little hovel at all. I mean, at all. There was an earth closet in the garden, one cold water tap at the back door, and no electricity. When the town held a festival celebrating its history, and houses were opened for the public to admire, his was very popular – our visitors thought it was a historical reconstruction of a Victorian slum.

People are endlessly fascinating. I think of my friends right now, and in the past, all of them singular, some unconventional, all intelligent, free thinking, some quirky, one is a still calm pond of deep reflections, one a tempest, one an eternally sunny day. One is an anvil just demanding that life beats itself to a pulp on her unhappiness. Some are hard to know, difficult and edgy, but so worthwhile. Me? I’m me.  I don’t kill cats, or wear net curtains. That’s all I can say about me.

I look at those three characters – curtain lady, cat killer, history man – and I love their richness, and their peculiarity. This is life. This is story, the stuff of drama.  Was curtain lady ever loved with reckless passion? Did she once give up everything for a faithless man? Or was she deliriously perfectly happy until her lover was killed in a storm at sea (forgive me, I’m a dramatist)? Did cat killer,  growing up in the last world war, dream of being a hero, of valour and goodness and nobility? Does he dream of them still, hopelessly? History man, what does he think of his own history? Has he hankered for an impossibly lost past or has he somehow lived it?

I feel like David Copperfield, who was a witness to all those amazing characters; Mr ghastly Murdstone, delightful Barkis, loving Peggotty, Uriah creepy Heep, useless little Emily…. what personalities, what stories! But David, who the hell is he? He’s no one. A narrator. He has nothing going for himself but the story he tells. That’s how I sometimes feel now. The richest part of my life has been the stories I’ve woven. Excuse me while I go on a bit of a rant: Dickens didn’t have to make Copperfield such a tabula rasa. He chose to. He managed to make Pip in Great Expectations a fascinating character, and while both David and Pip narrate their own story, one is full of personality and wit and insight and the other, well, just a cardboard cut out, like my Captain Kirk.

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Ah, you don’t know about my Captain Kirk. I had a life size cardboard cut-out of Captain Kirk and he would loom above my desk (Mr Spock too). When I first unpacked him,  he made me smile for the first couple of weeks. After two years, I was bored by him. His conversation was crap and when visitors ‘oohed’ and ‘ahhhed’ at him, it was just tedious. He was David Copperfield. Life played out in front of his glazed eyes but he was irrelevant.

The secret, I think, to a happy old age is to be someone who loves characters, who delights in other people, who enjoys the rich variety of old and young, and who fights to remain relevant. I paddled in the sea yesterday with a neighbour, a man of my age, who has never lost the wonder of life. He stood in the gentle surf, gazing with delight at the flow and ebb of a small jellyfish, its frilled petals opening and closing with every wave. A writer to my bones, just a storyteller, I looked at my friend, under God’s wonderful sky and in God’s teeming sea, and I was filled with praise for the lives we have. All of them. For the years we have had, all of them. For the span of our lives, short or long, gifted by God. For the unique histories and the hidden stories we all have to tell. For the richness and variety of all He has given us.  For net curtains and cycling helmets and jelly fish. For laughter and tears.

And for the love God has for us.

“God so loved the world that He gave His one and only Son, that whosoever believes in Him shall not perish but have everlasting life.”

I know we’re a sinful lot, but when I think of my friends, the people I know, the people I live among, I sort of understand why He loves us.

 

 

 

Absurdly yours

Right, listen. Thing is, no, listen… I used to be a busy busy writer. It’s true. You wouldn’t think so if you’d been sitting on the beach with me for two hours this morning, but I was. I was extremely busy once upon a time.

I know I’ve been moaning on and off for the last five years about not having anything to do… and I know I’ve complained about missing exciting (fast) long drives in the middle of the night to filming on the other side of the country (always arriving, strangely, in time for a lovely breakfast on set) … and I’ve railed against how rarely friends make the trek over here….. and I’ve been whingeing on about how out of touch I am with the broadcast industry which is eons away in another culture (called the 21st century) … and I know I’ve felt unused and irrelevant and all that stuff for 5 years… and yes, I’ve done a bit of complaining about my brain dying from lack of use…. but listen…. my little old radio play is due to be recorded in a couple of weeks and I’ve just looked at the hotel that’s been booked for me…. it’s five flipping hours drive away! And it’s about an hour from the studio! And there’s a blanketty- blank cricket match on that day so traffic will be hell! And …. and… and…. it’s not as if Radio pays a fortune… it’s peanuts……

Man, I’m so good at discontent!

But of course that’s all nonsense. A mad woman’s ramblings. I’m delighted to be going to the recording and so what if it’s in Greenwich? If it was in Timbuktoo I’d go there, too. But complaining is delicious.

Complaining really is delicious. If there’s something we disagree with, some perceived slight against ourselves and our interests, oh boy, we like to complain. And complaining isn’t a great thing to do, it’s not a Godly thing to do. We’re told not to complain, not to grumble. Grumbling taints the air around the complainer so that others breathe it in and get poisoned. I should know, I have both been the poisoner and the poisoned in my time.

You know my fave verse ? Well, one of them (the list grows and grows). ‘Look to the Rock from which you were cut’. If I look to my rock, Jesus, I see no complaints at all. None. And He really did have stuff to complain about.

I heard about someone this week who has been distressed and unsettled by some complaints she’s heard recently. But I get it, in the past I, too, have played the game of ‘their grumbling has affected me’ and when I look back I wonder if I was telling the absolute truth? Did the dissatisfaction of others really distress me, or did I latch onto it and feed off it, joining in? Did I piggy-back on their complaints to disguise my own?

There’s a lovely lovely insight in the Book of Job, said by Zophar, who was ultimately trite and biased but on the way he found some real insight;

Though evil is sweet in his mouth
    and he hides it under his tongue,
though he cannot bear to let it go
    and lets it linger in his mouth,
yet his food will turn sour in his stomach;
    it will become the venom of serpents within him. (Job 20:12-14)

This illustrates so perfectly how we savour our wrongness, how we enjoy our sin, our delicious naughtiness, complaining and being self-righteous. Mmmmm. Lovely. Temptation is lovely, that’s why it tempts us. Complaining is so satisfying. And it rots our thinking, just as sugar rots our teeth and booze rots our liver. But they’re yummy! A big fat sugary doughnut…. a bottle of wine…. not together maybe, but you get my drift. We wouldn’t devour them if they didn’t tempt us. Obvs. A good old rant about how hurt we are, how offended, how rejected, unappreciated, persecuted…. delicious! And if we have a silent audience, or – even better – an appreciative one… it’s really satisfying. We feed our self, our sense of outrage, stoking it up, accepting victimhood, virtue-signalling with every phrase,  and if, on the way to our own ‘rightness’,  we judge or condemn someone else, well, that’s just us being truthful and honest, isn’t it?

No. It’s not. It’s us looking after ourselves at the cost of others. Not Christian. It’s us damaging the peace, harmony and love of Christ.

Socrates said ‘The unexamined life is not worth living’ and he’s right. But it’s a costly thing to do, to examine your own life. It involves recognising our own flaws, self-deceptions, the veneers we adopt, and the games we play even sub-consciously. And for a Christian that means that we must take our examined lives, the discoveries we’ve made, however painful, and we surrender them to God. Ouch.

Really, ouch! I mean, really. Bloody hell, it hurts.

The woman who was unsettled by the complaints of others, how many of them did she share? Did she dwell on them and then build on them? Did they become her own? Is that why she’s so unsettled? Did the complaints she listened to and shared ‘turn sour in her stomach’? Is that why she’s weeping now? By opening herself up to the grumbling of others, has she allowed herself to be poisoned? And whose responsibility is that? Fifty-fifty, I reckon.

What can I do about my tendency to complain? What can I do about the complaints of others? Whether I’m the speaker or the listener, how can I guard against complaints? A verse springs to mind immediately;

whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable – if anything is excellent or praiseworthy – think about such things.’ Philippians 4:8

I expect I’ll continue to grumble about the life of a solitary 70 year old, but I hope I do so tongue in cheek, enjoying my life and inviting others to enjoy it with me. I hope that most of my time is spent delighting and not complaining. I’m reminded of falling down in the dunes, when I rolled about in the grasses and orchids for ages, when the absurdity of it just made me laugh and laugh and laugh.

To be here, now, after the life I’ve led, feeling like this, in love with God and full of disjointed thoughts and meanderings…. such a lonely happy contradictory mess… absurd. Absurd creature who God loves. Thank God that God loves us all.

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Already absurdly complaining, aged … erm, about 18months I think.

 

Walking by the Sea of Galilee

A few years ago, when I first started going to a small local church, and when my faith was  prodded until it woke up, I would walk on the cold seashore in the mornings and try to reimagine it as the the shore of the Sea of Galilee (I’ve warbled about that before) trying to imagine what would have been like to walk with Christ. I longed to know him better, hankering after those ancient days, a bit miffed that I hadn’t been born then, in that war torn dusty region, always trying to imagine, to reach back, to find a place for myself in his time.

That’s because I am at heart simple and ridiculous. Would I really have been one of the women who supported him and then went on to provide for the growing church after his death? No way. I’m not a great joiner – I fell into the Army at 18 and then I didn’t join another single group until I was 67. I think it’s unlikely that, left to my own devices, I would have given everything up, even for a Saviour.

Over these last few years, I’ve come to realise that I have a far, far more intimate relationship with Jesus now than I could have had back then. Then, as a woman in a fiercely chauvinist society, I would have heard him from a distance  but now I walk in him, and he walks in me. My knowledge of Jesus is far deeper now  because I’m no longer left to my own devices, nor is any one of us. The faith we have now is from him, and it grows from his nourishment, and without his death it would not have been possible.

But very truly I tell you, it is for your good that I am going away. Unless I go away, the Advocate will not come to you; but if I go, I will send him to you (John 16:7)

It really is for our good that Jesus was ‘going away’. It’s for my good that he came as man, and it’s for that same good that he died in shame and agony. Because now,  my little snoodlepips, forgiven and redeemed by him, I belong to him, heart and mind and soul. His. The Luce who would have met him, on the shore of Galilee, before Pentecost, before the story was told… would I really have been his? You know me by now surely? Stubborn, contrary, judgmental, fearful, awkward, reclusive, impatient, impulsive, weird.

Now I am still all of those things but all of those things PLUS. Plus the Spirit of a loving God who loves me anyway, and makes it possible for me to love others, plus the knowledge of the crucifixion and the resurrection, plus the sure and certain hope of life everlasting. Which would be a right old boring thing to be assured of except, EXCEPT (sorry, I’m a bit exclamatory today) eternity will be in the presence of God. The God who loves me with a perfect love, the God who I will love with his perfect love. Bliss. The God who will transform me. Amazing!

When I walk on the beach every morning, or sit on my log, or paddle, gazing at the sky and lost in wonder and praise (or sometimes just thinking about coffee) I’m there with Jesus. I’m in eternity. Encountering Jesus, for us, isn’t an incident in a busy life as it was for the woman who touched the hem of his robe, or the woman at the well…. it’s an all day everyday fabulous exciting adventure and privilege.

Too many adjectives. I don’t care.

We’ve had a series of sermons about ‘encounters with Christ’ and it’s been a great series, like our ‘red letter words’ series, just getting to know more about Jesus when he walked on this earth, watching his interaction with the people around him, our brilliant Jesus who said the words our hearts need to hear.  If we’re Christian, we’ve encountered Jesus, yes, of course we have, but much much more than even that, we continue to encounter Jesus every day. It’s like one of those Greek tenses, we don’t just encounter, we continue….

As I chatted with my granddaughter yesterday it was as if I was holding her up to God, saying “Look what you’ve given me, all this, all this, all this…. and this grandchild, and all this love. ” and I was warmed by the knowledge and certainty that he was there with us. Galilee in West Wales.

Flip me, chickadees, there’s a real danger that I’m going to get soppy in my old age. It must be a Celtic overload – Irish genes and Welsh environment.

Shoot me now.

Before I go, here’s a story that’s hard to tell and maybe hard to hear. I know it will make me look deluded to some people, but this is what happened, and if I look a fool for Christ, well, I’ve looked worse things:

About 4 years ago, I was on one of my morning saunters – I can’t really call them walks, they’re slow and ambling as I stop and start, gazing at the sky, watching the sea foam eddying around my feet, the gulls soaring. I was paddling happily, feeling the sun on my back and heading towards a  rock where I planned to pray for a while. Suddenly I was in one of those enchanted moments, when the world slips away, leaving only the soul and God. Nothing to dilute the crystalline otherness, and I said to God – without any planning, straight from the core of me – something like “It’s so long since I had someone’s hand to hold, someone I could share this moment with, and I think I can’t quite bear it – 25 years is too long” It wasn’t a moan, it was just a thought, an honest moment of longing. It wasn’t a complaint that George is dead (he’s in glory and I’m delighted for him), no,  it was an honest human need for companionship. And as I walked towards the rocks, with my dogs pattering on ahead, I felt a hand slip into mine. It was so real that I was startled and turned to see who had sneaked up on me. No one. But I felt the hand, the warmth and the reality of it. I know that this wasn’t wishful thinking, I looked down at my hand, relaxed, ordinary, and still I felt the muscle, bones, actuality of a hand in mine. Breathless. Hardly believing, savouring the sensation, almost hefting the hand I could not see. It stayed with me for maybe ten steps, and then was gone just as suddenly.

My breath was taken away, tears threatened, but my heart was just so full of amazing delight. That hand, holding mine, has been with me, ever since. Four years of ups and downs and struggles, joy and sadness, but when loneliness strikes I remember that hand, and the memory is a deep comfort. I am not alone. I walk on the shore with God. What an amazing God. How good he is.

 

 

 

 

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BIG LOVE

I’ve  mentioned the book of James a few times recently. It may not seem like it at first but this blog is sort of, almost, tangentially anyway, about that:

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This is is an artwork by Jackson Pollack. We can’t call this a painting because he didn’t paint it… he flicked paint at the canvas. Someone bought it. Do you know how much they paid? Guess… no, don’t scroll down… guess first.

Tsk. I knew you’d peek…

140 million dollars.

140 MILLION! That money would buy a new church building with room enough to bring bring people in from the highways and byways and estates to worship God, rooms for prayer and study and meetings and coffee and all sorts, space for musicians and a media room, and a youth club, and car parking, and an office for the Pastor and another one for Admin…. a store room for equipment, rooms for Junior Church,  space to welcome the needy, feed the hungry and shelter the homeless….  Which is what churches are supposed to do…. About 100 times over! 100 times over!

Isn’t it crazy that the money that could do all that instead buys this one lump of canvas and a few dribbles of paint?

But that’s the world. The world doesn’t think like God thinks. The world doesn’t value what God values. That was going to be the basis of a children’s story for church, but I think that there’s more to this strand of thought than that:

To repeat myself, ” The world doesn’t think like God thinks. The world doesn’t value what God values.”

And sometimes I wonder if I do. Or am I like the person James warns against who says to the needy  “ have a good day; stay warm and eat well”—but then you don’t give that person any food or clothing. What good does that do? (James 2:16 NLT)

James also writes:  Real religion, the kind that passes muster before God the Father, is this: Reach out to the homeless and loveless in their plight, and guard against corruption from the godless world. (James 1:27 The Message)

When did I last reach out to the homeless? Guess what, never! When did I reach out to the loveless? A long, long, long time ago.

My life now is cosy, smug, comfy, warm. But should it be? If I am living a Christ life should it be this selfish, neatly contained?

‘Look to the rock from which you were cut, to the quarry from which you were hewn.’   (Isaiah 51:1)

How did he live? My rock?

“Foxes have dens and birds have nests, but the Son of Man has no place to lay his head.”  (Luke 9:58)

How did he spend his days? Teaching, eating with outcasts, talking to shamed women, loving the unlovely, weeping over sin. How many of those do I do? A big fat zero.

And then I look at how I began this blog and I put on a big metaphorical hobnailed boot and kick myself, hard. Yes, that 140million dollars would build a hundred churches but if they were all full of people like me……. would that please God? If we had a hundred new churches in Wales but they were all full of me and my clones….

I want you to show love, not offer sacrifices.
I want you to know me more than I want burnt offerings.      
Hosea 6:6 

I am learning something hard today, something I thought I already knew, but now I discover that I had only heard it, and didn’t fully realise it.

Listen to this…  so much for me and my 100 churches idea!

When you come to appear before me,
    who has asked this of you,
    this trampling of my courts?
 Stop bringing meaningless offerings!      ( Isaiah 1:11)

What a picture, ‘this trampling of my courts’. In that pithy phrase I see God’s perspective on our best attempts at holiness. Jesus didn’t say ‘Go out into the world and spend millions of quid on great big buildings’. He didn’t tell us to build Wells Cathedral, or the Vatican, or my favourite, Salisbury Cathedral. He’s just not interested, mate! He isn’t. He cares about love. He cares about worship. He cares about care. He cares about the broken woman at the well, the sick woman touching his robe, the troubled young man, the madman running naked in the tombs. If he was here as God made man again he would be with the junkies, the drunks, the down and outs, the thieves and the criminals, loving them. Loving them. But where am I? I’m not there.

I just wrote “The world doesn’t think like God thinks. The world doesn’t value what God values.” and now I wonder if God values our churches. I wonder if I do because now, of course, I’m not just talking about the building, I’m talking about the real church, the people, I’m talking about me.

Do I truly worship? Do I? Or do I go through the motions? Do I say piously “Be fed and keep warm” and pass by on the other side of the road (to mix up teaching with parable)?

If we are not attracting people into our churches by the magnetism of God’s love, displayed in us, then to hell with churches.

To hell with them.

You do not delight in sacrifice, or I would bring it;
    you do not take pleasure in burnt offerings.
My sacrifice, O God, is a broken spirit;
    a broken and contrite heart
    you, God, will not despise.      (Psalm 51:16&17) 

Thank God that my church has stepped out from its narrow building. Thank God, because it’s by his grace that people are beginning to come and listen to the great story he has to tell. Just an hour ago we had a wonderful worship service in a shabby school hall. Wonderful worship, Godly teaching, great! Not a perfect space, not a stately building, not even a comfortable building, but one in which for an hour and a half there was a demonstration of God’s love.

But here’s the thing, we are physical creatures in a physical world and to serve the poor, to shelter the homeless , to feed the hungry, to pray with the despairing, to mend the broken … we need…  some buildings. But we don’t need pews, and pulpits, and altars and spires and ritual. For BIG LOVE we need a BIGGER CHURCH than that. For BIG LOVE we need a church as big as the world. For BIG LOVE I need a bigger heart, a Jesus heart. And only he can give me that.

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